Snake Story


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This is a true story of my childhood.  It is a story of fear, faith, and hope. It is a story of overcoming your fears.  I hope you find this story encouraging.

Whenever I face fear or stress, I am taken back to the days of my childhood to a hot Saturday afternoon in West Texas.  I grew up on a ranch outside a little town in West Texas in the 1960’s.  At this time, and in this place, there really was not much TV reception.  We did have a small Black and White TV, but it took a little luck to get one fuzzy TV station. So, people did not watch TV much.  Houses had porches and front yards, and in the evening people visited with each other, read, or perhaps took walks or worked in the garden.

The days were very hot in the summer in West Texas, but in the evening there would come a point where you could suddenly feel it get cool.  It would go from hot to cool in a matter of a few seconds.  I don’t know what caused this, but we called it the “Osmosis”.  It was that instant where the heat of the day gave way to the cool of the evening.

Summers were special in West Texas.  School was out, and you felt as if you would never have to go back, and things would never change.  It felt like your entire life could be spent in that summer, full of exploration, fun and freedom.

A special part of West Texas Summers were Barbeques.  I guess in most places Barbeque is something that you eat, but in West Texas, it was something that you went to.  It was an event.  Typically, ranchers would butcher a calf, a lamb and a goat, and then slow cook them over oak coals.  By late afternoon they would have a batch of meat like you have never tasted in your life.  As an adult I have been all over the world, and have eaten in the world’s finest restaurants, but can honestly say that I have never had anything come close to the wonderful flavor of that slow smoked meat.

Barbeques typically did not have an official start time, but usually got started about mid-afternoon.  Some people would typically show up early, usually to help in the preparations, and some would show up later, perhaps because they had work to do. In any event, people would usually start showing up about 2:00 PM, and the crowd would slowly grow from there.

Of all the people that put on great barbeques, none could compare to those of Jim Cawley.  He was renowned for his barbeques, and an invitation to one was an honor to be most treasured. I can remember one particular Summer that we were invited to one of Jim Cawley’s barbeques.  He lived about 20 miles outside of town, so it was a little bit of a drive to get to his house over dry caliches roads.  My dad had a little light green Volkswagen beetle, with no air conditioning.  He would always make the trips in the country fun though, because when we got to the top of a hill, he would always turn the engine off, put the car in neutral, and then coast as far as he could.  As the car would finally get to the point that it was about to stop, he would put it back in gear, pop the clutch, and get the motor going again.  The object was to go as far as you could with the motor off, and never have to use the starter to get it going again. The Volkswagens had running boards outside right beneath the doors, and my dad would sometimes let me ride outside the car, standing on the running board, and holding onto the window post. He would also let me drive sometime, even when I was 7 or 8 years old, and he would ride outside on the running board. I guess those sorts of things are frowned on today. Anyway, my Dad always made it an interesting and fun trip, and you learned at an early age to role away from the car if you fell off.

I have digressed . . . back to Jim Cawley’s barbeque.  Anyway, after a typical fun drive, my Dad and I got out to the Cawleys at about 3:00 in the afternoon.  The crowd was already starting to gather.  Now at a Barbeque, the host provides the meat, and everyone else brings a side dish or beverages.  We took our side dish into the house, and then joined the men who were outside standing in the shade of the oak trees. These affairs were typically segregated.  That is to say, women gathered in one area, and the men in another.  Folks might come as couples, but upon arriving each person would seek out his or her like group. Barbeques were definitely a family affair, and the yard would be full of children running every which way.  At this time in our nation’s history children would run with sticks, would play with knives, would make improvised explosive devices out of black cat firecrackers, and could amuse themselves for hours on end with nothing but a gallon of gasoline and a few matches. Anyway, against this backdrop, my Dad and I made our way over to the group of Men. On this day, I decided to stand with the men, rather than run around the yard with the children.

Conversations at such affairs were always interesting.  The number one topic was always rain.  There was always a need for more rain.  The ranchers depended on rain for the grass that would fatten the cattle that would then be sold.  Without rain, there would be no grass, and the ranchers would have to “feed”, which would eliminate any hope of any meaningful profit, or income. So, there was always a need for more rain.  In addition to Ranchers, there were also Farmers around, who were keenly interested in rain as well.  Unlike Ranchers, who simply always wanted more rain, the Farmers wanted rain, but needed it at the right time and in the right amount.  Rain after planting was a good thing, but if it rained too much right before a harvest, the mud would keep the tractors out of the fields, and all would be lost.  So sometimes everyone wanted rain, and sometimes disputes would break out between those who wanted rain this week, and those who needed it to stay dry for a few more weeks. I guess the bottom line is that you never had everyone happy at the same time.  Suffice it to say that on this particular hot July day, everyone was in agreement.  We needed rain.

I will never forget this particular day, this particular barbeque, and specifically this particular moment.  The discussion on rain, and the calmness of the afternoon, was broken by a woman’s hysterical shriek: . . . . “RATTLESNAKE”. A woman who was walking into the front yard with her children spotted an enormous six foot rattlesnake at her feet coiled at the gate post.

At this instant mass hysteria broke out.  Terrified women ran through the yard, trying to find their children. Men turned about in confusion, trying to determine where the snake was. Children ran to the front yard, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about.  To sum it up, it was mass pandemonium. Women were crying, men were confused, and children were moving in to try and get a better look. 

In the midst of the chaos and terror, the front screen door of the Cawley house suddenly burst open, and out stepped Big Jim Cawley, and Big Jim was packing a double barrel  12 gauge, with an extra box of shells.  The sudden appearance of Mr. Cawley, and his associated firepower, had a calming effect on the crowd.  Immediately, the crowd was silenced, and they began to separate, clearing a path for Jim.  It was understood he would be shooting the snake, so everyone scooted back to give him a clear line of fire and unencumbered view of the monster. Women were clutching their children to ensure no one ran into the line of fire.  All was quiet.  Jim came in view of the snake.  He slowly drew a bead on the terrible creature, and right at the time you were expecting to hear the report of the shotgun, you heard instead a voice in the crowd say firmly,  “Wait”.  Then the voice said, “Wait, that is no way to kill a snake”. 

The voice was the voice of my Dad.  My Dad shocked the crowd by interrupting what was expected to be a simple and clean kill to suggest that there was a better way to kill the snake.  Now at this time, and at this place snakes were no laughing matter.  A snake bite could mean serious injury or even death.  Snakes killed pets, ranch animals and livestock.  While today killing a snake might be considered politically incorrect, at this time, there was simply no other consideration.  Snakes were dangerous and if you found one you killed it, and you killed it in the quickest most efficient manner possible. Rattlesnakes were terrible creatures, feared by women and despised by men.

So, there was no small confusion when my Dad interrupted Jim’s kill.  People were whispering and muttering, “what does he mean?”, “what better way could there be to kill a snake?”, “has he gone crazy?”  Anyway, as people stood there in confusion and amazement, my father stepped out of the crowd and approached the serpent.

The crowd gasped as he made his approach.  Carefully he walked closer to the snake than any sane man would ever even consider. The crowd was in complete amazement. Everyone held their breath.  They did not know whether to think him brave or crazy. Why would he risk his life with such a foolish stunt?  As he made his final approach to the snake, my Dad slowly crouched down, and then when he was about 1 foot from the snake he made one quick cat-like pounce, and snatched the snake up by the tail.  He then swung the snake around and around in a circular motion by the tail.  The theory being if you kept the snake swinging around fast enough, the head would not be able to come around and bite you.  Once he had the snake going around in this fashion, he calmly walked over to a large rock, and slammed the snake down on it.  He then dusted off his hands and said, to the amazement of the crowd, “that, my friends, is how you kill a snake.”

The people at the barbeque that day knew that they were in the presence of a great man.  A man of courage, and a man of bravery.  The rest of the evening was somewhat subdued.  It was much quieter than a normal barbeque, and the evening ended much earlier than usual.  I think it was because people were somewhat in awe of my Dad’s brave actions, and somewhat humbled by their own fear and panic in the face of the snake. Even years later, people never forgot my Dad’s bravery.  When he appeared in town, people would point him out to small children, “There goes a very brave man”. Men would quietly tip their hat to him.

Over the course of time, my life has changed significantly from that hot West Texas afternoon.  I left the ranch and went to college.  I went to the University of Texas, and then on to Stanford.  I became a successful researcher, executive, and entrepreneur.  On this journey I faced many trials and challenges.  Challenges, problems, and crisis that would terrify you, that would make you give up all hope, and that would rob you of your joy.  Invariably when faced with such challenges, with such great fears, I would always go back to the day of that Barbeque, and remember that snake.

What I remember about that day more than anything else is the complete look of panic on the people’s faces.  The terror in their eyes, and the fear in their voices.  In my mind, the image is indelibly burned.  It was the picture of utter and complete, undiluted fear.  But in the crowd that day there were two people that were not afraid.  There were two people who had no fear.  The two people were me, and my Dad.

The reason that my Dad and I had no fear was that we had a secret.  A secret that no one else knew.  The secret was NOT that my dad had special snake expertise.  The secret was NOT that my Dad was extra quick, or had ever done anything like that before.  The secret that my Dad and I had was that we knew something no one else knew . . . we knew that the snake was already dead.

You see, in telling you the story of driving out to the Barbeque that day, I left out one critical fact, and that fact changes everything. Understanding that day, and understanding how I overcome fear requires you to know the fact. The fact is that about a quarter of a mile from the Cawley house we saw a huge six foot rattlesnake going across the road.  My Dad ran over the snake right behind its head.  It broke the snake’s neck, but did not break the skin.  The snake was dead all right, but looked normal. My dad tossed the snake on the back bumper, and when we arrived at the barbeque, he discretely coiled the dead snake up by the gate post of the Cawley front yard.

Now one thing about a dead snake is that for several hours it will continue to twitch and move and rattle.  The snake is dead, but reflexes and nerve endings remain active for several hours. 

So, at the point the snake was “found” by the guests, it was big and ugly and twitching and moving and rattling and threatening, but it was harmless.  The snake was already dead, the snake was harmless, it had been crushed . . . but the people were terrified.

So, my question for you, my friend, is, what are you afraid of? What is it in your life that is robbing you of your joy.  What is robbing you of peace? What is it that is keeping you from becoming the person God created you to be?

Maybe you are tormented by the cruel and hurtful actions of someone close to you. Maybe it is peer pressure, trouble at work, damaged relationships, or mistakes you have made.  Perhaps you are facing a serious medical condition, or maybe facing the ultimate fear . . . maybe you are staring death right in the face.

There are many things that cause fear, depression and anxiety, but whatever the specific cause or our fear, understand that it all gets back to the snake.  No, not the snake at the barbeque, but another snake, much craftier and much more sinister.  The snake I am speaking of is that old serpent the Devil himself.  The Bible says that the devil comes to Steal, Kill, and Destroy, and he is very busy in the world today. He comes to us to rob us of our joy, to rob us of our peace, and to keep us from being the people God created us to be.  He comes to us as big, hairy, ugly problems that we are unable to cope with, and unable to solve.  These problems leave us with a sense of hopelessness and no way out.

My friend, I hope you will learn the lesson of the snake.  My Father faced down the snake, not because of his courage, his bravery, or his power.  He faced the snake because he knew that no matter how terrible the snake looked, the snake was already dead.  The same is true of that serpent the devil.  You see the real battle occurred several thousand years ago, and the victory has already been won for you.  God sent his one and only Son in the person of Jesus Christ into the world to save mankind from sin, and to save man from Satan’s sinister plans.

Satan, of course, wanted to foil Gods plan.  Christ could not pay for the sins of mankind, if he sinned himself.  So, Satan’s first plan of attack was to tempt, trick, and torment Jesus into sin.  Jesus stood firm, and did not sin.  With time growing short, Satan realized that his only option left was to kill the Son of God, and by killing him, having victory over Christ, and God’s plan for mankind. 

Satan succeeded in his plan . . . he pulled the strings of the hearts of men to crucify Jesus.  Jesus died, and was buried, and Satan thought he had won the victory.  However, three days later, Christ rose from the dead.  Christ overcame death, and overcame the grave.  Christ won the ultimate victory over death, the grave, and Satan himself.  Satan, and his plans, were defeated, once and for all, and for all times. Satan brought all he had, and it was not enough.  Christ was victorious.

Satan was defeated, but like the snake at the barbeque, he is still big and ugly and is still twitching in the world.  The thing to understand, though, is like the snake at the barbeque, he is defeated, he is without real power.

But even a dead snake can be scary, so the question is how to find peace in your life in the midst of the fears that you face? The simple answer is to take refuge in the one who defeated the snake.  Turn to him, surrender your life, and trust that the one who defeated the snake, who overcame death and the grave can help you navigate through your crises.

Understand that God’s plan for you is much greater than simply helping you overcome your fear.  He wants you to not only have an abundant life, but to have an eternal life as well.

In order to find that help, and to find that peace, you must first surrender your life to him.  You must realize that God created man in his own image, and God desires to have fellowship with man.  Sin came into the world, though, when the serpent in the Garden of Eden tempted Adam and Eve, and they sinned.  This sin, and our sin, separates us from God, and his perfect plan for our life.  God did not leave us without a way out.  He did not leave us to become victims of the snake. He sent a solution, he sent his son.  Christ died on the cross for our sins, and he rose from the dead to prove his power over death, his power over the grave, and his power over the snake.

God offers us eternal life as a free gift, but we must accept that free gift by inviting Christ into our hearts, and by trusting him, and his sacrifice.  Eternal life comes from believing the Gospel. That is, believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He came to earth and lived a perfect life, that He died upon the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. We believe that the punishment that we deserved for our sins was placed on Christ at the cross, and by his suffering, we are made clean. We believe that after dying on the cross for our sins, He demonstrated His power over death, Satan, and the grave by rising from the grave on the third day. If you believe those things, you a great thing to do is to pray and confess them to God. You can do that by praying a simple prayer.  The exact words of the prayer are not important but one that will work is:

"Dear God, I know that I am a sinner and can never earn my way to your acceptance. I regret the sins in my life, and I accept your free gift of eternal life, and put my trust in Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus is the Son of God, and that He lived a perfect life and died on the cross for my sins. I ask Jesus to come into my life and into my heart, and to be my Savior and Lord.  I will from this day forward to my best to know you, serve you, and make you known. Thank you God for this wonderful gift."

By believing the Gospel, God promises us the free gift of eternal life.  It requires nothing else, just trusting in Christ and his sacrifice.

By putting our faith in Christ, God makes other promises, and then there are some promises that he does not make.  God promises that he will never leave us, and will never forsake us.  He never promises that the devil is not still twitching in the world, and that the devil will not throw terrifying obstacles in our path.  He does promise that he will walk with us, that he will comfort us, and that he will always provide a way out for us. In the parable of the wise and foolish builder, Christ described a wise builder that built his house upon a rock, and a foolish builder that built his house upon the sand. The wise builder is the man who listens to and obeys God’s word. The thing to notice in the story is that when the storm came, it rained on both houses.  God does not promise to keep the storms of life away from us, but he does promise to see us through the storms.

If you prayed the prayer above, God promises you eternal life.  His desire is for you to not only have an eternal life, but to also have an abundant life on earth, full of victory, and free of fear.  In order to experience the abundant life God has planned for you, it is important for you to spend some time each day with him.  Spend a few minutes each morning in prayer, and in reading his word.  If you are a new believer, a good place to start reading the bible is in the book of Mathew.  Read a few chapters each day, and make notes of what the verses mean to you.  Understand that the Bible is God’s love letter to you.  It is a personal message to you and for you from God. I promise God will honor this time, and will give you a victorious life, full of good things and free of fear.  Your life will not be free of fearful things, but you will be able to face these fearful things with the power and promises of God as your protection, and as your guide.

If you would like to join me in further developing your faith and depening your relationship with God, better knowing and understanding Him, I invite you to visit and read my Bible Study Blog. I hope you will find the teachings and articles there encouraging. A great next step would be to read the articles there on the Attributes of God.

I hope you have found this story encouraging as you face your fears.  It is a story that has navigated me through the crises of my life.  I hope it will do the same for you.



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Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.