After college, I racked up over $35,000 of student loan debt. While making minimum payments, I only cleared $15,000 of it in 4 years.
Last year, I was determined to move to a new city. But worried that would mean it’d take an insane amount of time before I ever paid off my debt—which would put a dent in my plans to enjoy the new city, travel, and eat out all the time ($$$).
Dave Ramsey & Napoleon Hill
So I started listening to The Dave Ramsey Show again to get “gazelle intense” about paying off my debt. I also read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, which refocused my thinking to chase after one DEFINITE DESIRE—which became to slaughter my debt.
In one of the episodes, Dave mentioned his team was doing a ton of hiring. I had a lightbulb moment. What better way to pay off my debt FASTER than to WORK for a company that is determined to help the world get (and stay) out of debt?
From $15k in 4 Years to $20k in 1 Year
Long story short, I now have the honor of working for Ramsey Solutions. Being surrounded by my team and all our debt-free teachings helped me stay focused so that it only took 12 months to pay off the other $20,000 of my student loan.
That’s right—it took me 4 years to pay off $15,000 doing it my way. And it took 1 year to pay off $20,000 doing it the Ramsey way. This stuff works.
To celebrate, here’s a story created by an 8-year-old boy in his 2nd-grade classroom. This brilliant kid somehow subconsciously crafted a Giant metaphor for Debt.
As promised, here’s a look at what the second half of our days were like after each soccer program.
Christian Stuff like Vacation Bible School
Each afternoon, we rode our bus to a very small schoolhouse (3 classrooms) to run a VBS (vacation bible school… Basically a 5-day, 3-hour church camp for kids). The schoolhouse was located in a nearby rural area, Subiditas (until this, I didn’t realize that Santiago is considered an “urban” area).
From Motels & Bars to Dirt Roads & Scattered Shacks
To get there, we turned off the smooth paved roads of Santiago and onto a long bumpy dirt road. Scenery instantly switched from gas stations, motels, bars, and auto shops to open fields, trees, scattered shacks, and minuscule signs of life.
Grouping 100 Panamanians
Around 3 pm, about 100 Panamanian kids met our team at the schoolhouse. With the help of Spanish translators, we split them up into four age groups and lead them to the first of four activity stations (my group included about 20 or so niños, age 13-17).
My group started with a pickup soccer game, rotated to snack time, a bible story, a Jesus-related craft, and then ended with worship music.
Asking Girls If They’re Men
During snack on the first day I asked some of the girls in my group, “Tu tienes hombre?” (“Are you hungry”?… or so I thought). They widened their eyes at me, then laughed at each other (the first of many recurring occasions). Later I found out “hombre” is man and “hambre” is hungry). A great way to build trust is to ask girls if they’re men. Try it sometime.
Christian Stuff like Testimonies
We ended each VBS with a testimony from a member of our group. Christians use the word “testimony” to refer to the story on how they became convinced of their sin, asked for divine forgiveness, and committed to pursue a spiritually refining relationship with Jesus.
How to Become a Christian
Students and teachers from the Penfield Charles Finney School, along with adults from my church, all shared their testimonies throughout the week. Afterwards, we asked the Panamanians (kids and parents), who were convinced of their sin, to accept Jesus’ execution as their own punishment, and to start a new pursuit of divine obedience through use of his sinless life.
Not Excited About New Christians
These invitations often leave me wondering if those who say they do really do become Christians. Many Christians get very excited about those who respond to these invitations, but I usually don’t. It’s hard for me to be instantly excited because Jesus taught that a true believer will naturally produce evidence of their new decision (John 15:1-8). And I believe this evidence may take time.
Excited About Cleaned Hearts
So I didn’t get very excited when many of the Panamanians showed they wanted to become Christians. But I am excited when I see Panamanians like Yorniel who responded to Jesus last year.
Our first year, Yorniel made a joke of our program and kept teasing others about masturbation and homosexuality. But after responding to Jesus, I haven’t heared him make any more dirty jokes. Instead, he’s always smiling and patting others on the back.
This year, Yorniel brought his friends and biked nearly 2 hours outside of his hometown to come and support our VBS. Instead of crude jokes, he made quick friends with anyone there. It’s like his heart has been cleaned.
Here’s a rundown of what our days are like now that our 5-day soccer camp is in full swing at Santiago, Panama (I’ll add what the VBS is like in another post).
From Hotel to Soccer Stadium
We have breakfast in the hotel at 7 am (where we read daily encouraging letters we brought from home). Then we ride a rented bus for less than 5 minutes to a local soccer stadium (Estadio Toco Castillo), and unpack our goalnets, soccer balls, cones, pinnies, sound equipment, and lunch supplies.
Soccer Field Setup
From 8ish-9 am we setup the field for 3-4 different age-group stations and prepare the sound equipment before camp begins.
Registration for 100 Kids
At 9 am, around 100 kids (sometimes with parents) flood the stadium and signin to receive an orange wristband (which doubles as a voucher for their free lunch).
Warmups with H.S. Athletes
Next, we split them up into age groups, do warmups, drills, and scrimmages lead by our soccer players, the coach, and president of Finney (an interpreter joins each group to translate our instructions into Spanish).
Speaking Spanish to Kiddos
I’m no soccer player, so I just attempt to communicate with the Panamanian kids. I try to learn their names and practice remembering Spanish phrases by typing them in the Notes app of my iPhone.
For example, this year I mastered “encantado de conocerte” (nice to meet you), “gusto en verte (nice to see you), and “buen trabajo” (good job)… Though, the niños probably wouldn’t agree with me on that.
Some Jesus Time
In between drills and scrimmages, we take a break to share about our belief in Jesus. Each session includes one excerpt from the bible and an explaination on how it has taught our team something valuable about Jesus.
Drinking Mud Water
We try to make this part interactive for the kids through illustrative challenges. For example, the first day we used a cup of clean water to represent what we were like when God created us. Then asked the niños to plop handfuls of dirt into the cup to represent choices like lies, lust, hate, etc. that ruin our original design. We asked if they’d drink the mud water and they shook their heads, “NO”! We explained that once the dirt goes in, we can’t make the water clean by picking out the dirt. We need to filter out the dirt with minerals, just like how we need Jesus to take the punishment for our wrong choices to return to our pure design.
Brown Bag Goodbyes
After soccer, we gather the Panamanians on the bleachers and feed them bagged lunches before it’s time to say “hasta mañana” (see you tomorrow).
We landed in Panama City at around 10 pm Monday night and met up with our missionary contact Terry after customs (where they stamp your passport and make you feel important).
We loaded up a bus with luggage, supplies, and humans and rode to a nearby hotel for the night.
Tuesday we left the city hotel at 8 am and took a large bus to Santiago. We arrived at the Hotel Grand David by lunchtime.
Missionaries & Pizza
Missionary Terry’s wife Bridgett and their two kids brought us (homeland) Dominoes pizza. After lunch, the construction team went to mix concrete at the site where they’ll build the church.
My team walked from our hotel to a nearby village to handout fliers and personally invite the community to our soccer camp (the missionary kids spoke/translated for us). Before we divided up into smaller “advertising” groups, we asked God to help us be well received and benefit the community with our influence.
Talking to Locals
Even though I don’t speak more then three words of Spanish, talking to the locals is my favorite part. When you’re a foreigner, you get away with socially awkward, or even taboo, types of things. I love that.
Getting Away with Social Awkwardness
My group (about seven of us) stood outside the gates of several hut-shaped houses and yelled “buenas” (a greeting) until someone came out. I handed the missionary’s teen daughter Amber one of the camp fliers as she introduced us “gringos” (Americans who aren’t Hispanic / Latino) and invited the homeowners to our program.
I had no idea what was actually being said, but I pretended like I did. It’s just funny to me that the homeowners are cool with a bunch of strangers hollering at them to come to the door and chat. Everyone we talked to took the flier and seemed to respond positively.
Later in the night I joined my friend Jim (our group’s youth pastor) to “creatively” communicate with the workers at a super market.
Jim wanted to buy a water bottle/thermos, but we could only find toddler-sized bottles. So we pointed to the small bottle and said, “No niño” (No kid), “Si hombre” (Yes man), with even more clever hand gestures. The lady worker was very kind to us American idiots. She said, “Ah, si. Grande” (Ah, yes. Big), and walked us to the adult-sized water bottles. Sadly, Jim’s new bottle doesn’t work… But that’s another story.
Sorry for my hiatus, friends. I’ve been taking a break to rethink the purpose of this blog.
While I continue to rethink, I wanted to share with you some insight about Christian stuff.
I’m going on my third mission trip (tho many refer to them as”missionS trips” for some reason) with my local church this week.
Our team includes a group of about 30 adults and teens from Living Word AG (Ontario, NY) and the Charles Finney School (Penfield, NY).
From Rochester to Panama
We’ll head from Rochester to Panama City and bus out to join a missionary family (originally from New York) in Santiago, Panama.
How to Church in Another Country
There, some of us will construct a community church, while my group will run a soccer camp and VBS (vacation bible school… Basically a week long Sunday school program full of bible stories, music, games, snacks, and crafts) for the niños (ages from tiny to teens).
This will be our group’s third and final annual trip (as far as we know) doing mission work in Santiago.
I’m most looking forward to see some students I made pals with on the first trip: Yorniel and his sister Yerling. Yorniel’s a joker. The other kids call him “Coco” (crazy).
Too Cool to Sing Jesus Songs
My first year he was “too cool” to sing Jesus songs. My second year he was crying at the alter call.
Weird Things like Alter Calls
For readers unfamiliar with Christianeze, an “alter call” is a common closing to a pastor’s message where he calls listeners to come forward as a physical response to the message or sermon he gave from the bible.
It usually means the person who walks forward has made a decision to believe the gospel and wants to receive Jesus’ atonement for sin and gain a new eternal life.
Spiritual Conversations in Spanish
A translator helped me ask Yorniel why he was crying. He told me the pastor’s words made something inside his heart hurt, and so he came out to the soccer field.
While I’ve had several conversations with nonbelievers about Jesus and Christianity, I’ve never really “lead” anyone to a decision for Christ. So I wasn’t really prepared with much to say to Yorniel.
But then I thought of my own experience and shared with Yorniel that I too hurt when I saw how disgusting my secret self was in comparison to what God created me to be.
Then He Heals
But then I shared that the awesome thing is believing Jesus took the punishment for our wrongness brings healing. It fixes a broken relationship. And then we become friends with the creator of the universe. After our talk, Yorniel gave me a hug.
While Yorniel’s community is not full of a ton of positive Christian influence, I am interested to see where he’s at after last year.
If nothing else, his story reminds me of the heart of redemption and why I believe in Christianity.
Sorry if you’re not a “poem person,” but I took a poetic approach this week. My poem was inspired by Grant Wood’s “January” (that guy who painted those funny farmers in American Gothic).
(Image: Grant Wood’s “January” – 67 x 83 cm, oil on canvas. Created in 1940, Wood was about 49 years old [died at 51 of pancreatic cancer]).
“Of Corn Shocks and Rabbits”
By Michael B. Colling
Endless rows of snow-covered corn shocks, frozen
in formation. January’s cold breath blackens the
sky. Yellow stalks twine upwards like nomadic
tepees. And he, and you, and I. We are Nomads.
My layers of corn – stalks of cereal bowls, comic
strips, and yearbooks; husks of hospital visits, haircuts
and hyperthyroid; shucks of sisters-in-law, Christmas, and
crappy cars; strands of careers, laughter and cancer – I bundle
them together. But hoarfrost crippled my corn
shock bones. Beneath pale yellow ribs: thu-thump, thu-thump. Something inside I fear
to release. And he, and you, and I. We are Afraid.
Corn shock cracks. A rabbit hops onto the belly of snow,
grazes a transcendent terrain. Footprints puncture the frozen
flesh of January. When Nomadic Tent is abandoned,
a Fearless Rabbit trots towards Eternal Hills.
On average, it takes me two hours to buy groceries.
Since I live alone and shop for one, you may think two hours is sad. Maybe even irritating.
And it is.
But I must. And here’s why…
2 Things that Happen Every Time I Shop at Wegmans
1. I Talk to Cookies
I’m not sure if it’s just because they were the only things I ate as a kid, or because the radiant packaging mesmerizes my eyes, but I always stop to stare at the cookie aisle.
I like to see my old friends: Oreos, Pop-Tarts, E.L. Fudge cookies, Ho Hos, and Oatmeal Creme Pies.
I wave. “Hi guys. I miss you.”
They light up and respond, “Mike… Can’t we just–”
“No.” I shake my head. “I’m sorry.”
Holding back tears, I flee to the next aisle.
2. I Engulf Nutrition Facts
My next delay makes me think of a Ricky Gervais film.
In The Invention of Lying there’s an oddly honest Coke ad that makes me wish I lived in that world. Since “lying” wasn’t yet invented, the commercial could only provide the absolute truth. The advertiser bluntly explains that Coke is famous sugar water that can lead to obesity.
In college, I discovered that half the reason I only ate junk food was because of its rapturous packaging (the other half was for the sugar). Thankfully, a nutrition class taught me that Nutrition Facts labels require advertisers to be as honest as Coke in The Invention of Lying.
It takes me forever to grocery shop because I force myself to hunt through the shimmering surface of diabetic boxes to find foods with over 5 grams of fiber/protein, under 5 grams of sugar, and ingredients that I can actually imagine being grown.
After my two-hour voyage through Wegmans, It’s sometimes surprising to find that the only items accompanying me to checkout are milk, oatmeal, lentils, rice, and bananas.
In fact, the 2000 film, Cast Away had eleven-year-old me so hooked that, in the theater, I prayed Tom Hanks’ volleyball companion, Wilson, would come back after drifting off the raft into the deep dark abyss.
I think that was the first time I ever prayed for a volleyball.
I was a castaway, too, once.
On my third year of college, I moved out from under my parents’ roof for the first time. I rented a room in the basement of a lady’s house. My new campus was a far walk from the house, and I didn’t have a car. It was just me, my bicycle, and the daunting approach of a cruel Upstate New York winter.
Until my first night alone, I didn’t realize how much I clung to my parents, friends, and cozy life at home. The instant my parents drove away, I was struck with fear.
Everything made me panic. I spent what felt like hours trying to attach a U-lock to my bike like my life depended on it. I kept telling myself: “If you don’t get this on right, someone’s going to steal your bike and you’ll spend the semester trudging through snow. You’ll get sick, fail your classes, and spend the next 20+ years paying back thousands of dollars for nothing”. The same panic occurred when I was in a rush to get to class and unplugged my phone during an update (NEVER DO THIS). It went black and I couldn’t breathe until it was fixed.
It was like I spent my whole life floating on a tube that suddenly popped. No more parents arranging my rides, or means to communicate. I had to buy my own groceries, do my own laundry, remember to eat and pay bills. It was like learning to swim by gasping for air.
Solitude strips you of everything. It isolates you from relationships that made you feel loved, important, funny, pretty, or intelligent. It leaves you with no one. No one to blame, and no one to impress. It leaves you with nothing. Just skin and bones.
And you finally see what’s underneath it all.
What’s under the skin and bones.
What lurks inside your core.
On a warm day, I worked on grammar homework near the canal. A paddling of ducks flapped out of the water and waddled over to a nearby tree to gobble up cherries. I plucked some cherries off the picnic table and fed them to a duck. The scene reminded me of words I’ve read:
“Look at the birds of the air;
they do not sow or reap or store away in barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not much more valuable than they?”
It’s remarkable to watch ducks approach random trees, expecting a meal, and be fed. It’s even more remarkable to think I can do the same.
This sobering thought kept refining itself in me until my final semester, when I applied for an English teaching job in South Korea. The night I was officially hired, I lay in bed awake, trembling.
My old panic returned: “How will you get your visa on time? How will you eat without knowing Korean? How will you use your phone in a foreign country? What if you can’t stomach the food? What if your glasses break?” – but then it cut short.
I remembered my first night of panic in my room, and that my bike never got stolen, and that God even feeds ducks.
I allowed my comfort to drift off into the deep dark abyss, and my summer in South Korea went on to be one of the most defining seasons of my life.
Speaking of castaways, my next guest is my very own Californian brother, Joshua. Enjoy the sweet, yet unsatisfying taste, of this mock preview.
See you next Monday, October 12th, for the actual episode!
In the dream, my family watched in horror as the October sun set in our backyard. Then, swarms of ghosts emerged from the horizon, heading for our house. (They looked like Super Mario ghosts, since those were the only kind I knew).
Once the ghosts descended, they tried to suck out our souls as we ran, screaming. My grandma played a hero. She whacked most of them with a broom, until the sun rose and made them disappear.
When I grew out of the nightmare, it was replaced with a new one.
Come for Candy, Leave with Jesus
The church my parents took us to once stockpiled us with Jesus booklets for Halloween night. I remember sitting in the living room watching TV when one group of trick-or-treaters came to our door. My dad plopped a Jesus booklet into each of their candy bags.
That was the first and last time I ever remember trick-or-treaters coming to our house.
Even though I’m a Christian – and would probably agree with what the booklet said about Jesus – I just can’t imagine a sugar-lusting kid, gorging on his candy trove, picking up that booklet, and finding salvation as his mouth swelled with cavities.
Then again, maybe the booklet would help kids come to Jesus the day after, when their dentist injected them with novocaine and started gnashing their teeth with a drill.
Being “Christian” on Halloween
Halloween was a confusing time as a Christian kid.
I remember my dad carving jack-o’-lanterns and our family enjoying Halloween TV specials. But then my parents would pull me out of school before the older kids put on a show in their Halloween costumes.
I was told that Halloween was evil, and that it shouldn’t be celebrated. In fact, I was never allowed to go trick-or-treating. I became so embarrassed about it that when my classmates asked me what I was dressing up as for Halloween, I squeezed out made up answers. Eventually, one of my closer friends, Nick, found out I wasn’t allowed to go trick-or-treating. He felt so bad that he started sharing his batch of Halloween candy with me on the bus.
My Dad Used a Ouija Board
Finally, my dad told me a story about an experience he and a friend had with a Ouija board. I think his fear in communicating with an evil spirit was the start of why he was so adamant about not allowing us to “celebrate” what Halloween seemed to represent.
Don’t worry, I don’t have any psychological scars for never being allowed to trick-or-treat. But now, fifteen years later, I do enjoy the creativity and imagination of Halloween. I appreciate the elaborately designed settings of haunted hayrides/houses, and their progression of suspense. And of course, I still like carving pumpkins and watching Halloween TV specials.
If anything bothers me about Halloween, it would probably be those lawn scenes of demons committing bloody murder. Speaking of which, I should really take mine down.
Now that kiddos are back to school, I’ve been reminiscing about my favorite September things.
Besides the fact that I enjoyed going back to school (for the first two days), there was always something that made me love September.
And that was: NEW STUFF.
Allow me to list a few examples,
New school supplies
New opportunities to pretend I didn’t choose my seat to sit next to a pretty girl
But most important of all was… NEW TV SHOWS.
I was sufficiently trained by Saturday Morning Cartoons, TGIF, and primetime reruns of Seinfeld to later pride myself in spotting a show that’d “make it” just by watching the trailer.
I clung at the chance to watch a show that crashed a plane of people onto an island and killed off main characters every couple of episodes. I beckoned my brothers to watch a comedy where the bizarre premise was to interview people who worked at a paper company. I fought with my friends to convince them that a show about a guy telling his kids how he met their mother was a tormentingly awesome idea.
Fall-time TV was the best.
As a token of my appreciation for the newness of September, I’m starting my own video channel. Season 1 kicks off with interviews of some fascinatingly ordinary people.
Stay tuned for episode 1, being released Monday, September 14 at 7:00 PM (EST).