My earliest memories are with cars. If there is one sensation that will instantly assure me of peace and rightness in the world, it is the smell of a clean, orderly garage. The feel of a chamois in my hand turns my world misty-rosy as the gleam of paint comes up under my touch. All my ancestry swirls around my head in a strange, Lion King way the minute my sudsy sponge connects with a dirty hood. Meguiar’s wax runs through my veins.
As a kid, I would wash my Schwinn from the same bucket of soapy water that Dad used for the cars and then scrub floor mats for him. I loved playing on their prickly backs, just like my daughter does now.
When I traded in my gleaming Schwinn for a Ford Pinto, people began to tell me I was going to rub the paint right off my car, that I was crazy for keeping a car that clean, that I’m obsessive/compulsive or even anal. Maybe. I’ve also been offered more money for my 12 year old Pinto than Dad paid for it new. I know I’m not the only one who believes that taking care of what God gives me is good stewardship. Somehow, when my car is a dirty mess, it comes home with all sorts of bumps and scratches from people who assume I don’t care – so they don’t either. But when my ranch wagon is sparkling, nothing happens to it. People respect what is respectable. Cars aren’t that different from people in many ways.
I wish, though, like the insurance commercial I saw yesterday, that the bumps and bruises of living and serving could be washed out. Some of the scratches a kid puts down a door are forever, but most of my Suburban’s life is memory alone. It has nearly 300,000 miles on it. It hauls trailers regularly for church, work, and play. It has driven over the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada range, to the Grand Canyon, Pismo Beach, and the Gulf of Mexico. It has carried lambs, kids, and children in its seats. My beloved Bear was euthanized in the back. I probably have more feelings of “home” in my car than most people do in their kitchens. In my struggle to understand what it meant to follow God, I gave up all things automotive as potential idolatry, including taking care of this part of my life. God was worth it, but He didn’t require it. He heard what my lips never uttered, and gave my cars back to me. As I listened to Him speak through the sound system, I washed the scribbled “This vehicle also available in pewter” off the back window. My head began to clear and I began to understand grace. We don’t need to be grungy or die to be accepted. He washes us clean if we will but sit still. Reflections shimmered back at me in the door. His clouds, trees, playing children – even the anonymous painter whose gifted hand laid down that metallic pewter coat so smoothly – are all his creation. I never want that beauty to fade.
Granted, washing and waxing will not make my truck run any better or add life to the fading powerplant under the hood. But just because it’s aging doesn’t mean it has to look like a beater. Everything in creation is worthy of notice and care, and even Gremlins are worthy of rebirth. But I’m no resto artist, as much as I’d like to be. I can only keep up what I’m given and point to Who gives it all to me.
Theology aside, a clean car just makes me feel special. Although all I truly need is a vehicle to get me from Point A to Point B, I would rather not arrive there covered in dog hair with a gum wrapper stuck to my backside. I am worthy of a decent ride – and let’s face it, driving a shiny, new car is something most of us can never get enough of.
So when the offer appeared on my table to detail my first car professionally, I took it. I may be stupid for starting a detailing business on a dirt road and I haven’t worked out all the chinks yet. But Christians advise to follow God’s call, while secular folks say you should always follow your dreams, even when they look silly. I know that washing cars will not save people’s souls and I have no dreams of becoming rich. It’s just what I love doing. Detailing cars is my form of art, the way I bring beauty into my world.
I believe that there are those out there who would love to be cared about, who never noticed their whitewalls were black and brake dust obscured their wheels. I would like to share that feeling of value I sense every time I get behind the wheel of a car so shiny the reflections overpower the paint color. Just like a girl in a new dress, a clean car makes the man. Growing up in SoCal, we all knew that cars were a reflection of their owners. So what does your ride reveal about you?