by John Caruso as told to Beverly Caruso
All morning I had dreaded my ten o’clock appointment. What could Phil want with me after all these years? I tried to concentrate on desk work; even made some trivial phone calls, just to keep my mind busy. I didn’t want to remember. Didn’t want to speculate about Phil’s motives for this meeting.
Finally I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Sitting down with a fresh cup of coffee I allowed my mind to drift, to drift all the way back to the beginning.
In 1960 my wife Joyce and I started a business with $500, making and selling screen windows, doors and related products. We prayed over the business then and many times through the years. The business grew rapidly, soon outgrowing our small rented building. In the next few years we expanded buying first one, then two more buildings.
By 1968 we were manufacturing garage doors as well, and hired a young nineteen-year-old who was on probation. Phil was a fabricator. He quickly progressed to the position of shop foreman. He was reliable and efficient.
In 1974 we bought yet another building three blocks away where we moved the manufacturing portion of the business. I confidently left my business manager and Phil in charge, trusting them with every area of the business, and spent most of my time at our primary location.
By the 1980s God had blessed our business with great success. We were number three in the nation for selling Genie garage door openers to professional dealers. I served as Vice President of the Far Western Garage Door Association and Vice President of the California Overhead Door Association. Joyce and I built a custom home overlooking the San Fernando Valley. Our children were grown and we enjoyed visiting thirty-one countries.
In December of 1981 I received a phone call from the wife of a third employee. I was aware that their marriage was estranged, and that they were fighting over custody of the children. Now she was telling me that she wanted her husband locked up. She was calling me because she knew something that could make that happen.
It seemed that her husband, plus the business manager and Phil, had been coming in before hours on weekdays and while I was at church on Sundays to use my materials and my shop to manufacture garage doors. Then they sold them and kept all the profits. I was stunned.
After checking out the story, I learned it was true. As close as I could figure, I’d been cheated out of at least $50,000 worth of materials, plus profits. I was devastated. When I confronted Phil he denied any guilt, but I assured him I had the evidence. With his head down, Phil slunk out of the office.
With Phil’s six foot, three inch frame, I was afraid of what he might do if I filed charges. I simply fired the men, changed every lock and installed a new alarm system. Yet somehow my disappointment in the men’s failure was greater than my anger at being cheated.
That was years before. Now Phil stood in my office doorway. What does he want? I wondered. After some chitchat and showing him through the shop I led him into my office. Phil closed the door behind him.
Surely he doesn’t have the nerve to ask a favor of me after what he did, I wondered as he took a deep breathe and began to tell me what he had been doing for the past thirteen years.
At one time, he said, things had been so bad he had gone to shelters for food. Then one day a pain in his calf and up his leg was so severe that he went to a doctor. After examining him, the doctor sent him directly to the hospital. There were blood clots in his lungs and throughout his body. He would need to take medicine for the rest of his life.
On Phil’s fifth day in the hospital, a minister strolled into his room. They talked casually about mundane things. He came back the next day, then the next.
One day the hospital staff and the minister all looked worried. “Is there something you aren’t telling me?” Phil asked his doctor. “Yes, we’re flying in a specialist. You might not make it till morning,” he told Phil. “You’d better call your family together and get your house in order.”
That night Phil told his wife and three children what the doctor had said. His wife had been praying for him for twenty-six years. Surely her prayers were what spared his life that night.
After surgery to implant a main aorta valve heart filter and a total of fifteen days in the hospital, Phil went home. He began attending church with his family. A month later, a man asked if he would like someone to walk to the front of the church with him, Phil surrendered his life to God.
Intently, Phil looked across my desk. “You know, John,” he said, “sometimes God has to let us land flat on our back to get our attention. That’s why I’m here.” Tears came to his eyes as he told me how awful he had felt all those years for what he had done to me.
Then Phil stood up and moved toward me. How am I to respond? I wondered. I wanted to respond as God wanted me to. Yet here was a man who had intentionally abused my trust. Can I forgive him? I anguished.
Phil’s arms were reaching out toward me. “I have missed you all these years, John. I’m sorry for what I did. Will you forgive me? I love you and Joyce.” By that time tears were spilling down my cheeks as well. Phil’s arms were wrapped tightly around me and he kissed my cheek. I knew I couldn’t respond with my voice or it would come out only as a sob, but I nodded my head. My forgiveness was silent, but it reached clear down to my toes. I returned Phil’s hug.
After we were seated again, Phil told me he’d been doing volunteer baseball and basketball coaching and was working with wayward boys. While he talked on, I thought about The Lord’s Prayer. “…forgive us our trespasses….” Suddenly I realized how we say the prayer by memory, but they’re often just words. Now those words were real to me. I was glad I forgave Phil.
The next time I saw Phil he told me that the night we had talked, his wife had said, “You look different, what happened?”
“I went to see John, and I feel a burden has been lifted.”
The old John would have spoken forgiveness, but never would have forgotten. Last summer I attended a Promise Keeper’s gathering and was challenged to help other men by being a witness, and following the teachings of Christ in our daily lives. Now I offered Phil a job. My present manager asked, “Aren’t you worried about what he did before?”
“No,” I said, “when God forgives, who am I not to forgive. God will take care of it. I don’t have to worry.” I thought about the scripture Joyce and I chose as our motto so many years ago, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,” Ps 37:23.
Phil is now working for us part time. He’s in charge of the manufacturing department. The place has never been so clean, production is up, and there’s harmony among the employees. Phil recently told Joyce, “I’d work for John for free if necessary.”
I recently received a note from Phil which reveals his heart: “I just want to say how happy I am to be with you again. I am thankful for the job, but more thankful to have the friendship. Being with you has filled the hole that I had in my heart for all those years. You were like a father to me and it was nice to have you when my dad passed away. You were always there. No one will or can understand how wonderful it is to have someone I love and respect back in my life. Thank you, John, for being the man that you are.”
Published in “The Pentecostal Evangel,” February 18, 1996
Bio for John Caruso: John Caruso started the Aluminum Door & Screen Co. in Burbank, California with only $500 and developed it into a multi-million dollar a year business. Now retired, John and his wife, Joyce, enjoy traveling throughout the United States in their motor home. They have three children and nine grandchildren