How God Used Poison Ivy

I have a dear 16-year-old friend named Liam. My girls have grown up with him and his younger brother Paul; our two families camped together every summer and spent winters at a rustic cabin in the woods.


This summer my mother led a missions trip to a Kenyan children’s home, a place which has rescued over 3000 children. Our family has been there three times; my mother six. But this year, for various reasons, we just couldn’t go. But Liam did.

The week before he left, he took a canoe trip with his family and got poison ivy on his eye. How horrible! And right before a trip to Kenya. Everyone was grumpy and rather perturbed at this intrusion and inconvenience.

'Poison ivy' photo (c) 2007, Erutuon - license:

The doctor said, because it was eye, and because he wouldn’t be near great medical treatment, a cream likely wouldn’t be good enough. He needed steroids. And so Liam was put on Prednisone.

Fast forward to Kenya, and Liam starts to develop a rash on his legs. Nothing serious, and it’s not itchy, so my mother, the team leader, isn’t alarmed. My aunt, who is also on the team, and who happens to be a physician, is very worried indeed. Because it turns out that Malarone, the medication you take to ward off malaria, has a weird, rare side effect that can result in vasculitis (an inflammation of the veins) and eventually, well, death. And it turns out that this all starts with a rash.

The treatment? Prednisone.

My aunt almost didn’t go on the trip, and had she not been there, my mother would not have recognized that this was anything to be concerned about. Liam would have kept right on taking Malarone. And that would have led to–well, you get the picture.

And if he had not had the poison ivy, the reaction would have been worse, because the Prednisone was already calming it down.

I’ve thought about that incident lately in regard to prayer. My blogging friend Rachel has recently put out an ebook, The Sensational Scent of Prayer, looking at what prayer smells like–what is its purpose to God? What does God like to see?

I’ve found myself wondering lately, wouldn’t it have been easier, God, if you had simply prompted Liam’s parents to put him on a different anti-malarial drug in the first place? It’s wonderful that you arranged for my aunt to be on the trip, and for the poison ivy, but it would have been easier if you simply hadn’t have had them choose Malarone in the first place.

But God is not the God of the easy. God’s primary purpose is that we bring glory to Him. As Rachel says in her book, that is what prayer is about: learning to focus on God and praise God even in your circumstances. And what did this episode show Liam? It showed him that God was in control–in very weird ways. Sometimes, as Rachel says, God is in control of things we don’t like. Rachel follows the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother from the Old Testament, who desperately wanted a child, but “The Lord had shut her womb.” How must it feel to know that God did this to you?

Rachel knows what she’s talking about. She has a special needs daughter, Taylor, with a debilitating illness called MPS, which brings a shorter lifespan, and a more difficult and painful one. I know what it is to have a child with a terminal illness. When I was pregnant with my second child, we were told that he had a terminal heart defect. He may live into his thirties, but he may also die very young.

The latter came to pass. Christopher only lived 29 days. And today would have been his sixteenth birthday, and so I write today in memory of him. I know what it is to pray desperately for God for a miracle, only to see nothing happen. The obvious thing that you wanted to happen, the thing that you felt would be best, didn’t come to pass.

I’m sure that Rachel has felt that, too, and yet she still has learned to turn to God in prayer. And while God has not answered any prayer for healing, God has answered other prayers in marvelous ways.

God is in control. That needs to be the starting point for prayer. And His plans are not always ours. We want the shortcuts, the obvious things. What He wants is a relationship; a deeper trust; a revelation.

Would we have had that if Liam hadn’t have gone on Malarone in the first place? Nope. But because of his reaction, we got to see how God can use something as awful as poison ivy. We saw how God put all the jigsaw pieces together because He cares about Liam. His parents saw that. My mother saw that. Even my aunt, who was nervous as she was treating Liam (rashes and reactions aren’t exactly her medical specialty as an anesthesiologist), saw God in control. And I got to think again that too often I expect God to do the logical, and forget that there are others factors at work.

Today my son would be 16. No, let me rephrase that. Today my son IS 16. He just isn’t sharing a birthday cake with me. And through these difficulties in our lives we either are drawn more towards prayer, or we give up on prayer, thinking, “it never works anyway!”. Yet perhaps the reason it doesn’t work is because we’re looking at it with our perspective, instead of God’s.

If you’re struggling with prayer, why not read The Sensational Scent of Prayer, and follow Hannah’s journey of prayer with Rachel. Maybe you just need to be reminded of who is in control, and that He really does love  you and wants to bless you–even if things aren’t working at as you think would be logical and obvious.

Today, I’m realizing that even though my prayers were not answered as I had wanted, I have been blessed indeed. And my son is safe. He is celebrating his birthday with my grandparents and my uncle, and with others who I’m sure adore him. And we remember him, and thank God for the difference he made in our lives. And that gratitude, even in grief, is the sensational scent of prayer.


  1. Christopher,

    I’m sure you already know this, but want to remind you of what an incredible Mama you have. She is an exceptional writer and very gifted in sharing her thoughts and heart with friends as well as complete stangers. She loves you so very much and is happy to know you are safe in the arms of Jesus until she is re-united with you again.

    Happy birthday Christopher!!!
    Toni Ryan recently posted…The Master GardenerMy Profile

  2. Sending heavenly birthday wishes to Christopher! I like to think that the parties in heaven must be pretty awesome!! I hope my KaraLynn gets a little bite of cake too!

  3. Sheila, am very sorry for this loss you and your family experienced. :( :(

  4. Thank you. This is very hard to swallow, but so right…

  5. Wow, 16 years. That’s a long time to miss someone. I hope you were able to have a beautiful day.
    Stacey recently posted…NineMy Profile

  6. Sheila, I love your blog and it has helped me SO much. I have your book, too, and really appreciate it. But I just had to respond to your blog today. I am so sorry you can’t celebrate with Christopher today. I grieve with you. We lost our youngest child, Caleb, on Oct. 4, 2010. He had a sleep-related seizure disorder, and very unexpectedly, passed away in his sleep after having a seizure. We will celebrate his birthday on the 20th of this month. He will be 18. Like you, I am so very thankful that he is safe and happy, worshiping his Father face to face. I am convinced that God has blessed Caleb to bring him home so soon. Caleb would not want to come back if he had the choice! We are the ones who struggle to go on without him here. But one day……one day we will be together again. What a day that will be!!!!

  7. Liz McKee says:

    This was such a beautiful message. I am sure it is not easy, today or any day, but you give courage to the many mothers who have been through similar situations. You are such a strong Mom, and I think God has used you to share your story and bring hope and light to many women- this prayer may not have been answered as we want, but God has a plan, and His answer. Thank you so much for sharing, and happy 16th birthday Christopher!

  8. Sheila, I had no idea of the story of your wonderful son in Heaven. I am so honored that you would include my ebook in this post!! Blessings to you and yours, especially today.
    Rachel Wojnarowski recently posted…Women of Faith: Celebrate What Matters ReviewMy Profile

  9. learning is fun! says:

    Sheila, I have no idea what words I could possibly offer that would be of comfort to you, as you and your family mark Christopher’s 16th birthday. You all have my sympathies, and prayers for strength and comfort.

  10. Our God is so amazing! Thank you for the reminder that He is, indeed, in control. Our family is dealing with some circumstances right now. God has already richly blessed us during this difficult time! Your blog is a wonderful reminder to me that I have nothing to worry about!

  11. Sheila,
    I’ve thought about that too. Instead of making us late for the bus that later crashed, why not just keep the bus from crashing? But you know, how much of God’s power would we see and how thankful would we be if he fixed everything before we even knew there might have been a problem? Whenever I see a situation and am able to trace back and see hand of God in it from the beginning (like the girl who was shot in the head in Colorado but the bullet traveled through a “defect” that had been there since birth!) it helps me to see that He really does have everything in His hands.

    Thanks for sharing this amazing story!

    So sorry about your son. This would have been a wonderful birthday. I hope you had some cake anyway.
    Beth Cranford recently posted…Keep a Tight Reign on Your Thought Life (Fighting Depression)My Profile

  12. I really needed that today. Thank you!
    Cherish recently posted…Chalk art festival #2My Profile

  13. Stephanie says:

    Hugs to you and your mama’s heart as you remember Christopher’s life.

  14. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Sheila, God is using you to comfort others. You made me cry! God bless….
    Jenny recently posted…Mommy Diary — Who Am I?My Profile

  15. What an amazing story of God’s provision and timing.

  16. Oh wow… reading that you are a fellow heart mommy was not what I expected tonight. My daughter, Madison, was born May 2nd, 2011. In her one year she has faced two heart surgeries and three heart caths. We have more surgeries in the future, with a possible heart transplant in our future as well. When I read you describing handing him over for surgery, the tears just flowed as I know that feeling all too well. Madison is such an incredible blessing… she is not just beating the odds, but thriving. I believe that all of heart angels watch over our warriors. I like to imagine them all playing together in heaven. We found out when we were pregnant and stats are not available for her condition past the age of 5 (though there are more and more teenagers and young adult survivors). I have to work to not let the fear overtake me. I know God has a purpose for her life and I just try to rest in that.

    Anyway, big heart hugs. Thank you for sharing.

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. Any comment that espouses an anti-marriage philosophy (eg. porn, adultery, abuse and the like) will be deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are replying to another commenter, please be polite and don't assume you know everything about his or her situation. If you are constantly negative or a general troll, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Sheila Wray Gregoire owns the copyright to all comments and may publish them in whatever form she sees fit. She agrees to keep any publication of comments anonymous, even if you are not anonymous on this board.


  1. […] and Vacuum, yesterday.  Go check out Sheila’s fab site and read what she has to see about how God used poison ivy for the good.  While you are there, check out her awesome resources and links; she is a wellspring of […]

Leave a Comment


CommentLuv badge