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I wrote this a year ago (March-April 2019), but something kept me from publishing it. Now, as we find ourselves in the midst of emptiness – empty streets, empty restaurants, empty calendars, empty hearts – it seems fitting to put it out into the world. Take yourself back a year and go with me on this journey.

I’ve been thinking about a title for a blog post lately and it’s this one: Empty spaces. When I was growing up in Republic, Ohio there were a few places that I felt were truly sacred. One was the empty sanctuary of the Republic United Church of Christ. 

Last Friday, we celebrated the life of my Uncle Bob in that church (the same Uncle Bob of the porcupine incident and the innocent questions about why my daddy got dirty at work and he didn’t.) Sitting in that full sanctuary, not only did memories of Uncle Bob flood back, but so did the days of sitting in that sanctuary all by myself. 

I took piano lessons in the church for many many years.  Because of this, my sister and I had a key to the church. Often times, we would either get there before the teacher or would remain there after until our parents came to pick us up. That left ample time for solo performances and imaginary concerts.

There was something special about being in that sacred space all by myself.

Last week, after the pews had emptied and everyone was settled into lunch in the fellowship hall, I was able to take a quick moment by myself in the sanctuary. While it’s been upgraded (hello flat screen TV; whitewashed walls and rock inlay); it still felt like home. I told my husband on the way home that the Republic United Church of Christ feels more like home than any church we’ve ever been part of. I think it’s because I spent so many hours – many of them by myself – in that place. 

The quest for empty spaces continued for me as I got older. Once I graduated from piano lessons in the sanctuary to the local college, I had to find other empty spaces. 

In high school, I would retreat to the empty auditorium and put on similar solo performances. 

In college, I would try to find the quietest room in the farthest away library on Ohio State’s campus to study. 

Recently, I ran across a completely empty space at my work building and my curiosity about who abandoned the space quickly turned to visions of plugging in my computer and getting work done in this newly discovered empty space. 

I wrote most of this on the empty deck of a cruise ship. I got up way earlier than my family on the first day at sea, and was itching to get out of the room. When I left, I experienced a nearly empty space. No one was up hitting the buffet, going shopping, or making their bets at the casino (well, they might have been, but that is not my scene.) 

Maybe it’s something about being raised in a completely wide open space that has me seek them out as I venture through this crowded world.

As a child, I would take walks by myself to the woods. I would swing for hours on our swingset all by myself.

In an empty space I have the freedom of being by myself and being fully myself without any eyes on me.

In that empty church sanctuary, I probably played my greatest performances. When I had the boombox jamming in the backyard of my childhood home, I likely tried out my best dance moves with only the three fields surrounding our property as witness.

To me, it feels a lot like that “dance like no one is watching” quote.

The challenge is: How do you give the greatest performance when you aren’t in this empty space? How do you be all of you in all the places when all of the eyes are on you? 

I’m still figuring this out. It’s getting easier. Three years of blogging, a year of online videos, and years of being on stage make it more natural. But given a choice, I’d rather hunt down the empty spaces than flock to the busiest spot in town. 

Where were your sacred spaces as a child? How are you finding similar spaces as an adult? 

For me, I’ll probably always wake up a little earlier so I can experience the peace and tranquility of a space that will soon be teaming with people. 

For you, maybe it’s finding a new stage to sing your greatest performance. 

Whatever it might be, do what you can to be all of you in all the places – empty or otherwise. Give your greatest performance every day.


Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.

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