Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

—Proverbs 22: 6

My mom called recently and in the course of our conversation she said, “My friends all tell me they wake up withyou every day. And I thought  to myself,You  wake up with  my daughter? But then it hit me. They were talking about your news show.” And then she added, “Honey, I think you might be famous.” “I know, Mom. It’s so crazy.” We both laughed at the idea. My mom wasn’t  the first to say something  like this to me.

Not  long after my daughter was born I was talking to a group of girlfriends about  schools  and  I  expressed  my  apprehension about  getting Hayden  into the right one. “Oh, you won’t have a problem,” one said. “You’re a daytime news anchor.”

“Yes, but I don’t feel that makes any difference,” I replied. They all tried to set me straight. “Ainsley, you have to see yourself the way others see you.”

I don’t think that’s right.  I may have  a very visible job that allows more than a million viewers to invite me and my fellow anchors  into their  homes every morning,  but  that  doesn’t  make me famous; nor does my job entitle me to any kind of special privileges.

When I think of the position that’s been entrusted to me, I feel a great weight of responsibility.  Not a day goes by that I don’t look at myself in the mirror  and  ask God, “Why me? Why did you choose me, Ainsley Earhardt from Columbia, South Carolina, to be one of a handful  of female national  news anchors?” I don’t know the complete answer to this question except to say that God put me here for a reason and that reason has nothing  to do with me becoming famous.

When I think of the position that’s been entrusted to me, I feel a great weight of responsibility. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at myself in the mirror and ask God, “Why me?"

Now, I have to admit that I didn’t always feel this way. When I was five years old I remember  watching the opening of the Oscars with my mother and crying as I watched celebrities walk in on the red carpet.  Why would  any child cry watching  the Oscars?  For me, the reason  was simple: I wanted  to be there  so badly  that  I burst into tears. I remember telling my mother that someday I was going to live in California  and be a famous actress.

“California,” my mother replied, “life’s a beach there.” I had no idea what that meant.

Around the same time, my siblings and I were looked after by a wonderful  lady named Miriam “Mimi” Grant  until my mom got home from work.

Every day when she put us down for our naps, she turned  on the  television  to watch  her soap  operas.  I knew about   soaps  because  my  great-grandmother  called  them  “the stories” and always told my mother they were sinful.

My great-grandmother’s warning  didn’t  stop me from sneaking  out of my bed and  tiptoeing  into the den behind  our babysitter where  she couldn’t see me and watching  them.

The actors were all beautiful and seemed to have perfect lives. The entire idea of being in front of the camera  seemed so romantic.  Deep down  I just knew that that  would be me someday, either in front of a camera or on the stage. My parents indulged my fantasies, to a point.  I attended theater  camps  and  classes growing  up, but  there was never  any talk of me making a life out of acting. My parents  were much too practical  and grounded  for that.

I actually got my chance to be in the movies while I was still in middle  school. Twice.  The  first time  occurred  when  Disney came to South Carolina  to shoot a movie set in the 1930s called "Wild  Hearts  Can’t Be Broken."

I may have a very visible job that allows more than a million viewers to invite me and my fellow anchors into their homes every morning, but that doesn’t make me famous; nor does my job entitle me to any kind of special privileges.

As soon as I heard  they needed extras I was determined to land a part.  I went to the auditions and was selected to be one of the kids in the crowd when the female star’s love interest, Michael Schoeffling, was getting into an argument with a group of men at the local fair. Years before, he had been the actor in "Sixteen Candles" who kissed Molly Ringwald at the end of the movie and was just so handsome to me at the time.

Actually being chosen to be a child in the crowd made my little middle school heart race. I just knew that this was going to be my big break  and  one of the directors  was going to notice me. And they did. They needed a girl for a larger part than just a face in the crowd, and this role would actually  get a line or two. One of the directors pulled me out of the crowd of extras along with another girl. I was thrilled—this was my chance. But then I gave them a big smile and they saw the braces on my teeth.

“She can’t do it,” they said. “Braces don’t fit the time period.”

I was heartbroken. Instead of a speaking part I ended up in the background wearing a red dress and eating cotton candy.

My second time came in a movie about  college football called "The Program." This one starred  Halle Berry and James Caan. The movie auditions  and information made the local news because it was filmed in my hometown  and scenes were shot at the Univer- sity of South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium.

Watching my mom taught me that hard work, not dreams of grandeur, is the key to success in life.

Since this movie was set in the present, my braces weren’t a problem. I went to the auditions  with a head full of dreams. However,  once again, I was just a face in the crowd in a background filled with extras.

My middle  school girl visions of fame did not come true,  but they also did not die—and thankfully my mom and dad knew just the right approach to raising a daughter with dreams of grandeur. My mom used to tease me, saying she hoped I married  a rich man someday  because  I was such a dreamer with  champagne taste.

She didn’t mean that the way it sounds. It was her way of telling me to get my head out of the clouds. Dreams don’t come true by waiting  for Prince Charming to arrive.  If my dreams  were going to come true it was going to be because of my own hard work.

My mother  showed me the power of hard work and determi- nation. She taught early childhood  development, but she was no ordinary teacher. I watched my mother go through  the very rigor- ous process of becoming a national  board-certified teacher.

Only 3 percent of all teachers across America are nationally  board certified. The process is so demanding that  only 40 percent  of those who attempt it make it through  the first year. But my mom completed  the  program  while  working full-time,  raising three  kids, and  running  our household. Watching  her taught  me that  hard work, not dreams of grandeur, is the key to success in life.

My father  taught  me confidence, which allowed  me to follow my dreams  and  never  be afraid  of rejection.

When  I was a little girl my dad coached basketball at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  He also had big goals of moving up the coaching ladder from Wofford and becoming the head coach of a major  college program.

My father taught me confidence, which allowed me to follow my dreams and never be afraid of rejection.

His real dream  job was at his alma mater, the University  of South Carolina.  However,  one year after my little brother  was born my dad left coaching and took a job selling janitorial and  industrial supplies.

We movedfrom Spartanburg  to Charlotte, North  Carolina.  I completed  my third  grade year at Sharon Elementary School (which I would later learn was the same school two other  Fox News  anchors  attended),  but  after that school year, my father’s company had an open position in his hometown of Columbia,  South Carolina.  We all missed South Carolina and were delighted to pack up and move again. Instantly, my father  was successful. He proved  himself to be one of the top salespeople in his company. It wasn’t just that he was a good salesman—he  worked  incredibly  hard  and was very well-liked. I can still see him sitting up late at night writing out thank-you notes to all the customers he saw that day.

As my older  sister,  Elise,  my brother,  Trent,  and  I got older and  closer to college age, my dad  worked  side jobs.  Sometimes that meant cleaning floors for businesses at night or delivering the loads of toilet paper a company needed for the following morning.

He was also in the Army Reserves. He served at Fort Jackson one weekend every month and two weeks every summer. He sacrificed a lot for our family and hard work was celebrated  and expected in our home. He did all of this because he had a second dream,  the dream  of putting  all three of his children  through  college.

Growing up, I never saw Dad use a credit card, he paid with cash and I remember him telling me he made double payments  toward  the mortgage every month until it was paid off. He believed in working hard now so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor later.

The value of hard work was only one small lesson my parents taught me. For the first few years of my life, we lived in a one-story, L-shaped  house in Spartanburg with a huge backyard with many colorful azalea bushes and honeysuckles, a gorgeous dogwood tree in the front yard, and a massive magnolia tree which separated us from our neighbors.

Elise moved into my bedroom with me when our brother  was born. I was five and a half when he came along, and I was very excited about  having  a baby to love. Elise and I fought over who got to feed him, change his diapers, and take care of him. On his wedding  day we joked that  he’d been raised with three moms. Poor guy. We couldn’t help ourselves. Having  a baby brother  was like having a real, live baby doll.

Because  of her  teaching  job,  my mom  always  left the  house early, which left my dad to get us up and ready for school. He’d come into our room and wake us up by opening the shutters  and sometimes tickling us.

There  was no sleeping in at the Earhardt house, not even on the weekends.  Saturday mornings  he came in early, threw open the shutters,  nd said, “Rise and shine. It’s time to get up. If I’m up, you’re up!” We’d drag ourselves out of bed and go downstairs for breakfast.

Most mornings  I found a little note next to my cereal bowl in which my dad had written out a quote or a Bible verse or a poem he’d found. Since he was a great coach, I imagine these were the same kinds of sayings he used to motivate  his players.

They motivated me. I still have a lot of them today. One of my favorites was, according to my dad, uttered  by Walt Disney. It read, “I hope I’ll never be afraid to fail.” That’s how my dad taught me to approach life.

I also loved the one that said, “Attitude determines aptitude,” and  another  that  said, “Stay up with  the owls—don’t  expect to soar with the eagles.” When I got a little older he gave me one that said, “Nothing good happens  after midnight.”

I loved these notes. I did not, however, love his habit of making us drink a glass of unsweetened grapefruit juice every morning. My sister and brother and I held our noses as we forced it down. Apparently my  dad had  read  somewhere  that  grapefruit juice helped prevent  sickness.

After breakfast we piled into the car for the car pool to school. My  favorite  days  were  those  when  my  dad  brought  home  the team  van  from the college where he coached.

Elise and  I would cheer when he would drive it home the night before and we saw it parked  in front of our house or in the driveway.

On car-pool days one of us always hid behind  the backseat  while my dad  picked up the other kids. They climbed in the van and asked, “Where’s Elise?” or “Where’s Ainsley?” We said something like “Oh, she stayed home sick today,” which of course never happened because of all the grapefruit juice we drank.

Then,  once everyone was in the van, whoever  was hiding in the back jumped  out and yelled, “SURPRISE!” Elise and I thought  that was great. The joke never got old.

Whether  we were in the van or not, my dad always made the drive to school interesting. Every day we drove past a big tree with a hole in the middle of it. My dad told us a bear lived in the hole. He even had a name for the bear. Another house on our route had a large clubhouse in the backyard that looked like a dollhouse. Whenever  we passed  by it my dad  said, “You know,  the Smurfs live in that  dollhouse. I wonder  if they’re awake. Let’s honk the horn and wake ’em up.” We always laughed.

Mom was still at work when we got home from school. Mimi took care of us when we were very young in Spartanburg, South Carolina,  but when we moved to Columbia,  I was in fourth grade and  Elise was in seventh.  By that  point,  we were old enough  to come home to an empty house, make a snack, and watch TV until Mom came home.

Elise and  I would watch  a soap opera called "Santa Barbara," which is no longer on the air, but when we heard Mom opening the garage door, we had to quickly turn off the TV, since we still were not allowed to watch soaps.

We’d run upstairs to our bedrooms and start working on our homework.  My brother was usually outside playing with all the boys in the neighborhood.

Mom started  dinner along with doing everything  else that had to be done to keep the household  running. My sister, brother,  and I did our part. All of us had daily chores. Now that I am a mother I have a newfound respect for my mom. Honestly, I don’t know how she did it. I find it is hard enough to be a working mom with only one child . . . somehow she did it with three.

Growing up, we talked  about God in our home and  said  a blessing at every meal and prayers before bed.

I definitely grew up in a Christian environment, but  we didn’t read the Bible as a family every night or memorize Scripture.  Instead my parents would  find their own ways to remind me of God’s place in my life, which gave me a good perspective on life and the disappointments it brings.

When  I was in eighth  grade  I tried  out for the cheerleading squad.  I thought  it was going to be an easy audition because  I had been on the squad the previous year and got along beautifully with the coach and other cheerleaders. However,  when the list of girls who made the team was posted, my name was missing. I was crushed. Six of the current  cheerleaders in seventh grade  didn’t make the team for the next year. We were all in tears and being consoled  by our  coach who  was also emotional.  She cried  with us. When I got home and shared  the news with my parents,  my dad said something I have never forgotten. “You got to be a cheer- leader last year, right?” he said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Another  girl probably  needed  that  spot this year more than you. Ainsley, God knew you could handle the rejection of not mak- ing the squad. He made you a confident, positive person. You will be fine. He will bless you in other ways, just wait and see,” he said. Those words have stuck with me the rest of my life. My dad taught me to look at life’s setbacks through eyes of faith.

We attended church  every Sunday. Church on Sundays  was a must—even if we spent the night with a friend. We either went with the friend or Mom and Dad picked us up early from the friend’s house and we went to our own church as a family.

When we lived in Spartanburg and Charlotte, we attended very formal Episcopal churches. They were beautiful, with stained-glass windows, long aisles, and sanctuaries shaped like a cross that are traditional for Episcopal  churches.

When we moved to Columbia, my father felt very strongly about joining Ebenezer Lutheran Church. That  was the church  he grew up in and generations of our Earhardt rela-tives had  attended services there.  It was a relatively  long drive for us, about  fifteen or twenty  minutes,  but Dad felt God calling him back  to his childhood  church.

The  members  of the congregation were older and there weren’t  a lot of young families. Dad knew God wanted him to help grow the church and bring new life into an older congregation,  so the whole family got involved.

My dad  served  on the church  council and  my mom was part  of the altar  guild. In high school I represented the youth  group  on the church council and became youth-group president.  This was also the church where I was confirmed.

Church  was a big part  of my life growing  up, but  something still seemed to be missing. Every year our church youth group at- tended  Lutheran Christian camps as well as taking ski trips and other  activities.  I was confirmed  and  very active,  but  I still felt like something was missing. This wasn’t enough. I remember  one day riding to high school with one of my best friends, Cindy, and asking her a question that was heavy on my heart.

“Cindy, how do you know you’re going to heaven?” I asked. “Well, if you are a good person, you will go to heaven,” she said. “I feel like I am a good person and I try to be nice to everyone, but  I don’t  know  if that’s  going to get me to heaven,”  I replied.

Deep down I knew that it wasn’t enough. I wanted  to be certain. Then  I reminded  myself that  I was  not  worthy  of heaven  and, of course, I never expected God to think I was good enough. I remember  thinking  I was only allowed a few prayers; God would think  I was selfish if I had  too many  requests.

I knew  He was busy answering  prayers all over the world, so I told myself I could only talk to God when the prayer was selfless or really important. I thought  of it as “saving my favors  for when  I really needed  a prayer answered.” Therefore,  I decided to try my hardest  to get to heaven and hope for the best when I came face-to-face with Him at the Pearly Gates.

Going to church  and trying  to be a good person  didn’t  keep me from doing things that  deep down I knew I shouldn’t  do. Myfriends  and  I always  wanted to be in the middle  of the fun, so when we heard about a party, we were there.

Through high school and my first two years of college I did things that were considered normal  for people my age. For instance,  most of my friends were smokers. At that time students  were allowed to smoke at my high school. We were born in the seventies and most high schoolers took part.  In fact, we even had  a designated  smoking  area  at school called “The Back  Porch.”

Occasionally  I walked  out and  took a few drags of a friend’s cigarette. Smoking  was a social event for me. It was just something most people did. We all hid it from our parents, but truth be told, many of them smoked, too, so we picked up the habit.  We knew it was not healthy,  but all my friends just assumed  we could smoke through  high school and  college, hide it from our parents,  and then quit when we got married  one day.

It was pretty  naive, especially considering  I’d witnessed  first- hand how hard it was to quit the nicotine habit. My mother smoked when I was little. My dad, sister, and I HATED it. My mother’s parents, my Mimi and  Pop,  smoked. They  smoked  inside  their house and  in their  cars. The  smell was awful.  Still, to this day, when I get in the car of a smoker, it takes me back to my childhood and makes my stomach turn. But Mimi, Pop, Mom, and her sister, Lynn, all gave up the habit together when Pop was diagnosed with a lung disease. It was not easy for Mom. She quit for ten years, but started  smoking again later and tried hiding it from all of us. Dad has never  smoked. He is our practical  thinker.  So Mom hid her smoking from him. We all did. If he had known I was a smoker, he would have been extremely disappointed.

One time he discovered a pack of my cigarettes on the front walkway  outside, and I later found them on my pillowcase. That was his way of saying, “I don’t want a confrontation or hear you try to lie your way out of it, but I want  you to know how deeply disappointed I am.” That  hurt.  I knew I had let him down.

When  I  started smoking  more and  more  throughout  high school, I decided if I was going to pick up this nasty habit,  I was going to do it in the most glamorous way. After all, my friends already called me “Hollywood.” So I bought a silver cigarette case and filled it with my cigarette of choice: the skinny, minty Virginia Slim Super Slim menthol.  We shortened  the name to the “VSSS.” When my friends wanted  one, they said, “Hollywood, may I have one of your VSSS’s?” I smiled and handed  them my cigarette case—enjoying every minute of it.

I didn’t  think  anything  I did  was  that  inconsistent  with  at- tending church on Sundays. The Lutheran Church  didn’t cast condemnation or make me feel guilty. I knew my parents and God wouldn’t approve of my choices, but I was still able to separate my social and church lives. It was as though those two parts of my life stayed in their own spheres.

As I got older and was able to go out at night (my curfew was 11 p.m.), we all lied to our parents, went to parties  on Saturday nights, and then showed up bright  and early for church on Sunday mornings. That  didn’t seem like a big deal. Everyone  else did the same thing. In fact, most of the time I felt pretty good about my life. I had a Bible, actually several. My dad gave them to me. I kept one of them next to my bed, and I read Scripture  when I was sad or going through  a tough time. My best friend Cindy, who drove me to school, gave me a bookmark with Scripture  verses that correlated  to particular emotions.

And yet, when I was around  people who were really “sold out” for Jesus, I knew something was missing in my life. One guy, Eric, in particular really made an impression  on me. He hung out with the most popular  people and was quite outspoken  about  his faith. He was older than  I was and had a long-term  relationship with a girl in Atlanta. He told everybody they were committed to wait un- til marriage  before having  sex. That  made an impression  on me. I wanted to be that kind of person as well. Around the same time, our youth group leader played a Christian video for us talking about sex and  the struggles  high school students  experience.

One girl in the video said, “I am still a virgin, and any day I can be like my friends, but they can never go back and be like me.”

Although I know now God is all about redemption and grace, I still wanted my virginity to be a special gift I gave my husband on our wedding night. That was important to me.

Eric was the closest thing on earth to Jesus for me. Somehow he was able to live a solid, Christian life, make good choices, and sur- round  himself with the smokers and drinkers.  As John 17:16 sug- gests, he was in the world but not of the world. I wanted  to be like that.  So, when  he hosted Young  Life, a campus  ministry  geared toward  high school students,  at his parents’  house—I was there. There  was  always  pizza,  good snacks,  Coca-Colas,  and  a good mix of the social crowd and Christian crowd. I always wanted  to go and never wanted  to leave.

We all congregated  in Eric’s basement  and sat on the carpet in front of a movie screen that displayed the words of contemporary Christian songs. One leader played the guitar  and another  sang. After we sang a mix of secular  and  Christian songs, one of the Young  Life leaders  told his or her story or gave a Bible lesson. One college leader, who was cute and seemed cool (all of the high school girls loved him), shared  his story about  Jesus saving  him from a life of alcohol and drugs. Although  I had no desire to do drugs, I was still taken aback. This guy’s story seemed much more dramatic than just going to confirmation  classes.

I also had someone in my life, even to this day I have no idea who, that  put  letters in my mailbox  at random  times. When the first one arrived  I opened it and read, “This is Jesus. I just wanted to tell you that I love you.” Another said, “I watched you go through your day today. You were so busy but you never made time for me. Love, Jesus.”

I still have many of those letters today.

In spite of the letters, and  the testimonies  at Young  Life, the only dramatic decision I made about my life during  high school was to go to college.

I knew something was missing in my life, but I also had a strong sense that God had something in store for me that was bigger than high school, my hometown, and even South Carolina.

I didn’t  crave fame, like I had when I was a little girl, but I was still in love with the idea of becoming an actress. As high school drew to a close I really wanted  to attend a college with a great theater  program, but I knew my parents would never go for it. My dad wasn’t working multiple jobs for me to major in something that had such an uncertain future. Whatever I did, I wanted to repay my parents’ efforts by working hard, to give back to them for all they’d done for me.

Excerpted from "THE LIGHT WITHIN ME," Copyright © 2018 by Ainsley Earhardt. Reprinted here with permission of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers