The hailstorm of epic proportions unleashed its terror at about 6pm on a Thursday evening. My friend Arlene came over to watch my girls so I could attend a therapy session. As I was about to leave the house, my 3yo exclaimed, “It’s dark out der!” Indeed the sky looked sketchy. I checked weather.com and noticed a tornado watch had been issued for the area. In the past, this in itself would have kept me at home. I have nightmares about tornadoes, and I WILL…NOT…DRIVE if there’s a hint of twister weather in the forecast. But also: THERAPY. The radar showed the storm was just north of town, and since I had less than three miles to drive (in a southern direction), I figured I could outrun it. And there’s a good chance I COULD have if it wasn’t for the longest red light ever to exist in the history of traffic lights. Standing in my driveway about to step into my car, I thought I heard a sound of rushing wind…enough to make me stop and reconsider leaving. But I supposed it was only rain in the distance, so I turned the key in the ignition – an hour of therapy luring me – and lead-footed it about halfway to my destination before being stopped in my tracks by that foolhardy red light. The storm blew in while I waited. I heard the hail before I saw it, heard the pinging. When I finally frantically pulled out of the interminable intersection, I hightailed it into the parking lot of a local business, missing the driveway entirely and lurching up over the curb in a panic. The next ten minutes consisted of me honking at the aforementioned storefront to see if someone would unlock the building for me (they turned off the lights seconds before I careened up to the door)…realizing the pings had turned to pops…zipping back across the lot to gather with other drivers seeking shelter under trees…sitting with my hands over my face in fear and self-protection as hail pummeled my little car. It sounded like a team of gangsters was taking metal baseball bats to the poor thing…or like a machine gun was being leveled at me…or LIKE ZEUS WAS PITCHING BASEBALLS FROM OUTER SPACE. Not only was the sound itself traumatizing, but knowing that ANY SECOND one of those missiles could fly in and bring shards of glass with it…makes me feel antsy just writing about it. The hail lightened just a smidge and the other couple vehicles sped away, so I decided to gun it too. Moments after I shot off, here came the doozy…a direct hit to the windshield. A web of cracks appeared instantly. Trying not to hyperventilate, invoking the name of Jesus in all its capacities, explaining to God in a high-pitched tone of voice that I did not want to die this way (pretty sure there was shrieking involved), I turned down a street to take me into downtown, through an industrial area already shut down for the day. That was one lonesome stretch of two blocks. I felt like the end of the world might be upon me and I was facing it alone. As I drove my hysterical self between the downtown buildings, the hail intensified again. Noticing another vehicle underneath an overhead crosswalk between a bank and parking garage, I followed suit. Didn’t do much good. The hail bounced off parked cars nearby and bullied me anyway. I wondered if I should abandon my rolling tin can and run the few steps to the shelter of the parking garage, but didn’t feel it was worth the risk. It would have been like stepping into a batting-cage-gone-mad without a helmet. So I sat there, jumping at every POP!, wondering how the guy two lanes over looked so chill, and watching the hail shatter windows of cars parked downtown for a children’s art/literature festival. I had only two blocks to my destination. When the hail gave another semi-reprieve and I saw the lights down the street turn green, I took off like a bat out of hail 😉 I found a parking spot right at the front door of the office, but the ice bullets were still striking enough that I was nervous about the two giant steps it would take to enter the building. I crawled over the console into the passenger seat and after several minutes let my long legs catapult me to shelter. The timing was perfect; after such an experience, a therapist’s office is exactly where I needed to be. He went to check on his truck, and I went fetal position on the sofa. When he came back from surveying the damage, I told him I needed him to tell me about his day, share a funny story, just TALK, because I didn’t have the present capabilities to string together sensible sentences. After limping the car home on a flat tire, Arlene walked right up to me, hugged me tight, and said, “You SURVIVED.” Later that night, my friend Summer texted me: “If it’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, you are going to be freaking superpowered.” I’d like to think so. Supergirl spent the day after on my couch staring out the window in a trance, trying to learn how to breathe again.
The following Tuesday, auto claims adjuster Jeff showed up. He started surveying the car (like adjusters do) and I started asking questions (like I do). My overt curiosity led to him divulging that he was one of the first on-scene after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Circling my car making notes on the dents and dings, he shared about the aftermath of the hurricane: the looting, the dead animals, the people who had refused to leave their homes, the houses spraypainted with marks to signify dead bodies inside, the smell of decay, the categorical devastation. And then he stated bluntly: “That storm killed everything that stayed.”
Which made me THINK (like I do). Sometimes…you can’t stay. Sometimes you have to leave the marriage/friendship/church/job/school/neighborhood. At some point, it’s not worth the heartache or the mental anguish anymore. And sometimes…it’s flat-out dangerous to stick around. Maybe you’ve weatherproofed the house. Maybe you’ve battened down the hatches. Maybe you’ve got your stash of water and canned goods and flashlights. You’re as prepared as one can be. But sometimes…SOMETIMES…the storm is so vicious you just have to scoot the heck outta dodge.
Deciding to leave is not something I take lightly. For those who haven’t been privy to my resistance against “relinquishing”, let me introduce myself: I’m a dig-in-my-fingernails type, especially when it comes to jobs, relationships, and general life expectations. My peeps have described me as “loyal” and “faithful” on more than one occasion. And I know this about myself. I AM loyal and faithful. To a fault. But there’s a time to give in…to raise the white flag…to surrender.
Surrendering so often has negative connotations of weakness in our culture. You’re giving something up? You’re GIVING UP??? But there can be courage in the giving up…in realizing that fighting whatever-your-battle-is is only wearing you out. The fact is, there are storms – or life circumstances – that can kill you. Maybe your body, more likely your spirit. Is it worth it to stay? To sacrifice your SPIRIT for the job with the demeaning boss? For the partner who doesn’t hear or respect you? For the overcommitment to organizations that leave you no time to rest?
“When an endless amount of work/blood/sweat/tears leaves a situation or relationship as unhealthy as it ever was, when there is virtually no redemption…sometimes the healthiest possible response is to walk away. Locked in a toxic relationship/career/ambition/community, the levels of unhealth and spiritual pollution can murder everything tender and Christlike in us….we can pour an endless amount of energy into the chasm, and it will never matter. [Walk] away before you destroy your spirit on the altar of Futile Diligence. Not every battle has a winner; sometimes it is all losers, carnage everywhere. When healthy options exist, and there is a safer alternative right…over…there, often the bravest thing we can do is stop fighting for something that will never, ever be well. [Evaluating critically] is the wisest thing we can do. Reaching a point where you say ‘enough’ to a toxic environment is not cowardly – it is so very brave.” – Jen Hatmaker
Some storms there are no avoiding (illness, death, betrayal, etc). They come on fast, without warning, and you have to ride out the squall. But sometimes you can see that threatening-looking mess approaching from way off, the meteorologists are flashing their warnings on the screen, the double-red flags have been posted on the beach, and you have to decide: do I evacuate?
“There is a time to embrace and a time to turn away,” penned the author of Ecclesiates. Sometimes bravery means standing your ground, sometimes it means walking away. If you find yourself thinking, “This might legitimately be the death of me”, if you feel your spirit melting under the heat of the firestorm, if you feel God/Love putting it on your heart to move in another direction, do it. Get out. Don’t stay. Put some distance between yourself and the tempest. Evacuate and protect your precious spirit.
As for me, I can’t make any guarantees about what I’ll do the next time a monsoon moves in during a scheduled counseling appointment. I really…REALLY…love therapy. I might even take a bullet for it. An ice bullet. Get it?