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.