We noticed a faint scent of it in the air, but we couldn’t tell where it was coming from. A few days later, it was a lot a worse. Right before my son’s birthday party, during an intensely hot week of summer, I began to suspect that it was coming from our backyard. But I still couldn’t figure out where.
Before the party, I was doing a little gardening on the outside of the wooden fence that bordered part of our backyard. (It used to surround the pool that was in our backyard when we moved in). And just as I noticed the smell, I also noticed that there was an enormous amount of flies buzzing in a particular area along the fence, coming from the other side, inside our yard. I walked around to the inside of the yard where a loose piece of fence was leaning against the standing fence, and I bent down to peer inside the little “tent” between them. And there it was . . . a dead skunk.
Just great! The skunk looked like it had gotten in a fight because its side was ripped open. But what amazed me is that it somehow decided to crawl into the sheltered, bordered area of the yard, the section closest to the house that was surrounded by fence on 3 sides and a garden on the fourth, with only a few feet of open area to walk through. How on earth he managed to drag his aching, injured body past the borders and around the section of fence leaning against the standing fence to lay down in the little space underneath and die was beyond me.
After the birthday party (we kept everyone inside), my husband and I discussed what to do with it. I said to bury it in the empty land behind us. But he didn’t want to carry it all the way back there. Since we didn’t come to a decision yet, he decided to bag it and get it out of the area where the kids play. Three contractor bags should keep the smell in, he thought. (I didn't.) After it was bagged, he put it in the garbage can.
He wanted to just throw it out with the garbage. I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea, or even legal. It was Monday, and garbage didn’t come until Friday. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except a wave of 90 degree heat hit us. And after a day or two, it smelled so bad that we couldn’t even leave the house and the neighbors were beginning to say something about it. (Why, oh why, couldn’t the garbage truck have come on Tuesdays?)
And so, on Thursday, I called around until I found the cheapest price for the removal of a dead animal. I wasn’t comfortable throwing it out with the garbage anyway, so I used the “It smells so bad we can’t even go out” excuse with my husband to get it properly removed. And the cheapest price I could find was $125.
$125 dollars to drive up, reach into our garbage can, and pull out the bag that contained the dead animal that we already found and bagged. That was the easiest $125 that guy ever made. (And then he told me that if the city found out that we put a dead animal in with the garbage, they would have called the state and we would have gotten a huge fine. See, I knew it wasn’t a good idea. I was so thankful that the garbage didn’t come until Friday.)
What got me the most about this whole thing was the fact that we were struggling with money very much. We had very little to use on the absolutely necessary things. And because we had no money, we were skipping weeks of grocery shopping here and there, we carefully juggled bills to make sure we didn’t bounce a check, we put off many necessary home repairs (that we still don’t have money to do yet), and we didn’t allow ourselves little luxury purchases. And here this skunk decided to crawl into our backyard and die. $125 was a huge amount to us. And it really hurt to have to use it to dispose of a dead animal that wasn’t even our dead animal.
Ten feet past where he died was an empty lot. Kiddy corner behind us was another huge empty lot. Behind us was a single man who lived alone and was hardly ever home. All around us were neighbors with a lot more money than we had. And across the road from the neighbor behind us were acres and acres of farmland and field. Why he had to die in our tiny, sheltered backyard was a mystery. And it just didn’t seem fair.
I thought about that thing for a while. And I began to compile a list of all the other things that just weren’t fair. The prayers I prayed over and over again that God wasn’t answering despite the fact that I truly believed He would. The help that was promised to fix up our house yet never came. The fact that we thought this house was “move-in ready” when we bought it, only to find out that behind the walls there were major problems that we still can’t afford to fix. We don’t have a second car so I can’t ever go anywhere during the day with the kids, except walking to the library or park. But this limits contact with friends and homeschooling groups and field trips, so I feel cheated in the “homeschooling/friend” department.
We even had a Marshall’s gift card for $410 (after returning a bunch of stuff after Christmas) that we had been holding onto until we really needed something. And when I went to go use it for the first time in May, we found out that someone had stolen money off of it by rearranging some numbers and saying that it was originally issued for $140. $270 simply vanished off of that card, and there was nothing we could do about it. $270 that I was saving for necessities like new sheets that we never buy until our old ones wear through. (I felt so cheated about that one for months. The thing is, I had just looked at the receipt a week before which showed the $410 that I got after returning the stuff. And I thought, Well, I can throw this out. I haven’t needed it yet. And it was the next week that I tried to use the card and found the missing money, but I now had no way to prove it. Arrgghh!)
And on and on the list grew. I was getting bitter. Life wasn’t fair. Things happened to us that didn’t happen to others. Others got treats, we got more trials. I felt like we were sinking in the quicksand of discouragement. And I had to get out of the hold this was having on me or I would get sucked in completely. As I thought about the skunk and the odds that it would find that tiny space in our backyard to die, it all seemed almost supernatural. Almost like God purposely allowed it, because this didn’t seem like a natural thing to happen, given all the other land around us.
In fact, there are certain other struggles in my life that almost seem supernatural. The Marshall’s gift card thing. And no matter how much Jason works and how tightly I manage the money, we still never manage to get to a comfortable place. Then there’s the constant loneliness, despite the fact that I have tried again and again with many people. How could one person have so many people bail on them? Or the fact that I have told dozens and dozens of people I know about the book I wrote, only to have every single one of them (friends and family and church friends alike) decide to not read it. I mean, what are the odds that everyone I share it with has the exact same response . . . “Wow, how cool that you wrote a book. I would love to read it, but . . .”? (To be fair, one or two people did start it. But if they didn't finish it, I don't blame them. I blame the writing. It’s the only explanation. Well, that or that it’s supernatural.)
The funny thing, you would think that I would get more discouraged thinking that these obstacles and trials were all supernaturally-created. But for some reason, it’s more encouraging to look at it that way, to feel like God must have allowed these ever-going, ever-increasing problems for a reason. The skunk could have died anywhere, but he was brought into our yard to die even though I’m already neck deep in discouragement, even though losing $125 was only going to hurt us even more. And if God allowed it for a reason, then the only thing I could do was to accept it and to try to learn from it. There must be something else that I needed to learn when it came to facing life’s problems and setbacks.
And so instead of getting upset about all of this (well, after getting upset about all this for a long while), I decided to look at these as teachable moments on the path to contentment and trusting God, no matter what. The thing about contentment and trust – no matter what – is that it can only be learned by facing the hard times, by laying down your own ideas of what life should be like and what’s fair, accepting that God has the right to order your life the way He wants to. The way He knows is best.
You can’t really learn contentment in an easy, comfortable life. You can learn to be thankful and to enjoy God’s blessings and to give the praise and glory back to Him when life has always gone well for you. But you can only learn to do that it all areas of life when you have faced the hard, unfair, discouraging times, too.
When you have faced the painful times and learned to praise God anyway – to still call Him a good Father – then you have really learned to praise. When you have come to the place where you accept the hand that you are dealt and you seek to learn and grow through it, knowing that God has allowed what He has for a reason and that He can be trusted, then you have learned the secret of being content. And when you begin to see all of life through supernatural eyes, keeping your focus on the eternal and not the temporary, then you will really know how to live.
I’ll be honest. I don’t always like this life. In fact, I can’t wait for Jesus to come back again and set all things straight. But I am learning that the only way to really live is to keep God and eternity in focus. To remember that all things really are supernatural. All gifts are from God and meant to be enjoyed and shared, with the praise and glory going back to Him. And all trials are from God, meant to drive us closer to Him, to purify our hearts and minds, to reset our focus on what really matters, and to remind us that He is ultimately the One in control of it all and that He is the only thing that we really need in this life. All else will let us down at some point – all other people and things and experiences. All else except Him.
As I have found out over the years, the greatest moments of spiritual growth that I experience always stem from the painful trials. But it’s because I choose to see these trials as God-given. I seek His help in getting through them and learning what I can from them. And I choose to eventually set aside my discouragement and sense of “this isn’t fair” and to replace it with gratitude that God is there with me in the pain and that He always gets me through it.
The thing is, life isn’t fair. But it doesn’t have to be fair because life isn’t really about this earthly life at all – the temporary troubles, trials, experiences, possessions, accomplishments, and circumstances. It’s really all about the life that we are building up in eternity. And all these temporary trials, troubles, and pains can be used to build a better eternal life if we let God lead us and grow us through them and if we learn to trust Him and glorify Him no matter what we face . . . whether it’s loneliness, lack of money, feelings of failure, or a random dead skunk that cost you $125 to get rid of.
It humbles me and makes me so thankful to know that even if this life is one trial after the next, God walks with us through them. And He will eventually make all things right and do away with sin forever, all because Jesus came here to earth and died to set us free. It’s a lot easier to accept that life isn’t fair when I remember that Jesus received the ultimate “unfair” treatment – He paid the price for me so that I could eventually have the rest and joy that we were made for, when we finally go home. No more toil, no more money problems, no more heartache, no more gift card theft, no more dead skunks. Thank you, Lord, that You didn’t use “It’s not fair” to avoid the cross! Thank You!