Has your biggest dream slipped out of reach? Recalculate your route

Marriah N. Paige, 27, shown in the law library at the University of Tennessee, had to recalculate her route after the results of her first bar exam left her heartbroken. CONTRIBUTED BY PATRICK MORRISON

Marriah N. Paige, 27, shown in the law library at the University of Tennessee, had to recalculate her route after the results of her first bar exam left her heartbroken. CONTRIBUTED BY PATRICK MORRISON

Marriah N. Paige is pretty sure the dream started when she was 10, watching court television with her great-grandmother Mozell.

For hours after school, they’d sit together, Mozell on a chair and Marriah nestled on a pillow beside her on the floor, taking in whatever drama was unfolding before Judge Joe Brown or Judge Judy or Judge Mathis.

“That was our bonding time,” Marriah, 27, recalled recently.

But it wasn’t just that. Even at 10, Marriah liked talking and she was good at it. Then while working on a sixth-grade project about career choices, the dream came to her.

“It intrigued me that I could use my voice to help people,” she said. “That’s when I first said I wanted to be a lawyer.”

She’s learned the path to your dreams isn’t always a straight one.

In 2009, Marriah graduated from Martin Luther King Jr. High School. It was a heady moment. Not only was she co-valedictorian of her class, she was heading to the University of Georgia, the first in her family to make it past 12th grade.

Always the overachiever, she pursued two bachelor’s degrees, one in communications studies and one in sociology. The way Marriah figured it, she was interested in both, and learning about human behaviors and how to communicate more effectively could only help her in the courtroom.

“It made college fun,” she said. “I didn’t dread going to class because everything was interesting.”

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that, but Marriah graduated in 2013 on time and with both degrees.

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She took the summer off before heading that fall to the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville.

She was in her second year when things started to change. First, her love life started to crumble, and then, well, her grandfather, the love of her life, suddenly fell ill.

“That was a very difficult time for me,” Marriah said.

Marriah N. Paige shares a happy moment with her grandfather Fred Paige at their home in Lithonia before his death in 2015. CONTRIBUTED

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It was March 2015. When Marriah arrived home weeks later for the Easter holiday, the man who raised her from birth and referred to her as Mickey D was weak and already smaller than she remembered. Instead of dwelling on that, Fred Paige put up a good front. He didn’t want her to be distracted. He wanted her to focus on the dream.

She’d only been back on campus a week or so when her grandmother Edwina called with the news. Her grandfather had succumbed to cancer. It was April 23, 2015.

Marriah made arrangements to take her final exams a week later and headed home. Between making funeral arrangements and taking care of her grandmother, she put on a happy face, ignoring her own pain.

Three weeks later, she was back at school, completing her exams and planning for a summer internship in Nashville. Fall ushered in more bad news. Mozell suffered an aneurysm and died early the next year.

Marriah kept pushing. Nothing would get in the way of her finishing law school. She graduated in May 2016 and sat for the bar, a two-day exam, two months later.

“I’d put my all into it,” she said. “I had done my best.”

Her best wasn’t good enough.

On Oct. 28, 2016, the results arrived in her email: “We regret to inform you.”

There was no need to finish the sentence. Marriah knew how it would end. She wept bitter tears.

“I’d worked so hard,” she remembered. “I was heartbroken, frustrated, confused.”

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In a moment of clarity, she realized, in all her preparations, she’d forsaken the one thing that always saw her through in both good and bad times — her faith.

"I had put my spiritual well-being on the back burner," she said. "I started reading Scripture again and realized it wasn't about me. I'd been chosen so my testimony could be a blessing to others and bring God glory."

Marriah began searching for a devotional that might help her weather her storm. That’s what helped her deal with the grief she’d recently experienced, but this time was different. There was nothing dealing with failing the bar exam or anything similar.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As she sought understanding and the strength she needed to move forward, she began writing down the messages she needed to encourage her to keep going, messages that helped her to cope.

She was recalculating the route to her dream.

July 2017 came and Marriah sat again for the bar exam, her focus no longer on a test but God.

As she waited for the results, she continued writing, hoping the end result would be the encouragement someone else needed to keep pursuing their dream.

On Oct. 26, she made the last entry to "Recalculating Route: A Devotional for Those Who Have Lost Their Way." The next day, she opened the exam portal for her test results.

Congratulations was all she read.

Marriah and Edwina celebrated.

“We were both jumping up and down,” Marriah told me, smiling at the memory. “It was a moment I will never forget.”

Having done the will of God, Marriah N. Paige, now an associate with Thomas Kennedy Sampson & Tompkins, had received the promise, just as Hebrew 10:36 declares.

Marriah N. Paige takes the attorney oath of office during a swearing-in ceremony. CONTRIBUTED BY JORDAN BRADLEY

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It’s all in her 45-day devotional “Recalculating Route,” available on Amazon.com and meant to encourage anyone who has put their all into something and it didn’t work out.

"There may be obstacles and your route might change, but if you don't give up, you can make it to your destination," she said. "My route wasn't straight, but through it all, God helped me build my faith, perseverance, hope. At the end of the day, people call me the same thing that they call someone who passed the bar the first time. They call me esquire."

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.


For a signed copy of "Recalculating Route," log onto nopaigelimit.com/book.