by Eliza Mae Lundberg

I met Eliza Mae Lundberg, and her then fiance Jon, in 2018 when they were planning their wedding. Over the years since I have enjoyed meaningful and inspiring conversations with Eliza. Knowing she would bring a young but wise perspective to our leadership team, I was thrilled when Eliza accepted the invitation to join St. John’s vestry last year. Aware that she has been going through some life transitions and facing some big questions, I invited Eliza to share her reflections as they relate to her faith and finances. While our situations are all unique I believe Eliza raises questions that we can all explore for ourselves.

Eliza and Jon were married at St. John’s in 2019. Though they have much in common, it is in a “mixed marriage” when it comes to their backgrounds with money.

Let’s go back to my nineties childhood. My dad was a penny pincher who instructed my mom on how many pieces of toilet paper she “should” be using. He was, specifically, a rich penny pincher. Old white people money from the south let him do nothing but live off of his investments and whatever else he wanted to do.

Meanwhile, Jon grew up in a family of four kids and no investments or even a savings account until two years ago. Fortunately, nobody had a health crisis. Debts were able to be consolidated. They were VERY LUCKY. Jon’s parents were not penny pinchers. To this day they are generous people and are supportive of their adult children.

Changes, losses, and traumatic experiences in her family and career left Eliza facing questions and transitions.

My dad died in 2008 and I have a bunch of his dead white people money. I don’t know what to do with it. I’m still a penny pincher like my dad.

I was a hospital nurse for 4 years, and I don’t want to be a nurse anymore. In case you haven’t heard, the American healthcare system was already on life support and COVID turned it into a complete dumpster fire. I’ve put up with abuse, harassment, being assaulted, and 12-hour shifts overnight on a three-day weekend ending in a long commute home over icy roads. I got so burned out, I would cry on the way to work, at work, on the way home from work, and any time I thought about going to work. You can imagine I never want to be in that emotional state again.

So now what?

Even a stable and healthy relationship feels a strain when questions and uncertainties about money and the future come into play.

Jon and I were fortunate to nab our dream house in 2020 before the housing market went down the tubes (all thanks to Benji Koshy, Saint John’s best realtor). Our relationship is now five years old and we’re ready to have kids.

Jon’s in school to add a Museum Studies certificate to a Bachelor’s of History. He makes a few bucks at the Minnesota History Center, hoping to someday have a historian’s position there.

I’ve been the primary income earner so far in our marriage. I just accepted a position as Client Advocate at the Saint Paul Opportunities Center. It’s part of Catholic Charities, connecting under resourced folks with needed services—everything from free laundry to vaccines. It’s the kind of work I want to do and a nice change from nursing. It also pays half as much as my old job.

It’s the first big life decision that’s kind of pitched us against each other. Even just the idea of losing half our income has put a stress on our relationship. Jon, who grew up in a family where luck played a huge factor in how their lives turned out, is understandably worried. Kids are expensive, historians are not paid what they are worth…what if I hate this new job anyway? What if our lives completely change? Eliza the Penny Pincher gets where he’s coming from, but is excited by the challenge of figuring out how to live with less.

Trying to figure out the problem sometimes leads to more and more questions, and it can be hard to untangle such an earthly mess of threads like money and race and evil and insecurity in order to find the threads that lead us to God.

Why should a perfectly healthy relationship weaken over smaller paychecks? Why do jobs that are the most important tend to pay the least? Why did my rich ancestors in the Jim Crow South think it was okay to hoard wealth? Why do I feel guilty about keeping my portion of that to pay off college loans?

Money is stupid.

And most importantly, how does my faith come into this? Some of the most sacred moments of my life have been inside my relationship with Jon. I feel the Holy Spirit nudging me somewhere to do something, but I’m not sure what.

My old youth pastor used to say “God’s will is less like a target you can hit and more like a playground with a fence around it”. In other words, no matter what questions come up, I’m safe on this playground, counting pennies and wrestling with ethical questions and cutting ties with financial security. Because these are God’s toys and God’s tools, and God is on this playground with me.

Does any of this sound familiar? What changes, loss, or traumatic experiences have left you facing questions and transitions? When have uncertainties about money and the future put a strain on your relationships? How have you been able to find your way back to God? Please consider sharing your reflections, you never know who will benefit from hearing your story.

Thank you Eliza for your insightfulness and courage to share your reflections and questions with us honestly. And, thank you for your leadership on vestry and your work in the world, you are a blessing. I will be praying with you as you embark on this next step.

If you would like tools and support to help you deal with difficulties around money and live the abundant life that is promised to us in Christ, please reach out to me or a member of the clergy. It is our privilege to walk with you through all your joys and hardships. Contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull.

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