Sometimes, though, those surprises are hinted at in our dreams.
Consider David, the shepherd boy who went to check on his big brothers who were in the Israelite camp. Imagine his distress when he arrived and discovered that the entire army of hundreds of strong men had been sidelined--by a single boastful giant! David was so young and so small that a man's armor hung from his slender frame, more an encumbrance than protection. With five simple stones, the best weapons he knew, he went out in the name of God, killed the giant, and brought peace to the land. David, the one who praised God through his dance, had faith in his dream...and in his God.
Barely twenty years ago, in a little Alabama town, a deaf girl dreamed of dancing ballet before an adoring crowd to music she couldn't hear...and receiving a crown for her efforts. On September 17, 1994, that little deaf girl danced ballet to "Via Dolorosa" before a television audience of forty million...and was crowned Miss America. She had faith in her dream...and in her God.
I was that little girl. And I want you to know that dreams do come true. If they didn't, why would God design our hearts with the capacity to yearn for something greater than ourselves?
A dream is a journey, and though 1 may not know you personally, I know that God has a purpose and plan for your life...a dream for you. I believe God has a dream for each of us, and our greatest challenge and joy lies in funding and following that dream wherever it may lead. I'm only twenty-three years old, and I'm still on the journey, still following the dreams God has planned for me. Along the way I've become deaf, learned to talk, won the Miss America pageant, traveled across America, married a wonderful man...and I'm still dreaming. I'm still listening to my heart. And I'd like you to know the joy of listening to your own heart and following your own dreams.
Before you can begin, you must believe that the journey to fulfill your dreams is possible. Someone once said that there is very little difference between one person and another, but what little there is is very important. The difference is attitude, and yours can be positive or negative, hopeful or hopeless. If you will believe that God cares and that he can lead you to fulfill his dreams for you, then you will find success.
We're not very different, you and I. By the time you've finished this book, I'm sure you'll know that I'm very human and far from perfect. But I've been amazed to learn that God can use anyone--even me--to influence the lives of others.
* * *
When the final night of competition began, I discovered that I wanted to dance for God. Not for the Miss America crown, despite my great desire to win. God was far more important than the crown.
I didn't know if I'd win, and I didn't care. All I wanted to do was dance to "Via Dolorosa" on national television. The song and my ballet dance vividly portray Christ's agony and great love as he climbed Calvary to die for the sins of the world, and I prayed that I would simply have a chance to dance on national television.
After I won Miss Alabama, someone had told me that if I wanted to be Miss America, I'd have to find another song--that Christian music wouldn't win the crown. I thought a lot about that comment. God is very powerful. He made the earth, grass, trees, water--everything I loved. He also made people and their brains. If God wanted me to be Miss America, he could certainly lead the judges in their decision. So I decided to ignore that comment and use Christian music. First and foremost, I wanted to glorify God through my dance.
The little girl's dream had changed. Now I wanted to glorify God not as a prima ballerina, but as a Miss America contestant. I'd actually have the potential to dance before more people on this one night than I would if I'd had a lifelong career of dancing as the world's most famous ballerina.
The night began, the TV cameras began to blink, the cavernous hall filled with thousands of people. My fellow contestants and I were running on adrenaline, and yet I still felt that strange, perfect peace that had sustained me through the week.
My name was called as a semi-finalist. I wasn't too surprised, since on Wednesday night I had won the preliminary swimsuit competition, and on Thursday I had won the talent preliminary. However, I was honored that I had been given the opportunity to be a top ten finalist.
Thank you, God. I will dance for you on television.
A giddy thought buzzed about in my brain. Sandi Patty, the artist who recorded "Via Dolorosa," had sent word that she would watch me on TV. I was about to dance before a TV audience of forty million people, and all I could think was "Oh, my goodness, Sandi Patty is watching me."
My childhood dream was about to come true. I danced, not by feeling the vibrations, but by learning the music through my hearing aid, then counting beats and setting my ballet movements to the rhythms. Near the end of "Via Dolorosa" I had to do a series of rapid turns. It is a difficult progression, a dancer must imagine herself to be a playing card so that her entire body turns all at once. If I somehow moved my head before my body, or vice versa, I would lose my balance.
I had a tendency to make mistakes in that section, and in fact during the preliminary talent competition I didn't turn properly. There was a step at the back of the performing area, and I lost my balance and nearly tumbled over the back step.
But on the night I danced for America, God told me to relax. When I came to that series of turns, I could have sworn that an angel was pushing my shoulder forward, providing the momentum I needed to remain straight and keep going. I just stood there and spun.
I've never felt anything like that before or since. My dance was timed to be two minutes and thirty seconds, but that night I thought someone had hurried the tape. I danced for what felt like only half a minute at most. When I finished, during the bows, I saw the applauding crowd and told myself, This is it. This is what you have been working for three hours a day, five days a week, for over two years. Now it's over.
I couldn't exactly define the feeling. Sometimes at points of great sorrow or elation our minds go blank, and that's how I felt at that moment. I had just fulfilled one of my greatest dreams, and I didn't know whether to feel happiness or sorrow.
But there was no time to contemplate. The competition was continuing: evening wear, interviews, and the final scoring were yet to come. I hurried offstage to change yet again, and murmured a prayer that God would keep helping me to do my best.
After the talent competition, I paused backstage in my little area of the dressing room. I had narrowed my choices of evening gowns to two: a gorgeous glittery gold gown that was so striking, it could practically win a beauty pageant by itself, and a more simple white gown. Everybody I had asked liked both gowns, and though I really thought the gold gown was more beautifully dramatic, I thought the judges would see my heart better in the white gown. Ann Northington, my dressmaker, mentioned that the white gown might remind them of my dance, where I'd worn a white costume. And so I chose to wear the white gown so the world could see my heart and listen to my message.
The rest of the pageant flew by like a dream. Before I knew it, I stood before the TV cameras as one of five finalists. Regis Philbin, who hosted the pageant with Kathie Lee Gifford, had turned away from the stage and was facing the television cameras.
I'd been nervous when I first met Regis backstage a few days before. He was talking too fast for me to understand him. I thought, "Oh, boy, here we go again!" Backstage I had to remind him three times to talk more slowly. But during our live interview on television, he spoke to me beautifully!
He had already announced that fourth runner up was Tiffany Storm, Miss Indiana; third runner-up was Andrea Krahn, Miss Georgia; and second runner-up was Jennifer Makris, Miss New Jersey.
I was already mentally preparing to be first runner-up. I had learned that in the last ten years or so, contestants who won both the swimsuit and talent competitions became the favorites, only to consequently end the competition as first runner-up. That situation had happened to Teresa Strickland in 1978. And in an eerie coincidence, it was a Miss Virginia who won during Teresa's year, and yet here I was, holding Miss Virginia's hand!
Miss Virginia, Cullen Johnson, stood beside me. Regis wasn't facing me, so I couldn't read his lips. I heard a buzzing and saw the wave of applause in the audience. I heard him say, "Miss Virginia," but I missed the other words.
I didn't know if I'd won or not. I kept thinking, If Miss Virginia cries, she won, but when I turned to look at her, Cullen Johnson was pointing at me.
My mind went blank. I was overwhelmed, flooded with mixed emotions--words can't describe my feelings. It's here. You're here. This is not a dream, your reality is here. This is not a daydream. This is real!
I walked over to Kimberly Aiken, she pinned the crown to my head. Someone handed me the Waterford crystal scepter. I had no clue that I was even holding it until I found it in my hand backstage. Pageant officials would have fainted if I had dropped it! From the corner of my eye I saw Kathie Lee Gifford applauding with tears in her eyes. Some automatic part of my consciousness propelled me toward the crowd. Turn. Wave. Walk forward to the end of the runway. Turn again, walk back to Kimberly.
I finally pulled myself together as I walked down the runway. I stood for a moment at the far end, overwhelmed by the cheering audience, and in my heart I cried out to God: I really need you, God. You'd better come with me now.
I realized this job was going to be a huge responsibility. Yes, I had found success, but with it would come more responsibility than I had ever known. I remembered Colleen Kay Hutchins's admonition to future Miss Americas, and I set my heart toward becoming the best Miss America I could be.
I was twenty-one years old, and the only time I'd ever been "employed" was a single baby-sitting job. This was not only a pageant, it was a job, the biggest challenge I had ever faced. And like the choice my parents made for me as a child, the decisions I would make in the months to come would affect the rest of my life.
I was the first deaf Miss America, the first, in fact, with any type of physical disability. I knew everyone would look at me as a pioneer of sorts, and I would represent over forty-eight million Americans with some sort of disability....
I suspected there would be a lot of pressure in the days ahead, a relentless spotlight, and pressure from the media. I was scared.
I looked for my family. At the beginning of the week, only my family waved the "I love you" sign, so it was easy to find them in the audience. But that night the sign had spread like a virus through the crowd. Almost everyone waved the "I love you" sign and I could not find my family.
From the Hardcover edition.