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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I’ve been reading again.

I’ve felt rather lost and uncertain as of late. I’ve used the word “floundering” to describe how I feel so many times, the word makes my stomach hurt. It’s not that I stopped being Maggie, it’s just that I forgot who Maggie was. I knew bits and pieces. I could repeat the truth of it to myself – you’re Beloved, you’re daughter, you’re important to the Kingdom, you’re a bright, lovely creature because He said so, you are a writer – but when your heart is sick, though you know the truth, your sick heart coughs it up.

When your heart is sick, pieces of you that you thought were so deeply woven they could never come undone, disappear. They slip into the ocean inside of you and kick and splash and they’re gone. And at first, you row around on your makeshift raft and ravenously search the endless waters for the good that slipped into unknown. But time wears, and your raft hits a land you’ve never before encountered, and you count those good things forever lost. You don’t lose hope, though. Not really. You find a way to live on this new land of yours – you make the best of things (the way that you do) and this land that is only somewhat you, is okay. Even if your heart is sick.

Sometimes, sometimes in the night, you wake with a start and the stars seem brighter than usual and the air tastes sweet and ancient and sharp, and you swell. Something glimmers on a distant wave and you don’t dare breathe, because there – just beyond your reach – is the piece of you that you lost. The piece you need so desperately, that without it, you are left to repeat the truth to your fevered heart and watch it be retched up. Again and again.

I kept reading the writing of others – my pastor, my mom, my dad, my friends – and I would ache, deep inside ache, because I know I am I writer. But my writing felt stiff and foreign, an unloved thing. You are a writer – heaved up.

Here’s the profound thing – because I could not believe one truth about myself, I could not believe any of them. Because I could not remember that I really am a writer, I could not see myself as Beloved daughter, I could not see how important I am to the Kingdom. I crumbled. I stopped.

Some days ag0, Mom hid a letter she wrote to me in my bible. It took me until Friday to find it. Her words of love for me reminded me I once wrote from a deep well.  My heart seized. I found her and cried out words that didn’t express what I meant. I cried out words that expressed what I didn’t mean. She hugged me, and set a work of fiction on my desk.

The book swallowed me whole. It ran to my heart, ran right to the sickest part of it, and sank in deep. And my heart kept it. My heart took it in with great gulps. Slowly, slowly, I remembered. I remembered the promise of a book. I remembered how I loved words and loved how words sounded and tasted, and how you can, with the greatest care, caress words into death-taking, life-bringing things. I remembered how precious story is. I remembered how quickly I love people. I remembered how quickly I hate the evil. I remembered the well of story inside of me.

I jumped off the land, jumped off the make-shift raft and drank in sea water with hungry lungs.

Here’s the profound thing – when my heart knew that one truth about myself, it could take in all of them. Because I know I am a writer, I can feel the Father’s pleasure, I can see Kingdom life springing up around me. And I won’t stop.

The season of singing birds has come

There is a bird singing outside – singing as if it cannot stop.

“Look, the winter is past,and the rains are over and gone,
the flowers are springing up,
the season of singing birds has come!
Their songs fill the air,
and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming.
Rise up, my darling!
Come away with me, my fair one!” — song of solomon 2:11-13

Spring.

It’s not quite here. In fact, the forecast calls for 6-8 inches of snow tomorrow. But, I’ll take the singing birds today. I’ll take the hope they give. There is something about bird songs that make my heart remember resurrection. There is something about bird songs that awaken those tired, run-down parts of me and reminds them that they were made to be alive.

There is promise in a bird song. There is a cry of made new!

My soul swells when I think of all things being made new.

 with every breath you take, I am restoring

New life, real life, being manifested in me and everything around me with every breath I take.

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as he raised Christ from the dead, he will give life to your mortal body by this same Spirit living within you.”— Romans 8:11

The very same power that won over death is living in me – recreating me with every breath.

“Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.— Jeremiah 1:9-10

I am being made new – and in living into the newness Christ brings, I am bringing the Kingdom (that same recreation) to every person I encounter.

Tearing down lies. Destroying bondage. Overthrowing death – undoing death.
Building Kingdom walls. Planting Eden’s seeds.
Because Jesus lives in me. We move as one.

Bird songs promise spring.

Spring, that call to create. Spring, that call to live out the restoring work of the kingdom. Spring, that life. Spring, those fountains of life again finding their source. Spring, creation’s play of Kingdom come.  Spring that fosters life, fosters life.

Spring lives in me – finds home in me. Spring finds home in you. Spring finds home in everyone.

Redemption, restoration, the undoing of death, the re-writing of life, the hope of glory – lives in you, works in you. You carry it wherever you, to every broken place, to every healing place, to every good place, every hard place, every unknown place – it overcomes, every time.

And that is worth a song.

Lent. Eden. Soil.

“Simplicity takes us back home, to the Garden of Eden. There, in our Eden-like life, everything is quiet, simple, and even. There is a little bit of pleasure, but not too much. There is a little bit of pain, but – again – not too much. We aren’t consumed by the need to have more, and we are able to be thankful for whatever comes our way, even if it’s hard. This quietness in our soul, this freedom from the loudness of fear and the boisterous noise of always watching out for ourselves, gives us a calm contentedness. … Live here. Live in Eden.” – – Winn Collier, Let God: the transforming wisdom of Francois Fenelon

That sounds like the life we were created for, don’t you think? My soul, tired as it is today, rises up in me and shouts that this is the life it was designed to have. I long for it.

And Christ tells me I can have it. Here and now. Not just when he returns to make everything new and right again. He says I’m seated now, in the heavenly realms with him (Ephesians 2:6), so seeking Eden is not in vain. Chasing this hope is not a fool’s race. I am designed for it. right now.

This is what I long for Christ to make manifest in me through Lent, this Eden-life. I am aware, however, that death comes before life. Lent is a season marked with ashes.

And I’ll embrace the ash, with my face set like flint.

“Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness on you.” — (Hosea 10:12 – emphasis added)

It’s hard work, preparing hard, dry dirt for a seed. I’ve tried before – breaking up the hard, dead places with a shovel until sweat poured and my back ached. And the thing died after a week. It’s such a hopeful thing, though, to consider my heart this way. It’s such a hopeful thing to anticipate – after the pain and hard work of preparing the soil – sweet rain. Rain of pure goodness and delight, to sink deep down and make fruitful the hard work of preparation.

I made a list, on Wednesday, of all of the clutter I would remove, so that simplicity could enter. A list of all the hard work I would choose, to force the plow forward. A list to make way for Eden. 

And it will be hard. I know it will. But, I’m trusting it will also be sweet.

I’m sharing it with you so that I can have some sense of accountability, and so that you can pray for me and journey with me. I plan to expound on each piece more as time goes on, but for now, a list is all you get.

Removed:

  • No media outside of what’s absolutely necessary: including, but not limited to Facebook, Spotify, texting, internet, movie and television watching (outside of family time)
  • No spending outside of bills
  • No food that is not whole
  • No food outside of meals (essentially no snacks or desserts)
  • Only one cup of coffee or tea a day

Added:

  • Writing everyday. (prepare yourselves)
  • Exercise three times a week
  • Keep to the daily office (thank you Bloom)

The end. I’m eager to see where this leads, and I’m eager to share the road with you.

Tell me about your Lenten journeys – the hopes you have, the plans you have. I want to hear about them! I want to journey with you! I want to pray with you and for you! (comment, e-mail, etc.)

… home. to the Garden of Eden.

Like Flint

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” — Luke 9:51 ESV

“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” — Isaiah 50:7 NIV

Before his ministry began,  Jesus entered the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. He left the wilderness leaning into the Father in deep communion. He left the wilderness with the full knowledge of the end – and the pain to be known before it is over.

Here, Satan came and offered an escape:

“Provide for yourself. Bow to me. Prove yourself to me. And if you do, no one will question who you are. I’ll give you your people without a fight. You don’t have to suffer. You don’t have to die.”  — (story from luke 4)

Jesus doesn’t flinch. He turns, instead, and sets his face like flint toward Jerusalem.

He goes out. He teaches to the masses. He unravels the twisted truth his people have believed and rebuilds it as it truly is. He astonishes wise men with his words. He challenges the religious leaders and leaves them speechless. He restores sight to the blind. He raises the dead. He forgives sins. He sees, really sees, the people religious scholars have written off. He lives and breathes the goodness of God.

And the pharisees can’t stand it.

Jesus gets under their skin.
So, they plot his death.
And their plot succeeds.
And Jesus suffers great pain.
And Jesus knows, what no other man has ever known – separation from his Beloved, the Creator of all things, the Giver of Life, the being intertwined with His creation.
And Jesus stops breathing.
And Jesus’ heart stops beating.
And Jesus is bled dry.
And Jesus dies.

And we remember, suddenly, when he “set his face toward Jerusalem” – toward this.

We remember, and the Spirit in us uncovers the inner workings of the plot – Jesus knew. With every word that he said, with every miracle he performed, with every life-giving, God-revealing step he took, he knew that it was leading to his death. He knew it was enraging the enemy. He knew the anger it was creating in the pharisees, he knew that anger would result in his death. He knew. Still, his face was set like flint. He. would. not. be. stopped. He chose to speak anyway. He chose to love anyway. He chose to walk steadfastly to excruciating pain. He chose to walk steadfastly to death.

Because he knew after death came life to the fullest. For us.

The beauty is striking.

It is the ultimate love story. The kind of story we see in the books and movies we come back to time and again. Jesus is the hero that risks everything for his bride.  He’s the hero that sees the bitter end long before it happens and could choose to avoid it, but instead takes deliberate steps toward it, to save his lover.

And now, now that he had readied the path to life – he calls us, his bride, to follow him. He calls us to walk the road with faces set, like flint, to Jerusalem – to die. So that life can come.

I’m answering.

I’m running – with abandon – to the path marked “suffering” – I’m setting my face, like flint to follow it to its end. I. will. not. be. stopped. It’s the path my Beloved walked, it’s where his feet have touched the earth, and what I wouldn’t give to walk where he does – my gaze on him, his hand in mine. I have his promise of life – a garden of richest beauty and life, forever. And forever begins now.