My mom left when I was 14 months old. I was barely walking, barely forming sensible words. I was just then eating from a spoon which I held myself. I guess she didn’t love Dad anymore and from what I could tell, even all these years later (especially all these years), she never loved me. She packed a bag, looped her arm through that of her new love’s and walked away. That was that. I was a motherless child.
I am a motherless child.
But, this isn’t a story of Mom’s leaving. It’s a story of what she left behind:
One big empty.
I grew and aged and lived my life with this big empty right in the center of my gut. It grew empty veins, tunnels that ran up into my heart and down deep into my spirit. That empty became just as much a part of me as any other necessary limb, as acute as all my other senses.
It was part of me, like these bones that hold me up, the skin that holds me together.
Every birthday, every Mother’s Day I longed for her, I wondered if she thought of me, or even remembered.
And I ached, that big empty pulsing like the flesh of a heart, flexing with life like any other organ inside me. They were dark days, heavy and lonely days.
But the days passed and I survived. I’d let out my air big and confident and commend myself for my strength. I’d all but pat myself on the back for my will larger than hers. I was tough. I could withstand.
I wouldn’t walk away.
But those days inevitably came back around again and still I stood, which was a miraculous thing given the big empty that made up the bulk of me.
The moments that knocked me the hardest were the ones I didn’t see coming, those unforeseen circumstances I hadn’t prepared for, wasn’t built for:
mother-daughter day at school;
those sappy Hallmark commercials;
the adoption story on Oprah;
lunch with a friend and her mom;
Mother’s Day specials at the diner uptown.
My ex asked me once how I could miss something I never had. I couldn’t answer that question. It confounds me still. But in my mind I saw myself a giant puzzle someone had spent years piecing together only to come to the end of it with one piece missing; that gaping hole left in the center of the majestic pastoral scene.
Isn’t that where our eyes are drawn? To the blemish? To the scar?
I determined to fill that hole, let me tell you. I tried with all my might and all my power and all my determination. There were the jobs and the friends and the money. There was booze and men and promiscuity. There was anger and fighting and behaving badly. Tough. My skin grew tough. It had to. It was all that held me together.
And then there was the simple act of shutting down. Somehow I just. . . shut off. Like a light. I hung the “Out Of Order” sign and called it a day. A week.
Maybe a lifetime.
No one would ever hurt me again. I wouldn’t let them get close enough. My body wasn’t big enough for any more empty.
But the big empty grew anyway. There was less and less of me, dissolving, eaten up. Precariously fragile.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A decade ago God got a hold of me.
I sat in a darkened attic merely a mirage of what I could have been, what I should have been. I was a puddle on the floor slowly evaporating into the thick air. I was draining away. I’d let the big empty consume me. No, that’s not true; I gave in to it willingly.
I was, after all, the big empty.
But God got a hold of me.
God made His presence known to me and I latched on- a drowning girl desperate for salvation.
Piece by tiny piece God began to fill my empty. He began to fill me. It didn’t happen in one fell swoop, but moment by moment, day by day, year by year. It happened like a Sunday stroll and like a steep hike: one step and then another. And yet another still.
I cussed and cried and fought Him. It hurt, that filling of the big empty. The comfort of the all-I’d-ever-known drew me back. (It’s so easy to return to what’s familiar.) But God said to abide, to remain. He said it’d be worth it.
I came back time and time again until one day I felt His presence so filling I found my bones rising from the ash, flesh forming where empty had been. God’s presence was so fulfilling it became easier to stay and feast and be filled.
One day I decided to quit fighting. One day I decided to remain and let Him do His work.
Because God has always been a choice.
I’m not here to tell you that I’m healed. I am not. But I am healing.
I am being healed. Being made full. Whole.
What I want to tell you is that there’s no big empty God can’t fill, if we let Him. And, Friend, it’s worth it. Step by satiating step.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.(Romans 15:13 NIV)
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