by Jim Boyle
Siri Freeh can’t pinpoint when she accepted Christ into her heart as a child, but the winner of Miss Minnesota can tell you when she recently felt, for the first time in her life, the absence of the Holy Spirit.
The Detroit Lakes area woman was on the floor and crying in the bathroom of her hotel room in Reno, Nev. It was about 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 12 and the end of the Miss America pageant was nearing. A wintertime cold that had settled in her body swirled in her head as she realized her chances for a crown had slipped away.
“Where are you and why aren’t you here?” Freeh recalled asking God in a live interview in front of the congregation at Christ Church in Otsego with the Rev. Greg Pagh. “Why is this happening?”
It didn’t take Freeh long to realize her purpose at the Miss America Pageant wasn’t to compete, as much as it was to let her light shine for the Lord. She uncovered it in Scripture and by remembering the words of her mother who always encouraged her to “be a light for others.”
That made her a perfect pick for the Christ Church in Otsego’s LightShine series, based on Matthew 5:16 where Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
A 23-year-old nursing student at the University of Minnesota with a 4.0 GPA, Siri plans to pursue her doctorate in cardiovascular research. She is a member of the U of M’s Honors Program and works tirelessly to maintain the balance between her academic and career goals and her creative passion for lyrical ballet.
Her rise as a child
Freeh is the oldest of three girls of David and Rhonda Freeh. She is primarily of Norwegian descent with small parts German and Irish in her heritage. The name “Freeh” is German, she said, and means “rises early” which Siri said happens to be true of her.
Freeh grew up on a hobby farm in Lake Park by Detroit Lakes. The Freehs had cattle, horses and chickens. As a young girl she dreamed of being a marine biologist or more specifically a “dolphin doctor.” She told Pagh she even had her room painted with an ocean life mural.
Life for her got difficult when she entered middle school in the public school system.
“Suddenly science and math was not cool,” she said.
She was focused on acceptance, and her grades dropped. It was at parent-teacher conferences her mom made the decision to begin home schooling.
At the time, Freeh thought of it as a “death sentence.” Instead, it was the best thing that could have ever happened, she said.
She discovered herself while being home-schooled.
“It gave me a chance to get away from the clutter of the negative peer pressure and instead focus on what it was I loved to do and my strengths and talents,” Free told Pagh.
That meant her involvement in 4-H, ballet and piano would flourish. She also grew closer to her mother.
She did not consider herself to be the kind of person who would be in pageants. She was more of a Tom Boy and considered herself to be an ugly duckling.
At the request of a friend in 4-H, she entered the Becker County Fair Pageant at 15 years of age.
“This was definitely not me,” she said. “I was coming out of the awkward years.”
Her mother encouraged her to be a light. “She told me: ‘You’re there to be testimony, you’re to be a witness,’” Freeh recalled.
Freeh ended up winning unexpectedly. She went on to win again the following year.
She finished her high school education at Park Christian Academy in Moorhead by completing her senior year there and then it was on to North Dakota State University. Somewhere along the way, she decided to pursue a degree in nursing. Despite carrying a 4.0 grade point average, she didn’t get into their nursing program. “I was devastated,” she said.
So she took another year of classes and then applied to a couple different schools. She was one of 90 from a crowd of 600 applicants accepted into the University of Minnesota’s nursing program.
This move to Minneapolis also made Miss Minnesota a possibility, she said. She competed twice in three years, and upon winning, found herself able to let her light shine for an even wider audience.
Miss Minnesota is an official preliminary of the Miss America Pageant. As Miss Minnesota 2012, Siri won over $10,000 in scholarship funds and prizes. She competed for the title of Miss America 2013 live on ABC from Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood but did not make the final 15.
As Miss Minnesota, Freeh promotes her personal service platform of “Living Heart Strong,” which was inspired by her father who was admitted to the emergency room after abnormal EKGs.
In addition to her personal service platform, Siri will utilize her role as a goodwill ambassador for Children’s Miracle Hospitals to bring attention to children who are faced with life-threatening illnesses.
As if that’s not enough, she also promotes STEM schools that emphasize science, technology, engineering and math.
She still has a certain awe surrounding her crown. “Miss Minnesota was not in the game plan for me,” she said. “You never anticipate where life will lead you.
“You can’t control your outcome, but what you can control is doing your best every day with what God has given you that day.”
She advises youth to focus on things that are going to matter in the long run, like grades, homework and being involved in the community. She struggled with this as a pre-teen.
“I didn’t know how to act because I was trying to be everybody else and I couldn’t find myself,” she said.
Miss America Pageant 2013
Freeh had arrived to the pageant on Thursday, Jan. 10, not feeling well and powered her way through her sickness and the competitions. She told members of Christ Church she met a wide array of challengers. Some were sweet like herself. Others were clearly cut-throat, wanting to win at all costs. She could tell by their words and actions, whether it was things they said or their apparent eating habits.
Freeh, who had sensed God’s hand in her rise to this place in her life, would come to lean on Him.
“It seemed like Miss America was the next step, and then it didn’t happen,” Freeh told Pagh.
She had some tough questions for herself.
“Is he any less good or less in control just because he didn’t do what I had anticipated as the final result?”
Freeh concluded that he was not. Quite the opposite, instead.
Thinking back she questioned what she had to be so mad about.
“For the first time, I couldn’t feel God,” she said.
Then she came across some Bible verses, including 2 Corinthians 12:8-10: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness,” she read.
“I knew that verse before, but it had never been more real that at that point,” she said.
She also read 2 Timothy 1, which offered the advice to never be ashamed to testify for the Lord and join with him in the suffering for the sake of the Gospel.
Freeh concluded God was calling her to lay down any power or control she thought she had over this pageant and allow him to be seen and his work to be done.
“There are going to be times that God is going to call you to be a light on a very public stage,” she said.
Instead of competing at Miss America, Freeh found herself praying with some contestants. She provided a positive energy that made people comment on it.
“They never saw my anger,” she said.
“I was very open. It’s because I have Christ in me, and it’s because I have an eternal focus instead of just this crown.”
She says she knows her outer beauty will fade.
“I can’t be investing in this (outer beauty),” she said. “I’ve got to be investing in things that matter.”
LightShine! series recordings online include one on Sen. Kiffmeyer
It’s carried out in a Q-and-A format. Pagh interviews each of the individuals to “provide a unique window into the personal story, character and passion” of these guests.
“I have had prepared questions going in but there have been wonderful surprises in every interview,” Pagh said.
Miss Minnesots Siri Freeh was the subject of the first interview in the series. Freeh’s complete interview with the Rev. Greg Pagh is available online at Christ Church’s website, as are interviews with Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake; Ryan Daniel and Billy Steele of The Sounds of Blackness; Rick Heeren of Harvest Evangelism; Pastor Stacey Jones of Urban Jerusalem Church and WWII Veteran Marshall Harris.
They can be found at http://christchurchotsego.org/LightShine.htm.