Last summer my ex-husband announced he would no longer co-sign our children’s college loans. I wasn’t in a position to come to the rescue. I’m remarried, and Barry and I have six kids between us—we still support a household of four. Luckily my son had moved in with us a few weeks before the distressing announcement, allowing him to commute and finish college on a cash-as-you-go basis.
Marlie was another matter.
Two years ago, as I prepared to move south to Charleston, my second youngest daughter received a substantial scholarship from a Christian college in Ohio. The University would pay half of Marlie’s tuition for all four years, a generous offer indicative of just how badly they wanted her enrolled. Privately I was devastated over the prospect of leaving her behind even as Barry and I hungered to escape Ohio’s sad memories and shattered dreams, and build a new life together in a new city. Marlie had been accepted by The University of South Carolina but there was never any discussion—she couldn’t resist the Ohio college’s ample scholarship; she fell in love with the campus and immediately bonded with other freshmen eager for a faith-based education.
It was seven weeks before the start of Marlie’s junior year when we learned her father wouldn’t co-sign her loans. She was in shock, and simply inconsolable. The simplest solution would’ve been for her to follow her brother’s example, quit Ohio, and move down south to us. But if you’re expecting another typical story about the fallout from divorce and what kids lose in the bargain, guess again.
Some background on my relationship with my remarkable daughter: I first met Marlie when she was five and a half years old on the steps of a children’s shelter in the Philippines. She weighed less than a healthy American toddler, had a head covered with lice, and a smile brighter than July sun. She’d survived Pott’s Disease (tuberculosis of the bone) and managed to run like the wind even though two of her vertebrae were fused. Her case study of abuse and neglect led me to expect to meet a child with very low IQ; she was as smart as a whip.
She still is, which is why we immediately set to work to save her education.
Marlie increased her summer work schedule to fifty—and sometimes sixty—hours per week. My effervescent daughter only stands four feet, six inches in height, but she spent long hours dashing from table to table in an upscale restaurant and banking every tip. I wrote a heartfelt letter to her college requesting additional money and, a week before the start of the autumn term, five thousand dollars was added to her scholarship. Marlie gave up her dorm room on campus and bought an old car, choosing to make a forty-minute commute each way, five days a week, in pursuit of her dreams.
What does any of this mean to you? Well, I’m guessing there have been times when life has knocked you clean off your feet. The spouse you trust with your heart walks out the door. You’re downsized. There isn’t enough money to cover the bills at the precise moment your teenager sends your SUV into a tree. You learn your best friend has cancer and the Help Wanted ads want everyone but you.
When you’re knocked down, remember: you have feet. Use them to stand back up.
In my experience, the dreams worth achieving demand an effort. They damn well demand your last ounce of energy or your soul’s last hope. They slip out of view or seem to disappear altogether until you dig your way out of sorrow and begin to see the truth that the future holds something better. That the future is yours to achieve.
On a January day in 2004, I locked myself in my bedroom and spent eight hours sobbing into a towel so my kids wouldn’t hear. I cried until my eyes were swollen and my voice tattered. At dawn, I wiped my face clean, made breakfast for my children, and sent them off to school with a cheerful wave. Then I began the first chapter of Second Chance Grill.
My daughter did something similar this summer when she stopped sobbing and bypassed the betrayal she felt. She got back on her feet, and found a way to keep her dreams alive.
So can you. It’s a choice as natural as breathing.
Put your heart into it.