A Slave to Debt

“Graduate school left me more than $100,000 in debt…I was reluctant to talk to my church community about what I owed. I wrongly thought that adults should figure things out on their own.” – Tiara Jenkins

“When I was a little girl, if I had a hard time falling asleep,” said Tiara Jenkins. “My dad would sit by my bed and let me hold his big, calloused hand until I nodded off. That gesture of reaching out in the dark and feeling his hand nearby made me feel safe and secure. With my headstrong nature, I didn’t realize until I was an adult that I could reach out in the same way to God. I thought I had to handle things on my own – especially the enormous load of debt that made me financially overwhelmed. I felt I had messed my life up so badly that I wasn’t sure God would help.

“For as long as I can remember, I could draw and paint. My mom recognized my talent and encouraged me to enter in competitions and develop my skills. I wanted to be competent in my artistic abilities to mask over insecurities stemming from early childhood sexual abuse. I never found a safe place to talk about the abuse, and emotionally, the incident was pushed aside. Although I grew up in a Christian home and a healthy church environment, I felt insecure about my identity and my past and was afraid of being known.

“I studied art at Missouri Southern State University and pursued my masters at Tufts University in Boston. It was, at times, difficult to find believers in the academic field of art, but I continued to go to church. During that time, it started to seem as though my pursuit of art and my life with Christ were very separate things. I didn’t know if the Lord cared about my academic achievements and investment.

“Graduate school left me more than $100,000 in debt. In the beginning, an art degree wasn’t going to help me make a large salary, and I had no sense of where to go with my career. I was reluctant to talk to my church community about what I owed. I wrongly thought that adults should figure things out on their own.

“In Boston I attended church with a couple. When they relocated to Dallas, they invited me to move in with them, so I could get on my feet financially. That was such an awesome work of God’s protection and provision. I started working part-time at both Starbucks and Tom Thumb about 50 hours a week, paying off my student loans little by little.

“The home I lived in was near Watermark. So, I started coming here on weekends and on Tuesdays for the Careers in Motion ministry (CIM). Week by week, I met others at Watermark who could coach me on interview skills, developing my resume, and networking. God also used CIM to show me that my fear and insecurity were holding me back from connecting with others. I was afraid of being known, so if someone asked about my career, I didn’t say much. My friends at CIM got to know my strengths and helped me celebrate the skillset God had given me.

“I still felt like a slave (Proverbs 22:7) to the debt that I owed, and my church community helped me see that God’s Word was applicable to every part of my life – from my debt to how many hours I was going to work to pay it off. In the story of Nehemiah, I read how, under great opposition, the Israelites began building up the walls of Jerusalem. With ruin and hostility all around, God gave them the strength to rebuild the city. That spoke to me, and I felt confidence that, as a single woman, Christ was more than able to help me rebuild my life, too.

“Thankfully, the Lord provided me a job as a greeter at a local restaurant. Other friends in my community connected me with Dallas Baptist University, where I am also a part-time adjunct professor. I’m so thankful for both opportunities, which have allowed me to dramatically reduce my student loan debt and move into a place of my own.

“Two years ago, I joined a community group, and it has been a blessing to be known more deeply by other believers. To confess my struggles and work through life together means I’m not alone in the challenges I face, and that brings me so much joy and peace.

“I used to live and die by the value I found in my performance, and when my circumstances crashed, my self-worth plummeted. I have learned that my value is not in my job, bank balance, or how well I perform in life. My worth is found in the Lord, who allows me to freely love and care for others. Even if I lost my job or my health, it would not mean devastation. I trust God, and I know that He has good purposes for my life.

“Looking back, I know the Lord was more invested in my life and my future than I ever could have been. He was always there in pursuit of me, even as I kept Him at arm’s length. No matter how deep a hole I had worked myself into, the Lord made a way out. He has an awesome plan for my life, and He has one for yours, as well.”

For more information on Careers in Motion, visit watermark.org/CIM.

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