I’m a former Miss Georgia, and some people find this interesting. When people first learn this “interesting fact” about my life, they probably have a hard time reconciling what they think a “beauty queen” is supposed to look like with the tired middle-aged mom of twins standing in front of them. Or, maybe that’s just my own insecurities about getting older making me paranoid. Whatever people actually think, I’m always reluctant to talk about this time in my life, especially with people I’ve just met. People, in general, tend to have stereotypical ideas about pageants and “pageant girls.” So, when Candace asked me to write about my experience as Miss Georgia for her blog, I was hesitant. Miss Congeniality-like stereotypes aside, what about my experience being Miss Georgia as a 24-year-old would other parents be able to relate to? After reflecting on this time in my life, I realized there are quite a few things, and one very important thing about my journey that parents can very much relate to. First off, my experience wasn’t very glamorous, much like parenting. It involved lots of hard work, tremendous highs, humbling lows, uncertainty, faith, and joy. The most interesting part of my experience isn’t that, once upon a time, I was Miss Georgia. The remarkable part, the part anyone can relate to, is what happened in the waiting.
I didn’t grow up as a “pageant girl”. I was 17 years old when I entered my first Miss America preliminary pageant. For those of you who don’t know the difference between Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Globe, and Miss _____ (whatever), Miss America is the pageant system with a talent competition (and also the one that is not now, nor has ever been owned by Donald Trump...I don’t know why I’m throwing that in other than the fact that people often ask, and it seems to matter to some folks). Anyways, it was 1997, I was a senior in high school, and I placed first-runner up in the Miss Augusta pageant. One of my judges sought me out after the pageant to encourage me to come back and try again. I was young and unpolished (I had even cried during my private interview) but he told me I had “Miss America” written all over me and believed I could come back and win. It’s amazing how God places people in our lives, and how He can use a single moment, a single word to shape the rest of our lives. It was that pageant, maybe that moment of encouragement, that God planted a seed of desire in me to become Miss Georgia. Actually, it was more than desire. It was a seed of belief, not that I could...but that I would.
Some people think separately about “sacred” v. “secular” things. I don’t. I remember very clearly a friend of mine questioning my decision to compete in Miss Georgia rather than go on a mission trip that fell on the same week. He asked me “why would you not want to be where you know God is going to be working?” In his mind, Miss Georgia was just a secular event happening apart from God’s will for my life. But I knew that God had given me the opportunity to compete in the Miss Georgia pageant, that He had placed me there for a purpose, and that He was at work in my life, in every event and everywhere. As a Christian, I view everything that happens in my life through the lens of “what was God doing?” I can always see this more clearly when looking in the rearview. Here’s what my journey to becoming Miss Georgia looked like in the secular rearview:
- Placed 1st runner-up to Miss Augusta in 1997. Won Miss Augusta in 1998, and placed 4th runner-up to Miss Georgia 1998.
- Won Miss Southeast Georgia in 1999, and placed 1st runner-up to Miss Georgia 1999, then went on to win the highly coveted Miss National Sweetheart pageant (it’s like Miss America for all the state runner-ups).
- Won Miss Northwest Georgia 2000, and placed 1st runner-up (yet again) to Miss Georgia 2000.
- Competed in Miss Atlanta 2001 and placed...you guessed it...1st runner-up. I decided to take a break from pageants and did not compete in any more preliminaries or go to Miss Georgia that year.
- Won Miss Coastal Georgia in 2002, and placed...drumroll...1st runner-up to Miss Georgia 2002.
- Won Miss Savannah in 2003, and finally...in my last year of eligibility...won the title of Miss Georgia 2003.
But, now we get to the truly interesting part. While looking in the rearview and asking “what was God doing?”, here’s what happened on my journey: God planted a seed of desire and belief in me to become Miss Georgia. God nourished this seed by allowing me to place in the top five at Miss Georgia every year I competed. And yet, in His great love for me, He saw fit to make me work for it and to wait upon Him. God brought me high, and He allowed me to be brought me low. He made me wait, and wait some more. He gave me opportunities to develop humility, patience, and graciousness in the face of disappointment. He gave me a desire for something good, yet it became an idol I was consumed with. I believed that if I could just win Miss Georgia, every door would open to me and my future would be secure. I would be accomplished and admired. By allowing me to come so close, so many times, and by making me wait and wait some more, God forced me to lay this idol on the altar and to accept His will for my life over my own. To acknowledge that He was ultimately in control and that He would only give me what was in accordance with His purpose. He allowed me to doubt the belief that He had planted in me. It was only when I was content to walk away without the earthly crown that I yearned for, that God allowed me to have it. He also blessed me with preliminary awards in every phase of competition (swimsuit, evening gown, and talent), as well as the Miss America community service award for my volunteer work with the American Red Cross. I went on to become a top fifteen semi-finalist in the 2004 Miss America pageant.
God is so good, and His will is so perfect, He was working this for my good in countless other ways that I could have never foreseen. I met my husband shortly before winning Miss Savannah the year I finally won Miss Georgia. We may never have met if I had won Miss Georgia at any other time. Because I competed for six years and placed in the top five every year I competed, I earned nearly $90,000 in scholarships and was able to earn my bachelor’s and master’s degrees completely debt-free. I have seven very close life-long friends that I met at the Miss America pageant who continue to be a huge blessing in my life 16 years later. I’ve been able to share my story of perseverance and encourage other young women to be resilient and determined. Experiencing God’s faithfulness during this time in my life helped prepare me to trust and rely on Him through five long and painful years of struggling with infertility. Once again, God planted a seed of desire in me that was so strong, it was belief. I believed God would give me children. God had already prepared my heart to trust in Him. He allowed me to experience physical, emotional, and financial hardships – He made me wait, and wait some more – and once again, He made me lay my idol, this time being my desire for children, on the altar. And, oh how He blessed me. Winning Miss Georgia could never compare to the day I found out I was pregnant with twins!!! Now, when I look at my beautiful daughters, I’m both overwhelmed and mystified by God’s love for me. Looking back, I can see God at work once again, sanctifying me by teaching me to trust in Him, to be patient in my suffering, to be content with where He had placed me, and to be gracious in the face of disappointment.
Being Miss Georgia was an amazing experience that I cherish, and for which I’m forever grateful. I gained confidence, polish, and professional experience that has been a huge benefit to me in my life. But, it’s what happened in the waiting that God used to grow my faith and draw me closer to Him. I started out striving for a crown of imitation jewels that will dull and tarnish over time, but God had already prepared for me a crown of glory that will shine bright for eternity. Isn’t that a fitting metaphor for life? Aren’t we all chasing crowns that are just a cheap imitation of the real thing? Even the good things that we’re waiting on...the desires that God planted in us... can easily turn into idols when we forget that He alone is all we truly need and desire. I’ve been chasing crowns my entire life. Miss Georgia, education, promotions, my desire for children, being the best mom, getting out of debt, etc. All “good” desires, yet all idols at some point or another when they occupy the place in my heart that only God should. I often still fool myself into believing these temporary imitation crowns will give me either purpose or security. Throughout my life, God has continued to make me lay all my idols at His feet by requiring me to wait on Him. And in the waiting, it’s Him I find.
Whatever you’re waiting for, whatever you’re longing for, whatever crown you’re chasing, remember that God is already at work fulfilling His purpose. Don’t wait to look in the rearview. Look and see what God is doing now. What idol is He asking you to lay on the altar while He makes you wait patiently on Him? All the important things, the things that last for eternity, happen in the waiting.
~November 7, 2019