Sitting at Starbucks, waiting for my car to finish its oil change... driving across the country will do that to you.
Its raining here in Atlanta today after what has been a beautiful sunshine-y week. I didn't think the weather could be better anywhere than it is in LA, but the combination of sunshine here and miles of green (rather than miles of concrete) is quite pleasant.
I'm really looking forward to this week. Tomorrow I am leaving to fly to Chicago, where I will be participating in an event with Timberline Knolls to mark the opening of a new wing of their treatment center outside of Chicago, IL. Timberline Knolls has been one of the generous residential treatment facilities that has offered the Foundation a 30-day stay for one of our applicants so that they may begin on their recovery journey and ultimate freedom from their eating disorder. I am so confident in the young woman that we have selected to begin treatment at Timberline Knolls, and so excited to have been able to offer her such an incredible opportunity for hope and healing. I'll be meeting her on my visit to Chicago, as well as the amazing staff of professionals that give of themselves every day, to see that the women and men that they treat discover God, life, love, and themselves. The event is going to be held from 4-7:30pm at Timberline Knolls campus... if you're in the Chicago area, I would love to see you there!
On a more personal note, it really feels amazing to be settling into a new place; new beginnings. I really love Atlanta. I had a great weekend here; served at a singles outing with Northpointe Church (Andy Stanley's church), where a team of about 10 other individuals and myself went down to the Sims Estate neighborhood and weeded, cleaned, raked and got bitten by bugs for a few hours. :) I say that with love, though. It was actually really fun, a gorgeous day, and great fellowship with the members of the church that were serving, as well as the community members. We were even able to enjoy an AWESOME, impromptu step dance performance, in the street, by the local prep-school boys... they rocked.
I also got a nickname. Someone in the group that I was serving with figured out the I had been Miss America, and while I'm proud of having had the job, much to my dismay, they all started calling me "Big Time." Not exactly what I wanted to come to light at a service event, but it was all in good fun, of course, and I didn't really mind. But once someone figures "it" out, I always get teased and teased and teased. One of the members of the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Atlanta was there, and even she yelled, "Big Time, get over here!" when we all lined up for a group photo at the end of the event. She didn't know the reason behind the nickname, but someone joked, "You're going to be speaking at an event or something around here, and she's going to look at you and say, 'Hey! Big Time!'" Yep, that would be just my luck.
On Sunday morning I was able to go to church for the first time here in Atlanta, with my new roommate (good friend and founder of the Manna Scholarship Fund http://www.mannafund.org/), at Buckhead Church. It is a satellite church of Northpointe. Genie, my roomie, helps to lead a small group of middle school girls at the early service, and so I attended with her to meet "her girls" and share some of my experiences as Miss A. It is so amazing how God just ties everything neatly together: the message for the middle schoolers that morning was about 'labels' that we give each other, and how judgement is really saved for God alone; what we are called to do as followers of Christ is to love both believer and unbeliever, as we are all simply recipients of the amazing Grace of God.
I cannot TELL you the struggle that it was both during my year, and still today (as evidenced by the slapping on the label "Big Time"), being judged and labeled at a "beauty queen;" no matter if the stereotypes are positive or negative. It is somewhat natural for people to have stereotypes; the problem lies in how one's behavior is affected by these stereotypes, and the degree of their awareness of and willingness to look past them. It was and remains a great challenge to constantly remind myself that I will never convince everyone of the values of being Miss America ($50,000 scholarship included), or that I am not just a crown, an icon, a bimbo, superficial. My identity is found in Christ, alone, and that keeps me strong. In the same way I realize that I am not defined by my job or title, I am able to realize and see through the labels society gives others. My experiences have given me perspective and greater understanding of highly criticized and unfairly judged members/groups of society. I am incredibly thankful for this burgeoning understanding; knowing that God granted it to me in order to share with others. It felt really, really neat to be able to share that message with the middle school girls Sunday morning. We had a great bonding time, and I can't wait to see them again next week.
Following church was a lazy Sunday afternoon, which I spent with some new friends at the Dogwood Festival at Piedmont Park; an Atlanta institution ushering in the Spring. Although, it has been here for a few weeks already. I was very proud of myself... while I saw many a beautiful piece of art and much fine jewelry, I didn't spend any money! I don't need ONE more thing. Seriously. My closet shelf here in Atlanta broke before I even finished hanging up my clothes. Donate, donate, donate....
I hope you all have a great week, and hope to see some of you in Washington D.C. at Lobby Day next week.