My definition of beauty has not always been concrete and inward-focused, and it has taken years to form. Growing up in a Christian home in Upstate New York, my parents always taught me the importance of keeping God at the center of my mind, my decisions, and my identity. This didn't seem difficult initially, as I found joy in prayer, youth group, evangelism, and in deep, intentional friendships. My walk with the Lord felt unshakable, and I searched for ways to glorify him through all that I did.
As an avid athlete and model for a local agency near my house, I placed deep value on the state of my body. Physical fitness and nutrition were incredibly important to me—I saw them as necessary to keep up with the worlds I was in: both as an athlete, and as a model. It was always a tricky balance, as my coaches would encourage me to bulk up and gain muscle, while my modeling agent would continuously encourage me to lose weight and "slim down." Nonetheless, I worked to balance a physique necessary for both so I could be given more witnessing opportunities. After all, Scripture says, "Be in the world, but not of it."
This approach worked well until I was diagnosed with Lyme disease during my sophomore year of high school. I lost 30 pounds during my fight with the sickness, and my frame became so weak I was unable to play sports. As I lost weight, I received positive feedback from my agents, even though I was thin to the point of being unhealthy. My parents decided to pull me out of the modeling industry, and all of a sudden, my activities and life as I knew it were gone from beneath my feet. I didn't know how to fill my time. After praying to the Lord and asking him what to do, I spent my entire senior year doing community service and charity projects. The Lord took my desire away to play college sports, and I enrolled at Wheaton College in Illinois, as a pre-med student, open to whatever opportunities the Lord had for me.
Heart change in Haiti
In spring 2012, during my sophomore year at Wheaton, I went to Haiti on a public health missions trip for 10 days. Returning to school was tough. Each time I walked into the cafeteria and saw the overabundance of food with each meal, my heart and mind continuously remembered the poverty I had just witnessed. I couldn't focus in classes or on my friendships like I wanted to—I just wanted to go back and serve in Haiti.
I started praying and fasting each week for direction from the Lord. During my days of prayer and fasting, the Lord placed a call on my heart that was very different from what I expected: a call into pageantry.