When he came, paradise left.
You see, I don’t do snakes. I’ve done diapers, windows, and garbage. I’d helped build fence and stack wood. On rare occasions, I’ve emptied mouse traps.
But I don’t do snakes.
’Hadn’t done them yet, and didn’t intend to start now. So I closed the door to the office and left. Out of sight, out of mind, I thought.
The way I saw it, Blackie had no place to hide. He was too big, and we’d find him in there somewhere when my Adam came home.
Blackie must have thought there was no point in hanging around someplace he wasn’t wanted. Maybe he realized the poker my son was waving hissed trouble, and he decided to get out while the getting was good. By the time my Adam came home, the snake had disappeared. Guess who was called “the woman you gave to me” for being, not a snake charmer, but a snake loser?!
My husband read me my rights on snake keeping. Believe me, taking my eyes off the snake was not one of those rights!
“Besides,” he said, “black snakes don’t hurt people. They keep mice away. You should have kept your eye on the snake. Now we don’t know where in the world the dumb thing is.”
If the snake is so dumb, I wondered, why am I the one feeling dumb right now? The kids wanted to kill the snake with a poker after letting the snake wrap itself around the poker. I had refused.
“Because,” I told them, “I don’t do snakes, and you don’t do pokers.”
That seemed to be the only right choice I’d made when it came to the snake.
The kids were fascinated by our heated discussion. They listened as their father demonstrated how to kill a snake using a wood block. I’m telling you, twenty years later, I still remember this demonstration!
My Adam seemed convinced he’d get no help from bone-of-his-bone and flesh-of-his-flesh, but he left the block beside my desk — just in case. As our fallen paradise would have it, I found another snake in the dining room later that evening.
He slithered across the floor as our nine-month-old tried to crawl after him. As I snatched the baby off the floor, he squeezed through the French doors and glided to safety under a chair in the living room.
“The least you could do,” Dave had told me,” was keep your eye on that snake.”
So I yelled for reinforcements as I put the baby in the playpen. Dripping their way out of the shower, my three sons came, half-naked, war whoops and all.
Son Number 2 and I fought over the board while my eldest waved the forbidden poker. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Son Number 3 had scaled forbidden heights in the room and was hollering from the top of the bookcase. Yes. The very top of the bookcase.
Our three-year-old clung to my skirt, crying, “I ’cared, Mama, I ’cared.”
No wonder she was scared. I would have been afraid, too. The volume in the house was raise-the-roof level while her brothers thought this was their opportunity to declare their manhood. The snake was somewhere under that chair, and I quaked at the thought that I had lost him from my sight. With a flick of my wrist, I flipped the chair and unearthed the forbidden foe.
“Somebody kill this thing while I hold it!” I hollered.
Jerking the board from my son’s fist, I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth. Closing my eyes, I managed to smack the board on the back of the snake.
I know Dave will be proud of me this time, I thought.
The snake twisted around, trying to bite the board as my son attempted but failed to decapitate him. That is precisely when my Adam opened the back door of the house.
I am sure the volume and bedlam in the house assured him Mr. Logic was needed. After a few tries, he demolished the head of the snake. For an eighteen-incher, he sure put up a fight. But then, so did we. You would have thought the killing of the snake would have brought peace to our home that night.
My husband was frustrated at the frenzy and my near-hysteria that had taken place. I was hurt that he had no words of praise and that he criticized my actions in front of the kids. The kids were upset because their father came home when he did. They wanted to kill the culprit single-handedly. (Yeah, as if that would have happened.)
Our garden had fallen prey, not only to a reptile, but to communication failure as old as Eden. It would have been easy to blame the snake. After all, if he hadn’t invaded my garden, things would have been peaceful and calm.
Ah, yes, it’s easy to blame others or things. It’s easy to coil, bare fangs, and strike instead of dealing with the root problem. Sometimes we’re tempted to withdraw, thus killing by constriction. Either way, it doesn’t deal with the problem.
He said, and then I said. He didn’t, so I didn’t.
I was tempted to let my venom fly in order to secure my rights. That would have been natural, and by most folks’ standards, it would have been right.
There’s another way, I’ve found, that nurtures my garden better.
I knew the remedy was there. Yet it was not until I prayed and asked God for wisdom for this pain and this situation that He reminded me of this prescription.
Whenever I’m tempted to coil, bare fangs, and strike, I try to remember a better way. It worked for me that day, and it’ll work every time.
Uncoil—don’t boil. I’m learning to wait to discuss cloudy issues. Sometimes waiting may bring a different perspective. We talked, all right. ’Much later, when tempers were no longer flaring. ’Much later, when we were able to listen to each other without becoming too defensive.
Defang—don’t slang. I’m trying to remember that words once spoken cannot be taken back. Hissing at the guilty party only puts him on the defensive. What I want to say can always be said later. Presenting my perspective without anger or bitterness wins an easier ear for hearing my side of the story. I said things, all right. So did he. But the bite was gone because we chose to listen to each other’s perspective.
Don’t strike—stay right. I’m getting better at this one, too. “You always. . .” or “you never . . . .” are poisonous words. They’re also not true. There are other ways to express fears or feelings than striking for the jugular.
“When you . . . it makes me feel” is a lot less threatening and more accurate.
Bringing snake skins out of the past can strike terror to a person’s heart. That’s why it’s important to keep communication up to date. It seems to me that the true test of a good marriage comes when a couple needs to talk about subjects that are difficult — and comes out ahead.
Like I said, I can’t claim any wisdom in developing this antitoxin. It’s as old as Scripture itself.
“Uncoil, defang, and don’t strike” is just another way of describing relationship skills found in a book called James. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry.” [James 1:19]
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry.” [James 1:19]
I can’t listen if I’m coiled. (Uncoil = Swift to hear.) I won’t be slow in speaking if my fangs are bared. (Defang = Slow to speak.) If I’m ready to strike, my anger is swift instead of slow. (Don’t strike = Slow to wrath.)
When I’m tempted to bring a snake skin out of the closet, bare my fangs or strike, I try to remember the lesson I re-learned from the snake that invaded my garden. It’s the best antitoxin I know.
Uncoil. Defang. Don’t strike.
When I’ve used it, I’ve never lost the battle. It will work, every time.
Even though my paradise has fallen, I still believe marriages are made in Heaven. Even though weeds crop up and attempt to invade my garden, I know what I need to do. Even though parasites attempt to kill trust and communication, there is a remedy that is guaranteed. Even though I sometimes fail, I believe in this anti-toxin.
Even though there will be communication fiascoes, I still believe peace can be restored in Eden. I know — I’ve experienced a tranquil garden there.
This story first appeared in a column and then in my book Southside Glimmers. And, in case you wonder, I’ll go ahead and answer your question about my Adam. Yes, he has read the story. Yes, he gives permission for it to be shared. Yes, he also believes marriages are made in Heaven.
DISCLAIMER: We had just moved into a house that had stood vacant for several years. There are woods on the back side of the house. My Adam had removed the duct work (to save us money) because someone was coming the next day to install new duct work. The snakes probably found their way through the open vents from the damp, unused cellar. We have had no trouble with real, live snakes in our house since then. We do, however, continue to work to keep the snakes out of our marriage. 🙂