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Archive for July, 2010

A Lesson in Judgement

In a room full of 34 girls between the ages of 16-20 you can only imagine how many judgmental glances were darting across the room. Let’s face it; women care so much about what they look like, not because they think men will care, but because they want women to notice. Complements almost always come from other women. But the complexity of this room had more judgment than usual. These girls were meeting as a group for the first time before competing against one another in a pageant. And not just any pageant, Plant City’s Strawberry Queen pageant. This not only meant being royalty for a year, but for the rest of your life. Everyone still recognizes Ruby Jean as a Strawberry Queen, and she won in 1953.

I didn’t belong in this room. Although I lived in Plant City, I wasn’t from here. My parents were from Louisiana, and I always went to school in Tampa. I entered the contest because it sounded really fun. I had no idea what was at stake. To many girls in the room, the chance of getting this crown was a lifetime goal. Despite the fact that I knew no one in the room, there was one person I knew I didn’t like before we even showed up, Katie Sharer. I had never met her, but had heard story after story of how unpleasant she was and why she didn’t deserve to win. It was apparently assumed by many that she would be the recipient this year, but everyone wanted to see her lose.

I still remember staring her down that night. She was wearing mid-calf leather boots, a knee length pencil skirt and a quarter sleeve shirt. In fact, it was nearly identical to an outfit I had at home. Not being from Plant City, I missed the memo that you’re supposed to come dressed in trendy business casual attire to the social. I was in jeans and a t-shirt with no makeup, not exactly pageant material.

I continued to watch Katie throughout the months leading up the pageant at all the different functions we were required to attend: workshops, dance rehearsals, and trip to Parkesdale’s for strawberry shortcake. I always tried to make conversation with whomever I was near because all of these girls were strangers to me. Even sitting at the picnic tables eating our shortcakes, the girls I sat with were talking bad about Katie. My impression was that she must have seriously been some b**** if this many people disliked her.

The night of the pageant I realized how ill-prepared I was. I had a swimsuit, business suit and evening gown. I guess it was implied that you’re supposed to put rhinestones on everything and wear nude colored shoes? I still had a blast. Katie’s number was close to mine, so we were always in line together. She was constantly smiling and making conversation with everyone. I distinctly remember lining up for the bathing suit portion. I thought everyone was taking this all way too seriously so I was dancing in my suit and heels to God-knows-what song I decided to sing. Katie was the only one who laughed and seemed to think it was funny, the rest just thought I was nuts.

Finally it was time to gather back stage and wait for the announcement of the top 10. Imagine the intensity and pressure in that moment. Talk about judgment! However, despite the heaviness in the room, Katie was so calm and gathered the whole group of us together and said “Ladies, let’s pray.” Everyone gathered hands and she led such a calming prayer that put everything at peace. The top 10 was announced and Katie along with nine other girls took the stage. Big surprise….I didn’t.

I went backstage and packed up my things. Then I went into the lobby and found my family. I must say; I was a crowd favorite. I brought about 25 of my Tampa friends who had no idea either how big of a deal this was to Plant City people and you could hear from backstage that I had loud support. I had the biggest grin and just bounced with glee each time I took the stage. I met up with some of my friends and watched the rest of the pageant from the back of the room.

I listened to each of the top 10 finalists answer their question. The question was something along the lines of “The Queen and her court get to participate in all of the activities during the 11-day festival. Which of these are you looking most forward to: the baby parade, meeting the entertainers [Plant City brings in the top acts in country music], or the midway [that’s the rides]?” Nine of the girls answered baby parade because they love kids or the entertainment because their favorite celebrity __fill in the blank__ is performing this year. And then Katie took the mic. She said the midway because that’s where all the people are and she is most looking forward to the opportunity to interact with the guests who come to the festival (or some answer similar to that). I vividly remember looking at the person standing next to me, who was a co-worker of mine from the Y, Lisa Spivey, and saying “There’s your Strawberry Queen.” To no one’s surprise, Katie received the crown and became the 2004 Florida Strawberry Festival Queen.

My parents threw a strawberry shortcake party for me and I spent the rest of my evening partying with all my friends who had driven to Plant City to support me. However, the next day I couldn’t get that experience out of my head. I didn’t exactly know why I didn’t like Katie; I didn’t even know her. I realized that because I judged someone I had never met, I had just missed about a dozen different opportunities to make a new friend. I was overwhelmed with guilt, so I got out some notebook paper. I wrote Katie a two-page letter asking for her forgiveness. She had no idea that I had judged her, but I still felt like I owed her an apology. I explained that over the course of the night I realized that she wasn’t the person everyone made her out to be, and that most of the time girls hate whomever they’re jealous of. I explained why my opinion had changed and told her that if by some hap-and-circumstance I would have ended up the Queen and had the ability to hand-pick a court, she would have been the only person I chose because after all those weeks leading up to that night, she was the only girl who I wanted to know more about. I felt that there was so much more behind what I had seen. Then I looked up Sharer in the phonebook and crossed my fingers that I mailed the letter to the right address.

A month later I received an envelope in the mail. It had hand-drawn lady bugs on it with little dotted lines showing where they had flown all over the card. It was addressed to me in beautiful handwriting. Inside was a card from Katie thanking me for the letter I had written and her phone number. That was how our friendship began.

Fast-forward six years. Katie is such a dear friend to my heart. She genuinely has a love for others that you rarely see in people. She has a passion for the Lord that makes her glow. I’m so glad I didn’t pass up the chance to get to know her because we have more in common than I do with almost anyone else (shout out to Meryl…yes, you’re an exception). Over the years we grew closer and had many coffee, lunch, breakfast and dinner dates catching up on life. She was my dancing buddy at the Dallas Bull for a while. When in public, strangers always think we’re sisters, and that doesn’t even happen when I’m with my actual sister, Audrey. I am so humbled and honored to have been there the night she met her husband and see a real example of love at first site. I remember sitting in her Beetle parked on the curb and us just both giggling because it was 4 in the morning and we knew that the man she met 9 hours ago was the man she was going to marry. And I was there six months later when she did.

Looking back, it breaks my heart to think that the ugliness of judgment almost kept me from a friendship I know will never leave my life. It was a life lesson to me that every single person is beautiful inside and that I don’t ever want let gossip or preconceived notions tarnish my perspective of someone again. Thank you Katie for being such a wonderful friend.

P.S. This post was inspired by an out of the blue card I received from her yesterday in the mail (a Katie trademark) that I posted on my 365 blog. For anyone who has ever received a random card from me in the mail when you weren’t expecting it, just know that Katie is the reason I developed that habit. Remember…the letter I sent her was on notebook paper written in pencil. Now I send pretty cards because I realized that’s half the smile 😉

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Going Confidently

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Preface to post:

I just looked and I have not posted since January. Wow….has life changed or what. I don’t feel like elaborating on all the details because I want to get to the point of this post, but in case you haven’t heard about our lives in the last six months, here goes. Referencing the last post, the ultimate goal is still to end up in LA or at least have Brandon heavily plugged into the film industry. The short term goal right now is to build up a videography business that will fund all the equipment he’s going to need to achieve such goals and provide an income in the mean time. In March we launched BlackBird Medias, Inc. (Remember the Beatles song I referenced in the last post….yeah, there’s a whole additional post I can write behind the name.) I could go on and on about everything we’ve done and learned over the last several months, but I’ll save that for later. Here’s a link to the site and to his vimeo where he posts all his work.

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Part of us re-acclimating to life in our Plant City condo was deciding to redecorate the entire place to the point it’s not even recognizable as the same home from before. On the lime green wall near the Ikea couch and TV is wall art. It’s a black 5-foot tree with simple leaves and thin branches. Underneath it reads a quote with six black birds soaring underneath the tree branches. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams,” Henry David Thoreau.

What I love about this is that our dreams are so individualistic. Brandon and I are at a point in our lives where the “American dream” does not fit anywhere in our future. The home, the cars, the white picket fence, the 9-5 jobs…..bleh!

This weekend we had a lunch date with some friends of ours. Hearing Esther‘s story, although insane, was so full of life to me. Her parents were hippy Americans who became European gypsies traveling all over. Her father would photograph the beauty he saw and his work became famous. He ended up in a successful business venture. Her first memories are of living in the 20-room mansion on the coast of England playing phone tag because no one could find each other. Long story short the town all got ill because of the water at the same time her father’s business went under and they moved back to America. More specifically, three kids and the parents lived in a trailer in Oklahoma. The plan there didn’t quite work out as intended and they ended up in Naples with her grandparents where she was home schooled until high school. There are many other stories embedded into that synopsis but I felt like you needed to hear that part before I explained the answer I received when I asked her, “I heard you just got back from China. Why were you there?”

She proceeded to explain that both her brothers were high school dropouts. (but FYI the whole family is made of geniuses) Her oldest brother got his GED and at 16 or 17 moved back to England because he missed surfing on the coast. He ended up getting hired by a computer software company to develop the technology that protects our credit cards everywhere we swipe them. Since his work revolved around the lap top, he was told he could live wherever he wanted. Every couple of months he would jump from country to country, but started in Fiji. After living all over he was promoted in the company and moved to Silicon Valley. While there he decided to learn how to fly planes, which led to a job being a pilot for US Airways. At US Airways he would fly for 3-4 days straight then get 15 days off. Rather than pay rent or buy a home, he would use his free flying privileges and spent the two weeks off anywhere in the world he chose. Sometimes he would even challenge himself to see if he could do 15 countries in 15 days. Through all of this time, he developed an affinity for China so taught himself Mandarin. I forget what she said he does now, but he lives in China, so that’s where she had gone…to visit her brother.

I know I was named after my Hungarian great grandmother, Sophia Victoria. When (like most little girls) I would ask my mom if there was a chance we came from royalty and I could be a princess, she would always tell me our ancestors were Hungarian gypsies. I never knew what that meant, but I took it to mean I could be like Esmeralda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I’m sure that twenty years from now, our goals and dreams in life will change. But for now, my dream is to experience everything life has to offer and not limit myself to the box of suburbia America. Our short term goals are to get all our debt paid off and save up for a two month backpacking trip through Europe. I don’t want to start having children before we at least accomplish that.

I just figure that as long as we keep going confidently in the direction of our dreams, eventually life will bring my way these desires of my heart. I want to experience living with just a couple outfits and hygiene items, my laptop and Brandon’s camera equipment. Hopefully Brandon’s gift of telling stories on a screen will lead us to creating a documentary of the journey life takes us on.

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