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  • Writer's pictureLou Fister

Poison Ivy

I have 33 blueberry bushes. They are the blue icing on the one acre green cake of land that God gave me ten years ago. I remember the moment they were discovered. Chain saw roaring, my friend Doretta had set to clearing a giant mess of shrubbery and overgrowth that had taken over the back of what was now my yard. Seconds later she stopped, shut off the chain saw, and yelled "Hey Lou, I think there are blueberry bushes in here." The rest is history. I've been tending to those bushes ever since. I prune them in the right season, carefully weed around them and have learned natural tricks to keep the bugs away. The reward is sweet, giant, juicy blueberries. Each year, I host Blueberry Sunday the first week in August. Friends and family come and pick their own blueberries and then we feast on blueberry everything. Pancakes, muffins, syrup, and even homemade blueberry goo for snow cones. Getting to share what God has given me with my people makes this one of my favorite events each year.


Last spring and summer I was racing to finish the rehab on my cottage in Pennsylvania, another good gift from God. ( My trips home were largely just to replenish supplies for the next trip. I didn't do much in my yard except cut the grass. I didn't even plant a garden because I knew I didn't have time to tend to it.


In preparation for Blueberry Sunday, I went back to check on the year's yield. I approached the first bush expecting to see the ususal hearty branch full of fruit but that wasn't the case. I thought maybe the birds had gotten to it and eaten all the berries. I looked to the next bush and found the same lean report. Moreover, the branches themselves seemed fewer, As if some big pruning had taken place that I didn't know about.  I stepped back to take in the whole scene and was actually shocked. There were at least 10 bushes that seemed to have shrunk instead of grown. I was befuddled. It's true that I hadn't had time to tend to them. I had been busy doing a good work at the cottage. But how did so much damage happen in such a short time?


I looked at the branches that were left and didn't see any tell-tale signs of bugs or animals. Then, I looked at the bases of the bushes. I had skipped a lot of weed whacking during my short trips home so I really had to look to see anything out of place. And then I spotted it…poison ivy. It was wrapped around the base of the bush I was looking at.  If you know the nature of poison ivy, it's like when you find a mouse - if there's one, there's ten. And so was the case, the evil vine was everywhere.


I'm allergic to poison ivy and I knew I would pay the price for digging it out. But I didn't care, I was mad.  I had to pull out what was around the bushes and find the source. The skinny vine around one bush led to the next, and then the next, and then the next, until I got to the end of the row. There were no more bushes, but the vine kept coming. The more I pulled the more there was. Finally the vine seemed to dead end into a tree. I surmised that I had reached the end.  Two seconds short of my victory dance I saw it. The source vine. It was thick and long and fuzzy… It was the patriarch of this mess for sure. All the vines I had pulled didn't add up to the size of this one. It was wasn't just wrapped  around the tree it was attached. It was awful and ugly and I didn't even know poison ivy came in this form. I imagined it as a cartoon eating other plants and small animals. LOL I tried to pull it off the tree. I figured even I was strong enough to do that - but I could not. I went and got the hedge trimmers. It took me both arms and a knee to close the trimmers on that vine but I did it. And I paid the price. Two weeks, a bottle of calamine lotion, and a round of steroids later I was finally free of the effects of the poison ivy. I got a small harvest but knew that the next year would be better. Or so I thought.


This spring, I watched in anticipation as the blueberry bushes sprouted.  I walked around the bushes, inspecting as I went and didn't see any signs of the poison ivy. But by the end of May, the bushes were telling a different story. The branches were sparce and the fruit was lean. The same bushes and even more were sabotaged. Some appeared near death. I found the old poison ivy vine that was still hanging on the tree and it was dead. I didn't understand. Was there a new culprit? I took a closer look. Barely above the grass there it was, small red leaves in tell-tale groups of three - poison ivy - again. I put on my gloves, wrapped my arms in plastic wrap, which I thought was clever, and started pulling. The vines were tiny and didn't seem strong enough to cause much damage so I was confused. They pulled out easily at first but then got deeper and harder to pull.  I tugged hard and fell backward as my hands slipped off the vine. I was angry and determined. This vine wasn't visible like the one on the tree had been.  The buried vines trailed underground entangled around and around each of the suffering bushes. In the end, I won. I had a large pile of thick ugly vines equal in size to the huge one that was on the tree last year. I didn't even know poison ivy grew this way.

I see much of life's routine events through an allegorical lens. And, I have lots of stories of God showing up and doing something incredible in the midst of the mundane for me and those I love. This story wrote itself in my head while I was struggling with the ivy. I kept thinking of the way harmful habits and behaviors take root in our lives. As the words wove through my head, I could sense God's gentle but firm admonition that this one was for me. I have told God that I want what He wants for my life. So when this started feeling particular personal I told God I was listening.


I was too busy to notice that this nasty vine had taken root in my yard. It's like me to get busy and distracted with new ideas and projects. So I wondered, "Do I have roots under the surface that are strangling some area of my life." It's no lie that my life didn't turn out like I planned.  But aside from the lady in the mirror looking a lot like my grandmother, my life still looks pretty good. But what if I dug deep, what would I find? I hate to think that I am missing something that God has for me because I am unwilling to do the hard work of unearthing a bad habit or attitude. Now that makes me angry. Paul says to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." (Hebrews 12:1) I want every bit of the life that comes with that kind of freedom.


It will take another year for these wounded bushes to heal. But they are headed for health and good harvest. Same for me. Normally each morning, you will find me in the front yard where all my flowers bloom. I walk around, pull weeds and pray for my people. But now, my routine includes checking the blueberry bushes on the other end of my property. They remind me that I want my life to be full of bright, bold, and delicious fruit. So, there - I pray for me. I confess my stubborn heart and ask God give me eyes to see and strength to pull out whatever doesn't line up with His plan - which of course is better than mine. I've got some things to heal from and some stuff to dig out.  Did you know God calls Himself our Gardener? (John 15) It's a good thing. Because if I see something ugly when I dig I'm not going to want to deal with it. So, I'm going to trust Him to do this work and I’m looking forward to what I look like in a year. I win again!


How about you? Care to dig?

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