A Least Expected Path

Just the night before, I was on stage in 5-inch heels with hair teased to the heavens, passing my sash and sparkling crown on to the next Miss Virginia. But that very next day, I was back in my college small town, lying in the grass in my Nike running shorts (you know the ones you live in during college), away from the spotlight, soaking in the sunshine with no makeup or hair spray. It was the perfect new setting for journaling my reflections from the great adventure of 2012.

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I had finished one of the most incredible years of my life, and had to move back into my isolated college dorm room, (my single dorm room that had no mirror I might add) to finish up my last semester of college after taking the year off to travel with the full-time job of Miss Virginia. All of my friends had graduated. I was back at the school that I nearly transferred from each semester because of the pressure and stress. And yet now, coming back to college, I felt free.

It wasn’t that I was “free” from my year traveling as a Miss America titleholder; it was deeper than that. I had grown. Somehow I felt like I had a new outlook on life. Somehow, in a place where people would assume one would become more shallow, self-centered and appearance-focused in “pageantry”, pictures, and autographs etc., God took me on a journey to learn how to deny myself and find true happiness in the midst of that world.

The night I was crowned, the Chairman of the Board of the Miss Virginia pageant handed me a silver pocket cross and said he thought I might need this for the difficult and beautiful year ahead. That was my first sign that something special was going to happen that year. I kept that cross with me each day and saw it each time I opened my crown box before an event.  I expected the year of living and traveling alone each day to be hard, but I did not expect to learn as much as I did about faith, hope, and love.

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From the day that I was given the honor to represent Virginia, I prayed for God to keep me grounded and to help me not get trapped and chained to my temptations. A couple months before the pageant, I was on my second mission trip to Haiti, where God showed me His heart for the needy, how He was there among them, and how I felt more alive than ever before in the midst of serving others. I was determined to not lose sight of what I had learned and stay the path to be the person the Lord was shaping me to be as I entered this new and unknown chapter.

There were a lot of things at the time that I was in the process of breaking free from: Desire for human approval. Pride. Un-forgiveness. Fear of being alone. Fear of not being in control. Fear of failure. Achievement and performance…Suddenly, when I won the prized title, picked up my life and moved to the Miss Virginia apartment in another city, I found myself smack dab in the middle of all of these temptations, and was forced to grapple with each of them throughout the year.

With a business manager setting up my daily travel schedule, I realized in a magnified way that I was very much out of control. Each day was a chance to find joy in the PRESENT, to be flexible, and choose the Lord’s plan over my own agenda and comforts. At the end of the day, His plan would always work out better than I could’ve orchestrated.

Of course there were many, many days that I struggled to stay flexible and surrendered…

Days that I got flustered because my hair wasn’t curling the right way and I would look stupid to the students I was speaking to…

Days I didn’t feel that my speech was quite ready or I messed up the lyrics to the song I was performing…

Nights that I read mean things online people said about me…

Several weeks of walking on crutches to appearances because I had broken my toes and was embarrassed that Miss Virginia would show up to the business meeting a few pounds heavier and not in heels…

Nights I was driving across the state and got lost in a cornfield with no GPS service and broke down crying…

Events where I was milking a cow in a dress and stepped in poop…

Days where I just hit pure exhaustion and felt overwhelmed by all the people I was meeting and things I was experiencing…

But, there was something nearly everyday that reminded me to reach out to God for help. And it was often on the hardest days when I felt most alone that God gave me confirmation that I was right where I needed to be and reminded me of my truest purpose.

It was the biggest blessing as God showed me that coming to the “end of myself” was going to give Him an opportunity to shine through me, to love someone, to serve someone, to make His name known, or at least to give me a good laugh and remember He was looking out for me along my travels. He would give me rest exactly when I needed it, and courage when I was nervous or worried. And He would sometimes miraculously get me to events on time, even with horrible traffic!

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When you ask God to be with you and to guide you, He certainly will.

He opened the door for me to share about my decision to save sex for marriage at a youth True Love Waits conference, to visit childhood cancer patients in the hospital and share that there is hope, to be an advocate in schools for healthy living by respecting your body and making wise choices, to teach fitness classes to those with disabilities, to spend time with our veterans and thank them for their service, and so on.

These events taught me to let go of seeking perfection, and just simply BE with people and love them, from playing with babies and coloring with toddlers, to deep talks with high schoolers, to conversations with businessmen and the elderly in nursing homes. I had to accept whatever came my way that day, even if it was out of my comfort zone. There is no energy left to care about what people think of you. And instead of focusing on “loving myself and accepting myself”, my goal became to try to forget about myself and empty myself for the people before me, wherever I was that day. The more and more I shared this truth of “service over self” with the students I spoke to each day, the more and more it sunk in for me to live out in my life too.

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That chance to live life really engaged with strangers from all backgrounds taught me that it was possible to make each day incredibly meaningful. And it confirmed for me that while Miss Virginia opened many doors for me, I didn’t need to be Miss Virginia to make people feel special and loved, and to live out my mission in the world. 

It’s funny to me that God decided to use my time as a “beauty queen” to give me a deeper understanding about being His masterpiece and being content in His never-fading joy…a strange path I never would have planned for myself, and a path that often leads some to discontentment.

It was once I had the crown that it truly sunk in that I didn’t need to pursue any crowns on earth, and the true secret to a full abundant life was entire separation to Christ. It’s easy for people to think having some kind of “glamorous” elevated position is the most fulfilling; but I’ve found that it’s pursuing the humble life that is actually most beautiful. And what’s amazing is that almost every single Miss Virginia in the “sisterhood” that I’ve ever met is focused on making a difference in this world without the crown as well. They are always looking for someone to help and someone to support.

So when I moved back into school that summer, yes, I was ready to relax, unplug, and just be plain old “Rosemary” with no one to answer to for a little while. But I’m also forever grateful that God chose a crown and a sash for that sweet time, to teach me about relying deeply on His strength and storing up crowns in Heaven.

Often in the ways we least expect it, God heals our weary souls and offers His abundant grace to us on the extraordinary path He lays before us.

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Shambles

“My life is in shambles”, she said immediately after our introductions. My new client came to me ashamed of who she’d become, in the middle of a downward spiral of excessive weight gain, a sedentary life, and out of control overeating habits. Having tried almost every workout plan, most attempts at a solution seem to have failed.

Like this client, many people want to make changes in their lives, but just can’t seem to get started. We all know plenty of people who want to have more energy, to eat better, and to find time to workout more. However, often times the physical change needs to begin with transforming the mindset to make sure it creates permanent and positive change from the inside out.

Here are 3 key thoughts that are important to reflect on when facing a struggle with your health, however big or small you believe it to be.

1. We were all made for more than defeat.  You’re life does not always have to be stuck in a cycle of the same old choices. Victory and freedom are possible.  Life is a battle; a battle against who the world tells us we should be, against the feelings of guilt or unforgiveness that creep into our minds, against our taste buds that tell us we can be truly satisfied through our consumption of food and sugar, and against the excuses we believe that keep us thinking we’ll get started tomorrow. Ready your heart and mind today, and everyday, to stand up and fight against what hinders your progress.  Fight for the kind of respect your body deserves.

2. God works it ALL for good-even the mistakes and setbacks.  Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to tear down the old lies, and rebuild your mind with hope and truth. Creating an entirely new set of healthy habits is not easy, but when you are weak, God is strong in you. Remember that set backs are part of the process in long-term change. Rather than beat yourself up for the times you may have failed, grab hold of grace, get back up, and begin to walk the walk again one day at a time. Sometimes the sweat (after struggling through a workout) and tears (after saying “no” to extra cookies) can be healing water. 

3. Don’t be motivated for change out of guilt or fear, but out of acceptance and love for yourself and for others. It’s that love for the body we’ve been given that reminds us we operate best when we live ACTIVELY. It’s a love for the God of the Universe that makes us want to honor Him with the way we feed ourselves. It’s that love for others that drives us to be healthy enough to serve them. Don’t make a decision to indulge yourself, but a thoughtful decision for love and sacrifice.

So if you feel like your life is “in shambles” in some way too, you don’t have to stay there holding on to the broken pieces. Hand them over to the Potter so He can piece them back together, stronger and more lovely than you were before. Your soul and strength will be better for it.

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In all these things, we are more than conquerors through HIM who loved us.   Romans 8:37