When I was a little girl, I would look up at the stars–at a vast universe that stretched well beyond my already boundless imagination–and feel this deep, indescribable calling. The array of millions of glittering balls of gas reflected in my eyes, and a voice whispered to my heart.

There is more to life than what you see. There is more than you could ever know. Reach, little one. Reach as far as you can, and then further.

Perhaps it did not whisper those exact words, but I could feel them in my heart. I carried that feeling quietly with me through the years. I never imagined myself as special. That isn’t what the feeling tried to tell me. It only reassured me that my current status was not my ending one, and that if I really reached for anything, I could find it–grasp it.

Life is full of hurdles we have to overcome. Each one of us face our own, separate and difficult hurdles. Poverty, hereditary addictions, depression, thoughts of suicide, under-funded educations, immense loss… My life has touched on these in ways I speak about to those around me in careful whispers–rarely publicly. I’m just only touching on them in the interviews that will pop up in the weeks to come when I’m asked what inspires my writing.

Throughout the years, I never let go of that voice.

“College is too expensive, have you considered the military?”

Anonymous School Counselor

Not even when I asked a school counselor for help with applying for colleges and financial aid. “College is too expensive, have you considered the military?” After hearing that, it was difficult to see my friends go in to meetings with her, to get pushed to apply for colleges and pointed toward avenues for success… But, I didn’t give up. I registered myself for the ACT. I applied to colleges and enlisted the help of a friend’s dad with the FAFSA paperwork. I raided filing cabinets in my home when my dad told me he didn’t think the government needed all that tax information. I had become convinced that no one in this life would ever tell me what I could or could not do. In many ways, I built this life from a combination of two things: sheer spite at being told, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t the right “type” to go to college and that little feeling in my chest. Reach as far as you can, and then further.

When some find out where I came from–that little town of 450 people and that quaint school in rural Alabama (“You graduated with how many people?”)–they cannot fathom how I got where I am. This has always confused me because a lot of people have made great lives for themselves and grew up in the same town and went to the same school. No, I suppose, not many people move so far away where I come from, not unless they are tied to the military. I’m an irregularity, not an anomaly. I feel like a narcissist just saying something like that.

Through college, I endured nervous breakdown over nervous breakdown. Since a teen, I’d struggled quietly with depression. I contemplated suicide on more than one occasion. I worked my way through college and I was, mostly, the sole caretaker to my elderly grandmother. I loved her. She was a fierce, beautiful woman who lost her husband at a young age and never remarried. She’d built a wonderful, quiet life for herself. Then, one night, when we were out at a parade, she fell and hit her head. She wasn’t quite herself after that.  She would lash out in strange and very hurtful ways. One moment I was the wonderful, attentive granddaughter. The next, I was the most retched, ungrateful human being she had ever met. I could rarely go anywhere or be out past 9PM, unless I was working. Even well into my early twenties, I had a harsher restriction on my life than when I was a teen. I took her shopping 3 times a week, an hour each, and I took her to almost all of her doctor’s appointments. We went to the movies and out to dinner.

But, I simultaneously never, ever did anything for her… and she would scream that whenever I asked to go somewhere or be out late with friends. She would manipulate my emotions, make me feel guilty and awful for wanting to have a life outside of her sphere of influence.

I started to lie and say I was working late, spending the night with the one friend she approved of, or that I was going home to my parents–just to do anything with my college peers. I hate lying. Lying eats me alive and doing it to her only added to my depression. I never blamed her for the outbursts or how she treated me in some of those darker times. She couldn’t help it, after all.

On top of all that, I majored in art. This required hours and hours of outside school work to accomplish projects. Between work, my grandmother, helping on the family farm on the weekends, and my undeniable desire to write, the projects I turned in were not always my best. But, I never failed to meet an assignment deadline, nor did my GPA suffer. I graduated–part of the National Honor Society and I made Dean’s List–I just lost much of my sanity in return.

Well before graduating, I knew I wanted to move away from home. I knew I needed to go, but I wasn’t certain where… That feeling in my chest–reach as far as you can, and then further–was calling me somewhere. I just hadn’t found it yet.

And then I went to New Jersey.

I am honestly willing to bet no one on the face of the earth has said, “I went to New Jersey for a week and now I want to move there!”

But, I did, much to the horror of every southerner I knew.

What I didn’t tell them, at the time, about that trip is that when I was about to leave, I feeling overcame me. That little feeling in my chest begged for me to stay. It pulled and tugged so hard that I sobbed on the flight home. I cannot explain it, but I felt like I was meant to be there. Yes, I know, meant to be in New Jersey?

I was called there.

And so, around one year later, I quit my job without notice (they didn’t deserve it anyway), and  with no plan for future employment. I gave away or left behind most of my possessions, packed up what I could fit into my car, and my dad and I headed out on a road trip to the Garden State.

From there, I owe a dear friend and her husband for not allowing me to starve or be homeless. I found a job in three months,  one month before I ran out of money completely. I built a fantastic career as a graphic designer with an engineering firm. They allowed me many opportunities that rarely present themselves to graphic designers. I got to travel, scale suspension bridges, visit the underbellies of water treatment facilities and abandoned monasteries, and ride a crane bucket to the tallest building in Philadelphia–the 10th tallest in the United States. I re-branded a 113-year-old engineering firm, helped many authors achieve their publishing dreams, and finally set the groundwork for my own. I volunteered with the Young Friends of Independence National Historical Park and met my husband. I’ve shaken hands with mayors, senators, transportation secretaries… I’ve dined at galas and award ceremonies. I’ve made wonderful friends, and few enemies. In seven short years I have accomplished and experienced more than I could have ever imagined or thought possible. I have reached as far as I can, and I’m still reaching further.

I used to call my father almost every night before bed, when he was alive. I would tell him about my day. I told him every exciting adventure. It was hard to leave him and my family behind, but calling him left me grounded to home–tethered by an invisible string. I promised him, right before I made any crazy decision, like career changes or starting a new project–like publishing a book–that I would do everything in my power to go as far as I could in life. “That’s why I left, Daddy. I needed to go. I need to see how far I can go, how high I can climb. I cannot stop climbing.”

I spent a lot of nights telling him I was writing, editing. “When are you going to do something with it? You should get it published!” “I will, but it isn’t there yet.” Then, I did work to get it published. The ball got rolling, and rolling, but damn did that ball roll so damn slow… Much slower than I ever anticipated and… he won’t get to see it–not in this plane of existence, anyway. He passed away before I could show him–prove to him–that I did what I said I would do.

My first book, The Living God, comes out on May 21st, 2019. I will officially be a published author and the dream goal of Little Me is now the accomplishment of Big Me. Though, this journey is far from over.

You see… that little feeling in my heart? That little calling I cannot explain or understand–it is still whispering, relentless and bright as a burning star.

There is more to life than what you see. There is more than you could ever know. Reach. Reach as far as you can, and then further.

If you have ever felt that little feeling in your chest, that pull towards something you don’t understand–like you don’t quite fit where you are right now–follow that feeling into the night. It leads you to where you belong and makes you who you’re meant to be.

Reach.

Reach as far as you can…

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