It was a hot day as I raced toward the freestanding 4 foot deep kiddie pool that sat by the muddy brook, deep in our wooded back yard. I grabbed the rickety metal ladder bars as I obediently stepped into the black rubber bin in which we routinely rinsed our feet before plunging into the cool water. Shocking pain shot through the front of my foot. I instantly kicked my leg out of the shallow, sun-warmed water, confused by the weight that pulled my toes down. I shrieked as I saw a long, thick, black snake thrashing and jerking as it dangled from my leg, refusing to let go as it attached itself to my toe.
I never walked barefoot through the grass and fields on our farm again, even in raging summer heat. I knew that snakes lurked behind the rocks, under the house and in the root cellar. In my mind, their actual number was multiplied a thousand-fold. My first negative encounter with this reptile was followed by many more. Even though I expected to encounter them, it seemed that most sightings came in the form of assaults, like the day I was riding my bike, carefree and laughing.
I had ridden for miles and was coasting that last stretch on level ground to our home. A copper, slithering rope on the gray road approached my path before I noticed it. I was upon it just before I saw the threat of the diamond pattern in gold and brown. The bike bumped and in an instant my bike’s front wheel became a circular loom, weaved haphazardly with whipping reptile flesh. My bike stumbled in my shock and I fell. I ran, screaming, and didn’t look back, leaving the massacred snake entwined into my bike wheel, dead.
Snakes loomed in my mind and imagination, day in and day out.
There’s no avoiding bonafide work when you’re a farm girl, and I did my share. I would “get the eggs” when asked, knowing the snakes loved hen houses, and ours were far from reptile-proof. Every reach into a dark nest was a risk. I was terrified, but I collected the eggs whenever instructed to and returned to the house with a bucket of eggs and palpable relief. I don’t remember any henhouse snake encounters, but snakes loomed in my mind and imagination, day in and day out.
I was raking one day. I pulled back for another lunge of the rake into a thicket on a hill. As I lifted the rake, the head of a mature snake rose, angry and obstinate. I’m not kidding, that snake looked me in the eyes and challenged me. I had only a feeble, thin, dark green tin rake to defend myself. I knew I was a mere lunge away from a strike from this hostile creature. It would easily evade the defense of the flimsy rake. I strategized in an instant, knowing the snake had already decided to defend its offended nest. Instinct told me I was in danger. Without actual calculation, I thrust the rake in the direction of the glistening, raised upper body of this enemy and ran! I ran with every ounce of energy in me. I eventually looked back from the nearby road. It hadn’t followed. Another day in the life of a farm girl.
I went away for college, to a town ten hours away where eggs didn’t need to be collected and potatoes didn’t need to be put in the root cellar below the house. My friend invited me to visit her family in the Virgin Islands one summer. I saved enough money to pay for the airfare and visited. Of course, I took all of my fears with me wherever I went, so one of my first questions to her, upon unloading my luggage from her car, was the likelihood of encountering a tropical island snake. She laughed and said in her English accent, “My Dear, I have lived here my whole life and never once have encountered a snake! The mongoose get them. Have no fear! You are safe here.”
I walked the beautiful, tropical blossom-laden property overlooking the sea with my shoulders back, inhaling the breeze, reveling in fearlessness for a rare moment. It rained the next day, leaving a lingering mist over the flora and a sheen on her black driveway. I had left something in the car and ran out, barefoot, that morning. In an instant, a massive, clearly mature, yard-long dark and threatening snake darted into my path, then stopped, blocking my path. It was not concerned about me, ignoring me completely. It stayed stretched out. It didn’t coil or hiss. But I was defenseless and assumed it could do me harm. I slowly backed away, terrified. I told my friend and she doubted my story. My vacation was tainted, from that moment on.
I regretfully admit that I was stalked by snakes, day after day until a whole childhood was lived.
We lived there over a decade and no one ever saw a snake. My friend, Loretta, marveled. “Oh, but my son loves snakes! He can find one anywhere. Just wait and see.” He never did. I walked in confidence.
Then we really moved into the woods, to a valley between two mountains with a brook that is wide like a pond in some places. I still understand authority, but I also understand that it’s not good for the ecosystem to relocate over 4 acres of wildlife to appease a childhood phobia, no matter how entrenched it may have become. However, the third sighting of yard long, muddy brown, aggressive and nasty water snakes around our patio, driveway and trampoline, demanded a response on my part. After a half century, would I continue to live in terror at the prospect of encountering a snake on my snake-occupied property? Or would I finally deal with this fear?
I actually accommodated the fear by removing triggers.
This occurred to me as I paid my bills yesterday, too. Even if God rained a half million dollars on our finances, my financial fears needed to be dealt with. I realized that our 2-kids-in-college dilemma wasn’t going away. One kid will graduate next year, and six months later, another kid begins college, all with the middle college-attender firmly ensconced in his program. That’s a lot of years with two kids in college. I know that God will provide, but tight finances can cause stress, and stress is fear. Stress is concentrated anxiety, and it’s based in lack of trust. More money may alleviate the stress, but that fear was never conquered. It’s there, to be activated based on circumstances, not based on God’s unchanging traits of faithfulness and lovingkindness.
It’s possible that God has allowed continued financial turbulence to teach me to trust. After all, He knows He has us covered, even if we doubt it. What’s best for us is trust and peace. He knows that He can solve the problem in a blink, but He also knows it’s still a problem for me. It’s a problem of theological proportion. Fear is such a big theological issue that it can steal the joys of childhood from us. It can actually steal the joys of an entire lifetime from us. Times like sitting at the coffee table, head in our hands, begging God to provide, instead of praising Him that He will.
My brother thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail with walking sticks. Those trusty tools served many purposes, not the least of which was whacking away overgrown brush and unwanted wildlife, like snakes. He encountered a lot of snakes on those over-2,000 miles. They didn’t deter him. I’ve come a long way, too. When a mature, diamond-headed water snake sat, picture-book coiled, like in The Arabian Nights, in the shade on our deck, I actually didn’t freak out. I did a respectful about-face, and my heartbeat quickly re-established its normal rhythm. I now always approach my driveway with respect for potential unwanted visitors, but not with unhealthy hyper-vigilance.
God’s love is the antidote to that relived terror.
“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Fear and love can’t exhibit at the same time. In the same person’s heart and mind, they elbow each other for front-and-center attention. In my early years, I focused on my fears and they grew, and grew and stole decades of peace and joy from my life. It’s said that we empower whatever we focus on. Today, I can look ahead at the years of financial expenses and fear, or I can focus on The Creator of The Universe. Psalm 50:10-11 says,
“For every beast of the forest is Mine,
The cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird of the mountains,
And everything that moves in the field is Mine.”