Put Your Heart Into It

An essay about chasing your dreams by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi.

Amazing Marlie

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.

About Christine Nolfi

I owned a small public relations firm in Cleveland, Ohio, but closed it fifteen years ago after I traveled to the Philippines and adopted a sibling group of four children. I've been writing novels fulltime since 2004. If you enjoyed this post today, please follow me and subscribe to my blog.


  1. Have I told you lately what a privilege it is just to know you, let alone work for you? I am honored, Christine. You are a remarkable woman.

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      I love you, Wendy. You’re a great editor and a great friend. Now, why don’t you move to South Carolina? It would be a dream come true–for me!

  2. another asian you know says:

    after a rough day, this post put it in perspective. i miss you, and i love your blog. thanks for being an example of Christ to others.
    God bless,
    The Fifth Filipino

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Dear mysterious Asian: God opens many doors and you must choose which to walk through. Keep your chin up. I know you’ll choose wisely. xo

  3. You made my evening…thank you,for your gift of the written word.

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Many thanks for reading, Douglas. From one writer to another, I can admit this was not the easiest post to write.

  4. Thank you for sharing your heart and Marlie’s inspiring story. You and your family embody love, courage and strength in all the best ways.

  5. Terrance Leon Austin says:

    Very Inspiring testimony. Thank you Christine for sharing your testimony. Bless you and your family.

  6. Very inspiring story. thanks for sharing Marlie’s struggles. I’ve experienced similar setbacks when my first husband died – a betrayal of a different kind but it left us lost for awhile. Knowing that, in August of 2004, we were not alone, that there were other families dealing with the same difficulties, like yours, helped a lot to bolster our courage to bounce back and follow our dreams. Your story will help so many.

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Marcia, thank you for sharing your own inspiring story. Losing your husband must have been terribly difficult. I’m so glad your family bounced back. Never stop following your dreams.

  7. Oh, Christine, I know about some of your early problems with your ex while you were still together. I can see the wonderful inspiration you’ve given Marlie. Bless you, sweetie.

  8. I remember my mother telling that life would always be more heartbreaking than fiction, and each setback, each painful and trying time in our lives proves her statement.

    You have taught your daughter well. She has learned, by example, what it really means to control your own destiny. Bravo, Christine. You are truly, not only a wonderful mother, but an intelligent and caring person.

    The bad guy of this world always get what is their due, and he will be the loser.

  9. Beautiful story, and just the kind of thing I needed to read today. Thank you.

  10. I loved this Christine. Thank you so much for sharing. We all go through terrible things, but it is up to us to decide how to deal with them. :)

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      We are always in control of destiny, Christine. Even the most difficult moments of our lives can reap benefits if we persevere. Many thanks for reading.

  11. Thank you for such an inspirational piece. Beautiful.

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