When You are Empty

by | Oct 17, 2015 | 31 Letters from London, Writing

This is day 17 in a new series: 31 Letters from London. In October, I’m doing something a little different and writing to you about the realities of life as an expat; finding the nearness of God through random experiences with new culture. It’s important to begin here and find the collection of letters here. We’re breaking for Sabbath every Sunday.


The thing about writing a book is once you’ve spent five, twelve hour days pouring words onto pages, your brain feels empty.

Last night, H and Harrison drove two hours to pick me up from a charming house in the Cotswolds. They walked in, met me half way into the living room and hugged me tightly. And then, to the car, they carried a heavy bag of books along with a suitcase and computer like hired movers on a time crunch. An arm load of apples off the tree might’ve been thrown in at the last minute.

The air is chilly with a brisk breeze that instinctively makes you wrap arms around your waist for warmth. All week, the sky was determined to stay sullen and the air, misty. And then one morning, sunlight pushed the drab curtain back on pastoral beauty and I couldn’t get outside with my camera fast enough.


I trekked public foot paths through empty verdant fields dotted with grazing sheep; up rows of a potato farm freshly harvested. So many potatoes left in mounds of dirt, I thought of Ruth gleaning. Potato soup for the whole city! Wheat shivering in the breeze and outlined in red poppies when I was there last month, it was all rolled up like a canvas waiting to be painted.

Pheasants run wild and mingle in the bushes like chatty women huddling together to gossip. They scatter when caught in the open by humans. Dogs run off the leash, bounding over brooks and down paths as if they are let loose on a competitive scavenger hunt.










Driving away, I felt I was leaving something sacred. God met me in that place like having a best friend sleep over. I stayed up way too late and couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to take another walk with Him.

After an hour of driving narrow, winding roads back to London, we stopped and devoured Big Mac’s and French fries for dinner. Something I never chose to eat in the US is somehow a treat for us now in England. And everything at McDonald’s is smaller – the buns, the McFlurry and drinks. But no ice in the cup, so the amount of Coke poured in is probably the same if we were going to be scientific about it.

Since I’ve been home I want to stare at the wall and think.

But wait a minute!

Wasn’t I just doing that alone in a house for a week?

Sometimes when I have poured myself completely into writing, I want to think with the absence of self-awareness. I want to think without my thoughts being useful.

For me, not being self-aware feels like a new spiritual gift I have to exercise once in a while in order to get used to it. I don’t know, maybe you can’t relate because this seems wasteful somehow, doesn’t it?

I’m finding out Brits aren’t wasteful if they can help it. The comments on my letter to you about bread revealed, YOU DON’T THROW AWAY BREAD, when it’s stale. You use it for French toast or bread pudding or throw it on a bread tray in your garden for the birds to eat. Throwing away food is unacceptable.

And all the Americans gasped.

I know, what’s a bread tray you ask? Here is one I snapped in the Cotswolds. I think I could get used to one like this don’tcha think?


As I sit in a quiet house, a sweet smell wafts upstairs. “What is Harrison making?” I ask H when he pokes his head in the room, smiling. “Pop Tarts,” he tells me.

H bought them as a treat from the American store. He stopped by on an errand for me, to see if they have canned pumpkin on the shelves yet. Pop tarts and canned chilies in adobo sauce but no pumpkin.

What?! After all, we are full into autumn (Brits don’t call the season fall like they do in the US). The crimson leaves on our Virginia Creeper have fallen off, creating a colorful confetti carpet over concrete and the wall in our garden, exposed.





Harrison stood with me in the doorway to the garden and asked, “Why does it feel so empty out here all of the sudden?”

We are in a season of harvesting so much goodness after waiting (not so) patiently for God to grow deeper trust within us. This feels vulnerable, exposed and beautiful, like writing 15,000 words into chapters of a book over the last week.

I’m going to sit and stare at the ceiling for a while even though that may seem wasteful. Glean spiritual truths He scatters like bread crumbs to sustain us.

That’s why God created Sabbath. We must empty to be filled back up again.




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  1. DeanneMoore

    So very beautiful, my friend. So beautiful.

  2. Mary Gemmill

    Loved this post Shelly, and am thankful the week in the Cotswalds has been memorable in so many ways. Can’t you just buy pumpkin and cook and mash it like we do ? It’s inevitable you will miss some things, but love hearing about all your new discoveries. xx

    • Shelly Miller

      I suppose I could do that Mary. I should look into it. I’m spoiled with the ease of buying it already prepared.

  3. Pam

    Oooohhh, scrumptious photos, Shelly! I especially loved the man riding his bike down the lane with his dog beside him, and the Cotswold cottage. Thanks for sharing. And oh, I wasn’t saying never throw out any old food. 😉 I do it too much myself when I just can’t get it eaten before it spoils… And the letting your brain relax with nothing pressing, staring at the ceiling… mm… sounds pretty normal for those of us who spend so much time thinking out words … 🙂 Blessings to your resting Sabbath… Pam

    • Shelly Miller

      That man is actually walking in the middle of two dogs Pam! He was so quintessential English looking, I couldn’t resist.

  4. Megan Willome

    I loved this–“I want to think without my thoughts being useful.” I felt this so much the day I turned in the total revision on my mss. But I had to go straight into editing the magazine, and I don’t think I got to think without my thoughts being useful until four months later, when we went to the beach on vacation. Absolutely no useful thoughts that week! Which I needed, because I’m back in my busiest writing season at work.

    So looking forward to your book!

    • Shelly Miller

      Glad to know it’s not just me Megan. I feel better knowing this is normal. Thanks for your encouragement!

  5. Devi Duerrmeier

    I think this is my favourite of your series so far. A feast of beauty, thank you Shelly.

    Have you tried making your own pumpkin purée? I did it in Sweden, it’s very very easy. Last year I made pumpkin spice syrup, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin granola with one pumpkin.

    • Shelly Miller

      Okay, you have convinced me. I need to go buy a pumpkin and do it. It probably tastes about 1000% better anyway. Glad you enjoyed the photos Devi. *wink*

  6. pastordt

    I’m with Devi – hand’s down, my fave. And THOSE PICTURES. Drooling a little, I must say. And mostly, just so happy for you, that you’re there, that you’re writing, and that you got that camera out again. I’ve missed it, to tell you the truth. Such a treat to scroll through so many lovely shots. Thank you!

    • Shelly Miller

      I think its ironic that the most favorite post is the one I composed when I was so tired. This speaks to my perfectionism. Sometimes, well most of the time, I just over think everything when I just need to let it slide off my brain and leave it that way. Thanks for your encouragement about the photos Diana, it’s timely for some reasons I hope to share soon. And you know, I did used to post more photos but stopped because of the tie it takes to edit them. But you’ve given me a lot to think about. Appreciate you!

  7. Janet from FL

    Great pictures! England looks lovely in the “fall”. I love the stone cottages. They look like they belong in fairy tales, or Mother Goose rhymes! I am so glad your time away brought productive writing. Maybe next year you can grow some pumpkins in your garden. I have made pies from fresh pumpkin, and it is delicious! It is more work than just using a can. I haven’t done it in years. Your posts from England somehow make me remember things from the past. Enjoying that.

    • Shelly Miller

      I love that the stories I tell here conjure up memories for you Janet. I like that. And the country of England is truly stuff of fairy tales everywhere you look. It really is.

      • Janet from FL

        HaHa! I didn’t realize we kinda ganged up on you to use a pumpkin and cook it from scratch! Yesterday, I bought 2 cans of pumpkin (guilty). Plans are to make pumpkin cookies and pumpkin bread. The farmer’s market near my home was selling pumpkins for $11.99. That is too pricey, when I got the cans 2 for $3.

  8. Charis

    beautiful fall pictures and good truths. Something I am finding the need of more and more!

  9. Jules Middleton

    love these pictures, I love Autumn (or fall!) the colours, the transformation, the change of wardrobe…! you have just captured it so well. xx

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m finding this season a very cozy one so far Jules. But the lack of light with the time change is little detail I’m not looking forward to. Lovely to see you here!

  10. Laura Boggess

    This is so lovely, Shelly. Everything about it. It feels like a deep breath to me. Sending much love across the pond.

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