Autumn's Arrival

I'm sharing just a tiny sneak peek of an upcoming project for The YouAre Project! What fun to gather a few friends and celebrate such a beautiful season! (Can you believe it's already the last day of September?!) We had a wonderful evening, and I'm so looking forward to showing you more very, very soon! Hope you all had a fabulous weekend. Hey Monday, let's do this!

Weekend Wanderings

It's so easy to want to conform to what others want, or what society says..but this is one of the most important lessons I've ever learned. To read my story, start here! In other words, hope you have a fantastic weekend, everyone! 

This Magic Moment

Have you ever found yourself wishing, wanting and waiting for things ahead? Daydreaming of the future, while the present swiftly switches to the past? I've been thinking a lot about living in the moment recently..and while I'm certainly a big time dreamer and futurist, I think it's also important to not gloss over the beauty found in this present moment. For those of us that like to plan ahead and dream up the next course of action, it can be easy to forget to enjoy the here and now; it's often said that the present is a gift, are you making the most of it? It's one thing to be "present" physically, and an entirely different matter to be present mentally. Can I submit to you the challenge of enjoying the moment? Look for the beauty in where you are, not thinking ahead to other things and rushing past the now. Savor it, enjoy it..this is your life!

Indian Summer

(Top: J.Crew, Pants: Lilly Pulitzer, Necklace: GroopDealz, Shoes: Zara)

I've got to say, although I'm loving the arrival of Pumpkin Spice lattes, apple cider and fall fashion, it's still quite warm here, and fall doesn't quite feel like it's upon us just yet. I'm enjoying the weekends at the beach when I can, and soaking up every last bit of this indian summer possible. Case in point: white jeans, who cares if it's after Labor day? Here it's absolutely appropriate and chic almost all year round. To reflect the spirit of pre-fall, because let's be honest, it's not going to be cold here anytime soon, chambray and statement necklaces were a perfect match to crisp white denim..and accented with hues of turquoise and royal? This might become my off-duty uniform all season long...are you ready for fall?

Girl Behind The Mirror: Part 3

I've been sharing my pageant story on the blog, and this is the final part of the story! I cannot thank you enough for sending me your emails, comments and thoughts on this! It's a journey I never expected to take, and it's been fun to share my experience with you; hopefully you'll find something in it that speaks truth to where you're at, regardless of whether or not you'll ever step foot on stage ;) 
If you've just joined us, catch up by reading Part 1 and Part 2

...and now, the moment you've all been waiting for! 

I'd pretty much given up on the whole pageant thing, and life picked back up as usual...I was finishing classes, involved at work, and busy with life's routine. Deep down I wondered if I'd followed that path for a reason, hoping that the training wouldn't have been for nothing.
One day a friend sent me a book on giving, and as I was reading up about the author, it mentioned that his wife was a former pageant titleholder. Curious to find out little more about this system, I researched the pageant and found out that it was run in a completely different way than some of the others, and that there was one coming up in about 3 weeks. My first reaction was to get really excited, and to jump right in, but experience told me that I should probably take a step back and think about it first. After some prayer and consideration, I felt that it was a good idea to pursue, so I registered. This time, I wasn't naive to the process, so I chose to compete without a coach.

The preparation process began once again, although, different from the first. A visit to the hairstylist to get my hair back to it's natural color, a search for the evening gown, and rehearsing on my own time for the on-stage interview were scheduled in between work and other projects. Instead of an over-the-top  bejeweled and feathered gown, mine was a simple piece, mermaid-style in a deep purple, adorned with only a diamond brooch. This time I was going to compete as myself, and regardless of how I did, I could walk away knowing I'd stayed true to who I was.

I awoke early the morning of the competition, a mix of excitement and a strange sense of total peace. After a morning rehearsal, I began to get ready in the hotel room, and started thinking about all the lessons I'd learned throughout this process...the training, the decisions, the experience of it all, and how much it had taught me about who I was and what mattered most. That training was paying off.
Hair and makeup were complete, and it was time to begin; I slipped into my first outfit, took a deep breath and made my way backstage. The lights came up and the music started, and each girl sauntered across the stage in perfect timing. Walk walk, twirl, pose...hand on hip, flash a smile. "This is fun! Good thing I've had all that training, I thought." I completed the modeling and on-stage interview, talking as myself, confident and poised. Finally it was time for the evening gown competition, and as I stepped onto the stage, I felt the strongest sense of joy, not because I was finally competing, or because I liked my dress, but because in that moment I truly felt beautiful in being me. I wasn't wearing hair extensions or some thousand dollar gown, but I realized in that moment that beauty isn't about having the outward image of perfection, but rather finding that confidence within, and radiating it on the outside. The music slowed, the lights shined, and the shimmering purple fabric trailed behind me as I swept across the stage with a genuine smile upon my face. "Yes! Totally nailed it. Regardless of what happens now, I can walk away happy with how things turned out." 

The judges took a moment to send in their scores, and after a brief intermission, it was time for the crowning moment. What a sight it must have been to see a stage filled with girls in glittering gowns of all colors and styles, each waiting in anticipation to hear their name called. We waited for what seemed like forever, but finally the finalists were called and congratulated...and then they announced, "And your new Miss Liberty is...Candice!" I had won! The former titleholder slipped the sash around me, and pinned the crown to my head. Grasping the flower bouquet, I took my first steps as the new winner, and waved to the audience while cameras flashed across the room. What a journey! I couldn't believe that it was actually happening, and that the scenario I'd replayed over and over in my mind was a reality. Perhaps the circumstances were somewhat different than first imagined, but at this point, that didn't matter anymore.

My family and I celebrated together after the photos finished, and as I made my way backstage to collect my things, two of the judges approached me. "I just wanted to tell you how impressed we were with you. Fabulous job tonight!" 'Oh thank you!, I replied' "We really loved how your personality and true beauty were so evident. We see a lot of girls in beautiful gowns that look like the dress is wearing them, but you were different; what we saw was the beautiful girl wearing the dress, and that is what made it a unanimous decision, you were so poised, intelligent, confident and lovely. I just wanted to congratulate you again." I thanked them once again, their words meaning far more to me than they even knew. "How interesting, I thought, that when I decided to compete as myself, not as a Barbie doll of a person that conformed to be like someone else, that's when I felt most beautiful, and won." You see, I learned that true beauty causes others to take notice because it's not what's on the outside that counts, but rather, what is radiating from within. I looked at that girl behind the mirror when I returned to my hotel room that evening, and this time, Candice smiled back at me.
(P.S.  I did get to use this title as a way to positively impact the next generation of young women, and have had opportunities to share this story with teen girls as a way of inspiring within them a sense of understanding their true beauty and worth. What a blessing!)

Girl Behind the Mirror: Part 2

I'm sharing my pageant story for the first time on the blog! If you're just joining in, catch up by reading
 Part 1 here.  All of this will be included in an upcoming writing project, so your comments and thoughts are absolutely welcome; I'd love to hear your response! Enjoy Part 2! 
Somewhere amidst the interview prep, gowns, hair styling and coaching sessions, I began to feel a sense of discomfort, but it was so slight that I couldn't have put a finger on why or where it was coming from. Brushing it aside, I kept training and rehearsing for upcoming pageants, but what I didn't realize is that slowly I was feeling the sense of inadequacy. The person that I was wouldn't win, so I needed to change things about me until I fit the mold of what they wanted. It wasn't that confidence was lost, but I  changed so much of who I was to become this girl that would please the judges, one that would be "beautiful" on the outside, but looked, talked and acted like someone so different than the person I truly was. Now in the middle of all of this, I probably couldn't have told you that...perhaps I didn't want to admit it, or maybe the excitement and drive to accomplish my goal would have overshadowed that realization, and so it didn't really hit me until one particular morning.

I remember waking up, probably still somewhat half-asleep, and looking into the mirror across the room. Who is that?, I thought ..Wait a minute, that's me. I don't even know who am I anymore.. I didn't recognize the girl behind the mirror staring back at me, and it was at that point that the impact of that thought really clicked. I talked, looked and thought like a totally different person; the girl that was going to compete wasn't me at all, but rather a created "version" of someone who would do what it takes to win. I had allowed so much of who I was to change, and if my entire reasoning for doing this was to positively impact the younger generation, was my current example one worth following? I didn't think so. I felt empty and discouraged. In the middle of wanting to do something worthwhile, I'd lost my purpose and focus..and even my sense of who I truly was.

The dark-haired girl behind the mirror looked back at me that morning, and I realized that in trying to become 'beautiful', I had become like a Barbie doll, beautiful on the outside but hollow within. What mattered most wasn't the color of my hair, the perfect answer, or which gown I chose, but rather the person that I was, and if who I was wasn't good enough or politically correct enough to win the approval of the judges, then perhaps I was chasing the wrong dream.

With a pang of sadness, and little twinge of confusion, I decided to walk away from the pageant training. I had been so sure of this opportunity, and felt that God had opened doors in that area for me, so it was frustrating to see things not working out as I had thought...but that's the thing, I'd only been thinking of my timing and plans, not His. If only I had known that the doors were just about to swing wide open for another opportunity I never saw coming...

to be continued..


Girl Behind The Mirror: Part 1

I've mentioned a little about my pageant experience on the blog once or twice before, but I've never shared the full story. To be honest, I've never written out or journaled it either, but it's something I feel is worth sharing as it taught me a lot about myself, and I hope you can gain wisdom for your own life from it also. It's going to be part of a book project I'm working on, so I'd love to hear your comments :)

It was a moment I visualized over and over, the host announcing my name as the winner, "and your new Miss America is.." and I imagined what it would feel like to have a crown placed on my head, and a sash across my chest, as I walked down the runway as the new titleholder, waving to the audience & the cameras. Thrilled to be in such a place of influence, I knew this kind of platform was the opportunity I had been waiting for. 

Excited by the prospect of being able to have a platform through which I could positively influence the next generation, opportunities to network with some high-brow people and companies, and the chance to win a good-sized scholarship, I found myself training to compete in a pageant. Knowing nothing about this new world of glitz, gowns and crowns, I found coaching and began the journey. 
"Ok so you'll strut down the stage and do two Dior turns, remember to hit your stance when you're in the middle...Now don't do this when you're in dress rehearsal because you don't want them to know what you're going to do, but let's practice the full walk for now. Remember, for the state pageant, there's some big steps you'll have to go down first, but keep your gaze up as much as possible, the judges want to connect with you. Think shoulders back, chest up, and big smile..let's go!" The latest pop song played as I rehearsed for the swimsuit portion of the competition. Pivot, pose, flash a big smile.. I loved to perform, so this was so much fun! There were new workout routines to do, diet plans to begin, and swimsuits to choose.

"You'll need to have a piece ready for talent. The judges always love lots of turns, jumps and more of the tricks-type of showy pieces. That floor is like dancing on glass, so you'll need special fabric put on your pointe shoes to keep you from slipping." I listened to clips upon clips of music, searching for just the right piece that in a minute and 30 seconds could capture the attention and hearts of my judging panel & audience. Talk of custom costumes, music mixing and choreography was the focus of the day, and I began to daydream what it would feel like to hear the thunderous applause of thousands upon finishing my piece. 

 Next on the agenda was a day spent feeling like Cinderella, trying on bejeweled gowns of silk, taffeta, chiffon, and satin in every color imaginable, each exquisite in it's construction. Feathers, gems, and ruffles swirled about as I practiced walking in the gowns and glass slipper-like pageant heels up and down the store. I fell in love with every dress I slipped into, each a gorgeous work of art, and made me feel like a queen. "Ooh, the silver fabric will be knockout under the lights. We'll need to do a fitting in a few weeks, and she'll need another gown for the onstage question." I practiced the evening gown walking pattern for a few hours, gliding across the floor, cool, calm and collected. Why yes, I do in fact, wear these gorgeous evening gowns everyday. 

Hair and makeup was next. In went the hot rollers, creating those big, beautiful flowing locks. "You'll need to change the color though, your styling is going to be similar to this one girl who just won.." So, off to the new stylist I went, and left the salon with a totally different look. Hm, I've always wondered what I'd look like with dark hair...well, now I know. Spray tans, talk of hair extensions, a set of false eyelashes and a lot of mascara later, I was looking like a Barbie doll, and stage ready. 

We moved onto preparation for the most important part of the entire competition, interview. This category counted for the majority of your overall score, and is the actual way they choose the next winner. To get to know each contestant, a private interview is held behind closed doors, away from the cameras and public eye. Personal platform and current world issues are discussed, almost as if one is applying to become the next senator. To prepare for such an intensive process, I began to study the news as though it held the secrets of the universe. 
We held mock versions of the real thing, my coach firing question after question at me as I was asked about everything from favorite songs to my platform of youth development & teen leadership programs, national and statewide unemployment rates, my thoughts on trade embargoes, education, the situation in the Middle East, prayer in schools, gay rights, and other major issues involving our country. Give your opinion, my coach requested, but instead I found that wasn't what they wanted to hear at all.."So Candice, what's your thought on..." I breezed through question after question, until it came to one.. "You know you can't say that and win, you'll have to change your answer.." But that isn't my opinion. 
"Do you want to win?" I left coaching that day realizing this whole thing wasn't what I had thought it was at all..

to be continued...

Read Part 2

Love Letters

The media sure throws us a lot of different views on love. The glitz, glamour and romance of casual flings, purposeless, emotion-driven relationships that ultimately leave us feeling empty, unfulfilled and wondering why we aren't satisfied. With so many visions and versions of "love" I've found it best to go to the source of true love and see what we can both learn and emulate in our own lives.

Love can be somewhat scary, you're giving of yourself to someone else, and in that act making yourself vulnerable to the possibility of being hurt or finding warm reception & acceptance. Many are afraid to truly love, but loving completely brings the possibility of great blessing and fulfillment.

What prevents us from loving completely? 
-Justifying yourself instead of dying to self
Truly loving is about serving others..realize that to love is to be fully alive in Christ, in Him we can learn to experience real love.

-Valuing your routine over your relationships
Oh how easily this can happen...always make time for others, routine is routine, and people are of more value than deadlines.

-Allowing fear to make decisions for you.
Fear has no stronghold in your life if you truly love. Remember, "perfect love casts out all fear"

-Judging others and trying to use love or withholding love as consequence for their actions
Remember that we are imperfect people in relationship with other imperfect people, and instead of expecting perfection, extend a bit of grace...grace to be human and to grow, learn and change. True love is unending grace, for as God displayed it to you at your lowest point, so we should give of it to others.

How To Love Completely:
1. Be flexible with your plans
2. Choose to look deeper and understand the people in your life. Be compassionate.
3. Do what you can today, instead of putting it off, make time now.
4. Plan to make sacrifices. When you love someone, it will cost you, and often times more than once.

Love takes courage. Are you up for the challenge? Relationships can be messy and confusing, but I encourage you to pursue love and love completely. Whether its among friends, family or significant others, seek true love and you'll find that things will fall into place.

What does love mean to you? 
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