The noise made by a stainless steel garbage can and lid hitting the ground after being tossed into the air is permanently filed in my soundbite storage vault from 1973.
Simultaneously included with that soundbite from that same file is a series of blood-curdling screams belted from my mother's high soprano voice.
A video file (16mm, of course) is also in my memory storage from that exact moment. I can play it back for you now: My mother, in a paisley dress, bouffant hairdo, and bare feet (because she jumped completely out of her shoes) running toward me from the back of the house with a look of horror on her face.
Perhaps I need to replay the video and sound altogether so it makes sense. But first, you should know the setting. Mom and I came home from school one afternoon and parked in our driveway. It was garbage pick-up day, so the garbage men (what we called them before the days of "Sanitation Engineering") left our two empty garbage cans sitting at the end of the driveway.
Mom said, "Son, help me put the garbage cans back behind the house." She was in a hurry. I wasn't. She grabbed the first can and took off with it. I was way behind her. She rounded the back corner of the house. Then I heard it.
The garbage can must've been tossed fifty feet in the air before it came back down. My mother came running back toward me, screaming at the top of her lungs. Blood emptied from her face. Her knees ignored the dress in an all-out sprint toward me.
She was screaming something that made no sense. "Co-o-o-o-bra-a-a-a! There's a cobra in the back yard!"
No, I was not a missionary kid in Africa. I was a preacher's kid in Beaumont, Texas. Up to this point, her fear had scared me. But when she started screaming, "Cobra" -- the facts of geography, ecology, and herpetology turned my fear into curiosity.
"Mom, there are no cobra's in Texas!" I snickered.
She was not to be messed with at this point. Snickering was not a wise response. She grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me and yelled, "There's one in our back yard! I just saw it!"
I went to see. "Perry _______ (middle name left out by author to save personal embarrassment) -- no! Don't go back there. It's poisonous!"
I went anyway. Unlike 99.9% of East Texans, I have always had a strong interest in and an educated understanding of snakes. I rounded the corner of the house and there it was.
The snake was raised up off the ground, hissing, neck spread out flat. But not a cobra. It was a hognose snake. Hognose snakes are gifted with two tricks in their repertoire. They can flatten their neck like a cobra or play dead like an opossum.
Mom came up behind me and I told her what kind of snake it was. I took a stick and barely poked the snake in the flattened neck area and it flopped over, turned belly-up, and played dead.
That snake went from fierce to faint in a flash. He went from powerful to pitiful in an instant.
Elijah did the same. Elijah slipped from the mighty prophet who prayed down fire from heaven and defeated hundreds of false prophets in chapter 18 of 1st Kings to wimpy prophet, hiking up his man skirt, running to the hills, and hiding from a woman's threats in chapter 19.
What made the difference? Fear and knowledge. Elijah did not fear King Ahab, King Ahab's god (Baal), or the 450 prophets of Baal. He knew they were weak. He knew Baal had no power. He knew there was nothing to fear from Ahab. His knowledge fed his faith.
But Jezebel's message dripped with the poison of a cobra (1st Kings 19:2) and Elijah feared her to the point that he lost sight of his knowledge and faith. So he ran from what he thought was a cobra. Yet from heaven's view, she was a harmless hognose.
We are all just as vulnerable. We rally one day and run the next. Rooted one moment. Routed moments later. Cobras today. Opossums tomorrow. Faith turns to fear when we lack knowledge or replace heaven's full knowledge with earth's partial knowledge.
The difference between a cobra and a hognose is sometimes nothing more than fear and knowledge.
"Father, help me see through Your eyes and increase my understanding and knowledge from the vast and perfect library of Your wisdom."
Find your shoes and go stand your ground...