Involved in Brokenness, Brokenly

Its hard and confusing and sometimes costly to get involved in other people’s brokenness.  Its much nicer to maintain your own world and stick with what you know.  Sometimes I get involved in broken situations to try to help, but you maybe don’t do things just as I should– I try to help brokenness in a broken way yourself, and while some good is done, not as much good is done as could have been done.  Thats how I feel about my relationship with John (name changed).

John answered a craigslist ad just over three years ago.  He was having difficulty finding work and a place to stay because he’d just been released from prison after 9 years, and he was on the sex registry list (in part because his girlfriend had been underage).  He came hoping to get a room in our house.  Letting him in meant our house went on the sex registry list.  I talked to the guys living with me at the time, and we decided to do it. 

John was a bit socially awkward, since he wasn’t used to life outside of prison and a lot had changed in 9 years.  He went through a couple jobs, and eventually got into buying and selling cars, which he had a knack for.  John avoided drugs and alcohol entirely, and when he found out his little brother in Iowa was getting into trouble, he asked if he could bring his little brother into our house too, and we agreed.  So the two of them lived with us.  They helped us with cars, and even helped a couple of us find used cars when we needed them.

More than a year passed, and John asked if he could rent a house I had been renting for 950.  The last tennants had been rough on it, and so we agreed on rent of 700/mo if he and his brother would improve the property.  I figured that it would help him to get the 250/mo discount, and it would help me to get the place improved. 

Unfortunately, there never were any improvements.  He tried to fix some plaster, but without skills, he really couldn’t.  I got him materials to fix the garage, but nothing happened.  A remodelling of the attic remains a pile of insulation and boards untouched.  He loved the house and wanted to buy it, but had no means to do so.  I’d buy supplies for projects, but most of them went unused.  Of course after a year of this I realized I was not actually getting much out of the deal. 

Last fall some law enforcement officials came and asked me for the key to the house John lived in– they had a warrant for his arrest.  By the time they went into the house, John had left and he lived as a fugitive for a couple months at his moms in Iowa, while his brother and girlfriend stayed in the house.  They got a little behind on rent, but caught up.  I knew I was losing a lot of money now on the place, and knew it wasn’t being kept up well, much less improved.  But I felt like I couldn’t kick them out at that point…then in the spring John returned, I was focused on getting married myself, and honestly didn’t want to face the prospect of having to ask them to leave and then losing a months rent and spending a couple months rent fixing up the house again.  So I followed the path of least resistance and just settled for the 700/mo knowing this was not a sound plan.

Had I been wiser and more involved, I should have talked with John and either raised rent to a fair level or given more specific oversight of projects and some clear commands on what to do.  But I didn’t.  I let it slide.  Then a month ago they let me know they were leaving.  I knew I’d given them 6,000 in rent discounts for nearly nothing by then.  I also found the place in worse shape than I thought.  It was discouraging and frustrating.  This was a house I’d renovated 5 years ago.  It had been a badly-converted triplex with a prostitute, some alcoholics, and Mike, one of my guys who works for me living there.  I’d turned it back into a single family home, redone the floors, plumbing, electric, and facade.  But now it was looking rough again.  I felt like I’d redeemed something, only to see it fall back into something needing redemption, and I’d watched it happen, doing little to change it. 

Now we are in the middle of re-renovating it again, and it is fun to see it come back to life as a cool old house.  We raized the model T garage in the back, and ripped off the front porch to rebuild a new one.  We have fixed all the plaster, and installed some more new windows.  It is a cool old house and now I remember why I like it so much. 

My relationship with John has soured, and while it is water under the bridge now, a lot of trust has been lost, and its easy to feel taken advantage of.  But I’m sure things look different to him, and whats in the past is in the past.  All one can do is try to do better next time and learn from past mistakes. 

It is tricky to try to mix your business with your charity.  What is important is that there is clear communication and clear limits.  Help without limits will soon be taken for granted, and then its hard for the receiver to feel as much thankfulness. 

If I have learned anything it is that I need to be willing to confront and maintain accountability.  It is harder, short-term, to maintain that accountability, and its easier to let things slide.  But the long term consequences of that short term easy solution can be costly. 

I do pray blessing on John and his brother as they are in a new place with a great garage for all their car deals. 

May God have mercy on us all…

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