Focus and the Peace Pipe

Someone I respect posted a blog today.  I have a lot higher priorities than blogging right now, but I couldn’t NOT respond to what he said here.  So today was an investment.  Even though I’ve never met him, he’s a child of God, and worth every minute of my time. He could be my child.  My other priorities will have to happen later. Mama’s about to have a tellin’ –

I remember my first drug deal.  It was a shady street on the other side of town, probably nice enough in daylight and not much different from the street where I was born, but it wasn’t too friendly from this angle.  I was left outside in a car with a couple of very trashy girls while the guys who’d professed to our fathers they’d take care of us with their lives had disappeared inside – which house, I wasn’t sure.  For a long time.  I finally got out of the smoke-filled car so I could breathe, and went for a walk.  In the days before cell phones, it was sometimes difficult to call Dad for a rescue.  Just as I decided to go knock on a door, the guys came out, laughing and ready to go have a fun time.  All the time I’d spent primping and preening for my date – I now stunk like an ashtray, my head was splitting from toxicities audible and airborne, and now I had to listen to a lame excuse as to why it was ok for me to have been temporarily abandoned for something much more interesting.

It was just this side of the transaction I’d never seen.  My brother had a small nursery in his room upstairs that was the envy of all the neighbor teens.  He had a small income on top of his job.  I helped him, on occasion, to clean the seeds.  After he vacationed in Hawaii, I learned to tell the difference between the acrid smell of the crappy local stuff and the full bodied, richer Kona Gold and Maui Wowie.  I guess I had a nose for nuances even then.  We laughed when somebody sold an oregano joint to a stupid kid who wanted to grow up faster.  We cried a few years later when someone laced a roll for the same, now stupid teen, and he ended up in the mental hospital permanently.  Some of the older kids said he had it coming; he was always an idiot.  I felt badly; he was a really nice kid.

All my friends did it, so it couldn’t have been that bad.  Every so often you heard a story of a bad trip and seeing spiders on all the walls of your home or somesuch.  That was a gauntlet of sanity I never wanted to experience.  I stayed away from it all.  They laughed at me.  It wasn’t until a decade had passed that several of them mentioned I was the only smart one in the group.  I’d drawn my line and never crossed it.

I never wanted to be in a place where I was not firmly in control of my own faculties.

As I got older,  I began learning about herbs in order to heal childhood maladies without going broke at the pharmacy.  Remember, I’d already drawn my line with the drug dealers.  I came across Lobelia, or Indian tobacco.  The kids knew if they got really sick, it wouldn’t be long before I rubbed it on their feet and made them smell like an old Indian chief.  I fear it for all the dire warnings that accompany its description, but I’m drawn to its power and adaptogenic properties.  I still use it when I need it.

But we don’t play with the peace pipe recreationally.

Ps.104:14 says that we have been given “herbs for the service of man.”  The legal status of pot has given it a position – it’s become the logo for rebellious teens all across the country for several generations instead of just another herb for holistic health.

William Dufty, in his book Sugar Blues, compared drugs to alcohol and sugar and concluded with one statement:  “Junkies die of junk.”

We are all dying of our sins – this is the human condition.  If you repeatedly give your body unnecessary substances, physically or spiritually, eventually you’ll be unhealthy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s socially acceptable or not.  Red Bull, fast food, or weed isn’t the substance of the argument.

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which [temple] ye are.”  (1 Cor. 3:17)

I didn’t draw my line on smoking, drugs and illegality back in the day because of the moral high ground.  Far from it – I was afraid I’d be the one to die, first time out.  A medicinal herbalist will call for help if someone has a reaction, because he/she has no fear of the light.  Lawbreakers don’t want light shed on their activities, because 9-1-1 responders don’t care about whether what you’re doing should be legal.  You both know it’s not.

A little side note here: my dentist found that I am VERY sensitive to substances.  He remarked that I would’ve been the one in a million to OD on my first try.

But most people never have a problem and eventually dismiss those years as “adolescence”.   My brother went on to teach doctors about drugs and their interactions internationally.  Experts are amazed at his command of the subject.  Others, though, lulled by their successful foray into rebellion with no repercussions, continued to rebel in other areas as well, and stayed wasted.

Wasted lives.

Are Christians perfect?  Hardly.  Many of them think they are because they don’t smoke pot or frequent bars..  But really, we’re all humans, tainted by sin and a propensity to flirt with darkness.  The devil is cunning and will twist God’s goodness to entice us away from righteousness.  Knowing this, do we dare go off our own way -to the other side of the laws He has explicitly given us-  effectively leaving Him in the smoky backseat until we come back with a lame excuse of “it shouldn’t be illegal anyway”?

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)  I have a hard time envisioning passing a bong around a room full of wasted dudes and sharing Cheetos as a way to bring glory to God.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

It’s not the herb or a particular thing that’s the problem.  It’s your heart regarding it.

Be careful little eyes what you see
It’s the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings
Be careful little feet where you go
For it’s the little feet behind you that are sure to follow

It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away

It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray 
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade

–      Casting Crowns, “Slow Fade”


For another interesting article on this topic, see here.



It’s All in the Details

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?


Saw an article a few weeks back about things that tend to trap women.  I’m gathering that, by ‘trap’, the author meant ‘things that draw one away from God’.   Every one of the culprits mentioned:  control, food, and beauty, has influenced me at some point.

In college, when my life was crumbling beneath my feet, the psychological theories of achieving control over situations intrigued me greatly.  I needed something to grasp, and my bedroom furnishings became a study in control.  Because it was the most inviting, most people were drawn to the overstuffed Danish chair by the window.  I would then sit on the bed across from them for conversation and about 3 inches higher.  If they sat on the bed, or even leaned against the dresser, I would lounge comfortably on my barstool between the two, putting me always just a bit above.  Since my desk was a freestanding bar, it was a very natural, but quite imposing, place to sit.   It was only later in life that I learned the art of control the way powerful people do it.  Bring in lovely dining chairs that are very proper, but inappropriate to the room.  I loved watching George and Barbara Bush, reclining on the comfortable couch across from some reporter who hoped to guide the conversation from his perch on a chair where the coffee table obviously normally stood.  The Bushes maintained complete control of the situation, an interesting study in the aspect of  ‘at home’ being a control position.  I never got much chance to play with people’s reactions to that.  As soon as my life gained some footing, I lost my need  for the power point – but not the fascination.

As kids took over my days, food took over me.  I love to cook, and baking is a form of relaxation for me.  The children have been very willing guinea pigs for my trials.  Most memorable were the banana pancakes flambé for breakfast (almost burned down the kitchen with that one, but it sure tasted good.  They still remember it – even a couple who weren’t born yet.)   I pour myself into every meal, and I could not let a toddler’s pushed-around pieces of chocolate chip waffles with strawberry jam go to waste.  I might as well have just glued them to my hips. But too much is too much, and I learned to let the dog carry the extra weight of love instead.

Now beauty is an interesting question that I’ve never really paid much attention to until recently.  Quite addictive.  It’s defeating, in school, when everybody’s more popular and nobody pays attention even when you do speak.  Once you’re a mother, it’s just a given that you’re not attractive.  The waistline is gone, the quick ponytail shows lack of care and, as all focus goes to the wee ones, the wardrobe and carriage quickly head south as well.  I could see it so easily in my peers, but it never occurred to me that we mirrored each other.  One day I realized I didn’t want to wait another month to pick up the armchair with my hips when I stood up.  No.  No more.  Within a year of deciding to dress for success every day, I began experiencing something completely new to me.  People noticed me.  Strangers smiled and said, “Hello!” in the grocery store.   Men in traffic pulled their shades down, Foster Grant style, to give me another look.  As I laughed to myself, the smile gathered even more.   Oh, this could definitely be intoxicating!

But I had to stop and look at what it was I truly sought.  Love?  Respect?  Honor?  Commanding attention from those I desired it from was shallow.  Feeding the hole in my heart with food for my stomach was deadening to every nerve in my soul, and yet still didn’t fill the craving.   Flaunting for looks came close, but still didn’t cut it.  It was just a look, never really interest in who I am inside.

And then the article asked another piercing question.  In determining what traps me, what loss would cause me to lose the will to live?  

I think the best answer to that question would be Love.  Anything I love, but also being loved.  The true, abiding, regardless-of-my-stupid-stunts kind of acceptance.  Despite what Hollywood has fed me, people are human, and there isn’t a single one out there that won’t let me down at some point.  Even my dad, saint that he was to me, never took me to the races at Santa Anita like he promised.

There is only one that can truly love me, because he knows me better than I know myself.  He fits that hole in my heart as though it were made for him, because I inadvertently yanked him out of it when I chose to follow my own wisdom.  When I turn back to him, I find he’s been waiting for me the whole time.  Mercifully, He fills me with His Spirit, which then allows the very character of Love itself to run through me.  Not only am I full, but my cup runneth over.  All I had to do was let go of the “my way or the highway” mindset and He led me right through the traps.

Of Cars and Happiness

I love cars; my first was a little White T-bird convertible with red interior – I drove it everywhere until its plastic wheels fell off.  I graduated to a blue, pedal-powered model and my world expanded to the whole street.  I hit my first -and only- curb in Mom’s Cutlass after Driver’s Ed class.  Time with Dad was filled with long hours every weekend washing and waxing the family livery.  The neighbor kept telling me I was going to polish the paint right off my Pinto.  Never happened – it gleamed and purred well into its second decade completely original except for a few tasteful additions of later models’ upgrades.  I came to truly admire the design and engineering that makes each curve flow from the last and every piece fit precisely with the next.     

But I’ve also been accused of idolatry with my cars.  The jury is still out on that question.  Hmm.  What is idolatry?  It is worshiping or putting something made by hands before or in the place of God.  Secondarily, according to Webster, it is “excessive attachment or veneration for any thing, or that which borders on adoration.”  I guess I’m going to have to define ‘excessive’ to wiggle out of that definition.  It probably boils down to priorities.  Is my happiness based in cars, or can I be content without them?  Or am I merely recognizing and appreciating the beauty inherent in not only the lines but the owner’s diligent care?   Because there is a difference:  a beat-up police Charger doesn’t hold a candle to that sweet black-on-smoke Hemi.  Like I’ve said before, it’s the love invested that makes beauty apparent.  And a vintage, all-original creampuff is way more exciting than some glistening beauty still on the dealer’s floor.  Well,  then again, there was the week-old Jag I smelled last month… nothing like brand new leather and gleaming gauges to transport me instantly into utter bliss….

But I’ll probably never drive a Jag.  The closest I’ve ever come was a trip up the Pacific Coast Highway in an Alfa Romeo convertible.  Sweet ride, but then again, so was the Formula 400 Firebird I had for a summer.   And then I got married, had babies and began driving a short list of family trucksters that I was increasingly unable to keep clean.  Neighbors again harassed me, only this time it was for putting Junior and Princess in the playpen while I raced around in an attempt to achieve gleaming perfection before one blew a gasket.  As the little ones became able to walk, each got handed a wheel brush or running board rag and instructed on proper usage.  Pretty soon, the orchestration of too many children around one car became a bigger fiasco than I was willing to do weekly.   The stress I experienced when I saw a rag dropped on the driveway and reapplied to the fender sent me into orbit.  The cars got dirtier and I learned to use the washer function of the windshield wipers.  It was a decade before it occurred to me I’d lost something fundamental to who I am.

Courtesy Gilmore Custom Services

Could I be content without nice cars?  If we have the right to pursue happiness in this country, what is happiness?  Is it pursuing what makes me happy at this present moment, or is “happiness” a greater joy in something more, something deeper?   My brother, Barry, owner of Gilmore Custom Services, specializes in taking rusty field ornaments and turning them into collector’s trophies, either custom or correct.  And then there’s my good friend Randy at, who restores vintage VWs to absolute perfection.  Both of them inspire me immensely.  They not only do what they’d do anyway for a living, but they do something for the rest of us that is untouchable.


I daresay that contrary to the modern ideal of “what makes me happy now”,  I think true happiness is found in the pursuit of a job well done in the midst of a life well lived.  If keeping your car gleaming is your main pursuit, idolatry is probably a factor.  But if every bit of chrome in your garage flashes because that’s how you take care of what you have, you bring glory to God in your careful stewardship.  The smiles of appreciation you bring to others’ faces extend their lives as well.  You are not only accomplishing something you love to do, but blessing someone else in the process.  Major satisfaction; happiness.  Possibly even the essence of life itself.

I don’t have time right now to spend a lot of time on a car.  I will probably never restore one.  (I’m just not that into metal work.)  But I’ve taught my children to never drop the sponge, wring the chamois often, and use Westley’s for whitewalls (or raised white letters).  You will no longer catch one writing “Also Available in Silver” on the dusty tailgate of my pewter Suburban.  Maybe this is the pursuit of happiness after all – I am delaying the gratification of a slick sedan of my own to train the next generation to respect and admire the art of the automobile.  And maybe once they’re all fledged from the nest, I may just reward myself with a sexy little roadster with only space enough for a pack of M&Ms and a bottle of water for the road….

Courtesy Gilmore Custom Services/Cass Winery