Goodness Gracious Stinks Alive

Go to your kitchen, grab a cheese grater and rub it on your face. That’s how China and my expat existence felt during my last year in-country. Before 2016, the cheese-grater-on-the-face moments were few and far between, and I could deal with them by carefully planning my routine so that I had recovered from one aggravating cross-cultural scenario by the time another rolled around. By the end of 2016, I had reached the end of my ability for “making lemons when life gives you lemonade” because I felt like there were so many lemons that the sugar ran out.

We left China mid-December, jumped head-first into Stateside Christmas road trips and celebrations and breathed a sigh of relief when January rolled around. We could finally start our sabbatical. However, we didn’t know that in a few short weeks a great opportunity for my husband would fall into our laps, and he’d end up starting a new job as I continued to sort out how to live in our home country where we hadn’t done the task of day-to-day adulting for almost a decade. It’s good to be starting something new and we’re extremely thankful for the way God is unfolding His plan for our next steps, but it’s not exactly the restful season we had in mind–unless we look at it another way.

Even though my husband is going to work every day, life away from China is restful. My dishwasher makes clean-up after dinner a snap. My huge fridge can hold a huge haul, and produce doesn’t go bad in a matter of hours, making grocery shopping a weekly thing instead of a daily battle. Overflowing laundry baskets are no longer giving me panic attacks as I can throw all the wet stuff in the dryer and be caught up in a few hours! Leaving town with kids and stuff in tow a cinch thanks to the car. We’re not concerned about our next visa debacle or passport renewal. Air purifiers and protective face masks and “Air Quality Index” apps on our phones are a thing of our past. After perhaps too many consecutive years abroad, these small things in ordinary state-side life feel extraordinarily refreshing.

We plowed through January surrounded by restful-but-not-resting newness. February arrived in all its unexpected glory with a brand new surprise: we awoke shortly after midnight confused and a little scared by the most invasive odor imaginable. Once awake with my senses about me (except for the sense of smell…it shall never recover) the disgusting aroma identified itself as SKUNK.

My new project began at daybreak. I called everyone and read every article I could find on the Internet about what to do when a skunk family takes up residence under your house. Yes, it turns out the professionals agreed there were more than one under there—an entire family perhaps. But don’t take that the wrong way. There were no professionals here to come to my rescue. Lack of proper animal control is a glaring similarity between my present life in small town America and past life in China. Stray dogs? Carry a big stick and hope they don’t have rabies. Stray skunks? Good luck with that.

A skunk family is living under my bedroom. *Grab the cheese grater*

“What in the world, God? I’m supposed to be resting. Instead I’m waging war on skunks???” I do admit my prayers weren’t graceful in the beginning. Seriously.

However, I began to slowly recoup my sense of humor and saw God at work in my stinky situation.

“How are you working in this situation for my good and your glory? How??” I asked.

Friends and relatives and friends of relatives came to my rescue with traps and guns (welcome to Texas). I suddenly had a hilarious, relatable story to share with people around me which built bridges between my seemingly exotic expat life experience and their hometown lives. I heard endearing tales of their skunk excavation adventures, and oh, the laughs have been many. My country-girl side came out of hiding with whoops and hollers over skunk number two which I took care of myself. I’m coming alive in new ways as I rediscover my love for Texas and her people.

Perhaps my family needed this distraction to pull us out of the temptation to insulate ourselves from the world with the quickly embraced conveniences of American life. We’ve been reminded that there’s no such thing as a trouble-free existence, and God has been good to provide solutions amidst THE SMELL. He’s worked in our lives these past weeks and I can say I’m thankful (nose blind, but still thankful).

“Because of the LORD’s great love for us, his compassions never fail, his mercies are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

I woke up this morning, made the rounds and found the temporary plugs to all three skunk den entrances still intact, which means after a week that gave us FOUR SKUNKS we’ve been varmint-free for 48 hours.

How’s your 2017 going so far? How has God showed you his goodness despite an unexpected problem?




  1. Ellie March 27, 2017

    Thanks for writing M’Lynn. We’re in a similar situation in that we were expecting a sabbatical time and my husband found a really good job. But he’s busy and I’m trying to adapt.. while I love the greenery and the convenience of certain things here in the UK – a dryer is one of them, not battling with ridiculous heat is another, we had reached the “lemonade with no sugar stage” too and now, here I’m tired of the hard work of adaptation without the structure of a job and a ready made group of “people”.. trying to “find my place”… It’s good to hear someone else going through it.

    I was challenged this morning at a women’s group with a short DVD clip that says as believers we should be willing to be the first among our neighbours to ask for a favour. That being vulnerable first is helpful to building community. I find it so hard to do that. I’m never sure “what’s appropriate” even though if someone asked me something and I could help I’d be glad it’s probably excessive anxiety.. So I’m so glad your skunk situation has helped to make connections. 🙂 Blessings in this journey.x

    1. Hadassah March 28, 2017

      Here on our compound, I feel like I’m always the neighbor asking for something. One of my neighbors even used me to illustrate the story in the Bible about the man that comes asking for bread at midnight! I’m not that bad, but I do feel, like you said, that these moments of, “Oh, dear. I’m out of eggs and need three. Can you help?” have really been just the first steps into meting deeper needs that some might not have been willing to share if we hadn’t started out in such a way. As I look forward to my own Reentry, I can’t know for sure how I will break the ice with my new neighbors. But I have been praying that the Lord will prepare just the right community for us where we can live in community the way we are used to. And as my husband heads off to study and my girls to school and I’m left waiting to see what God wants of me, I’ll think of you and others , like M’Lynn, and be encouraged that I’m not alone. I’ll be your virtual neighbor;)

      1. M'Lynn March 29, 2017

        I’m looking forward to hearing how God answers your prayers, Hadassah!

    2. M'Lynn March 29, 2017

      Hi Ellie! About asking for help…It has been quite the role reversal as I used to be the one helping newcomers get started and find what they needed and borrow my stuff or wifi connection or just lend a listening ear. My husband and I have noticed how restful it can be for us to be on the other side of the equation. It’s not easy to be the ones needing a lot of help, but there is blessing in it! As for “the hard work of adaptation” I’m taking it slow. I do look forward to finding my role in my new place, but I’m reminding myself to keep my sabbatical mindset for now and continue in a posture of Rest instead of jumping in with both feet and finding myself in over my head. We initially felt a season such as this was a gift from God “here! Now rest!” …And even with the provision of a job we are still embracing that gift. I hope you can also find rest in your new season 🙂

  2. Hadassah March 28, 2017

    I loved this, M’Lynn! So great to hear how the adjustment is coming. As I anticipate our own, I pray that the Lord will send us a few “skunks” to help us connect in ways that will build community around us. Keep writing!

    1. M'Lynn March 29, 2017

      Thanks for the encouragement, Hadassah. It’s good to hear from you! Perhaps the Fall would be a good time for a Re-entry connection group? 🙂 And… Yikes! Praying for “skunks” is like praying for patience. Haha! Also…About the community thing…My previous experience moving from a close-knit team to a larger community of expats (same country, but very different situations) taught me that there are many ways to “do community” and if I enter a new place with expectations that I can do it the same way here as there (even if here and there are in the same country or different continents), I’ll probably be disappointed because every situation is different (same with entering a new fellowship) So I’m trying to keep an open mind and open hands as I see what God has for me here.

  3. Susan March 29, 2017

    As someone who is currently going through re-entry, I was refreshed by your perspective in this post. Thank you for reminding me of all the things I have to be thankful for during this re-entry process! The conveniences of North American life are definitely a blessing. However, my family too have been reminded time and time again that even in Canada, things don’t always go as smoothly as you would think. God is constantly reminding us to keep leaning on Him and seeking Him for our moment-by-moment peace and rest.

    1. M'Lynn March 29, 2017

      A seasoned expat once told me she and her husband have tried to delete the phrase “you would think…” from their vocabulary as they caught themselves saying it way to much when things didn’t go “just so” in their host country. I’m finding myself saying that these days as stuff I used to blame on China is happening here as well 🙂 I’m happy you chimed in, Susan! Hope your Re-entry is going well and that God is meeting you in even the tiniest of details.

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