Stephen, we can't help you pay for college as much as we would like to," said my dad from across the dinner table. "That means you'll probably have to take out some loans."
"I know, Dad."
My parents worked in the public school system, so we didn't have the largest cash flow in the world. But I also knew from my older sister's experience that I probably didn't qualify for much financial aid. On top of that, my parents were big believers in Christian high school. A lot of the money that would have gone toward my college education was being spent on private education for my younger siblings and me.
"While we can't afford to pay for your college," Mom said as she put her hand on my arm, "we believe God will make a way for you to attend the exact school he has for you."
Football and good grades will be my ticket to college, I thought. I had done well in school and even better on the field. So, I started contacting coaches at several colleges, asking them about scholarship offers. Many of the schools I liked were way too expensive, but I kept hoping and praying. Sometime during the middle of those prayers, I got a call from the coach at Sterling College. I decided to visit the campus.
Sterling's coach really impressed me. He made it clear that an athletic program was about more than just winning games. As we walked across the football field, he said, "Stephen, I want to help guys become real men of God. That's why I coach."
While I really liked Sterling, the scholarship the school offered wasn't enough. I had many conversations with Sterling and other colleges, weighing the cost of each school. When everything was on the table, Sterling's financial package wasn't as good as some of the other schools. I could go where school was the cheapest, or I could go where I felt God was leadingSterling.
I wondered if my parents would feel the same. It was time for another conversation.
"Mom, Dad, I know it may not make the most financial 'sense' to go to Sterling. But I feel like God wants me there, so I'm willing to take on some more loans."
"It does seem like God has opened the door for you there, Stephen," Dad said with a serious but gentle tone in his voice. "We're all for it as long as you realize you'll be paying off loans after college."
"Besides, it's about where the Lord wants you," said Mom. "And you'll be a lot happier if you're walking in the Lord's will."
Dad nodded affirmingly. "We can make it work. We've been helping your sister with some of the smaller stuff: books, gas for trips home, some food here and there. We'll do that for you as much as we can."
"And remember," Mom added, "your grandma started a college plan for you through a 529 savings account when you were born. We put a little money in there, too. That can help pay for some of your schooling."
I was finally smiling. "Well, that's it. I'm going to Sterling."
It's been a journey of faith for me. I sometimes wonder how I will pay for the next semester. I also sometimes worry about paying off my loans. But as I've been striving to trust God, he's shown up in awesome ways. Last summer, for example, my parents and I withdrew the money in my savings account and got a nice surprise. The money that had accrued ended up paying for almost this entire past year of school!
I continue to trust that since God is the one who called me to Sterling, he'll help me pay for my education. He's already done so much to get me where I am, and that's a miracle in itself.
Stephen is a senior at Sterling College, where he plays on the football team, is involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and serves as a resident assistant.