Late April is a tender time of year among my Wolf people, a time for reflection and grief and celebration. The Lord provided a special and well-timed reminder of His faithfulness this particular April week and I could not help but share. I nearly squirm as I type out some of these thoughts because they are so uncomfortably honest. However, I know someone somewhere will relate all too well to the path I walked. So please take hope from the words I share.
I scrawled those words in the back cover of my floppy leather-bound Bible when I was fifteen years old. The ink ran out of the pen halfway through. By the second word, the letters were just indentations into paper; empty of ink, as it were. I don't know why I wrote it or what possessed me to ask for it.
If I had known what being emptied would feel like, I wouldn't have penned that particular prayer.
* * *
Margins without vacancy for one more crammed line of handwriting and a spine duct taped to a point of sacrilege rendered that floppy Good Book obsolete. It was retired and replaced. Sometime during college my leather Bible was stuffed into an overfull closet and then, years later, stuffed into an overfull suitcase bound for London.
In the suitcase it remained until this past week when I met a friend who does not own a copy of Scripture, so I offered one of mine. Remembering the extra Bible I'd packed, I rummaged through my luggage, fished out that familiar leather book, and decided to use it for my quiet time before handing it over to my friend. After rifling through those whisper thin pages, I landed on the chapter I was slated to read that morning, Psalm 69. My eyes fell on a scant bit of handwriting beside the first verse of the chapter. It was a date: 10.26.
In that moment, a levy broke inside me. A suffocating deluge of remembered sad things and bad things and black things overcame me. Those four numbers swallowed me up and spit me out in one of the darkest days of my life.
I didn't have to read Psalm 69 to remember why I had noted that particular date. The opening words came on their own.
Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is dry. My eyes fail while I wait for my God.
Down the page, verse seventeen was circled: I am in trouble. Answer me quickly.
My shaking hands had scribbled that circle when I was sixteen, only months after the naive inscription of Empty me was made in the back cover.Like a prophecy fulfilled, I had indeed been emptied.
Hurricane winds of tragedy had come during my sixteenth year, 2008. They blew in one after another, the last hardly allowing me to regain my footing before another came. Some of these tragic gales unfolded very publicly, while others are known only to me, even today. But by October of 2008, the storm damage seemed irreparable. Just as David wails in that sixty-ninth psalm, I had sunk deep into the mire. The mud of sadness clogged my ears and eyes in those black months, stuffed my throat and lungs so that I couldn't breathe. The thick, heavy mire dulled my senses and caked my feet until I could not move forward. My existence at that point could hardly have qualified as a life.
What loving author of life writes such tragedy into the stories of His characters? What kind shepherd allows His sheep to drown slowly in a bog? What faithful father rips families apart? If there is a God, He cannot be good.
These were the lies that circled my head, day after day, until they became truths. My prayers to God ceased. My old leather Bible lay forgotten on my bedroom desk where it became a tombstone to imagined hopes, a carcass of dead promises.
Death would be better than this, I believed. This heaviness is unbearable. Crushing. This needed to end. I needed to end.
10.26. That's when I had reached the cliff's edge. That day a fork appeared in the road of my life, one path leading to more suffering and the other leading to a dead end, a denial of God Himself. I surveyed my options.
By a miracle of the Almighty on that late October afternoon, I opened that long abandoned leather-bound book and immediately came upon Psalm 69. Reading God's Word for mere minutes brought my situation into sharp focus. I awoke to the deep danger of my position and could only echo David's words as my prayer.
I am in trouble. Answer me quickly.
And he did.
By no effort of my own, God's gentle hand extracted me from the mire and set my feet on high ground. By His amazing grace, a dawn broke in those fall months of 2008 and the sun has not set in the almost seven years since. He emptied me that He may fill me back up with a hope independent of circumstance or feelings, but tied only to Jesus and His victory over death. He repurposed our suffering for His glory and recycled our pain into beauty. Hallelujah has been my song all week as I've pondered anew His wondrous works in my life, a life that could have been swallowed up by darkness after sixteen too short years.
Today I am overwhelmed by the God-given fullness of my life, of each and every moment. Abundance followed the emptiness. And I promise, promise, promise that if you are empty today, abundance is coming if only you call on Him.
One day, you will praise Him for the emptiness. I swear it.
* * *
All Bibles have the same stories, sixty-six books of stories, in fact. I will happily pass my weathered old Bible onto my friend and study it's stories with her, as intended when I went hunting through my luggage last week. But I'll also tell her one extra story held within the pages of that floppy old book, a story contained in seven letters and four numbers. A story not found in any other Bible on earth. My story. It fits right in with all the other Bible stories, after all, because it tells the tale of one redeemed by the Giver of life.