Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Year as a "pageant queen?" No, a Year of Incredible Experiences and Unprecedented Opportunities!

I have a confession: After winning this title in June, I honestly thought that my year would be filled with "all things pageantry." Boy, was I wrong! I never would have anticipated the opportunities that would stem from this, however directly or indirectly related. Only a few months in, I am truly realizing that this year is shaping and changing my life in so many indescribable ways. Thinking back, I really think this year has been the most eventful to date, and it's only been four months! While the bull accident at the fair and the discovery of a seventh sibling easily take the cake for "most crazy stories," there are many more that have been incredible learning and growing experiences.

About two weeks ago, my mom got sick with what seemed like a cold. As the days passed, she progressively got worse, became bed-ridden a few days in, and was brought to the hospital after a week. Hardly able to breathe, not able to talk, and constantly overcome with coughing fits, she stayed in the hospital for days, until treatments and medication started to calm the symptoms of what turned out to be a virus that she simply had to wait out. Thankfully, it was nothing too serious, and two weeks later, she's home again, almost fully recovered. We are all so blessed to have a God who protects and heals according to His plan. My mom has had several illnesses and problems, and it seems as time goes on, they continue to accumulate, yet she is doing what she can to take care of herself, and it is obvious God has a plan for this time in her life, even if we don't know what it is yet. I know one purpose of it though, and that has been to help me grow. (I admit, sometimes it can feel a little more like forcing than helping, but either way, it's accomplishing its purpose!)

Having to take over the "mom" position at home, I am slowly recognizing not only the incredible work my mom does, the amazing patience she possesses, and the many minute things she does that I rarely noticed, but also my own needs and weaknesses. A self-described "very independent person," I'm finally learning to accept the fact that everyone has a certain degree of interdependence, and that isn't a bad thing! (I know, you already knew this, but hey, I can be a little slow at recognizing obvious things sometimes!) Not only does this make me appreciate everyone in my life, but it has also helped me realize that I am forever indebted to each and every person, and that I will never be able to repay anyone for the way they have impacted my life. My only hope is that I will, in some small way, bless you the way you have blessed me. I can't do this alone, and I depend on your love, support, and prayers that you faithfully provide. I simply cannot say it enough: Thank you!

My mom, myself, and my sisters Angela and Christine, had been set to attend the Women of Faith conference in Denver, CO. Well, life intervened, and the unexpected hospital stay for my mom meant she couldn't go. With her home recovering, the rest of us went ahead, and let me tell you, what an incredible weekend this has been! For the past two full days, the Pepsi Center in Denver has been filled with 10,000 women, singing, crying, laughing, listening, and talking. God knew just what I needed for inspiration, encouragement, and motivation, and the speakers and musicians there were exactly what He prescribed. There's so much running through my head and heart right now, I can't express it all in words, but I certainly hope I can live it out through the coming months

The Women of Faith convention is just one of the things I have been up to that may not be directly pageant-related at first glimpse, but truly impacts it in every way. Another one of these things is the United Way Special Events Committee that I recently re-joined, and am so enjoying being a part of!

Last weekend, we held our annual "United Way Rubber Duck Dash," and despite the chilly weather, had an astounding turnout, as well as record sales! (As a volunteer, I call these community service projects "under-cover events"... thus, the lack of crown and sash in the picture!) This fundraiser for United Way of Western Nebraska provides the opportunity for them to support 17 non-profit organizations in Western Nebraska. That's only a small piece of the United Way family...think about what United Way is doing across the country! If you know of a local United Way organization near you, I would encourage you to be a part of it in any way possible: donate, volunteer, or join a committee; the rewards are endless!

Another opportunity I am enjoying this year is being a part of "Leadership Scottsbluff." Leadership Scotts Bluff is a comprehensive program for current and emerging leaders to analyze characteristics associated with leadership, develop individual skills, and gather an awareness of trends, challenges and issues that face Scotts Bluff County. After hearing about this program, I HAD to apply! After attending my first session, I've learned so much and can't wait to go back.

Because of Leadership Scottsbluff, I also recently began going to "Common Pursuit" in Scottsbluff. Common Pursuit is an interdenominational group of men and women who exist to be a catalyst for transforming lives and culture in our community through discovering and implementing biblical principles in the workplace. This is a time of personal and professional training as well as a great networking opportunity. Obviously, after hearing about this, I HAD to join! (Hmm...are we seeing a trend here?) I went to my first breakfast a couple weeks ago, and can't wait for the next one...I've already learned so much and met some great people!

Like I said, this year is turning out to be so much more than "pageant" experiences; I am continually learning about...well, life! I know there's so much more to learn, and I am simply estatic to be able to continue to stretch my limits, extend my horizons, and take baby steps toward becoming the person God is molding me to be. Of course, this includes many great experiences that are directly pageant-related as well! Just recently, I found out I was featured in a Croatian magazine! Now, you may think that is a very unlikely media source, until you know that I am 1/2 Croatian, as my maternal grandparents were both born and raised on a small island in Croatia called Ilovik. They return several times a year, and I had the chance to visit several years ago as well, as many of our relatives still live there. It is so humbling to see that they are proud of me, even from thousands of miles away.

I had the chance to meet up with my dad and Scott and Lisa Jeffers a couple days ago in Ogallala to chat over dinner. My dad makes a monthly trip to Ogallala to see patients, so it worked well, and we had a great time talking about the exciting things to come! The Jeffers family is so truly incredible, and these two are such a blessing and encouragement to me!

Also, the "Miss America lottery" was held a few days ago! This is when all of the Miss America 2011 contestants log on to a site where the computer randomly generates the order of the girls who get the chance to choose their spot in the Miss America line-up. I was so lucky to come up pretty early in the process, so I got my first choice: number 10 in the MU group. That means I will have my interview Monday morning, answer the on-stage question on Tuesday night, model swimsuit and evening gown on Wednesday night, and perform talent on Thursday night. It is all becoming so real so quickly!

Coming into this position, I thought I would be helping others, influencing others, and giving. That is certainly my goal, yet as each day goes by, I am finding that it is ME who is being influenced, changed, and given to. I am being powerfully shaped and molded by each event that transpires, and through this I am finally recognizing that God's perfect plan may not always be in line with mine, (remember, I'm a little slow at realizing these things) but I'm giving my story to Him to write, because I know He has in store for me far more than I could every possibly hope or imagine.

In His Will and at Your Service,

Monday, September 13, 2010

Milo Days!

September 11th was not only a solemn day of remembrance, but also a festive day of celebration in Carleton, Nebraska! It was their annual Milo Day festival, and the beautiful Saturday was filled with lots of fun for this small town and their neighbors. I had the opportunity to be a part of their Milo Day Queen pageant which included getting to meet all the contestants from surrounding towns, the Milo Princesses (whom I also got to ride in the parade with!), and the wonderful crowd that turned out from all over the area! It was a great time, and we all had so much fun together!

It's the towns and communities like Carleton that remind me why I loved growing up in Nebraska, why I love being from a small town, and why I just love being a Nebraskan. The people and the support is truly incredible, and town festivities feel like family reunions. If ever a person starts to believe that the country is going downhill, that there is not a soul left that truly cares, or that they are alone in the world, they need not look further than the small towns of Nebraska. To every Nebraskan that shows hospitality to strangers, generosity to the needy, and love to all... thank you! Thank you for making Nebraska such a beautiful place to learn, love, and live. I am so honored and humbled to be representing this state and the amazing people in it.

Proud to be Your Miss Nebraska,

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

...It's Amazing How Life Can Change... In the Blink of an Eye (or, should I say... in one phone call?)

On September 2nd, 1979, an 18 year old girl had a baby boy. Throughout her months of pregnancy, she had made the very difficult decision to give him up to the Catholic Adoption Agency so that he would have a mother and a father, a steady and loving family, and every opportunity for success and a wonderful life. The next day she held his tiny hand and said the hardest goodbye she had ever said. Seven years later, she married and began having children...she was blessed with six more. He was constantly on her mind and in her heart, but she refrained from telling her children, as she did not think she would ever hear from him or live to know him. Then, on September 2nd, 2010, after months of research and searching for her, this long-lost son called his mother on his thirty-first birthday, and not only her life, but the lives of each member of her family changed forever. That woman is my mother... and that boy is my brother.

Please welcome the newest (well, technically, the oldest) edition to my family- Jerod Saia! After the State Fair events in Grand Island, we drove to Lincoln and had the chance to meet him and his wife! It was so incredible to finally meet my brother... who, by the way, makes seven children in my family total, so that officially makes me the middle child! (Guess my "interesting facts" on my Miss America resume that state that I am from a family of six children aren't up-to-date!) He is such an amazing person, and I am estatic that I get to share this special year with him. His wife is expecting in January, so sometime around Miss America, I will become an aunt as well! Although certainly something we will all have to get used to, I hold nothing but excitement for the relationship ahead! We are all so very blessed that he found a loving and nurturing adoptive family and had an amazing life in a stable environment. God's hand throughout this story is absolutely evident, and it is clear He has been watching over Jerod and his family, as well as mine. I am so grateful for the many blessings God continues to bestow upon me again and again, and this is yet one more instance of His constant love and protection. My entire family is simply overjoyed that he contacted us and would like to be a part of our life, as well as invite us into his. There have been so many emotions over the past few days, from first learning of this, to going to meet him, to talking to him and his wife, to having to's certainly been a roller-coaster!

I guess this whole experience has showed me that your entire life can change in the blink of an eye... or in this case, in a phone call. But I sure don't mind...I love suprises! (:

With appreciation for the past, and excitement for the future,

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Grand Affair!

What a great weekend! The State Fair is doing fantastically in Grand Island and has so much going on I wish I could've stayed forever! Well, I didn't get to stay there for long, but I did have the chance to appear at the Galaxy of Stars talent search, the Miss Nebraska State Fair pageant, and the North Platte Lincoln County Convention and Visitors Bureau. I got to bring along my mom and two of my sisters, so the weekend has been filled with some great girl-bonding time, lots of Olive Garden and other favorites, quite a bit of shopping, and a room full of entirely too many curling irons and hair products!

My crown was basically a little girl magnet all over the fairgrounds, so I had a great time signing plenty of autographs and taking lots of pictures. Each moment is a reminder of how incredible my job truly is and how very blesed I am. I could not be any more honored or humbled, and I am continually amazed by each and every thing life brings me. Thank you to everyone who has been, and continues to be, a part of this year, and continually contributes little things that make this opportunity so special. I appreciate each and every one of you so much!

Congratulations to Kayla Decker, our new Miss Nebraska State Fair! All of the girls were absolutely fantastic, and she will be a fabulous representative this year!

Happy Labor Day Weekend!