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.”

Again.

I haven’t written in a while because somewhere along the lines I started believing the lie that my writing was not worth writing unless it was profound. This is in defiance of that lie. And I will keep writing in defiance of that lie.

 

I just have a simple thought right now.

 

Frodo never came back to the Shire. He left the only place he had ever known and loved – his heart drawn by adventure, risk, mystery, and heroism. Adventure swept he and his dear companions away, and with it came the great upheaval of his being, his perspective, his deepest heart. He emerged on the other side with new eyes, new ears, purer desires – the wonder of the homest place he had ever known, though still wonderful, was not enough in comparison to the terrible glory he had known. And he went on.

                        on and on and on.

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.

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.