The Skunk Effect

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Two months ago we had to let go of one of our dearest “family members.”
Joker, an Australian Shepherd so named because he came into the world on April Fool’s Day, brightened our lives for 15 years.  Well, except for that one memorable night a few years ago when I escorted him to the front door of our house.  It was time for his evening ritual of a potty break in our front yard. 
Joker stepped off the porch, glanced at our next door neighbor’s wooded lot, and took off like a rodeo rider out of Chute 4.
“Joker, come back here!  What in the world are you doing?”  I was tired and ready for the day to end.  About 30 seconds went by.  Then he shot back into our yard.
“What did you see over there?”  I asked, as I let him back into our house.  In less than one second I knew the answer.  Mary Sue had already gone to bed.  Suddenly she was on her feet.  “What’s that smell?” she asked.
Joker had just had our family’s first up-close-and-personal encounter with a skunk.
Skunks have a strategic defense system like no other.  Their anal glands shoot a liquid, oil-based, sulfur-containing compound with remarkable accuracy up to 10 feet.  This is not something that a skunk does every day.  Spraying is a tactic of last resort, especially since it takes about two weeks to reload.  Joker had obviously given this particular skunk reason to think he was backed into a corner.
The stench is so powerful that humans can smell it up to one mile away.  As we discovered that night, it’s even more impressive when it’s in your own family room.  Joker had run immediately towards our nice ottoman and began to rub himself furiously against it.  This was not going well. 
I seemed to remember that the traditional remedy for skunk odor is a tomato juice bath.  But when I accessed the source of all truth – the internet – and when Mary Sue got on the phone with the 24-hour vet clinic, we quickly learned that this suggestion is cherished by people who (a) happen to have a whole lot of tomato juice in their pantry, and (b) have never actually tried to de-skunk a 60-pound dog.
As we scrubbed and rescrubbed Joker outdoors at 1:00 am with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn dishwashing liquid, he may well have been thinking, “I could have had a V-8.”
Our work did bring some relief.  But our dog still smelled like a skunk.  My clothes smelled like a skunk.  Our house smelled like a skunk.  And for good measure our entire neighborhood smelled like a skunk.
But that’s what skunks do.  They leave their mark on everyone and everything in the vicinity.
Since skunks aren’t native to the Middle East, there aren’t any skunk verses in the Bible.  But Hebrews 12:15 comes pretty close:  “See to it that no one misses the grace of God, and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
According to Scripture, human bitterness has the power to unleash the Skunk Effect. 
All it takes is for one person to have a rotten attitude, a malicious grudge, a whining spirit, an insistence on shirking responsibility, ridiculous pride, or a finger of blame always pointing toward someone else.  Just one person who feels backed into a corner can defile everyone nearby.
The Bible couldn’t be clearer about what needs to happen next.  We speak the truth in love.  Gently but firmly, we call our sister or brother to a higher place.  And we do so in love, even on their skunkiest days. 
But what if it dawns on me that I am the one whose attitude is creating the stench?
Look again at the beginning of that same verse: Don’t miss the grace of God.  The best antidote for bitterness is to pray, as vulnerably as we can, “God, I am such a mess.  I’m lost without your grace.  Please cleanse my spirit from the inside out.”
That’s a prayer that God will always answer.  
And it’s also possible that Costco is having a summer sale on tomato juice.