Friday, September 12, 2014

Change is Good, Donkey!

My number one favourite movie of all time is "You've Got Mail". (Did you think I was going to say "Shrek"?) You know, the one where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks fall in love online while hating and bating one another in their "real life" business rivalry? I love it for so many reasons, but most of all for its' honesty - albeit behind the anonymity of ambiguous screen names. (Hmmm, a little like blogging, perhaps? Nevertheless...) One of the lines from that movie has been playing over and over in my head this week, (for reasons I will soon disclose): "People always say change is a good thing. All they're really saying is that something you didn't want to happen at all - has happened." Kathleen Kelly then goes on to lament the closing of her charming little bookstore and the inevitable life-altering consequences on the horizon as a result of the change.


I haven't been shut down by a "multi-level, homogenize-the-world, mocha-chino land" mega-bookstore. But there has been significant change in my life over the past couple of weeks; the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another, to stick with the book analogy :)  It's not a very obvious change, and will likely ever impact only a few others than myself - but to me, it's huge. Life-altering, world-shaking, mind-boggling change. It's a change I made on purpose, that I chose to embrace for the greater good, that I knew was coming, and I don't regret it for a second. But to be perfectly honest, I've felt like a drug addict going through withdrawal. The first few days were horrible - tears, depression, fatigue, loss of appetite (!?), mood swings (my family can testify to that one!)...it was just awful.


But now that I've been able to get a little distance from it all, I'm thinking I'll survive. Sometimes, you have to let go of the old good (even the very, very good) to make room for the new good. It's the changing of my mindset and thought patterns - my heart and mind's allegiance, you might say - that has been the most challenging. You think in a certain way for such a long time, it becomes habit. (And oh, habits are so hard to break!) And instead of mentally preparing for this change (that I knew was coming), I chose to cling to my old way of thinking for as long as possible. (Note to self: bad idea!)


However, it is what it is (not a fan of this phrase generally, but it fits here). The old has gone, the new has come - hmmm, that sounds familiar...I've been working on this post over a few days and already it's getting a little easier, less heavy; there's less pain and regret and more hopefulness about what's to come. The painful moments are getting fewer and farther between, though they still come. Why, oh why, do we insist on returning to our old ways when the way ahead is clearly the right path to follow? Is it the warm comfort of the familiar, the usual, the routine? The past is safe, known, recognizable territory; the path before me is the opposite of all those things: unsafe, unknown, unrecognizable - I've never been here before. I like to think of myself as a brave, bold explorer of the foreign, the uncharted - but I'm not, not really. I want to make my way into this new world with confidence and grace, with my head held high, ready and willing to take it on and be a part of it all. And once in awhile I'm able to achieve this. There are moments, however, when I feel more like a...so many analogies come to mind, I can't pick the one that fits best. A puppy with her tail between her legs, a cat in a strange garret, a fish out of water, invisible, alien, unneeded and unheeded, unwanted and unwelcome...


There's no good reason why I feel this way - the residual effects of a life of misplaced shame, I guess... And most days, I can acknowledge that, I can fight against it and replace the lies with truth and hold my head high (as high as a four foot nine-and-a-half inch person can, anyway). New doesn't have to be bad, doesn't have to be scary, doesn't have to be threatening. God is always making things new, renewing our strength, encouraging us to forget what is behind and press on, to get out of the boat and walk on water - and I want all that. I want whatever God is doing, I want to keep in step with Him and be where He is and follow where He leads.


But - I also want to get in the habit of allowing myself to feel what I feel, knowing that it's not necessarily right or wrong, good or bad - it's just how I feel. And not to sweep those feelings under the rug or bottle them up so they can suddenly and unexpectedly explode out of nowhere one of these days - been there, done that!  To know the real Joy, I have to acknowledge and become acquainted with every aspect of her, not just the positive, pleasant parts, but the good, the bad and the ugly. And so I must admit to myself that I just miss the old, the known, the loved, and that the effort of embracing the new is just hard; and that that's ok. It doesn't make me wicked or corrupt or ungodly - it simply means I'm human, normal (whatever that means).


I've come across several wise sayings lately (God bless face book) that pertain to my current situation, such as "the greatest chapters of your life have yet to be written" (Joyce Myer) and "race to Him instead of running back to your old ways" (Karen Ehman) and "you can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one" (unknown) and "there are far better things ahead than any we leave behind" (C.S. Lewis). Honestly, there are days when I have a hard time believing that anything can be better than what I've left behind. Not because it was particularly good (there were parts that were very, very good and part that were very, very not good - you might have picked up on that if you've been reading this blog for any length of time), but because that was what I knew, that was my identity, my "normal".  When I examine the situation objectively, however, I catch glimpses of the glory that is to come, and I am filled with joyful expectation and hopeful anticipation - I can hardly wait to see what God will do!


And so, the moral of the story is: whether we choose it or whether it just seems to happen to us, change will come and change can be a good thing. But what I'm most thankful for in the midst of all this is the changeless, unchangeable love of God. Even as the waves of change crash all around me, He is my anchor.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
(Hebrews 6:19)


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sin Sucks

I'm noticing an interesting pattern emerging in this journey of self- and God-discovery: first, God generously and graciously reminds me of His love and my worth and identity in Him; then He hits me with an issue that needs to be worked through. One follows the other, over and over again. It's amazing to me, now that I've recognized the routine, how He so often leads me into the hard, slogging, discouraging but worthwhile work of becoming more like Him from a place of love and peace and rest.


So, after my wonderful waterpark moment with God (see my previous post for details), I was almost immediately challenged to take the next steps in dealing with an issue that has been occupying my heart and mind for far too long now. Sin sucks, you know? Especially sin that becomes habit - it sucks life, sucks truth, sucks hope, sucks joy, sucks peace, sucks self-esteem; and replaces those good things with guilt, shame, despair, self-hatred, self-deception, and lies. So much sin provides fleeting, temporary pleasure, but is so harmful over time. And oh, does it put up a fight when brought into the light! What a fierce battle I'm engaged in right now - ugh... It's so, so much easier, especially for a naturally lazy person such as myself, to allow sin to have its' way, to just give in and enjoy the forbidden fruit. Disciplining my mind and extricating my heart from the sin is proving to be darn near impossible at this point - the more I try, the tighter the grip it seems to have on me.


Are you ever afraid that God will one day arrive at the end of His patience with you, run out of forgiveness and grace, say "I've had enough!" and just walk away? Sometimes the thought crosses my mind, when I forget for a moment that God is God and not like me. Then I think of my relationship with my own children and how much I love them, and how often I have to forgive them. I do reach the "Enough!" moments, but they always pass and grace always prevails. And so God, who is an infinitely greater and more patient parent than I could ever hope to be, can always be depended on to forgive and forgive and forgive...like this:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:8-12)


As recently as a couple of months ago, I would have simply given this fight up in frustration, decided that it was not something I could change, that I'd just have to do my best to conceal it and fight it as I was able. But as God is dealing with me and healing me and growing me up in Him, something's changed in my response to sin, and to the Holy Spirit's conviction. For so many years, there was a very thin but very real wall that I had built between God and myself. So thin that I didn't even know it was there. If anyone had asked me if God loved me and I loved Him, I would have responded with an adamant YES! The wall was made of a strange combination of shame and fear and arrogant self-sufficiency. I didn't believe I deserved God's (or anybody's) love, therefore He must not really love me. I was afraid that I could never measure up to the impossibly high expectations I imagined God had for me. And I desperately wanted to be able to do this Christian life thing on my own - to be strong enough, wise enough, brave enough, tough enough...asking for help would reveal the weaknesses that I fought to conceal at all cost. All of this added up to the underlying belief that God must be (at least) a little bit mad at me. This was something I believed I simply had to live with, a basic fact of existence for me.


What freedom and relief came to my soul when I confronted this particular lie and replaced it with truth! God is NOT mad at me! God does NOT hold my sin against me! God's love for me does not depend even the tiniest little bit on my performance! God, in His endless grace and mercy, will forgive and forgive and forgive - Jesus' great sacrifice covers ALL my sin!  But, as Paul so comically and eloquently puts it,
What shall we say, then?
Shall we go on sinning
so that grace may increase?
By no means!
We are those who have died to sin;
how can we live in it any longer?
(Romans 6:1-2)


When we surrender our lives to Christ, we become new creations in Christ and our old self, with its' penchant for sin, is put to death. But so often, we forget to inform our new selves of the death, and the war with sin continues to rage. Satan will never concede defeat; and so we will (must!) persist in this sin-battle for the rest of our days - until we step into the eternal perfection of Heaven. But instead of trying to fight in our own power and failing, let's fix our eyes on Jesus and live in the victory He's already won for us!


(This is a song I discovered recently that provides a powerful reminder of what power lies in Jesus' death and resurrection - may it encourage you as much as it has encouraged me!)


http://youtu.be/5BAPvqeFnjE 


THE POWER OF THE CROSS


Oh to see the dawn of the darkest day
Christ on the road to Calvary
Tried by sinful men torn and beaten then
Nailed to a cross of wood


This the pow'r of the cross
Christ became sin for us
Took the blame bore the wrath
We stand forgiven at the cross


Oh to see the pain written on Your face
Bearing the awesome weight of sin
Ev'ry bitter thought ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow


Now the daylight flees now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head
Curtain torn in two dead are raised to life
Finished the vict'ry cry


Oh to see my name written in the wounds
For through Your suff'ring I am free
Death is crushed to death life is mine to live
Won through Your selfless love


This the pow'r of the cross
Son of God slain for us
What a love what a cost
We stand forgiven at the cross

CCLI Song # 4490766
Keith Getty | Stuart Townend
© 2005 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bathing Suits and Love

It has been a WONDERFUL summer! For so many reasons - I'm so thankful. It's been a summer of connecting with my family in a way I was never able to before; the shame that covered my life kept getting in the way of really knowing them, and of letting them really know me.  I really feel like I know my boys now, and what a difference it's made in our day-to-day life! And our marriage? It's honestly never been better. So much peace and joy in the Feltmate household - it's a beautiful thing. (Not to say that it's perfect - my boys are still boys - all of them - and I'm still me...but that's ok!)


So the Feltmates went to World Waterpark in West Edmonton Mall this summer. The kids had a blast, the husband was happy, it was an excellent day.  Well, mostly.  When you're almost as wide as you are tall, you can imagine that a bathing suit is the very, very last thing you might ever wish to put on. So I didn't. Well, I did have one on, but it was covered very securely with shorts and a shirt. Anyway, I did a few slides and enjoyed the wave pool a bit, but spent most of the day hanging out at the kiddy pool with Jake, while Chris and Chandler tackled the more adventurous attractions. I loved watching his delighted face as he whooshed down the little slides again and again (and again). But as I sat there on the edge of the pool, watching people of all shapes and sizes pass by, I just felt worse and worse about myself. (Comparison is pure evil, my friends - it's a game I'll never win...) Interestingly, and slightly annoying-ly, the whole time I was there, I had a tune stuck in my head that I couldn't help humming out loud. (Fortunately, the humming was swallowed up in the cacophony of laughter and shrieks and water and conversation surrounding me, so I just kept on humming...) By about the fifth hour or so, I was thoroughly depressed, stuck in a pit of guilt and inferiority, but the tune remained and I finally recognized what I had been humming: "Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me; Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me..." over and over and over. Tears came to my eyes in spite of the crowd all around me, and my heart was filled with joy and amazement and gratitude to this One Who goes to such great lengths, Who arranges such minute details, to assure me of my worth and to whisper His love just when I need it most.


How amazing is it that this God just loves us - just as we are?! As I observed the people around me, I couldn't help but notice that no body is perfect. Flaws and imperfections that may be covered up most of the time all come out when the swim suit goes on, and insecurities that may be well hidden have a tendency to rise to the surface.  I also noticed varying degrees of discomfort and embarrassment, and it seemed to have very little to do with the size or shape of the individual, from what I could detect. It went both ways, too. There were tiny, beautiful little ladies who could barely take a step without pulling at their suits, and much larger, beautiful ladies who were playing with their kids and prancing around the waterpark with not a care in the world. There were lean, muscular men who were in the water fully clothed and softer, rounder ones who were barely clothed at all. Such an interesting phenomenon...


By the end of my time at the waterpark, God had allowed me the privilege of seeing through His eyes for just a moment: for the first time, I really saw the inherent, universal grandeur of each glorious being, each carefully-crafted body; each and every one the deliberate and thoughtful and premeditated creation of a meticulous and purposeful Creator. And as much as it's my habit to resist such thoughts, I had to believe that this applies to me, as well. What a gift - to be reminded of the beautiful truth of Psalm 139:
For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
(Psalm 139:13-14)

Sometimes it helps to go back to basics, back to the beginning. I have value because God made me. PERIOD. This is a truth I can pull out every time those evil, self-loathing, devaluing, joy-stealing thoughts come calling. This is a truth I can stand on.