I never planned on college. Even though I did well in school, I was raised in a community where it was way more normal to move to distant countries to tell people about Jesus. Why spend thousands of dollars on a degree you may never use?

I was pretty humbled when I told people I’d decided to “go to college”—it didn’t sound impressive. Well, not until I mentioned New Zealand. 

Moving to New Zealand was my childhood dream come true, but also a savvy financial decision. As a Kiwi citizen, I got local tuition rates—which meant my three-year Bachelor of Education (Primary) was cheaper than my private high school in Hawaii. 

But in 2015, instead of getting a full-time teaching position, like I’d always planned, I ended up in the “non-profit sector” (one of the easiest ways to explain Youth With A Mission to a stranger). 

And I let my debt just sit there, gnawing at the back of my mind—unseen, but felt. 

Fast forward to March 2020. 

My student loan wasn’t accruing interest—and I wasn’t even earning enough to require automatic payments. I’d chipped away at it (with my parents’ and others’ amazing generosity), but still had $16k to go. Nothing compared to some, but still debt.

And with all that time in lockdown, I had a reality check. 

“Debt is not sin, but it is slavery,” Joel Milgate had preached one Sunday at church. And as I started to consider moving back to Hawaii, I knew I couldn’t move freely if I was still in debt. 

So—for the first time in too long, I logged into my student loan account. 

I found the exact amount I owed.

And I wrote it on a post-it note.

And every time I made a payment—whether it was $10, or $100—I crossed it out, and wrote the new amount underneath. There was something about seeing it that changed everything.  The physical act of crossing it out, celebrating those smallest victories, shifted my perspective in a way I desperately needed.

No longer was my student loan this unsurmountable mountain.

It could be shaved down.

Not instantly. But post-it note by post-it note. 

And the crazy thing about paying off debt?
It’s addictive. Once you see it’s possible—you want more. 

You do ridiculous things—like change careers, becoming a preschool teacher when you’re trained as elementary. You set up automatic payments, more than required. You add in Saturday-morning-side-hustles, just so you can smash it even sooner. And you pray. A lot.

And then, a year an a half in to your endeavors—when the end seems so close yet so far away—you may even get a text. One that says something like:

How much do you have left? We want to pay the rest. 

And then, in the dark, air-conditioned room where toddlers nap, you cry—because you know that ten years of debt is finally done

Suddenly, the songs make sense. 

My debt is paid
There’s nothing that can separate
My heart from Your great love

—Jesus Culture, One Thing Remains

And you might just cry some more.