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Emp-Tea (emp·ty)

From the very moment you open your eyes in the morning, everything you do from that moment on is based on a choice. Snooze or not snooze? Pray or don't pray? Shower, bath or nah? Sweats or jammies? Coffee, tea or both? Toast or cereal?

On the flip side, there are some things that dictate your life but are based on decisions that have nothing to do with you. Like, you can't decide who your parents are. Nor can you determine when or where you're born, neither when you'll die. All you have at any moment is the moment you have in the now. I heard a preacher say that the understanding of life is not so much found in the answers but in the depth of the question.

All of this then made me wonder, is it your choice whether your life is empty or full? And can you choose what fills your life or what you'll lack? Ultimately can you decide to be or not to be?

In case you haven't gotten the updated memo, let me hit you with the 411; time alone won't heal anything. If so, folks wouldn't be walking around here holding grudges for twenty-odd years. Instead, it's what you do with the time that brings healing or not. It's the decision to let yourself be healed that begins the process. It's how you chose to medicate that will eventually bring about complete restoration. Sitting around watching the days go by won't make the pain any less.

After a separation of any kind (friendship, family drama, lovers quarrel), I think many of us can agree; there is a void or an emptiness, if you will. Something is now absent, and truth be told, you miss it—even if it was a hot mess.

You had a routine, and now the thing that once consumed a large chunk of your time is no longer. That now vacant space feels unfamiliar, and although you're still there, where ever you are, it feels a lot less like home.

For me, it was Friday night movies, Saturday morning coffee and Sunday family dinners. It was having the balance of someone to 'check' me when my rudeness was showing. It was the quirkiness of texting while in the same space about what was going on in the room. It was conversations till the wee hours of the morning about nothing and everything. It was having the accountability of someone to push me when I got lax in an idle position. Then all of a sudden, it wasn't.

Weekends became some weird time of the week where I felt stuck in a twilight zone—wondering what to do or not do next. I'd hear the phone ring, only it didn't, and for a minute, I was honestly lost. It literally felt like there was a hole in my soul that wouldn't heal.

More so, it was going to a job every day listening to people complain about the most trivial inconveniences. A job I only took because it was me getting my foot in the door to where I truly desired to be. Alas, 5 years later, and that didn't happen, every day, the mundane ate away at the notion that I wouldn't achieve my dream. The only thing that grew was the belief that I was getting left behind.

The cherry on top of this imploding cake was going to the place that should have bought solace, but due to no one's fault but my own, I found zero comfort in what we refer to as the 4 walls. The church became a place I went just to get my checkmark on the register. "Hey, let the record reflect I was here, and I performed." But to say there was a relationship or a genuine encounter with God, no. I mean, I've been in this for a long time, and many of us in churchdom perform off of gift but neglect connection. But isn't that what we do in relationships? Operate from a place of familiarity rather than the stance of knowing?

Then, it all comes crashing down but let's be honest; emptiness is often the byproduct of something or someone disappointing us. We had an expectation that someone didn't meet, and now we feel slighted, angry, frustrated and well, empty. Now what?

All of this was my story, more than once and sometimes all at once. Until one day, I realized I could choose to fill the space with something beautiful, or I could sink deeper into this abyss.

I could continue to dwell on what was, no longer is and will never be again, or I could venture into the unknown and create something new. By no means am I telling you not to feel your feelings; I'm saying don't stay there too long. Emptiness is most present when you've not submitted to something greater than yourself. And by greater, not the universe but rather its Creator.

After each breakup, career disappointment, or church drama, I tried comparing it to the last incident like it. Trying to calculate how long it'll take me to get over this feeling of despair. Or analyzing if I always felt like this, and what I did last time to pass the time? Let me just say that didn't help one iota. Each experience was different and needed to be treated as such.

No matter the circumstance, the one common denominator was that I walked away from these situations with a feeling of not being enough. I finally had to question, "Why was it that this pattern was being repeated?" When you peel back the layers, being enough is subjective—meaning the answer is based on who you ask. Considering what will fill me won't full an individual who requires a man-sized portion, you not being enough for someone has very little to do with you. Our feeling of inadequacy is often because we're trying to fill an appetite we've not been plated to feed. You won't give a full-grown man the same portion you'd feed your toddler, right?

Hence, were the things I thought to be filling actually doing that, or were they merely temporary fixes to a more deeply rooted issue? It's like eating a bowl of cereal but expecting to have enough energy to complete construction in the middle of The Bahamas' summer.

I'm sure you've heard empty barrels make the most noise. Well, yeah! That's 'cause they're echoing every sound around them. Your friend starts a business; you duplicate that. Your co-worker had a big wedding; you want to mirror that. Your neighbour did a gender reveal; you want to mimic that too. When will the real Slim-Shady, I mean 'you,' ever show-up? If I'm completely honest, I'm no exception to the copy-cat syndrome.

There was a time I was trying to echo everything around me, and if it makes sense, as the noise got louder, the more I was confused. Because if you know anything about echos, although the sound sounds the same, the direction of the sound changes. It's exhausting trying to live the life not designed for you.

Matthew, Jesus' disciple, puts a spin on the whole thing and alerts us to the dangers of putting new wine in old wineskins, it would burst from the pressure—spilling the wine and ruining the skin (Matthew 9:17). Translation: stop trying to fill your vessel with things that have since expired. You'll forever be coming up, not just empty, but ruined. Have you ever tried putting hot liquid in a plastic container? Disaster! That's just how things will keep spilling out from you because the contents you're trying to fill your vessel with aren't designed for you to contain.

I've tried many times to replicate other people. One, because they looked like what happy and successful meant, and two, because I had yet to see the unique creation that was 'me.' I've tried to tone down my personality. I've tried staying in relationships past their expiration date for fear of winding up a crazy cat lady. Yet nothing in my life, until this very moment, the one I'm living right now, has ever made as much sense. Everything before now was an attachment rather than a commitment.

It was all me trying to meet an obligation that I was not assigned to. Before now, I was looking for validation and approval, not being confident in my capacity. It was me, filling the 'I just wanna be like everyone else' persona. But the truth is, I'm not! Many of us are not empty because there is nothing in us, but rather that the quantity does match the capacity.

Oftentimes, I was the empty barrel because I was busy trying to find where the sound was coming from. Trying to be too many things to too many people. Walking around lost, merely trying to see where I could fit. Throwing anything against a wall in hopes that it'll stick.

Confession: I was a late bloomer, and somewhere around 30, I thought I was well on the way to getting my life together—then...BAM derailed because I allowed myself to get distracted. Then again, around 34, it started to level out and fall back into place. But little did I know all life was doing was gearing up for my greatest lesson. The one that would push me into my most significant shift.

I ain't gonna lie, whew chile, that thing came to take me out. It was the kind of emptying that made me question my whole existence. It was that experience that taught me 'empty' is the lesser evil to brokeness. Talk about levels to this. It's that place where you can't contain anything, and it feels deserted. You've not experienced absolute emptiness until you've been broken. Until there is nothingness, you can't tell when you've been filled.

Then one day, I realized it wasn't so much that being empty was the problem; as much as it was, I needed focus. Being 'emptied,' as with most things, has its pros and cons. On the one hand, being empty provides you with the opportunity to fill-up with greater substance. On the other hand, the problem can be when you've been emptied; but you refill with a different variation of what previously contaminated you.

Matthew explains perfectly the danger in being empty for too long: "When a demon is cast out of a person, it roams around a dry region, looking for a place to rest, but never finds it. Then it says, 'I'll return to the house I moved out of,' and so it goes back, only to find that the house is vacant, warm, and ready for it to move back in. So it goes looking for seven other demons more evil than itself, and they all enter together to live there. Then the person's condition becomes much worse than it was in the beginning. (Matthew 12:43-45 TPT)

The moral of the story: When you find yourself feeling empty, that's the perfect time to clean your house—and I mean from the inside out. Here we are in the early days of spring, meaning it's a shift in season. Immediately spring cleaning comes to mind, which is defined as a thorough cleaning of a house or room, typically undertaken in spring.

It's no accident spring (a time when things bloom) comes after winter (a time when everything looks dead and is lying dormant). It's no coincidence that the start of spring coincides with Easter when we commemorate Jesus' death, burial (don't underestimate the value of this step in the process) and resurrection.

Remember, empty doesn't have to mean unfulfilled or lacking; it could be like Jesus' tomb—just the place where the old version you no longer resides. I just have one question: "Is your glass half full or half empty?"

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