Friday, October 12, 2007

Giving money back

God's timing is a funny thing. So often he brings us into situations which test our faith just as we are learning and studying that very aspect of faith. Such is the case in the last few months as Amy and I have been praying about and working through the finances as we prepared for a move into a new hous, not to mention helping to lead a Crown Ministries small group at our church. Three times in the last few months, we have been presented with situations in which we were given money that we should not have been given, and each time it has been both harder and easier to give the money back.

The first situation was a case with a Health Savings Account at work. Because we are on a high deductible health plan, my employer's share of the premiums for my covereage has gone down (as has my part of the premiums) and in return, they make a generous contribution to our HSA to be used towards the higher deductible. They made that contribution in January, as detailed in the plan literature, but then made a duplicate contribution in June. After waiting a pay cycle to see if the mistake would be corrected without my intervention, it took four phone calls and several hours of my time to convince people that we should not have been given that money, and to please take it back.

That was finally resolved and my account showed the adjustment, only to show another employer contribution a few days later! I again waited to make sure I was not just seeing an echo of the first adjustment or something that would shake out in the wash. After realizing it would not go away, I again called and started the process of letting them know that they had erroneously contributed too much to my HSA.

In the meantime, I got an email letting me know that my cell phone company had received my rebate request and was processing the information for my $400 rebate. The problem is, I only applied for a $100 rebate - $50 per phone for two phones. I try to avoid rebates, but the corporate buying website had a better price on the phones than the carrier's direct sales channel even before the rebate, so the rebate was just gravy anyway. But now it looked like a whole flood of gravy instead of just a nice dollop.

Well, I waited, figuring that their automated systems might have mis-stated something and maybe the cap was $400. Maybe they quoted that amount by default and then would get the correct amount when they actually looked at my paperwork. Maybe not...

I'm still waiting for my employer to straighten out the HSA because apparently whoever adjusted it the first time made a right mess of things in terms of the tax reporting systems, etc. That may take a while. In the meantime, a rebate check for $400 arrived in the mail. I called my cell phone carrier this morning and spent 30 minutes on the phone explaining that my rebate was too big (they weren't quite sure what to do with my wanting to give money back...) After making sure I knew that it was "just" a matter of integrity, and that there was nothing printed on the check about them chasing me for an incorrect rebate, they transferred me to the rebate group (actually a separate company) who was quite happy to stop payment on the first check and request a new check for the correct (smaller) amount, to be mailed within 15 business days...

I suppose some folks might read this and think I'm crazy. If you're asking why I'm doing this, and why I didn't "Go on, take the money and run", the answer is a pursuit of honesty and integrity in my life as a result of God's holiness and love. I honestly had to ask myself how much effort was too much effort to go through to give this money back. But I had to try, because the bottom line is that it was not my money. It is not even my employer's or my cell phone carrier's. It all belongs to God, and He would have me be an honest steward of it.

Be holy, for I am holy.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Better is the poor who walks in his integrity, than he who is crooked though he be rich.

Like I said at the beginning, it wasn't easy, and it didn't mean I didn't think about what I could have done with that money. It would have been easy to justify keeping it and considering it "an unexpected blessing." But, as I work through what it means to really be a wise steward, to hold losely what is not mine (which is everything), and to seek to serve God with all that he has put in my management, I have to say that those justifications would have been empty, and would have come from a feeling of needing to provide for myself rather than rest in faith on God's provision and holiness. I pray Sydney and Peter will learn the same lessons, and maybe even go through less pain to get there than I have over the years.

(Note: Comments lost in the migration to Blogger)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

This just in - Christians believe in Christianity

So I'm reading a news site and I see a headline titled Coulter: Jews Need to Be Perfected with a subtitle of "Columnist's comments about Jews, that America would be better off if we all were Christian, stun cable talk show" The article starts off with "Slash-and-burn columnist Ann Coulter shocked a cable TV talk-show audience Monday when she declared that Jews need to be 'perfected' by becoming Christians, and that America would be better off if everyone were Christian."

Reading the transcript of the interview, I am more shocked by Mr. Deutsch's apparent incredulity that a Christian (Ms. Coulter) would believe that the world would be better off if everyone were a Christian. What?!?! You believe you are right?!?! And you think everyone else should have faith in the same Savior who died for your sins to provide forgiveness and peace with God?!?!? But what about all those other ways to reach God?!?! What!?!? Sure, Jesus says he is the only way, but you're "too educated" to believe something like that!

I realize that, for many, suggesting anything as shocking as the idea that the Jewish faith is wrong on national TV (in America, no less) is equivalent to declaring there was no holocaust, or that there should not be a Jewish state in the middle east. Notice from the transcript that Mr. Deutsch actually inferred that Ann Coulter was proposing wiping Israel off the face of the map...

Now, I'm not saying that Ann Coulter expressed her opinion in a way that was clear and concise, or that she defended her statements well. Of course, I've only read the transcript, and didn't see the dialog unfold, so I'm not going to attack too stridently. She might have taken time to provide more context. She might have pointed out that many religions (including Judaism) believe they are the only true faith. She might have pointed out that a failure to want everyone else to have that true faith is equivalent to wanting others to be misled and spend the afterlife in a place other than the one in which the believer is wanting to spend the afterlife. But of course that would not have done anything to diminish Mr. Deutsch's accusations of anti-Semitism or equating Ms. Coulter to President Ahmadinejad.

In the end it's just a reaction to the belief that there is objective truth, right and wrong, and a God who has revealed Himself and provided one way to salvation. And as such, it's certainly nothing new under the sun, even if Mr. Deutsch is "too educated" to know better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nine wonderful years

Nine years ago today, Amy became Mrs. Bredenberg. Or Mrs. Dr. Bredenberg. Or Dr. Mrs. Bredenberg. Or… whatever…

The point is, I want to say Happy Anniversary to my wonderful wife! Thank you for the all of the love and hard work. I pray God blesses us with many, many more wonderful years together.

I love you, sweetheart!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Define Satisfaction…

Do you enjoy getting phone calls asking you to give your feedback on customer satisfaction? Does anyone enjoy these? I suppose if I had an axe to grind, I might relish the opportunity to give feedback, but most of the time it is just plain annoying.

Why is it then, that the Volkswagen dealership where we take our car for service feels a compulsion, bordering on obsession, to get our feedback every single time we have the car in for any type of service? If we take it in for warranty work, they call to get our opinion. If we take it in for regularly scheduled maintenance, they call until we relent and give them our input. Even the odd oil change when timing and convenience leads us to take it there rather than a local shop triggers a barrage of phone calls that has begun to cause paranoia in yours truly. I know their caller id listing. They call me at work, they call my cell phone, they call at home. When I walk by a phone booth and it rings, I break into a run…

I mean really, what’s so hard about this? I obviously keep coming back. Does that sound like dissatisfaction to you? If I ever decide to go elsewhere, one of the reasons I’ll list is the terribly annoying phone calls. Sure, I could answer them the first time and get them off my back, but really, I have better things to do while at work than to pick up the phone and answer, on a scale of 1 to 5, 20 questions covering topics such as how easy it was to make an appointment, how clean the lobby was when I picked up my car, and whether the music playing at the cashier’s booth was pleasing or not…

Maybe the next time they call, I will pick up the phone, ask them not to call me anymore, and tell them that if I get another call from their silly customer satisfaction survey folks, I’ll never set foot in the dealership again.

Can I get an amen, or have I gone off the deep end?

More wisdom of Sydney

Passing on something humorous that Sydney has said is always one of my favorite reasons to write on this site. In fact, I could really do that almost every day, but some gems stand out and just have to be posted no matter what else is going on. So here goes…

I was driving with Sydney the other day and the sun had set by the time we started home. It was one of those days on which she had fallen asleep during her quiet time and so bedtime was later than usual. In addition, I wanted to give Amy a few minutes to breathe at the end of the day, so Sydney got to join me for some late errands. As we drove home, Sydney commented that it was dark outside. I agreed with her and, recalling other conversations where she linked darkness with the Sun going down, I asked her why it was dark. Her response?

"Because… For God’s own glory!"

Now who’s going to argue with that?

You may recognize that as the answer to the kids’ catechism question that asks why God made all things.

I can tell that Sydney is really starting to work at figuring out God’s place in her world, as His name comes up more frequently when she’s reaching for an answer. The other day I asked Sydney (as happens entirely too often in our new house as we organize and get settled) not to get a particular item down on her own, and to ask Mommy or Daddy if she wanted to use this item (I can’t even remember what it was…).

Her response was to look at me and say "Or I can ask God." Umm… well… no. I mean yes, but no! Yes, we ask God for many things during our prayer times, but… In the end I just said "No, you have to ask Mommy or Daddy." I can see God becoming the equivalent of an imaginary friend who authorizes any behavior for which Sydney feels the need to blame someone. But boy, did she throw me for a loop when she dished that one up!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Settling in

Yes, we’re settling in to our new house! Despite a few issues last week, everything ended well, and we had time to clean up the old house and get it ready for its new owner before the handover on Friday.

The biggest snag was that the movers did not show up on Wednesday as had been agreed upon over the phone. When I called them to see where they were, they said they had us on the books for Thursday, and that there was no way they could scratch a crew up to get us moved Wednesday. I don’t think they entirely believed that they had made a mistake, they were so confident that their notes had to be complete and accurate. But, we made the best of it (after Amy convinced me not to rent a truck and do it myself…) and spent Wednesday organizing what we had already moved to the house ourselves and moving a few more things so we could spend the night there as we had planned. I also took the opportunity to wire the key areas of the house for our network so we’d be up and running once Verizon paid a visit on Thursday. Between a surprisingly comfortable air mattress, a stack of blankets and pillows for Sydney, and a pack-n-play for Peter, we enjoyed the night in the new, almost entirely empty house.

Thursday morning the movers showed up, and in no time flat (they said we were their favorite move of the week because we had things so well organized, dressers emptied, crib disassembled, etc) they had us loaded and we were off to the new house. Amy and a friend from church went to the old house that night to clean up while I moved over all of the computer equipment and network gear.

Let me stop here and just say that we had a tremendous amount of help with this move, none more appreciated than all the time my Mom selflessly gave both watching the kiddos while we moved as well as helping Amy unpack and get the new house ready to live in. We couldn’t have made this move without her! A handful of folks from church also helped us with the things we did not want the professional movers to handle as well as all the prep work on the old and new houses. And our first houseguest, Matt Reichenbach, was pressed into service this weekend on a number of tasks such as getting the garage organized and ready to park a car in. He didn’t complain once! Our heartfelt thanks to you all!

The new owner of our old house made a comment that "moving is a lot of work, and not fun!" While I heartily agree with that comment as it affects packing, moving, and cleaning, I have to say that unpacking and arranging things in our new house has been fun, though still a lot of work. We love the new house and the extra room it affords, and it has been fun to think about and execute on an organization scheme that does not require as much creative use of space (think kids’ clothing and toys…)

I hope to put up some "before and after" pictures to compare the two houses, but since we didn’t think to take fresh pictures of the old house before we moved, I’ll have to go back through my files and dig out pictures we took when painting, etc. In the meantime, we’d love to have more visitors! We had our small group study over last night, and we’ll be having our church fellowship group over this Friday for dinner, followed by some friends and their kids on Saturday morning. If that doesn’t indoctrinate the new house, I’m not sure what will!