Beauty Out of Ashes (Part I)

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arlier this year, my husband had agreed to do a full-time assignment for seven weeks in addition to his  permanent full-time job.  During that time, I was so overwhelmed by my three children that I was sure I was  experiencing emotions I thought any single parent would.  And I thought to myself not only then, but many times in the past:  how does a single mother (or father) do it?  How does one provide for their children, care for them and all of their needs (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), and still manage to stay balanced?  It was the last time I would secretly ponder these questions before I contacted Melanie who graciously introduced me to her previous life of single parenting.

A beautiful red-head and just eighteen years old, Melanie married the kind of man most teenagers her age dreamt of marrying – the kind that smitten girls would describe as the tall, dark, and handsome type.  Gradually, the couple had three children and a successful business operated by Melanie in their million-dollar home.  On the outside, they appeared to be the quintessential picture perfect family.  But after enduring over nine years of pain, the verge of collapse abruptly came to a head.  On an ordinary April afternoon, Melanie’s estranged husband took his belongings and left her behind with their three children, setting into motion a bitter process toward divorce.

"This picture perfectly represents us during that time.  I was leading three innocent children with the wind in our face and the unknown before us."  - Melanie

“This picture perfectly represents us during that time. I was leading three innocent children with the wind in our face and the unknown before us.” – Melanie

Needless to say, Melanie was overcome by a myriad of fears and worries.  Finding a new home and earning an income to pay the bills while raising and supporting her young children was downright overwhelming.  But that was just the beginning.  Melanie was afraid of the repercussions she felt her ex-husband was capable of or might inflict upon her person and her reputation.  She dreaded humiliating her parents knowing how much her sister’s divorce almost a decade before had devastated them.  She feared being despised by the church she had grown up in and belonged to for over twenty years.  And she worried that she would be rejected by her friends and her children treated as outcasts.

At only twenty eight years old, Melanie officially had sole custody of the couples’ children (ages 7, 5, and 2), tarnished credit due to her ex-husband’s poor financial decisions, and a profitable business she was forced to gradually shut down.  Melanie desperately searched for spiritual guidance to help navigate her young family through the uncertainties of their fragile situation.

Adjusting to her new role as a single mother was extremely difficult.  Stress was at an all-time high in the beginning.  Tardiness and speeding tickets became the norm for a time.  Car collisions were miraculously avoided as she tended to her fighting children in the backseat.  That first summer on her own, Melanie realized few outdoor activities were as appealing as they were low maintenance, so she planned park excursions with her kids and enjoyed picnics together.  Sometimes, she took her children on walks or visited their grandparents.  But for every good moment Melanie had, she had several moments where she was tired, sad, and lonely.

The family pictured together on the day Melanie taught her youngest, Timothy (5), to ride his bike without training wheels.

The family pictured together on the day Melanie taught her youngest, Timothy (5), to ride his bike without training wheels.

“Holidays used to be the worst because I knew that everybody was going to hang out somewhere and I was the oddball.  When you are involved in a tight-knit community, you don’t really have a place.  Suddenly, wives were holding on a little tighter to their husbands.  When I saw this, it was hurtful, but I couldn’t react to it because I felt like these were the consequences of divorce.  And there are consequences.­­  But I went through them as best I could.”

As she might have expected, Melanie did lose some friendships, but she was determined to protect her children from the typical stereotypes placed on broken families.  Melanie made a conscious decision to intentionally focus on her children and their well-being.  Throughout the ordeal, she continued attending her home church but with some feedback from her children, kept an open mind and explored other area churches also.  Her immediate family was her main source of moral support.  Melanie’s eldest sister reminded her of an exemplary woman, wife, and mother – the woman described in Proverbs 31.  “I posted the passage on my refrigerator and memorized it.  I thought this was a very wise and business savvy woman.  God was with this woman and if He was with her, then God would be with me too,” says Melanie.

(L to R):  Faith, Timothy, Melanie, and Anthony enjoyed a Sunday afternoon meal with their aunt and grandparents.

Faith, Timothy, Melanie, and Anthony meet her parents and sister for lunch on a Sunday afternoon.

In the years following the divorce, Melanie describes developing a sincere dependence upon and a close relationship with the Lord like she had never experienced before:

“I didn’t know God the way I knew Him when I went through my divorce.  I fell in such a deep love with this Jesus and I wanted Him in every aspect of my life.  He brought the right books for me to read, the right music to encourage me.  I was so hungry that I would download podcasts of sermons and listen to them after I put Timothy [Melanie’s youngest child] down for a nap.  I would drink my coffee while I listened to the Word and absorbed everything like a sponge.

He met me in my brokenness and revealed Himself in a TOTALLY different way and it was like an adventure…  I always prayed, ‘God, if I don’t have a provider, You be my Provider.  If I don’t have a husband, You provide for me the way a husband would provide.’  I didn’t get any handouts.  Not even from my family.  It truly was God providing for me in a supernatural way.”

She had just six short months to make some critical decisions before her ex-husband permitted their home to go into foreclosure.   Finally, just before the house was taken away by the bank, Melanie found a residential home for lease.  It was the only option she had at the time and was convinced she was destined to move her family there.  The family packed their possessions and moved into the rental where she was permitted to launch an elderly care home for the second time.  Her vacancies quickly filled and her business grew – a feat she credits to her heavenly Provider.

“Hauling and loading groceries for the business and the kids in the pouring rain, alone, was very overwhelming sometimes.  There would be times when I would just sit in the car and rest my head on the steering wheel and I’d pray, ‘God, I don’t have anymore strength.  Please, help me!’”  On numerous occasions, Melanie locked herself in the bathroom and wept in desperation believing that life with three small children was not meant to be lived alone.

“When your spouse dies, it’s so horrible.  But it’s a clean cut and you have everybody coming around you, consoling you and praying for you and having compassion on your children.  When you go through a divorce, it’s like a jagged tear and everybody walks away because they don’t want to be associated with you and you’re left alone with the pieces.”

Sadly, one of the most heartbreaking pieces was Melanie watching the aftermath of her ex-husband’s complete withdrawal from his children impact them negatively.  Rejection led to severe anxiety issues that influenced their behavior at school and at home.  When Melanie occasionally scheduled a break for herself, her children would call her from their grandparents’ home begging her to take them with her.  In her words, Melanie was “their everything.”

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“All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.” Isaiah 54:13

Not only was she terribly needed by her children, but she was the primary caregiver of five elderly clients.  Melanie’s business was running steady, but a year later, the owners asked her to consider purchasing the home or relocate.  Because the home was priced beyond her budget, she found herself standing at the crossroads again.  Instead, she sold the business to the owners and once more, the Lord was her guide.  He led her to a home that was not her preferred choice, a fixer-upper, but it didn’t require a down payment.  Only at the insistence of her parents, Melanie warily agreed to proceed with the deal.  More and more, Melanie realized how gracious the Lord was with her, not because of what she did, but because of Who He is.  She started her business a third time, her expertise and savvy skills more refined than years past, and her earnings surpassed those of the days when she lived in her grand manor with her ex-husband.  The increased revenue enabled her to refurbish the home while providing the best care for her family and her elderly residents.

By this time, Melanie had a revelation that changed her mind about the God she thought she knew.

“He wasn’t this God just waiting to get down on me every time I messed up.  He was comforting me when there was nobody else.  Alone, at night when I was bawling my eyes out – not because I missed my ex-husband – but because people had their own families and I had to respect that.  And then the next day, I had to hold it together for my kids and for everybody else and act like I’m strong when inside I was thinking, what am I doing?   But He supernaturally came through for me emotionally and financially.”

At times, comfort for Melanie came in the form of passages from Scripture (Isaiah 54:4-17, specifically) or from pages in books written by inspirational authors like C.S. Lewis.  Other times, lyrics from a worship song struck a chord in her heart.  But perhaps the most influential instruments the Lord used to encourage Melanie were people.

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Melanie met ladies at her children’s school that held regular prayer meetings and spoke words of truth into her life.  She hired a humble and courteous couple to help her with her business, but quickly became like guardian angels over her curious children.  A thoughtful friend drew close to her during her hardship and occasionally invited her to lunch or offered to take the young family boating. Still, others stepped in with random acts of kindness and provided charitable gifts, like bicycles.  Outnumbered by her children and limited by her business at home, trusted friends helped Melanie by taking the kids on spontaneous trips to the Lego store and other little outings that her children looked forward to visiting.  “God pulled away some people and brought near some people.  As I went through those four years, He brought in individuals at just the right season – the perfect counsel and the perfect help.  They are the kind you just can’t find on your own; they were the hands and feet of Jesus.  I can’t overstate how much God used them to touch my life.”  Then finally, one individual in particular entered Melanie’s mending world, forever changing the seasons and dynamics of her maturing little family.

[…to be continued…]

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Q & A with “Delia”

1.  What’s your favorite childhood memory?

SO many!  My favorite childhood memory was going to Disneyland with my family every year.  We’d all pack up into the Ford Aerostar and it was just such a good time.  And my dad always said, “Kids – don’t fight because…?”  Then we all had to say, “Because it’s vacation time!”  Just sitting in the car laughing with my parents on our way to Disneyland was so much fun.  My parents really liked to travel and if we weren’t going to Disneyland, we were always going somewhere else.

2.  a) Describe your best friend. 

My best friend, Carrie, is so fun, so fun to be around.  So generous.  She’s kind-hearted.  So loyal.  We’ve had each other since the second grade, so we have a really deep connection because I’ve known her for so long.  We also share the same faith so that really helps you become really good friends with someone.  I love that she’s supportive…  I mean, how many hours do I have?  I could talk about her all day!  I actually just got back from visiting her in Las Vegas.  She moved there after high school and she stayed in Vegas.  She’s smart.  She knows what she likes and what she doesn’t like.  She’s family oriented.  She’s eager to learn and eager to have fun.  Eager to be a good person.  I just love her!

b)  Did Carrie compete in pageants with you?

Carrie never participated in pageants, but she did do modeling and acting.  Same industry, just different areas.

3.  What do you see when you look in the mirror?

I see a lot of my parents.  I see a lot of what they’ve done for me in myself.  When I look in the mirror, I see my father.  I see someone who is a hard worker, motivated, driven – who doesn’t settle for mediocrity.  And then again, when I look in the mirror, I see my mom as well and I see someone who is passionate, who is loving, and who wants to see the best in herself.

4. What does true beauty look like to you?

I guess you could describe it in so many ways.  Beauty to me is having a version of yourself in your mind and living up to that standard you have for yourself.  Beauty in others is so subjective because beauty is so different for everyone.  I feel beautiful when I take care of my body.  I feel beautiful when I’m in a spiritually good walk in my life.  I feel beautiful when I do my make-up.  I love that.  It’s like an art to me.  I feel beautiful without make up too, but what I mean is I feel beautiful when I can use my body as an art where I can dress myself nicely, do my hair, and be aesthetically pleasing to myself and hopefully to others.

5.  How did your family respond to your decision to compete in pageants?

They have been supportive through all of it.  It helped that I told my parents my intentions with it.  When it was a hobby, I let them know it was just a hobby and it was just something I wanted to try.  Then it became something serious when I started competing in the Miss America organization and I just let them know that my heart was there and I really wanted this.

6.  How did you prepare before each pageant?

I prepared a lot more for Miss Seattle the second year I competed.  I should have prepared more for the first one.  So you prepare different depending on how important it is to win.

7.  Who came to support you when you competed for the Miss Seattle 2013 title?

My parents were in Romania.  But my sister Gina (who was pregnant at the time) was there.  Lia – my oldest sister, my brother, my best friend who flew out from Las Vegas came to see me, and a couple more friends.  About 12-13 people in all…  Oh!  My sister Roxy couldn’t be there.  She was working in Texas and couldn’t get off from work.  But my other sisters were keeping her posted throughout the competition.

8.  What were some of your thoughts about winning Miss Seattle?

Deep down I knew that for Miss Seattle 2013, I believed I put more work into that than any of the other contestants.  And all of the other contestants are FANTASTIC, AMAZING women.  My good friends come from pageants so I’ve had a lot of friends that I’ve competed with, but I had invested so much that there was no way someone would be more prepared than I was.

9.  When you were crowned Miss Seattle, did you give an acceptance speech?

Our program didn’t do that, but after the pageant, everyone (judges, contestant, families, etc.) went to Applebee’s for a reception because Applebee’s sponsored a portion of the profits made that day to the Miss Seattle program.  That was great!

I did a farewell video though before I gave away my crown to the next Miss Seattle 2014.  The people that I thanked were the Miss Seattle Board (I had a board that helped me out); my director Cheryl; I thanked my mentor, Tamara; I thanked my two best friends, Kendra and Carrie; and then I thanked every one of my siblings individually; my parents; and all of the volunteers and people who helped out in the Miss America organization.

10.  What kinds of fun things did Miss Seattle 2013 do in her community?

I judged the Bite of Seattle… Going to Pike’s Place Market dressed up and catching the fish was really exciting.  I can’t believe I caught the fish!  I did so many things through such a long period of time that I kind of forget, but I enjoyed all of it.

11.  Did you hesitate cultivating new friendships as a result of your title?

I never did.  Though I was Miss Seattle, I was always Delia.  The friendships formed through pageantry are all positive.  I don’t believe that I’ve lost any friends by competing in pageants either because this really fits my personality.  I really am eccentric and I love fashion.  I love performing.  I love being in front of people.  I love communicating, talking, and expressing myself through pageantry.  I just met like-minded people.  I met women who were motivated.  I met women who believe that their education is important to them.  I met women who were really motivated and wanted to succeed in their life.  So only positive friendships occurred through this.

12.  How do you stay healthy?

I do an 80/20 kind of diet.  I eat well 80% of the time and have fun 20% of the time.  When I’m in pageant mode, I will go to 100% and it’s exhausting!  But again, I like the challenge.

I live with my brother but I do a lot of the cooking myself.  I kind of learned how to cook because prior to 2012, I did not know what eating meant.  I thought macaroni and cheese was a healthy meal!  But I learned how to cook and what to cook and then once I won Miss Seattle, I went to a program call Onvo.  Onvo sponsored me and so they let me go to a six-week seminar.  Every Monday, we would go for about two hours and Dr. Mark Adams, the creator of Onvo, just taught us how to eat food.  The exposure to that program, I think, was one of my favorite things about winning Miss Seattle.  And it’s not a weight loss program.  It’s not that at all.  It was literally a doctor telling us from a doctor’s perspective what real food is and what’s not and teaching us how to read labels.  It opened our eyes to the chemicals that go into our food and how manipulated our food system is in the United States.

13.  When was the last time you failed and how did you handle it?

I believe that I fail myself daily because I always think I could’ve done more.  I could have been better.  I could’ve worked out harder.  And I believe I overcome that with my faith knowing that the Lord has a plan for me and I know that’s true because I’ve seen it play out.  Having faith helps me overcome.

 14.  What is the most difficult question you’ve answered while competing in a pageant?

I remember a lot of questions and it took me a long time to finally get comfortable with on-stage questions because you’re on the spot.  A lot of time, I answered very poorly, but the most difficult question I’ve ever received was at Miss Seattle the year I won.

The question was ‘If I were to talk to President Obama about one issue in the United States, what would it be?’  That was the hardest question.   When I’m standing on stage, I don’t have any idea what the judges will ask.  They can ask you about anything in the world and you have to be ready for it.

My response was something like this:  I believe that drinking and driving is a huge issue in the United States.  I think that by saying the limit for blood alcohol content is 0.08 percent, it’s like saying that it’s ok to drink just a little bit and then get inside a vehicle.  I believe that there needs to be a zero tolerance for drinking and driving.  My grandfather was killed by a drunk driver just two years after he came to America and I saw the impact that it had on my uncle who was only six years old.  I saw the impact that it had on him, my mother, and their siblings because they grew up without a father.  I would have a zero tolerance for drinking and driving.

I choose to speak out of conviction about something that really hits home for me and I believe that that’s the best way you can answer these questions.  A lot of times in the past, I would just try to give the audience what they wanted to hear.  But then I finally realized that it’s not about giving them what they want to hear.  It’s about speaking from the heart and letting your emotions address the question.

15.  What emotions did you experience when you crowned the new Miss Seattle for 2014?

Since I had a shorter reign – I had an 8mo. reign rather than a 12mo. reign – I did have sad feelings because I love to go to events and I love to do things so I felt like I would kind of miss out on a couple opportunities.  However, the contestant that I crowned was a friend of mine and I really like her.  I knew that my time was up.  I knew that it was time to say goodbye to this and move on to something else.  I was proud of her and I was excited for what she was going to experience because only very few women experience what she would experience in the next year.

It was bittersweet in that I wish my reign lasted longer, but it was sweet in that I had so many memories.  During the farewell, the Miss Seattle Board, the producer, Cassie, and my director, Cheryl, really made me feel special as I left.  (Note:  You can view Delia’s farewell video HERE).  They really made the show all about me.  It was so exciting.  They let me perform (I performed twice) and then I came out in the opening number and I also co-emceed the show.  So I thought, Oh yeah!  This is awesome!  I guess I just felt really loved as I was preparing to leave and I felt really appreciated.  I felt like they were proud of the year that I had and it was so rewarding to feel – that others see you in such a way that you help the organization or that you did a good job.  They were just proud and I really enjoyed that feeling.  I was ready to go.

I also knew that it was not the last thing that I would ever do.  I knew that there were other things.  I didn’t know if I would compete in pageantry again, but I knew that I still have goals for the future.  And so that wasn’t the peak, so to say.

16.  Who is you favorite pageant titleholder past or present?

My favorite is Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989.  She was actually Miss America the year that I was born.  I guess I just relate to her most because she is in the industry that I eventually want to end up in (she’s a FOX commentator).  And so I respect that she took the Miss America title and then ran with it and then really used the program the way it was intended to be used – as a way to kick start yourself into your career.

17.  What do you admire about the current Miss America? 

The current Miss America is Nina Davuluri.  I admire the fact that she is proud to be an Indian American and I relate to that because I’m a Romanian American.  I love that she gets to do events that help out her community but also people from her own personal ethnic background.  That’s the thing that I respect the most about her.

After she had won, there was a lot of silly backlash asking, ‘How could Miss America be Indian?’ And I think that she took the criticism really well – it wouldn’t even be criticism – she took the hate really well.  She is Miss America and she won fair and square.  She’s a perfect representation of what this country is about.  America is such a diverse country.  She’s a second generation American like I am so she represents America’s diversity and I respect that about her.

18.  What are you currently working on? 

I aged out of the Miss America organization.  You can’t be older than 25 to compete on Miss America.  This year, the Miss America competition is on my birthday and I’ll be 25.  It’s ok!  It’s not mean to be.  But I will continue competing in pageants.

I’m actually Miss Kirkland USA 2014 right now in the Miss USA organization.  It’s a different organization so I wasn’t crowned.  I went through an interview process, but I’m eligible to compete at State now.  In Miss Washington through the Miss American organization, you have to win a local title to compete at State.  But in Washington for the Miss USA pageant, you just go through an interview process and then you’re selected to represent your region or your city.

The State competition for Miss Washington USA is in October so I’ve begun preparing for that.

19.  What would you change about yourself or your life if you could?

You always want to change something.  I mean there are physical things I would change, but they’re silly.  It would mean me being nitpicky about the features I’ve been given.  It’s silly for me to even say those things.  But I wish at times that I could be more patient.  I wish at times that I could be less critical of myself and of others.

20.  You love country music and swing dancing.  Do you see yourself moving to Texas some day?

I don’t think that I would ever move to Texas.  I love Seattle so much.  I can’t see myself leaving Seattle unless it was to go to New York.  I’d go to New York.  The winner of Miss USA ends up living in New York in the Trump Towers.  And I’ve always had a fascination with New York.

21.  What advice do you have for people working toward their dream?

To answer your question, the advice I would offer is this:  You have that dream and desire for a reason.  Be confident in that desire.  Be confident in the fact that you have those feelings.  Put yourself out there.  You’ll regret not doing it, but I don’t think that you’ll ever regret doing something that you wanted to do.

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Diligence and Talent Before Beauty

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f you don’t already have the pleasure of knowing this playful, enchanting, and genuine young lady, then I am  honored to introduce you to Delia Lubanovici!  You could find this sweetheart cheerily rollerblading along the  breathtaking pier of Seattle, Washington while listening to her favorite country tunes (her favorite artist is  Kacey Musgraves, by the way) or strolling through a soggy Disneyland with a couple of her girlfriends,  wearing  her red polka dot poncho and Minnie Mouse ears.  But if you haven’t, then maybe you’ve watched a  YouTube clip   of Delia pacing forward on stage, overcome by emotion, as she accepted the crown and title of Miss Seattle 2013.  In any event, if there is something you should know about Delia, she’s a visionary actively pursuing her dream of working in the entertainment industry.

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A business entrepreneur since 2012, the now 24-year-old owns and operates a European goods shop with her brother and partner, Jon.

While she may have been crowned Miss Seattle 2013, the road to being a pageant queen was not always straight and smooth for Delia.  She was introduced to pageantry through her older sister’s friend, Jennifer, and competed in her first pageant at age 15.  On a whim, the rookie borrowed a dress from Jennifer and excitedly entered the Miss Washington Teen USA competition.  She didn’t place that year, but returned the following year, still without desirable results.  Even though she didn’t place high in the beginning of her pageant career, she enjoyed the opportunity to meet other girls from all over Washington State with similar goals and interests; and pageantry naturally suited her appreciation for fashion and dress up.  What began as the perfect hobby for her bouncy personality quickly advanced into a serious endeavor once she began competing in the Miss America organization.

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Mr. and Mrs. Lubanovici paid top dollar for front row seats to watch their daughter compete at her first pageant, Miss Clark County Teen USA, 2005.

But her involvement in pageants raised eyebrows in the conservative Christian community she grew up in.  Delia wasn’t prepared for the criticism she received as her parents and family were very supportive of her ambitions from the start.  Instead of brushing the negative feedback under the rug, Delia kindly informed the naysayers about the organizations she’s grown to appreciate.  “The Miss America program, for example, is a scholarship program,” she says.  “Each year, they give over 45 million dollars in scholarships, making it the largest provider for scholarships for women in the world.”  While some students earn grants though sports programs or through academic achievements, this became Delia’s approach to earning scholarships for her education at Northwest University.

To Delia, the most hurtful remarks are those that attack her integrity.  “Every now and then, I’ll find someone who thinks I am conceited and that I compete for attention or to glorify myself,” she recalls.  “There were some people who actually thought pageants are a horrible idea; that it was demeaning towards women and that standing on stage in a bathing suit is wrong.” When selecting swimsuits, Delia sensibly considers her options and chooses swimwear she typically wears to the beach.  “I would have experienced a personal conviction had I worn something that I thought was wrong.  I never felt like competing in pageants was wrong to do and I am very fortunate because I have very understanding parents who encourage me to pursue my dreams.  I know by faith and through prayer that this was something okay for me to do.”

In eight years’ time, Delia competed three times (at ages 15, 16, and 18) through the Miss USA organization, headed by Donald Trump and NBC Universal; and six times through the Miss America organization, a non for profit program operated entirely by volunteers.  Because both establishments are pageant-based, they are easily confused yet they differ for the following reasons:

Miss USA has four phases of competition:  a select private interview, on-stage question, swimsuit, and evening gown.  Delia describes the organization’s ideal candidate for Miss USA as “the kind of girl who is absolutely physically fit 100%.  They’re looking for a model or a spokeswoman.”

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Erin Brady is the current Miss USA.

Miss America, on the other hand, has five phases of competition:  a ten-minute private interview, on-stage question, talent, lifestyle and fitness through the expression of swimwear, and evening gown.  “The Miss America program wants a scholar,” she says.  “They want someone who is talented and savvy in different areas of their life.”

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This year’s Miss America, Nina Davuluri.

Delia entered every competition always with the hope of winning a pageant, but didn’t truly believe she was capable of doing so.  Personal insecurities about her weight affected her confidence and essentially the outcome of her overall on stage presentation.  Surprisingly, it was through the Miss America program that Delia conquered her doubts. “I battled with my weight all my life.  The first time I thought that I was fat was when I was six years old!  It’s a life long journey that I’m still going through but the reason I love pageantry is because it gave me motivation to be the best version of myself.  It’s not about the way I look anymore.  It’s about finding stability in my health and the way I feel when I’m healthy.”

Wholesome eating habits and cross-fit training were key elements to Delia’s overall physical health and fitness.  “I never thought that I could actually win because I didn’t take my health seriously.  I realized that food is meant to nourish our bodies.  It is not meant to be a reward or something to indulge in to an extreme,” she explains.

While physical preparation leading up to competitions was imperative to Delia, mental and spiritual readiness was equally important.  “When I prepare for a pageant, I have to be physically fit because my body is the physical evidence of a healthy lifestyle.  I have to be mentally prepared by challenging myself to learn about politics, religion, history, state policies and foreign affairs.  And without my faith, I would not be grounded.  In my opinion, I would not be able to stand on stage if not for my faith because I would feel like a fraud.  I never did well if I wasn’t spiritually where I felt I needed to be.”

In 2012, Delia competed for the Miss Seattle title (a local preliminary of the Miss America organization), but didn’t place.  Instead, she was elected by the Miss Seattle Board to receive their prestigious “Four Points on the Crown” Award, a scholarship reward that honors style, scholarship, service, and success.  Other memorable awards Delia has received in past competitions include Miss Congeniality (three times) and top scores for evening gown and talent.

Delia receives her “Four Points on the Crown” award at the Miss Seattle 2012 pageant.

Delia’s strong desire to win forced her to persevere beyond her failures, learn from her disappointments, and strengthen her talents and abilities.  She returned to Miss Seattle 2013 focused, confident and determined to win.  Many pageant spectators may not realize the amount of work that some candidates put into their pursuits.  Delia spent hours upon hours daily studying the Miss America program and its history.  She researched past contestants and their interviews in preparation for the mandatory ten-minute interview with the judges.  She read the newspaper on dozens of news outlets to educate herself on current events, shed twenty pounds and carefully planned her wardrobe.  She was ready to answer any question at any given time.  She was more than prepared for this competition and felt that she finally had a chance at winning the crown.  Delia’s diligence and intense preparation just goes to show that modern day pageants are no longer superficial, but dig deeper to discover talented aspiring pageant queens who possess valuable critical thinking skills.

The ten minute interview is a significant part of competition and occurs the day prior to on-stage competition.  During this interview, candidates present their resume (i.e. educational background, platform, scholastic/career ambition, talent, etc.) and their platform statement (link).  Delia’s personal platform consists of helping women build thriving careers and prosper in the mainstream workplace through programs such as Dress for Success.

Through the years, interviews were Delia’s least favorite phase of competition, but with past experience and extra practice she credits to her Communications major, the once dreaded segment became an interesting challenge and Delia’s preferred phase of competition.  “I felt really good going into my interview,” reflects Delia of her ten-minute personal interview.  “When I came out, I just started weeping.  I wasn’t sad.  I was crying out of relief.  Deep down inside, I knew that ‘I did it!’  I got the interview that I’ve always wanted – the interview that I felt really represented who I was!”

While she had a promising interview, there was still work to be done.  Later that evening, Delia focused on the talent phase of competition as it also carries a substantial weight of a contestant’s overall score.  Delia describes feeling at ease the next day.  She sang “All that Jazz” from the musical Chicago and even though her vocal performance wasn’t as strong as her personal best rendition of the tune, she felt she performed well in all stages of competition.  “Whatever was going to happen, I truly believe that I did my absolute best and tried my absolute hardest,” she thought silently as she mentally replayed every detail of her routine that evening.  “I prayed that the judges would see all of the hard work that I did and I prayed that I represented myself in such a way that it would be honoring to me, to my family, and to God.“

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Delia celebrates her victory with family and friends.

About a dozen of Delia’s close friends and family were present at this monumental competition, supporting their dear Delia.  “One of the most supportive people was my oldest sister, Lia.  She’s been to every single pageant and she gets emotionally invested.  It makes me so happy to see her so involved and she loves that I love competing in pageants,” Delia says with a smile. Once crowning came, the 4th runner up was called, then the 3rd, followed by the 2nd runner up.  The 1st runner up was named and then finally, the announcement sounded over the speakers across the auditorium:  ‘Your new Miss Seattle for 2013 is … DELIA LUBANOVICI!’  Screams and cheers erupted from all around the auditorium.

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The new Miss Seattle 2013 announced!

“Once my name was called, I became numb in a beautiful, blissful way.  I became numb because I was shocked that they actually called MY name.  I thought to myself there’s no way – it can’t be true.  It can’t be that after nine times of trying to win, this could actually be my time! I felt like everything just kind of dropped and I was very relieved.  I remember saying to one of my friends (another contestant) who was hugging and congratulating me, ‘I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe I did it!’”

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The crowning of Miss Seattle 2013.

As she walked forward with tears rolling down her cheeks to receive her prized crown, she realized for the first time that hard work really brings results.

During her eight-month reign, Delia participated in many events citywide while also serving her beloved Seattleites.  One of the most rewarding things she did was visit the local children’s hospitals.  “Just by simply walking into their rooms wearing a crown and sash brought joy to the children.  That is how iconic the Miss America crowns and sashes are.”  Meeting new people was just one of the perks of her new occupation. She enjoyed waving to the crowds on the back of a Mustang in the Grand Parade during Summer Celebration!, handing out backpacks to foster children, and volunteering at the Seattle Fire Department for their Fire Festival among so much more!  Delia is a huge Twitter fan so she was thrilled when she was asked to live tweet on behalf of Bellevue.com at the Bellevue Fashion Show.  “I went to the places that I love and the Seattleites really accepted me and were proud of their representative – that was my favorite thing about being Miss Seattle.”

MissSeattle2014

Miss Seattle 2014’s contestants surround Delia Lubanovici, Miss Seattle 2013.

Since crowning her successor late last year and saying farewell to her crown, Delia was invited to host “The Delio,” a web series via TDZdaily.com, where she spontaneously discusses any subject that falls under the entertainment umbrella.  She mentors aspiring pageant contestants while continuing to operate a European imports store she opened with her brother and partner in 2012.

Farewell

Delia’s farewell to her Miss Seattle 2013 title with her family. (From L to R: Brother in law, Greg and nephew; sister Gina, brother and business partner Jon, Delia, mother Mona, sister Roxy, and sister Lia.  Delia’s father was on an international business trip and not pictured).

Delia knows that bigger and better things are ahead for her and doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.  She’s recently received the Miss Kirkland USA 2014 title through the Miss USA Organization and is currently preparing to compete for Miss Washington USA in October.  She intends to follow in the footsteps of her two role models, Gretchen Carlson – Miss America 1989 and Rachel Smith – Miss USA 2007, who both took their coveted titles and used them to kick start their careers in television broadcasting.

“I don’t think that you’ll ever regret doing something that you wanted to do, but you’ll always regret not trying.  Had I never competed in pageantries, I would have always wondered what it would have been like.  I tried and I had lots of failures in the process, but I also persevered through them.  Have faith that your talents and abilities are there for a reason.”  *THM

~ UPDATE!  Interview questions not included in this post are now available in an ALL NEW!  Q & A with Delia.  CLICK HERE!

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The Gift of Life – Part III, The Conclusion

 

[…continued from Part II…]

 

A

 

 

 

zedin was sitting at his work desk when Cory called on the 27th of May last spring.  Gripping his phone firmly,    he anxiously waited for Cory to tell him the final results of his testing.

He would not only need three of the six proteins in his blood to match Adis’s, but he must have two fully  operating kidneys in order to donate one.  Some people are born with a single kidney (termed renal agenesis) and others have kidney dysplasia, a condition where two kidneys are present but only one functions correctly.  If the CT showed that Azedin did not have two working kidneys or the labs revealed that only one was healthy, Adis would remain on the national waiting list indefinitely.  Time was running short.

‘I just want to let you know I have all your results back and…’  Cory paused.  Azedin’s anxiety grew with every passing moment.  “…And?” he thought impatiently.  He would be heartbroken if Cory didn’t deliver promising news.  “…You’re a match!”  There was silence on his end of the telephone line.  Azedin couldn’t believe what he heard.  “We’re a go!” she exclaimed as she excitedly began to list the available dates for surgery.

Out of the six proteins in Azedin’s blood, all six were a complete match; typical of what is found in blood samples between twins.  Kidney function tests and the final CT exam proved Azedin had a life-saving kidney to donate to his brother.  He kept the results private as he and Adna planned Adis’s surprise birthday gift, the gift of a lifetime, with just two days to spare.

The evening of the gathering, Adis was in his living room telling jokes and laughing with family members when Azedin approached him with his surprise birthday gift.  Azedin created a personal coupon book to break the news to his brother and the rest of the family.  The first coupon was a voucher for $150 toward a new motorcycle jacket of his brother’s choice.  The second coupon was cardstock cut into the shape of a kidney and its anatomical parts sketched onto its surface.  The final coupon was a “Life Certificate” Azedin designed where he listed two surgery dates for Adis to choose from.

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(Photo courtesy of Azedin)

(Photo courtesy of Azedin)

(Photo courtesy of Azedin)

You can watch Adis’s reaction here.

The family was overwhelmed by the news.  Adis’s wife and mother were both overcome by emotion.  At first, Adis was confused and surprised, then sad.  He tried to be happy, but he could hardly conceal his mixed emotions.  Adis was aware that Azedin had been inquiring about the process of organ donation, but he didn’t know his brother was seriously exploring the option to become a donor himself.  And Adis didn’t question Azedin about any involvement in the matter, concerned that he might instigate unintentional pressure upon his sibling.  In fact, Adis preferred that his family not become implicated in the donor process, fearing he could never repay them should any of his loved ones ever need a kidney transplant in the future.  Once Adis came to terms with the results, he was looking forward to better days.

While Adis was willing to continue dialysis for as long as necessary, he knew it was only a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.  The first month Adis was on peritoneal dialysis (CAPD), he was manually filtering his blood four times a day, carrying small bags of cleaning solution with him everywhere he went.   It was inconvenient and sanitation was extremely imperative to avoid possible peritoneal infection.  Then he was switched to a different dialysis treatment (APD) where his blood was filtered and cleansed by a cycler while he slept at night only.  He continued this method for four more months.  While it is an efficient treatment, undergoing dialysis on a daily basis can negatively impact the body and shorten one’s life span.  A kidney transplant was the ideal solution to prolonging his life.

The last night before surgery, Adis was feeling anxious, but continued to think optimistically.  Unfortunately, his worst nightmare occurred and something went terribly wrong.  He was awakened in the middle of the night when he sensed his clothes and bed sheets were drenched!  After eliminating a few possible reasons as to why his garments could be wet, he frantically jumped out of bed to find that the tube that connected to his port had somehow detached and fluid gushed out.  He had been warned by specialists to take extreme care at night when sleeping to avert possible contamination, essentially delaying surgery.   He immediately contacted his home health nurse who arrived around three o’clock in the morning to assist Adis at home.  After phone calls to doctors were made and extra precautions were taken to avoid infection, the nurse left.  Adis was unable to fall asleep again as he stared at the clock, waiting for any signs or symptoms of infection to occur after the untimely ordeal.  Hours passed sluggishly until morning finally arrived and Adis received word that he was cleared to proceed with surgery.

Azedin and Adis were scheduled for their operations respectively on the morning of July 8th.  Their parents were nervous.  They looked on at their adult children as they were wheeled into the surgery prep room, frightened by thoughts of anything that could go awry.  Azedin recalls being more than ready for the procedure, trusting his life into God’s hands.  A little apprehensive at first as to what the future would hold for his younger brother, Adis made a conscious effort to resume meditating on positive thoughts.  In the surgical prep room, Azedin’s fiancée was standing nearby while the couple chatted with Adis and his wife.  The anesthesiologist interrupted their conversation with an announcement directed at Azedin:  “Here comes the good stuff!”  Azedin looked to his right where his older brother lay on a stretcher wearing a surgical cap as he was undergoing preparations for surgery also.  He continued to scan the space when he exchanged glances with his sister in law.  Ultimately, he rested his eyes on his soon to be wife and managed to utter his final observation:  “You guys are all dizzy right now.”  Those were his last words to his family before falling into a deep sleep.

LIVE! video taken from the day of surgey can be viewed here.

A large incision was made on the right side of Azedin’s abdominal cavity where surgeons removed his right kidney.  Next, they cleaned the kidney and flushed a water-like solution through its parts before placing it in an ice chest.  Adis was in the next operating room already sedated and waiting for his life-saving organ to be transplanted.  Though Azedin’s procedure was completed in just over sixty minutes, the entire process lasted about four hours.

(Photo courtesy of Azedin)

Azedin’s suture after surgery. (Photo courtesy of Azedin)

Adis’s body embraced the new kidney immediately.  Abnormally elevated creatinine levels plummeted drastically and continued to do so until they finally returned to normal the next evening following surgery.  His swelling was gone and for the very first time in many years, he felt great.  When Azedin learned how well his brother was responding after surgery, he was very grateful.  “I don’t really show my emotions very much, but there’s just times where you can’t hold yourself back; whether you want to or however strong you want to be, you just can’t be.  Emotions run.”

Azedin visits Adis in his recovery room the morning after surgery. (Photo courtesy of Azedin).

Azedin visits Adis in his recovery room the morning after surgery. (Photo courtesy of Azedin).

Azedin was released two days after surgery and within a week, he was walking around comfortably.  Three weeks after surgery, he was already riding a bike again.  He doesn’t feel any different than before nor does he sense that something is missing on the inside.  Other than the large scar that wraps around his right side as a daily reminder, his everyday life continues unaffected by the procedure.  He is still as active as before, enjoying sports like snowboarding, football, soccer, and basketball.  For safety measures, Azedin undergoes an annual physical and completes lab tests to ensure his internal processes are balanced and functioning normally.

As for Adis, the first three months after completing surgery, he went in for checkups three times a week to ensure his body was not rejecting the kidney.  His visits gradually decreased to a checkup once a month until his one year anniversary.  Adis takes two pills in the morning that help suppress the white blood cells, preventing lupus from potentially returning; a significant change from the numerous remedies and prescription bottles he was once accustomed to.  When he reflects on photos of himself captured on several different occasions in the past, he vividly recalls how despite his smile, he was feeling miserable during that little glimpse of time.  And yet he would often remember that it could always be worse.

On Azedin’s wedding day in November of last year, Adis stood by his brother as his best man.  During the reception, Adis shared a spontaneous, emotional speech that moved over three hundred guests to tears in that reception hall.  A slideshow organized by Adis followed shortly after.  As Azedin viewed the pictures next to his bride, the memories he shared with his brother as they grew older together were even more meaningful.   Realizing that his brother could have possibly not survived to witness his wedding day or have the opportunity to create more memories together gripped his heart.  “I realized how quickly things can disappear in life.  Something that’s come up can take you down so quickly.  Adis was fine and then suddenly lupus just took over his body.  It opened my eyes to appreciate what I have and I’m beyond thankful.”

Azedin and Adis (right) celebrating life and love on Azedin and Adna's wedding day.  (Photo courtesy of Azedin).

Azedin and Adis (right) celebrating life and love on Azedin and Adna’s wedding day. (Photo Courtesy of Victor Saidov Photography).

The overall experience has made Azedin sensitive to those struggling with lupus and other illnesses as well as compelled him to encourage others to become organ donors.  He became involved in an online group called the Living Kidney Donor Network where he shared a little bit about his story.  In fact, his story even motivated a woman he doesn’t know to become an anonymous living donor.  He hopes to raise more awareness about lupus and inform others that life is still as full and rewarding with a single kidney.

Through thick and thin, a very thankful husband lovingly dips his supportive and stunning bride, Adna.

Through thick and thin, a very thankful husband lovingly dips his supportive and stunning bride, Adna. (Photo courtesy of Victor Saidov Photography).

As for the gift that Azedin gave Adis, the gift of life leaves Adis at a loss for words.  “Thanking somebody for something like this is almost silly.  How do you repay somebody for saving your life?”  With Azedin’s healthy kidney intact, Adis has the chance to live at least twenty years or more.  “We all have to go some day,” Adis reasons.  “Some go sooner.  Some go later.  Visit those who are sick.  Put yourself in their shoes.  You may never fully understand, but it might give you a little different perspective on life.  Do the things you love.  Don’t stress over insignificant matters.  Have fun and laugh.  Find peace and find faith.  Appreciate life.”

Adis and his wife, Sabina, enjoy swimming together for the first time since surgery in the Dominican Republic, March 2014.  On dialysis, Adis was urged to abstain from pools and bodies of water to avoid infection while on dialysis.  (Photo courtesy of Adis).

Adis and his wife, Sabina, enjoy swimming together for the first time since surgery in the Dominican Republic, March 2014. On dialysis, Adis was urged to abstain from pools and bodies of water to avoid infection while on dialysis. (Photo courtesy of Adis).

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