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Mrs. Virginia shares her spotlight

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Queen Esther would be a pretty good candidate for the patron saint of pageants, think Lisa Stover, the current Mrs. Virginia and a parishioner of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg. After all, when the king needed a wife, Esther and others were chosen from among the most beautiful women in the land. After being pampered and prepped for months, the king chose her to be his bride. “It was basically a pageant,” said Stover. 

As queen, Esther was in the perfect position to save her people when they were threatened with destruction. As her cousin Mordecai said, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Stover, who first heard that Bible verse in high school youth group, likes to think that, like Esther, her crown was given to her for a reason — to help others. She wants to use her platform to talk about her family and her faith in Christ.

Stover was born June 20, 1991, the youngest of six children. She grew up in Idaho in an evangelical Christian family. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom (and) she dedicated her entire life to us kids. Family was her mission field,” said Stover. “She was concerned (with) getting us to heaven and that always spoke to me.” Stover’s father worked multiple jobs to provide for the family. 

When Stover was 8-years-old, she found herself unable to walk. Doctors didn’t know why. “After months and months of tests, they told me, ‘Lisa, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to walk again.’ It was so hopeless not knowing if I’d ever have a normal childhood,” said Stover. 

The day before a doctor’s appointment, Stover’s godmother prayed over the little girl. The next day, Stover woke up able to walk. But she and her parents were still worried, wondering whether her ability to walk would go away as quickly as it came. 

“(The doctor said). If you can go do a cartwheel, then you’re probably healed,” said Stover. “So I went out back with my mom after the appointment and I did a cartwheel. I just remember that joy coming over me.” Because of this scary time in her life, one of Stover’s Mrs. Virginia initiatives is Cartwheel to Hope, a group “to build support for families amidst life-altering diagnosis, disability and loss.”

After graduating high school, Stover attended Boise State University, a place where she both fell away from her core values and re-discovered them. Stover knew her partying went too far when she found herself driving to Planned Parenthood to buy the morning-after pill. “Being a woman who grew up in church and grew up believing abortion was wrong, but in this lifestyle that led me to that point, I thought, ‘Who am I? What have I become?’ ”

A few months later, Stover became friends with women who, unbeknownst to her, were Catholic. They convinced her to form a pro-life club with them and she became passionate about saving unborn lives. “Students for Life of America had a regional coordinator who gave us apologetics training and I just remember sitting there taking notes and notes and notes,” said Stover. “I didn’t realize how many millions of lives had been taken because of abortion.”

She also became more curious about Catholicism. “Seeing these two girls I started the club with be so authentic in their faith, standing up for their beliefs about life, unafraid of what people thought of them, (that) spoke to me. They just wanted to make a difference,” she said. Stover began to pepper them with questions. “Finally, one of them said, ‘Lisa, there’s this thing called RCIA (Rite of Christina Initiation of Adults). You should go.’ ”

After graduating from college, Stover worked for Students for Life of America and continued to explore the Catholic faith. Stover came into the church in 2014 and after seeing her conversion, Will, a former high school debate classmate whom she later reconnected with and started dating, converted, too. The couple was married in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boise in 2016. Stover moved across the country to be with her husband, who was stationed at Marine Base Quantico as a Marine One Crew Chief. He now works as a police officer.

Stover first began to compete in pageants in college, and last year decided to compete in Mrs. Virginia. But she was worried she wouldn’t be ready, as she had given birth to her daughter, Brooklynn Elizabeth, six months earlier. Her mentor encouraged her to continue. “She said, ‘Lisa, women compete pregnant all the time. This is what a Mrs. Pageant is about. That’s showcasing you as a mom.’ ”

Lisa Stover poses with her husband, Will, and daughter, Brooklynn Elizabeth, after winning Mrs. Virginia 2019. Amanda Lauren Photography  |  Courtesy 

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Stover said they unofficially dubbed Will “Dad of the Year” as he spent most of the pageant trailing Stover, carrying their still-nursing baby along with the diaper bag. Stover placed in the top ten at the pageant and decided to compete again this year.

Family tragedy threatened to derail her plans. In early February, Stover and her husband realized she was pregnant. By Valentine’s Day, they were told she would lose the baby. “My husband came in and I pretty much just crumbled in his arms,” she said. “Something people don’t talk about is that miscarriage is essentially pregnancy, labor and delivery all in (a short period of time.) I had these really strong contractions and then went to the bathroom and saw my baby.” 

A week after the physically and emotionally devasting ordeal, Stover got a call saying her mother, who had been fighting breast cancer for two years, was days away from death. She quickly flew to California to be at her mother’s bedside. The day her mother died was bright and sunny, interrupted by a freak hailstorm, during which she breathed her last. “She was such a beautiful and holy woman. It was amazing to see heaven say, ‘We’re taking you now,’ ” said Stover. 

After the funeral and a celebration of her mother’s life, the Mrs. Virginia pageant was a week away. She told her father and siblings she would happily stay in California, but they all encouraged her to go. 

So she did. Alongside the other contestants, Stover competed in the opening number performance, the panel interview, swimsuit competition and the evening gown portion, where each woman’s husband walked them onstage. “My mother-in-law had our daughter in the crowd and when he walked me out I heard her yell, ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ I was like, don’t laugh, don’t laugh,” said Stover. Visible shock, then gratitude, radiated from Stover’s face as her name was called as Mrs. Virginia 2019. 

As the state winner, Stover will compete in the Mrs. America pageant in August. Win or lose, she’ll spend the next year travelling throughout the commonwealth to bring attention to causes that matter to her. As Stover put it, “I just know God can use this platform for so much more.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019