"What's your biggest goal for 2017? Post it here." he wrote on his facebook wall.
I typed "Billionaire Philanthropist."
"That's huge." he typed back.
I stopped doing the New Year's Resolution, goal setting, better job, get in shape, find love, thing a few years ago and started focusing on how I wanted to feel instead of what I wanted to do or have. I started choosing a word that I would live in for the year and meet every challenge and every experience with that word and see what unfolded after reading the book, One Word That Will Change Your Life. The first year was Love, I flooded my life with the word. Then it was Truth. Then it was Joy.
The year following the words. I wrote a sentence and devoted myself to living out that sentence for the year. "I am fully committed to the divine path before me in the highest expression of truth with a voice that carries and a passionate, courageous, open, light filled heart devoted to pure love that honors the needs of my heart." That was one of the most transformational years of my entire life, for myself and for my family. You can read that story by following my journal entries titled, The Path of Devotion.
These were challenging years, years of incredible personal growth and deep spiritual connection. I'd gotten divorced in the year of Love. Love was lacking in my marriage and in my life. I felt a sort of desperation for it so I chose that word or maybe that word chose me and ever since I've been learning lessons about the power of love and what true love looks and feels like. Both of my parents died during the year of Truth and we were battling addiction in our family and it was kicking my ass. As my world got smaller and smaller, reduced to the size of a hospital bed when my parents were dying, what is true about life and worth living for became very clear. Anything other than real and true felt like a waste. Presence, breath and love become the only true needs. Everything shifted from challenge to peace during the year of Joy and on The Path of Devotion. Everything. It was a year of deep healing and true love rising.
But back to the Billionaire Philanthropist and the huge "goal" for the coming year.
Is it huge? Maybe. Maybe in just one year, but is it out of the realm of possibility?
No, I don't believe it is. I don't believe anything is out of the realm of possibility. By the end of my life perhaps if you add it all up, it will be a billion dollars or a billion hours. Either way, I'm going to try.
Where did that dream come from?
The seed was planted on a Sunday in a Starbucks in Great Falls, VA.
I'd just gotten some tea at the counter and was joining a planning meeting for an fundraising event with The Chris Atwood Foundation, a foundation that provides training on life saving Nalaxone, the overdose reversal drug and scholarships for people coming out of treatment for substance use disorder and needing financial help transitioning into recovery housing. I've been invited to be a part of the planning and execution of the event. We are gathered around the table and coming up with ideas for the silent auction.
Someone suggests contacting a certain woman for a donation. "She's a billionaire philanthropist," they say. "she just writes big checks all day to people who need help."
This lights me UP!
I smack my hands on the table and say, "I want to do THAT" and I mean it with my whole entire being. And by saying it I feel it with my soul that I WILL do that. I feel my eyes sparkle and my heart swell and my whole body resonates with the idea of giving people what they need to heal, to feel taken care of, to shift thier lives, to believe that they are loved, to believe in themselves, to create their own life, their own path, to remove barriers to love.
Or maybe it was planted that day a year or so ago where my friend Tom, who is the founder of Stillbrave, a pediatric cancer foundation that helps families on the ground level by providing resources like gas, groceries, rent and funeral expenses where needed. He tells stories about the children and their families and I'd asked him, what I could do that day, right now and he'd said gas and grocery cards. "You got it." I said.
The simple act of bringing him those cards and few other goodies for this particular family gave me the deepest feeling of joy. It physically thrilled me. It sparked my soul. It inspired my inner "fairy godmother" to really get going. I love feeling that feeling. I adore generosity. I want to be that woman with my life, with my love.
The Billionaire Philanthropist. The Fairy Godmother.
And so I have begun making the moves that would allow me to feel that way more and be that woman because it's less about what I want to do this year and more about how I want to feel in my life and what legacy I want to leave behind.
I believe that you can choose your purpose and work backwards from there instead of waiting to find your purpose or your purpose to find you. Choose something that breaks your heart and serve it with your life.
Then look to the people doing the thing that you're jealous or envious of and make the moves to do that thing. That's your cue. That's what your heart is calling you to do. I get jealous of Ellen and Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton. Ellen is a wish granter, Brene has the most watched TED talks. She speaks on shame and vulnerability, she's a researcher and a story teller. Glennon is a self professed love warrior and truth teller by way of blogs and events. Probably my biggest most admired envy is Tony Robbins, he is an inspirational mega watt light bulb. I want to be the girl with microphone in the middle of a huge musical lovefest telling stories, inspiring people's hearts to heal and radiate their own magic, goodness and light.
There is room for you to do the thing your heart is calling you to do. There is always room for you to be that thing. Don't squash it, or supress it, or numb. Believe in it. With your whole heart.
It's your treasure.
With my life and my resources, I want to help the 23 million families suffering in addiction into recovery and to create a clean, healthy world for our children before I leave this place. Addiction and the effect is has on families breaks my heart to pieces.
If I had a billion dollars today, I would start writing checks for people to get into treatment. I would fill every available space in every single treamtent center right now, because I know that the path to recovery begins with professional treatment. I wouldn't hesitate. It would just do it and fast. Then I would round up all of the families and get them into a family program of healing and create an environment where recovery thrived. I'd send them on healing retreats, have camps for kids and siblings just like they do in the cancer community. Then I'd foster relationship and connection within the family so that the bonds could be repaired. I'd write checks for kids whose parents or had family members who were sick to go to college or get tutors, play sports, dance, practice yoga, or art or whatever they needed to get a leg up, to heal and to flourish. I'd dress up and buy tables and invite my friends to join me at every benefit, fundraiser, silent auction that perpetuated recovery and donate generously. I want to be that woman.
The Fairy Godmother. The Wish Granter. The truth talking, love warrior, storyteller woman dancing in the middle of a huge love fest.
That feels good to me. That lights me up.
My job this year is to make the moves to make it so.
This year I will....
Be a better person.
Give more money.
Excercise Kindness Everyday
Have a Bigger Heart
I have the best job in the world. I am here to make more love by being more me. You are too. What's better than that? The more money we make, the more money we can give. Generosity is a thrill like no other. The more we love the more we love our work. Exercise is good for the soul, excercising kindness is good for the soul of the world. The bigger your heart, the more love you can hold and the more love you can share. I believe love will always find you. To have the love you want you have to be that love first.
How do you want to feel this year? What will you be? You get to choose.
Start there. Work your way backwards. Make the moves to make it so.
Be more YOU. Be more LOVE.
Wishing you your most beautiful, biggest dream in love and for real,
The Billionaire Philanthropist
“What was the one thing you did that you feel helped you and your family the most?” she asked me. I’d told her about a year I’d spent devoted to healing, of deep soul work, about the year that I believe broke the cycle of addiction that had been passed down for generations in my family. A year that changed me profoundly in the deepest way, which in turn gave me the courage and the strength to do something to deeply change the lives of my son and my daughters. My own LOVE RISING. I’ve been telling the story on the blog under the heading “Recovering Truth” for a little while now. You can read that here.
She was telling me about a silent yoga retreat she was considering. She’s in recovery, she’s navigating her path, she’s been doing the work to remove the barriers to love and she’s an excellent guide for others.
“What was the one thing?” She asked me.
“The retreats” I tell her. “Definitely the retreats.”
I’d gone on six retreats that year. Three solo weekends with my spiritual guide, Jen Lemen, one with my daughters and Jen, a three week sabbatical with my kids at the beach on our own but with support from Jen and one 12 day long trip to Bali with a friend. Intentional disconnection from my “life” to connect with my “self.” It was a year of surrender and devotion. Each retreat chipping away at the protective shield I’d built around my heart over a lifetime that was keeping true love out and keeping me “safe.” Each retreat giving way to a softening, an opening, a melting of my body and my heart so that I could truly feel all the feels and deeply connect with others, with spirit, with nature and with myself. Each retreat letting go of beliefs that didn’t serve me or my family and discarding baggage that was not mine but had been inherited or absorbed by my being. Each retreat shifting perspective about myself, my life, the world around me and increasing my ability to be truly present and feel the most alive. My love, my spirit rising from the ashes of loss, of grief, of a lifetime in an environment that wasn’t completely well, happy or peaceful. A life that looked good from the outside, surrounded by friends, family and community, but with emotional suffering on the inside. Some parts were so beautiful and good but others were sucking at my soul. I owned that I had a part in how my life felt and that it was my repsonsiblity to make it what I wanted it to be. I wanted to create a life that I adore, that fuels my fire and makes my soul sing, I didn’t know how to actually do it. (I adore my life now like never before but that’s another story)
All I knew when I went on that first retreat alone was that I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling behind the walls for another minute much less another day, week, month or year. I didn’t want walls anymore. It was exhausting trying to maintain the level of brightness and positivity that I am known for, that I know is at my core, under the circumstances we were in. I’d ended my marriage two years earlier, lost my parents six months prior, had a confusing relationship with a man whose spirit I felt like nothing I’d ever felt before and one of my children was in the grips of addiction and deep trauma to his heart. I was treading water with a brick tied to my ankle with a big smile on my face. The only things keeping me afloat was my incredible community and my love for my children.
I’d been praying for guidance. I found it on retreat. That wasn’t all I’d found. The retreats changed everything. I’d been praying on this idea awhile:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -RumiI didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I wanted to be IN LOVE. As real as it could be with every part of my soul, in everything that I did, in all of my relationships and in partnership and I wanted people to feel me too, not the “correct/acceptable” version of me but the truest version of me. The me without anybody else’s definitions or expectations or labels. Only my true self. I’d started on the path by myself by getting out of a marriage that I could no longer bear, reading books like Return To Love by Marianne Williamson and Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein and being led to other books including A Course In Miracles, which I practiced for an entire year after my divorce, my son’s first time in treatment and when that confusing relationship ended abruptly. I didn’t really know what that BIG LOVE felt like on the outside but I knew I had it on the inside. I was determined to find out and feel it, live it, be it. I was determined to have the life I longed for. Deeply connected, completely aligned, steeped in beauty, fully expressed. Present.
I believed. I had faith. Extreme faith in Love and its power. Somehow it was going to change my life, the life of my addicted child and the lives of my other children. I devoted myself to whatever it took and however the process unfolded understanding that God/The Universe/Spirit, whatever you choose to call the force of Love, would guide me, provide for me and place the right people in my path to help me grow, heal and evolve.
It was the retreat experience that disconnected me from “the daily,” the chaos and all the things/people/demands on our time and our being. In turn, the retreats reconnected me with me. They put me deeper into my body, deeper into my heart, able to really hear and respond to my own guidance, my own deep knowing and ultimately what stripped away “the barriers” to love by opening me up and surrendering to healing and to truth. Thresholds of enchantment, that’s what those retreats were. I became enchanted each time I stepped away for a little bit and the magic began to transform me into the woman I wanted to be.
I went on the retreats even though my child’s health was not stable. I had to depend on other people to care for my younger children. My community supported me with their love, their time and their blessings. I had to ask for help. I had to admit that I didn’t know, I didn’t understand, that I was sad, scared, lost, alone and very very tired. I had to surrender to uncertainty, unknown, and strangers to take care of me. And they did. I had to trust that this was the right thing to do for myself so that I could be the mother they needed, become the woman my community needed, the world needed me to be but most of all the Me I needed me to be.
First was the solo retreat with the spiritual mentor the universe sent me to begin the process of cracking the walls and opening my heart for a kind of surgery on my soul. After which I knew I would never be the same as I began to undo the lies I’d been telling myself for most of my life. As I began to reclaim my own beauty and let go of the stories that had been handed down to me. Stories of unworthiness, of not good enough, not pretty enough of being unloveable by nature. Stories that created an environment where addiction could thrive. An environment where you don’t speak, don’t feel and don’t trust. The three rules that keep addiction alive and ruling the world. I began breaking those rules and by breaking the rules I began to feel deeply, to speak up and to trust love.
Then the retreat to Seattle with two of the best soul whisperers on the planet and a horse named connection. You can read about that experience here. Where I learned about connection and the power of the heart and began to find my voice and let go of the pain and grief held in my body. The pain that was clenching my soul. Where I danced and I sang in a tiny little house in the woods. After which, I shifted my beliefs around addiction and began to treat my child as if he’d been diagnosed with a terminal disease, which set in motion a chain of events that ultimately resulted in treatment, remission and recovery for my child and a purpose began to rise in me.
Then the 14 day trip across the world to the tiny spiritual country of Indonesia. Finding myself in the company of a High Priestess and her husband and surrendering to their blessings, their love and healing in the heart of Bali. The unclenching of my soul, the unfolding of a spiritual adventure and the release of a huge amount of grief stored under my skin, feeling myself getting lighter and lighter and more and more connected to myself.
Then the trip to the eastern shore with my daughters where they began to melt and come down off high alert by just being alone with me, without our daily, without addiction running our lives, without cares. Just us. Where they cracked open just enough to let me see the pain in their hearts which in turn fueled my fire to cure our family and create the kind of sweet and beautiful existence they deserved, that all children deserve. When I knew with my entire being that addiction had to go once and for all and I would fight it or die trying. When I saw that they were tired too and needed me to end this and fast.
After that things began to rapidly change. It was chaotic and loud, difficult and scary but I knew that something greater was coming. I trusted God in a way I never had before. I listened with my soul. There were moments of searing beauty, great fear and moments of extreme rage but I was stronger because I’d learned what I needed to be a warrior. I kept confronting addiction at every turn and I didn’t back down. Sometimes I came away feeling defeated and beaten down and sometimes there was a victory. I’d read somewhere that your actions now affect the next seven generations. I wrote that on a card and put it on my altar. “your life will affect generations.” I became devoted to making sure my children and the children after would not grow up in an environment of addiction. They’d grow up in love, joy, happiness, wellness, peace. For that to happen, it had to start with me.
I booked a place at the beach for a few weeks and packed up my girls, puzzles, coloring books, flip flops, bikini’s and beach cover ups and spent the whole time asking myself everyday, “what does my 10 year old girl need today.” In that way I began to connect even deeper with the source of loneliness and the joy hidden deep down underneath all the sad and the pain. I’d turned 50 that year and I’d chosen the word JOY to live in for the year. In doing so everything that was in the way of feeling my true joy began to rise up for healing and then to fall away. That included anything and anyone that kept me from being awake, aware, alive and connected. Barriers to love are also barriers to joy.
In the fall with my child safely in treatment and on the path of recovery and wellness, I landed in the Land of Enchantment, Santa Fe, New Mexico ready to hear my next set of instructions from Spirit. I met with a shaman, a sage guide and the soul of the world itself while camping out in a tipi and hiking through in the hills of Madrid. You can read about that experience here. It was here I connected with my purpose and how to live my life with meaning and deeper in love. My soul healing that empty space that we look outside of us to fill and also alchemizing the pain of the past into pure gold ushering me and my family into a new way of being.
Finally a trip to an old house on Amelia Island with Jen as my guide in Florida a year to the day from that first retreat with her where I washed away all the things I was not and began to live all the things I was and sending my prayers for a new way of being up in a bon fire. A retreat to recognize all of the barriers that had fallen over the year and a reconciliation of what it took to set my heart free and begin to create a life fully expressed, completely aligned, deeply connected.
“What was the one thing that you did that you feel helped the most?”
“The retreats, definitely the retreats.”
I went looking for all the barriers within myself that I had built against love and burned them down and cleansed my soul on retreats.
In love and enchantment,
The thing is I did pray, I do pray. ALL THE TIME. And I did believe, I do believe, in God/Spirit/Love whatever you want to call the mighty spiritual force in the universe. I admire and follow the example of Jesus. I also admire and follow the example of Buddha. Angels are my friends. I adore Mother Mary and the rosary. I use mala beads from the Hindu tradition during prayer. I find some of the stories in the Bible to be extremely inspiring, hopeful and miraculous. I trust Spirit to guide me. I have a daily prayer practice that keeps me grounded. I talk to God all the time and God talks back to me, all the time. I am woman of extreme faith. I trust that there are Angels. I just don’t run around asking people if they’ve accepted Jesus as their personal savior or forcing God or my spirituality down anyone’s throat, or trying convert anyone to my way of prayer and I certainly don’t assume you wouldn’t want my love or blessings in a greeting card no matter how you connect with your spirit.
I just don’t go to church as a practice. I love churches, they are beautiful creations. I can feel the holy spirit and angels when I am in a church. Sundays are still sacred to me, they feel sacred. A day of rest, connection to self, Spirit and family after a week of hustling, working, schooling and parenting. A day of quiet without expectations feels like perfect love. We’ve tried churches, lots of churches. We haven’t found one that resonates with my soul.
I believe we are holy as people. I believe we are by our very nature Love and Goodness. I am not on the everyone is a sinner and inherently bad program. It makes it harder for me to find a church that resonates on that level, because I believe we are all good on the inside, not bad trying to be good. Good period.
Love is my religion.
I believe in the power of ritual, ceremony, tradition. They are all beautiful, glorious, in all of the religions. Each religion holds its own special magic and magnificence. I believe in Christmas and the story of the birth of one of the most profoundly loving humans. I like Jesus.
We always go to a church on Christmas. I don’t always feel like I belong there because I am not a regular, its not my “church home” but I love hearing the music and special stories and seeing the wonder and delight of the children. It helps me feel grounded in a way, a moment of surrender to the joy and spirit of Christmas after all the hustle to perform the Christmas miracle of decorating, getting everyone’s gifts, stuffing stockings, mailing Christmas cards and shopping for all the food and not collapsing under the pressure to create this magical event.
That hour in church on Christmas Eve is my magic and my heartbreak. The heartbreak is the opening that lets the light and the truth in after all the “to do” that’s happened up to the moment I enter the sanctuary including making sure my family is dressed appropriately and all the gifts are loaded in the car for the dinner and gift giving after the service. Christmas Eve in church is actually the moment I enjoy the most besides my children’s Christmas morning glee. (after which you can find me passed out on the sofa- exhausted but that’s another story I think I’ll tell tomorrow)
I remember the year that my son’s best friend Ben died in a car accident and the pastor told a story of his new baby Ben and my son squeezed my hand the whole time and I cried for the rest of the service and sobbed during the candle lit Silent Night knowing how hard Christmas was going to be for my son and Ben’s family. Every Christmas for 16 years was spent with Ben playing with star wars figures and legos and playmobile at each others houses. Feeling how broken my heart was and missing that boy that was like my own was hard. I was trying to remain joyful for my children and my family but grieving deeply just the same.
I remember the year that my mom was sick with breast cancer and didn’t come to our annual one night together at church where we took up 13 seats as a family and her illness really sinking in on me. Holding my candle and singing Silent Night thinking, maybe she’d never sit with us at church again.
Or the year we tried a different church and the pastor told a story of the family whose son wouldn’t be coming for Christmas dinner because he died of a drug overdose but his mother kept his place at the table so that others would remember him and would maybe not make that one choice that activates addiction. My son was so sick and deep in his disease that he couldn’t hear the message, but I did and tears streamed steadily down my face all the way through the sermon, wondering if one day I’d be having Christmas Eve dinner without him and an empty seat at the table. Grateful for the message that Spirit had handed me with this story and even more grateful that my son was even here in church, very sick and still grieving and suffering holiday trauma over the loss of his friend.
Then two years ago, after both of my parents died and we didn’t know where to go or what to do and nothing felt right, not a church or the dinner or the gift giving, none of it felt real or very joyful. Today I can’t even remember what happened or where we went to connect with Christmas on a spiritual level. Grief has a way of numbing your mind until your soul is ready to handle things.
And last year. The year we went to yet another church as a family even though we are divorced, celebrating the wellness of our child during treatment for substance use disorder. A joyous holiday for sure. We sat in a packed row, my children, my ex husband, his girl friend and his mother to connect with the true spirit of Christmas. Togetherness and Hope. And then a sober dinner with twenty five family members and friends at our house. All of us together, including dad, his girl friend and Nana, celebrating wellness and the joy, peace and happiness found in recovery.
This past few years and experiences of grief, sickness, death, loss, and pain have deepened my spirituality in a profound way. I believe in Angels. I believe in Love. I still don’t practice going to church. I am not religious but I wouldn’t have made it through what we’ve made it through without my faith in the goodness of people, in love and in God/Spirit/The Force and neither would my family. I believe everyone can be an angel in some way for others. It’s our purpose here on earth to see each other through. It’s how we do hard things. Angels are the original love warriors. The light bringers. The comforters.
My dad used to call me his Angel.
“Shelly’s my angel,” he would tell people. It was one of the last things he said before he died. The other was “I love you.”
“Let me be the angel by your side” is a song I like to sing. It reminds me of my true nature, our true nature, goodness and light, whether we practice a particular religion or gaze at the stars and pray.
With so much love from me and all the angels,
Artwork by Karen Tarlton (found on Pinterest)
Family Recovery Advocate
I serve women seeking healing and transformation.
I serve people who have been impacted by addiction recover their lives.