One night when my children were very young, a cute, skinny, tiger striped kitty showed up in our backyard. The poor kitty looked like she had not eaten in weeks and the minute my kids saw her, they yelled at my wife and me, “Can we feed her? Can we keep her? Can we? Huh? Can we? We promise to take really good care of her!” We said yes and we began regularly leaving food out for “Sammy” our newly adopted cat. She became a welcomed addition to our family.
A few weeks later I heard the familiar sound of Sammy eating her cat food on our patio. I pulled the drapes away from the sliding glass door and to my surprise, it wasn’t Sammy. It was a very hungry skunk chomping away at Sammy’s food. I quietly closed the drapes and tried not to startle the skunk. After a few minutes, the skunk was full and left us without incident. I made a mental note to myself: Skunks love cat food, don’t leave cat food in the dish or this may get really ugly.
You don’t need to watch the Animal Planet or finish a Master’s Thesis on the devastating effects of skunks to know that a skunk routinely hanging around your house is not a good thing. Despite the warning to myself that a full bowl of cat food may cause our new black and white friend to return, the bowl was constantly full. To no one’s surprise it returned repeatedly and we became somewhat insensitive to the impending danger.
I’ll never forget the night we learned our lesson. It was warm, the sliding glass door was open and there was only a screen between us and the stillness of the balmy evening. From the darkness just on the other side of the screen, I heard crunch, crunch, crunch. Uh-oh, the skunk was back. About the time I heard the crunching, my dog also heard it and took off towards the screen, feverishly barking in full blown attack mode. As if in slow motion, we yelled NOOOOOOO to try and stop him. Before we could stop this impending disaster, our worst fears were realized. The skunk, scared to death, turned around, put his rear end up to the screen and released a mushroom cloud of toxic fumes directly into our den.
Researchers claim that under the right conditions, a skunk can be smelled from as far away as 2 miles. At ground zero, bad smell is the understatement of the year. It’s beyond bad. It’s overwhelming. The lethal fumes burn your nose and eyes and eventually numbing your senses.
With the skunk gone, we tried to assess the disaster and begin the arduous task of cleaning up the mess. Our dog had disappeared into the other room but not before rubbing his skunk infused fur on every piece of furniture we owned. The den and kitchen were clearly most impacted by the direct hit, but the rest of the house wasn’t much better. In short, everything we owned was infused with the smell of our friend.
The impact of the skunk’s destructive power did not confine itself to the walls of our home. That night when we went to the supermarket to get cleaning supplies, everyone stared at us with some of the most bizarre expressions I’ve ever seen while they maintained a safe distance of at least 20 feet. The next day the kids went to school and the classrooms had to be evacuated when they opened their lunch boxes. Months later, my wife and I went away for the weekend and we realized our suitcases were still laced with smell of the skunk.
For me, there is a moral to this story: inaction and complacency will eventually have severe consequences. If we are honest, we all of have a skunk we feed in some area of our lives. A skunk we know we must address but for whatever reason we refuse to. We may intellectually know that we need to change our diet and exercise more but feed our “Physical Skunk” of inactivity and empty calories. We know that we should live more fiscally responsible lives but we feed the “Financial Skunk” of credit cards and undisciplined spending. Then, there’s the “Relational Skunk” we play around with in the dark that if exposed would undermine relationships with the people we love. How about the “Spiritual Skunk” that chronically distracts us from the things we know we should do.
If you hang around a skunk long enough, it will wreak havoc in your life, but amazingly skunks don’t fully appreciate the damage they cause because they can’t smell their own toxic fumes. When we step back and take a good look at our own lives, could we be someone else’s skunk? Our actions, our words, and our attitudes can hurt people more than we realize. I’ve seen relationships destroyed and people demoralized by one careless word or action.
I’m not here to judge, I have many problems of my own, but what is your skunk? Will this year finally be the year that you recognize it for what it is, stop feeding it in the dark and make sure it leaves your yard? If you’ve been a skunk in someone’s life recently, commit to making this year different with a new attitude that has a positive impact on those around you.
Lastly, I pray you have a fabulous year full of incredible moments as you discover life between appointments