Like a lot of other people, I am extremely allergic to poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. I have done a lot of research on how to recognize these lovely plants. That is actually harder than it seems. Sometimes the recognition comes when I am in the midst of a patch of it (or after I have swung on the vine). Working in it sometimes cannot be avoided. What I try to avoid is the terrible consequences of not working wisely in it. Forewarned is forearmed.
There are certain types of ivy I would like to cultivate. Although some consider English ivy a noxious plant, overtaking everything, I do like the fact that it looks good, seems to like the shade and will not create a rash like its poisonous cousin.
One of the disturbing things about the poisonous varieties is that they imitate the plants around them – making me a little nervous about every plant I come in contact with. The leaves of three – leave them be rule does help, but the leaves may be pointed, oblong or round. Sumac does not follow the leaves of three rule. I must remember to watch out for a single leaf at the end of a long row of innocent looking leaves on a branch. And there is always the possibility that one of the leaves in the configuration has fallen off – so there might be two leaves in the cluster of three or the single leaf at the end of the sumac branch has disappeared. So, my answer is to always be cautious and protect myself as much as possible.
Protection involves extra clothing – 2 layers of long sleeves and 2 layers of long trousers. I also put on two sets of gloves just to be sure. I lather up with Ivy Block, which is supposed to prevent oils from getting on to my skin. When I finish, I use something to wash off any oils that might have come through the two layers of clothing and the Ivy Block. Somehow, even after all these precautions, I still get the rash and have to wait out the two to three weeks for it to dry up and disappear.
The offending oil on the poisonous plants is not obvious. The leaves don’t always shine. The experts say the oil is still there even after the plant is dead. Working in an area where poison ivy is plentiful takes all the courage I can muster, but most of the time I think the results are worth the effort.
Working around these poisonous plants make me think of life as a Christian in a worldly society. If the Christian’s life is to have any influence on the world, he must be willing to work in the midst of some fairly unpleasant circumstances. Even when one’s standards are according to God’s word, just setting out in business, or shopping or traveling or any contact with others opens the possibility of being exposed to some poisonous influences. Just as the English ivy might grow next to the poison ivy or the poison sumac resembles a harmless tree, it is not always possible to prevent all negative influences from coming into your life.
Living life as a Christian hermit is not the answer. Fighting against those negative influences is the answer: by prevention (being so close to God you learn to recognize the evil), by protection (arming yourself with the resources the Holy Spirit has made available) and prayer (asking God to help you through the forest of good and bad). Living the Christian life is hard, but it is worth the effort.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world…I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one (John 16:33, 17:14-15).