October 31, 2011

Of Late Fees and Beatitudes

We bought a stove after eight months of cooking with two burners and having no oven. It was a good deal: half price, discounted, discontinued, last one in stock. We could not have done better! And then the clerk offered us an even steeper discount if we signed up for the credit card. We are fiscally conservative and owe no credit card debt. So we did it. And promptly paid the balance when the payment came due.

And then came the perfect storm.

The payment, while made on time, was just late enough in the day that it went through the following business day, accruing a slight penalty, which we did not know we had because we had mistakenly signed up for paperless billing.  But we paid in full. No bill, no worries, right?

Except for the automated phone calls. “Sorry we missed you. Please call us about your Sears card” every time I picked up the phone. You didn’t miss me! Here I am! Talk to me! Since nobody would talk, I assumed it was another offer. More credit. Lower rates. We didn’t need either. I didn’t call.

No e-mails either. I pay the bills in our house and everything goes to my e-mail account. No e-mails, no worries, right?

Except when Matt finally called to please ask that we no longer receive the annoying daily phone calls we found out the slight penalty had snowballed three months worth of interest. Frustrated, he used his “ma’am” voice to explain clearly and without a doubt that we had NO idea of the penalty, that we had NO idea what the phone calls were about and that we would have paid the bill right away IF we had known about it. They waved the fee and gave us the benefit of the doubt. 

Problem solved, right?

Except it was still the perfect storm.

A month later we found out our bank would start charging $5 a month for the use of the debit card unless you had multiple types of accounts with them. We’d been wanting to re-finance so it was the right time to switch mortgages and avoid silly monthly fees.

So Matt went to the bank confident in our great credit and little debt to be told we had a small blemish that kept us from the best possible rates. No guesses here: the Sears card small late fee on a very expensive stove.

We called Sears, we raged and ranted, we reminded them of what we’d bought, that this was ludicrous over such a small amount, that we did not know about the fee, and on and on. They politely explained they would send it to their referral department and let us know.  “By the way,” they said, “it probably won’t get changed because it is not the bank’s error. But you can try…” Hopes dashed. This blemish would stay on our credit for seven years. So much for good rates for a while…

So what do Christians do when in trouble? We asked our church to pray. And they did. But I didn’t hold much hope because, after all, we had made a mistake and well, when you don’t pay your bill you get stuck with the bill collectors. Is God able to take care of such silliness? Sure, but He would take care of our needs either way, so why not let life take its course? Anyway, that’s theology for another day.

In any case, I happened to mention to Matt while we waited for the dreaded results that Sears should have at least sent us an e-mail reminder that we had a paperless bill. Every other company does and…that’s when he said: “Maybe they did…” Oh. No. Please. No. They did. To his e-mail. Not mine. Because he set up the account. Not me, as usually happens. 

This, of course, ensued a fight. “Why would you give them your e-mail?” “Why would not you NOT open messages from Sears?” “Why…why…why…” I walked away angry and in my room the Lord spoke to me: Are you perfect? Do you not make mistakes? Has he not forgiven you much?

Convicted I came back and hugged him: “We’ll get through this. We’ll figure it out. I’m sorry I acted like that.” We talked, we forgave each other, and we discussed the next step on our plan without the re-financing. No need. Sears called on Friday: blemish cleared against all odds! Praise Jesus for his faithfulness.

Sunday I was sitting in church listening to my sweet husband preach on the text of the week: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5: 7) and a light went on in my soul. God will not be manipulated by us. Nothing we do will change his mind if his mind is made. But like any loving father, He is true to his word.

There was no earthly chance of us getting that mark off of our credit. Sears did everything right and we did everything wrong, however innocently. It was divine intervention, of that I’m sure, because even the manager said it would never happen. And most often than not, God does not explain himself to me. I don’t know why at times He intervenes and why at times He does not.

But He explained this one:

We were shown mercy. Pure, simple mercy. And I understood exactly why.

We made the choice to stand together as a team against this problem rather than let it divide us, we quit fighting and forgave each other’s part of the blame.

We showed mercy to each other that afternoon.

We didn’t know at the time that the way we approached this hurdle would define its outcome, and had we known, it would have defiled the purity of the intentions, but I am convinced that had we reacted in a way less pleasing to the Lord we would still be stuck with the blemish. For seven more years.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Those are not empty words but one of the many promises He has made to us that we can trust and live by. 


Unknown said...

oh, this just makes my heart melt. To think of y'all standing strong, united. To think of God's mercy. To be humbled by my mistakes and by His love that covers them all...in full.

Deborah said...

Wow, that's a crazy chain of events! I often find myself praying to God to remove our debts, just to make our lives easier. Then I stop myself and remember to pray that we have the opportunity to be responsible people and pay what we owe, and that the good people who put money into K's business have the opportunity t get their money back. It always changes my perspective and makes me feel better - and we've been really blessed too! (And I think you're right - I often think the big lesson for me was to support my husband and not blame him)
I am glad things worked out for you too!

Stacy @ Heartprints of God said...

What a testimony to God's mercy, faithfulness, and to the blessings that flow when we walk according to His ways-

Such wisdom, sprinkled with grace...

Bird said...

I feel like i should send my tithes an offerings to you the way you keep bringing the word!! Once again sharing to my fb page...because i can't help myself.

Gaby said...

Thank you all for your comments. There are times when it is simply not possible to keep quiet and we are compelled to praise his goodness to the world, right? Wonder Woman, you are too funny and kind!

Katie said...

We had a similar experience. We were unexpectedly turned down for our adoption loan because we had a medical debt in collections. Turned out to be an immediate care visit for which we never got the bill because they had our address wrong. I was SO frustrated over the whole thing. Then two days later Alex found out he could borrow the full amount from his retirement. Now I am grateful they turned us down for that loan! Even though, I'm still a little irritated at Immediate Care and the blemish on our credit.

Jennifer said...

I'm so glad God worked all of those details out for you. Credit cards are the worst! Thank you for sharing the way to live as husband and wife the way God intended.

Anonymous said...

It's so hard to say no when they offer that extra discount, isn't it? Everytime I go to Kohl's I have to psych myself out...

Anonymous said...

Just as the first posted said, you melted my heart. What a lovely tale of togetherness - and we have ALL been through some form or another of tearing at our relationships. And yes, coming together is what its all about. Oh, that, and mercy!! :) ~Lori (new follower over from Heard it on Sunday...)

Michelle DeRusha said...

Wow, what a story! I'm sorry you had to to go through so much angst and stress -- but your story of forgiveness and faith is such a wonderful example to us all, and I am thankful for that!

Gaby said...

Katie, yeay, you're back! And what a wonderful way for God to provide for you all! I can't wait to see how your journey goes.

Welcome, Lori! Nice to meet you!

Unknown said...

Love when God works in such seemingly small ways, and we learn such big lessons!

Robin Kramer said...

I love the mystery of God. He makes walls crumble, he turns water to wine, he fixes blemishes on our credit.

What a great post!

Natalie at Mommy on Fire said...

Oh just good stuff, Gaby. Wow. His mercies are so unfailing. Love this "real-world" illustration of that. Praise be to God!

Debbie said...

This is a wonderful and beautifully transparent story which glorifies God. Well done!