Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Bit

Asher “Bit” Brooklyn Ray – the stinkin’ cutest, cuddliest, funniest, sweetest, prettiest, spunkiest, sassiest, boldest, kindest girl.

I will forever remember every single detail about her, and I’ll never go a day without thinking of her. She impacted me deeply and our friendship taught me so much.  With the help of her amazing parents, she fought cancer like a champ.

I love that:
She always had a smile on her face.
She never met a stranger.
She loved My Mini Mixie Q’s.
She loved sweet tea.
She had the best giggle EVER.
She loved country music.
She had the sense of humor of a 40-year-old and the quick-whit sarcasm of her precious parents.
She loved animals – real or stuffed. Especially her tie-dye stuffed bunny, “Bun Bun.”
She loved bomber jackets and jogger pants.
She loved dark chocolate.
She loved to play dress up.
She loved to have me fix her American Girl dolls’ hair.
She had a way with words.
She created a bond between the people around her without even knowing it.
She taught me how to build a gingerbread house.
She bought me a friendship bracelet with her own money.
She is the only person I would EVER let cut 8 inches off of my hair.  #CutItForCancer
She loved Star Wars.

I could share a billion stories of special moments with Asher that will remain in my mind forever, but I want to share some of my most favorite memories:

The very first time I found out Asher was going to be paired with me as my Diamond State Princess at Miss Arkansas, I was eager to get to know the special little girl I had heard so many good things about.  But oh boy, I had no idea what was coming my way.
On June 27, 2016, I walked up to her front door, to come in and meet her, and she and Mrs. Susan answered the door, and she JUMPED into my arms and said “Maggie Maggie Magggieeeee!!!!!” … A memorable first impression that eased all of my nerves.  That day we played dress up and made outfits out of all of her scarves.  That was a good day, and the first of many more good days.
At Miss Arkansas 2016, we had visitation one night where the contestants get to spend 15 minutes with their families.  My family gathered for three or four different versions of a family photo and Asher jumped into every single one of them.  YES! She was absolutely part of the family.

That following September, I attended the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Superhero Dash-n-Bash event with Asher, her family, my family, and my friend, Caroline.  I will never forget the humbling feeling of walking in having just straightened my super long brown hair, and being there to fundraise for the Hematology/Oncology department of the hospital.  Caroline and I made the quick decision that there were plenty of people that needed that hair much more than us.  Asher came over to the booth and took a pair of scissors to my long hair.  It was such a fun moment for us.  She said, “Can I keep it?!”
That December, we made a gingerbread house together and THREE TIMES I tried to correctly set up the walls and roof so we could get started.  She sat and stared while I tried and tried again.  Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore, “Want me to do it?”  Fixed the whole thing in about two seconds… What would I do without her?
In January, we attended Cinderella at the Robinson Center and she sat in my lap the whole time – you can imagine how fun that was.  After it was over, she got a backstage tour and got to sit on the grand staircase beside the glass slippers for a photo-op.  That tugged MAJORLY on some heart strings.

In March, I sat in her art room while she finished making the solar system that she would soon hang on her ceiling.  She painted me a little hippopotamus that she’d had.  It was pink and purple and I got to keep it.  She walked me to my car in her white artist jacket and stood in my door so I wouldn’t leave.
In June, Miss Arkansas round 2, it was Tuesday night of preliminaries – evening gown night – meaning she and my other DSP, Adalynn, would escort me onstage.  While all the little princesses were running around to get in their places backstage, I was stressing to get to my side of the stage and when I passed her in the hallway, she reached out and grabbed my hand and said, “Don’t forget, you’re beautiful.”
“It’s okay if you don’t win, you can be my babysitter.”

On June 17th, I had just won the crown and I was escorted to the after party room where hundreds of people waited to celebrate with me.  Asher met me at the door, “Maggie Maggie Maggie!!!!” and escorted me from the door all the way through all of the people to the photo booth where I would take pictures that night.  Seemingly the only person who wasn’t afraid to walk up and take my hand in that moment.  I love her.

In the weeks leading up to the trip to Atlantic City, Asher was having to spend her days at Arkansas Children’s to continue to fight her battle.  I would go up there every few days to hang out, and she was released the week before finals night at Miss America.  She and Mrs. Susan jumped on a private plane (thank you to ALL who made that possible) to come support me at Miss America.  I cannot even explain how much that meant to me.
On Saturday before finals, the Show Us Your Shoes Parade had begun, and I had yet to see my girl.  Finally, as I’m approaching the AR section along the route, my girl is standing waiving her Arkansas flag, “Maggie Maggie MAGGIE!!!!!”

Monday morning, September 11th, Asher and I get to really see each other for the first time since I’ve been there and she greets me with Bun Bun and a new friendship bracelet.  All is well with the world again.  We hop on our flight and head back to our favorite state.  She loved that flight more than that pageant.

Since then, we spent a lot of time at her house trying to focus on YouTube videos about making miniature toys for her dolls and how many My Mini Mixie Q’s she could collect.  I’ll never forget the last kiss on her forehead, the last real giggle I heard, the last time I looked at her and said, “Love you so much, see you next time,” and next time meant heaven. 
Cancer.  A word that we all hate. This is a broken world that we live in, but it is not our home.  

That kid changed my life and the lives of so many - whether they knew her or not.  May her story encourage us to live life to the FULL, with JOY in the midst of trials, with LOVE in the midst of pain, with COURAGE in the midst of questions.

Thank you, Justin and Susan, for sharing the coolest kid on Earth.

I love you BIG, Asher B. “Maggie Maggie Maggie,” will play over and over in my mind forever. 

See you next time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Miss America Experience

WOW. Did we really just get home from Miss America?  Did that really just happen?  When I think back to the day that I was reunited with the Class of 2018 at the Philadelphia airport, I feel like it was two months ago.  What a crazy two weeks it has been!

Just moments before I found out that I had the record breaking total of bags out of all Miss America contestants this year.  Who's surprised? EIGHT SUITCASES! Oh my goodness.
(shorts: Steamroller Blues, top: BEIGE Little Rock)

The Miss America Experience is just that – an experience.  I don’t have one single bad thing to say about my experience as a whole; it was that wonderful! I’ll never forget the moment that the stage was opened and we were allowed to practice in Boardwalk Hall for the first time.  I had never attended the Miss America pageant, so all I knew to expect of that room was what I’d seen on TV.  I walked into the hall for our first official rehearsal and started bawling.  WHAT?! Crying? I’m serious.  I’ll never forget that feeling.  It’s so overwhelming when your dreams come to fruition.  That was a MOMENT, let me tell ya.

A few more of my favorite moments (there were too many to count):

Sherri Hill dress from Buffie's All the Rage; H/MU Jane White, Lauren Colclasure
I have to say that talent night was high on my list of favorite moments.  I had prayed all day that I would have the confidence to sing my heart out.  It’s such a vulnerable moment when you get out on that stage and sing.  The dress, the sound system, the lights, the people, the camera, the time you spent preparing for that moment, and knowing who all you represent…  I knew it would probably be the biggest and best stage I ever got to perform on, so I wanted to make it count.  After singing my guts out, I walked off stage and (again) shed quite a few tears.  That was another MOMENT that I will never forget.  Nothing feels better than knowing you gave it everything you had! I felt like it was my best performance ever.  I was so thankful and overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness in that moment.

Cape: Shelley Kelley, Shoe: Brandon King
After the Show Us Your Shoes parade, we had a police escort back to Boardwalk Hall.  At the end of the parade before our escort, the police officer asked me to move into the back seat and buckle up (because I had been riding parade style).  At that time, two police officers escorted our convertible (my driver, Mrs. June Felix, and me) back to Boardwalk Hall and it was the 5 minutes of fame that I’ll never forget.  I felt like the President.  My cape was blowing in the wind (haha!) and everyone was turning to look and see who was driving by… we sped straight through the traffic lights and when we missed our turn they shut down the whole block so that we could turn around.  Seriously, that was so cool.  The parade in itself was by far my favorite part of the whole experience.

Miss Louisiana, Laryssa, was a good friend of mine and our class caught onto attempting her talent in our everyday speech.  I can’t tell you how many times I fell to the ground laughing during an attempt to say something with only a smile on my face.  Ventriloquism is not easy, y’all!

Which leads me to how amazing the Class of 2018 is/was.  I have never met such empowered, kind, intelligent women in my life! I was more and more encouraged by them as the days passed.  I know that it’s just the start of a lifelong friendship full of inside jokes, memories, and laughter.  There are already plans in the works for when we will get together again!  If I had to do it all again just to meet those friends, I totally would.  I still can’t believe I have the privilege of knowing them; I’m very blessed by them!

Top and Earrings: Tulips Little Rock

"A" top: Steamroller Blues

Cara Mund, Miss North Dakota, was before me in each phase of competition, providing me the perfect opportunity to get to know her and see who she truly is.  Let me assure you, our new Miss America is kind, pure-hearted, genuine, and as SWEET as they come! She is smart, bold, driven, and humble, and she will do an outstanding job this year.  I am so EXCITED to support her!

I want to thank the Miss America Organization (MAO) volunteers who took such wonderful care of us while we were there.  We were well protected, fed, encouraged, and respected every minute of every day in Atlantic City.  I admire those volunteers for their dedication to the program!

Because I feel like an era has come to an end - an era of pageant prep and performance – I have to say “thank you.” Bear with me.

Mom and Dad, I could cry every time I think about how lucky I am to be your daughter.  I never would’ve had this experience without you. Thank you for bringing me so much coffee, driving when I’m too tired, carrying dresses, crying with me, praying with me, laughing with me, being persistent with me, guiding me, and providing me with opportunities I never imagined possible. Thank you, most importantly, for teaching me how to put the Lord first and for exemplifying that to me in your daily lives for all of these years.  I LOVE YOU MORE THAN I CAN EVEN EXPLAIN!!!!!

Mere, Murray, Sarah: thanks for making the immediate family sacrifices that I know aren’t always easy.  Thanks for being there, supporting me, and letting Mom and Dad travel the state with me! I am so blessed to have your patience, love, and support throughout the craziness of pageant life! I’ll never be able to repay you for the sacrifices you’ve made!

Monk, Nene, Mimi (& Pop), thank you for instilling big dreams, faith, and a servant’s heart into each member of our family.  I would not be who I am without your life lessons as a foundation.

Fonda Mann, thank you for teaching me how to sing, instilling confidence in me, and letting me confide in you.  Thank you for believing in me from the start and seeing potential in a little girl who had no idea what was deep inside of her heart. 

Elton Ford, thank you for pushing me, making me run one more hill even if it made me cry, thank you for the countless phone calls, sacrifices you made, and Powerades that you purchased.  I am strong mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, because of your amazing coaching skills.

Maegan Waldrip, thank you for being there from day 1.  Thank you for the late nights, the pep talks, and for being there when it was Broccoli season AND ice cream season.  I wouldn’t have made it to Miss America without you.  I could never thank you enough for your time, friendship, energy, love and support.  I am so proud to call you my friend.

Dress: Buffie's All the Rage

To my dear friends, thank you for listening for the past five years as I ranted about pageant life, even when you didn’t understand.  You have been there every step of the way, and without you there to scream from the crowd, I wouldn’t ever have pushed myself to this point.  I am so undeserving of your friendships.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

Lauren Colclasure, what would my hair be without you? What would I be without you? You give the best pep talks, and I wouldn’t have made it without you on my side.  Thank you for being really good at hair, but thank you even more for being a dear friend.   I love you!

Jane White, thank you for investing in my life and many of my family members over the years.  There is none like you when it comes to the art of makeup! How are you so good at what you do?! Thank you for giving, giving, and more giving to our organization.  Appreciate you!

Dr. Cooper, thank you for providing me with a beautiful new smile.  There is nothing that instills confidence more than a pretty smile.  I appreciate you more than you know! Miss Arkansas loves you!

Ms. Dianna Caldwell, thank you for meeting with me to make sure that my talent was polished and ready for the Miss America stage.  You are a PRO!

Dennis Harris, thank you for your friendship, encouragement, and coaching.  Not only are you amazing at hair and makeup, but you are a jack of all trades and I’m lucky to be in your circle!

Dr. Branman and Leslie, thank you for your friendship and service as I prepped for Miss America.  I wouldn’t have been ready to go without the amazing products, facials, lunch dates, and encouragement.

Thank you, Susan Garner, at Rebekah Lane Formal Wear, for meeting me on a Sunday afternoon and donating some adorable wardrobe pieces for Miss America.  I got so many compliments on your look!

Dress: Rebekah Lane Formal Wear

Thank you, Chotsi and the Advanced Aesthetics team, for making sure my skin was in great shape before I arrived in Atlantic City.  Y’all are so good at what you do! Can’t wait for the year ahead!

Oak Forest Cleaners is the best of the best – kind, quick, and just plain GOOD at what they do! Thank you, OFC, for your sponsorship.  Heaven knows I would’ve had way too many wrinkles in my outfits at Miss A if it weren’t for you all!

Jovani from Buffie's All the Rage

Buffie, thank you for your generous sponsorship of my Miss America wardrobe.  I adored the looks that we ended up with, and even though it took some time, we really did come up with the perfect pieces! You made my wardrobe dreams come to life! I want you to know how much I appreciate you, your girls are the store, and your expertise! You’re amazing.

Jovani from Buffie's All the Rage

Thank you, Ann Marie Gibbs, at Fine Lines Personal Training, for taking time out of your everyday life to meet me at the gym and make sure that my fitness was in check before Miss America.  I wouldn’t have been swimsuit ready without you! I loved getting to know you and your family and know it’s just the start of a great partnership for this year!  You’re the best.

Kandice Pelletier Swimwear from Applause Little Rock

The Skin Bar in Bryant played a huge role in making sure that I was ready for AC, as well.  The ladies there are so good at what they do – go give them a visit!  From Cryotherapy to facials and lash extensions, they are pros!!

Thank you, Rusty and Lori Hart, for making the trip to Miss America to love on me and my family throughout the Miss America experience.  Thank you for your sponsorship of some of the most beautiful wardrobe pieces I’ve ever been able to wear! Your service to Miss Arkansas is appreciated more than you know.  I can’t wait for the rest of the year together!
Mr. Rusty and Mrs. Lori! Love this fringe cocktail number from Applause Little Rock

Thank you to every one of the Miss Arkansas Board and Foundation Board members, as well as the Miss America prep committee.  You all took the time to help me get ready for Atlantic City and/or made the trip to see me at Miss America, and I can’t tell you how special it was for me to have your support.  Jessie, Renee, Lacy, Dennis, Fred, June, John, Sarah, Leo, Thomas, Amanda, Danielle, Kristen, Sarah Collins, Ned, Vicki, CJ, Baxter, Rick, Melinda, Peggy Jones, and I hope and pray that I’m not missing anyone!! Without you all, we wouldn’t be “The Miss Arkansas Organization” and I wouldn’t have been ready for Atlantic City.  What would I do without you?!

Thank you, Shelley Kelley, for fitting my clothes perfectly, and providing the most amazing parade coat for the Show Us Your Shoes parade. You are amazing and your work is exquisite.  Brandon King, you are TOO good at what you do – the art for my shoes was unreal! THANK YOU!

Sherri Hill Couture from Buffie's All the Rage

To everyone who made the trip from Arkansas (or across the country) to see me in Atlantic City, I can’t thank you enough.  You don’t know how much it filled my heart to look out in the crowd and see those flashing Arkansas signs.  Knowing that you were there made it all worth it – even if I didn’t get to spend time with you the way I would’ve liked to!

Garrett's big debut... he's always wanted to be on the blog! (Dress: Johnathan Kayne from Buffie's All the Rage)

Dress: Applause Little Rock

Thank you, Renee Stone, at Emerge in Conway for your sponsorship and friendship.  I loved the pieces we chose for Miss America and can’t wait to wear them again sometime soon!

Thank you, Kattie Hansen, for providing my beautiful Miss America headshots!

To every person who sent mail, Facebook messages, direct messages, and texts: I’m so sorry if I wasn’t able to answer, but know that I read it/received it and your encouragement meant the WORLD!

Day before yesterday I went to bed at 4:00p.m. and slept until 8:30a.m. the next morning, oops! It feels great to rest up and get to planning for my year as Miss Arkansas.  I can’t tell you how good it felt to get off of that plane and get in the car with the windows rolled down, country music blaring – HOME! I missed the Southern air so much.  Now the best begins! I am ecstatic to be home, unpack, and start planning the many ways that I will be the best Miss Arkansas I can be.  Lots of plans in the works, and I’ll be sure to keep you all updated!  Big hopes, dreams, and prayers for the rest of this year. I love you all so dearly.

Maggie B.