Monday, August 12, 2013

Symphony in A Minor Song

“Blue silver winters that melt into spring…these are a few of my favorite things..." I could listen to Julie Andrews sing that line every night of the week. Musicals are, well as Mary Poppins would say, one of my favorite things. I love the passion that’s evoked in song, and while in the the real world we don’t spend our lives pausing at dramatic moments and faded lights before we break out into ballads, our arms stretched from East to West…. there’s something soul lifting that comes from those unhindered voices on the silver screen and Broadway stage that suggest, perhaps we should, and perhaps we do. In our trademarks and style, our choices and humor, the destinations we book tickets for and the 5 most played songs on our iPods, all the intricately designed slivers of us that melt into a delightful watercolor harmony of personality and preferences. Even the simplest decisions of “I’ll have my coffee black” or “2 creams and sugars please”, indicates that you have a song and so do I, yours has different notes, the girl serving the coffee has a concerto and the guy playing the old violin amidst the trash of a metro line; well, if we stopped to listen we’d be moved beyond words.

Here are some of the lines of music in my composure; I’d rather have white tulips than red roses, Thursday is my favorite day of the week, and I purchase wine strictly based on the bottles design. I am not a morning person, I hate mornings, the most difficult task of each day is making myself get out of bed; but, on those rare occasions when I catch the sunrise and the birds morning chorus congratulates me on my epic accomplishment; it’s sheer exhilaration. I have a passion for film and photography, even when there’s not a camera in my hand I’m constantly seeing framed stills of every day life. I see the shot in my head and I capture it: the positive without the negative. I’m comfortable speaking in front of thousands of people but can be terribly awkward on dates with dapper gentleman. I share my story boldly but sometimes feel incredibly vulnerable and wonder if I have a safe place to land. I’d choose a presidential biography over a Glamour magazine any day of the week and sometimes I buy books simply for the scent that only a book has. There are moments when in private the grace of God fills me with so much joy and gratefulness that I burst into tears or laughter. I find serenity in the mountain skyline, I’m terrified of heights and falling, I’m a dreamer by nature and transparent to a fault. I love football on Friday Night and golf on Sunday afternoons. I fiercely and fully love my family and friends with sincerest conviction. I’m convinced that one day someone will buy a book I’ve written, even if only for the way it smells or the covers design rather than the words inside. If you asked, I’d tell you I believe dragons once existed and true love still does.

I’m also the type of person who doesn’t want to wake up (around 11:30am preferably) and ask herself the question, What if?  And while you can argue that the question itself has two sides; What if I had? and What if I hadn’t? I’d dare say that asking ones self “But, what if I had?” seems far more detrimental than pondering on the outcomes of something you’ve already done and cannot undo. It is because of that particular pitch in the sound of my soul that I will be competing in The 2014 Miss Tennessee USA competition as Miss Walking Tall USA. It’s the same tone that found me sitting on a rock at Walden Pond reading the words of Henry David Thoreau, watching the same water be moved by the wind that he glanced up at, as he wrote those words. The same rhythm with which I find myself preparing for a trip to The Dominican Republic to speak of the grace of Jesus Christ, through a translator, to a group of Dominican women; each with their own ballads to bear.  

After prayerful consideration, on October 3rd through October 5th of this year I’ll go after an opportunity one last time; or as my dear friends father would say; Sarah, you’re on the 1 yard line now go get a touchdown…." I am excited for this opportunity offered by The Miss Tennessee USA organization and thankful for those who understand when I look at a challenge, a dream or a door to be opened and say; Why not? I would love your prayers and support. When it comes to friends and family, and the people who surround me, I count myself an incredibly blessed young woman and I am so grateful for the people whose lives have been grafted into my own. You are the sound of wind chimes when the breeze of providence blows and I love you with all that I am. I hope you each always find the strength to see the beauty in the symphonies, whether bitter or sweet and when the moment comes, may you stretch out your arms and boldly sing your song, because truly; I’d love to listen.

In faith, hope and love,

If anyone would like to be one of my sponsors or if you have any advice to send my way I’d love to hear from you at my personal email of

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Falling Down.

                  “He has chosen not to heal me- He has chosen to hold me” 
                                           Joni Earekson Tada

I still recall vividly the snow falling, hauntingly, upon my face as the firemen and EMT crew worked collectively to carry me up the side of the ravine.  Strapped to a backboard I could only look up into the silent descending snow; each individual journey of ice seemed so methodical within the chaos, thousands of flakes, dropping quietly in unison, brightly defined by the flood lights set up to locate the crumpled vehicle and cold teenagers in the darkness below. As we surpassed the ledge of the mouth that had swallowed up my security, the world turned the sound back on. The sirens, flashes and shouts all surging in, clamoring for attention, the ambulance racing against my pulse, an oxygen mask catching my breath for me, and of only two things was I certain; I had fallen, and I couldn’t feel my legs.  

It’s a simple road home from Tennessee; 40 East turns in to 81 North/ follow that until 322 East on your right, which takes you to Route 11, the main road of a town named after one Daniel Montgomery. A town with parts half asleep, and parts waking new: a place where you can sit on the hot pavement of Mill Street between the post office and town pharmacy and watch fireworks illuminate the Susquehanna River. It’s 604 miles from Neyland Stadium all the way through Bristol, past Hungry Mother State Park, cutting between the stunning Virginia ridges and farms, running alongside the convocation center of James Madison University and the white stone replica of The Statue of Liberty outside the waters of The Keystone Capitol. 10 hours, 5 states and that hallowed threshold called, The Mason Dixon Line.  Separating the lanes of Interstate 81 are generally wide patches of grass, with occasionally clusters of vibrant wildflowers casting a harsh contrast against the dark weary pavement rivers on either side. Yet a few mile markers before Winchester, Virginia; these highway lawns begin to stretch and gape and yawn; and the grass islands become grass canyons; too deep to see the depths from the road above. Sometimes even roads and rails slide underneath this steading churning chute between The North and The South.

I remember the sensation I felt as the vehicle thudded through the guardrail of one of these particular ravines, and argued angrily against gravity. Asleep in the backseat, knees curled up to my chest; I felt my legs slide dramatically downward and my body lift suddenly. Then, my thin airborne frame violently slammed against the right door and handle, pushing out a scream of agony I can still hear to this day.My name was shouted: Sarah. Voices thick with fear, saying my name reverently wrapped with desperate prayers. My chest was instantaneously pulled and then twisted around, my head cracking against the left window as my arms reached out anxiously for an anchor to keep me in. March 16th, 2007, four days shy of two decades old and I was a marionette, suspended and without control, shoved against matter, momentum blocked by mass.

An eternity passed. The vehicle stopped. 
I leaned my forehead against the seat in front of me; 
salt and fear mingling in the tears on my trembling lips,  
my back wildly gnashing its teeth,
and my legs
numb from 
the hips

Until today I have never spoken or written publicly about the accident, though injuries remain and the pain reminds. Writing of it now offers me a release of tension, flexing an atrophied muscle to knead out the moments that sometimes find me inside nightmares or backseats. After stretching, and icepacks and gifted chiropractors have alleviated all that they can, the only therapy left me, are words. Within writing, I always find what I want to say, between the apostrophes and alliterations and allusions there’s always a point; my Fathers grace. God has been gracious and of two things I am certain; I am so thankful that I am alive, and I am so thankful to walk. I’ve never presumed I had a right to include the accident or pain in the pages or speeches of my story, largely due to the unique perspective my job has given me. A job I’ve held since late in the same year of the accident, it has put me on the sidelines of incredible individuals and sweet children who will spend the majority of their lives bed and wheelchair bound.  How dare I grumble at the aches when before me are others aching at a far greater level... I know sincerely that I very well could have been a young woman that people talked around, and not to, someone who required 24/7 nursing assistance or a machine to breathe. The Lord sweetly took away a voice that may have complained incessantly about a fire that still laces down my neck and spine, by giving me eyes to see the raw pain in the rest of humanity and the resilience with which they thrust their faces into the ash. Women like Joni Ereakson Tada and Robin Roberts. Men like the father and son of “Team Hoyt “, Kyle Maynard and Christopher Reeves. There are literally thousands if not millions of individuals with disabilities and difficulties far outweighing the scope of any physical or emotional pain I have ever known. I regained complete feeling in my legs, I didn’t have to learn to walk again, and I spent perhaps not even a total of 4 days in a wheelchair, Joni Ereakson Tada has spent, to date; 16,790. And yet she has said This paralysis is my greatest mercy”. Her faith is undeniable, her joy in the Savior unrelenting. In comparison, I willingly dilute my own experience to simple discomfort, and what is discomfort if not something to be grateful for? A throbbing reminder that I am not of this world, a pulsing affirmation that strips me of any pride that would tell me my own physical strength allows me to rise up against challenges. No, it is the strength of Jehovah Rophe, The God who Heals. It is the sustaining power of a Father who concerns Himself more with the health of my soul, than the shell that carries it.

Among the goals I can only hope this shell can breathe into its' soul; are to hike the Milford Track in New Zealand, and find a cup of coffee while trekking through the Swiss Alps. Then there’s the most formidable of my mountain destinations; Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world. I know it will be difficult, I know it will be incredibly painful, but if Kyle Maynard; a congenital amputee can find it within his will power to summit that peak, then so can I. Every time I move forward I have something to be thankful for, every time my brain communicates to the rest of me and I respond; I have a gift that so many others do not. I am such a fortunate young women, and even you, reading these words; you’re reading, you’re doing something that 785 million adults in the world; can. not. do. I don’t have the solutions or the answers for why they can't or how they'll be able to, or why bad things happen to good people, why some people are born into certain cultures or classes; why the medicine stops working or the procedures come too late. I can’t provide an articulate sentence that will alleviate the pressures of this fallen and broken world. What I do know and believe and trust, is that God is good and Jesus heals. Even if the healing does not occur in our physical bodies; Jesus, through His own pain and suffering, through the agony of the cross, through His nail scarred hands; He healed the innermost places of sinful souls, bound up the brokenhearted, sought out and redeemed the lost and made a way of forgiveness for all mankind. Though many walk through mountains of suffering, and there are those who fall beneath the weight of their struggles; there is One who calls us to raise our eyes to heaven, to look up and see the sovereign hand of a merciful God reaching out, as a Father unto His child. I reach back out to Him, like the women in the Gospels, who knows if she but touches the garment of Jesus’ robes; she will be healed. I  reach out, and I am renewed. I climb the mountains, and at the summit views; I understand the rocks I stumbled upon and the falls I took, all the beauty and all the injuries that mapped out a journey for my good, and for Gods glory.


 I’ve included the ESPN video link that shares Kyles incredible life story and his hike to the mountain top of Kilimanjaro. I invite and recommend that you watch this moving and inspiring climb to the top.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Breathing In.

When going to write I feel very much like an architect walking up to her drafting table, rolling out the blank parchment; formulating a blueprint that will then culminate into a structure. From vision to form. Idea to function. Dream to visible beauty.  What drives me to my draft is the idea, a desire to lay lines on a page that will become a structure of thought, a completed piece of artwork. What can stay the process and stop construction is when I “lose the fish”. What I mean by fish is, this silver piece of life; yeast that holds within it the sustenance and growth of an entire litany of words and worlds. I’ll be ensconced with my daily routines when the “voice”, or the perfect sentence or flood of descriptors will flash through my mind the way the sun reflects off the fish in Lake Loudon when Valerie and I throw our lines off the dock while the heat throws itself around our necks. If I don’t write it down on a napkin or squish my own ink around the lining of a book page- I let it slip right on through and the words are never written, the image never found again and the house is never built. Very much like that time you didn’t say what you needed to say and can’t find the words to say it again. For instance, My Best Friends Wedding; Julia Roberts is about to tell Dermot Melroney how she truly feels and you can tell he’s anticipating the truth but she hesitates, and they slide under the bridge and the moment is gone entirely; it fell into the water, and fell away. Or it’s like that time, when looking back you realize you shouldn’t have said anything at all, but you did, and you lost the beauty of the silence, and it can’t be recreated or reclaimed. Now clearly I lose the fish a lot judging from the date of my last blog post and the fact that I’m racing towards 30 and haven't crossed “Become a NY Times Best Selling Author” off my Bucket List. Yet sometimes I am successful in the catching the fish- but then, I throw it back. I have a tendency to start projects and if within the first two pages I haven’t created The Taj Mahal I lose interest and send the fish into the “Documents” abyss, a pool teeming with cleverly titled ideas on white screens that have 4,000 words, and nothing more. It’s almost as if I want every sentence to have the same effect of; “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” When it doesn’t, I release it. Though I was kindly reminded that A Tale of Two Cities is one of the best English works of the 19th century, if not history. But have you ever known me NOT to have lofty aspirations?! In all seriousness, it’s a challenge I need to overcome if I ever want to sincerely see my words bound up and built up; given a spine and a life. I need to start laying foundation upon foundation if I ever want to build my castle in the sky. It means writing sprints to prepare for the marathons, catching little blue gills before heading off to spear the white whale. It means writing about the every day, ordinary pieces of life. It means capturing Gods provision and love for me inside the sticky fingers of my nephew or the flowerpots overturned by bladder challenged puppies. It means putting my poetry down line at a time, because even “Midway upon the journey of our life” had to be written before the author finished at “The Love that moves the sun and stars.”

Now, I could and would never presume to possess the prowess of Dickens and Dante, and I am fair content to simply be a reader of words and sit quietly at the hearth of giants; but it seems that even to withhold even the simplest, haphazard of prose would be unsettling. There’s almost a strain of anxiety that’s laced within the locking up of words or an artist ceasing to paint. So write I will; of sunsets that slice behind the Northern mountains and moons that reflect off of arctic cold lakes and a niece with eyes brown as coffee beans and taking sips of coffee when it’s already turned ice cold, or getting the worlds worst haircut a day before the worlds best date. It means painting and sketching and framing the simple musings of what might have been, what is, and what will be. 

Over the past year God has been teaching me to trust Him with the “what will be”- when I wandered in the desert places He was gracious to send manna. When I searched for the ram in the thicket He was clear to reveal that it always was, and always has been His Son.  In this past year He has knocked through walls in my heart; implemented more of His lines and functions; bringing His vision into form and crafting more of the women He’s designed. He has asked for sacrifice, He’s called me to speak the words He’s given. He’s made dreams come true and altered destination courses. He’s taken away and He has given. Recently He’s gifted me with the wonderful opportunity to work for my company remotely- I absolutely love my new job and I am so thankful and excited for all that this team will develop and change. The fact that it allows me to spend the most time I’ve spent with my older sister in the past 5 years makes me overwhelmingly lucky. Not to mention that closing down the laptop and picking up a niece or nephew is a treasure. Even when I don’t understand exactly what Eva means when she yells at the remote while we’re watching Cinderella or Liam flips himself over in the midst of changing an intensely saturated diaper, spreading out its warm contents with splendid flair. There’s something I observed spending time with my niece and nephew. I noticed that it’s not the tears of the child that’s so bad as much as the pause right before the cry; the quiet before the squall. When their expression is altered to one of betrayal, color floods their cheeks and they begin to pull in all of their breath to let out a cry. It’s the anticipation of the wailing, and the understanding that I caused their distress that’s more upsetting to me. More often than not they’re crying over something you did or didn’t to them that they don’t understand…and they definitely don’t see that it was for their good. Eva’s indignation that I would dare pull her away from the porch ledge overshadows the reality that the barrier had fallen down and needed pushed back up. My intense love and care for her prevents me from giving her what she wants, in order to save her from falling down 18 white wooden steps. I pondered this as Eva curled back up into the nape of my neck- when there is an ache I don’t understand do I pull in my breath to let out a whimper? or to pray?  Does my face reflect betrayal when it should project trust? Is my reactive moment to collect all my misgivings and expel them in anxious pleas….or do I pause in wonder at sovereignty…..

I reached out and placed my finger on the pulse of the moment; finding in it the design of a Creator and words from a holy Carpenter saying “if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.”

 The Scripture presses in, leaving the yoke a little lighter; “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Here was a reminder of a Father who knows exactly why the foundation is poured a certain way, because He is building something to behold, a vision that is beautiful and good. Here lay affirmation that I can live each day holding on to the words that were written for sustenance, bread kneaded with yeast and promise, a daily nourishment; “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love Him….”

I inhale.

Worked together.

I exhale.

For my good.

There may be many moments of weeping in my life- and certainly, in a world and society marked with tragedy; with bombings and protests and murder and war. When mothers weep for starving children, sisters breathe off of machines and young widows stand as a soul silhouette aching at the loss of her other half- I know there will be moments of justifiable grief and disappointment over unanswered yearnings. Yet as He is here in simplicity, will He be there in complexity. As He reigns in the rejoicing so will He draw near to us in the groaning. When we find ourselves looking up at the open skies or cathedral ceilings wondering what we will have; the merciful answer we find in the Voice older than time itself rings out; “you will have Me.” When I pass over the waters of what I don’t understand, might I be given the strength to draw in my breath and from my depths, whisper a prayer of faith. To hold on to the Savior and with my voice emanate those precious words; “When peace like a river attendeth my way- when sorrows like sea billows roll- Whatever my lot, God has taught me to say; it is well. It is well with my soul."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

For Such A Time...

Heather French Henry sat directly to my right, our knees almost touching; the way schoolgirl friends sit and share secrets together on the school bus. The murmur of the room was very much like that of students cajoling with one another on the first day back from summer vacation, friends who haven’t seen friends since this adventure or that mishap and retell the tales each longs to hear of the other. These here, in the Miss America Suite, are adventurers and warriors dismissing distances and reuniting with their sisters; all beneath the glamorous lights that have bonded them together since 1921. They speak of the future and of their history, of how the Miss America crown has evolved and changed from the Lady Liberty type headdress to the glittering icon I was able to wear on my very head. I was still, a silent observer among the legends, drinking in the experience like a beautifully aged glass of Cabernet, breathing in the moments slowly in hopes that it might never pass away.  Lee Meriwether stood to my immediate right, a glass of wine in hand, exuding elegance in her bare feet, speaking of her Habitat for Humanity endeavor earlier that day. Jackie Meyer worked diligently in the windowsill overlooking Las Vegas Blvd. compiling the paperwork for this years Quality of Life recipients. She celebrated her 50th anniversary of being Miss America that week, and shared on stage her powerful life story of teaching herself to speak again after a devastating stroke; letters becoming words and words into sentences again. All week long I was given moments of interaction with these Miss Americas; Lauren Nelson and Jennifer Berry hugged me as though I was one of their own, and though I held my composure when I met Heather Whitestone, the only Miss America who is Deaf, upon exiting the Miss America suite I cried tears of joy and admiration. During the Miss America Luncheon I was seated next to the inspiring Donna Axum Whitworth and we discussed her work with The Womens Auxiliary of Texas, and as the Miss Americas were introduced, they highlighted one sisters triumph that year: defeating brain cancer.  Yes, once Miss America, always Miss America. These women do not relinquish the strength that brought them to the crown once they place it on another’s head. These women continue life long legacies of changing the world, and overcoming obstacles. They singularly represent, in their daily lives, a collective commitment to perseverance, strength, “world peace”; and undying and unwavering support of scholarship, style, success, and service. The four points of the crown are more the beating of their very hearts than the delicate Miss America pin worn directly above it.

My temperament is disquieted to know that some would see a woman wearing a crown or hear the title of beauty queen and instantly resign and dilute her to their own understanding; found in poorly given stage answers, scandalous controversies and the go-go juice of Honey Boo Boo. Not to dismiss the existence of the latter, for it is an apparent reality, but to declare that to be a woman who truly represents what Miss America is all about, is to promote awareness for Autism, Alzheimers, Heart Disease and Childhood Cancer. It means packing 45,000 backpacks to do your part in ending childhood hunger or creating an animal program for special needs children and wounded veterans. It means taking your glittering sparkling crown off of your own head and placing it on the bald head of a little girl; her body riddled by chemo treatments but her heart now elated by how you have made her feel beautiful, maybe even invincible. Our current Miss America, Mallory Hagan is herself a champion for the disavowed, broken and abused in her cause to End Child Sexual Abuse, on top of which she is the Ambassador of the Childrens Miracle Network, she promotes women involvement in STEM programs and represents Joseph Ribkhoff and Artistry Beauty.


Such are the descriptors of America’s queens.

For a brief moment in my timeline, in one of the most precious adventures of my lifetime; The Miss America Organization gave me the incredible honor of feeling exactly like I had become Americas queen. I presented at The Neiman Marcus Luncheon to Miss Americas and members of the Board of Directors, and again on Thursday evening I spoke on the Miss America stage in the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. When I concluded my words, the audience rose to their feet. I was awestruck, starstruck, shocked, and humbled. As tradition goes, you only stand, for Miss America herself. Joy flooded me, gratitude overwhelmed me- What could I do? But say an inaudible thank you to the masses- raise my hand in love into the lights.

Afterwards pockets of people would tell me that the very first to leave their seat, was Katie Stam Irk, seated in front at the celebrity judges table. An honor given by the honored. I watched Katie Stam sing Via Del A Rosa and win Miss America 2009 sitting in my living room, by myself, cheering for her as loud as I could for no one to hear. And here she, a woman I so admired for so long for her grace and faith, had cheered for me. What kindness of the Lord to show me such favor! I returned to my seat, breathless and slightly stunned, I looked about the audience around me, thinking…there wasn’t a single father there who wouldn’t have given everything to make their daughters dream come true, to become Miss America, and my Father did that for me, in His own way and His own timing, for His own glory. He said, yes My princess, I will fulfill the desires of your heart, and you will bring honor to My name.

If you stripped my Las Vegas experience of everything; the beautiful Bellagio, the candlelit dinner at Top of The World, if you had to take away breakfast in the Paris Casino and the dresses and the royal treatment, the little girls asking for photographs and autographs, the Directors of this and that asking me to speak and speak again; if you took it all away except one moment, I would still be as overjoyed and enamored and thankful for this experience.  This one moment occurred during my Thursday Night speech, well aware of all that was happening outside of the confines of our stadium of dream makers and dream believers, one of my lines in my speech was as follows:

“And all of those tomorrows have led me to right here, and right now. Where I will testify that I would not be the women standing before you tonight, if not for the Gospel and the grace of Jesus Christ.”

The crowd erupted in cheers.

I was startled for a moment, it was a reaction I hadn’t expected or planned for in my calculated pauses of speech practice. But oh, what a reaction to receive! YES! My heart thought! Yes! This is why I came- this is what I stand for and why I have been given something to say- Thank Him for what He has done! Honor Him with thunderous applause. I am so humbled, thankful and in awe that God would take a broken vessel and redeem her, for such a time as this; that in the heart of “Sin City”; the name of Christ would be praised.

I rested my head against the window as my limo headed to the airport at the end of my adventure, weaving through the streets where vagabonds and kings nightly meet, where people walk till the morning gold spills about their feet. “Are you Miss USA or something?” my driver asks through the open windowed partition pulling me out of my quiet thoughts “No no I’m just a regular girl” I replied. “Well okay, then why all this?” he motions his hand around the large vehicle. I explain to him how the Miss America Organization provided this amazing experience for me as their guest and how I was able to speak and share my faith on their stage. “Your faith?…what’s your faith?” he asked.

I moved forward to the front of the seats to be closer.
Because, I have something to say about faith, and why was I sent, if not for a moment such, as this.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First and Foremost

 I stood in the narrow filthy bathroom hardly large enough for me to stretch my arms from wall to wall, the floor encumbered with laundry, old newspapers and the faintest scent of cat urine. A mother’s shouts echoed below my feet, a stepfather’s cigarette smoke drifted through the open window. I stared into the faded and cracked mirror above the sunken peach colored sink; two of the florescent bulbs had burnt out so only one weak yellow light cast any ability for me to see my wispy reflection. I rolled my tiny shoulders back, my collarbone prominent in my thin disposition, I grasped a hairbrush in my hand; and that is where I would practice on more than one occasion, my future Oscar acceptance speech. Inside the dreams of my young mind, my surroundings faded away; indeed they melted into the shimmering applause of the most prominent thespians as I graciously thanked The Academy. Perhaps in Wednesday’s speech I would be sharing the stage with Julia Roberts, maybe on Saturday; after rushing through my lunch at the soup kitchen in the church with white columns, I’d be holding hands in anticipation with the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. I lived inside my mind a lot for a child, fabricating stories and dreams that seemed more beautiful to me than the truth. Yet always, was there a truth inside the fairytale. A truth that made my heart flutter with expectation, a beating belief that I was meant for more. That I could be brave enough to dare to think I could make something of myself despite societies expectations of a girl like me. And always was there a truth in that speech fashioned long ago by a grinning youth in valiant defiance. The first words I always spoke and the only words I could recount to you today were as follows:

“I would like to thank, first and foremost my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ without whom this would not have been possible”


And now, years from then and a week from today; I will board a plane for Las Vegas, and be escorted to Planet Hollywood. A prominent makeup artist will spin me in a chair to face a clean glass mirror framing the face of a 25 year old woman polished and coiffed in a sparkling emerald dress. I will stand beneath hundreds of bright lights, and deliver a speech to thousands of guests at The 2013 Miss America Pageant, including Olympic Gold Medalist McKayla Maroney and legendary journalist Mary Hart. I will not be receiving the crown of Miss America, but I will be sharing with everyone the journey of how I came to stand upon that stage and how the crown of salvation has been given to me through the gospel and the grace of Jesus Christ. And as I marvel at how my Father has brought this dream of "standing on the Miss America stage" to fruition in a tremendously different way than I ever could have imagined; the truth remains the same.

“I would like to thank first and foremost my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ without whom this would not have been possible.”

Who would I be without Christ? Absolutely nothing.  My story does not start in the grit of child's determination, it begins at the Cross; the power of my story is not found in a woman’s strength, but on Calvary. There would be no woman of perseverance if there was no Savior of peace. This opportunity to speak is one of the greatest gifts and opportunities I have been given in my life thus far; and my aim is not to craft words that glorify myself, my intentions are not to place my name in the starring role of a rags to riches story. I am speaking the words of His story, and how my Jesus redeems lives, hearts and futures with His grace, His love and His providence. I rejoice that I am not the leading lady, I am proud to be a mere extra, part of the crowd of faces, and collection of stories that enhance the One at the center of it all. My God. And it is He who is worthy of thundering applause.

My speech length is 4 minutes and 30 seconds; a mere 270 seconds to capture a quarter of a century of brokenness, redemption, Gods love, and motivational mantras. Therefore I know the music will sound long before I will have been given the chance to adequately thank all of those who played a role in this amazing moving picture. So here, I will try to express what my speech of gratitude would sound like if I had all the time I needed to say what needs to be said. Yet, here too, will I forget some name and someone just like those who are rushed off by a symphony’s start and for that I apologize in advance and urge you to know my heart swells at what all of you have done for me. And again another disclaimer, this is not even an exhaustive list of all who have touched every aspect of my life in a special way and poured their heart into my own, for that would be hundreds of pages long; so here, you will find those I feel necessary to thank for their role in this scene, my moment on The Miss America stage.

“I would like to first and foremost thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, without whom this would not have been possible." I would like to thank my mother, who despite it all, never once told me I could not become anything I wanted to. To my older sister; you were my shield and defense and now you are my best friend, an amazing mother of two and more to come, and I love you. To my brother Samuel, you are a gift to me, you have taught me patience and sacrifice and more country music lyrics and sports stats I could ever hope to need. I will love you more than you will ever know for the rest of your life. To my adopted Mom and Dad and brother and sister, you are the arms I reach for and the lifeline I am anchored by, thank you for rejoicing in the dreams of the dreamer. An enormous thank you to Leslie and Andy Nack, Stacy and Scott Ruggles, The Bethel Bible Village Community,The Schollaerts, The Koboldts, Andrew McDonald and others; I see your faces when I look back over my journey with Sam, our “Buddy”. God assured me I would never walk alone, and then you showed up. To Jimmy Exum, Jane Alderson, Paige Burcham Carlton and the entirety of The Miss Tennessee Scholarship Program, I am grateful for every single pageant I pursued within this system, I hold on to the treasured bonds I have formed with every single person involved, I am overwhelmed by your faith in me and I will forever cherish the family I have in “Team Tennessee”.  Thank you to my pageant sisters in Christ and cheerleaders; Ashley Cole, Kaley Schwab, Wendy King, Kendall Shulz, and Chandler Lawson, and it’s here where I know I will leave out many names of gracious fans, supporters, encourager's and sister queens. Know I love you and I have felt your love for me. A special thank you to Chelsea Jensen Koerten who followed Gods lead to tell a story and shine a light on Him. To my beloved friends; the ones who have been with me since 6th grade, or have become like sisters to me in the short time of knowing you; the girls who prayed for me, believed in me, fasted for me, the ones who let me raid their closets, came to my luncheons or my competitions, made sparkly banners and always encouraged me to choose the brussels sprouts; you are all princesses to me and I have found favor among women to be blessed by your lives. Thank you to Sam Haskell, who heard me speak once and enabled me to speak again. Thank you to Art McMaster, Marc Angeli, Laura Gallagher and the entirety of the Miss America Organization for graciously hosting me on that stage and letting me share my heart in my very own Miss America moment. Thank you grace, Thank you life, Thank you Christ."

Cue the music.

Wave like a princess.

Give glory and honor to God.