“I just got off the phone with our old contractor” my husband tells me on the phone. For a moment, I’m speechless. Trying to wrap my brain around this unexpected development I respond, “I need to get off the other line. I’ll call you right back.”
Unbeknownst to me, he had been calling the old contractor every few days just to see if he could make contact. We still have a garage full of tools that belong to him and don’t know what to do with them. Now, after being off the grid for nearly two months, the contractor answers his phone. My husband is so shocked to hear his voice he’s at a loss for words. The contractor admits that he walked away from the job and checked out of the rest of his life too. His story isn’t mine to tell, but it is enough to say that in the face of mounting problems, he chose to run away for a while.
We ‘ve been so thankful for the progress on the house in the past months that it’s hard to re-engage with this person who has made life crazy for us. Every time we trip over one of his tools in our garage it stirs our anger and reminds us of how he mistreated us. It’s a loose end we haven’t been able to tie up that has caused us to remain in limbo. People tell us to sell the tools and keep the money. Others counsel us to use the tools as leverage until he pays us back. We don’t feel right about either of these options. We can’t even bring ourselves to move them outside because we know they’ll clutter our yard and be ruined by the winter weather. He’s treated us badly, but that doesn’t give us permission to do the same. We still don’t believe he’s a malicious person. Regardless, we need to treat him and his things the way we would want to be treated. Isn’t that one of Jesus’ first and foremost commandments, after all?
Sparing me from more emotional distress, my husband decides he’ll handle all interactions with the old contractor and arranges to have him come to his office for a meeting. On the designated morning, I can sense the anger churning inside of him as I clasp his hand and pray for him before he leaves. He is ready to unleash his pent up rage on the old contractor now that he finally has a chance to see him face to face. In his briefcase, he carries paperwork to submit a complaint in Small Claims Court. He still hasn’t decided if he’ll file it, but has it ready, just in case.
The old contractor arrives at his office with shoulders slumped and face downcast. He recounts the ways life has unraveled in the past few months, offering no explanation for why he finally decided to answer the call from my husband last week. Listing his troubles aloud causes him to dissolve in tears. As he’s sobbing, my husband surprises himself by asking with genuine compassion: “Can I pray for you?” Later, he can’t even remember what he prayed and knows only the Holy Spirit could have inspired it. He enters the meeting enraged and ready to demand restitution, he leaves it humbled by God’s mercy. The court papers never even make it out of his briefcase.
After they pray, they make plans for the old contractor to pick up all of his tools at our house. My husband also sets up a plan with him to restore our lost funds. Our hope is that the old contractor will feel empowered by fulfilling his obligation instead of walking away from it.
A few days later we spend an hour one morning transferring all of the tools from our garage to the driveway for the contractor to pick up later. It’s quite a collection: sawhorses, power tools, shovels, hammers, drop cloths, a hat and even a watch. When I arrive home later in the day, the tools are gone. After disappearing for two months, he came and went without me even getting to acknowledge him. It’s strange to think he saw the outside of our house when he picked up the tools, but never got to appreciate the finished product inside after all of the hard work. I'm relieved that the tools are gone, but I feel sad too. This is not how I envisioned us parting when we hired him all those months ago.
Although it may seem foolish to return the tools before he’s paid back what he owes, we know he can’t do his job without them. Having the tools gone also gives us a sense of closure and enables us to move forward with putting up shelves and finding storage space for outdoor gear. We can finally park both cars in the garage for the first time since owning the house.
We want to be supportive of the old contractor while maintaining healthy boundaries with him. Our anger ebbs and flows, but we are slowly working toward forgiveness. We know we’ll have to stay on top of the situation to keep him engaged in repaying us. According to our payment schedule, it will take a full year for things to be made right and his debt to be repaid, but we are genuinely glad to see his life getting back on track.
I think we are often tempted to put a period where God intends a comma. We assumed our contractor was gone for good and would never repay our loan to him. It was hard to imagine ever moving past our anger and bitterness over how he left things. Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate seeing a reversal like this. Between the contractor re-surfacing and our indignation turning to compassion, we are truly amazed. After so many unwelcome surprises in the last year, it’s nice to have the pendulum swing the other direction. It’s a little humbling too.