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Ivy Madness - a lesson in Faith

Stately, evergreen and a vigorous climber, English Ivy vines have been making “green walls” long before it became a thing. You’ve probably seen wonderful old, brick manor homes covered with the happy, heart-shaped leaves. But you’ve probably also seen tall, oak trees being smothered by the vine.

One has to wonder: Is ivy good or bad?

When I was a very young homeowner, we had some shady spots on the north side of the house. I did a little research and learned that, although a slow starter, English ivy would eventually fill in nicely. (Back in those days) I sent in my order to a catalogue and received eight bare roots in the mail. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but when I opened that manilla envelope and pulled out those spindly little vines, I was sure they’d never amount to anything.

Boy, was I wrong.

I only wish I had a dollar for every long, winding offshoot of ivy I’ve had to remove since that day! Turns out, ivy loves clay – the very dense, very unfriendly soil that our house is built on. It thrives in fertile soil as well, and has spread to just about every inch of my fence line and edges of all our gardens – albeit with a little help from me.

Once established, ivy is heat tolerant and can climb nearly every surface – forming sticky roots as it goes. As you can see from the picture (right), it can be trained to follow wires – that’s how we formed the “x” shapes seen here. I do have to trim it regularly, though, because it loves sun as well as shade. In fact, if it remains undisturbed in a sunny spot it can actually grow so big that it will flower and fruit!

Come to find out English ivy (Hedera helix) is considered invasive here in America. Native to Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa, it came to our country with the first settlers and can be found in just about every state now. If you want to check with the invasive species lists of your state, here's a good site to check:

Looking back, I wished I would have known these characteristics before I began tucking it into every bare corner of my yard. We now have a vine so thick on our fence, that it’s literally holding the fence up! And every year I have to snip it from the base of the nearby trees so that it doesn’t climb up and steal all the sunlight from them which can weaken and eventually kill even the biggest of trees.

We have entered a new zone – the ivy madness zone – where this aggressive vine has gathered a life of its own. Does it look wonderful and green? Absolutely. Has it been a pain in the *$!? You bet your life.

When it comes down to it, the lesson for me is not whether ivy is good or bad. We read in scripture that everything God created was “good.” Certainly, a plant can’t be blamed for growing and spreading and propagating itself. For me the lesson is to realize that there are forces at play that I would do well to understand.

There’s an interesting warning given in scripture about “counting the cost.” The adage in Luke 14 says that no one builds a tower without first sitting down to count the cost – otherwise if he can’t finish it, he will be mocked. When Jesus gives this warning it comes on the heels of his invitation to follow him.

Whether you like it or not, faith is invasive. It’s not content to sit in the pews on Sunday or grow up the wires in a nice, interesting shape. Faith has a way of thriving in the hardest soil and the shadiest soul. Jesus is warning his disciples that a life of faith will literally climb into all the nooks and crannies of their being. It may become hard to manage even.

Like the young gardener I was, the disciples have no idea what he’s talking about. They can’t imagine the outcome that will befall Jesus and many of them: to be put to death. They were likely focused on the benefits of following their Lord; that they would be given the power to heal and to have authority over demons and wind and water.

It’s so easy to see a situation from the vantage point you desire. Choices don’t seem as monumental in the moment. As I sit and write this I am watching my mom diminish in health, slowly but surely. She has reached the end-stage of COPD, Chronic Pulmonary Disease. Forty or more years of heavy smoking have resulted in her lungs inability to process oxygen – even while it is being pumped through her nose. Smoking was glamorous when she was young. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Surgeon General first warned of the risks of smoking. You can hardly blame her for ignoring it. The label on a package of cigarettes still goes unnoticed by most.

But choices matter. Choices grow and spread and eventually fill a life. A green wall isn't all that "green" if it's invasive. Wouldn't it be better to plant something that is native to your area... on the ground... where water is plentiful? In the case of faith, there are not only natural laws that go into effect, but eternal, supernatural consequences. That one decision to ask Jesus to be my Lord and Savior in 1986 has set into motion the supernatural power of God to grow inside my heart, mind, soul and spirit. Faith is sending out shoots of hope and love into the thickest, hardest soil of my heart. While I have and will spend countless hours removing the ivy, scripture assures me that “I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will complete it in the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

I can have hope that the vine of faith will grow, flower, fruit and give seed to many. And you can, too! If you haven’t before, today is the day to plant the seed that will spring to eternal life. Today is the day to choose Jesus.


"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matt. 16:25


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