Thursday, May 28, 2015

Confessions of a Feedback Junkie

Yes, it's true - I, Joy Feltmate, am a feedback junkie; a praise addict. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right? I crave encouragement; I revel in kind words; I seek out evaluation; I bask in approval. I've gone to great lengths to get even a drop in that particular emotional bucket.

This certainly isn't a new discovery. I've been aware of this condition for quite some time - even blogged about it way back in 2013 (see "Report Cards" if you're interested). But have you ever noticed that there are some lessons that seem to be set on permanent repeat in your life? This is one for me.

I'm so thankful for God's gracious and patient and gentle dealings with me. It's such a beautiful mystery that He completely accepts me just exactly as I am, but loves me too much to leave me in that state. God has been very kind in allowing me to be surrounded by encouragement and support my whole life. I don't think it's been wrong for me to receive and appreciate feedback - in fact, that's what the body of Christ is for!

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up,
 just as in fact you are doing. 
(1 Thessalonians 5:11) 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, 
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, 
that it may benefit those who listen. 
(Ephesians 4:29)   

The instructions in these verses make it pretty clear that an important function of communication is to build one another up - and we can safely assume that it's perfectly acceptable to be on the receiving end of such encouragement. This is a gift from God - the opportunity for genuine community in which we can generously give and and gracefully receive words of blessing. If you find yourself a part of such a circle, embrace and appreciate it!

I'm beginning to discern lately, however, that God wants to take me to a new level of relationship with Him. I've been vaguely aware of little warnings over the years pertaining to the dangers of depending solely on feedback and praise to determine my value and fill my bucket, but I'm sorry to report that they've gone largely unheeded. So this time around, He's led me in such a way as to completely remove me from my current greatest and most on-going source of external validation. It sounds harsh, but it just goes to show how patient and gentle God's dealings with us are - I can see how He's been preparing me for this change and challenge all along, when I look back along my path. Many small, loving nudges and hints and lessons and messages have all combined to ready me for this. I'm seeing now, more clearly than ever before, that He wants to be everything for me - He wants me to look to Him first to fill my bucket! He wants to be my primary source of encouragement, joy, value, hope, strength, direction, satisfaction...everything!  He's been good enough to show me, too, that outside sources of encouragement have not and will not dry up completely. It's just that, before, I was depending on others to build me up, to the point where I wasn't even thinking about what God thinks of me.

But I'm in the joyful process of discovering that God's got this...He's so good at filling my bucket! (Big surprise, right?) It's a little ironic, I think, how God's arranged the circumstances of my life to coincide with this happy discovery - almost everything I do right now is for an audience: this blog, the different pieces of our ministry, my direct sales business...He's so good at knowing what I need and providing it in just the right way at just the right time!

I believe God blesses obedience. In this particular case, He's given me a gift I've been wanting and asking for for years! I've never been able to write a song in my life, and I've always wanted to. In the past three weeks, God's given me four! With more on the way! And it's a credit to His teaching and grace that I have been able to resist the urge to make them public the minute they were written :) I was encouraged to share the first one with a small audience, and that was another blessing - one way God has shown me that He will provide abundant encouragement in ways I never imagined. I'm joyfully anticipating how God will use this new gift; and I'm confident that whatever feedback follows - negative and positive - I'll be enabled to allot it it's proper place in my perspective.

Allow me to offer a few parting words of encouragement - receive them knowing that you are completely loved and absolutely valued and altogether delightful to the One who made you!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, 
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit! 
(Romans 15: 13)

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Battle Against Busy

Holy cow, it's May?! Seriously, how did that happen?! My March and April have been particularly full months - full of good things, to be sure, but still very full. I hesitate to use the term "busy" because it has such divided connotations. We lament our busyness, at the same time secretly celebrating it, wearing it as as a badge of honour - comparing schedules, activities and do-to lists, and rewarding the busiest with a mixture of sympathy and awe.

I've been bucking "busy" for awhile now - ever since we moved from Edmonton to Cape Breton several years ago. I didn't work outside the home, homeschooled our boys, baked almost everything from scratch, gardened, and generally swam upstream in a downstream world. It might sound busy, but we had lots of room in our days for exploring interests and visiting family and being outside; time and space to pursue our own priorities.  It was during that time that this blog was born, as well as the dream of building a ministry. In many ways, it was a wonderful, peaceful time in the life of our family. (In several other significant ways, it was a very difficult time, but that's another post for another day...)

Fast-forward a couple of years...we're back in the city now, the kids are in public school, I've recently made a commitment to quit baking (gotta say, it's kind of a relief to be buying bread and applesauce and yogurt and granola bars instead of making everything)...As we've assumed a more conventional lifestyle, we've continued to make decisions that buck the busyness bandwagon: our kids don't take any kind of lessons or play organized sports, I don't have a 9 to 5, outside-the-home job, choosing instead to manage our ministry and do my writing from home. I've recently jumped into the world of direct sales, another choice that allows me to choose where and when and how much I work. (Just a note: I acknowledge that life is different for everyone, and that's as it should be. I'm not trying to brag here or imply that my choices are better or worse than anyone else's - I just want you to know where I'm coming from.)

The determination to battle busy came about as a direct reaction to my past. For most of my life, I was busyness personified. From the time I was in elementary school, my days were jam-packed with school, friends, sports, music, drama, church stuff, and whatever else I could possibly squeeze in. And I thought I liked it that way! I raced from activity to activity, all over town, every day of the week. It was even worse as I got older - my whole university experience is a huge blur as I stretched my time to the breaking point, often forgetting meetings and rushing to write papers hours before they were due. In fact, I think I can blame my sad lack of memories on this particular phenomenon. I have had many wonderful experiences throughout the course of my life, but it seems that it was just too full to keep a record of them.

All this to say, even though I deliberately wage war against "busy", there are times and seasons in my life that fill up more than others, and require a modified method of management. I prefer the rhythm "rest-work-rest-work-repeat", but in certain seasons of life, it becomes more like "rest-work-work-work-work-rest-repeat" (Or maybe "stop-go" illustrates it better? Either way, I think you get the point...) After a comparatively stress-filled, busier-than-usual couple of months, I am very thankful to have spent the last week in relative ease. At first, I thought I was I was indulging in plain old laziness, but quickly came to realize where I was in the pattern of my life. I was being offered an invitation to enter into a time of much-needed rest - and I took it!

And oh! I'm so glad I did! Because the reason I oppose busy is that I firmly believe life is short and wonderful and worth slowing down for, is worth the effort and discomfort of saying "no" to the good in order to say "yes" to the best, and is most fully appreciated and effectively lived out from a place of peace and rest. Did you ever wonder why, in the Genesis account of creation, it keeps saying "there was evening and there was morning..."? I think rest is meant to precede work, that "stop" should come before "go". I don't always get it right, but it's a goal I'm working towards. Rest is not a luxury or indulgence, but an absolute necessity for living fully, living freely, living well.