On a cold crisp Thanksgiving Day in 1980, a small girl and her big brother finally found their family. At last, after traveling down the arduous road towards adoption, Lynnette and Sean came in from the cold - to a warm, wonderful loving home with Larry and Gail Cole of Columbia, Tennessee. It was an extraordinary home. These two adopted youngsters enjoyed a close-knit family circle where 127 foster siblings were raised over the course of 15 years.

       In February of this year, Lynnette, now a stunning young woman, stood radiant in a glistening black gown. As shining spotlights shone, the flashing crown she wore represented years of hard work, determination and a supportive adoptive family. She had captured the title of Miss USA 2000.

       From an early age, Lynnette carefully chose avenues leading to success in life. To help her toward her goals, her parents educated her in private schools. To help her parents pay for the tuition, 15-year-old Lynnette started competing in pageants for the monetary scholarships they provided. "I never thought of pageantry as a competition against another person," she says, "but as a quest for personal excellence."

       She reflects: "When I first began competing, I looked at it as an opportunity to help my parents pay for my high school tuition...but then I saw it as a way to open my eyes to new things and the opportunity to meet a lot of different people." Before gaining her Miss USA title, Lynnette held the crowns of Miss Tennessee World 1993, Miss Tennessee Teen USA 1995, Miss Teen USA Photogenic winner 1995, as well as Miss Teen All American 1997. Her pageant pursuits parlayed into a modeling career with print credits in well-known fashion magazines Teen and Cosmopolitan. She plans to continue her modeling career for two more years after her Miss USA reign ends.

       But Lynnette holds more than crowns. At the age of 22, she has wisdom. Proverbs 14:24 says: "The crown of the wise is their riches." To those who obtain riches, Paul exhorts: "Instruct those who are rich in this present world...to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share..." (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Lynnette is wise enough to know that wealth, whether spent in time, legal tender, or talents, tends to multiply when given to others.

       For over six years, she devoted herself to helping children in an after-school daycare and summer enrichment program. An active volunteer, she also spent time working with children in her community's Family Crisis Center. As a former grade school teacher, she has led young students from kindergarten through sixth grade to learn.

       As Miss USA, she has spoken to thousands of children throughout Tennessee, encouraging them to hold on to and pursue their dreams. In addition, she has visited with those in need: "By going into hospitals and adoption agencies, if I can make a difference in just one person's life, then I have fulfilled my purpose."

       Her endeavors to achieve success she could share, started with struggles. Officially adopted at the age of four, Lynnette remembers: "From the beginning, I experienced enormous obstacles from the outside world. Elementary school brought a lot of hard questions like 'why are you brown and your parents are white?' But my parents always said, "The Lord gave you to us for a purpose - He gave you to us because you are so special." I carried this with me, and it gave me so much confidence. My parents were brave enough to provide me with love, understanding, and security. They sacrificed so much for us. To adopt us, they moved to another state, my mother went to work and my Dad left his job to find another one. They gave me everything imaginable." She adds: "They are my everyday heroes."

       Her everyday heroes raised Lynnette in church, where she learned all about the heroes of the Bible. She most identifies with David, who slew the giant Goliath: "My main hero of faith from childhood is David. He showed me that a pebble of faith can strike down anything we come up against in this world of Goliath-sized problems."

       She holds fond memories of Sundays with her family: "Every Sunday, our family sat together in church, and afterwards we'd have lunch together and talk about life." She came to know Christ at the age of 13, and was baptized by her father. "I knew I wanted to become a part of the Lord's family," she states. "I wanted to live my life that way."

       As Miss USA 2000, Lynnette wholeheartedly supports the official Miss USA causes of ovarian and breast cancer awareness, as well as adoption. Her most prized possession is her adoption papers. "They are a symbol of my rebirth and the wonderful opportunities my parents gave me."

       She also still seeks advice from her adoptive parents: "I call my Dad when I really need an answer about something. My family is very close. With us, it's all about family - we're a team. I include them in everything. When you can get up every day and be happy that you are alive and have your family around you, that's success."

       Lynnette was the featured speaker for Agape's Child and Family Services Annual Dinner in November at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. As an adopted daughter, she is a living testimony of how agencies and ministries can give children and parents the chance to find and love each other. To those who are considering adoption, Lynnette sends this message: "You can help so many - you can be an everyday hero in the life of a child."

Reprinted by Permission, Christian Banner.