In my mind I can walk down the path in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest and see the little circle of benches at the bottom. I can see the cross. In my memory it is white washed. I was 15 years old and I walked down that trail by myself to sit in the dark woods alone. For 3 or 4 years I painted pictures of it off and on . . . that trail, that cross, the dark woods. I painted them with my little portable set of watercolors - the one my artist-grandmother gave to me just like she'd given one to all the other grandchildren. It's a picture I painted so often that I could see it in my head - running high school cross country races (I wasn't very good at that), fighting back the urge to quit, going off in my mind and imagining my grandmother painting and imagining my own paintings. I used to love to paint. These aren't mine, by the way - these are my grandmother's self portraits. She is beautiful. She encouraged all of us to paint at least a little.
Art has always been rest for me. Or exercise, maybe. Maybe rest and exercise.
I've written and painted. I've sung and played the piano. I've taken up various folk instruments. I've put them all down, too. I've done lots of different sorts of art for lots of different reasons.
Music has always been my service-art. I painted for myself. I still write mostly for myself (although, I am thankful for you if you're reading and hope this helps you somehow). I play music, direct music, sing music . . . for other people. I teach music for other people. That's a very good thing. But sometimes it is exhausting.
In many ways, that's what I am - exhausted.
I long for a quiet moment in the dark woods again. It's where God called my name the first time. I see the campfire circle and the craft cabin at Camp Wesley Woods - with the mossy roof line and the dew always dripping from leaf to leaf. God . . . calling me to be quiet . . . God telling me to stop. Just stop struggling. "You can't make goodness happen, Sarah. You have to look for goodness in me, and wait for me to show you what the real work is." - God has always kept that promise. It's inescapable. He finds me. He always opens the door for me. And, whether I like it or not, He always tells me when to stay and when to go.
When we were nearing the birth of our son, I knew I'd need to stop directing church music for at least a little while. One cannot have a new baby, teach music full time, and direct a church choir/supervise other ensembles. It's not wise. So I did stop - several months before the baby came. And after I'd quit and stepped away from that work, I discovered something in myself . . . a gap. A broken place. A place where the hope was getting out . . . running away.
Just about the time I had begun to unpack the brokenness, God moved us. We got a call from a friend and suddenly there was musical work to be done. We were playing the piano and singing, planning music, coaching people. It was a beautiful experience. A sweet place. But the broken place was still there - the hope still running away from me . . . and with the business of everything, I gave myself permission to ignore it. Have you ever done that?
We finished up our work as visiting musicians a few months after we'd started. We stepped away. And for the first time in our history as a married couple, my husband and I acknowledged out loud to each other that we didn't know what we should do about church - we didn't have to work for a church just then . . . we were church homeless.
Other odd jobs for other churches popped up. I subbed here and there. My husband traveled for work a few weekends. We ignored our situation. And all this time, the gap was still there. Hope . . . running away.
And something I didn't tell you, reader. That whole time - I was harboring an un-forgiveness in my heart. A musical un-forgiveness. A church musical un-forgiveness. Small wonder there was a broken place, right? I opened the door and let the monsters in. Then I allowed them to live there for a long time.
This all brings me to the labyrinth behind an Episcopal church I visited 5 years ago. In a wooded area. In the quiet.
I met Lou, the minister, one Tuesday morning while leading a group of women up to the labyrinth during the Lenten season. She welcomed us and explained the practice of walking through and prayers one might consider praying. She said something I'll never forget. She said, "None of these things are magic, but they are tools that can sometimes help us to find the face of God anew in our daily living, so that we might pick our conversation up again and talk to Him." She went on to say some other things . . . and then she used a word. It's a very special word (to me). My mother is the only other person I've ever heard say this word in regular conversation. I mentioned to Lou the significance of this imagery in my life lately and Lou said, "Ah, that's a synchronicity, isn't it? God speaks in so many ways."
The very next day I wrote a song . . .
Synchronicity, in my world, means "blessing." It means that God is trying to open a door. God is trying to tell me, "Stop struggling, Sarah. Stop struggling and look for goodness in the person of my Son, in my Spirit, in my presence as the Creator. I will show you where the real work is. Be still."
Did you listen to the song? Those are my words. "Forgiving clumsy things."
Friends, I could not forgive something. I could not forgive something . . . for almost an entire year. It's regrettable, but there's not much I can do about that lost time now. It wore me out. And I already had plenty of other things to be doing that! I didn't need this extra weight. But I chose it and kept it close to my heart. Rebellious. Willful.
God came and found me. He always comes to find me.
God orchestrated my forgiveness. Did you hear me? God orchestrated it. I wasn't going to do it, and God made it so clear and apparent - so much in my face - that I almost had to. I guess I could have walked away from the opportunity, but I'm telling you: it was painfully obvious that this chance would only come once. So I took it.
So here I am, on the other side of forgiveness. Exhausted. And longing for that picture - the long trail down to the heart of the dark rain forest. The sanctuary in the trees.
Today this worn out Methodist girl from Knoxville walked into an Episcopal sanctuary where the altar sits in front of windows that draw your eyes up to the tree tops outside. And The first hymn was "All Creatures of Our God and King." - do you know the words to that hymn?
All ye who are of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part . . .
I've sung it a thousand times. The words struck me silent. I stood there, music swirling around me, unable to sing, tears streaming down my face. God always finds me. God always comes back for me. God never leaves me alone.
And then, later on, just in case I wasn't paying attention . . . the familiar sound of the song I try to live by . . . my favorite song . . .
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we won't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
For by turning, turning we come round right.
Thank you, God. Do you hear me saying Thank You? Thank you for coming back to get me. Thank you for bringing me home to a church in the woods. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. What would I do without you? Where would I go? How could I sing anything? Write anything? Without you? Thank you. You, who have seen my worst and ugliest. You, grieving and leaving the light on for me when I am a prodigal. You always come back to get me. Thank you. I love you.
Reader, goodness knows what craziness you took from all that rambling? Here are your marching orders: Get out there and forgive somebody. Find your church in the woods. Get quiet. Stop struggling. Find goodness in God and God will show you where the real work is.