I turned 50 in December with the full determination to embrace life fully, not holding anything back. When my daughter asked me what I wanted, I told her, “I’d love to have 50 challenges to complete this next year.”
Jessie is creative so I knew she’d make it fun, and crazy. I hoped it would even be a little daring.
On Christmas, I opened Jessie’s gift; my own personal Challenge Book complete with instructions, -50- challenges, a journal to record my thoughts on each challenge and 2 disposable cameras for tracking the “proof”.
Okay, this should be fun, right?
I turn to challenge No.1. Hold a snake.
Wait!?! What?! “Oh no, no, no. This is not cool.” I look to Jess and the rest of the family smiling sheepishly at me.
Jess was quick to respond, “Okay Mom, that’s like the hardest one. Jake (our oldest) helped. The snake was his idea (of course).”
“And remember, you don’t have to do them in order.”
It seemed appropriate to start the year off facing and conquering a big challenge. Get the toughest one done, right?
So snake challenge it was -and New Year’s Day is a great day to do something ‘big’ and new.
Conveniently there is a reptile shop close to our house. Of all the little shops it was the only one open. Not getting out of this today.
I was glad Brad was with me. We walked in and I immediately searched for creeping critters on the loose. There were only two; a dog and a turtle. “Okay, safe enough.”
There were several customers, so I tried to ‘blend’ in while keeping a safe distance from the warmly lit aquariums. I took deep breaths, hating that familiar stench of fear that accompanied me as I cautiously peered into each glass tank.
The owner, Ronald asked if we needed help. He had an easy going manner and kind eyes.
I can do this.
I explained my fear of snakes and my daughter’s gift of challenges.
“Do you think you could help me? –Cuz I’m kind of freaked out just looking at these guys.”
There were several tanks with a variety of snake; pythons, corral snakes and others.
I tried to imagine them as lizards that lost their legs, but it didn’t help.
Fear closed in around me. It’s like some weird nerve gas that causes your mouth to go dry. You forget to breath and your hands (and pits) get sweaty. Even your face gets all bent out of shape.
I hate fear, but running from it does no good.
Ronald gets my attention back to the task at hand, “Yeh, sure. I’ll have you holding one in just a few minutes.”
He doesn’t know how big my fear is.
He didn’t address my fear; he simply instructed, “Put your hand on the glass –right here beside the snake.”
“You’re totally separated, but you’re almost touching it. It’s safe. Try it.”
Ronald wasn’t addressing my fear; he simply called me to action over fear.
I slowly put my fingers on the glass, on the other side of which the snake’s head rested on the length of another snake.
It didn’t squirm into a writhing frenzy or coil up. Nothing.
“Okay, that’s cool.”
Ronald talked about the difference of snakes bred in human controlled environments versus the wild. “All they know of humans is safety. We’re not a threat to them, so they have no need to be a threat to us.” “They only eat natural prey –not man.”
“Hold on, I’ll get one that you can touch,” He turned and went to a tank on the next aisle. Before I could hesitate further Ronald was back holding a several foot youth python. “I’m just going to hold her head away so you can touch her. Just use 1 finger if that’s easier for you.”
She twisted about clinging to Ronald’s wrist. Her reddish spots on white were pretty. I put my hand near her inching and pulling back, inching and pulling back.
Ugh… I was more disturbed by my fear than the creature herself.
Finally, I slide my finger along her scales. Whoah! Surprise. She didn’t snap at me or flinch or do any strange thing.
I set my hand on her again feeling the strength of her muscles. Her scales were smooth, but not slimy.
Breathe Shelly. I took a cleansing breath.
“Wanna hold her?” Ronald raised her higher, though not closer.
The bell on the entry door jingled as another couple came in the store.
“No. I can’t, not yet.”
Ronald tucked the snake around his neck and went to help the couple. He came back and asked, “Ready?”
I touched her but I wasn’t ready. Then another customer came in.
This place is hopping. And it’s New Year’s Day!
Ronald had paying customers, so he put her back and moved on. Brad had things to do at home —but I hadn’t accomplished what I came for.
I lingered, peering into the tanks trying to picture myself holding the snake myself.
Finally the shop was empty again. I stalled for time. I knew Brad was ready to go and Ronald surely had his shop chores to take care of.
It would be easy to say I touched a snake and gave it a good effort. But then fear would have dominance over me… and doesn’t the God tell us that He’s not given us a spirit of fear, but rather power, love and sound mind?
I couldn’t give in to fear and walk away.
As I contemplated, Ronald helped me out, “Here, let me show you something special.”
He walked to the back of the store, past where customers were permitted and returned with a much larger version of the snake he’d just presented minutes earlier.
“She’s older and in fact, she’s pregnant.”
The weight of fear began to lift as I held her weight and length in my hand.
She was strong, but slow. I was okay holding her.
Ronald and his massive pup watched and surely saw fear lifting. “Here want to hold her on your neck?”
“Yeh, I would.” Another customer came in.
“Lean forward. I’ll drape her around your neck.” “Hold her here and here.” He gently placed her in my hands and around my neck.
The big snake was fully on me alone now.
It was a pretty incredible moment. In the absence of fear I had PEACE. It was such a remarkable contrast; almost palatable.
What did I gain besides a photo and a “Done!” in my Challenge Book?
Truth; fear only holds as much occupancy in us as we allow.
Occasionally fear is healthy and wise. It can protect us. You wouldn’t go into the wild and pick up a rattlesnake. That would be stupid.
By the same token, when we give in to fear over reason, we become out of balance in that area of our thought process.
You can see the look on my face the moment before I let go of fear. Even the dog in the photo appears to see it. It’s not very flattering.
Once I embraced peace while holding the snake, the countenance on my face totally changed.
As a follower of Christ fear is not only unbecoming, it’s a contradiction to the identity of peace that we are given as image bearers of God Himself.
Today was more than completing my first challenge. Challenge No. 1 was a powerful reminder that fear has no place in the transformation life of believers in Christ.
Jesus gives us peace that surpasses understanding–and how much more in matters more consequential than holding a tame snake?
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” –John 14:27 (NASB)
Only 49 more challenges to go. This is going to be an aMAZing year!!