The Godforsaken Devil’s Lettuce (Saved My Life)

Journal Entries Circa 2013 — Present

I have smoked a total of ten cigarettes in my lifetime, and the closest I’ve ever come to enjoying smoking is an occasional vanilla-or-chocolate flavored cigar (which — I’m willing to bet — doesn’t even appear as a blip on the radar of a true connoisseur).

I got drunk once on my 21st birthday, and never again. If and when I do drink now, I try to make sure my beverage is sweet and fruity enough to come with an umbrella.

I didn’t try any drugs until I was 37 years old, and before you judge me on that one, it was legal.

In other words, when it comes to physical health, I’m perfectly bland. I’ve never even broken a bone.

Shortly after my dad’s passing, though, it seemed as though all my good luck had finally run out on me.

The year was brutal. I lost my father, my wife Jeanette was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis necessitating surgery, and then — one weekend in Amarillo — I thought I was dying (and no, that’s not the name of a bad country song).

I don’t mean “dying” in the Texas is humid and I’m gonna keel over sense. It was more like, Oh my gosh, my brain is exploding inside of my head. I even recorded an “I love you” video for Jeanette and the kids while the ambulance rushed me to the emergency room, genuinely unsure about whether or not I was going to make it.

I did make it. The pain went away almost as suddenly as it came, but it always returned with a vengeance and continued to come and go many times throughout the ensuing nine months that it took for me to find a solution.

June 7, 2013, marked the first of what became a series of these blinding headaches. They would appear unexpectedly, wrapping my brain in their vice-like grip, buckling my knees and paralyzing me for hours until — for reasons as unexplainable as their appearance — they disappeared.

I became a hospital frequent-er, landing in emergency rooms and doctors’ offices in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Illinois. I called 911 three times, and two of them turned into ambulance rides.

Hospitals don’t mix well with the unknown. Each visit turned into test after test after test to try to discover what was going on with me. I had more blood drawn out of my body than I ever realized it was capable of holding.

I had X-rays, CAT scans, and spinal taps.

I had an MRI, an MRA of the brain and chest, and was screened for diseases like multiple sclerosis. I saw over twenty doctors and specialists — including a rheumatologist, a neurologist, a cardiologist, and other -gists that I can’t even pronounce, let alone spell.

You name it. I did it. Or rather, I had it done to me. I sat beneath microscopes and had exams out the wazoo, many of which hurt as badly as the headaches.

And every single time, they told me I was fine.

No worries.

On paper, I was in perfect health.

“Here,” they’d inevitably say, scribbling on a pad, “This is a prescription to help you with the headaches.” Then they’d hand me a slip of paper that I could trade in at the pharmacy for Ibuprofen 800, Prozac, Oxycontin, or some other migraine medication.

I never filled any of them. I didn’t want to cover up what was going on in my head. I wanted to discover the real issue. Plus, I’m not comfortable with the side effects and/or dangers that some of these medicines threaten (which is not to indict anyone who does or must go the pharmaceutical route — only to say that I chose not to). Instead, I maxed out my insurance plan going from doctor to doctor, trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

I sought out psychiatric help. Maybe it was — no pun intended — all in my head? But meeting with them only served to convince me further that this was a medical issue, and that I didn’t want to treat it with the pills I’d been offered. Call it fear or call it wisdom — there was just too much potential for side-effected wreckage than I was comfortable with.

That said, let me tell you about my experience with God’s forsaken Devil’s Lettuce.

One night, while my wife Jeanette slept in our bed next to me, I was watching CNN and Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary, Weed, came on.

I was fascinated. I hadn’t been paying much attention to our nation’s pot legalization debates because it never held much of my interest. I’ve never messed around with marijuana in my life. It wasn’t even on my radar. But I was drawn in by the special, and the perspective it offered of this little plant and what it’s capable of, as well as what other countries are doing with it.

The special ended with the story of a five-year-old girl from Colorado. She was dying until her parents looked into medical marijuana, extracted it into a liquid form, that ended up saving her life. Her 300+ seizures a week had been reduced — literally — to one. Plus, she was now able to talk.

Best of all, it seemed like the side effects were mild, especially when compared to the crazy stuff I’d been reading about the other pills available at my local pharmacy.

Could this be what I needed?

I began to consider everything I had tried to cure what was ailing me — tests, medicines, therapies — each with little to no results. I started to consider trying something a little less mainstream.

Was pot the cure I’d been looking for?

The next day I applied for (and received — yes, things happen fast in California) my shiny, new, state-issued medical marijuana license.

I’m not going to lie; the “doctor’s office” was sketchy. Although, the licensers did share their space with a foot-fungal specialist who would perform surgeries in the office, so that had a lot to do with it. (Public Service Announcement: try not to visit pot-docs who co-rent spaces with foot lovers.)

The system is strange, absurd even. It took all of twenty minutes to have a Skype conference with the doctor (he wasn’t even there in person, a receptionist ushered me into a room with a busted-up Windows desktop to discuss my symptoms with whoever he was, wherever he was). Seventy bucks and a couple of signatures later, the receptionist’s printer pushed out my card, which gave me the legal right to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana and grow up to twelve plants. For what it’s worth, that’s a lot of weed, and this dumb piece of plastic with my name on it was the only thing separating my allowances from those of a person caught without it, who would’ve been subject to harsh fines and — potentially — imprisonment.

Like I said — absurd. Almost as crazy as the first dispensary I visited that same afternoon.

It had no name and no signage — just a red door on some building across the street from a 76 gas station. A friend of mine — someone with a past more, uh “colorful” than my own — joined me for the day’s excursions. After our cards were verified, a woman at the front counter buzzed us through the doors separating the lobby from the back room, where the actual shopping experience took place.

I was expecting a clean, well-lit and minimalistic space — something like an Apple store for potheads — but this was not that.

Instead, I entered a cramped, crowded, illegal-feeling room packed with pot paraphernalia, complete with bizarre names rivaling some of the best (or most ridiculous) porn star monikers I’ve heard during my years as “The Porn Pastor.”

The place looked nothing like what I saw in Gupta’s CNN special, and even though my presence there was entirely legal, the atmosphere perpetuated all my preconceived, religiously-inspired notions about Reefer Madness, and made feel like I was doing something wrong.

But I had been desperate to find a cure for my headaches — desperate enough to skip church and end up here on a Sunday morning. I wanted to experience some normalcy in my life again, so I chose to brave the unknown. After all, I’d already come this far.

I had no idea that marijuana could be ingested in so many different ways. I spoke to the budtender (yes, they’re actually called budtenders) — a pleasant Russian woman behind the counter — about my condition and what I was trying to medicate, searching my memory for the terminology Dr. Gupta used in his documentary.

Something about high CBD and low THC? Was that right?

Jeanette told me ahead of time that she wouldn’t tolerate me smoking, so something like a traditional flower or a pre-packaged joint were out of the question, and I wasn’t about to be sold on some weird, phallic-looking bong anyway. I do love candy and chocolate, though, and it just so happens that edibles aren’t limited to gummy bears (who knew)?! I chose a cannabis-infused cake pop, a couple of brownies and chai tea.

It was lunchtime when we finally wrapped up the morning’s activities, and I decided to get extra stereotypical for the family: I ordered two extra-large pizzas so that I’d have leftovers that night, just in case I got the munchies (you know, I’d heard about them on TV).

I don’t know what I was expecting that first night, my virgin-self now tainted by a drug that had always been demonized, but it’s safe to say my experience was underwhelming.

I didn’t know what else to do, and I also didn’t understand a single thing about marijuana, or what it meant that different strains had different effects. My headache didn’t go away (yet), but I was determined to find something that worked.

In the midst of all of this, stacked atop the unknowns in a world I’d never experienced before, was the creeping condemnation of a world I was intimately familiar with — the one I grew up in. The one I am still very much a part of. Like most Christians, I had always associated what I was beginning to dip my toes into as an enemy of the faith and inherently sinful.

What’s the Christian’s responsibility when it comes to this stuff?

I have a pastor friend who takes Zoloft, and no one bats an eye. Should it be okay for me to take weed? Would it be okay if I didn’t smoke it, but instead got it through a brownie or a cup of tea?

Did anyone have any definitive answers? Anything I could trust?

Anyone?

I only medicated with cannabis maybe fifteen to twenty times over the next four years. I told no one — save a few friends — opting to avoid the controversy that I was convinced it would cause, especially because of my ministry work, where I feared people wouldn’t understand.

One day, though, I came across some infused mints that looked like Altoids (and tasted like them, too). Each mint contained a small dose — 5 mg — of THC, and they ran about twenty bucks for one-hundred of them. Little did I know, this “microdose” was the perfect amount for me, and that little can of mints ended up changing my life.

Shortly after my discovery, in January 2017, I flew to Las Vegas for the annual AVN show that our ministry, XXXchurch, attends every year. There — amid a break from the convention at the Cosmopolitan hotel — the Lord met me in ways more powerful than I have ever known in my forty-two years on this earth.

My head stopped spinning, and I heard His voice. I got clarity. I got direction. I got out of my head, and I let God into my heart in a lasting, visceral way.

You might remember my full, spa day experience.

When I returned from Vegas, I told some of my close friends about the incredible encounters I’d had with God, always carefully leaving out that — before each session — I would take one of my little “magic” mints.

I was scared to tell anyone because they were drugs, right? Drugs had been off-topic and taboo for my entire life. It never occurred to me that some drugs might not be bad (at least, not in-and-of themselves), let alone entertained the idea that they could ever be good.

Was weed helping me draw near to the Lord?

No, I thought. That’s crazy talk. I’d better keep this to myself. And I did — for years — until, after an entire life spent encouraging others that transparency was a gift to be shared, I became convicted that this secret was no longer mine to keep. I did what all reasonable people do.

I recorded a Facebook Live video about my experience as the pastor “gone to pot.” Frankly, the relative non-response to something that I had been previously terrified of sharing publicly left me wondering just what I had become so afraid of.

The more I began to unpack those experiences in my mind, the more I began to realize: my life is busy. Too busy. Marriage, two kids, insane work schedules, directing a non-profit, managing side-business projects, and each idea that I am constantly moving on.

Some days, I forget to eat. I don’t stop working long enough to go to the bathroom. Sadly, I realized that entire days would go by without lifting my head for air out of whatever project was in front of me.

I could have been sitting in a room with my kids, or my wife, or you, but it’d always be clear that I was somewhere else.

I was there, but I wasn’t THERE.

I haven’t slowed down as I’ve gotten older. Instead, forty-two-me is running circles around twenty-two-me. I had the best year of my career in 2017 — new projects and growth in all the companies and ministries I am involved in.

At the same time, I almost lost my marriage in 2017.

Work never stops; there is ALWAYS something to do. Even with two virtual assistants at my disposal, there are not enough hours in the day.

So it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that, out of nowhere, I started to get that feeling again:

My head was heading for an explosion.

Without going back into every shortcoming that I’ve already detailed in previous stories, I had to change. It was as though God was forcing change upon me. I had to apologize to my family for the unbalanced life I’d been living.

I had to tell them how I knew that I was heading for an explosion in my head again. I had to tell them how I had been failing, and all of my plans to change the path I was on.

But then I heard the Lord add, “Also…tell them about the dots you’ve been connecting to your moments of respite. Tell them about how you have come to hear my voice now more than ever.”

Those damn mints.

I can’t naturally shut off, and so I keep going. I’ll sit down to meditate and pray and end up thinking about a to-do list, or trying to solve a work-related problem in my head.

It.

Just.

Never.

Ends.

I have a few friends in this with me. My good friend, Levi, wrestles with anxiety and depression. I don’t know what that is like, specifically, but I can relate to being in your head way too much. I think that Levi and I have similar things going on, namely: noise and fog.

While I can’t speak for Levi, I know that when I was able to take a small dose of marijuana, that noise and fog was lifted, and my path to God was made clear.

Eventually, I was convicted that I not only needed to share these things with my family, but I need to tell others about my experience, too.

I believe marijuana can be hugely, medicinally beneficial. It certainly has been for me. My health has never been better. Beyond that — and you might think I’ve gone crazy here — I’ve also come to believe that weed can be spiritually beneficial. It certainly has been for me.

I’ve become a better dad, husband, lover (sorry to gross you out, kids, but it’s the truth), boss, business partner, and overall human being because of it.

I don’t see a way for a person to be held accountable without him or her also being transparent. I’ve been involved in everything you can imagine related to accountability — from creating software to writing books and organizing groups — and am a huge advocate for living life together.

And yet, in full contradiction to all that I’ve dedicated myself to throughout the course of my adult life, I have somehow felt as though these are things that I can’t share publicly, but deep down, I have no reason to believe that, save the fear that keeps me from speaking it out into the open.

So for now, I will not be ashamed of something that has done this much good in my life. Something that has brought me so close to the Lord. Something that I believe He, Himself, revealed to me.

Maybe weed could be a good thing — something that God uses to get our attention. It’s certainly how he got mine.

Resorting to drugs? Using drugs? If the pharmacist at Walgreens were filling them, I wouldn’t even consider the possibility of shame. So why the abashment just because I happened to fill mine at a store with a green cross over its entryway?

Call me crazy, but that little green cross pointed my eyes toward the real cross, and I finally saw it.

After having gone through this process, I have to say that most of my preconceived notions about marijuana have flown straight out the window. I haven’t turned into a mellow stoner. I haven’t begun to slide slopes slippery enough to find myself in gutters with track marks lining my arms.

I have learned, however, that suffering from a debilitating medical condition gets all the more frustrating when all the doctors and specialists in the world tell you that they can’t help you.

I have learned that however cliche the phrase God works in mysterious ways is, that He certainly worked a mystery in me.

Now, when I wonder whether it’s okay for me (or other Christians, for that matter), to consider myself “pro-pot,” I tend to live in the kind of tension that I find in the Bible, and in the whole of the Christian experience.

We want definitive answers for controversial conversations, but definitive answers often evade us.

What was once so black and white might not be as clear-cut as it seemed. Perhaps there is room for color in the margins.

I’m not going to be anyone’s ticket to ride or their permission slip. I’m fully aware of the fact that my experience isn’t a universal one, but neither, it seems, is the image of madness and debauchery that so haunted every association with cannabis up until this point in my life.

Besides, as I said, I’ve had a front row ticket to the mysterious ways God works lately. I’m a slow learner, but I sometimes wonder…wouldn’t it be just like Him to give us a life-changing plant, and wouldn’t it be just like us to call it a weed?

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