One great thing about being a speaker is the opportunity to travel. I had the grand opportunity to present at WIN Conference, an outstanding women’s conference, in Rome, Italy last year. It was an awesome experience and I was able to gain a global perspective of issues affecting women in leadership. I stayed a couple of days afterward to tour the Eternal City. I visited the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica and I even traveled to Pompeii to view the ancient ruins and climb Mount Vesuvius. Neither words nor images can truly capture how spectacular the paintings, architecture, statues, frescos, tapestry, and artifacts were! I thought nothing could top the magnificence of that visit. But I was wrong.
I was invited to come back to the same conference to be hosted in Rome again this year! I could not pass up this opportunity! I decided to come early and do a little sightseeing before the conference this time. When I booked the trip, it was just a business trip. Later, my husband decided to join, but in the end, things did not work out, so it reverted to another solo adventure abroad. I had booked the tours when it was a trip for two, but a day trip to Venice by myself was not appealing. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I have always dreamed about a gondola ride with my love. But dreams don’t always come true… so I decided, in true Stephanie style, to create an adventure of a lifetime. Instead of, A Roman Holiday, I decided to live La Dolce Vita minus the tragedy and dip in the Trevi Fountain. I decided to create a wondrous version of Eat Pray Love!
Due? No, just one. Solo, Senorina? Si, Solo. In Italy, food is an experience. Meals are a way of life. I remember last year when I went to a restaurant to “grab a bite to eat” how strangely the waiter looked when he realized I was alone. I enjoyed an awesome meal and glass of wine. I tried Pasta cacio e pepe, a traditional pasta dish. It was delicious! As I ate, I looked around at all the great conversations, laughter, and experiences created at the tables around me. Although there was no one at my table, I was creating an experience of my own. This year, I looked forward to creating new experiences through the food of Italy. I went back to that same restaurant and had a delightful caprese salad and Pasta cacio e pepe again. I had gelato—pistachio and hazelnut are my favorites! I had an awesome ravioli with porcini mushrooms and truffles. My favorite dish was a sumptuous pumpkin and sage ravioli! I could have eaten an entire pan! Don’t worry, I worked out every day so that I wouldn’t eat my way out of the clothes I packed!
But it was about more than the meal. It was the experience. As I enjoyed the savory and sweet, I watched the people around me. It was great to see the couples and groups and imagine what they were talking about. I am an avid observer of people so I constantly toe the line between polite observation and intrusive staring. I love to watch people and the stories they tell. The stories of love, disappointment, dreams, disaster, daring, service, loss, wins, and so much more.
“Some of the greatest stories are written alone. Even when we are alone, we are not alone.”
Some of the greatest stories are written alone. Even when we are alone, we are not alone. We can be alone in a crowded room of people. How alone we are depends on how we connect to people or if we don’t at all. I don’t’ mean talking to people, but connecting with people. Sometimes through silent acknowledging glances. Sometimes through physical touch. Sometimes through experiences. Sometimes we are connected by chance. Sometimes we are connected by force. We can always connect by choice.
I have been blessed to travel abroad. Each time I have realized that I have more in common than I am different. It is truly amazing to speak with women from all around the world and understand the common challenges and triumphs that we have. It is amazing to watch families that look different than my own share the same love, laughter, and connections that I do. But you don’t need to travel abroad to do that. You can meet someone new where you live. You can meet someone again for the first time. Sometimes we are foreigners in our own homes. Sometimes the people we know, know us the least. Being connected is a choice. Be present is a commitment. Being alive is an experience. It is a choice to be a part of the experience or merely exist in it.
Rome has some of the most beautiful churches in the world! It is hard to believe that people can worship in such opulence. I’d be marveling at the beautiful tapestries, frescos, and statutes instead of listening to the priest! I decided to create a personal pilgrimage and visit seven churches and say seven prayers. I plotted out a walking tour all over Rome—a 20 mile route in total! I began at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. I decided to bring my book of prayers and read them in the chapel. It was quite a pitiful scene as I cried my way through my prayer book. But I didn’t really care. I allowed my tears to be cathartic. At the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, I read my gratitude prayer and affirmation. This time with less tears. At the next three churches, I read Psalm 20, Psalm 23, and Psalm 40—each followed by a prayer. By the third psalm, I was not crying at all. My spirit was renewed. At the last 2 churches, I said prayers thanking God for my experiences up until this point and for the great experience that the day had become.
“You don’t need to go to Rome to find peace. There is peace wherever you are when you choose to create it.”
It was more than the churches. It was more than the paintings and frescos and tapestries. It was more than the prayers. It was the experience of being in the presence of God. As I marveled at the surroundings in the church, I remember reflecting that God was there in the beauty of that church and He was with me in the ugliness of any circumstance. He is with me. And that is why when we are alone, we are never really alone. Prayer is a great way of connecting with the possibilities in life. Prayer is the pause between the pain and the purpose. Prayer is the path from tumultuousness to peace. Your life begins in your thoughts. Your life can also be trapped in your thoughts.
But you don’t need to go to Rome to find peace. There is peace wherever you are when you choose to create it. There is peace in the power of your thoughts and actions. You must be open to it. Peace often comes in silence. Prayer and meditation is a prelude to peace. In a world of noise and noisiness, there is a great power in silence. You can hear yourself. You can hear your own voice. You can hear the answer that has been there all along. Listen to yourself and you can create possibilities. Listen to yourself and you can hear truth. Listen to yourself and you can see clearly.
Well, for a number of reasons, this one is complicated. I did not know how I would find love in Rome alone. Of course, there is always self-love. The eating and praying were certainly a form of that. Certainly, I thought about love. How could one not think about love in such a romantic place? While out for a walk on the first night, I had a self-appointed tour guide who was trying his best to be my Romeo. Nah, pahdna! No thanks! I’m good. Finally, on the third day of the conference, I found the love I was looking for. I attended a session on “Making the Dual Couple Thrive.” Lawd Jesus, this was a topic that was too little, too late in many respects, but I went anyway. I did not know what to expect, but it turned out to be more than I expected. The presenter, Blanca Vergara, revealed the magic potion to love—Learning to see things in the very moment.
This advice is so simple, yet so complex. Sometimes in love, we spend too much time missing from the present. We are caught up in the past or terrified by the future. The only moment that you can do anything about is the present. In fact, what you do every day is the best indicator of what your love in the future will look like. You cannot predict the future of your love, but you can influence it. The more present you are in your present, the more likely your desired future will be a reality. The magic of love is embracing the time you have together this very moment because it is the only moment that is guaranteed. If you forfeit the opportunity to fully embrace your love today because you are worried about a future challenge that has not materialized yet, you are wasting precious time and you are wasting the magic of love.
“Love is an action. Love is how faith shows up. It is the expression of hope.”
Blanca also urged us to “let go of stuff.” She poignantly exposed that we disguise our fear of the “what if” with the overstuffed baggage—literal and figurative. We are so focused on the “what ifs” that we burden ourselves with worries that are not really real. Blanca wisely admonished us to focus on the fundamentals. Anything outside of the fundamentals is just stuff and should be let go. Love is the fundamental.
Oh, Love! As the hopeless romantic, I have always believed that love prevails. Love is not a real life fairytale. Love is more than just a feeling. It is more than the tingling in the pit of your stomach or the way your heart skips a beat or speeds up. It is more than the warmth in your loins or the fire in your heart. There is a reason that love is the greatest of faith hope and love. You must believe. You must have hope. But faith and hope without action is just a setup for failure. You must have love. You must act like love.
Love is an action. Love is how faith shows up. It is the expression of hope. Many artists, poets, and singers have asked what is love. But we do know. We know how love acts. It is patient and kind. It does not envy nor boast, nor is it proud. We know how love acts. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. We know that love lasts. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love is a heart action. It does not always make sense, but it always makes sense of things. But I have learned that sometimes, love is not enough.
And in the end, love made my Roman holiday complete. As was fitting, the last workshop on the last day led to the answer that I needed to hear. Love transcends feelings. Love makes sense yet it makes no sense at all. Love transcends seasons. It is the act that binds when all else is falling apart around you. Love is the transformation of faith and hope into the everyday experiences that create a lifetime. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.