please–fill these empty hands
Clouds the deepest gray, hovering close, and I gather myself into the van to retrieve my children, preparing for the storm. It will rain soon, and hard. I can smell it.
And I never have enough for this part of the day.
Honestly, I laugh and sometimes cry whenever I hear that someone thinks I “have it all together.” The truth: it’s all falling apart, washing away in a windy torrent, and I am standing in the bow of a boat feeling lonely in my work, lonely on the high seas. I often forget the most important things. And except for grace and the breath of heaven close to my ear, I would fall over the side.
I grab my phone and send Kevin a quick text: “Prayers, soul mate…I am opening my hands, and I need Him to multiply my tiny resources this afternoon.” I wonder, do you feel that way too, sometimes, your palms feeling only empty, your fingers spread wide?
I pull into the middle school parking lot, looking for my Father’s gifts, asking Him to open my eyes to see them, thanking Him for this too—that I am less, that life will not let me believe I can accomplish anything away from Him. I ready myself, knowing that Riley will need me to ask about her day, to want to know, to pat her knee with my hand.
His is the filling, the multiplying. Please, fill these empty hands.
I see Riley yards away, walking outside, searching the dark clouds above her, and something catches in my throat. She expects the rain too. She scans the cars, looking for me. For a moment, I can’t breathe. And seeing her, I know. I know that God has prepared me all day, that tenderly He has touched my eyes, that He knew I would come up empty-handed.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).
I breathe the truth right back to Him…having all that I need, I will abound…abound in every good work. Sometimes I feel like a husk of a woman, but God’s word never returns to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11).
I close my fingers, wrapping them around Him, around the truth He places solidly in my palms. And I will not let go until I see the blessing (Genesis 32:26).
First my alarm, every day this song–so true it might as well be my anthem, pulls me from sleep, the Mighty hand resting against my back, my cheek. I slip on shorts, a tank, my running shoes. I start the day fighting, my spirit pushing aside the weary cloak shadowing my eyes.
This living now begins and ends the same way: struggling, begging for the blessing, refusing to let go. I whisper this to God, running, and when my stride takes me home, I hear a voice calling me beyond the window.
“Mommy!” Zoe bursts through the front door and runs for me, and I am swept up by the current, heaving, tossing. It all happens too quickly. I feel hardly able to breathe.
“Riley seems to be getting slower instead of faster,” Kevin says from the kitchen as I walk in. Five minutes before Riley has to leave for school, and she’s still upstairs, murmuring about making her bed, fixing her hair, putting on her shoes. This morning, deep sleep clung to her eyes as she walked down the stairs. She didn’t get enough rest last night. The thought sat hard, pressing in, sore, as she put her arms around me. Lack of sleep triggers seizures. This truth lurches, enough to make me sick.
I put down my water bottles and pack her lunch—sandwich; vegetables—a mix; orange, red, green; apple—crisply cut–listening for sounds of her walking down the stairs. Kevin sits her book bag on the table.
“Mom, will you braid my hair,” she calls, appearing on the stairs with four or five elastics wrapped around her fingers.
“Stand in front of the window, and I’ll do all I can before you have to leave for school,” I tell her. I manage one braid, and this she gathers up into a ponytail with the rest of her thick, brassy hair. Her eyes look bright blue today, and so tired. I imagine, just for a moment, what I will feel like if the phone rings and she’s had a seizure at school. I hug her tight, thankful for just now, wishing her the best day, kissing her on the cheeks.
Every afternoon and evening, Riley works so hard, trying to master writing, reading; trying to learn facts about matter, the theories about the first Americans; trying to understand how to simplify algebraic expressions. We get home in the afternoons, and Riley follows me from room to room as I do the must-do things, as I sit by and encourage Adam to wash his hair—“Count twenty five in the middle…count five, here in the front…count ten in the back…scrub, scrub, scrub.” She stands, paused, while Zoe reads me a passage, while we sort out common multiples.
“This is really hard for me,” Riley says sometimes, just noting the fact, before she tries to unravel a feeling, a detail, some addition to her written language arts homework that feels unnecessary to her. And whenever Zoe tries to help, Riley says, “It’s okay, Zoe. As long as I have Mommy helping me, it’s okay. I just need Mommy.”
I think of this, expecting the end of our day at its beginning, as I brush my thumbs over her cheeks before she leaves for school and whisper prayers for her day, for no trouble, for protection and provision. “You’re all we need,” I breathe heavenward, opening the door for my baby girl.
And this the first thing He places in my hand: that my Riley has shown me what ‘you’re all I need’ really means. She has shown me the following, the rejecting of all substitutes, the patient waiting right beside.
While Adam and I sing the tooth brush song and brush his teeth, I wonder if I can teach him to use deodorant without worrying this time that he will misunderstand. The last time I introduced deodorant—clear gel, ‘active’ scent (and I’m wondering when ‘active’ smelled like anything other than sweat)–Adam decided to taste it and it made him sick. I wonder if he can be independent brushing his teeth within the next year. He’s growing broad and long, just a few years from young man. He laughs, reaching for me, and I lose myself in just loving him. And then I wonder, as Adam walks away, when his insulin pump will arrive, when we’ll be training him to use it, how quickly he’ll adjust.
Adam unzips his book bag on the way out the door, and looks up at me. “George?”
“Okay, go get George. But be quick about it.”
He hurries past, carrying the book bag with him, one hand in the cavernous space where Curious George belongs. George goes to school with Adam every day and hides in Adam’s back pack, tucked safely in the cubby where Adam stows his things.
Shortly, Adam returns, the book bag still open, his hand still reaching inside.
“George?” He says again, and I turn toward the door, thinking that we should already be at school.
“I know,” I say, walking out behind my son. But I didn’t.
I don’t notice the nervous look on Adam’s face until I climb in the van and put my keys in the ignition. Looking back, I see it, the anxiety etched into a furrow between his eyes, the way he can’t sit back. “George?” He asks again, searching for words, and suddenly I realize that he’s returned from his search empty-handed. The book bag sits at his feet, still unzipped, still unfilled.
“Oh, you can’t find George? Was I supposed to help find him?”
“Yes,” he says, looking relieved. Sometimes it hits me hard, the truth of his situation, the number of things he’s unable to articulate, the panic he must feel when important words won’t come.
“Be right back,” I tell him, glancing over at Zoe with a smile.
It takes only moments to locate the missing monkey, flung against the wall in the night, or maybe tossed aside in the morning as he slid out of bed. Clearly Adam had only looked toward the bed. He’d not looked behind him, against the far wall. George had been there all along, but Adam thought he’d gone missing. Sometimes I too am blind.
I grab the monkey and sprint down the stairs, hugging him to my chest. When Adam sees me holding George, he grins, wildly happy. He reaches, settling George carefully in his book bag, zipping him in tight. All is right in the world, I whisper, watching my son sit back against the seat, ready.
I sigh, pleased, thinking about how this would have gone had I not been able to locate George. Adam has cried, the day a ruin, over leaving the house without his monkey. For him, leaving without George is like forgetting to put on underwear or parting his hair on the wrong side, or putting his shoes on the wrong feet. Without George in the book bag, everything feels wonky and distressed. Without George in the book bag, Adam’s not sure what to do or when or how to keep on going.
I smile over this as we wind our way toward school, thinking that maybe I need to carry George in my purse. He never takes George out, I’m thinking, but as long as he’s there, everything will be okay. “I wonder if that would help,” I say out loud, laughing, not realizing at first that my thoughts have come out audibly. Sometimes I really long for that feeling–that everything will be okay. And sometimes the living feels lonely, and all I can see are unsettled seas.
I’m a lot like Adam, really. I’m desperate for God, and whether I can see Him or not, I need to know He’s there, tucked away in the deepest parts of me. Because I always know I can’t do this; that unless He goes with me, all my desperate effort will amount to nothing. Apart from Him, they are only empty hands.
So I beg for His Presence the way Moses did, knowing that this is all that distinguishes me, the evidence of His faithful love.
Unless you go with me, Lord, I don’t want to go.
“I will, because I know you by name (Exodus 33: 17),” He testifies deep, reminding me. “If a man remains in me, and I in him, He will bear much fruit (John 15:5).” I breathe, knowing this well. Oh, let me remain there. Please, let me abide.
And this the second truth He places in my empty hands: Love made the Spirit a deposit (2 Corinthians 1:22), tucked in all our cavernous spaces. I carry Him everywhere, and all is right.
“What?” Zoe says from the back seat.
It’s too much to explain, too much to lay in her lap. So I smile and shrug, and brush off the comment. I’ve barely seen her standing there today, balancing with me on this precarious hull.
“I love you,” I tell her, reaching toward her. “Do you know that?”
“Yes,” she says easily, grinning.
“Do you know it every moment?” I ask it honestly and watch her evaluating my expression, eyes bright and sharp.
“Yes, I do,” she says, smiling still more.
“And I think you’re beautiful and wonderful and kind,” I say, touching her.
“I try to be,” she says softly, squeezing my hand, ready at last to walk into the day, shored up by the truth that she is loved, and known, and seen.
And this too, I know, is what I need, what He freely gives, filling my empty fingers: the knowledge of His love for me (1 John 3:1), the truth that nothing can take it away (Romans 8: 35-39), and the certainty that He sees me (Genesis 16:13).
The darkest clouds hover low, heavy grey, and I pull up beside my daughter, ready. I open the door and reach for her, wanting to shelter her from the coming rain, knowing that He fills my empty hands, and we have everything we need to weather the storm.