Six years ago, I boarded a train bound for Williston to compete in my first state competition of Miss North Dakota.
It was June 2015 and the summer following my freshman year of college. I was nineteen and a fresh-faced newbie arriving for my first visit to Williston from Montana, where I had just finished a week of camp counselor training. While I was excited to be competing for the job of Miss North Dakota, I had just experienced a fulfilling week of outdoor adventure — sleeping out under the stars each night, singing my heart out around campfires, along with dreaming about the adventures that I knew were on the brink of happening that summer. And then, after one week, I packed my bag and headed home to North Dakota. I left my fellow staff feeling sad because I felt in my heart that I wanted to return; and yet, I was excited to dive headfirst into another world that upcoming week: a world of strong women, high heels, and service-focused individuals — a week surrounded by the individuals, traditions, and community of Miss North Dakota.
On that Sunday of competition week, I moved into the Williston State College dorms feeling slightly wobbly in my platform heels and freshly shaven legs, and yet, thrilled for the days to come.
I was not disappointed — the following days were incredible, and in many ways, reminded me of being at camp (as strange as that might sound). I quickly found myself bonding and laughing with the other girls, meeting people throughout the city of Williston, and learning about the traditions and legacy of the Miss North Dakota Pageant. While it may have appeared to be a completely different environment than Bible camp, some things were the same: I found myself around excited and passionate individuals who were ready, willing, and already making an impact in the world.
The week flew by and upon finals night, I found myself torn. I desperately wanted to win, and yet in my heart I knew the timing was not right… not yet anyway. That evening I was thrilled and humbled to place second runner-up and say “World Peace” in my on-stage interview. (A very proud moment!) I returned the following year and had similar feelings… I wanted it… but in my heart I could sense God saying: “Not yet.” I did not win but was again humbled to be chosen as second runner-up.
After a three-year hiatus which entailed living in Washington D.C., graduating from college, and starting my first “big girl” job — I returned for what I believed to be my third and final shot at winning the crown. I thought that this was “it;” it was finally my time: I was going to be Miss North Dakota and have the chance to serve and represent my state.
But then, it didn’t happen. And the funny thing is, I felt complete peace with the outcome. I knew I had given it my best and therefore accepted the fact that it wasn’t meant to be and that other opportunities were around the corner. Throughout my years of competing for Miss North Dakota I put my trust in the Lord’s plan and timing. I didn’t doubt Him; although, I will admit that it was at times often a challenge to be patient. But hindsight often brings clarity, and I can now openly say that I am able to look back and clearly see how God’s plan was at work. When I pause and reflect, it sometimes hits me just how beautifully it worked out… I never could have known. But our Creator did.
I had fully intended to be done competing in 2019; however, January of 2020 in the dead of winter I again felt God tugging at my heart and an inner voice saying: “Come on, Reyn. give it just one more go. One more time — what do you have to lose?”
And so, I did.
But then, *SURPRISE*, two weeks following that local competition a pandemic struck the world. COVID-19 became the new reality for all of us. Seemingly everything was either canceled or postponed, along with the 2020 Miss North Dakota Competition.
And so, my year instead became one of practicing patience and being intentional with preparation. Three months until the state competition stretched to fifteen — nearly a year and a half. For the sake of trying to keep this piece a blog (rather than a book), I’m not going to describe in depth the details of preparation; however, I will say that it was a lot. A lot of energy, time, research, collaboration, practice, (more practice), sweat, grit, and prayer.
During this time, I technically aged out (Miss America currently has an age limit of twenty-five); however, I was grandfathered in due to the pandemic, which means I am officially one of the oldest candidates to ever have competed for the job of Miss North Dakota, and now Miss America — a fact that I’m proud of!
The evening of June 12, 2021 a new Miss North Dakota was chosen to serve and represent the state of North Dakota. Determined by a panel of judges, it’s a subjective choice, and yet, throughout the week (and long before) I hoped and prayed that I could prove to those judges why they should choose me.
And this time, they did.
While I never expected it, I knew in my heart that the timing was finally right. I felt peace throughout the final night of competition; everything felt like it was falling into place. When they announced my name as “Miss North Dakota 2021” it was the most surreal moment I’ve ever experienced. It was a moment that I had envisioned for years, and when it finally happened… there are no words. I will never be able to effectively articulate the immense gratitude and joy that I felt in that instant.
But that night and every day thereafter I’ve been ready for the unique role and honor of serving as Miss North Dakota.
I am ready to connect and love on people.
I am ready to be inspired by all of the individuals that I’ll be so lucky to meet and grow in relationship with this coming year.
I am ready to share my social impact, “The Influencer Era: Impact Beyond the Screen”, with all people but especially kids — a message about the importance of connecting with one another beyond our devices.
I am deeply grateful and humbled to be in this role and to serve my home, North Dakota, a place that has forever impacted and molded me.
I am ready to impact and be impacted as your Miss North Dakota 2021.
There are many people and groups I would like to thank:
I am SO EXCITED for this year! I am not here because of me. There is a larger plan in place, and I am just a small part of that plan. I am especially thankful to my community; it takes a village, always.
Ok, I’ve said enough for now.
Let’s DO THIS, North Dakota!
Your Miss North Dakota 2021,
An Ugly Duckling
This was me when I was ten years old.
Some might be bold enough to call me an “ugly duckling” (my sister being one) and I would wholeheartedly agree.
I’ve never thought of myself as the pretty girl, because growing up, I wasn’t — at least not by society’s standards. I had thicker legs, a round tummy, squinty eyes, and crooked teeth that didn’t quite fill my too wide of a smile. I was rarely noticed or praised for my looks.
It was sometime during high school that I recall first being appreciated for my outward beauty, and to be completely honest, nearly a decade later of this being “normal”, I still am not used to it. That’s not to say that I haven’t minded — I don’t think there’s a woman (or person of any gender!) alive who can’t say that they don’t mind being admired by others for their beauty.
And yet, there’s a sense of strangeness to it all. Outward beauty is completely subjective, and yet, there are certain beauty ideals that every culture on earth claims — standards that are constantly evolving with time. So, if we’re given one body and yet told by society every few years that we must change our looks to keep up with the trends in order to be deemed beautiful, it becomes exhausting.
And yet, boy, we sure try.
Perhaps we should stop trying to keep up — some people choose this and I admire them for it. They choose to embrace the parts of themselves that make them unique and to own these aspects that define who they are. They are seemingly free.
I’m slowly learning to embrace such a freedom — that I too can be who I was intended to be. It’s a simple concept, and yet, I have struggled to own the way I look my entire life.
I think that’s one arena where becoming involved with the Miss America Organization has helped me. I’ve learned to embrace this side of who I am, and that it is indeed okay to feel outwardly gorgeous, even stunning at times. But also, that it’s alright to not always feel outwardly radiant. I’m realizing that we shouldn’t feel an obligation to prove to the world that we’re their current definition of beauty, but that we should feel confident, proud, and unashamed of the unique way we were designed. And even without all the makeup and glam, we are just as beautiful when we’re living it up in our pajamas with damp hair fresh out of the shower.
Quite honestly, in my mind the most beautiful people are those who carry themselves with humble confidence, who radiate joy and kindness, and are completely true to their authentic selves. That’s what I strive for — to be true to myself and not desperate for the approval of others.
I desire to be free.
And while displaying qualities of freedom, joy, and confidence, I believe that true beauty can be achieved — regardless of any culture, circumstances, or time period.
WHY I TRAVEL
When I was 13, I lived in Costa Rica for a month with a host family.
During those few weeks I attempted to practice my Spanish, give up my love of sweets (this was a fail — my host-mom willingly obliged to my sweet tooth and treated me to ice cream every couple of days), and learn about the beautiful culture of Costa Rica. I saw Pixar’s “Up” in theaters, cried like a baby in the first ten minutes (even though I could barely understand a word because it was in Spanish) and was introduced to the world of acrylic painting by my host mom. I went to school with my host sister for a few days, visited an active volcano, picked ripe mangoes and lemons, and even had the opportunity to try yoga for the first time. And despite feeling slightly uncomfortable because I couldn’t understand much that was being said around me, I found the experience to be amazing.
In order to get there I flew internationally as an unaccompanied minor — which, at the time was pretty much the coolest thing EVER. In the airports I met kids from around the world and was able to hang out in designated lounges with *free* food specifically for U.M.’s. It was basically the equivalent of flying Sky Priority for a kid and yes, it was the sh**.
As much as I would like to take credit for the idea, it was actually my dad’s. We have a history with this family in Costa Rica — when they were in grade school the mom of this family lived with my dad’s family, my aunt then went to live with her, and years later her daughter lived with us, and it’s gone back and forth time and time again (did you follow that??). So, naturally my dad thought it would be appropriate that I live with them for a time, too.
And I was all about it.
Since I was young, I’ve been captivated by the idea of traveling and seeing the world — to have opportunities to explore and have conversations + experiences with people who have different backgrounds from my own. To this day, it might be the thing that excites me the most -- to learn more about this vast yet beautiful world from these alternative points of view.
I think there’s such value in this — in seeing others’ perspectives. It’s something that I’m striving to attempt every single day: to have empathy and enduring patience in perceiving the world and everyday situations from others’ viewpoints. In our current and ever increasing political and polarized world, I believe it’s imperative that we practice this: to open up our minds, have empathy, and truly listen — to listen to hear rather than to formulate a ready response.
Seeing the world from other contexts restores my appreciation for my own life, opens my mind to just how vast and complex our world is, and reminds me of the good that exists in every moment.
THIS is why I travel.
A Season of Stagnancy
written October 2020 //
That’s the word that keeps on coming to mind when I think about this season of life that we’re currently experiencing. Some days I view it positively - as a form of being content and at peace, and others… I feel plain ol’ restless. Stuck, and patiently waiting for the next chapter, whatever that might be. I’m ready to turn a page, to jump! And yet, I feel bound - anchored - to this current season.
Can anyone relate?
I was recently reading the fall edition of the Magnolia Journal (you know, cause I’m unapologetically obsessed with anything and everything to do with Joanna Gaines) and I came upon these words from her:
“So often I think we view anchors as negatives, things that might keep us stagnant and prevent us from pushing forward into new territories. And I know in my own life, there have been moments when I have questioned these natural tendencies and the routines and habits I hold fast to. I have wondered if I might live more freely without them.
However, when I pause to look closely, more and more I have come to see that these anchors are what keep me from floating away into places where I don’t want to be or that I’m just not ready for yet. Instead of stifling me, they actually provide a safe place for me to grow and explore and be. Anchors still allow their boats to float and move — to find a rhythm the waves around them. Their purpose is simply to keep a boat from drifting so far off course that it’s difficult to recover.”
The anchors of our life can be significant things like faith, prayer, meditation, but they can also be seemingly small and mundane like cooking, reading, running. The magical thing is that they somehow offer a place of refuge in the ever changing landscapes of our lives.”
Our time is coming, dear friends. Be patient. And cherish these anchors — both metaphorically and physically — while you have them.
I took all of my grandparents into Glacier National Park yesterday morning.
We left at 4:45 a.m. in order to beat the crowds and to be socially distanced. It was beautiful — my one set of grandparents had never been to the park and the other had visited only once, nearly twenty years ago.
I believe that mountains have the power to infuse life into each of us, regardless of our age. (Which is perhaps just one of the reasons why I’m infatuated with them.) I saw that spark of life in each of my grandparents yesterday, but especially in my mom’s dad, Grandpa Rieke.
Grandpa Rieke grew up in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state and lived his adolescent and young adult years exploring and appreciating the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. After completing seminary in 1963, he made the decision to leave the mountains and move halfway across the country to Minnesota and has lived on the plains ever since; yet, he’s always held a love for the mountains and has taken nearly every opportunity possible to escape out west to satisfy his undying desire to be in “God’s country.”
A few days ago, he and my grandma boldly decided to purchase train tickets to Montana and ride out west. Since arriving in the Flathead Valley, he seems to have come alive again. And yesterday I was able to see a glimpse of that adolescent boy again — he was back in the mountains, exploring and inhaling the mountain air he grew up on. Despite the fact that it was barely 6 a.m. when we were driving the Going to the Sun Road, he had more energy than anyone else in the car and wouldn’t stop commenting on everything he was seeing along the alpine drive. After strictly quarantining these past four months, he seemed finally free — it was as if COVID didn’t exist.
I am lucky: I’m in my mid-twenties and these past few days I’ve been able to spend time with all of my grandparents who are currently living and breathing mountain air. And just 36 hours ago, I even had the opportunity to HIKE with them in our nation’s *best* national park. (Not that I’m biased or anything.) How cool is that?!
These last couple of days I’ve been coming to terms with the reality that my grandparents are getting older. (A fact that I’ve undoubtedly known all of my life but has especially been hitting me lately.)
What is more, the even greater reality is that none of us are going to live forever — all of us are aging every second of every day, but I think you know what I’m saying: time with grandmas and grandpas must be appreciated because our seconds are undoubtedly limited.
And boy, I am certainly appreciating this time.
A Labor of Love: Art + Life
Don’t let anyone fool you, creating art is a labor of love.
Like anything that is worthwhile, it takes time, intention, and patience.
I’ve created a variety of paintings in the past few years. Some weeks I feel my creative juices overflowing and have the energy to pump out multiple pieces, creating and completing works in seemingly all of my spare moments. And yet, other times, I don’t feel particularly inspired and certain pieces prove to be more of a challenge.
This piece for example: I started it back in March when COVID was first hitting the United States and Walmarts were completely wiped of toilet paper (seems like ages ago.) While quarantining at home, I needed projects to keep me busy so naturally I turned to painting. This particular mountain acrylic became one of my project babies, and yet, throughout the course of the last few months there were multiple occasions when I would find myself staring at it and hate what it was becoming. Since May, brother Luke seemed to ask me daily, “You’re done, right?” To which I would consistently respond, “No, not until I’m satisfied.” That’s the trouble though: as an artist, I’m rarely satisfied. One day I’ll look at something that I’ve created and feel content (and sometimes even pleased), and the next day I’ll look at the same piece and it’s as if I have a brand-new set of eyes because I’ll see x, y, and z needing to be added and/or changed.
Creating art truly is a journey. Which is perhaps why I’m so “drawn” to it... I rarely know what my end result is going to be. Sometimes I’ll have a general image in my head, but usually it comes as I start to play... playing with my paint, my brushes, my fingers, water... and eventually, the end result makes itself known.
Kinda like life I suppose; or, so I’ve come to believe. Many of us are going through life without a clear destination in mind — a fact that I’ve slowly been coming to terms with in recent years. Although I am twenty-five years old, I still don’t have a clear specific goal for my life, something that I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever realize. However, like my painting, I have a general idea of what I want in this life, and because I’m willing to put in the work and enjoy what I have presently in front of me, I am confident that when I arrive at the end of my life, I will have a beautiful, bold, and bodacious painting to look back on... and perhaps I might even feel pleased.
This piece: “Is it finished?” you might be wondering. Technically, yes; I handed it off to its new owner just the other day. And yet, my honest response to such a question is: a piece of art is arguably never finished because there is always work that can be done.
Just. like. anything. And everything.
You can always work on something to perfect it more; and yet, sometimes you have to learn to be satisfied with whatever that “thing” is in the present. Especially in this strange season of COVID and quarantining, appreciate the little moments within this slowed pace of time: time with your pets, your close ones, and engaging in activities that energize you. Take breaks from technology and invest in the real life that is staring you right in the eyes.
Yes, things could be better, but that’s always the case regardless if we’re in a pandemic. So, do the work and appreciate the journey — the highs, the lows, and the path that is paving the way to a beautiful ending, an end goal that you just might not need to know at this point in time.
is currently living life one day at a time in Moorhead, MN where she works on the Marketing Team at Concordia College.