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.”

And This is Where I am, though it’s not where I’ll stay

There isn’t really anywhere to go in this temporary home. There isn’t any secret room where your emotions and frustrations and misunderstandings are the only ones present. Instead, the entire house is a stew of every fear, question, longing, and anger that all five of us hold. And they all collide and become offensive and make the small space seem smaller and the stench that would be tolerable outside is unbearable. And that air stench seems to ferment with time and gain new, deeper layers – more to take in, harder to avoid.

I have every ability to leave. I have a car with half a tank of gas and there is nothing stopping me from taking it far away – except for the injustice. Who am I to run away in my car from the small house and all of its hulking emotions, when my mother is left with there to try and live through her own complexities in the midst of that foul odor? Of course, she doesn’t really want to leave. But it would be unfair, all the same, to run away to open spaces and breathable air and leave her there.

My sister would leave in a heartbeat. She’s the kind that smells the tainted air and is bothered by it and cannot escape it and so gives into it – becomes part of it. Give her blue skies and she’s fine. I’m similar – a windy day and a cup of coffee can remedy most ailments. But, that small house full of our unsure air, makes me shrink and hide. And if I’m in it long enough, I snap and become a roaring monster, blaming every malady on the people around me – then I close again. I retreat into myself as I cannot retreat in my car. And I could. But I won’t. How cruel would that be to Audrey who only needs to breathe clean air to be herself again. To leave without her would be depriving her of being herself, and that is an injustice to all of humanity from what I know of being oneself – ones true self.

Yet, I don’t want to take her with me. I fear my own aura of confused and unknown and unsure needs room all to itself. And my brother always wants to do, to do, to do – sitting still drives him mad, unless he’s watching tv or looking up skateboards and airsoft guns or videos about skateboards and airsoft guns. So, even though he would want to come with me because it is something to do, he’d be bored and annoyed the entire time.

But I did go. And I took my sister. And I bribed my brother with a Peace Tea. And we got hopelessly lost for nearly 2 hours, and we split the flakiest apple turnover I’ve ever seen, and we each had a cup of the self-proclaimed “best” coffee in Denver, and it rained, and it was good. Very good. Then, we came home, our spirits light, our minds somewhat clear, our memories free of the small, very full, house. We opened the door, we walked inside, and my sister’s spirits remained high, her mind remained clear, her view of the house was cozy, not small. I was sucked into the big, full air in that small space and my spirit was doused with sludge and my mind clouded and I wanted to turn and leave again – and not come back.

I am full of unanswers. And when I want to run away, it is from them. And it is from the people in the house also full of unanswers – because that’s not something one can commiserate about, more people just adds to the weight.

And I want to be the hopeful, joyful one. But, really, I don’t. I can’t find the will or energy to be so when I’m in that small space.

And when I woke up this morning, I felt like I was a reprobate for going to bed so late when I knew it would keep others up – like I wasn’t allowed to talk to God after that without being pious and regretful and I was neither.

And there were points in the small house that I didn’t feel so terrible – when I could make it seem cozy because it’s dreary outside and we could all watch movies and eat popcorn and be close.

But mostly, it felt like we were all covered in prickles and slime and being close was repulsive and painful. And mostly the rainless, grey skies just became part of me, or I part of them.

Aidan tried to cheer me. He’s trying now. And I feel myself smiling, and I let myself smile, but the weight on my chest covers my eyes and ears and turns his joy and optimism to a nuisance. I feel like crying now, where before I felt only like screaming and running. That’s movement. So, it’s probably good.

I’m making hot tea now. Mom and I are alone in the house and there’s a stillness that’s settling. And we understand one another well, mom and I, so though we’re still full of unanswers and uncertainties, I’m coming to rest. And my hand crafted mug has the words “life is a journey” etched onto the bottom. And I’m reminded that rainy days happen, but we must go on. And there are two phrases from Andrew Peterson songs nursing me to life and bringing me to tears because they are deep, simple truth:

“So listen little girl, somewhere there’s a king who will love you forever.”

And I remember I can be held by him – he doesn’t care one wit about my prickles and slime or the foul, unanswered air surrounding me. And I let him. And I cry out the other phrase,

And I don’t want to go back. I just want to go on and on and on.

On and on and on.