Hollow But Not Empty

It was ten years ago this morning that the Doppler couldn’t find my son’s heartbeat. A decade ago, I discovered that you can survive being emptied entirely—gutted and destroyed within—that you can be hollow and still walk around breathing, make arrangements for the kids, call your dad and tell him that terrible news.

I remember just laying on my bed so very devastated. Never before had I experienced grief like that.

In so many ways it feels much longer than ten years—a whole lifetime ago. Back then I had two little preschool-aged boys, a husband in seminary, a job in a daycare. Today all three of my kids are well past the preschool stage, my husband is a pastor, and my job is trying to keep track of all these people who are counting on me. Back then it was all marble runs, story books, and learning to hold scissors; today it’s driver’s ed, essays, and learning to handle girl drama. It’s amazing how life changes in a decade.

Always there will be this tiny hollowed-out place in me, shaped like the son I lost in 2008, the baby I lost in 2011. The wounds have healed, but those places will always be hollow, carved out by grief and loss and the sharp painful knife of sorrow. But hollow is not necessarily bad. The hollowness in me is not empty—not anymore. I serve a God of mercy and grace who fills hollow places with His fullness and abundance of mercy and grace, of hope and love and life.

Perhaps my daughter is the most physical, visible evidence of God’s abundant filling of my hollow places. My daughter, who never would have come along if it hadn’t been for the loss of my third son. She is a loud, messy, unexpected, opinionated, affectionate, every-single-day reminder that when God fills our empty spaces, He does it in ways we didn’t dare to imagine.

But there are other, less physical ways God has filled those hollows in my life. He has given me the gift of empathy with those who are suffering loss. He has given me the ability to weep with those who weep by softening and tenderizing my heart through sorrow. He has shown up in His mercy and steadfast love in ways I never knew I needed Him.

I believe that the tragedies of life are no surprise to my God. I believe His love never stops for me. I believe that every terrible sadness, every loss, every painful experience is a new place for His beauty and joy and life to be found. I believe that just as the ground has to be broken for a garden to grow, just as a bowl has to be emptied and cleaned before it can be used to make something delicious, so we have to be broken and emptied and purified if we hope to see God’s beauty and grace coming forth in our lives.

In the years since January 30, 2008, since there was no heartbeat, no movement on the ultrasound screen, I have been emptied again and again. I have lost another child and have walked through losses with friends and family members. I have been to funerals of grandparents and church family and strangers, and I have held my husband when his dear friend passed away. I have struggled with loneliness and depression and fear, and I have made hard decisions and watched my kids get on the bus for the first time and every single time I have been hollowed out a little more and every single time I have found God to be faithful and good and sufficient for my need.

We named that little lost boy Elijah, before we knew he was lost, because of the story of Elijah in the Bible. This man of God waited by a brook during a famine, and God caused ravens to bring him food. Slowly but surely, the brook dried up. And God let Elijah stay there by that tiny trickle and watch it disappear completely before telling him where to go next. And then He sent him not to a wealthy person, but to a poor widow who was down to her last handful of flour and drop of oil. And God did a miracle, providing for both Elijah and the widow and her son.

Sometimes it feels like we watch the last trickle of hope flow away and are still waiting for God to step in. I’m here to tell you, He always will, if we will keep opening our hands for the blessing.

I’ve been reading the Old Testament to my kids at breakfast every morning, and today of all days, by the grand sovereign coincidence that makes my God so very awesome, I came to the story of Elijah by the brook.

And I was reminded, again, that God is faithful, still. He is enough, still.

He filled up the widow’s empty jars with enough flour and enough oil, and He daily fills my hollowed-out spaces with life abundant. And He can do the same for you.

3 thoughts on “Hollow But Not Empty

  1. Thanks for having the courage to share your heart, Erin! Never quit writing. In a day when so many use social media to express their frustration and think only of their own comfort, it is refreshing to find someone who works through life’s challenges and uses it as a way to grow in faith and share those experiences with others. I have found that each experience of my life gives greater insight into the future the Lord has prepared for me!
    Love,Aunt Marilyn

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