Poison ivy

So it all started with a dead pine tree. Our yard is bordered by these giant conifers, and one of them up and died. We had a couple of professional tree loppers (Tree surgeons? Arborists? Lumberjacks? I’m not sure which term they prefer…) come out and give us estimates on the removal of the tree. One of them recommended that we clear out the growth below the trees. Come to find out, the weed trees and vines which have been filling out our fence line could be damaging the pine trees towering above us. For this reason, I donned a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and garden gloves one coolish morning and got to work cutting back these weeds.

Now on the list of things you should know about me, you would definitely see “Abby has allergies.” I’m allergic to nuts, watermelon, and chickpeas, to name a few. I’m also allergic to cedar trees and cat dander. And there was that one time when the Golden Gate bridge gave me a rash when I rested my arm on it. So, yeah, it makes sense that I’m allergic to poison ivy and all its family members. I tried to protect myself from the urushiol, the oil these nasty plants secrete, but at some point that morning, I must’ve scratched my right eyebrow because I’ve got the rash to prove it.

It’s funny because the rash didn’t pop up right away. For about a day after the bushwhacking of my backyard, I thought I was in the clear. But I was wrong. That poison sap got me after all.

There are lots of times when we’re enjoying the Great Outdoors that I ask the question: What’s the purpose of this annoying specimen of nature? Spiders are creepy, but they keep the insect population down. Vultures are gross-looking, but they speed up the decomposing process for roadkill. But what’s the purpose of poison ivy? It doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. You can’t eat it or burn it for fuel. Why is it there other than to make me itchy?

All I can assume is that poison ivy wasn’t in the blueprints for the original backyard—the Garden of Eden. I feel confident in saying that Adam and Eve could look around and see everything blooming and growing perfectly, and they didn’t even need to add any MiracleGro. They didn’t have to slip on their garden gloves (or any other clothes, apparently) to protect themselves from the poisonous parts of the garden. It was heaven on earth. But we know how that all turned out…they followed the bad advice of a snake, disobeyed God, and got kicked out of their perfect garden. Fast forward many millennia to me and the poison ivy.

It’s just another reminder that, though life here can be beautiful and chock-full of blessings, it’s not all that it’s supposed to be. The original plan was a perfect existence of spending our days worshipping our Creator and giving animals names like “hippopotamus” and “ring-tailed lemur.” Instead, we tear out the weeds and rip down the vines because we know there’s something better to strive for. We’re created in God’s image, the ultimate Creator himself, and He has a plan to get us back to a garden free from all that nasty poison ivy.

Lost car

When our older son Knox was around 4-years old, he was given my husband’s vast collection of Matchbox cars. Included in the throng were sleek sportscars and fire trucks with moveable ladders, brightly colored convertibles and a Volkswagen bus to take to the beach. It was a treasure trove of painted steel from the 1970’s and 80’s.

One day, Knox and I went on an errand to Old Time Pottery, and he took one of the sportscars with us. Now if you’ve never been to one of these giant stores, just imagine a small nation filled with things like bath mats, novelty holiday dishes, and kitchen gadgets. Now imagine that the whole place smells like artificial flowers. I literally could roam around there for hours.

At some point on this particular trip, Knox lost that little Matchbox car which he had brought along. He didn’t realize it was gone until we were checking out, and he became frantic. “We have to find it!” he cried. “It’s Daddy’s favorite!” We left the cart of paid items by the entrance and retraced our steps. We went up and down all the aisles we had visited, peeking under shelves and digging through bins of throw pillows, but no luck. That black Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with a golden bird painted on the hood was gone.

Now you should know that Brent, my dear husband, isn’t one of those sentimental collector-type people. He doesn’t know where his first grade report card is and he doesn’t have a binder of prized baseball cards up in the attic. That’s just not his thing. But when Knox lost that car, that little boy’s only thought was disappointing his daddy.

That night, Knox confessed about the lost car, and my husband assured him all was well. Brent wasn’t angry. He wanted Knox to try to be more responsible (or as responsible as a 4-year old can be), but Brent emphasized that he was totally forgiven. I believe our little fella felt a measure of relief initially when he was granted a complete pardon, but he never let go of his desire to reclaim that lost car. Now that Knox is 17-years old and driving his own Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with a golden bird painted on the hood (Just kidding…but wouldn’t that be crazy?!), he still talks about that day with a timbre of tragedy and regret in his voice akin to Romeo’s final speech before drinking the poison. In fact, anytime we pass Old Time Pottery, Knox brings up that lost car even though it never ever crosses Brent’s mind.

I think we all do this from time to time. We’re told we’re forgiven, but we hold on to what we did wrong. It’s like being given the greatest gift, but we’re too wrapped up in ourselves to fully accept and be grateful for it. So we turn to the Scriptures and read how to view this gift of forgiveness. Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Hiking

When we get a chance to get away, my husband Brent and I enjoy finding new places to hike. Considering that he was born near the Great Smoky Mountains, Brent loves being outdoors where there are waterfalls, rock formations, dirt trails and, of course, mountains. While we’re hiking, my nature-show-loving husband usually likes to stop and point out the various wildlife, such as funny looking lizards scurrying past us. Sometimes he’ll even snap a picture of some natural phenomenon. He’s just the cutest thing.

For Brent’s birthday, we took a quick trip to South Cumberland State Park. The threat of rain was looming over us, so we hiked for just a few hours. Still, it was enough time to see Foster Falls and cross a couple of cool bridges.

Most days I go for a walk down the sidewalk by my house, but a hike is oh-so different. On this particular hike, the majority of the trail was easy to trace, but there were a spots where we had to stop and survey what was up ahead to see if we were still on track. Though our hike did include some flat areas, there were plenty of places where we had to grasp a spindly tree to hoist ourselves up onto a rock or to help us shimmy down from another rock. There were tree roots bulging out of the ground and decaying logs to step over. I realized that I was mostly watching the backs of Brent’s hiking boots as we trekked through the wilderness, observing where he set his foot so I could do the same.

As we hiked, I was reminded of one of my favorite passages in the Bible—Psalm 121. This psalm is included in a group of poetry called the Songs of Ascent or Pilgrim Songs. They were meant to be traveling songs for Jews hiking up to the hill city of Jerusalem to visit the temple. Psalm 121 begins with “I lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

As I tried to make my way up the mountainous terrain of our hike, I was concentrating so hard on the ground. I didn’t want to slide down into a brambly ravine. In order for me to “lift my eyes to the mountains,” I had to stop moving. I had to stay standing or sit down on a ledge and just breathe. It was the only way to adequately take in the beauty around me.

The first part of Psalm 121 is about my eyes looking up, and the second part is about God continually watching me. “The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

I need help, so I stop what I’m doing and look up. God offers help, so day and night He looks down. And all this watching goes on forevermore.