I am no stranger to debt. It started, like it does for many these days, in college. I remember the first “student loan meeting” I had to go to. They showed a film on what life would be like if you defaulted on your loan. It showed a guy (college graduate?) slaving away as a short order cook, and explained that regardless of how little you made, if you defaulted, they would still probably garnish your wages.
This really didn’t bother me. I got through college mostly on grants. Considering where I went to school, it could have been much worse.
After this, though I went to the student center where they basically had a huge stack of credit cards they were giving away to incoming freshmen. I signed a form and 10 days later I had my first credit card and it was all down hill from there.
I worked full time my first semester at OBU and my grades reflected it. I decided I needed to focus, live on campus, take 16 hours, and study.
Well, I did some of that, and still made it through. My first two years I funded my night life with that stupid credit card. Remember, I had no real income – I did take some side jobs, cash only, weekend work, and I worked every summer. But once that card was maxed out, it was not as much fun as it had been in the beginning.
Eventually I graduated, got married, and decided to move to Texas to go to seminary. My wife and I refinanced all our student loans so we’d be making one payment, and then deferred while I was in school. We were so poor back then that we could not afford the interest payments. By the time I graduated from seminary, we owed twice what the loan amount was to begin with. Our payment, to this day, is almost as much as our mortgage payment, and most of that is still interest.
I’m not whining. I was told up front how it would be. I made informed choices. I thought I’d go to school, get a great church job, Cheryl would be writing and selling music by now, and we’d live in the big house and have no worries.
What killed that? Two high risk pregnancies, bad choices on my part of what churches I would agree to work for, more credit cards – full of mostly medical debt and car repairs, although I do remember buying a plane ticket to Boston that one time. It was a great trip by the way.
I’m glad to say, all those credit cards are paid off, both our cars are paid off, and the accounts closed now. We do have a card, and it has about $300 on it. It seems that to be able to do things in the world, like buy a house or a car, you have to have a credit rating, and to do that you have to borrow money and repay it. With interest.
I’m not complaining about that either. It just is. What I’m saying is, our choices messed up the first 10 years of our lives together. We were in debt to our debt. It crushed us in every way you can imagine. That is mostly over now – although we do still owe the student loan. I don’t see a good way out of that one. It’s at the tail end of a long list of debt that we couldn’t pay.
So how did we get the other credit issues resolved? One word – bankruptcy. That’s right, we paid a fee in cash to a lawyer, he wrote up some papers, we went to a judge, and he dismissed our debt. He saw what we were up against, and he forgave that debt.
I know a lot of people do this, and I tend to disagree with it for a variety of reasons. People go out and buy cars and houses and run up credit cards to furnish those houses and they have all the toys. When we filed, we didn’t have any of that. What we both did have was great jobs that pay well, and a mountain falling on us. We needed help, and we did not go into it lightly.
We had been paying for years, and we were not making a dent. We tried consolidation, snowball, Dave Ramsey, Crown Financial and about 12 other things and we were still not going to be able to pay off what we owed. So we filed bankruptcy. And it went away.
So, who pays for all that? And believe me when I say, it wasn’t all that much money. But who pays for it? Well, the company writes it off, they increase their costs, which you, the consumer, end up paying. So – you pay for it. And so do I.
Now that this little episode is several years behind us, I’m beginning to rethink all of it. Did we do the right thing? I don’t know…one thing I do know is that we were extremely uncomfortable, and being out of debt helped. We can actually function now, and we have no interest in being in debt anymore. As soon as the student loans are gone, that’ll be it. No more debt.
What brings all this on is something I heard in church this morning – We define comfort as having what we want, but God defines comfort as giving us what we need.
I think for us what it came down to was, we didn’t trust God. That is why this failure stings so much every time I think about it. We trusted ourselves, our jobs, our talents, and when those failed us we trusted the system. Did we ever once pray about it? Not that I remember. I do remember wallowing in self pity and whining a lot. But I didn’t share any of this with God, and as a result, we’re still kind of in the same place, even though the debt is gone.
Today, the pastor talked about how on the city walls, people would nail up for all to see the names of those people who could not or would not pay their debts. From time to time, someone else would take pity and pay the debt off. In that case, the paper was removed, folded over, the name of the person who paid the debt was written on the paper.
Regardless of my mistakes, regardless of how much I screw up my life, regardless of what I owe to whom, the name Jesus is written across my heart. God doesn’t see a failure. He sees a son. Beloved and worthy. Now my task it to learn to trust him, so that what he sees in his heart and mind can become real.
See how bad I messed everything up? And still God loves me. No matter what you’ve done, or not done, God still loves you all the same. He can’t love you any less, because he is love! If he did love you less, he would not be God! Learn to trust him, as I am learning. Your life will change.
Tonight, I’m going to write on paper how much we owe on our student loan, and I’m going to nail it to the wall. I’m going to pray every night that God would provide a way to get that stupid thing paid. And when he does, I’m going to fold that paper over and write his name on it in red ink. I may have it laminated at that point so that I never forget – where I’ve been, and just how much God has provided for me.