It's an amazing event for many reasons, but it occurred to me tonight that this event is so powerful for me each year because it is a place where I receive the very thing I spend so much of my life fighting for others to have. This is a place where I belong - where my sense of purpose belongs.
My heart beats for ensuring that children are in families. I believe with every fiber of my being that every child deserves a safe place where they feel like they belong and are loved, a place where they can learn to be who God made them to be. Family is God's exquisite design for this.
Some of you know me and more of my story than others, but the short and sweet of it is that my biological parents weren't fully equipped to give me what I needed to thrive in life. When this became especially true, a family I already knew and loved said: "we love you" and "you belong here". (What an extraordinary gift!) I was in a hard situation for a time, but I also know I was protected in many ways from far greater harm along the way. I was also moved into the safe embrace of a family far more quickly than may who face the devastating consequences of long-term institutional living or the instability of moving from foster home to foster home. I am blessed to know far less of hard places than many, but my experience gave me a taste of the before and after of a safe and stable family. There is no glimmer of doubt in my mind that it changed me. Family saved my life. How could I help but want that for every child?
This morning, Stephen Ucembe, a young man who grew up in an institution, spoke to us from his depth of knowledge and experience. Research and science speaks clearly to the dire consequences of institutional living, and that matters, but Stephen's story spoke even more brilliantly to the poverty of being unloved and having no sense of self or belonging when growing up in an institution. He told us, simply and profoundly, that "we should help children not to survive, but to live." Orphanages provide physical sustenance: food, education, shelter. Physical sustenance is sometimes enough to prevent physical death, but this is not life. Life is a place to belong, a confidence that you are loved, and the ability to figure out what it is God created you for and pursue it with all your heart.
This passion of mine for family is found, (because of family) but it is not easy work. It can feel overwhelming. The problem sometimes seems to grow faster than it can be addressed. What is right seems obvious to me, but difficult to implement in real life. Irrational barriers sometimes seem to arise to doing things that seem inarguably right. This work is just what I'm meant to be doing, but sometimes the vastness of both the problem and the barriers make it feel like impossibly difficult and lonely work. Summit 9 provides a sense of belonging though. These are my people. This event and its participants are a warm embrace that reminds me that I am not alone in this work. In that sense of belonging, I regain my sense of purpose. The truth shines brighter in the collective that my work is not futile. Together, we make a difference. While there is still much to be done, the stories, the efforts, the expertise surrounding me at Summit 9 reminds me that this work is immensely important and I am not alone in it. These thousands of passionate co-laborers and I are a family. We are a family of family-makers. And if you are a family-maker, you know how profoundly important that sense of belonging can be to keep you on path to pursuing your purpose in life.
What an extraordinary gift to be here amongst family.