It was a two lane road and 4 hour ride to get me to the place I never lived, but always belonged. Two left turns off the exit brought us to the street named after them, “Houston Drive”.

I remember picking green beans from the garden, the sound of gravel under our bicycle tires as we rode up and down the street and the camper parked out front that served as our playhouse.

The door was never locked and the house was always full. It was one of my favorite places in the world.

There was nothing expensive under that roof, but there was a priceless treasure every human being seeks. Belonging. Throughout my entire 43 years, I always knew that in this place I was welcomed and loved unconditionally. It was a place I could go just to be.  A place for a hug, advice or support. A place where I was reminded that life is a series of changing seasons and I only needed to grow into a better person through the lessons life taught me. A place with a revolving door of family members moving through at any given time and reminding me that I was part of something bigger. I belonged.

The feeling of belonging is a gift and the absence is a tragedy. Connection to others makes an imprint on our hearts and souls and disconnection can break them. As Brene Brown wrote in The Gifts of Imperfection,  “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break”.

My grandmother gave me the gift of belonging from the day I was born. She made each one of us feel special and loved. She did it through her words, her actions and through her faith. She created and environment of comfort, a spirit of welcoming and a mission of acceptance. Her home was an open door, a lively sitting area, a table of food and a freezer full of ice cream. Her presence was balm to any wound and her hugs were a sense of peace.

Throug my career, I’ve seen the pain in the eyes of others who have lacked a powerful sense of belonging throughout their lives. I’ve seen the brokenness first hand, and the wounds that are left to heal. It’s a terrible thing to overcome once it occurs.  It breaks my heart and calls me to my purpose.

As I more fully understand my Grandmother’s role in my life, I’m challenged to follow her example as my mission.

Perhaps the greatest gift I can give to others is a sense of love and belonging.

A place where they are accepted as they are, flaws and all.

A place where they are always welcomed at the door.

A place to be a part of something bigger.

A safe place to go to get away from the world.

So as we open the doors to our new business this week, my goal each day will be for this place to hold the qualities of my Grandma’s house.

“People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”-unknown