Emptiness and What Fills It

I dumped out my letter box the other day. I gently discarded its dear content on the floor, and took to the task of throwing away the things I no longer needed.

The box itself had been a birthday gift. Some friends of mine found it at an antique mall and told the cashier who offered to clean the dust off of it to “leave it on there please – it’s part of the story.” It’s painted dark green and has a creaking handle and sighing hinges. It used to be a tool box. Now, it houses memories and lessons learned and pieces of hearts given and taken and a collection of leaves I pressed two autumns ago. I looked at it now that it housed nothing but that ancient dust and I felt its nakedness and hollowness, and I stroked its side to comfort it – and myself. It mourned what had filled it before and I whispered that I would fill it soon again, and I would fill it with only what it needed. Then, I turned to its inside.

I read each article that had been placed, for whatever reason, in that box – I felt their weight, their good, deep weight. And I rejoiced and I lamented and I pondered and I turned from the empty box and its full contents and I sighed. A good sigh.

And God gently turned me upside down and spilled my dear contents all over the floor. He looked at me and felt the nakedness and hollowness, and he stroked my hair to comfort me. I mourned what had filled me before and he whispered that he would fill me soon again, and only with what I needed.

And then came Autumn. Autumn that gets inside a person.  That burrows deep down and unsettles that ancient dust called to life so long ago.

I’ve been reading again.

I went for far too long without reading. And its return and the passion for words and life and truth that it brought leads me to believe that reading is essential to my well being. And I don’t simply say that to be poetic. I am more alive when I read. And Christ did not come to set me free to a half-life, or even a nine-tenth life. He came to set me free to a full and then some life, bursting, recreating – a blazing trail through the settled confusion of night, a wild creek, the crescendo of the symphony where your soul cannot take in the beauty and you weep. So, I read, I am read to, I soak in, soak up, and let the words get into my soul like autumn does.

We’re hungry beings, humans.  We ache to. just. be. filled. And then we are filled, we think that we have finally reached the depths of that restless, moaning hunger, and we sigh – content.

But it deepens. It’s endless. And that, my friends, is the beauty. That impatient ache is Eternity waiting for the day it can be fully revealed.  Eternity cannot fit inside of our finite minds and hearts and souls – yet it is there. God himself put it there. He put it there because he knew it would be restless. He knew Autumn would get inside of us. He knew reading would bring us to more life.

And he knew that if we were quenched, we would stop looking for the wonder.

We would stop asking the questions that tear against humanity as we know it – humanity as the world has defined it so deeply for so long. He knew we would stop running in the night, though we could not see and our lungs were fire. He knew we would end our ravenous search for that thing for which we so ache. He knew Sunday would become enough for us. He knew following Christ’s teaching would become deep enough. He knew we would become satisfied with our 4 or so dimensions.

He knew we would stop seeking. And we would stop finding.

And we would miss the passionate Romance calling to us. That Love that digs into you with Autumn’s fire and crisp air and stirs that ancient dust of hunger deeper still. That Love that gently turns you upside down and empties your dear contents onto the floor and holds you tight as you scream and curse and flail. That Love that then lets you go – lets you have what you want. And stands, heart-broken for you, as you try to replace the contents you think you need – a child, a mess. Hair in tangled, tear-soaked array covers your face as you cradle the things you thought would fill. The things you thought would silence Eternity. Eternity that you wanted to silence because Eternity that was so good before, now aches to the marrow of your bones – aches when you taste what is Good and you can’t touch it, can’t hold it, can’t see its face. And all you long to do is see its face, hear its voice, feel its breath, know its love. And the things, as you clutch them, don’t silence like they did before. And you curse the Love that ruined them for you, and you hurl them, desperate, and cry.

And Love cries with you. For you. And brushes the hair out of your face and holds you. And you know it. Though you can’t see It, can’t feel It, you know. And it’s okay. Though Eternity still aches in its terrible beauty, it’s okay. You have a promise, “I will fill you soon again, only with what you need.”

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Choose.

Remember my grand Lenten plans? Remember how I was going to strip myself of everything I thought I needed and thus position myself to be filled only by God? Remember that? Remember also how I didn’t really do any of it? Because that happened too.

I think I managed to be faithful to my word for a week or so. And one day I stopped. And that day I decided I had taken on too much and I should re-evaluate and start again. I never re-evaluated, though, and I never started again.

God doesn’t think less of me because of it, he’s not disappointed because he can never be disappointed in me. He’s not shaking his head and sighing. I know this. I know it with my head and my voice.

Though, ever since I stopped and didn’t start again, I have not known it. Every time someone likes or reads that post that spelled out my desires for Lent, it acts a reminder that I didn’t do what I said I was going to. I didn’t do any of it. Questions rise and plague: Is this okay? Am I doing something wrong? Am I missing things in my relationship with God? Am I missing places where I am being apathetic? Am I just doing the minimum because I know I can get away with it? Is there a minimum?

They overwhelm. So, I stop thinking altogether. I avoid coffee and sugar and spending money, because they bring the same questions, and I stop thinking. I shut down my brain as best I can and the questions translate to a feeling on angst in my gut. My stomach has been in knots for weeks – and I couldn’t get it to stop.

I’ve been here before – I remember it. I remember asking those same questions and not knowing any answers and seeking refuge in God as much as I knew how.

And I remember what he said – you won’t miss anything. my love for you won’t allow me to stay silent when you’re hurting yourself or others – when you’re not choosing life. 

That was my fear, though – is God speaking and I’m ignoring it? Is that why I’m anxious – because I’m resisting God’s call?

Be still. Just for a second, be still, and listen to me.

I did. I fidgeted a bit, but I listened. And God said, “it’s okay.” He is working in me. He is undoing and recreating, and it rarely looks the same as last time.

Stop worrying about what you didn’t do and move now. Choose now.

This commandment that I’m commanding you today isn’t too much for you, it’s not out of your reach. It’s not on a high mountain – you don’t have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. And it’s not across the ocean – you don’t have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it. No. The word is right here and now – as near as the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest. Just do it! Look at what I’ve done for you today: I’ve placed in front of you Life and Good, Death and Evil. And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess… and love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself” — Deuteronomy 30:11-16& 20 (the message)

Firmly embracing him, who is life itself.

Food for thought (lame pun, I know)

When eating is something that happens only three times a day (or two times, if you wake up at 11) it becomes a sacred thing.

It has only been two days since I started being intentional about eating meals and nothing in between, but my perspective on food has already begun to shift. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are objects of great anticipation. They have become a gift.

And because they are a gift, I savor them. They bring joy.

Better still, they become times of communion.

This was God’s instruction to his people when they entered the Promise Land:

“There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.” — Deuteronomy 12:7

What if we embraced that – and eating a meal became a way of claiming the Promise Land, a way of proclaiming God’s goodness?

Fiction – because I don’t write it enough

Her sure fingers wove their way in and out of her hair, expertly untangling the knot that had spun itself in the wild of the wind and the day. She bit her lip. His question lingered in the settling air – romped about her, tempted.

Will you come with me?”

The knot came loose and her fingers found her pocket, slipped in and out of the loose threads there as if she could untangle that as well, as if the answer was hidden in unweaving.

Sun cast bronze about the room as a last cry of “I am resplendent!” before it journeyed beyond her eyes – his eyes. And it was running fast to keep away from the moon, yellow and wise, coming after that bold sun with steady determination – coming so. very. close. to catching it. Through the cracked window that brash light of a being that knows it is glorious, burst forth – a joyous laugh in the midst of the chase.

Her eyes found the golden caught in a jar of honey on the shelf and she could nearly taste it. Her fingers found an end to their restless search and her eyes found his. The question rang again,

Will you? Will you come with me?”

His eyes were a laugh in the midst of the chase. And she wanted it – to know that joy, that risk.

“Yes.”

And they laughed. He opened the door, waited for her to follow. And she walked to him. Stepped outside with him. Put her hand on the creaking knob, and looked back. The egg-shell-white walls, chipping, tired, certain, greeted her – the dishes from dinner rested on the stove and table beckoned – and the comfort of known tore at her. Her fingers relaxed on the door knob. And in her other hand, another call enticed; he pulled gently, strongly, purely – victoriously. The door shut and they ran, joining the moon in its pursuit of the sun.

On and on. Down the mountainside and along the rocky shores of the ocean until the sky was ink and the moon paused to rest. They stopped – breathless, tired, alive. Their faces ruddy, their lungs aching, full of crisp, unquenching air. The moon kept going – determined to capture the sun – but she and he sat on the rocks and took in the sea.

They didn’t talk – too busy breathing, too busy watching – but they communed. They shared the deep knowledge that both of them were present there, fully present there. And breathing, and watching, and alive.

The ocean spoke though – sighed over and over, “I am constant, unpredictable, mighty, and sweet – fear me, take me, behold me – I am good. I am good. I am good.”

She heard. And turned to him, wondering if he heard too. He was searching the stars – clear and cold above.

“Do you hear it?” she asked.

“The stars?”

“No, the ocean. What of the stars?”

“They speak of other worlds. Of simple light. They sing almost. Like flutes and violins and voice. They long for us to know there’s more. What of the ocean?”

“It’s strong. And good. Very good.”

They fell to silence again. And in the dark, and in the unknown, she rested. Until she thought of the dark, the unknown – and how far she was from home. Then the ocean’s call was altered. Water lapped at her feet and fear lapped with it – crawling, consuming, stifling. She looked over to him again, her mind racing, her heart claiming.

He searched the ocean now, and she wondered if he heard its true cry – the one she heard now, “I am mighty, unpredictable, fear me. I’ll take you. Fear me. Fear me. Fear me.” She drew in her feet and the calls resounded further, deeper – until she could not think, could not move and she longed for the home she knew – even with its patched-up roof.  Why did she leave? How could she leave?

Him.

He brought her here to ruin her. And the night encroached and whispered. The stars wailed and moaned. The ocean roared, always roared. She hated him. But he was the only thing she knew, the only refuge in the distance and the night. So she cried out – no words. His hand was on her instantly, his eyes found hers and she saw again that laugh in the midst of the chase. And she was warm again. The ocean stilled bawled.

“It’s okay. It’s me – you know me. I wouldn’t ever take you to a place that would harm you. I know you. I love you.”

And the roaring again refrained, “fear me. I am good. I am good. I am good.”

“We can go… back that is.”

“No.”

And they laughed.

The moon disappeared around the bend and the sun ran faster away, and she drifted to sleep and she dreamed of the stars – and the kingdoms they longed to show the earth. And she and he ran to them. On and on. Higher up and further in – until she tasted the sunlight, and looking at herself in a mirror, she saw that her eyes were a laugh in the midst of the chase.

Out of the Shire

I sat. Waiting for revelation. My journal laid open to the first page – crisp and eager. New journals are hopeful things. They are the promise of the life to come. They are the anticipation of what  stories will fill their pages; what twists will occur in the plot. They are the confidence of learning more, discovering more, fulfilling more.

My old journal has enough blank pages left to last at least a few more days, but they will remain blank. I gave my Momma a new journal for Mother’s Day. I had bought it because it had Audrey Hepburn on the front and quotes from Breakfast at Tiffany’s plastered all over the inside – very iconically Momma. It turns out her old one was nearly empty, which worked out nicely and made me appear to be more thoughtful and attentive than I actually was. I came into the kitchen the next morning to find her doing a Bible study and writing in the new journal. I asked her if she’d filled the old one already.

“No,” she looked at me, “sometimes you just know it’s time to start a new journal.”

I opened my old journal this morning – used it even, I wrote two half-hearted sentences of hungry reflection on Psalm 52 – then I closed it, still hungry, and went through my morning. The hunger gnawed, and I ignored it as I muddled through my algebra.I ignored it as I made meticulous plans for the rest of the week. I ignored it as I gave up on looking presentable. I ignored it until my parents called. We had a good conversation – a loving conversation – a godly conversation – a guiding conversation – but a conversation that left me to make decisions.

I finished highschoool (mostly) a few weeks ago. My diploma acted as a forced ticket to being adult. I suddenly have to budget time and money and other resources. I suddenly have to make daily decisions that have implications beyond myself. I still live at home and my parents still feed me and whatnot. It’s not like I’ve been thrown into the world with nothing, but the clothes on my back. This really isn’t such a dramatic change. But, it is. Life is not what it was. It’s not worse. It’s just different. So very different.

And my phone conversation with my parents finalized in my being what I had known in some distant part of me for weeks – this is not the same and will never again be the same.

That is life though – “not the same.” Today and yesterday are completely different situations, different relationships, different processing, different knowledge. That’s a good thing. “Not the same” is a concept worthy of praise. It is a manifestation of being continually formed – continually brought closer to who I was created to be, continually becoming more free. This is merely a new season – a good thing.

The hungry me, however, was fearful. New things require me to trust in God, who knows. New things mean I can no longer depend on my own strength because it is insufficient. New things mean I can no longer depend on my old maps because this land is uncharted. I hung up the phone, wiped a single tear from my eye, and said out loud, “I do not want to trust you.”

My conversation with Momma and Daddy was that step- the farthest I’ve ever been. And yet, each step is just that – the farthest I’ve ever been. It scraped the bottom of my empty self and echoed through all of me and I had to trust and I was afraid. And in my fear, I ran.

I took a nap. I wasted as much time as I could. And when I couldn’t stand that still resounding echo any longer, I searched to be filled. I tried coffee and chocolate first because they don’t require trust. And when they didn’t fix the echo, and, in fact, magnified its cry, I simply slumped down and plugged my ears. And when plugging my ears merely muffled the sound, I accepted the sound and became Eeyore, joining the echo with a refrain of “woe is me.”

I got on Facebook, because Facebook is splendid for wasting time and splendid fodder for self-pity. And God laughed that I thought I could escape from his love by becoming Eeyore and drowning myself in Facebook. My friend Brittany had posted a note about being still and knowing God is God. About listening and reveling in the bittersweet that flows out of you as the silence sets in. Author, Ann Voskamp posted a link to her blog post for the day, which said this

“Standing out there in the garden,
all the spinach leaves offered up like bunches of bouquets
there at her feet, she listened for the quiet.
The corn grew in straight rows.
The apple blossoms made promises.
The irises unfolded bold hope.
Roots would wait for rain.
Seeds would be faithful to soil.
The weary would wait on God.
The waiting would be unwaveringly faithful to the Word.”

And the words of that post found their way inside of me and woke up the life-filled person that I am. And I became excited. The new became apple-blossom promises. I saw the need for trust as deepening relationship. I saw the need for trust as God’s love calling out for me to join him. I scoffed at my depressed self and scrambled out of the pit I had dug for myself. I ran as fast as I could into the arms of my Father and smiled at him and said, “I trust you. I trust your unfailing love.” And he smiled back. And the clanging echo turned to melody and the ravenous hunger turned to passionate longing and I was captivated and I was captivating and I was myself again.

I picked up my old journal and opened it – then closed it.
“No,” I thought, “sometimes you just know it’s time to start a new journal.” And new journals are hopeful things.