Miss North Dakota Ends Reign, Grateful and Changed

Post a Comment » Written on August 27th, 2008     
Filed under: News
GRAND FORKS, ND (August 27, 2008) – Ashley Young says her year as Miss North Dakota changed the way she sought God’s guidance and experienced God’s love; it also gave her a new sense of direction.

The 20 year old grew up attending Hope Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She entered the state competition only because her vocal coach suggested that it would be good experience for her.

She became convinced, however, that God placed her there so that she could be a light for him. She had no idea that her own relationship with God would change as well.

The long stretches of being alone as she crisscrossed the state provoked part of that change. “I’d roll into a hotel room at three in the afternoon, and I wouldn’t talk to another person until nine the next morning,” Young says. “It was incredibly lonely. There’s always a side of the job that most people don’t anticipate and that was the one for me. It was definitely a struggle all the way through.”

“It was a really good time for God to teach me about myself and who he is,” Young says. “God has always spoken to me through community. So it was very difficult learning how to seek God and hear from him in a new way. I had to be very intentional. It was a stretch.”

The experience also helped her confront a fear that might have kept her from fulfilling her duties. “One of my biggest fears has been being alone, going into a situation where I know nobody, where I have to make friends, or I have to go into a situation where I can get rejected,” Young says.

But, Young says, she learned, “It’s OK to be alone; it’s OK to not be doing something with someone all the time. That has been a gift to me.”

The words of a judge at the Miss North Dakota competition also changed the way she approached her duties. “The day after I was crowned, one of my judges told me, ‘There’s no complaining.’ ”

She didn’t understand why he was giving her that advice. “At that point, this was something I had been praying for, and I was thinking, ‘I’m Miss North Dakota. Holy smokes, I’m not going to complain at all.’ But as the year went on, I understood it better. It was incredibly important for me to believe in my heart.”

She did a lot of speaking and kept a schedule that would exhaust most people. “I would have days and days and days where I would be in two or three towns in a day and be in two or three schools in each of those towns.”

Regardless of any hardships, Young says, “The joy I was given in my job overwhelmed everything else. I’m there because I’m Miss North Dakota and I get to speak into the lives of a lot of students.”

As she traveled, bringing her anti-bullying message to students, she began to change her perspective. “I changed the focus from going in as Miss North Dakota and that I was going to enlighten these kids,” she says. “I decided I was going to go in as Ashley Young, and I have something to say, and by the way, I’m Miss North Dakota, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to challenge you.”

The change helped her win an audience with older students. “The older kids are usually turned off by speakers, but especially by Miss North Dakota because they think, ‘She’s just a beauty queen, a dumb blonde coming in to talk to us.’ ” When those students could view Young as a person, they became more responsive.

Those responses fueled Young’s passion about fighting bullying. “I can’t even explain how much I’ve been changed by boys and girls—older kids—talking of their bullying experience that led to thoughts of suicide.”

One of the experiences she remembers most vividly was after she told one school audience that she first started speaking out against bullying after witnessing a physically challenged boy knocked to the ground when she was in high school.

Afterward, a teacher in the audience came up to Young and asked if she had kept up with the young man. But Young had not seen him since that time.

“She looked at me for a little while, and she started to tear up, and I could tell it was something really deep to her and I didn’t understand why until she said, ‘I think that was my son.’ ” The teacher then thanked Young for her compassion and work.

“I just broke down at that point,” Young says. “I never expected to bump into this boy’s mom, but it just provided validity for what I was doing.”

Young says she has been surprised how her message has spread. A story in the April 2008 issue of The Covenant Companion that featured Young (and Miss America Kirsten Haglund, also a Covenanter) led a woman from California to write to her. She asked if Young would write her granddaughter, who was being bullied.

Young wrote the girl and told her, “People might say all sorts of things about you, but the only thing that matters is what Jesus Christ has said and done for you. He has shown you what your value is.”

“It was such a blessing,” Young says. “I felt so humbled that God would expand my influence so far outside my own state.”

The message she shared with the girl was yet another lesson that Young is continuing to learn herself. “I went through most of my life, except for perhaps the last couple of months, thinking that I have no beauty, that I’m not desirable by man or by God at times,” she says.

Young adds that she became even more convinced of that for a time while she was preparing for the Miss America competition. Stylists from TLC, the cable station that sponsored the pageant, would tell her, “If you wear these clothes, then you’ll be beautiful. If you wear your hair this way, that’s what real beauty is.” Young admits, “For a while, my heart got sucked into that, and I was so focused on this outward beauty that was so shallow and so hollow and it left me so cold.”

“It’s not a finished process by any means, but over the last couple of months, God has really broken me,” Young says.

Young’s year as Miss North Dakota ended in June, and this week she returned to classes at North Dakota State University in Fargo. She had once planned to become a professor of musicology, but the past year has changed her career goals.

She now plans to pursue a bachelor of science in music, with a major or minor in business as well as leadership. Ultimately, however, she would like to continue doing motivational speaking.

She is trying not to look too far down that road, however. “This past year has taught me to be at peace with whatever season of life God puts me in,” Young says. “If you talk to anyone who knows me, they will tell you that’s very hard for me because it’s not natural for me. I’m always looking five years into the future.”

Now Young is asking questions such as, “How do I find God in the present? How do I find any sense of fulfillment where I am? How do I find a sense of purpose where I am?” She adds, “It’s a huge stretch. It’s more difficult than it sounds.”

For previous story on Young, see Medical Crisis.

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