A few months ago, Elizabeth Gilbert announced that she would be publishing a collection of stories from her fans: Eat, Pray, Love made me do it! I jumped out of my chair with excitement, and then I sat back down and started writing. Eat, Pray, Love made me do it all. From the moment I read the book, my brain changed. It started to listen to my heart.
So I wrote, and I submitted…and I wasn’t selected. But I wrote, and I submitted which was a huge step in the direction of sharing my voice.
This weekend I will be driving to DC. Inside an amazing book store, I will get to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert speak. I’m jumping out of my chair again, so it feels appropriate that I sit back down and I share what I wrote.
Here is my version of Eat Pray Love made me do it!
I didn’t know yet that I was allowed to dream. I didn’t know yet that dreams come true. I didn’t know yet that I had the power to navigate my own life.
I had just blown out twenty-one candles on my birthday cake. My heart wasn’t born yet. My existence in this world hadn’t matured into anything yet. With champagne glasses in hand, my parents and I cheers to our next adventure. We were headed from Virginia Beach to Phoenix to visit my grandparents.
As I flipped through the pages of People magazine skipping over the celebrity news, I immediately stopped on a story sandwiched between news of the Oklahoma City bomber’s execution and horoscopes. The story highlighted Cuba as a vacation destination. The beautiful beaches and electric city life didn’t appeal to me. It was the method of travel into the country that stirred my heart. Vacationers travelled to Cuba as volunteers. They worked with a charity to deliver much needed medical supplies to the country. My heart whispered. I want to do that.
As the magazine got buried in my carryon bag, I also buried the whisper in my heart. I was living life the only way I knew how to live. I was following the road that had been paved for me by generations before me. As soon as I returned from the trip out west, I got engaged. My fiancé checked off every item of what I thought I should look for in a husband, but yet my heart whispered he’s not the one. A year later we got married. My heart whispered again. There is always divorce. In another year I graduated from college, I moved to Alabama to support my husband’s dream to become a pilot, and my heart grew quiet. A later year I gave birth to a perfect baby boy. I was living the life I thought I was supposed to be living, but the moment I held my baby in my arms my heart couldn’t remain quiet. As I burst open with love, my heart screamed. Create a world for this baby that allows him to dream and love. Show him. Let him know there is a whole world waiting for him. Teach him to dream.
I gave birth to myself the day I gave birth to my baby boy. I instantly understood that it was up to me to create a life that reflected the whispers in my heart. Two years later I started to live my life. I left my husband. I abandoned the picture perfect life I had created, and I started again. In a tiny apartment in Nashville that was perfectly decorated for a mom and her little boy, my life began.
Divorce is hard. It’s filled with doubt and insecurity. It is riddled with question marks. As I questioned my strength and my intuition, as I questioned my courage to embrace who I am, as I questioned the rawest version of myself, I found Elizabeth Gilbert.
Every other weekend my house was painfully quiet. Beneath the Nate Berkus brown knotted afghan sold exclusively at Bed, Bath and Beyond, I opened up a book I was told I had to read. Eat Pray Love was about to give me the courage to turn my heart whispers into my reality. I was about to read a book that would teach me that dreams come true.
“Virginia Woolf wrote, ‘Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword.’ On one side of that sword, she said, there lies convention and tradition and order, where all is correct. But on the other side of that sword, if you’re crazy enough to cross it and choose a life that does not follow convention, “all is confusion.” Nothing follows a regular course. Her argument was that the crossing of the shadow of that sword may bring a more interesting existence to a woman, but you can bet it will be more perilous.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
As I turned page after page, my heart said thank you. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for understanding me.
The years that followed were filled with extreme highs and lows, but my heart felt validated. I felt alive. I knew the struggle was worth it. With my little man in tow, I fought my way to find balance in my pursuit of heart whispers. I took a job to pay the bills, but left for a job that echoed the wishes of my heart. Rent was late, checks bounced, but we kept moving forward. In December 2007, I found myself floating down the Choa Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand. As I stared at the golden temples glowing in the moon light, I was overwhelmed by gratitude. My job brought me here. My dreams were coming true, but somehow I knew it wasn’t right. My heart was still making noise. Surround yourself with love. You can’t do this alone. While managing the logistics of a small pharmaceutical company allowed me to travel to other side of the world, it also required late nights and long hours. My body started to shut down. I was constantly sick. I missed being fully engaged as a mother. Listening to my heart, we loaded up a U-haul and headed east. Virginia Beach or bust. It was time to move home to the open arms of our family.
“To find the balance you want, this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the earth that it’s like you have 4 legs instead of 2. That way, you can stay in the world. But you must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
It took having a little boy to find my place in this world. It took two hearts, two minds, four hands, and four feet to plant me firmly on the ground. When my feet became anchored, my heart came to life.
I learned that I am allowed to dream. I learned that dreams come true. I learned that I have the power to navigate my own life.
I had just blown out thirty-five candles on my cake. I quietly kissed my husband and my two sweet boys goodbye while they slept cozily in the home we created for ourselves tucked amongst the trees by the river. I headed to the airport. As my plane took off and I began my journey to Lima, Peru, I let the tears roll down my checks. I was nurturing my heart. I was trusting my life. I was loving each moment. This is my version of Eat, Pray, Love. A medical mission was waiting for me.
For the next ten days, I worked hand in hand with a medical team to deliver surgical care to patients living with cleft lip and cleft palate. Every single day I work with corporations to secure donations of medical supplies needed to perform safe surgery. I’m not reading about volunteers delivering medical supplies anymore. I’m working with companies and a team of amazing volunteers to make sure medical supplies are available around the globe. This trip was allowing me to see the medical donations come to life.
I would see every suture, every needle, and every drug. I would blow bubbles with children waiting to meet the doctor. I would hug and hold a little girl for hours as she waited for bloodwork. I would hold the hand of a mother as she waited for her child to come out of surgery. I would watch the skillful hand of surgeon recreate a smile on the face of a baby. I would walk beside a family as they headed to the recovery room listening to them sing a sweet lullaby to their baby. I got to see the final masterpiece of healing a child’s smile. I get to see the final masterpiece of life. What was once broken, became healed.
After 106 children received free surgery to give them the smile they deserve, I set off on a journey of my own to explore the sacred valley of Peru. My heart needed a moment of solitude to absorb the magic of my life. On my final day in the country, I ventured to Ñaupa Iglesia. I had been told that it was the most sacred temple in the sacred valley. Spiritual leaders from all over Peru journey to this spot. I had been told that the temple was a place to ask the universe for what I need in my life. My heart whispered. Trust. Explore. Go. As I followed the local family down the railroad tracks and up the mountain to this temple, my heart was filled with gratitude. There isn’t a single thing that I need in my life.
I sat beside the altar, and my heart, mind, and body were one. I was filled with one single vibration: thank you, thank you, thank you.