Experts estimate that a first impression is made in 7 seconds.
We are wired to hit the thumbs up or thumbs down button in our head. This natural evaluation is a defense mechanism to move us away from threat and toward reward based on quickly assessing outward appearances. When entering a new store, if it smells good, is playing a familiar song and has a friendly face to welcome you, first impression tells you to stay and shop. But if you walked in to find it dirty, unorganized and the greeter has a chainsaw and a hockey mask on, first impression screams “run”.
I have moved 9 times in the last 20 years around 5 different states. I’ve made thousands of 7-second first impressions on towns, houses, neighbors, friends, schools, churches, doctors, dentists, sports teams, restaurants, grocery stores, hairdressers and so on. I’ve judged and I’ve been judged countless times. It’s exciting and exhausting all in one.
Moving from the midwest to Texas, we had to adjust from woods and water to flat and more flat. The prairie landscape is dry with a few scrubby bushes they call trees. But we finally found a house with native trees and a shallow creek running through the backyard.
In our first week of moving in, my kids and I made our way down to the creek to explore. Suddenly a VERY large, everything really is bigger in Texas, snake dropped out of the sky a few feet in front of my second grade daughter. Where was one of those hockey-masked chainsaw guys when you needed him!? I knew I had to watch the ground for snakes in Texas but I didn’t expect them to be falling out my trees.
We freaked. My 4th grade son sprang into action retrieving his BB gun. Our commotion attracted some of the neighbor kids that gathered to watch us go wild wild west on the snake.
One of the moms walked over, introduced herself, and asked what kind of snake it was. “Oh I don’t know, the big kind that falls out of trees. The dead kind!”
She says, “ohhh”, in a disappointed tone surveying the corpse, “don’t kill those, they eat the rats.” Eh, Excuse me? RATS!?! Nobody said anything about rats. Just like nobody said anything about tree snakes. Another neighbor joined and began to educate me on snake identification so that we wouldn’t make that mistake again.
We thought we’d be hailed as heroes but instead as villains. My precious trees and water that I just had to have ended up being the perfect habitat for snakes, scorpions, fire ants, tarantulas, coyotes, bobcats, and yes, even rats.
First, First impressions can be especially disappointing when our expectation doesn’t match reality. It isn’t fair to compare. One state wasn’t better than the other, just different, and I learned to appreciate the landscape for what it was, not be disappointed in what it wasn’t. The flat terrain made room for the big sky Texas is so famous for. The sunsets and sunrises were breath taking, like nothing I had ever seen before.
Second, Give second chances to your first impressions. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a snake by its pattern. The perceived foe was actually a friend.
Months later I discovered I had run over a snake in our garage. He must have been tucked under my tire to hide so when I reversed, he flattened. I figured good riddance. But shortly there after my garage had rats. They were chewing things up, used my son’s sports bag as a restroom, and were dying and rotting in places I could only smell but not reach. My relief over the dead snake turned to grief. I missed him so much and actually contemplated releasing a replacement.
One of the hardest unexpected things about moving is processing all those first impressions. Trusting God is the giver of good gifts helps me take a second look, to not always believe what is first perceived. By doing so, God used sky and snake to teach me to not live in disappointment or fear but open my eyes to see what lays beyond a failed first impression.