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Change may save a little pain and add more years

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Poison ivy and poison sumac! If you have never had either one ... you will never know the sheer torture those four words represent. As a child I was a poison ivy and poison sumac magnet. We played outdoors all summer long, climbed trees that were covered with poison sumac, and went through weeds filled with poison ivy.

Now all this might not have been as terrible as I am letting on, if not for the fact that we had a basic misunderstanding about the stuff. We believed it was spread by water! Now, of course, today I know that this is not true, and I now know that a good dose of soap and water washes the oils away and limits the irritation of the skin. But back then, I and my family had bought the old wives tale that water was a problem!

I would wait for days after being exposed to those irritating oils before I would wash, and all the while, the irritation to my skin became worse. I would swell up to the point where I was barely recognizable; eyes swelled shut and large weeping blisters covered my body! Ugh! But I stuck to my beliefs and was always careful not to wash!

A while back my parents came to visit us, and I asked my mother why we never washed when we were exposed to poison ivy and poison sumac. Now nearly 70 years old, she said, "because water spreads it!" I was shocked. I told her what the doctors had said about poison ivy and sumac being contact irritants which would wash off. I told her that it was just an illusion that it spread (was contagious) because, after a person is exposed, another person might touch their clothing or their skin while the irritating oils were still on them and "seem" to catch it. The truth, however, is that once the oils were washed off the skin and out of the clothing, it was not something that another person could catch.

My mother's answer that day surprised me. She said, "You're wrong!" I asked her if she had ever checked with a doctor during those long weeks in my youth when our eyes had swelled shut, and she said, "No, why would I? I know what it is and what to do about it."

Now all this was very eye opening. I have known for years that a good washing will eliminate most of the reaction to the oil. My children, while being exposed much as I was, have never had the terrible reactions I did, because we have them wash up immediately when we think they may have been exposed.

But my mother believed she knew something and stuck to her belief, even in the face of the very real and unpleasant results both for herself and for us! I tell that story because it helps me illustrate why some people still might believe they would be wasting their time investing in their "spiritual fitness."

There is convincing and mounting evidence from the health care sector and from insurance statistics (which are seldom wrong since they make their money by being right) that people who are spiritually invested are more likely to live longer, and more importantly, spend less time dependent on others in their older years (that means less nursing home time). 20/20 just ran a story on this a week ago.

The Bible talks about God's desire for us to be in good health. It is repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments. 3 John 1:2 says, "... I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well." So the evidence already cited suggests that God has designed us to run best when we are spiritually in tune.

The Air Force is convinced, as we are increasingly, talking in terms of the whole person including physical, mental and spiritual health. Each contributes to our total well being. For instance, people with poor mental health live shorter lives, just as the evidence shows people with poor physical and spiritual health live shorter lives.

The American Academy of Family Physicians has gone on record stating that those who regularly exercise a reaffirming of their faith enjoy better health on the whole. The Internet is littered with medical articles about studies which demonstrate the value of an active spiritual life.

If you have been neglecting your spiritual life, may I suggest a change, a new investment? No? Satisfied with what you have always done? You may be, but sitting in your nursing home wheeling around in your chair some day, remember this: the evidence was shared, the cure (or prevention), so to speak, was available. Don't be like my mom, and think you know best before you check your facts. A change may save you and your family a little pain and provide more years to enjoy together.