Eat and Pray and Love

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.

(Peru) Patient Announcement

(May 17, 2015)

I woke up this morning feeling a void in my middle of my consciousness. It isn’t a hole in the middle of my heart or my head. It feels like a hole in the middle of my entire being. Today is patient announcement day. A few lucky families will be told Yes! Your child will receive surgery. But so many families will be told Not this time. We don’t have enough time or enough resources to take care of everybody. Not everyone is healthy enough for surgery. Not everyone is a candidate to receive care.

There is a very logical way of deciding who gets surgery. The ranking system makes so much sense, but the nos are hard to digest.

Just like the days before, we travel an hour north along the coast to the hospital in Lima. We navigate our way to the hospital courtyard. We are greeted with a wave of emotions from the hundreds of faces staring back at us. Nervousness. Anxiousness. Hope. Insecurity. They all hang in the air. One by one the families are given their news. The ones selected are scheduled for their surgery day. The ones who are not are able to meet with the psychologist, the nutritionist, the speech pathologist, and the dentist to give them support. They are told we will be back in the fall.

In the midst of all the emotions, a young couple steals a kiss to celebrate the good news. A family embraces me as if I am their own. The mother receives directions about surgery while I snuggle with her three month old baby. I hope he always feels beautiful.

Me with this sweet boy and his aunt with mom and grandma behind us

The air is filled with every opposing emotion surrounding two very simple emotions: happiness and sadness.

The day has left me cracked wide open. I’m not sure the void will ever fully heal. I’m not sure I want it too.

As the day came to an end, there were a few hours left to wander the streets of Lima. Just like I always do, I found my way to the coast. The vastness of the ocean a reminder of the possibility in the world, but today it was also a startling reminder of just how small I really am in the world. I made a last minute decision to fly. I strapped myself to a guide and I paraglided along the coast. In reality my experience last 15 minutes, but in my heart I was hanging in midair forever.

I needed the weightlessness. I needed the quiet. I needed the feeling of eternity. I needed to fly.

Today was a day filled with a million emotions. As I glided along the cliffs parallel to the Pacific Ocean, I wondering if there are a million emotions. Perhaps they are all one emotion. Perhaps they are all a form of hope: hope that their child would be select, hope that the surgery would be a success, hope that their child can live a normal life, hope that they are doing the best they can as a parent, hope that I can help, hope that I can love, and hope that we all matter in the vastness of this world.

Take off

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” ~Paolo Coehlo

Aren’t we all simply hanging on to hope? And learning to trust everything that surrounds it?


(Peru) Screen Day 2

(May 16, 2015)

The unknown was eliminated as we entered day two of screening. I knew what to expect. My nerves had been settled. Day two was a repeat of day one. The drive to the hospital was familiar. The walk to the courtyard of the hospital was familiar. The crowd waiting for us wasn’t a surprise. In one day this became familiar territory.

The medical team quickly settled into their screening stations. Patients were registered shortly after we arrived. With every patient that came through the screening process, I watched in awe the love of each parent. While the environment already felt like home, I still found myself standing back observing it all.


The children were entertained by a plastic bottle that quickly turned into a soccer ball.

Stickers provided hours of entertainment.

I never witnessed a family complain.

I never saw anyone ask for anything.

Gratitude filled the air before anyone even knew if they would get surgery.


This waiting room is such a contrast to the waiting rooms in America. Compared to the world that I know, I can’t help but feel they have found such a deeper appreciation for life when they have less. How do you blend our world so it has the best of both? How do you remove medical uncertainty, life uncertainty, and uphold the love and gratitude? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that more isn’t always better. I also know that less isn’t fair.

I feel myself growing quiet. My heart is changing. I find myself wanting to absorb it all. I want to stand back and appreciate every moment. I want to sit for hours and play. I want to learn from each person who showed up at the hospital the past two days. I want to learn from every person who showed up to volunteer. I have so much to see. I have so much to learn. I have so much to be thankful for in every moment of my life.

How do you take this all in?


Photo credit: Michael Kelly, U-Voice volunteer (and a pretty incredible person too!)

(Peru) Screen Day 1

(May 15, 2015)

It’s about to begin. I’ve had this thought for so many weeks now. I have carried around so much anticipation knowing this moment was about to arrive, and today is the day it begins. Today is the day I get to observe the magic of a medical mission. Patients are probably waiting already. They are waiting for us to arrive at the hospital.


I don’t have a lot of words for today. There are only images that will forever be captured in my memory. I spent most of my day observing and learning.  I was just trying to absorb it all. I was just trying to be a friendly smile to settle someone’s nerves. I was just trying to be an extra set of hands to the people who were taking care of every patient. I was just trying to keep a child happy while they waited for hours in the sun not exactly knowing why they were waiting.

It was a long day.

We arrived at the hospital and made our way to the center courtyard where screening would take place. I don’t know what I expected. I found myself taking several deep breaths as we navigated the hallways of the hospital. When we turned the corner and walked outside into the courtyard, the deep breaths got stuck in my chest. There was no visible end to the line of people waiting for us to arrive. Within seconds, people started clapping. I didn’t even realize they were clapping for our arrival until I had walked past the crowd and into the area set up for screening stations.

A Small Glimpse of Screening Day

Every single person standing outside in the sun was waiting to be screened or was waiting for someone they love to be screened. And they were clapping. It didn’t seem fair. It still doesn’t seem fair. We should be clapping for them. Life certainly can’t be easy for them. I can’t imagine the ache in the heart of a parent when the learn that their child is born with a cleft lip or a cleft palate. I can’t imagine the feeling they must having wondering what they can do. If this was my child, surgery would be scheduled and planned before he was ever born. His birth would still be filled with hope knowing help was waiting. We should be clapping for them for showing up today.

At the end of day one, we screened nearly 200 patients. Nearly 200 individuals received a full health screening to see if they are healthy enough for surgery. The had time with a speech pathologist. They had time with a psychologist. They got help with breast feeding or bottle feeding. A nutritionist meet with them all. A dentist spent time with each patient. It’s an amazing thing to observe. It works like a machine. One station to the next. Every team has a specific goal, and every volunteer treated every patient with love and compassion.

Hours and Hours of Fun thanks to a green frog finger puppet and a two year old boy who made me love my boys even more

Tomorrow we will do it all again. There are more patients to screen, more bubbles to blow, more people to love.

“It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince     

Still working hard long after Sunset (or maybe just Jerry!)


Uniting a Team

(May 14, 2015)

Most of the volunteers arrived in the middle of the night last night. Airport pickups had me crawling into bed after 2am. It’s all beginning. It is all about to start. The pieces of a successful mission are starting to fall into place.

As we waited for the volunteers to arrive, we guessed who was with Operation Smile. Did they fit the picture we had painted in our head? Did they look like a plastic surgeon? Would I know if they were a nurse? Voices I have become familiar with over the phone became welcoming faces.

Every single volunteer that got of the plane followed the same pattern – recognition that we were waiting for them, realizing I am Kristy, and a huge embrace. No one shook hands. No one awkwardly introduced themselves. We were instantly a family united in Lima.

Day 1 on our mission agenda included a tour of the hospital, reviewing hospital protocol and a team meeting. As we sat on the bus anticipating the one hour drive north along the Pacific coast, our Program Coordinator made an announcement. The hospital tour was cancelled. There was a protest at the hospital that made it unsafe for our visit. Our new destination was the historic district of Lima. We were going to tour a cathedral and catacombs.

The entire day I was amazed by how quickly everyone became friends. We were strangers from over 10 different countries. We spoke different languages. We have different backgrounds. Our differences never mattered. We are all a family connected and united by our common goal to bring hope to families.

Standing outside the Covent of San Francisco, I took a few moments to take it all in. I am in Lima. I am on a medical mission with Operation Smile. Tomorrow we will meet families and children who hope to get surgery, but today we have the chance to embrace this community. While we all learn to love each other more deeply, we get to stand in the middle of a church built in 1535. We get to stand in a library that was once considered the most important library in the South America that dates back to the 17th century and holds 25,000 books. We get to stand in the church’s choir. The pipe organ was built in 1901 and has more than 1000 pipes. We get to walk through the catacombs that is the burial ground to more than three centuries of priests, members of the brotherhood, and citizens of Lima. Surround by over 500 years of history, my presence in the world seems like only a small ripple.

While the Covent of San Francisco made me feel small, there is no denying there is importance in the ripples that Operation Smile will make in the lives of the families we can treat. We all know this. We all know that there is nothing more important than the children we are in Peru to treat.

In this moment, in the historic district of Lima, I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m surrounded by the people I’m supposed to meet. I am where I belong. We are were we belong. We are so much stronger when we are united. Each of us bring our own unique gift to the mission and as a result families can continue to dream for their children.

My heart is so incredibly happy.

Exploring Mira Flores

(May 13, 2015)

Volunteers begin to arrive tonight around 5:30pm. After confirming a few details, the afternoon belonged to me. With no destination in mind, I wandered up and down the streets of Mira Flores, a district in Lima. The air is filled with a surprisingly comforting smell – an odd mixture of salt water and exhaust fumes. The sounds of car horns echo off the buildings. This district in Lima is an amazing blend of city life and beach living.

As I wander up and down the streets, I accept the fact that I’m noticeably a tourist. My eyes are wide as I try to take it all in. I look up and down. My eyes dart to the left and right. I am still not comfortable dodging traffic as I make my way across the busy intersections. I am okay with the label of tourists. I am content trying to absorb the energy of the city.

As I wander I notice a woman handing out balloons to children who walk by. A boy takes one and continues to hit his mom’s backside for the rest of their journey. The mom is unphased by his behavior. It comes with the territory of having a toddler. Chet would approve, and I suspect I’d be unphased too. Another boy walks by with an Angry Birds t-shirt that Cole used to wear. I miss my boys. A man sitting outside eating lunch reminds me so much of my father-in-law I almost ask to take his photo. I see my father-in-law in so many people since we lost him two years ago. A couple walking down the street holding hands makes me wish Christian was with me even if he doesn’t enjoy city life. Everywhere I look, I see something familiar in this city that is still foreign to me.

In this foreign city, I’m finding my connection. I’m finding my comfort in my morning run along a different boardwalk and a different ocean. I see people who remind me of home. Even thought I’m 3351 miles from home, I still find things that feel familiar.

Perhaps that is what this journey, every journey is about. It is about finding comfort. It is about finding the familiar. It is about finding your tribe. It is about connecting to people and life.

I’ve been here for less than 24 hours, and I already see how important it is to be connected. Tonight the volunteers arrive. We are already connected though our passion and our commitment to help. On Friday, patient screening begins. The families we will meet are just another version of ourselves – familiar faces living similar lives in a country that is foreign to me. We are all doing the best we can with our lives – separated by 3351 miles in daily life but always connected.

To Peru

(May 12, 2015)

On May 12, 2014, I started a new chapter in my life. I walked through the front doors of Operation Smile’s Global Headquarters ready to take ownership of my new job: my own personal dream job. I was ready to thrive. Exactly one year ago I began this journey. Today, May 12, 2015, I am sitting on a plane heading to Lima, Peru to participate in my first medical mission.

“She’s seeing things.

She is hearing things.

She’s so sensitive.

Read: She’s irrational.

And this I have internalized. Who am I to trust my body, my senses, my instincts? Who am I to know how to raise my child without consulting parenting books and up-to-date rearing studies? Who am I to try to find God outside of an institutionally approved, fully vetted doctrine? Who am I to think I can pursue impractical dreams? Who am I to be taken seriously? Who am I to think I am capable and worthy? Who am I…who am I?” ~Leigh Ann Henion

This has been my internal dialogue for much of my life. I’ve focused on how I’m not enough – not enough of a wife, not enough of a mother, not enough of a dreamer. I’ve never trusted myself.

As I boarded this plane, tears rolled down my face. Not sure the root of my tears – part homesick and part inspired – I am certain my tears come from a place of gratitude.

I’ve been talking about myself a lot lately. I’ve focused on how this is my dream coming true, but the truth is that this has nothing to do with me at all. It is not about me being enough or capable or worthy. It isn’t about who I am. It is about who they are. It is about the patients we will treat in Peru. It is about the mother who can continue to dream for her child. It is about the father who can exhale knowing his child will be safe and healthy. It is the story of the parents where my heart feels connected.

I have two healthy boys. We have access to safe medical treatment anytime we need it. I am grateful.

This journey is about bringing hope to these communities. It is about healing. I haven’t even touched down in Lima yet, and my heart is already transforming. My old dialogue – Am I enough? Who am I? – is fighting to make its way into this journey. Who am I to think I am worthy? Who am I to think I deserve this dream? By the time this plane touches down in Lima that dialogue is no longer welcome. This isn’t my story.

“It is showing me that I am part of a divine completion, and knowing this somehow makes me feel whole. It is in the spirit of Aloha, oneness, that I intuit divinity. We do not live outside or inside of nature. We are nature. We are not separate from each other – our fates are intertwined, always.” ~Leigh Ann Henion

This journey is about connection. It is about community. It is about hope. It is about spreading love and receiving it – unapologetically and whole heartedly. This is about seeing that fate is always intertwined.

Four more hours until Lima…..

The coastline welcomed me