He was struggling between boyhood and manhood. Like a tadpole learning to cope with legs instead of a tail, he was learning to live with mechanisms different from his youth. Tears came too easily for this eleven-year-old and I knew they would need to lessen as his body matured to man.
One night, after an afternoon bout of his crying over someone changing rules in a game or other mildly unjust action, I intently prayed for him to grow up to be the man God intended:
“God please make my son tough.
– The kind of tough that can withstand struggles.
– The kind of tough that can lift the weights for his eventual family.
– The kind of tough that perseveres.
– The kind of tough that plays hurt.
– The kind of tough that is a warrior for You.”
I prayed that God would reveal my own “mom-weaknesses” where I may have been catering to my son’s softer side, hindering his growth to manhood.
The day after my fervent prayer, a rash broke out on his belly. He itched and whined, and frankly, made a big deal of it. It did look itchy and uncomfortable, to say the least, but the entire rash was less than the size of my hand. It wasn’t really obvious what it was, but we suspected poison ivy.
“Mom, there’s no way I can play in my soccer game tomorrow!” he said.
“Bud, I know it itches, but once you see that ball on the field, I bet the itching will be less than your desire for a goal. Besides, your team needs you!” I said as I dutifully washed the bumps in special soap, put some Calamine on it and gave him Benedryl.
That night, I stayed up late into my “productive hours,” getting ready for the Mom-starting-gun to make its sound again the following day. As I passed his room at 2am, I saw my poor son sitting up on his bed, miserably hugging himself, rocking back and forth while tears streamed down his swollen cheeks. The spots had spread like the ivy that caused them – up from his chest to his neck and face, swelling one of his eyes almost closed. It grew down from his belly, hitting his inner thighs and continued to his feet.
He. Was. Miserable.
I gave him more Benedryl, coated what I could with more Calamine, and realized there was really nothing more I could do until we got to a physician. I sat quietly on his bed, softly stroked his back, and silently prayed:
“Dear Lord. You know the pain in my son today. You KNOW how badly he is suffering with this itchiness and how long it can last. Please, God, take the poison ivy away and restore his skin to fully healed.”
As I lay in bed that night, I thought of his soccer game the following day, and how the coach would not understand that he would miss “because of poison ivy.” I imagined a phone call I would make, emphasizing how BAD the poison ivy was: it was not just a couple spots on his belly!
When I woke in the morning, I was surprised to see my son already awake. He stood, fully dressed in game-attire, looking at himself in the mirror while he applied his own Calamine.
“I can either sit here and itch, or I can play a game for my team. I’m choosing to play.” He answered the question I hadn’t asked.
I was in shock. I started to make excuses and tell how the rash was more intense than it originally looked; how much worse it might itch with sweat; I started to wonder if others could get it, and a million other excuses for him not to go out of the house looking like a swollen monster covered in pink paint.
But my prayers from two nights before were answered, and my “mom-weaknesses” were silenced.
(Note: If he had not come up with the idea himself, I don’t know that I would have pushed him to play that game. I think parenthood is a dance between compassion and pressure. Without the first, the latter causes pain and not necessarily change. (Ephesians 6:4))
I don’t suppose “toughness” is really the lack of tears, nor lack of fears, but the ability to push through yourself for your team, your family or someone beyond the one in your uncomfortable skin.
I thought back to my prayer just days prior and wondered if God ever laughs at me?! One moment, I was praying my son would become a warrior, and then when He allowed the very thing that would make him tough, I immediately prayed it would be taken away.
I am thankful God continued with His plan, and didn’t allow me to get in the way.
Maybe there are some cases of “poison ivy” in life for which we should be thankful instead of resentful: the struggles that made us strong; the trials that toughened our skin; the resistance that built muscles.
Or maybe there are some in my life right now from which I should be learning instead of running?
Because I guess answered prayers are sometimes disguised as itchy monsters covered in pink paint….before the goal is scored.
Romans 5: 3-5: Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
“We pray for silver, but God often gives us gold instead.” – Martin Luther