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.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Thorns and Grace

When I was going through my "dark night of the soul" a few months ago, God graciously gave me several songs that seemed to speak His love and presence directly into my situation. I hadn't listened to them in awhile, preferring my newest mix of joyful, hopeful, grateful songs that express my current heart-cry. I pulled out those songs the other day and was completely awed and overwhelmed by how God had so beautifully and graciously and specifically kept the promises these songs proclaim. I recalled so vividly the utter despair, the deep discouragement and emotional pain and turmoil of that time (still not all that long ago). All I can do is marvel at what God has done.

However, I find myself getting frustrated and impatient - again. Yes, I've been completely set free from the shame that was colouring and clouding my whole life - hallelujah! I'm more free than I've ever been, more secure and satisfied in God's love for me than ever before - it's absolutely awesome! But the euphoria from my miraculous liberation is wearing off a bit and my focus is shifting to other parts of my life; parts from which I have not been "delivered", where I'm still enslaved and failing. I keep forgetting that this life is a journey, not a race to get to perfection and then camp out there for as long as possible. Believe me, that mindset only leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction and discontent.

I've been thinking about Paul and his "thorn in the flesh" and wondering if there are any parallels to my own issues. Many have taken educated guesses as to what Paul's particular "thorn" might have been, but the Bible doesn't give us that information (on purpose, I think, because of the universal principle at hand). We do learn that Paul asked God to remove it - 3 different times - and that God didn't. When I imagine Paul's and God's interaction regarding this "thorn", I don't see Paul having a calm, quiet conversation with his Maker, somehow...I think it was more of a begging, pleading, crying out from a place of weakness and pain, last resort, end-of-his-rope kind of communication; desperate, each plea more impassioned and frantic than the one before. And the picture seems to me a bit of a paradox. I mean, this is Paul, the great apostle, teacher, leader, missionary, and all around man of faith. If anyone should be able to trust that God knows what He's doing, it's him, right? But no. Whether it was due to severe pain or embarrassment or that he felt his ministry was being hindered or compromised or something else entirely, Paul chose to question God's wisdom in giving him this "thorn". And not only did he question God's wisdom in the giving of the thorn, but he went on to question God's decision to leave the thorn intact after Paul had begged for its removal!

We know the end of the story - at least in part. Paul reports God's response in the well-known and oft-repeated words of 2 Corinthians 12:9 - "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." A beautiful promise for when we can't see past our many weaknesses to God's great strength. I've found comfort and peace in these words time and time again. But I wonder a bit about the rest of Paul's days. We have to assume that he lived the rest of his life with this thorn constantly poking at him, bringing to mind his desperate pleading and God's amazing promise. Do you suppose he ever got to the point of not fighting it, where he accepted it for what it was and even thanked God for it, for how it kept him humble, for how it constantly compelled him to rely on God's power and sovereignty and not on his own?

I'm not sure how this fits with my own particular issues, or yours, for that matter.  All I know is that there are things that God chooses to deliver us from, and things that He chooses to allow to remain. To acknowledge this mystery and come to a place of peace with our infirmities and challenges is, I think, yet another step along the path to knowing real joy.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fear Not

Often on Monday mornings, I'll sit down at my computer and scroll through new posts on facebook. (I know that much can be said against this particular social media site, but I still love it. With friends scattered all around the world, and having resolved to use the platform for good, it's a very useful tool.) Too often to call it a coincidence, I've noticed a theme emerge - one that seems to speak directly to whatever need I have in my life at the time. Today, it's fear.

I've experienced so much growth and renewal and freedom and change in the past months that it's becoming a little overwhelming. Welcome, no question, but so much to process and assimilate and apply to my life... It would seem, however, that God has me right where He wants me, and is calling me to a specific task. To be truthful, He's been calling for awhile. In fact, a few years ago, Chris and I heard the call and got all excited about it and had big dreams and made big plans...and then we got scared. And instead of following the path we knew God was calling us to walk, we took a safer, less risky route (or so it appeared at the time) and failed to answer the call.

Well, God is a God of grace and mercy and perfect timing and patience and persistence and more grace. He never gave up on us, never withdrew the call, never turned His back and walked away from us. On the contrary, He kept on growing us and testing us and challenging us and changing us, shaping us and preparing us to take up the task. Which brings us to the present. Seabreeze, to be exact.

We believe God is calling us to start a ministry. We believe God wants us uprooted Maritimers to write books and blogs, songs and stories that bring refreshment and hope and encouragement to the Church through worship and the Word, and to help empower and equip God's people to fulfill God's call in their own lives. In short, we want to share our God stories.

Part of me is so excited! This is what I was made to do! I find such joy and satisfaction and energy in writing to encourage and leading in worship and telling God stories! I'm thrilled at the thought of doing this for a living!

But...there's also a lot of fear. I'll have to ask people for things: financial and prayer support, bookings, and many more things I haven't even thought of yet, I'm sure...I hate asking people for things, or potentially putting them out in any way - remnants of my people-pleasing penchant. And in addition to that, which in my mind is a very significant obstacle, there are all these doubts and questions that continually nag at me since we've made this leap of faith: Am I too fat to be credible? Too messed up to be trusted? Too honest to be palatable? Too undisciplined to finish the task? Too lazy to actually write a book to its completion? Too insecure to do the humbling work of recording a CD? Can I really do this?  Will God really provide? Is this really what He wants?

One thing I do know, God doesn't wait until we're perfect, until we've arrived, to use us. He comes and equips us and anoints us in the middle of our messes and in spite of our shortcomings and questions and fears and doubts (and often because of them), He blesses and ministers and allows us to be His hands and feet and arms and voice in the world, for His glory. I'm not the best singer in the world, but God's given me a voice and songs to sing. I'm not the best writer or speaker, but He's given me a story and the words with which to share it. If I've learned anything at all on this journey, it's that God can and does work in me and through me, just as I am - the real Joy. :)