“There you go—all clean!” He picks his daughter up off the changing table and gives her a snuggle. She pats his face, giggling as his mustache tickles her fingers.
He flies her, Superbaby-style, into the kitchen. She squeals with delight; he finally dares to breathe through his nose. “Wow, that was an impressive diaper,” he tells her, wrinkling his nose and chuckling. “You even polluted the air in the kitchen! Who knew someone so sweet could make something so gross?”
He straps her into the high chair. “How about some banana?”
As he peels and slices the fruit, he grimaces. “You know what? It still smells funky in here. I’m going to get some air freshener.”
Handing his daughter the banana, he heads to the bathroom for a can of air freshener. As he sprays it in the kitchen, he whispers, “Don’t tell your mother. She’ll say I’m contaminating the food.”
The baby grins. “Gah.”
Twenty minutes later, they sit together on the couch, pointing to pictures in a board book. As his daughter’s chubby fingers pat the pictures, his nose sends out panicked alerts. “Again?” he asks the back of his daughter’s head. “No more black beans for you, my friend.”
With a sigh, he takes her back to the changing table. But when he opens her diaper, he blinks. “Pump fake! You’re totally clean!”
She giggles agreement. “Bah!”
He puts her down for a nap and sits at his desk, trying to catch up on emails. He takes a deep breath and gags. “Sheesh, that child has contaminated this entire house!” He grabs the air freshener and squares his shoulders. He marches room to room, spraying—a firefighter dousing a blaze.
When he is done, a fake-flower-scented mist hangs heavy in the air. Eyes watering, he sits back down at his desk and tries to concentrate.
An hour later, he hears his wife’s keys in the front door. He meets her at the door and holds out the baby—her fat little legs kick happily in the air between them. “This child,” he says, his voice sounding a little more manic than he wants it to, “has serious gastrointestinal issues. I am telling you, this is not normal. I had college roommates who smelled better than her! We have to take her to the doctor—she will never make a single friend if she smells like this.”
Laughing, his wife takes the baby and raises her toward her face.
“Don’t do it!” the husband warns. “Your nose will never recover!”
The wife rolls her eyes and presses her nose against the baby’s padded bottom. The husband waits for her gag reflex to kick in.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about—she smells amazing! Baby fresh!” Cuddling the baby to her cheek, the wife steps inside. “The house, on the other hand…did a can of air freshener explode in here?”
Her husband gapes at her. “What–what–how can you not smell her? I’ve been dying a slow death by methane poisoning all morning!”
Laughing, his wife takes a step toward him, placing a hand on his cheek. “Darling, I can promise you that no one has ever died from—” She narrows her eyes and leans in close. Sniffs. Recoils for a moment, then leans back in, squinting hard at his face.
“What?” he says, stepping back from her scrutiny. “You’re freaking me out!”
His wife raises a finger and points. A smile tugs at one side of her mouth. “Mystery solved. You’ve got baby poop in your mustache.”
A friend once told me this story—a true story that happened to one of his friends (the overall situation is real; the dialogue I invented). I gag—and laugh—every time I remember it. Call me weird (I prefer the term “quirky”), but I’ve found some profound life lessons in this story. (I know what you’re thinking: Why do all of Elizabeth’s life lessons seem to revolve around disgusting things like poop and lice? I’ve got five words for you: four kids and a dog.)
So hold your nose and bear with me while we hash this out: Have you ever had a day—or a season of days—where everything just….stinks? Everywhere you go, life seems dark, people seem mean. Misfortune and misunderstanding haunt you, malicious shadows.
In times like that, when life seems darker than usual, I find it helpful to ask myself, “Is life really as awful as it seems…or do I just have poop on my upper lip?” In other words, am I carrying around a stinky attitude that is polluting the way I experience the world? Am I walking into beautiful, fresh-scented rooms, but carrying my own negative aroma with me—an air freshener in reverse?
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Sometimes our experience of the world changes, not because the world has changed, but because we have.
Maybe someone has hurt our feelings, and the unresolved hurt we are hanging onto makes us view all other relationships with mistrust. We begin to see people through a filter of skepticism; every relationship becomes a potential source of pain.
Maybe we feel disappointed by God, let down by a promise yet unanswered, and we find ourselves becoming cynical, sarcastic, jaded. Angry with God, expecting the worst, determined to take care of ourselves if God won’t do the job.
Maybe we’ve lost something or someone, and the loss casts a shadow of sadness and fear over our should-be-happy moments.
Jeremiah 17, the famous passage about depending on God, contains a fascinating turn of phrase:
The man who trusts in mankind,
who makes human flesh his strength
and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed.
He will be like a juniper in the Arabah;
he cannot see when good comes
but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness.
Jeremiah 17:5–6 HCSB, emphasis added
Take a look at those emphasized verses: he cannot see good when it comes. Sometimes God is blessing us—life is good, people are kind, blessings abound—but our own perspective has clouded our view, tainted our experience, of the world. We’ve taken our eyes off God and His power and goodness. We’ve become self-focused and tunnel-visioned, our senses warped by pain and disappointment, so we cannot see—or smell!—the good when it comes.
The next time your life feels like a series of misfortunes, or God seems distant, or friends seem scarce, try taking a look in the mirror. Maybe you really are going through a miserable time; maybe you really are facing more than your fair share of difficulty; maybe people truly are being cruel and selfish…or maybe, just maybe, you’ve got poop on your upper lip.
Need some biblical air freshener to help change your perspective?
Try studying these scriptures—they are about forgiveness, joy, and trusting God:
Here’s to breathing fresh air, my friends!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
My new book, When God Says, “Wait”
On Pinkeye, Lice, and Love
13 Reasons Moms Never Get Haircuts
When Being a Grown-up Means You’re Still Growing Up
When Your Life Feels Wasted
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