“I’m sorry, Gary, but you can’t stay. You need a fourth of your tuition. That’s just school policy.”
The business manager had given me this same message three days earlier. Throughout the weekend I had gone through the small community of Grayson, Kentucky, knocking on doors offering to do odd jobs—painting, mowing, clearing brush—anything to raise $160 dollars, which (remarkably in those days) was a fourth of the tuition for my first semester at Kentucky Christian University.
I’d left home with $50 and a suitcase, selling the only thing of value that I owned—my saxophone—to raise the money. I believed God wanted me to go into ministry. My parent’s marriage had ended two years prior. I’d been in a serious accident (without insurance). My father was sued, filed for bankruptcy, and we had to sell our house and move into a small apartment. My mother was distraught, talking frequently about suicide. Life was difficult. But I wanted to go to college.
“Surely there’s a way,” I said to the business manager. “I’m willing to work. I just haven’t found a job yet. I know I can do this.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I really am.”
At that very moment, his secretary entered the office. She said, “Mr. Parrish, I just received a check in the mail payable to this young man’s account. It’s from a church in Louisville. It’s for one-fourth of Mr. Black’s tuition!”
I still remember how surreal that felt. I had done everything I could do and had come up with nothing. Nothing. And then, suddenly, God stepped in.
“You’re in,” Mr. Parrish said. “But there’s a long road to travel. Are you up for this?”
“I’m willing to work.” That’s all I could think to say. I was still stunned by the whole scene. I’d never before experienced such direct, divine intervention.
We talked for a few minutes, and as I got up to leave, his secretary came back. “Mr. Parrish, I’m still going through the mail, and I just opened another envelope with a check inside, payable to Mr. Black’s account. The donor wishes to remain anonymous. It’s for the remainder of his first semester’s tuition, and part of next semester!”
I sat back down. I felt so unworthy. So broken. So confused. “I came here to work my way through college and I reached a dead-end after one week,” I said. “I’ve never felt so desperate and defeated as when I walked in here today. It’s all so humbling.”
“Sometimes God waits until you’re desperate,” he replied.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because we need to come to the end of ourselves, and that’s a good thing,” he replied.
I’ll never forget that. That moment. Those words. That experience. And that’s how I went to college.
Every semester, for the next four years, I got another check from “anonymous” for more than half my tuition. To this day, years later, I don’t know who sent it. Obviously God sent it...through someone He prompted. Sometimes He works that way. Especially when we’re desperate.
I sometimes held three jobs at a time over the next six years (including graduate school). I occasionally hitchhiked back to Louisville when my mother was in her darkest places. Looking back, it was all a blur. An inexplicable God-venture that sometimes seemed to breathlessly move at the speed of light...and I was carried along, often exhausted, sometimes emotionally drained.
As I look back on it all, here’s my conclusion: God did it. All of it. I was merely a pawn in His divine game of chess. A willing pawn, to be sure. But He’s the King and He makes all the moves.
You know something? It still works that way today. But sometimes you only learn that...when you’re desperate.
Dearest Heavenly Father, please...keep me desperate.
* Thanks, Trevor Rapp for the photo
* Thanks, Pamela Stein @ www.amilliongodstories.com (for editing).