Things I Have learned From Being Robbed

IMG_6311Sometime last week while we were out of town our house was burgled. Broken into and we were robbed.

The police think there is a group of young people who, for the past couple of Summers, approach houses through the backyard. They try to look suspicious and pound on the doors to get anyone who is home to react. If someone is home, they run away. If not, they break into the home stealing TVs, DVD players, video game systems, and jewelry. They think these people hit our house while we were away.

After a long day of driving we arrived home, walked in and immediately saw broken glass and missing electronics. We left the house and called the cops. The criminals apparently figured out we were not home, grabbed a paver stone and threw it through the kitchen window with enough force to sail across the room and dent my refrigerator door. They opened that window, and left a ton of fingerprints as they climbed in. They stole 2 TVs, a video game system and some jewelry.

The next day I discovered that they had dropped my 50″ TV when they were trying to get away. It was broken and leaning against the back of our fence. We think they may have been spooked, because they also dropped some jewelry in the living room. And they left a lot of valuable things behind.

I’ve never had a house broken into before. Cars: twice before, but never any place I lived. It’s a new experience, and I’m learning some new things. I’m sure I will learn more as time goes on.

Target: I never imagined a 40 year old home in an aging middle class neighborhood would be the target of a break in. We are not rich. We don’t have a lot of expensive stuff. If I was going to take the chance of spending several years in jail, I would pick a better house. The officer told me that all kinds of houses are targets. He thought our house was pretty nice (we worked hard to make it that way), and was not surprised that we were targeted. And I guess, if criminal were smart they wouldn’t break into houses anyway.

Alarm: We didn’t have one. The first thing the officer said was that we should have an alarm. The house has the remnants of a system, but it’s not functional. We chose not to spend the money to get a new one. Living next to a walking trail with a private backyard- features we like, but features which contributed to the break in of our home- that may not have been the best decision. Especially now that alarms systems can purchased for cheap, installed wirelessly. Incidentally, my insurance policy offers very little discount for having an alarm.

Insurance: The second call I made was to my insurance company. You know, when they talk about deductibles for your homeowners they normally talk about catastrophic losses. Having a deductible that is 1% of your homes value (inflated value, don’t get me started on insurance companies’ habit of overvaluing homes replacement cost in order to charge higher premiums.) doesn’t seem like a big deal if you lose your entire home. But the deductible still applies to even small thefts. We don’t have several thousand dollars laying around, and that’s what it would take to cover the deductible. But the amount stolen is barely going to be higher than the deductible. And when I asked if a claim would affect my rates, the answer was “it depends.” That, of course, is a qualified yes. I spoke to my agent and adjusted my policy. But that doesn’t help us for this robbery.

Pictures: Take pictures of anything that is sentimental to you. Anything you might want the police or a pawn shop to identify. Without a picture, most pawn shop or gold/silver places can’t help you find your lost jewelry. Take pictures or write down the serial numbers on your electronics. Pictures might also help with the claims process for insurance, etc.

Safety: I never felt unsafe in my home before. I never worried about home invasion, or break ins. That happened to other people, not us. Even when my cars were broken into (long time ago, different state), I wasn’t worried about my family’s safety. My house was my castle.

This evoked a different emotional response. I don’t like laying in bed and wondering if the noise I just heard is normal, or someone up to no good. I don’t own a gun. I grew up with guns, and feel that it is every citizen’s right to own one and protect themselves, if need be. For the first time in my adult life, I’m serious considering getting one. This crew apparently targets homes that are empty, but what if someone else picks our home? I’ve heard all the arguments for and against gun ownership. But this is a decision we have to make for ourselves. And if we do get one, we will train our entire household in safety.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for low cost ways to make our home less inviting for criminals. Lights are one way. Crooks don’t like to hang out in illuminated places. I did not leave the outside lights on the back of our house on while we were out of town. I do now. I changed out the bulbs to fluorescents so we would save some money over incandescent bulbs, and will be adding dusk to dawn sensors as we can afford them. I thought about motions sensing lights, but that brings some installation costs. Also seriously considering adding some wildlife cameras, like what people use for deer scouting. They are not expensive and take pictures when they sense movement. Or just actual video cameras as a part of a security system.

Forgiveness: It’s hard. I’ve had people hurt me or my family before, but this is a bit different. It’s a very personal invasion, it robs us of our security. We’ve already been having conversations with our kids about forgiveness, and what makes us different from the criminals(answer- only Jesus. We are all sinners.) We have been praying for them… not that God would bring his wrath upon them, although that is tempting. Instead we have been praying that something would impact their life in such a way that they turn around and stop making these choices. If that means they get caught and that starts a change in their life, then I’m good with that. But sometimes I just want some kind of vengeance. I confess I took a bit of joy in the fact that by damaging my TV, they pretty much broke the only thing worth any real money. They might have scored a couple hundred dollars from this theft.

Yeah, forgiveness is hard. I’m working on it. My wife shared something on Facebook about this. I will quote part of it here:

A couple weeks ago, Jeffrey had put a sticky-note bible verse on the mirror of the kids bathroom (when they had all been fighting a lot) and it was still there, but with renewed meaning: I Peter 3:9 – Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 

We read this together and then Gracie went to her room and came out with Romans 12:17 (similar verse) and stuck it on the mirror next to Jeffrey’s. Then Jenny reminded us of the story of Joseph and how, after his dad Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers were afraid Joseph would seek revenge for the whole selling him into slavery thing. Joseph’s response: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.

The experience has given us all a real-life personal example of God’s sovereignty: in a fallen world, He is always in control, taking what’s intended for harm and turning it to good. 
It’s also given us all a real-life personal example of sanctification-in-process: God uses each day, each experience (even the hard ones) to bring about change, transforming us daily because (again), in his sovereignty, He reigns over all, and takes captive what is ugly and makes it beautiful. And finally, while it’s sad to lose some stuff and have your feeling of security shaken, it’s also sad to be separated from God, so we prayed (and will continue to pray) for the ones who came into our house. 


Lessons From the Other Side of a Burned Bridge

burningbridgeA few weeks ago my main freelance client cut me loose. It was sudden, unexpected and shocking. Now, though on my part I tried to wet the wood, that bridge is thoroughly burned. One week I was the best thing since sliced bread, the next I was cut loose, the next after that I (from the client’s perspective) had tried to rip her off and the relationship is broken. Stop payments had been placed on my checks.

After a couple of weeks of drama, I’m hopefully done with it. I wanted to share some of what I learned.

Be sensitive

In hindsight, even though up front everything was great, she let a few comments slip about finances and desires to do more or different things. While she didn’t broach those subjects specifically, in the end these were major factors fueling the bridge fire.

If I had been more sensitive to what was under the surface, I might have been able to head off the bad part of the break. The break, I fear, was inevitable. But we could have parted much better.

Business, not friendship

Don’t let a long relationship dull your business sense. Our final disagreement really stemmed from a misunderstanding about scope of work I was assigned. I got sloppy, assumed she understood what I was saying because of how long we had worked together. She claims she didn’t know, and didn’t authorize some of the work I did. I was clear about what and how long. But now I know she was preoccupied with finances, and being hit with a bill larger than expected didn’t sit well.

Always be sure both parties know what work you are doing and what you expect to charge. The easiest way to do this is to provide a quote and follow up with an invoice. If you choose not to do this, as I did, then make sure you both understand and agree verbally. Maybe you will get into a weekly gig, and a standing agreement may work. But if you vary from the normal work/payment formula in place, always fall back to quote and invoice. This will prevent a lot of headaches.

This was the fundamental mistake I made.

Have a thick skin
If/when something does go wrong, it’s probably not personal. Try to understand their perspective. Find out what the root of the problem is.

In my situation, she wanted to do more for less money. She ran into a company that said they could do that. So, I was out. Then when I presented my final bill, she was unsure about my charges.

Those two facts resulted in a list of inadequecies leveled at me and the accusation that I was trying to cheat her. I was not doing what this company says it would do for less money, so I must not be as good as an employee as she thought. She did not like my final bill and did not understand why it was higher than expected, so I was trying to rip her off.

Don’t underestimate the power of emotion. We had worked together for a year and a half. While the new deal with the new company might make good business sense, it was hard for her to cut me loose. Creating this list of grievances helped her justify the break to herself.

You won’t please everyone. Even if you are doing your level best, eventually someone won’t be happy. It doesn’t matter that you did amazing work. Or that you were professional in your behavior and attitude. Eventually someone will burn that bridge.

You can’t sit on the side of the bank wondering why. You have to move on to the next project, the next client.

Be professional

When I was in the middle of the “you’re fired” conversation a part of me wanted to just leave. After all, it’s not like this was a real job. It’s freelance. She can fire me any time she likes, I can quit any time I like. I don’t have to like it. But, instead I tried to act professionally. And then she asked me to work a couple more weeks during the transition. I really did not want to do that, but I did need the money.

Before I agreed to that, I talked about what she owed me. I could tell she was surprised, but I reminded her of our previous conversation. She ended up writing me two checks. Half for now, and half post dated. I had picked up on her concerns about cash flow by now, so this wasn’t a surprise.

I told her where the new company could find all the information they would need, and made sure she had everything that she was supposed to have.

When I left we had made a time to shoot one more time. I really didn’t want to, but I agreed to come back and set up some equipment and tape one more time. I was trying to exit gracefully, and not burn any bridges.

It’s OK to stand up for yourself.

When I called the morning of the scheduled shoot I was told that she had decided to put a stop payment on both my checks. These were for work already done. And our shoot for that day was canceled.

That surprised me more than anything. We had a 45 minute polite, but frank conversation. In the end I was able to get one of the checks released. I decided not to pursue the 2nd check because it would take more time than it was worth. The check had been deposited and stopped. I had to wait for it to return and then go cash it. It took a few days, and I assumed we were done at this point.

Then I got an email asking me to do a little more work, and could the amount she already paid me cover it. At this point I was still upset about the way things had been handled. I explained that I had done work for which I had not been paid. If that bill was settled I would be open to helping set up her equipment. But not before I was paid for the work I had already completed. That was not the answer she wanted.

Just because someone asks for something does not mean you have to say yes.

Sometimes being right isn’t the most important thing.

In small claims court I could win hands down. With outside mediation I would come out on top. I could have forced the issue, but what I needed to do is find work to replace the income I had lost. Getting bogged down in trying to get the rest of the money is counterproductive in the long run.

In this case, digging past the nastiness, I believe the root of it all was a major financial need on her part.

God can ask you to do weird stuff.

Of course, through all of this there were naturally times when I was upset. Times when I would cringe when my phone would buzz, hoping it was not another nasty-gram email. It became easy to hold a grudge, to carry hard feelings.

One day, after I had gotten another viscous, rambling email (to which I had responded kindly, but frankly.) I was praying for this person. You see, I find that sometimes the quickest way to get past a grudge is to ask God to bless the person you are mad at. It’s very hard to stay angry at someone when you are asking for God to give them good things. That evening I was doing just that when I really felt that I was supposed to return the money that I had just gotten cleared.

I know, that makes no sense. I was owed more than I’d been paid. But I really felt compelled to return it. So I told her, via email, that I had been praying and felt compelled to return the money she had paid me. I am sure she read all sorts of stuff into that. But God is bigger than this situation.

The next day the bank was open, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in business: send a money order to this woman. Everything in me screamed that this was dumb. But I was sure this was what God wanted me to do. So I mailed it.

Even though you take the high road, sometimes the other person won’t.

A couple of days after the money order had been delivered, I got another email. This one claimed that I had damaged some lights, and said that I needed to replace them within a few days time. Rather than email, I picked up the phone and called.

The “damage” to these lights was one broken bulb in a fixture and a dent in the side of another. The dent had been there longer than I had been working with her, and the fixture still worked. The bulb was a normal fluorescent you can buy at any home improvement store for under $5. Even if the lights had been destroyed, the cost to replace them would be far less than I was owed. This was not high quality gear.

Obviously, when I refused to replace this gear, things were not well received. It was clear that this disagreement would not be resolved, I told her that I was done. Please don’t call or email, or contact me again. She said that I would hear from her lawyer, and hung up.

Keep a record of what has happened.

Through this whole process I kept a record of any phone calls, writing down what we talked about. I kept all the emails. If necessary, I was ready to defend myself.

Luckily, about 20 minutes after I was told to expect a contact from a lawyer, I got another email saying she was dropping everything, and moving on. It’s been a few weeks with no more contact, so I am hopeful this will just fade into memory.

But if it had not, I was ready. Always keep a record of our invoices and payments. And if you find yourself in a bad situation, keep a record of what is said and agreed upon.

As much as you may try to keep from burning bridges, other people may still set them on fire. If you find yourself in this place, it will get better. Things will pass. Focus on the larger picture. This is one client, not your life.

It’s Never Too Late

Almost two decades later, I got an email.

I was trying to move from Murfreesboro to west Nashville so I could be closer to the studio I was working in. I had been looking for a roommate, and found a guy who was also working in the music business. He was trying to move into Nashville from the Midwest. So, we got a two bedroom apartment.

Let me just say that things didn’t work out. It ended with him moving out without notice (taking his newly moved in girlfriend with him). That left me with 10 months on a lease that was double my budget. Needless to say, I didn’t have the nicest of feelings about him. I was able to move into a one bedroom, which was more than splitting a two bedroom, but at least I could afford it. And then we went on with our lives.

Fast forward almost 20 years, and I get an email out of the blue. It’s this guy, and he wants to know if I’m the guy he used to know. I really didn’t have a clue why he would be emailing,me, and was not keen on finding out why. I hadn’t thought about this situation for years. I was just as happy to let it remain in the distant past.

But, my wife who is wiser than me, encouraged me to write back. I did and got an unexpected reply. He had asked Jesus in his heart last year, and later gone into full time ministry. He just wanted to ask for my forgiveness for his actions back then.

Don’t get me wrong, I was mad back then, but that was a long time ago. It’s not something I dwelled on now. Still, it’s never too late to fix a broken relationship, and never too late to give forgiveness or receive it.