Fleeing From Fear

      Around the time of hurricane Katrina, a colleague and friend challenged me to a slight shift in my thinking.  He theorized that life might be easier, more comfortable for me if I were to go from fear-based living to faith-based living.  Sounded so profound at the time that I decided to give it a try.  What did I have to lose but a little fear?
      So I’m going along, summer turns into fall, and the school year is off to a great start.  Of course, worries would creep into my head, but, reminded about my challenge, I’d let them go with a quick Our Father.  I’ve got to tell you that I was practically worry-free when my husband announced on that balmy September night that a hurricane was headed our way and he’d gotten us a hotel reservation in Austin should we need to evacuate.
      Under normal circumstances, I might have worried about that but after a quick Our Father, I was able to chuckle to myself as I mused “it’ll turn.  They always do.”
      After school on Monday, we had a special meeting to discuss the possibility of an evacuation.  We had to prepare.  Kind of premature, I thought, but I listened and took it all in.  “Will you leave?” I heard a calm voice ask me.  I replied that we already had reservations in Austin though I was pretty sure we wouldn’t need them.  At my haircut appointment later that day, I mentioned that there might be a hurricane coming but I wasn’t worried about it.  It’ll turn.  They always do.
      By early afternoon on Tuesday, we had word that we were to put valuables up high at school and cover our computers with plastic bags.  We were closing for the rest of the week to allow people to get out of town.  At piano lessons, I mentioned that we might not even go anywhere but we had a place in Austin just in case.  The piano teacher said there were evacuation orders for Friendswood at 2:00 on Thursday.  A mandatory evacuation?  Oh, please.  They can’t make us leave, can they?  After work, I helped my husband get the pre-cut plywood down from the loft.  He’s had it cut and labeled for years now though we’ve never had to use it.  It’s been my experience that hurricanes tend to turn.  I’d been on the Gulf Coast at that point for 20 years and I’d only had to evacuate once, for a wimpy hurricane called Jerry, and we barely got any rain out of that deal.  So I am not afraid.
      The sound of the saw cutting through plywood behind our house was a bit disconcerting, but not enough to make me worry.  I tucked the kids in and crawled into bed myself, but I can’t sleep because of the hammering coming from what seemed like all sides.  You’ve got to be kidding; other people are boarding up, too?  Already?  So I get up and suggest to my husband that we get the back windows started.  10:30 at night, trust me, this is NOT what I wanted to do, especially since that storm might still turn.  They always do.  There was a LOT of time between now and Friday night when it was expected to make landfall.
      Unable to sleep either, our daughter got up to help us.  I sensed her anxiety as I tried to reassure her that this was just precautionary.  We got to bed around midnight.  In the morning, my husband went to NASA to secure his office and the kids and I started to pack.  I’d watched my husband pack all of his valuables the night before, taking books off shelves and loading them into the plastic bins that he keeps on hand for emergencies such as this.  I sat watching, unable to fathom that we could actually leave and come back to nothing.  What do you take?  It was interesting to watch John and the kids decide.  Realizing that most of what I have can be replaced, I put off filling my suitcase until the last minute.  My husband had already taken care of the pictures and home movies, so we had what I needed.  I’m not a “stuff” girl, really, so I was ready to head out around 11:00 Wednesday morning. I’d sent a few emails to let far-away friends and family know that we were evacuating and I’d talked with or left messages for our closest friends here, so I was prepared to go.
      My husband’s evacuation process is much slower and more precisely methodical than mine, so it was 1:30 before we were able to pull away.  The hamsters were the last cargo to pack.  Yep, we took them.  They were, after all, part of the family now.  We could only hope that they could withstand the stress of the car ride and that they were allowed at the hotel.  As we’re pulling away, I grab the camera, roll down the window of my van, and snap a picture of our house, windows boarded and secure, for what might be the last time.  And still I’m not afraid, except for the prospect of sitting in traffic.
      And sit we did.  We went 8.5 miles that first hour and Austin seemed forever down the road.  The radio reports assured me that we were doing the right thing.  A category-five hurricane with winds upwards of 175 miles per hour is nothing to scoff at.  I can’t recall another time when I held the steering wheel so tensely.  Four hours later, we were finally on the other side of town.  Since this was before we had cell phones, my daughter flashed a sign out of the back window of our truck in front of us asking if we wanted to stop in Hempsted.  That first step out of the van that night actually hurt.  I will stiff, but still I wasn’t worried.  We got a snack and filled up with gas before we hit the road again.
      By 9:00 pm, we were in Austin, approaching the Quality Inn.  Within half an hour of arrival, we were unpacked and sitting at the IHOP for dinner.  I said a few Our Fathers on the way up, but we were safe and none the worse for wear.  Real worry didn’t set in until the next day.  It was Wednesday, after all, and the storm was still two days off.  But what if someone goes to Friendswood and steals our stuff?   I’d seen the looting after Katrina and boarded windows seemed like an invitation to help yourself because we’ll be gone for a while.  Worse than that, what if someone breaks into our hotel room and takes what little we’ve managed to save by bringing along?  Our Father, who art in heaven.  I kept adding “not my will, but Thine be done,” but this couldn’t possibly be God’s will for us, could it?
      We spent Thursday morning at a cool history museum and enjoying a late lunch together before an afternoon of Putt Putt golf.  Any news we saw indicated that we’d gotten out just in time to avoid nightmarish traffic patterns of 12, 18, even 24 hours in length.  We were lucky, I guess.  Thursday night we went to see the bats under the Congress Street bridge with lots of other tourists.  Were they evacuees, too?  No, the one group I talked to was there on business.  I desperately wanted to tell them our story, but they didn’t ask.  Did anyone care that we’re on the run?  It’s a lonely feeling, really.  Still, I’d taken what matters with me, so why the stress?
      I didn’t sleep well on Thursday night and I woke up edgy, tired, and restless.  Since this was before we owned a digital camera, my husband wanted to make sure we bought film on our Wal-Mart outing, but I was NOT in a picture-taking mood.  When I momentarily lost track of my wallet, the one I’d been clutching with a death grip, I had to admit it:  I was afraid, scared to death, petrified, worried about everything anyone could possibly worry about.  Mostly I was just feeling incredibly out of control, and I was pretty sure that all of the Our Fathers I could muster weren’t helping to ease the anxiety.  Still, I found myself telling the children that all of the worry in the world wasn’t going to help or change anything.  Faith-based, not fear-based, remember?
      After breakfast, we headed back to the museum, then to Putt Putt again.  We tried to make the best of a bad situation, staying busy so that fear wouldn’t overcome us.  After a relaxing dinner at County Line BBQ and a brisk walk up to Mount Bonnell, we headed back to the hotel to watch the storm on television.  Slowly it had turned northeast and was now expected to make landfall during the night, enough miles east of us to hardly even affect us.  Relief washes over us so thoroughly that we’re temped to leave that night.  But we’d already paid for the night so we decide to be practical and stay until morning, setting the alarm for early enough to try to be the masses back home.  By 7:00 am we were packing the vehicles and within half an hour we were on 290 South, headed home.  We made that critical gas stop and never looked back. At 10:30 am, we arrived in Friendswood, still a veritable ghost town, to see our home surrounded by fallen limbs and a fence down in the back, but standing and in good shape.  For fun, my daughter counted the abandoned vehicles along the way from Austin to Friendswood and ended up with over 100.  They all had a story, that’s for sure.
      Hurricanes turn, they always do.  But not for the good for everyone.  The people of Beaumont and Port Arthur weren’t as lucky that time.  I’d spent two days picking up sticks but that’s nothing compared to what others endured in Rita’s aftermath.  My prayers were shifting from us to them and, because of their stories, I know that we’ll do it again, evacuate, if we have to.  Until that time, I am not going to worry about it.  Faith-based living, remember?  Our Father. . .


  1. Barb,
    I'm finally catching up on your posts and I have to say, this one is my favorite. It is so powerfully awe-inspiring! That friend who gave you the advice to go from fear-based to faith-based living is one smart fella! Thanks for sharing this story. I'm often curious about the experience of having to evacuate...not even being able to imagine what it must be like. Your words painted a vivid picture of an experience that I hope I never have and one that I hope you never have again. We really fear the unknown and we really need our faith to get us through it!

  2. We've evacuated once since, and came back to six tall trees totally tipped over and just laying there lifeless on the lawn thanks to a storm named IKE. We sweetened those lemons (once we recovered from the initial shock and grief) by putting our pool where that little forest had been. Lemonade anyone? Thanks, Lisa, for your kind comments!

  3. Napoleon Hill wrote in 1938:

    "two entities occupy each person: one entity is motivated and responds to fear, and the other is motivated and responds to faith."

    I guess the only limitations are the ones which are set up in our own minds.


I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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