This is the tale of how my husband and I nearly blew it.
It all started last summer, well, actually it started a few years before that so I need to back up even a bit further.
We live in a townhome and so we are a part of an association. There are associations and there are associations. For the most part, our association is pretty good. The stuff they nitpick about is usually pretty minor. The communication is good, complaints by residents are dealt with and overall things are done in a timely manner.
Some of the units have four season sunrooms and other units, like our own, have a deck in addition to a patio. Every few years, those of us who have homes with decks are supposed to re-stain them. That is very reasonable except for one thing, our deck requires it to be done more frequently. You see, not only is our deck on the south side of our house where there is no shade; it also sits on top of a slope which means our house is actually much higher than our neighbors house. What does this mean? Well, unlike the other decks on the south side of the house, our deck doesn't even get the benefit of get at least a bit of shade from the house next door.
A couple of years ago, my husband learned about a product that promised to last for 20 years or more. Hmm... We contacted the property management company and got the go-ahead to try it. They had heard about this product as well and were eager to see how it would hold up.
It was a beast to apply. My husband wanted to make sure everything was done exactly right so he spent days, yes days, preparing the deck as directed. It was finally done and I have to admit, it looked pretty good.
We began noticing a problem the following spring. Hmm... some stuff was flaking a bit. As time went on, those flakes became bigger. By the following spring, to our horror, big strips of loose material lay on our deck in some spots while in other areas it stuck to the wood like concrete. Oh no!
Things went from bad to worse and we realized we would have to have this stuff removed and the deck would need to be restained. That's when we learned no one would touch a deck that had this product applied to it. In fact, there was a class-action lawsuit against the company that manufactured the product because it was running decks. Because of the substance of the material, you were unable to get down to the nails so unfortunately you couldn't simply replace boards. The existing deck had to be completely destroyed and replaced. Since it was so labor-intensive, it cost thousands more than an ordinary deck replacement. I cried. I really did. What were we going to do?
We joined the class-action lawsuit and eventually received a check for $60.00. That was it. We were still left with a deck we couldn't use and knew the following year the association would be breathing down our neck to get it down or they would take matters into their own hands and charge us for it.
We prayed. We discovered there were people who had limited success by applying boiling water and scraping. It was limited. We gritted our teeth and went to work until the heat from the summer sun would demand that we stop. In addition to that, there was the rain. It was one of the wettest summers on record. We gritted our teeth and kept scraping away. In some places we had no choice but to damage the wood. We had reached the point that it didn't matter. We had to get this workable for another couple of years and then we would be able to replace it.
Finally, we were done. It wasn't perfect but we had gotten the surface clean enough to stain. Unfortunately, before we could do so, the weather turned unseasonably cold. We would have to wait until next spring.
We had figured it would be warm enough to apply the stain by late March or early April at the latest. All we needed was a couple of dry days where it reached 50 degrees as this was a fast drying stain. We had the stain, we had the tools. We were ready except for one thing. We had one of the coldest, wettest springs on record. Sigh...
Despite the weather, the board managed to squeeze in their spring walkaround between the raindrops and we got a letter. We had 10 days to get it stained or else. We prayed and waited for the weather to clear. The weather cleared and we got the deck stained. We ran out of stain before the foundation was done but walking around we noticed none of the foundations seemed to be exactly the same color as their deck. They were the same sad-colored brown as ours. Thankfully we had not applied that miracle product to the foundation!
We thought everything was fine until a couple of weeks ago when our neighbor approached my husband. I saw them talking outside and didn't think too much about it until my husband came in and glared at me.
"Do you know what just happened? Our neighbors want us to paint the foundation of our deck. He said they have to look at it."
Then he said, "He even offered to buy more stain and do the job himself!"
I felt my face flush with anger and embarassment.
"What did you say?"
"I 'thanked' him for his offer but told him we would take care of it."
We did the job the next day. I would like to say we were happy to do so but truthfully we weren't. Outwardly we were all smiles but in the privacy of our own home we ranted and raved about it. No one else had to do it so why did we? Besides, if he and his wife didn't like our deck, well, they didn't have to look at it! Grrrr!
A few days later our neighbor mentioned our deck looked great and we figured that was that. It wasn't.
Today I went to the mailbox and there was a letter from our neighbors. I muttered under my breath something like, "What are they complaining about now?" My husband and I were heading off to the store so I jumped into the car with the letter in hand. "It is from our neighbors", I announced. My husband stiffened a bit. What did they want now and why didn't they just come over and tell us in person if there was something else wrong?
"Hmm... there is something hard in this envelope. I wonder what it is," I said aloud. My husband was just as curious as I was so he pulled over so we could take a look. I ripped open the envelope and let out a gasp. There was not one but two $25.00 gift cards for Olive Garden. What?
There was also a note graciously thanking us for all the hard work we had put into our deck. They thought it looked great.
As my husband and I looked at each other, we voiced one another's thoughts. "We had been upset. We had wanted to tell our neighbors to mind their own business. What if we had done that?"
It was a very sobering thought. What if we reacted towards them the way we had felt. Suddenly we both felt very ashamed. While we had treated our neighbors with courtesy and even smiled outwardly, we had not had kind thoughts towards them and we knew it. We had not responded in our hearts the way Jesus would have but God is the God of both mercy and grace. He very lovingly just taught us a lesson which I hope we will not soon forget.
This is not the end of the story. You see, when we returned home, I noticed our neighbors' car in the driveway. My husband and I decided to slip over and thank them personally. We did so and had a nice little visit with them and the early summer evening suddenly became filled with our laughter. We left knowing a bit more about one another and our friendship had grown a bit more.
It could have been very different, you know, but it wasn't.