Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Little Yard Work

For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast
anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.
Hebrews 6:16-19

There are a lot of little things in life over which I feel particularly, if unjustifiably, proud.

I have never been stung by a wasp, bee or anything like that.

I have never broken a bone.

I have really good vision and have never needed glasses.

I have a relatively stellar immune system and don't really get sick.

One of those things, for 24.5 years (to the day) of my life was I have never had poison ivy. And I was proud of that, because not only does it seem like a complete nuisance, it's also one of those things that some people seem to get and others seem immune to. I felt like I was in the immunity camp and I truly felt like I had something to do with that. Not being allergic to something made me unique. Strong.

But on the day on which I turned 24 and a half, Carson and I joined our community group for a little yard work at an abandoned house in East Cleveland. I heard "light yard work" and immediately thought that I would be planting flowers and barely getting dirty. This really translated into turning a veritable jungle into a normal looking yard.

We pulled on vines, uprooted small plants, tore out weeds and what had surely been nice looking house plants at one time but were now a complete mess. Machetes, weed whackers and
lawnmowers were used to turn the sad driveway and yard into a decent-looking state.

"I bet there's poison ivy here" I remarked at one point to Carson, who was tearing away at the curtain of vines on the back fence. He has a hawk-like eye when it comes to Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, being severely not-immune to it. He hasn't had a reaction since we've been together, so I never actually saw how bad it could get, but I knew that he kept an eye out in case he ran into the little plants. I'd heard the horror stories and I know he doesn't take chances around that stuff.  "I don't think so, I haven't seen any" he replied, dedicating himself once more to the task before him.

It turns out that maybe those hawk-like eyes have deteriorated, since he is, after all, the ripe old age of 26.

I had a couple of little red bumps on my arm that night, but thought nothing of it because I have very sensitive skin, plus I had been attacked by some rather thorny vines. Still, I washed my arms just in case. Carson maintained that there wasn't poison ivy, so nothing was to come of it.

On Facebook the next day, I noticed that someone who'd been there working had gone to the doctor for poison ivy. I knew that Carson was not going to escape its wrath, so I warned him and sure enough, he'd developed some redness on both forearms and knew that it was poison oak. He applied some Caladryl and all was good, or so I thought. I'd read somewhere that putting nail polish on the poison was a helpful move, so I coated my little bumps with a layer of clear topcoat before bed and they looked exactly the same the next morning so I went to work smiling at the fact that I had conquered the beast. I rejoiced when my coworkers confirmed that it was not poison anything.

Carson came home unexpectedly around 4 that afternoon, in pain. I looked at his arms and saw instead what looked very much like a horror movie. It looked identical to the many times I'd scraped my knee, before the wound had healed over. It was truly oozing. It was disgusting. Because of the way it felt, he decided not to go to his evening class. If you know Carson at all, you know that he must have been in a LOT of discomfort.

He took an oatmeal bath to relieve some pain, and I left him soaking in there, eating chips and guac and watching Lord of the Rings while I ran to Target for more medicine/relief.

After I returned with medication, advice from the pharmacist, and the pizza my patient had requested, we settled in for an unexpected night together (he usually has class till 9:30). We spent the evening sitting there watching The West Wing. He couldn't really sit and read or do anything with his hands because of the poison ivy's location, so he sat in the rocking chair with his feet on another chair, feeling miserable (and I wouldn't let him sit on the couch, so he sat there with a towel under his arms. By that time, he determined that I had broken out in poison oak myself (I really do consider him to be an expert in such things... poor guy), but it hadn't spread at all so I was good.

It was a hot evening, so Carson turned on the air. It didn't help at all, so I went to check it a few hours later... and noticed that he'd actually turned on the heat. 85 degrees inside was not a relief for his itchy arms. This isn't important to what I'm saying, it was just sort of funny.

I did something that apparently one should not do when one has a poison oak rash - I exercised. After cooling down with some jumping jacks, I looked at my arms and noticed that I most certainly had more bumps than I'd had before I got up. Apparently the blood rushing around had made the reaction that was under my skin manifest itself. My turn to apply the Caladryl. My, how nice that stuff feels.

We got through the evening (Carson had one more bath, two more showers) and went to bed. Carson got up at 3 for yet another oatmeal bath. The next morning, he was off to the doctor for a steroid shot. It turns out that it gets worse before it gets better, so a truly uncomfortable weekend was on the horizon for Carson. (My reaction never got to be as bad as his; the doctor even said that his was one of the more serious reactions she'd seen, and I read somewhere that the steroids make it a little worse at first because they're pushing the bad stuff out).

"I don't react to that", I'd bragged before. Actually, I guess I've never really encountered it. I still don't know if I'd react the same to poison ivy, but apparently I've merely been lucky when pulling weeds in the past (which hasn't been often, so maybe that's it).
Since it was my first reaction, I didn't have the response to the oils in the same way that Carson did. That's a relief, because it would have been terrible to have both of us unable to get anything for ourselves until we healed.

On my part, a lesson in humility was discovered. For so long I'd been proud of this very minor thing. I was not the weak one who succumbed to a little plant.

I learned, quite simply, that pride goes before a fall.
(Or an outbreak of annoying, itchy rash)

So much of life has proved to be unexpected. Miscarriage, where we'll live in a year, missing passports (!!!) unexpected financial scenarios, all kinds of things big and little. Because of the things I fear, I often wrap myself with pride in things I feel I can count on in life. Things like great eyesight (now I'm terrified to go to the eye doctor - what if I need glasses?!) and bones that haven't ever cracked. Though I really have zero control over these things, they make me feel safe. They're predictable, something to wrap around myself like bubble wrap when facing the more unexpected twists and turns in life.

While arbitrary, these are things that I feel are obvious matters of pride. Why? Because they are things that are my safety blanket instead of Jesus.

When my security is in something stupid like "I never get poison ivy", my security can quickly crumble and fail. Jesus cannot fail and I know that, but I still cling to the tangible. I want measured, visible security and safety and sometimes security in my Savior seems anything but secure. Trusting Jesus is a wild ride with  promise and a hope, scary like a roller coaster where you know you're safe and will get to the end in one piece, but while you're upside down at 90 miles an hour, it doesn't feel safe. Putting faith in things instead of the Person of Christ has long been a struggle of mine. Trusting Him fully instead of relying on those little seat belts of pride is what I really need to do.

Poison oak was a security blanket wake up call for me. I have THIS hope, the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ, the hope of peace and security NO MATTER WHAT the twists and turns of life might bring.

This hope is to be an anchor of my soul, the very core of my being. If I rely on matters of pride as my sense of security, I am losing out. Jesus Christ is so much better.

(be glad that THIS is the picture I chose for illustration.)


  1. Refraining from making a comment about you and weeds. Because I love you.

  2. I related 100% to this! Never had poison ivy, never broke a bone, never needed know. Definitely glad I overcame my thing about never piercing my ears and never dying my hair, but those were on my pride list at one point too!

    (And secretly...I have always wanted glasses. I still kind of want glasses. Not bad site. Just glasses.)


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