Clogging was my talent in the “Miss America” Pageant. So glad for You Tube today because some people still don’t know what clogging is. I would rather they go look it up on the computer than me try to demonstrate how to clog now that I am on the “Back 9”. I tell people I might get stuck in some position if I tried those moves now. LOL!!!
I remember like it was yesterday the judge interview and the moment when Cicely Tyson asked me, “What on earth is clogging?” Yes, it was in that moment I realized not many people knew what clogging was. There was a lot of “hype” about this unheard of talent in the media. It was said that my feet would “dazzle “people and “crank up” an audience. This girl from the “South” started to have a lot of expectations to live up to.
Because of the stir and buzz of the “unheard of clogging,” the Friday “DRESS REHEARSAL” for talent was packed with curious people. I was shocked to walk out on stage to rehearse and be bombarded by cameras everywhere and hundreds of people waiting for my talent “Dress Rehearsal”. Normally, during the state pageant, no one but other contestants and pageant officials are allowed to watch the dress rehearsal. It caught me way off guard! So much off guard that my “Dress Rehearsal” was a complete flop. When the music started, I missed my cue, started late, tried to play catch up with my routine and fell, not once, but twice. That was it!!! No “do overs”!! I walked off stage in tears. The build up to the “Southern Girl” who could “light up the stage” with her feet had disappointed everyone, including herself.
Looking back, botching the “Dress Rehearsal” was the best thing that could have happened to me. It motivated me more than ever. In the car while being driven back to my hotel, I decided that I was going to dance harder and better that night than I had ever danced in my life. All day long, I prayed and rehearsed my routine in my head. I saw myself starting on time, hitting every step on cue and how I would move from side to side across the stage. I saw myself succeed and now I had a little knowledge of the expectations of the crowd. Today, a sports psychologist would call that “visualization”. That night, I gave it everything I could possibly give. The motivation inside of me had NEVER BEEN STRONGER. I had danced on stage literally hundreds of times in my life, in front of hundreds of people, but this night was by far the most “important dance of my life!” I had spent hundreds of hours rehearsing leading up to the Miss America Pageant and I knew I had worked too hard to not GIVE IT MY ALL!!!
When I walked off stage that night, I left it ALL OUT THERE!!! I was able to pull it off. I felt I had danced the best routine ever in my life!! So much so that, as I left the stage, the cheerleader in me came out and I threw a huge “fist pump”! The audience was involved the whole time I danced and the auditorium was rocking as everyone started clapping to the music, “Are You From Dixie!” Mission accomplished!! I felt so good until they announced the talent winner, and it wasn’t me. It was Joanna Fitzgerald, Miss Texas, who electrified the crowd with her “fiddle!” She was very deserving and got the same crowd appeal that I had drawn. I was sooooo disappointed!!! My talent was supposedly my “ace in the hole” to secure the title for Miss America and now I realized they deemed another talent better!!
The night before, Miss Ohio had won talent and that night she won swimsuit. So the talk the next day was that Miss Ohio was going to win Miss America. I had to struggle with my inner thoughts in preparing for the final and most important night. All day long, I REFUSED TO LET DOUBT enter my mind. I didn’t go back and second guess anything I had done up until that point. I knew God was in control. My faith, for a 23 year old, was strong! I knew that God had me there for a purpose and NO Matter what the newspapers said, and what others speculated, God had the ultimate outcome in his hands. My life verse at that time was Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge HIM and He will make your paths straight!” I clung to that verse and I tried my best to live it, acknowledging God even through the tears of falling in dress rehearsal and the stress of all the media interviews and attention that surrounded all the contestants. It was definitely a “world stage” that I had never been on.
The final night is kind of a blur now! I don’t remember much that went on around me. I was so in a “bubble of focus” that, looking back, the main thing I remember is Gary Collins scrambling at the end saying something about a tie for Miss America and that a tie had never happened! I dialed in for sure at that moment. The only thing to do was to pray for God’s peace, His presence and, yes, His Will. My walk to and through the Miss America Pageant was one of the closest times I have ever been to God. I felt His presence every step of the way. Looking back, I can truly see one set of “Footprints” and they weren’t mine. They were God’s. Even when I was announced as first runner up and was immediately pushed to the side so that attention could appropriately be put on our new “Miss America”, Susan Aiken, I felt God’s peace and comfort, but for sure disappointment. Almost, but not quite! First runner up??? What did that mean? Second best? No crown? No title? No more chances? Go back home to South Carolina? What next?
Risking LOSING TO WIN in the Miss America Pageant taught me many things. First, it taught me to view every day of life as a “Stage On, Lights On, Cameras Roll” kind of day, not a “dress rehearsal”. Every day is a chance to engage, risk, and make a difference and fulfill God’s purpose that day. You can only live the day you are given. Even when you lose, you “win” because losing is a part of God’s plan as well. I learned many things from losing. I learned that people still loved me and my value to the people who truly cared about me was not in my win/loss tally. I learned how greatly God comforts in times of disappointment. I learned working hard and leaving no stone unturned didn’t guarantee the ultimate prize. I learned that even in losing, God allowed multiple great things to come my way. Opportunities that would not have existed otherwise. I learned how to get up after I fell and try again. I learned that the sun comes up the next day and it was a “new day” to do “new things”. I learned humility. I learned to respect and be happy for the winner. I learned mostly that “winning wasn’t everything” and that it was not where God wanted me to find my value. If you are willing to compete, there is always a risk of loss. I also learned a lesson that I have loved teaching our kids: If you don’t compete, you NEVER have a chance to win. So, “take a card and go to the dance!”
Life always has disappointments. You can’t live life in a “Dress Rehearsal” mentality. Realize life is now. It is not tomorrow or next week or summer break. If you are breathing, God’s not done. It is our job to seek and fulfill that purpose. A purpose can be as simple as smiling and giving someone 5 minutes of your time when he/she needs a listening ear, helping someone load their car, or simply stepping back and letting someone go in front of you.
Even though coming up short in the “Miss America” Pageant was for sure a dream “not realized,” the most valuable thing I learned, and I would like for you, the reader, to realize is Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work within you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” I find great comfort in the known fact that JESUS HAS MY BACK and He can take and use every moment of our lives for His GREAT PURPOSE, not mine.