Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Overcoming Spiritual Doubt

I believe in the goodness of God. My faith is the foundation of my life. I am not on this journey alone. I feel the peace and presence of God with me. I am joyful.

These are things I would not have said a year ago. Even a couple of months ago, I would not have been able to honestly make those claims. I have spoken with many of you about what I would call my “spiritual crisis of doubt” – if we haven’t had a specific conversation about it, you probably picked up on pieces of it in my writing. After walking through that very dark and complex time, I think I am finally back in the light where the sun is rising and the air is fresh and easier to breath. The last few weeks have felt like a deep inhale of joy and a slow exhale of relief.

I wanted to write this personal entry for several reasons: 1) I want to clearly mark this time so that I can remember this turned page when I look back through my blog entries (which I do often since I’m not very good at journaling); 2) you are someone who cares about what’s going on in my life and this was a significant part in my current chapter in life; 3) I want to share my perspective and learnings so that if you are going through a similar phase or have gone through it or may go through it in the future (which is likely) you can know you’re not alone.  And you will know that I am open to talking about this tough subject, although I still have so much to learn and don't have it all figured out by any means!

About a year and a half ago I started to feel a heavy spiritual burden which continually grew heavier and my faith got weaker and weaker due to the load I was carrying.  The beginning of the journey was slow and painful; there were times when I sat down or fell over because I couldn't take one more step; but I eventually got up and continued down the path, throwing pieces of the load off with each step.  If I were to outline the steps in this journey, it would go something like this:

1) Questioning of my path in life and how God plays a role in it: I was in a stagnant place, feeling that I was just going through the motions of "being a Christian" because that's what I had done my whole life.  I claimed that my faith was the most important part of my life... did I really believe that?
2) Feeling abandoned by God and on my own to figure things out: The perfect plan that I had for my life wasn't working out, which to me meant that God didn't have my back and he really didn't care.  It was time to rethink what I was doing/saying/believing.
3) Dealing with the cruel reality of life (which I didn't even have the desire to address in writing): I experienced death, tragedy, broken relationships, and evil in this world that was too real to shake.  Where was God in all of this?
4) A lack of faith and the feeling that I didn't have a solid foundation on which to stand: Life was starting to feel quite shakey.  I wasn't sure of anything.  I started digging into my questions and wrestling/fighting with this "God".
5) A negative view on life and feeling completely lost in the complexities and complications of life: I couldn't keep quiet anymore. I wanted to talk to people, express my frustrations and hear their thoughts. Looking back, this was one of the best parts of this phase: having raw conversations with people who I respect and who care about me.
6) A place of complete apathy: I gave up.  Wrestling with God is exhausting.  So I just sat in complete emptiness and expected nothing.
7) Finally feeling a slight glimmer of hope: After quietly sitting still for a while, I was actually able to feel God's presence - something I hadn't felt in quite a while.  I gave up fighting so that I could give into grace.
8) Ready to reclaim my faith: I have felt a peace and joy in the past month that is unexplainable.  It's as if God is saying to me: "It's ok.  You're ok.  You're not in this alone.  I'm here."  Thank God!

I can now relate to Jacob and his experience of wrestling with God.  That has become one of my favorite Bible stories because I've experienced it.  I still have questions, and doubt will surely visit from time to time, but I have a firm foundation on which to stand.  I'm not quite sure why that period of spiritual chaos was necessary.  Maybe someday I'll know, or maybe I'll never know.

Psalm 73 and Doubting Thomas
I visited a church on Sunday for the first time.  I've been meaning to visit for a while, but hadn't yet and I don't think it was coincidence that I was there this past Sunday.  It's as if the pastor was speaking directly to me about my time of doubt.  Listen to the podcast here: Praying Through Doubt.  Quite powerful, Tim.
And earlier on Sunday while driving down to Mount Angel Abbey, I pulled up a random Dayspring podcast that was completely fitting as well.  Listen here: April 07, 2013 "Seeing Is Believing?" Spot on, Eric.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


I found out yesterday afternoon that John Mayer was playing a concert in Portland… that night. I had no plans for the evening and I had been listening to his new album Born and Raised all week and absolutely loved it. So I frantically got on craigslist to search for tickets to the sold out show. I was finally able to find someone who had two extra tickets, met them downtown to make the exchange30 minutes before the show started, rushed to pick up my friend Amber who was up for a spontaneous fun night, and made it to Clark County Amphitheater just in time for John Mayer to take the stage.

What an amazing show! He is a seriously talented musician and so much fun to see live. Amber and I had a great time hanging out on the lawn at Clark County Amphitheater, listening to some great music. I’m so glad that I made the quick decision to do something I wasn’t planning to do.

Those of you who know me know that I love planning. I like to know what I’m doing, when, where and how I need to prepare. If you’ve come to visit me in Portland, you’ve most likely received an email two weeks before your visit with an excel spreadsheet outlining what we will be doing on your trip. We will definitely be doing fun things, but they will be fun well-thought-through things.

I could use a little more spontaneity in my life. It’s something I’m working on. That’s right: I have a plan to add more spontaneity to my life. Is that an oxymoron? But the truth is that some of the most rewarding and epic experiences aren’t the ones you plan, but rather the opportunities that you weren’t expecting but are there for the taking.

I have this Dove Chocolate Promise message taped on my wall at work. It’s the best I’ve found and it’s a great question to ask when a moment of spontaneity presents itself. Hey, why not?!

such a fun night with my good friend Amber

glad I didn't miss this epic concert
seriously, check out the Born and Raised album

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

No Regrets

Last night I went to bed early. I set my alarm for 5:30am. Wednesdays are my early morning run days. But this morning I was too comfortable in my bed so I snoozed through my alarm. I didn’t go for an early morning run. And I’ve regretted it all day.
To me, regret feels like a weight on my shoulders. Something I carry with me, but wish I could cast off. It’s doing something (or not doing something) and then wishing I could change it.
We all want a life with as few regrets as possible. So what does that mean? And how do we make it happen? How do we remove that weight from our shoulders?
Obviously the best way to reduce regret is to learn from your mistakes. Then you won’t make those same mistakes that lead to regret. But what do you do when the regret is present, sitting on your shoulders, whispering worries in your ear and slightly suffocating you? Here’s my recent realization on regret reduction: get it off your shoulder, set it right in front of you, look it in the eye and address the issue.
I’m learning that the best antidote to regret is vulnerability (more to come on that when I finish the awesome book I am reading, Daring Greatly). Regret can be a lonely companion. One that continually tears your down. Oftentimes overcoming regret means bringing others into your vulnerability – not the easiest thing to do! But simply opening up about what exactly you regret and why brings so much healing. And a much lighter load. Putting your mistakes in the light and confronting them is quite scary, but it removes the heavy darkness and shines a light on a better path. One that leads to fewer mistakes. And fewer regrets.
In many cases, whatever it is that you are regretting can still be resolved and overcome. Don’t let regret surround you. You have the ability to cast it off. It just takes a little strength.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Breaking up with Jesus

Have you ever known people who dated for a long time and everyone knew they were heading towards marriage, but instead of getting engaged they break up? They love each other, they can picture spending the rest of their lives together, but they have a hint of doubt so they take time to see what life without one another would be like.
I feel like I recently broke up with Jesus. Odd concept, I know. Hang in there with me...
Jesus: we’ve had a relationship my whole life. My whole life. It was assumed that we would be together for the rest of my life. We seemed pretty happy. No major red flags. My family likes the guy. My friends knew him and they agreed that it was a good thing. We had weekly dates on Sunday to check in and we would usually hang out on Wednesday nights to makes sure things were progressing.
But after years (decades, actually), things got pretty complex. And serious.  And I started doubting. He also seemed a bit distant. I thought it might be a good idea for us to “take a break.” I wanted time to figure things out on my own.
It was nice for a while. Complete freedom! But something was obviously missing. Life without this guy seemed a little dark and lonely. I didn’t have my partner to talk with and encourage me. I finally decided that life was better with him than without him.
Looking back, I see that it was the classic “it’s me, not you” scenario. But it really was me, not him. He was all in. 100%. No matter what.
They say that struggles only make a relationship stronger. It’s true. It’s definitely a relationship I often take for granted. He knows me inside and out, but there is still so much that I have to learn about him. I’m getting to know him in a different way. And it’s kind of exciting!
So what does marriage to Christ look like? Your answer is about as good as mine! I’m still figuring it out. But my guess is that, similar to marriage between a husband and wife, there will be a lot to learn along the way. And it will probably be difficult. But mostly joyful and life-giving. And I would say that commitment is the foundation and a good place to start.

Wandering Heart
My favorite verse from my favorite hymn; such truth about my relationship to God...

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Most Frequent Visitors Award

My friends Ross and Hannah have visited Portland not once, not twice, not just three times, but four times since I’ve lived here. I would like to officially award the VanDykes with the “Most Frequent Visitor Award.” This award is given to a couple who have used vacation days, spent money on flights, and traveled thousands of miles multiple times to visit their dear Pacific Northwest friends. They completely fit the Portland scene (well, Hannah’s accent does stick out like a bear in a flock of ducks) and I might even consider then honorary Portlanders. Shoot, they might as well just move here!
They arrived in Portland via Vancouver BC on a train two weekends ago. We had so much fun spending time together and doing non-touristy Portland things. We of course started with a progressive dinner the first night: The Bagdad, Hair of the Dog Brewery, The Montage, and Dig-a-Pony. Saturday was a wonderfully sunny day. Hannah and I strapped the kayaks on top of my car and headed out to Sauvie Island where we found a peaceful lake with an incredible view of Mount St Helens. We got lunch at a burger shack on the island, found some fresh raspberries and then headed back into town.


We met up with the boys at The MAC where Drew works as the rock climbing coach. We put on our harnesses, roped up and scaled the walls of the club. Talk about a good workout. And Hannah was a total natural. That night we hit up Deschutes Brewery for dinner and then walked to Salt and Straw where we waited in line for 30 minutes to get delicious ice cream.

Sunday morning, Hannah helped me out in the two-year-olds classroom at Imago – what a great friend! Then we met up with Ross and Drew for lunch at the Screen Door. We all split chicken and waffles (which I’ve never had but always wanted to try). I have to say, that was probably the best friend chicken I’ve ever had. Aaamazing. Saturday afternoon we all put on our green and white and became part of the Timbers Army (see previous post).

Drew's "I'm full and happy" pose
Ross and Hannah left in a rental car on Monday morning for a little road trip (Bend, Hood River, Rainier) and then were back in Portland on Thursday night so that we could keep the Portland party going.  Friday was bring-your-adult-friend-to-work day, so Hannah came to my office to tour the exhibit, meet my coworkers and organize my auction storage closet for me. Again, what a great friend! We headed back out to Sauvie Island on Friday afternoon to lay on the beach – it was so nice and warm! We met up with the guys again for dinner at Pok Pok where we had the country’s best wings. Sadly our week of pretending that the VanDykes lived in Portland had to come to an end. After eating breakfast at The Big Egg cart on Saturday morning, I dropped them off at the airport and they flew back to their real home of Waco, TX.

after a while, I made Hannah start earning her keep
I’m hoping that they will show back up this weekend and we can keep adventuring around Portland together, but I guess I’ll just have to wait for their next epic trip up here (which I know will happen again!). Thanks again for being my most frequent visitors, Ross and Hannah!  Can't wait for you to make the move up North someday!

True Friends
There are so many different and wonderful things that make Ross and Hannah such wonderful friends.  One of the things that stuck out most to me on this trip is how likeable they are!  They got to meet many of my friends while they were here and every one of my friends commented about how wonderful they were.  Ross and Hannah aren't just friendly people, they are seriously fun to be around.  They can not only get along with anyone and make people feel comfortable, they engaged my friends with great questions (sometimes a little too personal too soon, Ross) and actually wanted to get to know the people who are a part of my life up here.  Thanks for teaching me how to be a good friend and leading by example, Ross and Hannah!