January 8, 1920 - March 10, 2010
Today I received the phone call that I have dreaded all my life, it is the call we all dread. I learned that my father had passed away. As I was growing up, my father never called me by my name. He always called me his “Little Buddy”. I can remember to this day how good that made me feel. From my very earliest childhood memory, to this very day, he always was my closest and best friend. Throughout my life, I always knew that there was nothing that could happen that he could not take care of. I was able to spend most of the last week by his side, and holding his hand. The first several days, he was speaking, and we were able to just sit and talk about old times. As the week went on, and his strength faded, we just held his hand and told him we were there. While I always knew this day would come, it is still such a hard thing to deal with. As I come to grips with this new reality, I would like to share a true story from my childhood. There is no doubt that many will be offended by it, yet it would give me comfort to tell it, and I hope that some would find comfort in reading it.
My Snake Story.
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, stress, or crisis, 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. 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.
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 and freedom.
A special part of West Texas Summers were Barbeques. 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.
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.
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. Women gathered in one area, and the men in another. 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. 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.
Over the course of time, my life has changed significantly from that hot West Texas afternoon. I left the ranch and saw the world. 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 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 of 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. These problems leave us with a sense of hopelessness and no way out.
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.
My prayer is that each of you has that same hope that I have today as I cope with the tragic news I have received. If you have never had a point in your life where you have put your trust in Christ, it is very simple, and can be done with a simple prayer like this:
"Dear God, I know that I am a sinner and can never earn my way to your acceptance. I accept your free gift of eternal life, and put my trust in Jesus Christ. I ask Jesus to come into my life and into my heart, and to be my Savior and Lord. Thank you God for this wonderful gift."
By praying that prayer, and meaning it, God promises us the free gift of eternal life. It requires nothing else, just trusting in Christ and his sacrifice. Accept Christ’s promise of eternal life in heaven with him, and the promise of a life of peace and hope while here on the earth.
I will sorely miss my Father and my Best Friend. I find hope, courage, and peace in knowing that there will be a day that I will once again be able to sit with him, and never be separated again.
Today the storm came. The winds blew hard, yet the anchor held.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
Until that day I am comforted by a lifetime of memories of a loving earthly father.