Her dark eyes mesmerized me. The hypnotic movement of her head drew me in. She seemed to have power over us all, but the others managed to resist her. Their fear was stronger than their faith.
My whole life was built on faith. When I came kicking and screaming out of my mother it was a miracle. The doctors thought I was dead before I ever took my first breath. I wasn’t dead; I was still because I was praying. Before I could utter a word, I understood the importance of communicating with my maker.
From early on I was preaching. I started standing out on the street corner with Mama when I was only six years old. She bought me a suit and every day after school we’d stand outside in the sun and shout Bible verses at the passersby. When dusk came we’d go home.
“You done good,” she’d always say after a day of preaching. “I’m sure you’ve saved some souls today.”
Over a dinner of macaroni covered in neon orange cheese and boiled hotdogs, she’d read to me from the Bible. My favorite verse was always Isaiah chapter 40 verse 31. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
When I was out preaching with Mama, I felt like I was soaring. No matter how hot it got or how many people ignored us as they walked by, I knew God heard my preaching and was well pleased.
Things weren’t always good with Mama. She got sick a lot. When I was fifteen, she died. The demon possessed her with an infection that devoured her from the inside. No matter how much I prayed over her, her fever never broke, but I did. I cried hot tears over her emaciated body and asked, “Why won’t he heal you? Is my faith not enough?”
Mama reached out her hand, burning up like an ember pulled fresh from the fire, and touched my face. “It’s not you; it’s me. Sometimes I doubt,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.
A few hours later Mama left me. I cried but carried on because I knew that’s what God wanted. He wanted me to carry on, pushing my faith to grow stronger. That’s what I’m doing now, watching her sway back and forth. The burning in my chest told me that I needed to do more to prove myself to God. That’s why I leaned in and gave the Cobra a kiss. There was no fear in me, just my faith in God as I touched my lips to that snake. Her forked tongue flicked against my upper lip.
And they shall take up snakes the Bible says.
My lips only touched her rough skin for a few seconds, but when I pulled away from her and stood in front of the crowd the music swelled, and the pastor laid his hands on me. “Look upon the pure in heart,” he said to the congregation. “This boy has faith that moves mountains.”
As he spoke, I felt God’s purifying fire all around us. I knew Mama was looking down at me.
“How strong is your faith?” the pastor asked.
“Unshakable,” I said.
The pastor smiled and took a jar from his pulpit and handed it to me. He didn’t have to tell me what to do. I’d seen the others sipping from it after they handled the snakes. My faith in the healing power of Christ was unwavering. I took that jar and drank down the whole thing. The clear liquid ran down my face as I gulped it down. Everyone shouted, “Amen,” and “Hallelujah.”
And if they drink any deadly thing it shall not harm them.
It didn’t take long for me to end up on my knees. My throat and stomach felt like they were singed by evil. The music pumped harder, and when I closed my eyes, I could see Mama’s face. She reached out to me, welcoming me back to her. She thought her faith wasn’t strong enough, but it was mine that was the problem.