Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we'd all be millionaires." -Abigail Van Buren

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.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Eating Disorders Coalition Lobby Day 2010

3 more days left to register to lobby with the Eating Disorders Coalition! Join us in Washington D.C., April 26th and 27th as we demand that our congressmen and women recognize eating disorders as a public health priority! I'll see you there!

It is truly the most incredible experience, joining ranks with other survivors, activists, professionals, and policy experts to speak out for the recognition and eradication of this disease. I cannot tell you the self-worth and confidence that you feel after participating in a Lobby Day with the EDC. Speaking directly to Congressmen and Women, their staffers, and other individuals on the Hill is empowering, safe, and through the experience, you see how much our legislators actually DO care. This is your chance. Make your voice heard, and impact your world, your country, and the lives of so many. Join us, for Lobby Day 2010.

See you in Washington.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Updates, Travels, and Taxes...

After a bit of a hiatus from the blogosphere, I am back, after what has been a very busy couple of months.

Just to catch up....

- In January, it was SO great to catch up with my Miss America sisters at the 2010 Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas. We happily welcomed Katie Stam into the 'former' club, and were all thrilled at Caressa Cameron's crowning as the new representative for the organization. She is a tremendous woman, with undeniable charm, wit, and intelligence. She also has vocal chops to rival Beyonce. I had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Caressa at the Miss Virginia pageant when she won, as I spent the week hosting each evening of competition. I can say that I knew she was prepared to do the 'job' from the time she won her state title.

- February was naturally hectic, as it was (and is every year) officially National Eating Disorders Awareness Month. Travels included...

A stop in Traverse City to host the Miss Heart of Michigan Pageant, and an opportunity to speak with a middle and high school youth group of girls on body image issues and eating disorders at a local church.

Another visit to Sean Hannity's show on Fox News in New York

University of Arizona in Tuscon, where I was able to meet and chat intimately with several local titleholders who will be competing for the title of Miss Arizona this summer. I spoke on campus, my appearance generously sponsored by Remuda Ranch and Sierra Tucson treatment centers. There was an EXCELLENT turnout; happily, many sororities came to the event, which was held at the University's brand new, eco-friendly Rec Center. Great start to National Eating Disorders Awareness Week!

From UA, I flew straight to Denver, Colorado, where I spoke at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I was able to lunch with an amazing group of high school young men and women who serve as Positive Body Image/Eating Disorders Advocates in a group called the Boulder Youth Body Alliance. They have this great campaign, posting anonymous 'post-its' wherever they go that have positive messages written on them... like "You are beautiful!" I love this sneaky campaign tactic. :) Another great turnout for the speaking engagement on campus, with MANY great questions. I love speaking at Universities, because students are usually excited about engaging the speaker and asking pertinent, tough questions.

From UC, I headed to Omaha, Nebraska, where I was able to do media and speak at a mini-conference for OMNI Behavioral Health Clinics of Omaha. They shoulder the burden of being the state's sole provider of comprehensive eating disorders treatment. I was also honored to receive a prestigious award for advocacy from OMNI, and felt it an incredible privilege to stand beside the other survivors who had shared their stories that day and declare freedom from the oppression of stigma and this illness. It was quite an emotional couple of days.

From Omaha, I zipped up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I hosted a fundraising event for my good friend Robyn Hussa's program called NORMAL in Schools; an educational 'musical' telling the story of a family's struggle with an eating disorder that Robyn and her group of actors perform live in schools. Along with these performances, NIS provides curriculum on nutrition and eating disorders for students, and after performances, they have a talk back with professionals so that students may ask questions. The fundraiser was held the most amazing OLD OLD OLD theatre, the Turner Hall Ballroom. I reminded me distinctly of the theatre in the film Moulin Rouge... and was from about that time period, the turn of the century. The floors creaked and were slanted with age and decay, the stage itself was raked, the windows stained-glass, and the sweeping oak staircases magnificent. It was most certainly one of the most eclectic and interesting venues I've seen. It was great to catch up with Robyn and many old friends in Milwaukee, and enough money was raised at the fundraiser to cover almost all the cost of the DVD program NIS is developing to make the musical and curriculum more easily distributable. Way to go NORMAL in Schools!

-In March I was able to speak to the contestants, parents and volunteers at the Miss Michigan contestant orientation the first weekend of the month.

I also made a visit to my close friend, Bridget Love's Fed-Up Girl after school program at University High in Los Angeles. What a great, educational program for young high school women! It was a fun day, and I truly adore that age of girls.

Of course, life can't be ALL work, so I popped home to Detroit to see family, and help out at my future sister-in-law's Bridal Shower (s). I am a bridesmaid for the very first time in my life, and I LOVE it! And I actually like the dress, too, which I know is half the battle of being part of the wedding party. But mostly, I'm just super excited to see my brother get married. The date is approaching soon, too... May 7th!

Also in March was another visit to Sean Hannity's show in New York... health care, health care, health care... how in the world am I supposed to talk about it intelligently, when most of the country, heck, most of Congress doesn't understand all of what is in that stupidly enormous piece of legislation? But talk about it, we did. Forgive me for not really loving Nancy Pelosi's assurance that as a people, we would learn what is in the bill, and see the benefits AFTER its passed. As an informed consumer, you only want to buy a product, or invest in something when you have adequate knowledge of what the product, service is going to do or provide. You don't spend the money and then say, "hope it works!" Anyway, we're stuck with it now. In my opinion, however, there no good that can be accomplished by complaining about what is past; one can only look, and move, forward. So what do we do from here? Vote. :)

That brings me pretty close to the present... I am happy to announce that April brought a change in location, for me, and a nice change in career goal and life situation. I am beyond excited to be going back to school at Emory Universtiy this summer, pursuing a degree in political science. After a great personal revelation, I decided that while I do love Los Angeles, and will miss my friends and church there, that it is simply not the place that God wants me to be. Additionally, after seeing what living the 'entertainment-lifestyle' is like, I see that it is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. While it works for many people, it just is no longer what I really want.

I realized this after one of my appearances on Hannity for Fox News. My Pastor's family wanted to tune-in to watch, as I had gotten very close with them and had baby-sat (that looks really funny written out... I didn't sit on their babies, I promise) their four precious children on a few occasions. I fell in LOVE with their little girls Sadie and Sophia. After returning from New York, Sarah, my pastor's wife told me how much they all enjoyed watching the show, and told me that Sophia had said to her, "Mommy, I want to be on a TV show like THAT someday!" That comment sums up my reasons for wanting to pursue something other than a life that would simply promote our celebrity-obsessed, overly-sexualized, female-demeaning culture. I want more girls, like Sophia, to look up to women in news, women working and doing good in the world, women using their voices to stand up for their opinions and beliefs. I want little girls like Sophia to see that women are more than just romantic heroines pining for love, or snappy, spoiled, and gossiping mean high school girls that never grow up. I want to continue to be a woman, in my life's work, who uses her ideas, her brain, and her experiences to inspire and change this world, and encourage others to authenticity, generosity, and good principles. I just don't feel that I could do that as easily, nor as effectively in entertainment. I want little girls to look up to strong, smart, motivated women. Not just actresses. That is why I decided to go back to school, and pursue something else. I could not feel more confident in my decision, or more excited about the prospects of the future.

About a week ago, I had the pleasure of returning to Sober Living By the Sea in Newport Beach, a campus, so-to-speak, of behavioral health treatment centers, that include residential facilities treating chemical dependency in men, women, and eating disorders. I had the pleasure of speaking at a press conference alongside U.S. Drug Czar for the Clinton Administration, General Barry McCaffrey, the CEO of CRC Health Group, Dr. Barry Carlin, and the head of the Women's Health Office for the State of California, Terri Thorfinnson. We got GREAT press coverage, and thereby much awareness in Orange County of Eating Disorders and the treatment options in their area. I love the team at CRC/SLBTS... and I love Newport Beach. :) I was able to have a whole Saturday off while there, and boy, did a massage do me good!

Perhaps the most exciting development, however, in the last few months, has been the deciding upon, and awarding, of our first two scholarships to applicants to the Kirsten Haglund Foundation. We have been fortunate enough to have two INCREDIBLE treatment centers, Timberline Knolls and Recovery Ranch, donate 30-day stays at their facilities, to the Foundation. With this generous gift came the opportunity for us to do what it is we set out to do; give hope to young women who are battling this disease. We have awarded our first two scholarships, and are pursuing another opportunity with a treatment center at present. More information on this to come. While I wish we had the resources to provide financial assistance to each and every individual that comes to us, I feel so incredibly blessed to have been able to give the opportunities that we have. There will be more to come; small, but triumphant, steps.

I will be heading to Timberline Knolls at the end of next week to speak and help open a new wing of their treatment facility that will allow for a greater number of available beds. From there, it is on to Washington D.C. to lobby with the Eating Disorders Coalition (ONLY 4 MORE DAYS TO REGISTER!!!). Looking forward to an amazing summer and a beautiful new life path. Hope you are feeling inspired to do the same.

Oh wait, it's Tax Day. I doubt anyone is feeling much 'inspired.'

Ok, so feel inspired on the 16th.