The Stinky Cheese Lady

by Joanie Butman

In case you’re wondering, The Stinky Cheese Lady is not a sequel to Jon Scieszka’s The Stinky Cheese Man. It happens to be the new moniker I acquired recently after a mysterious odor appeared in my car. Initially, it didn’t surprise me as I am the dump-run lady in Massachusetts where we reside in the summer. Carting stale beer cans, empty wine bottles, lobster shells and various other odor producing sundries can wreak havoc on one’s car. Assuming the foul smell was just the remnants of my last load, I didn’t think twice about it. Coupled with the fact that my plethora of allergies has numbed my sense of smell, I couldn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation.

My son was the first to mention it, but honestly, it smelled (at least to me) a lot better than his car during lax season, so I didn’t take his comments too seriously until my friend got in the car and almost fainted.

“What is that disgusting smell?”

“What smell?”

“Are you kidding me?”

Christian fellowship involves an important aspect that is integral to genuine friendship. A true friend will always tell you when your car stinks. More importantly though, it is essential to have someone in your life who will be bold enough to tell you when he or she recognizes an area in your life that stinks and needs to be cleaned up. An area your soul has been numbed to – a bad habit perhaps, a bitterness, a lack of forgiveness, who knows?

I’ve been blessed with such a friend. Trust me, I don’t always like what she points out. In fact, I don’t like it at all, but she does it so lovingly and directly I have to applaud her courage for caring enough to speak the truth to me, and hold me accountable when I behave in a way that is not healthy or consistent with my beliefs.

It took me a week to discover the source of the stench in my car. The culprit turned out to be ½ pound of turkey and ½ pound of provolone cheese that had fallen out of a grocery bag and lodged under the passenger seat. A week of baking in the hot sun was a toxic combination. Who knows, a little longer and spontaneous combustion might have been a distinct possibility.

Personally, sometimes it takes a week of festering over something in my life that causes a distinctly unpleasant aura – the kind that emanates from you, resembling the clouds of dirt that surround Charles Schultz’s character Pig Pen wherever he goes. Other times, it’s something that’s been festering for years, or even a lifetime, until someone forces you to address the source of the issue.

It never occurred to me before, but Pig Pen is the epitome of our human condition. Wikipedia notes, “He cannot seem to rid himself of the dust for more than the briefest of periods — indeed, in spite of his best efforts, it appears that he cannot stay clean.” Sounds like my car AND my soul!

My car’s hygiene problems were easily solved with a long overdue trip to the carwash. I wish there was such a thing as detailing for the soul. Unfortunately, humans are more complicated than vehicles and our detailing can take a lifetime. That’s the process of sanctification as I understand it.

Accountability partners are a crucial element of God’s process of sanctification. Christ never sent anyone out alone. The friend I mentioned is also one of the best encouragers I know, which is why I accept her admonitions without rancor. When she corrects me, I know she has my best interests at heart. Choosing an accountability partner is imperative if you want to grow in your faith because as Proverbs 27:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” We have a responsibility to each other that can’t be overlooked or ignored.

You can attempt to disguise the areas of your life that need a spiritual ‘Febrezing’ more than my car, but it will be temporary at best because you are only addressing the symptom. Until you discover the source, it will keep popping up again and again until some incident ignites it, causing an explosion leaving you waist high in all kinds of garbage you never anticipated.

Finally, an important tidbit I’ve learned over the years of carting refuse to the dump—it’s easier and less smelly the more frequently you do it. The same can be said for spiritual debris. The dump has specific hours of operation that dictate my schedule. On rare occasions, I've even had to cart the trash back to Connecticut. Trust me, lugging around old garbage isn't recommended for your car or your soul. Gratefully, God is available 24/7 so we don't need to. Spending daily time with the Lord confessing and releasing my shortcomings makes every day a new day without the lingering odor of yesterday’s rubbish bogging me down. Therein lies my hope as a Christian. As it says in Phillipians 4:16, “That is why we are not discouraged. Though outwardly we are wearing out, inwardly we are renewed day by day.”

I’ll leave you with a message from my fortune cookie last week as it seems particularly timely: “Every day is a new life to a wise man.”

Today’s a new day. Choose to embrace each morning as a new beginning.