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.”

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.

(smallish) Adventures in Adulthood

Once upon a time, I woke up before the sun with the express intent of doing responsible things all the day long. I showered and cleaned my room and spent time with God, and then ventured downstairs to eat a most grown-up breakfast of fried eggs with avocado while I waited for my laundry to dry. I finished up said laundry by 8 o’clock and left the house feeling entirely productive and generally good about the day.

Then there was traffic – a thing which I had entirely forgotten about until I sat still on the interstate for half an hour longer than anticipated. I did eventually reach the street where my coffeeshop is located and here found a new dilemma – parallel parking.

I can parallel park. My dad taught me how. I passed that portion of my driver’s test with flying colors. I’ve parallel parked before – beautifully, I might add, a parking job worthy of a gold star. Today? Today, I found a parking space that gave me plenty of space on either side so that I had room for error. I flipped on my turn signal, stopped when my steering wheel was aligned with the steering wheel of the car in front of my parking spot, and then, I realized a line of cars was waiting for me. I know this is okay – I know this is what happens when you parallel park, but I suddenly became aware of the fact that I was keeping all of those people from getting where they needed to be.

I could be the reason someone was late.

I felt like getting out of my car and personally apologizing to everyone. Of course, that would make them even more late, not to mention that it would be all around illogical. So, I just resolved to park as quickly and efficiently as I could. I slowly backed up, turned my wheel at just the right moment, and ran over the curb.

I then waited, with the back two feet of my car lodged on the sidewalk, watching, mortified, as dozens of cars glided past and I imagined everyone of them pointing and laughing. I’m pretty sure none of them even noticed,  the girl with her car on the sidewalk, or cared, for that matter, that she was there. My imaginings were vivid nonetheless.

The light up the street eventually turned red, the vehicles of mockery stopped, and I pulled out and re-parked my car. Twice.

This ordeal was followed by two rather uneventful and mostly productive hours at the coffeeshop. And from there, I went to Whole Foods, where I accidentally tried to buy the tester lotion.

I ended my morning with the carwash I’ve needed for a week. Dad told me about this carwashing-place… I guess it’s just called a carwash… near the house that does an excellent job for not a lot of money, so I stopped there.

Apparently, going to a car wash is an exercise in social skill. No one told me this.

I pulled up to the lot to find several little stations equipped with vacuums and other frightening looking tubes and spray bottles. I wanted something cheap. And generally, stations with frightening tubes do not translate to cheap. Unsure of what to do, I decided just to drive about 3 miles per hour around the lot until I found some clear direction. Then, fortune of fortunes, I saw the entrance to an automatic wash. Relief flooded as I drove up to the little box that takes your money, and dread flooded as I realized the box was taped off. Did this mean I had to face the expensive stations and their vacuums?

I backed up in dismay and was simply going to drive away with a dirty car, but just as I turned my wheel to leave, a worker jogged to my car. I felt increasingly awkward. First, because the poor guy had to jog to my car due to the fact that I do not know the rules of fancy car washes. Second, because it took him a ridiculous amount of time to jog to my car. He asked if I wanted a car wash. I was strongly tempted to say no and leave. Instead, I said I wanted something simple and cheap, he wrote something on a receipt, handed it to me, and directed me through the entrance I had tried to use before. “Just drive through,” he said, “then pull around, and you can pay inside while we dry it.” Sounded easy enough.

Wrong.

Before you get any sort of cleaning done to your car, there are these precarious tracks that you have to maneuver your tires into. There is a kind attendant to laugh at you as you try in vain to guide the beast that is your car onto those tiny tracks. Once you undertake that feat, that kind attendant pelts your car with a water gun and slaps pink, sudsy stuff all over it. Meanwhile, you sit in your car trying desperately to remember if the receipt guy had told you to stay in the car or not. About the time you’ve convinced yourself that he said not to stay in the car, it lurches forward and you’re sucked into a machine designed, I’m sure, to clean your car. What the machine actually accomplishes is making you feel like you’re going to throw up. And die. After this torture devices finishes its work, it spits you out into the middle of a lot without so much as an arrow on the ground to direct you. Here, I resorted again to driving 3 miles per hour as that seemed to work last time. Sure enough, the receipt guy spotted me in my confused state and waved me over to one of the frightening stations I had been trying  so hard to avoid.

I parked my car. What now? Pay. Pay is what you do now. How do I pay? Inside, he said go inside to pay. Okay. This is doable. I got out of my car… and left the door open – I still don’t know why I did that. Paying took all of five seconds. What now? No.Idea. I just hoped they’d be done and went back to my car. The door was still open. I’m an idiot.

Did you have a question?” asks one of the gentlemen wiping down my car.

Yes. What do I do? I’ve obviously never left my house before. Had I actually said that, they may have laughed. I didn’t say that though, I just held up my receipt, “She said you’d need this.” He took it and I looked around for a second, then got into my car, shut the open door, and immediately wished I’d chosen to do something else. I had to sit behind that finally closed front door for the three minutes it took them to finish drying my car. I had to sit there, and just keep thinking about how I could have done so many other, less awkward things instead. In those three minutes, however, I did come to the very important life decision to use the carwash at the gas station for the rest of my days.

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.

Dust

I am tired today. Honestly, I would rather be taking a nap I don’t really need than writing right now. Naps are sometimes my escape from dealing with unknown – the same way movies and tv sometimes are. If I am asleep, I don’t have to think, or find answers, or be okay with no answers.

I am choosing to write instead – because I am tired of wasting time.

Yesterday, I swept the floor at work. It is a simple task that I’ve done oh so many times. But yesterday, the sun was setting as I swept and the broom and I wove our way in and out of pure gold. It was gold you could feel, even when you weren’t standing it. The kind of light that makes the room feel still and rich. The kind of light you could drink.

“Glory, I have known you my whole life
In the morning, you come in gentle as a golden vine
Through my window, you fill up the valleys in my sheets. Glory”
— Byran John Appleby, glory

Glory. I was a being consumed in glory as dust on the floor swirled and glistened in the gold. Dust, unwanted, dirty, burdensome to the floor, was brought up into and through the gold, and was made beautiful.

Ashes to ashes dust to dust,
This flesh is not forever,
Spirit to Spirit,
Life to Life –
All that you are,
Is all I will be;
Soon, Lord, in You forever.

— hymn from the Morning Office this week

In being swept into the glory of that gold, the dust became more than it ever dreamed of being before. I delighted in the dust, it was breath-taking.

Spirit to Spirit. Life to Life. All that you are, is all I will be.

I am dust.

When I am sitting in the glory of the Creator, that glory – his glory – defines me. And I am breath-taking.