I had every intention of going away for the weekend. I hadn’t decided where. Anywhere but home. The week had overwhelmed me. I was sinking into depression, fatigue and irrational thoughts.
A lot of the stress came from a medical treatment my husband had on Wednesday. It’s a type of chemotherapy that’s still experimental for multiple sclerosis and has some serious side effects.
When he finished it without any side effects, we were both grateful. The next day he felt the same. No changes, negative or positive. The anticipation of this potentially fatal drug had taken its toll. Not to mention daily life with four children. There were still soccer games to attend, meals to fix, homework assignments in need of assistance, a large 5th grade project to oversee, and all the other nightly responsibilities – making sure teeth are brushed, uniforms are clean, books are read, beds are occupied and lights are out by 9:30.
Even with my mom and dad’s gracious help, I felt completely overwhelmed. I told my husband that I had to get away. My patience had worn too thin with the boys and I was becoming more emotional about things which normally would not upset me. My thinking was clouded and I was beginning to feel numb (if you can feel numb).
Yet, I couldn’t land on a place to go. I tossed around several ideas, but by Friday night, I still had not made a reservation. When my husband got home from work, he asked me where I was going and I told him I hadn’t decided yet. He walked over to me and took my in his arms. It had been a long time since he had done that. He’s hugged me here and there, but as we’ve tried to work through some marriage issues, it’s been a while since I’ve been hugged like this.
This was the kind of hug that folds you into each other. The kind that feels like nothing will harm you. The kind that says, “I see you hurting,” even when no words are spoken. This was the kind of hug that no matter how hard you try not to cry, the tears come anyway. I stayed in his embrace for a long time.
After we put the kids to bed, he held me again and I could feel the tension in my body slowly fade away. I slept better than I had in weeks.
When I woke up, I told him I still wanted to go away for the day but I no longer felt the need to run. One of my favorite places to escape is the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The IMA had all the elements I was looking for in a retreat. Well, almost all. There’s no masseuse on sight but with the affection my husband was pouring on me, I didn’t seem to need a massage as much as I thought I would. What the IMA does have is inspiring art, fresh food at Nourish Cafe, and beautiful grounds where I could hike and then plant myself under a tree with my journal and pen.
I’ve been to the IMA enough to know which galleries I wanted to visit and even which paintings I wanted to see. I am awed no matter how often I look at Georgia O’Keefe’s “Pelvis with Distance,” or the stained glass “Angel of the Resurrection,” or study the way Monet portrays the light in “The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.”
As I walked through the galleries, I could hardly keep up with my thoughts, let alone my emotions. Art does that to me. It’s beauty, it’s mystery, it’s messages cause my head and my heart to swirl. As I stopped to gaze at the landscapes, I was drawn into the paintings. I was no longer standing on a hardwood floor of a museum. I was a woman overlooking the coastline of Southern France. I could feel the wind blowing my hair, the warmth of the sun shining down on me, and smell the salt water from the sea below.
When I looked at a still life, I could smell the fragrance of the flower blossoms. And when I stared at the photographs of African men and women, a lump formed in my throat. I wanted to reach in and touch their beautiful faces, trace their lips and run my fingers over their cheeks. Some of them looked joyful, while others had a deep sorrow in their eyes. To those men and women, I wanted speak to them about God’s great love.
As I thought about the emotions I felt within the hour, I knew no words could aptly describe them. Words can only express so much of the human psyche. Words can never capture what only our senses experience. After all, how do we truly describe the ecstasy of feeling our skin pressed against our lover’s skin? Or the exhilaration of skiing through the glades of a mountainside? Or the breathtaking views we witness from a hot air balloon? Or the smell wafting from the sauce our grandmother has been cooking all day? Or the way our taste buds explode when we bite into a perfectly ripe orange? We try our best to describe what our senses experience, but language alone seems to fall short when we have been touched in the deepest places of our souls.
When I was on the brink of numbness, I forced myself to feel all that came my way. And I was awakened. I headed outside to walk the gardens. Eventually, I planted myself under a walnut tree and watched and listened and wrote and prayed. The squirrels kept threatening me with the walnuts they dropped from the branches overhead. They seemed to laugh as they did it, which made me laugh too. I watched families getting photographed, along with two wedding parties. And I listened to the laughter of small children as they ran from one garden to the next.
I had no specific expectations as I sat there. I just wanted to be. I needed some space to think and pray. I love the way God entered that space with me. He didn’t shake me out of my numbness or demand that I turn off my crazy, swirling thoughts. He sat next to me and let me breathe. His was a quiet and beautiful presence.
I sat still under the tree for a few minutes before I prayed, before I journaled, before I laughed at the squirrels and took some pictures. I closed my eyes and thanked God. I thanked him for using beauty to awaken my soul. I found a quote that says it best, “To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist. ~Robert Schumann
That is certainly what happened to my heart there at the IMA. After a couple hours, I felt like I could go home again. I knew that although I would enter into chaos and uncertainty for what lies ahead, my heart would be okay. God had shown up in ways for which I hadn’t even known how to ask. He knew what I needed before I knew. I’m not sure why I am surprised when this happens. He hold so much mystery that I forget that my mind cannot fully understand his ways. I do know, however, that he is the artist that drew me into life. Unlike Picasso or Van Gogh, who eventually put their brushes down and stood back gazing at their finished work, God keeps working on me. He never puts away his brushes or his palette. He only stands back to gaze at me for a moment, waiting for me to look back in his face so he can tell me he’s not finished with me yet. He has more beauty and more light to add to the masterpiece that is my life.