Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lessons from my Garden: Poison Ivy

Not only is poison ivy a pernicious weed, but it’s, well, poisonous.

My most memorable experience with poison ivy came at a church service project when I was in grad school. The stake center I attended just outside Pittsburgh had been remodeled with a new addition, and members were helping with the landscaping. Part of that process was the clearing of a hillside of weeds and brush in preparation for planting of some ground cover.

I worked without gloves, and, apparently, most of what I pulled were poison ivy vines. Within twenty four hours, the welts on my hands were red and itchy. I did the only thing I knew to do: I coated them with Calamine lotion, hoping to sooth the itching a bit. A doctor friend at church noticed my hands and phoned in a prescription for me for something that would reduce the swelling. It still took some time, but eventually the welts faded, the dryness and itchiness passed and my hands returned to normal.

When I wrote about vines a couple of weeks ago, I talked about how difficult they are to remove completely. When they are poison ivy, not only are they difficult to remove, but they can be annoying – and even dangerous in the extreme.

When I seek to protect my home from evil, I need to be careful. Sometimes that evil can be dangerous to me, even as I try to eliminate it.

When I now try to eliminate poison ivy from my tree stands, I dress to protect myself with long sleeves and gloves. I consciously avoid touching anything with the gloves I use, and I work slowly to avoid coming into contact with the poison ivy vines.

Similarly, when we seek to protect our home from evil, we can suit up in the “whole armor of God:” Truth, righteousness, faith, salvation and prayer (see Ephesians 6).

Paul reminds us: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Dramatic? Yep. Worth listening to? You bet.

As we consider what to allow into our home, Paul’s cautionary words are a good reminder. Is that new hip TV show worth what it might bring along? Is that music (or its lyrics) suitable for all ears? Are those images that are a mouse click away acceptable? The slope is remarkably slippery if we have one foot in Zion and one in Babylon (yeah, I mixed those metaphors, but you get my meaning).

My mission president told a story he heard from Sterling Sill (a former Assistant to the Twelve, then member of the First Quorum of Seventy). When Elder Sill was a young man, he served in the military and had seen a pinup poster of whoever was on pinup posters in his day. Decades later, as a general authority of the church and in the temple, the image of that poster flashed into his mind, uninvited, unintended and unwanted. Once the image, the lyrics or the content enter our brain, they are stored and cataloged to be retrieved, sometimes when we least expect it.

Even when I am well covered, sometimes the poison ivy’s fluid finds a patch of skin. But it’s far less likely to happen if I am careful, deliberate and prepared. In the same way, when I wear the whole armor of God, I’m far more likely to be protected spiritually.

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