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.