I believe that in our darkest hours, when despair surrounds us, we are put in situations that show us how courageous and brave we truly are. Even if those situations are not fun or easy to deal with.
I believe this because God has shown me that it’s true.
It was hot and I was tired. It had only been 3 days after Dad’s funeral when I set out to cut the lawns for the first time. I did not enjoy cutting the lawn as a general rule of thumb, but the idea of cutting two lawns was very, very tiring. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I live next to my parent’s house, our yards adjacent to one another. Compared to the newer subdivisions that offer a backyard the size of a postage stamp, our neighborhood offered very spacious and comfortable yards for each resident. But with a bigger yard comes bigger responsibility…and on a hot day comes a bigger pain in the rear end when you have to cut your grass in the stifling July heat and humidity.
My Dad did a great job of taking care of the lawn. In fact, unlike his son, he actually enjoyed yardwork (there are so many better things to enjoy in this life, but I digress…). My Dad was always planting new trees, adding new pots of flowers, building patios and firepits, and doing something to improve the essence of our backyard at my childhood home. It was a backyard paradise, and I think I often took it for granted when he was around. When I bought my own home, I definitely had a greater appreciation for his green thumb.
But now, the thought of increased yardwork combined with the trauma I felt in my heart after Dad died was difficult to bear. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that my Dad had finally lost his battle with depression, a victim of suicide, and the reality and weight of that truth was still setting in. I was exhausted, emotionally spent, and questioning everything—including my ability to be successful in this new chapter of my life.
I was feeling overwhelmed and very scared—how was I going to manage not one, but two huge lawns all by myself? And would I have to do it forever? It might sound like a trivial concern in the context of the larger loss we were suffering, but when you are in the midst of a family crisis, you tend to amplify all of the minor obstacles into major challenges. Life seems unbearable without your loved one, so molehills always look like mountains in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic loss.
Fortunately, some friends from our old church were buzzing around my lawn and my Mom’s lawn. They had shown up on that day to help me take care of the lawns, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been more grateful. I remember feeling so relieved when they all showed up with a trailer that hauled three riding lawnmowers. I had dispatched them to different areas of our yards, and I had taken on the unpleasant task of trimming with a weedeater.
Let me preface the rest of this story by saying this: If I hate mowing the lawn, I utterly loathe and despise trimming with a string trimmer. It is probably my least favorite lawn chore of all. I’m constantly being pelted with rocks and sticks that get caught in the whipping strings. My shins get whacked over and over again, and I usually mumble unsavory words under my breath and curse Mother Nature. And I am in a constant, ongoing battle with how to properly load string onto the head of the string trimmer without it getting tangled (I’ll gladly take any suggestions from my green-thumbed readers).
Reluctantly I took on the trimming, starting with my yard first. As I was walking through the yard, my mind would not stop racing. I felt overwhelmed without my Dad. I had cut my yard many times, but there was something about doing it knowing that I wouldn’t see my Dad smiling and waving from the yard next door. I wouldn’t get to see him stop over and chat about things I could do to improve the landscaping. My face was streaked with both sweat and tears. He had taught me how to mow the grass and how to maintain the yard, and now I had have to do it without him. I didn’t like this new reality.
Then, as I was getting ready to trim around a large boulder in my side yard, I looked down at my feet and nearly fainted.
A snake slithered its way between my feet. Right in between my legs.
I hate snakes. I hate them. I hate snakes more than string trimmers. I hate snakes more than anything. Folks, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it was a snake that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden causing the subsequent Fall of Man. Those animals are pure evil, and they have been since the day God created them. I haven’t liked them since I was a kid and that one snake, Kaa, tried to hypnotize poor Mowgli in The Jungle Book. I used to be attracted to Britney Spears. Then she did that thing with the snake at the MTV awards, and I could never look at her with the same admiration that I once did. They are corrupt, vile, sneaky, horrible creatures, and in my opinion are the embodiment of the devil on earth.
The snake that slithered through my legs on that day was a massive, hulking, likely-venomous son-of-a-gun that could probably swallow a small child with one gigantic gulp. Okay, I’m embellishing slightly because I think it was a common black garden snake…but that’s how they get you! They look all small and get you to let your guard down and before you know it….BAM! They’ve got their fangs in your neck and you’re a goner. I had no doubt this snake was out for the kill.
I needed a plan. I had nearly dropped the string trimmer when I saw the snake, and I was frozen, unable to move as I watched it raise its sneaky little snake head off of the grass. Suddenly, panic set in. When I thought to myself “What do I do?” the first thing that came to my mind was “Go get Dad!”
In the past, anytime I had encountered a snake, I would run to my Dad and have him catch (and hopefully kill) it. He would laugh at my fear of snakes and tell me that it wasn’t going to harm me. I would then tell him that he was not a snake mind reader and he had no idea what it was going to do to me. In most cases, my Dad would catch the snake and release it in the canal by our house, laughing and shaking his head the entire way.
But in that moment, the gravity of the situation suddenly washed over me. My Dad wasn’t going to be there to catch that snake. He would never be there again to catch that snake. To help me with anything. My Dad was gone, and he was gone forever.
I wanted to collapse. I really wanted to give up. I felt a pit in my stomach that is very hard to describe. The weight of all of my emotions was triggered by a seemingly mundane situation in the yard. If I couldn’t handle this, I thought, how would I handle all of the challenges that would face me in the aftermath of losing my Dad?
As scared as I was, I wasn’t about to let my Dad’s death defeat me. I knew that I had to use that moment to start taking a step up the mountain. I knew what Dad would want me to do.
*Note: If you are a snake lover, you might want to skip this next part of the story because it gets a little graphic.
**Note About the Note: If you are a snake lover, you should also have a psychological evaluation or an exorcism to take care of that problem.
I found an untapped source of fury and an anger that bubbled up from deep within me, and I found a courage to face my fear. Rather than run from the snake, I ran towards it. I took the string trimmer, gave it some gas, and got the strings spinning at full speed.
I hit the snake with the string trimmer. And then I hit it again. And again. And one more time, just to make sure the strings were doing their job. #MowglisRevenge
After that, I threw the string trimmer down onto the ground, and I sprinted into the greenhouse in my backyard. I grabbed a shovel and returned to the area of the attack, and just to make sure that snake was good and gone, I gave him a few nice little love taps with the shovel. His slithering days were done. His reign of terror had ended. Our long national nightmare was over.
I sat on the boulder nearby, and cried from exhaustion. For some reason, I just fell apart. There was something about not having my Dad by me to help me face one of my fears that made the situation very overwhelming.
Then, I looked to the Heavens, and I cried out with a decent sense of anger and frustration. All I could think in that moment was “God, why are you doing this to me? In my darkest hour, why would you let me see this snake which you know I fear?” I’ll admit that I felt anger towards God in that moment. “Isn’t it enough that my Dad is dead?!” I remember yelling. “Isn’t it enough that I’m hurting? Now you have to scare me, too?” It felt like God was kicking me when I was down. When everything already seemed so scary and so hard to deal with, God threw a snake into the mix.
But I sat there and thought, and I began to pray and talk with God as I tried to collect myself. In the conversation that ensued, I started to see my encounter with the snake in a new light. I started to understand that God was showing me that I was stronger than I thought. By bringing that snake into my yard, God was showing me that I could face my fears, and that I underestimate my abilities. God was showing me that I will be able to survive without my Dad. And there were many days after his passing where I thought I wouldn’t be able to. Satan wanted me to be afraid of that snake, throw in my cards, and give up in that moment. But God was helping me place a foothold on the mountain. God knew my breaking point, and he wanted me to overcome it.
By allowing me to go after that snake, I think God was not kicking me when I was down, but that He was allowing me to experience a victory when I needed it most. He was showing me that, yes, life was going to be difficult in the days and weeks and years to come. There were going to be snakes that slithered into my life and moments that seemed completely unbearable. But God was showing me that he would always be there to give me the courage and strength I needed to kill those snakes and tackle my fears.
I think God was also showing me that it’s okay to release my emotions when I feel them. I had heard so many people tell me during the funeral that I needed to “stay strong” for my Mom and my family. But I just didn’t feel strong. I wanted to cry and I wanted to yell and I wanted to throw things. God knew these emotions were real, and he knew I needed an outlet to let them escape. I think God was showing me that it’s okay to grieve, and that in my moments of desperation he actually wants me to cry out to him. I did on that day, and I’ve been doing it many days since then.
I needed God to push me to the limits so I would realize that all my weaknesses and emptiness would be completely fulfilled through Him. I am stubborn, and God has to work a little harder with me than He should have to in order to get the truth to set in. God was telling me all throughout my Dad’s death that I would get through it, and I refused to believe Him. So He showed me, in a small, seemingly simple encounter with a snake, that I would do more than just get through it. I would thrive. I would conquer. And I would win.
I sat on that rock in the yard, and the defeat I felt began to give way to a new sense of empowerment and inspiration. I began to feel a wave of bravery wash over my heart—not because of my own strength, but because of the strength of the God I believed in. When I was too afraid to chase after the snakes, God would give me the courage (and momentary insanity) to do it anyway.
As days gave way to weeks and weeks gave way to months, I continued to experience those little victories. I found little victories when I least expected them, and in moments of darkness and despair, I would find ways to put on the armor of God and fight on through the storm when I never thought I could. I constantly thought about that day after Dad’s death and my battle with the evil snake. I remembered that when I am weak, my God is strong, and that when I ask for the courage to overcome the heartache I felt, God would provide. In my Dad’s absence, my Heavenly Father would always provide. I’m still reminding myself of that each and every day. And I think I’ve been able to chase the devil away. And I’ll point out…I haven’t had a single snake in my yard since (that I know of…).
I imagine that God and my Dad are in heaven having a good laugh watching me pound on this snake with a shovel more times than I needed to. But after their laughter, I also imagine that they look at each other and say how proud they are of their son—and that gives me a really, really good feeling. I am thankful to have a Father on Earth who fought the snakes when I couldn’t, and I’m glad to have a Father in heaven who reminds me that I can.
Dad, There have been so many days when life has seemed unlivable without you in it. There have been moments when I’ve completely collapsed under the weight of my own worry and troubles, and I wish more than anything that you were here to encourage me in those moments of doubt and frustration. But in a sense, you are here with me. The lessons you taught me throughout my life were always lessons of empowerment. You taught me that I am always stronger than I think I am, and that when I am weak God is strong. You also showed me that it’s okay to have feelings and emotions and that I can express those when I feel them. You showed such bravery in your life, and I hate that in your final moments you doubted your own courage. Dad, you were the most courageous man I’ve ever known. You fought so hard for so long, and I’m glad you’re not fighting anymore because that enemy that you faced is defeated once and for all. I’m so thankful that you are completely at peace, completely healed, and completely perfected in God’s love and image. Dad, you deserve eternal rest in paradise (hopefully free of snakes), but boy do I wish you were still here with me to help me in this imperfect world. Keep giving me that courage when I need it most. And until I can thank you in person, seeya Bub.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Ephesians 6:10-11 (NIV)