The night was bone-chilling and the roads hazardous. My one hour commute home was a daredevil act, for sure. I had been seeing clients sixty miles outside of Indianapolis, and was growing more nervous with every passing mile that brought me closer to home. But I had driven this county road dozens of times before. Why so nervous tonight? I guess the cold made the night seem a bit darker; a bit more lonely. Or, maybe it was the fact that I left my coat at work, my phone was dead and I was running out of gas. Yeah, it was probably that.
Oh, and I also had no phone charger, which meant no hope of mapping myself to the nearest gas station. This was getting worse by the minute and the mile. I was reminded of my friend Laura who, only days before, gave me a lesson on Winter Road Readiness. This girl keeps a flashlight, food, blanket, gloves, jumper cables, water and a satellite phone to Jack Bauer in her car at all times. Who would need such an excessive list of gear? Me. Alone. In the Dark. Now.
Wait? What do I see, but a green road sign approaching. Surely it would tell me that it’s only a mile to the next town and my droplets of gas would be sufficient. Or not. 18 miles to go. A palpable sense of fear kicks in; that primal kind. Desolate fields thinning peppered with the occasional shack of house only added to my sense of dread. Headlines begin streaming across my scattered mind.
“Stranded coatless woman suffers from hypothermia along country road without any sign of winter readiness gear in vehicle. Police said she was barely coherent when they found her, and asked the officer if he was Jack Bauer, before losing consciousness.”
What followed my News at 10 headline was a reminder of how I had just talked to a client about perceived helplessness; the damsel in distress persona we so commonly adopt. I realized at that moment that I had a choice to make. I could listen to all the fear scenarios and say goodbye to any ounce of resourcefulness God gave me. Or, I could take a deep breath, get centered and get curious about what options I had.
My fearful mind came back to taunt me. I let myself feel it, because it was only trying to protect me. I actually thanked the fear for trying to help, and dismissed it.
“Breathe.” A sense of calm began to rise followed by the impulse to pray.
“Lord, please don’t let me die in such an embarrassing way.”
And, “Lord, If I do make it, must I even tell my husband I was this negligent? I didn’t think so. So glad we think alike, God.”
And, “Lord, in my search for assistance, lead me not to weirdos, perverts, and anyone who talks incessantly.”
Still without a solution, I had the sense that everything was going to be okay. It became clear that I would live to see tomorrow. All the energy caught up in fear now became fuel to help me consider options. I needed to find help. Maybe flag down a car.
At a lonely county road intersection, I see an illuminated stain glass window and tiny steeple. Did I just arrive at a little white church in the middle of nowhere? Of course I did. It’s Indiana. I pass it. Then, I turned my car back around. I mustered up the courage to enter the front door of this tiny Boone County church. And there I find three older gentleman having a prayer vigil. The sense of safety and comfort poured over me. That is until I noticed their shirts soaked in blood.
One man rushed to his house to get a can of gas. Another let me use his phone to call my husband. And a third man shared stories about this little chapel chartered in 1885. Amazing. I relaxed into the simplicity of kind gestures, cozy nights and prayer vigils. I knew I stumbled upon a sacred moment.
As I left, one man gave me his coat, a history book of their church and an invitation to visit again. They filled my car with fuel and gave me directions to the nearest station. When I expressed my gratitude, they simply responded with, “That’s what we are here to do.”
I arrived home just as my husband was serving ribeye and red wine, followed by a lecture for dessert. It was perfect.
God gifted me with a lesson I’ll never forget about moving from panic to power. Sue Monk Kidd reflects on perceived helplessness in her own life when she compares herself to Rapunzel:
“Locked in a towering problem or difficulty, she waits for deliverance rather than taking responsibility for herself. It’s important to ask for and accept help, but not Rapunzel’s way. She chose to forgo the contemplative experience of tapping her soul-strength, to bury her problem solving potential and project it onto others. Struggling with the difficulties of life, we may adopt the idea that we are too weak, dumb, busy or incompetent to take care of ourselves and extricate ourselves from pain and problems. What we fail to realize is that … sometimes God’s arms are our arms.”
We all have a little Rapunzel in us; that damsel in distress. But we also have an inner fortitude; that spirit of power, love and sound mind. I would choose Amelia Erhart, Joan of Arc or Leslie Knope over Rapunzel any day. Instead of distress, I choose power.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Zechariah Judy