Monday, November 14, 2011

No Free Refills

It's something we've gotten used to over the more than 12 years we've lived abroad. No free refills. No free water. No ice - unless requested. Just something simple. Something you take for granted, I guess.

But the reality of emptiness and the need for a refill hits you hard sometimes, and your parched soul reaches out for a drop - only to be told it comes at a price.

Last week my husband and I signed up to participate in a joint choir. It was composed of about 130 people from different churches in this area. It had been a long while since I had sung in a choir, so I thought I'd enjoy it. Especially this time of year. My sister and I even discussed recently how much we love the classic choir sound, symphonies, chamber music, orchestras, sign us up! And around this time of year, we had almost always been involved in some sort of choir or another. Church, secular, doesn't matter. Choir harmonies touch our soul. We were brought up in a home where that kind of music was essentially the only kind allowed! :) And now I'm thankful for the love I have for the classic sound our parents were so sure to introduce to us.

Oh, how the sweet memories flood my heart! Many an evening was spent tinkering with an old record player. Remember those huge things that took up half a wall in any room, with big speakers and a compartment which would hold a small collection of records right next to the player itself? Yup. That's what we had. My dad and I would stay up chatting late into the evenings as we'd fiddle with our player on the fritz. We would try to make sure we at least had it going around Christmas time when he'd play Handel's Messiah from start to finish, then of course break out the Johnny Mathis albums. So many of my life's memories are centered around music.

I had forgotten that. Or maybe just blocked it out, to be honest. And that's what I'm doing here, right? Being honest? :)

So there I stood in rehearsal Saturday. We had all gathered Friday evening to be introduced to the songs we'd sing on Sunday. Yes, Sunday. One rehearsal Friday night, then from 9 AM - 5 PM Saturday, then a concert on Sunday. We'd have to get our act together. And we tried. But as I stood there intending to participate in the vocal warm-up on Saturday, my mouth went silent. Something about the choir director reminded me of my dad who for most of the years of my childhood was the choir director of our little church choir. I suddenly didn't want to be there. Our director began to stop us, and tell us that when we sing, we open our soul. We dig from the depths of what is within us and we share it with the world at large. As I stood there, nothing would come out but tears. I wanted to leave, but I figured if I did that, people would be able to see I was crying, so I just stayed. I began to tussle with the Lord in my mind and beg him to release me from the commitment I made to come, or at least give me the strength to stay if that's truly what he wanted. Because on my own, I couldn't do it. I was empty. Down to the last drop, and I had nothing within my soul to share with anyone. They'd all bled me dry, and I had let it happen.

But somehow amidst the dark feeling of emptiness and bitterness, the music gripped my soul. I heard the sounds that had before fed me, and I felt the comfort only a Holy One can bring in the time of need. I didn't even realize it instantaneously, but as I stood there, eyes looking toward the ceiling, letting the tears flow and the prayers rise, I was taken from empty to being filled. By Sunday, again without even realizing it right away, I was full to overflowing, and once again was able to sing with every fiber of my being. My, how long it had been! As far as quantity singing goes, I hadn't sung that much since college and those crazy, rigorous schedules they had us on, but as far as singing with my whole heart goes - as if it doesn't matter if others judge me or take that piece of my soul I was offering and trample on it like discarded refuse? I'm not sure... but it's been a long time, and it felt good.

From empty to full, but it wasn't free at all. If you'd have told me the price before, would I have been willing to pay for this assurance of freedom, and grace? Maybe not. I imagine sometimes to refresh our motor, we must be emptied out of what it is we thought we had, or who we suppose ourselves to be in order to be filled with something we can actually share. I don't care what kind of spiritual babble or cliché people might thrown my way, this ministry thing can be tough. It drains you, and sometimes empties you of everything you have to share and leaves you questioning. And the miracle among the struggle? It's the fact that the filling doesn't come from those who've emptied you out, it comes from the One who's reservoir is never dry.

Free refills? Maybe not. Giving the love may cost you everything, but embracing it? Yeah, that's free.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My story part 17... a family, a move, and a dream.

I know I probably have not left anyone at the edge of their seats, but for those of you who have asked me why I haven't posted the next part of my story yet, I thought I'd take this first paragraph to explain. Though the fact that all three of our kids now do school online through a streaming video program has a lot to do with the fact that I have very little computer time these days, the truth is this next part is hard to relive, dwell on, look at pictures of, and even talk about sometimes. It was the biggest decision of our lives. The thing that took me from every comfort I knew into the exciting, wide world. And it came at a price. One I was willing to pay, but one that cuts deeply as I look back, feeling the loss I know I will never be able to redeem. I try not to live with regrets, and I am thankful for every moment I was able to cherish while my father was still living. I do sometimes - probably a little every day - wish they could have been more. So, as you read this next part, be lenient with a girl who must face this "goodbye" afresh.


For the first 18 months of our little girl's life, we traveled across states, presenting our dream and our little family hoping people would invest and allow us to move here permanently. She was only 10 days old when we packed our little Honda and headed out. We made some beautiful memories and some life-long friends during those days.

It was just the three of us, and we raised enough money for the move, and support to live on month to month. We planned our departure date for March of 1999. My grandparents allowed us to store our things in their garage until we could pack a container and head out. My parents let us stay in a room in their home when we weren't traveling, and our little girl grew so fast I think we all wished things would slow down just a bit.

For as much time as we could schedule, we spent special days gathering with friends and family. I remember those days now with such fondness, and often wonder at my enthusiasm to leave everything I ever knew behind to embrace the unknown, exciting, and mysterious. It's not all as romantic as that, trust me, but it does have it's charms.

The day came when a jet would fly us off to the unfamiliar, for me at least. From a world of bustling responsibilities to a laid-back way of life. From one set of grandparents for my girl, to another. I wish you could see the reflection in this next picture like I can see it in mine, but my parents stood in the left corner just watching as we boarded the plane to move our lives so very far away. I can only wonder how that felt, and would not be surprised if I must experience it one day myself as I watch my little ones soar from the nest into what I now know is a world much larger than the small circle of my life.

We said goodbye.

And then we said "hello".

Hello to a new home, a new place, a new dream. Things were so different. They were so different than they are even now as our lives have become that of a typical busy big-city dweller. But then, it wasn't like it is now. The days were long and slow. The time I spent alone with my little girl was priceless. But the ignorance of how to do a simple thing like buy a loaf of bread, or that I should fill my bathtub with water in the evenings before going to bed just in case the water would get turned off, or the hours without warning that electricity would come and go were all things so foreign to this American girl. Not that those kinds of things happened constantly, but the fact that they happened made me constantly aware of the fact that I am not in my element any more. Those first six months were the hardest for me. Trying to learn enough to be able to go out on my own and speak to someone, filling my days with teaching my nearly-two-year-old the alphabet, colors, numbers, and whatever else I could think of, and just plain trying to wrap my head around a new language, was starting to get to me.

But then came the good news, and our dream took on a new chapter.