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Stories I ponder: My father-in-law and money

Friday September 15 2017

Stories I ponder: My father-in-law and money

My husband Dave has vivid memories of his parents’ arguments about money. Dave would lie awake in his bed hearing the arguments, wondering if his parents would split up and he would end up at the orphanage down the street.

Dave’s dad, Hubert, was born in 1913 and had some rough years. Soon after the depression started, his mother died, and his father fell into alcoholism and stopped providing for Hubert and his brother. The two teenagers left their home in Ohio, rode the rails to Iowa, and found work on a farm. Later they returned to Ohio and found jobs at a machine shop.

Over the years, Hubert became a self-taught engineer. In the later years of his working life, he designed expandable vehicles like bookmobiles. Because of his lack of formal education, he watched younger, better educated people advance above him in the company. He didn’t get the raises they did, and Dave’s mother was very worried about retirement. That’s a major part of what the arguments were about.

Hubert became a Christian in his late thirties. Dave remembers that when his mother would yell about money, Hubert would always answer, “God will provide for us.” He had some basis for those words. The owner of the company had always promised Hubert that he would take care of Hubert.

Hubert retired at 65 in the late 1970s, and a couple of years later the owner of the company died. In his will, he left Hubert $100,000 of stock in the company. Shortly afterwards, the company was sold, and stock holders received four times the previous value of their stock. Hubert used part of the money to build a modest house, and he invested the rest in the stock market. He enjoyed the market run up in the 1980s and early 90s.

When Hubert died in 1996, Dave and his siblings inherited more money than they could have imagined from a man who never graduated from high school. That money has given us freedom to do many things we wouldn’t have done otherwise. I am deeply grateful for the many ways our life has been easier because of our inheritance from Dave’s dad.

I ponder this story so often because it bugs me, and I can’t entirely figure out why. I should be saying, “Hey, look, Hubert trusted in God, and God rewarded that trust.” And a part of me does believe those words.

But another part of me chafes. Maybe it’s the contrast with my own upbringing in the area of money. My dad was in many ways the opposite of Hubert. My dad attended church, but in his financial dealings he trusted in his own competence with money management. My brother and I were taught from an early age how to manage money. Maybe the story bugs me because I trust in my own competence too much and God’s provision too little. I hope that’s not the case.

Maybe the story chafes because I have been very influenced by the opening chapters of Nehemiah. In the face of obstacles in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, Nehemiah says this: “So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (Nehemiah 4:9). They prayed and they acted. I believe that’s what we’re usually called to do, some combination of prayer and action. So maybe I resist Hubert’s seeming passivity about money before he received the inheritance from the company owner. Maybe “God will provide” doesn’t feel like enough to me. Maybe I wish Hubert had been able to express what he was doing to save for retirement as well as trusting in God.

Maybe I resist miracle stories that seem too simplistic, because they set up an expectation that life in Christ will be filled with miracles that always make our lives sunny and bright.

Or maybe the story reminds me of a little boy lying in bed at night feeling scared, and I hate knowing Dave suffered that way.

Despite writing this blog post and pondering Hubert and money yet one more time, I still don’t know why the story bugs me. Maybe my musings about it will trigger some helpful thoughts in you about money or miracles.

(Next week: My mom and her sister’s death. Photo of Hubert Baab in 1974. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

One year ago on this blog, a post that got a lot of feedback on the blog and on Facebook – Quotations I love: Fear and regret are thieves.

Trust and obey for there's no other way

Saturday August 8 2015

Trust and obey for there's no other way

Ten years ago my spiritual director began talking to me about trust in God. “Trust is something you need to focus on,” she said to me more than once. Several times after I described difficult situations and my conflicting emotions about them, she said, “You either trust God with this or you don’t.”

Her words about trust were like some obscure foreign language to me, maybe Sanskrit or Sioux. Sure, I’d been a Christian for several decades at that point. I’d studied the Bible and prayed in many different ways. I’d kept a Sabbath for many years and fasted many times. I’d written books on Christian spiritual practices. And I hadn’t done those things by rote. I really did desire to drawn near to God and I knew Christ was transforming me (slowly!) into his image.

But the word “trust” really didn’t resonate with me.

At that point, I was a PhD student hoping for a teaching job in a seminary. My husband and I were praying fervently for a place for me to teach, and I was doing a pretty good job of resting in God’s peace about our future. I was, in fact, trusting God for our future without using that word. (Evidently my spiritual director saw other areas where I was not trusting God very well!)

Because my spiritual director’s words about trust truly didn’t help me, challenge me or encourage me, I tuned them out. They were just confusing babble.

I wonder now if part of why I tuned them out was that I had always disliked a schmaltzy old hymn, “Trust and Obey.” The tune was sappy, and the words, which I viewed as overly simplistic, went like this: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

If I were to pick a word for what God is teaching me in 2015, trust might be that word. I find it amusing that each day I feel called by Jesus to trust him for so many things, and then to do the tasks of the day laid out for me, whatever they are. And to do those tasks in a spirit of trust and joy, not in a spirit of drudgery or irritation. If my call this day is to trust and then do what I’m supposed to do, then the words “trust and obey” work pretty well to express the goal for each day. It’s pretty amusing to circle back to a word recommended to me ten years ago and to a hymn from my early adult life that I never liked.

I’m writing about this because I want to encourage you about two things:

1. Never underestimate the significance of words of encouragement or exhortation you say to friends and family members. Maybe it will take ten years for those words to make sense to the hearer. Our job is to speak the truth in love in all situations and to leave the results up to God. Sometimes we say something to someone that we think is really important, and they totally disregard our words, which is frustrating. Maybe to them it sounds like we are speaking Sanskrit or Sioux. But maybe later on the words will have a clear meaning to them.

2. Never underestimate the effect of things you learned or heard in the past. God brings ideas and thoughts back to mind. God is in the business of transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ, and God will use an astonishing variety of things to do that, including words from a spiritual director ten years ago and words from a schmaltzy hymn.

Now, back to my central calling and privilege of the day, to trust and obey God.

(I try to post weekly on this blog. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something, sign up in the right hand column under “subscribe.”)