There are days you’re ready for, days you’re not but try to prepare for, and then days that you just have to recover from.
This day falls into the last category.
It was the day before I was supposed to go on vacation – specifically a personal retreat, because I knew by this point in the calendar, I was going to be run down, worn out, ready for respite.
The weeks leading up to this, I had three speaking engagements in as many weeks, my normal work shifts plus precepting a new graduate nurse, and of course ongoing wife / mother / friend / community commitments that I wanted (well, struggled) to give sufficient attention and energy to.
I knew I would be running on fumes, and just needed to get through this last day of trying to get the family and house’s needs in order before I went on my retreat. It would be a day of just dotting all my i’s and crossing my t’s. Tedium but at least I could exhale at the end.
Until the plumbing in the main bathroom that the girls and I share went awry in the early afternoon. The toilet wouldn’t flush. It didn’t respond to plunging. Husband used the snake and went 25 feet deep but still, the toilet was clogged and now the bathtub was draining slowly too. In a last ditch effort before we looked for an emergency plumber on a Sunday, husband put Drano into the bathtub and sink drains, instructed me to wait an hour before running hot water through those and trying the toilet again, and then he left to play basketball.
I did as he instructed but to no avail. I tried plunging the toilet again, which remained futile.
Defeated, I went to my computer and started to research emergency plumbers.
My 8 year-old then came to me, looking quite concerned. “Mommy? Do you know what that stuff is in the driveway?”
Frustrated by the vagueness of her question (which happens ALL the time), I assumed my husband had just cleaned out some items from the garage and set them in the driveway.
“Sweetie, I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but I really need to focus on trying to find a plumber to deal with our bathroom issues right now.”
“Well….Mama… I’m just….wondering what all that yellow stuff is in the driveway. Can you just come look?”
I sighed, and reluctantly went to the front of the house to just try and get my daughter off my back.
And then I noticed the stench of sewage, and saw the stain of water covering the driveway, peppered with clumps of toilet paper and human waste.
Oh dear God.
It turns out, someone-who-shall-not-be-named forgot to put the drain cover back on at the front of the house after he tried snaking the pipes from there. The front of our home reeked of raw sewage and I was mortified on behalf of our neighbors.
I secured an emergency appointment with a plumber who said he could send someone in about two hours, and then texted my husband about the appalling situation happening in our driveway.
“Ah… sorry. I deal with this stuff all the time with my Health Dept job. I’ll go pick up lime powder [to absorb the stench] and come clean it up.”
Husband gets home, dons gloves and cleans up the sewage, and covers the driveway with lime powder. I am using all my emotional energy to not be upset with him. It was a mistake, and he’s cleaned it up, and I still have other things to take care of.
He comes inside the house, and we suddenly hear the toilet unclog itself. We hear the water move through and breathe a deep sigh of relief. Two minutes later, the plumber arrives and confirms things look ok, and he goes on his way.
I am nearly catatonic as we get through dinnertime, I am so drained by all that’s just happened. So we finish dinner, and I take Max the Dog out for a walk, because both I and Max really need some fresh air, and I need to blow off the last bits of internal steam.
I walk Max down a street we don’t normally walk down too often. He steps off the sidewalk just to the outside border of a green grassy lawn, and crouches to do his business. Just then, I notice out of the corner of my eye that the homeowner is standing at her car in the driveway, and she sees my dog pooping in her lawn. She stares with her mouth agape at me, and then rolls her eyes. “Oh NO… in MY LAWN???” I’m embarrassed and exhausted, but I’ve got doggie bags like a good responsible neighbor, so I quietly and swiftly go to pick up Max’s poop. I pull him off her lawn and we keep walking, but we have to pass her. I can tell she is glaring at me and I don’t engage. I have no energy left, and I cleaned up.
“EXCUSE ME, MA’AM. I know you picked up after your dog, but could you PLEASE NOT LET YOUR DOG POOP IN MY LAWN??”
I am exhausted, grouchy, frustrated, and quite frankly just very confused at her aggression because I cleaned up after my dog and am not sure why she feels a need to continue yelling. I know if I look at her, my eyes will glare. I know if I open my mouth, nothing good will come out, so I keep quiet, look straight ahead and just keep walking.
“I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME!!!!”
I summon all my energy to not yell back at her, to just walk my dog and now try and blow off even more steam that wants to boil over in me.
I don’t want to come home to my family in this extra angry state, so I walk Max for some extra time, meandering one block after another through the neighborhood until I feel my emotions have calmed enough for me to be somewhat decent for my family.
I just need to get through the last couple hours of this night.
Max and I get back to our house, and I walk to the side of the house to throw away the poop bag. My 6 year old daughter has come out to greet us. I turn around to say hi to her and to go to the front door, and as I look up, I see her.
It’s the neighbor, from however many blocks away, who yelled at me about Max pooping on her lawn.
She’s in her car, slowly driving by, looking at me.
She FOLLOWED ME HOME. In her extra quiet electric vehicle, so I didn’t hear an engine humming behind me. All those meandering steps that I took Max on – she followed me.
She keeps driving. I am stunned.
My husband is inside and I tell him what just happened. I burst into tears, full of anger and confusion and defeat and desire for evil things upon this neighbor.
I tell my husband how I just have been trying so hard to be responsible for everything I’ve been juggling. I had so little left to try and be responsible with the plumbing situation. I was trying to be a responsible dog owner, and the way this day caps off is with me being creepily followed home by an unreasonable, spiteful neighbor.
It is not worth articulating all the mean, angry, passive-aggressive, vengeful things I wanted to say, write or do, in the general direction of this neighbor.
What is worth articulating is Romans 12:9-10, 14-21.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
What is also worth articulating is that I have trusted people in my life who can talk me down from the ledge when I’m driven by sheer emotion in a weak moment and am strongly tempted to act on it in ways that do not reflect the fact that Christ loves this woman, just as He loves me in my most ridiculous behavior.
He overcame my evil with His good; His life for mine. Through His Word, and through wise friends, He helped me not only consider the evil from this woman, but the evil springing up in me, and gave His grace to overcome evil with good instead.
He helps us choose better ways than our own selfishness-driven ways, and I find such comfort and freedom in this.