Saturday, June 16, 2012


I used to chuckle at people who could remember exactly where they'd had a tick embedded in their skin, and how they were when it happened. Truth is, I stopped counting before I learned to count. Tick bites  were about as common to me as mosquito bites to kids in Alaska. (Remember the postcards showing off their state bird?)

Then I moved to Washington state, and in my 8+ years there I saw about as many ticks as I would have seen in a normal week here in Iowa. I certainly never had a Washintonian tick burrow in. In fact, ticks seemed so rare that sightings almost made me feel nostalgic.

I'll have to admit I enjoyed the reprieve. It spoiled me, though. Compared to my childhood days, I've become downright entonophobic, abhorring the idea of actually being bitten.

The other weekend, while hiking at the local state park, we hiked a trail that appeared to have not been mowed in several weeks. Since I had instigated turning onto the trail, I took the lead—giving me first dibs on the ticks. Thankfully, I had on light-colored pants, making the vermin easier to see; but the quarter-mile jaunt through tall grass took quite a bit longer than it should have, due to numerous stops. Each time I saw something crawling up from my shoes, I halted the procession—and after removing the initial arachnid, I wound up picking off 3-4 more ticks from my pant legs.

Back home, I conducted a thorough search. One attached to the top of my foot through my sock. (That was a first!) Two or three more crawling up my legs and trunk in search of prime sucking spots. And I'd already unattached one from my leg in the park restroom.

There's nothing quite like searching for ticks to get you acquainted with all of your moles. I mean, I'm on familiar terms with the spots on my face and forearms, but I don't know so much about the ones in less-seen locations like my thighs and back. I really don't have a reason to know about those moles...until, of course, I'm on a tick hunt. Then I'm liable to scratch at claw at any innocent mole till I'm fully convinced that it's part of my body. You might say that ticks spur me to greater self-scrutiny.

There's another parasite in our house these days, and it seems our adorable rascal is to blame. We thought the bald spots on his ears came from scratching at his mites—until, behold, a strange little rash appeared on my neck. Circular, flaky, itchy, scaly, red ring around a pale center...yep, matches the description for ringworm. So much for the joy of having the kitten on my shoulder.

A day or so after the initial discovery, I identified a patch on my upper arm. And now, I'm keenly aware of every itch on my body. Have you ever just stopped what you were doing and allowed yourself to feel every little itch? I've discovered that at any given moment, there could be several widely separated patches of skin itching at once—especially during Iowa summer. One might be a chigger, one the chaffing of a waste band or tag, one a bug bite and another a tick bite that's still healing up. And then there are those unidentified itches. Itches that come from nowhere and go away without ever being explained. Except that now, all of those are suspect. I've found myself rushing to the mirror to investigate, only to wonder if the itch is red because I just scratched it, or is it dry and flaky? Is it a red mound, like a bite...or is it  hollow, like ringworm?

If I'm not careful to mingle my paranoia with reason, I could easily develop a somatoform disorder over this. The parasites have me scrutinizing my skin like never before.

Annoyances and trials can have a similar effect. When I realize that life isn't going how I'd like it, or that things are not as they should be, I often find myself becoming extra introspective. What parasites in me are causing this mess? What baggage haven't I dealt with? What flawed perspectives need to be corrected?

Some soul-searching can be very beneficial: the kind that says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts." When we enlist God's help, He shows us our wrong attitudes and behaviors for the purpose of uprooting them and leading us toward everlasting life (Psalm 139:23, 24). He restores health to us and heals our wounds (Jeremiah 30:17).

When I leave God out of it though, my introspection becomes more like selfish, snobby fretting, and I find myself scratching at the wrong itches—things I can't do anything about. When I find myself clawing at the past, for example, it's often simply time to move on.

After all, benign moles are better left alone.