Love, Chastity & Sex: An Interview with Blogger & Author Arleen Spenceley…

A few months ago I had the opportunity to be a part of a book launch team for Paul Angone’s 101 Secrets for Your Twenties… I got the chance to meet some pretty awesome people and one of these people included a fantastic girl named Arleen. Arleen is full of spunk and wisdom and I’m super excited that she agreed to let me interview her because you have to check out this girl’s writing, seriously!

So without further adieu…meet Arleen…

Q: Arleen, anyone who knows something about you or reads your writing knows that you’re a woman of many talents. But for those who haven’t stumbled upon your writing yet, tell us a little bit about yourself?

A: You are too kind! Thank you. I am a 28-year-old follower of Jesus Christ who lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. I write for the Tampa Bay Times (Florida’s biggest and best newspaper!), and blog about love, chastity, and sex. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. I really like watching scary movies, eating good food, and laughing as much as possible.

Q: You write about love, chastity, and sex. Why are you passionate about these topics? How did you get interested in these things?

A: My quest to spread better messages about love, chastity, and sex started when I dated a guy who didn’t practice chastity. As a chaste woman, I don’t believe we are supposed to commit to a person because sex is pleasurable with him or her, but that we’re supposed to create a pleasurable sexual relationship with the person to whom we are committed in marriage. As you can imagine, expressing this to a guy who disagrees didn’t end well (for him, anyway). But the experience was access to a world I hadn’t known before — one in which chastity is foreign, infatuation is mistaken for love, and nobody believes it’s possible (or a good idea) to save sex for marriage. But resistance to chastity (which, for the record, is not the same as abstinence) is the source of some of awful realities. If we all practiced chastity, there would be no abortion, no unfit parents, no unwanted babies, no abuse, and I could go on. There’s a better sexual ethic than the one that tends to surround us, and I’m eager to introduce it to anybody who’ll listen.

Q: You say that you’re a Roman Catholic Christian. What do you mean by this? For those Christians who have trouble understanding how Catholicism and Christianity can co-exist, can you enlighten us? Do you ever encounter a tension when you tell people you’re a Catholic and a Christian?

A: From fifth through twelfth grades, I was a student at a private, Protestant school, where I was routinely (but mostly mildly) discriminated against for being Catholic. Some Protestant schools of thought say Catholics can’t be Christians, that Catholicism isn’t a Christian religion. Both notions are totally false, which is  probably why I started to call myself a Roman Catholic Christian. Kind of my way of familiarizing people with the idea that Catholics can be Christians, too. In recent years, I’ve written a couple posts about the tension between Protestants and Catholics. I still get feedback from people who think I’m headed to hell in a handbasket, but for the most part, my Protestant friends and readers agree that we’re brothers and sisters in Christ.

Q: What’s inspiring you these days? 

A: I’m inspired lately by two things. One is by working in a newsroom. I just returned to the Times after a nearly-year long break, during which I finished my master’s degree. For some reason, I totally write better when I’m in a room with fellow journalists. The other is a few friends of mine, who are each going through some very heavy stuff. I am inspired by their faith and perseverance.

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one item with you, what would it be?

A: Just one? That’s tough. I’m torn between my Bible and a GIANT bottle of water.

Q: I hear you have some exciting news to share, you’re releasing a book…can you give my readers any inside glimpses to what it’s going to be about and when it will hit stores? 

A: Yes! I am both pumped and humbled to have recently announced a book deal with Ave Maria Press. Generally speaking, the book will be about love, chastity, and sex (and is intended to spread messages like the one I spread when I wrote an essay for the newspaper called Why I’m still a virgin at age 26.). The book is slated for a Fall 2014 release.

Q: Last question….many of my readers are Canadian! Tell us your favourite thing about Canada or some place in our great country that you’d like to visit. 

A: I haven’t been to Canada yet, but a landmark I’d love to visit is St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. It’s a Catholic basilica and Canada’s largest church (according to the Internet, anyway). I saw a documentary about it once and have been intrigued ever since.

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You can follow Arleen on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

Read her blog at arleenspenceley.com.

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Leaving My Childhood…

SONY DSCToday is a big day. My family is moving from the place where I grew up. Since they will be 10 minutes down the road from me, you can imagine my excitement. However, I can honestly tell you that this move is somewhat bittersweet. Sure it’s more sweet, but I can’t deny that there is just a little bitter.

Wainfleet is a small country township (not even a town) in the Niagara Region. We moved there just before my 5th birthday in 1992, when my Dad accepted a job as Lead Pastor at a local church. I was too young at the time to know that I would grow to love that place, that it would shape the woman I would become. I didn’t know that in that place I would welcome a new baby brother, that I would say goodbye to my older brother, that I would grow to love Jesus and his church, that our family would be so deeply loved by so many people, and I didn’t know that saying goodbye would feel like this.

Three years ago I left Wainfleet for the big city. But my home and my family was still there, I knew I could visit and I knew that I would return often. I would return to see the changing of the seasons, the corn stalks tall and then cut short, the backroads covered with snow, the sweet smell of summer in the air, and the buds on the trees telling us that spring has come. When my parents decided that it was time to leave Wainfleet, I was very excited because I knew that they would be moving closer to me. I also knew that their time in Wainfleet had come to a close and that God was directing them to a new place. So a few weeks ago I went home for my last visit in our home. My spirit was upset all weekend and I was agitated. I wasn’t sure why my emotions seemed to be all over the place. One evening I sat on the floor in my room and started to pack up the things left on my shelves. I began to read through notes that I had kept from years before, I looked at pictures taken from a time ago, and scenes from my childhood flashed in my mind. My Mom came in and sat with me for a while; she knew something was bothering me. My words turned into sobs and heaves as I sat on the floor packing. I told my Mom that I didn’t know why I was crying, that I was happy they were moving, but that this place had so many memories.

I once heard that grief isn’t just about losing people, it’s about losing. Grieving is a natural response to change, to losing something that once was. As I sat on the floor of my bedroom, I was grieving my childhood and the places and people that I have loved. I was grieving the memories of walks down Perry road, church Christmas pageants, youth retreats, drives by the lake, and trick-or-treating for hours because my Dad knew all the good houses to visit. I was grieving late night drives to Starbucks with my kindred spirit, grieving being able to walk across the road to my Dad’s office just to say hi, grieving the times I stayed home sick so I could go to morning break with my Mom. I was grieving missions pot-luck’s and pioneer girls and vacation Bible school. I was grieving a childhood that was wonderful in every way.

And I was crying because I was realizing just how good it was. I was crying because I can’t go back, because I can’t go back in time when things were different and make it like it used to be. I cried because I am no longer a child. And it might seem obvious that I’m not a child, but what’s not obvious is that there are parts that used to be that I want to hold onto so tightly. But I can’t. I have to let go. I have to grieve all that was so good and all the things that I am so thankful for. I have to remember those people and those places for everything that they were and are, and all of the ways that they have shaped me.

Sometimes we hold so tightly to how things used to be; wishing that we could go back, wishing that things could be just how they were with those people or that relationship, but we can’t go back. We can’t make it like it was because we are not the same people and they are not the same people. We were not created to be static; time changes us. We cannot be fully alive and fully present when we are living in what was, what used to be, what is no more.

So we celebrate what used to be, we remember and we give thanks that it happened. But we can’t stay there because we weren’t meant to. We cannot be static because God is not static, it is not his way. He has new things for us. He wants to move and mould and change us. And we can’t experience all that God has for us if we aren’t willing to embrace the now and the not yet, the things we can’t see.

Today my family is moving from a place that was so good to us. It’s a place where we gained so much and also lost so much. It’s a place that will always hold rich memories for us. We will go back and visit and we will keep in touch with many friends, but we look forward to the new things that God has for us. We give thanks that the story isn’t over, that we get the chance to live it, and so we choose life! We choose to change and grow and grieve and celebrate all that is.

Donald Miller spends a lot of time writing about how to live a good story. His writing has impacted me in many ways because his honesty connects with the deepest parts of my soul. This quote from him sums up everything I desire and hope for today, for this season and for my life:

“I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently. Only the good stories have the characters different at the end than they were at the beginning.”

Today we turn a new page in a story that is evolving and changing and different than anything we could imagine. And it’s ok, because when we decide not to be static, we realize that God is pretty good at helping people to write a good story with their lives.

So let the adventure continue.

Choose Life…

45844-Always-Choose-LifeThis has been a rough fall for many people in my circles of life. I can’t ignore the dark shadow that death brings. I’ve written about several of these things – suicide, sudden death, a little boy with an inoperable tumour. Just this past week a young man who was my neighbour growing up was in a terrible work accident and his family is at the hospital waiting for him to take his last breath.

My heart breaks for each person that is affected by these things. My heart aches for the journey of grief that each will embark on.

I remember when I knew that my brother was going to die. I remember sitting at the computer staring out the kitchen window while trying to write the tribute that I would deliver at his memorial. Waiting for someone to die is inexplainable. Your every word is spoken with purpose. Your prayers become desperate. You try and make sense of this. People often say that if only they knew that someone was going to die, they would have done things differently. But you never expect to get to know, to have to wait. And when the person is young, it wreaks havoc on everything you thought you knew about the world.

I called my Mom the other day. I told her I just needed to talk to her, to hear her voice, to tell her that I love her, that I’m thankful for her, that I’m scared that something will happen. The events of this fall have made me scared to walk out my front door. Fear of what will happen next? Thinking about how much we don’t know about life, how we can make plans but sometimes they are futile.

But I can’t cling to my fear. I have to fight this dark cloud that threatens to consume all joy, all hope, and all peace. I have to pray that hope for those who can’t pray it for themselves. I have to seek out every opportunity to laugh, and to sing, and to dance. I have to celebrate life every single chance I can because I can’t seem to rid myself of the thought that there are people choosing to end their lives when there are others so desperately trying to hold onto it, who are wishing for more time.

My University president spoke at the memorial of the young man from our school who took his life a few weeks ago. He spoke on two words: “choose life”. This is the message that’s been ringing in my ears ever since, choose life. But not just to choose life over death, but to choose life when the darkness overwhelms you.

Choose life when others speak words of hate.
Choose life when you’re full of anger and sadness.
Choose life when the world is spinning with confusion.
Choose life when you think you have no purpose.
Choose life when you feel like you have no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Choose life, choose it even when you don’t feel it coursing through your veins.
Choose to participate in the moments that bring life, even when you don’t feel like it.

Jesus came to give us life, and give it abundantly. When we know him, we get the opportunity to know that life doesn’t end here on earth, there is so much more.

BUT…

Yes, there’s a but. But, Jesus also came to give us life here on earth. Life in our relationships, in our homes and schools and places of work. Life in our souls, the kind of life that runs through us and seeps into the places where we find ourselves.

So please, whether you are suffering, mourning, grieving, rejoicing, dancing or just going through your days in a state of numbness, please know that there is still life, and it was made for you.

Choose life, even when it hurts and when it doesn’t make sense.

And know that Jesus can bring life to the emptiest of places. And when someone you know forgets this and when they need to hear it most, remind them. Share with them some of your life, some of the life that is running through your veins. Sometimes Jesus uses us to give others life, life that they have lost and life that some of them have never found.

So choose life, choose it so you can give it.

More Balloons, Please…

There are some stories that I come across and I mark them in my mind as ‘life stories’. They are stories that I need to read on a regular basis for the good of my soul and spirit. Stories that remind me of truth that I need to choose to remember. This is one of my ‘life stories’, and it’s one that I’ve shared before, and will probably share again.

I hope this story speaks to your heart like it speaks to mine every time I read it.

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“Several years ago, I conducted a wedding ceremony on a Saturday afternoon in June. The bride wore a white summer dress, the groom a white linen shirt. They insisted on the simplest ceremony possible. It was held in a park in a grove of trees. Their family and friends stood in a circle, with the three of us in the middle. I began with a welcome, they exchanged vows and rings, I pronounced them husband and wife, they kissed, everybody clapped. The ceremony took seven minutes.

They were then each handed a cluster of helium balloons on strings. The balloons, I told everybody, were symbols of their past marriages, pregnancies they had chosen to terminate, people they had had affairs with when they were previously married, relationships that had not lasted. As a picture of starting over, together, they wanted their first act as a married couple to be letting the balloons go.

They walked out of the grove of trees into an adjoining field. Just the two of them, holding hands, standing in knee-high grass, exchanging words that only they could hear. Then they raised the balloons above their heads and let them go. We all stood there, watching those balloons float away until they drifted from sight.

There are moment you wonder if you’ll ever forget. Events that sear themselves on your conscience. That moment was one of those for me.

A few years later their marriage imploded. She moved an hour away. He relocated to another part of the country. They divorced.

I finish with this story because life is messy. Gut wrenching. Risky. Things don’t always turn out well. Sometimes they don’t turn out at all. Sometimes everything falls apart and we wonder if there’s any point to any of it. We’re tempted to shut ourselves off, fortify the walls around our hearts, and forge ahead, promising ourselves that we will never open ourselves up like that again.

But I have to believe that we can recover from anything. I have to believe that God can put anything – anyone – back together. I have to believe that the God Jesus invites us to trust is as good as he says he is.

Loving,

Forgiving.

Merciful.

Full of grace.

And I have to believe that God does not run out of balloons.”

(*Story taken from Sexgod by Rob Bell.)

I Can’t Deal: A Guest Blog by Laura Winger…

My vocabulary is fairly extensive, but it varies depending on the audience to whom I’m speaking. I’ve found recently that many of the things that come out of my mouth started out intending to be ironic, making fun of those who say them seriously, and then made a home in my vernacular as if they were meant to be there all along. Examples include: peeps, cray cray, legit, and using hashtag in every day speech… yup! Out loud. I know… #ridiculous.

Some of the phrases or words that have crept into my speech patterns are not quite so egregious (like the word egregious… I think it needs to come out more often). I took note a couple weeks ago that the phrase “I can’t deal,” or its close cousin “I can’t even deal” has become something I utter often.

When I’m standing in front of my kindergarten phys. ed. class, and only six kids are listening because they’re distracted by the giant parachute on the floor, I speak over them: “Kindergarten friends! When the whistle blows, we freeze, please!” Then, I look at the EA or the ECE and I mutter “I can’t even deal with this right now.”

When discussing my many failed attempts at dating over the interwebz, I’ve exclaimed to many a friend in extreme frustration “Gah! I can’t even deal! Why does this always go down this way!?” It’s usually followed up with something ridiculous like “peeps be cray cray, I tells ya!”

When I want to emphasize my point, particularly in writing (where I emphasize my point best), I often separate my phrase by breaking it up with a bunch of periods. Can. Not. Deal. I feel like eliminating the use of contractions in a sentence broken up by periods just adds much more of a sense of weight to it.

But I noticed something.

After months of slowly letting “I can’t even deal” creep into my every day speech patterns, and letting it become something that I’m now quoted as saying by colleagues and friends, I’ve started to question the attitude and the mind set behind it.

I’m a language lover, so I’m always interested when a sentence can be deconstructed and the language in it can be examined. This sentence has three parts.

1. I

No one else, just me. I haven’t invited anyone else into whatever the situation, no matter how dire, to help me deal. I am attempting to deal on my own. I’m flying solo and I have no trouble admitting it when I declare “I can’t deal.” Notice how many times the word ‘I’ was used in that point?

2. can’t

This implies that what I’m trying to do (on my own, you remember) is not something I’m capable of accomplishing. When I’m struggling with any situation and I decide that I can’t deal, I’ve checked out, and really the only options I’m left with are accepting defeat or continuing to whine.

3. deal.

This part may not seem quite as important as the others…. but this is the verb. It’s the action. It’s the one thing I repeatedly declare for the masses to hear that I can not do. Deal. I can’t deal. Loose synonyms include: I can’t handle this, I can’t take it anymore, I can’t go on, I can’t function.

Lesson learned:

I like to try to find something that I can take away from a musing like this, especially when it sits on my heart and my brain for weeks like this one has.

While I occasionally say “I can’t deal” for comedic effect, and I know as well as everyone around me that I in fact CAN deal with the situation… there are times when it gives a really clear peek into my heart.

When I declare to everyone around me that I can’t deal, I’m also declaring (while not everyone may realize it) that I haven’t taken whatever the situation is to my Saviour, and that even though I don’t think I can handle it, I don’t want to give it up, either. I don’t want to let go of my control over whatever that thing I can’t deal with is. I imagine God doesn’t like my attitude much when I go “ugh! I can’t deal!” instead of saying “God, I can’t deal with this, so I’m trusting You to step in. Your plans are bigger than my plans, and You know what’s going on here. Please do what You need to do in Your timing and in Your will, I trust You.” How little trust does it show to say “I can’t deal” but still not give it up to the One who CAN deal with it?

Does this strike a chord with anyone else?

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1415764_10100315611180360_358670549_nLaura is an (almost!) 29 year old primary teacher living in South-Western Ontario. She grew up in the Niagara Region in a great church with a great church family, but really had to start owning her own faith in God since she moved out on her own and started teaching in 2008. She loves to write, sing, play the fiddle, watch movies, and read. Laura would gladly quit her day-job and write full time if someone would hire her. Please check out her blog where she writes fairly frequently at http://thisblogisepic.wordpress.com

It’s About Time We Talked About It…

5STR828CV28HGEDA-rszw514As I sit here and I write, I have to admit my burden is heavy.

It sits on my chest. The day seems somewhat grey and there’s a fog that seems to be sitting over my part of the world.

I spent the weekend up north for a youth retreat. I hung out with some of the most amazing kids. We laughed and danced and sang songs of worship. I watched in awe as Jesus captured the hearts of so many students, some for the very first time.

I needed to see that happen again. I needed to remember what it looks like when God captures your attention for the first time. There was something that happened deep in my soul as I heard a student utter that they never knew that God loved them until now. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.

On that same day I heard about two people from two very different parts of my world, that died. The kind of death you don’t expect, the kind that shocks you to the core. The kind that makes you want to tell everyone important in your life that you love them. The kind that makes you breathe just a little bit deeper and hug just a little bit longer.

On the same day that my heart rejoiced for those kids that experienced Jesus in a new way, my heart broke because one man took his life and another man lost it. I am reminded once again of the tension of this life.

This weekend student after student poured out their hearts to trusted leaders. Things came to the surface that have been buried down deep for so long. The things that these kids are facing these days astounds me. Yesterday morning I heard one friend say that she was speaking to a guidance counsellor at a local school, they told her that she shouldn’t be alarmed that one kid was considering suicide because it’s normal these days, most kids do it.

I’m sorry, what?

When did this become ok? When did it become “normal” for most of our kids to be contemplating suicide? When did life become so hopeless that the only way out was to end it all?

Who told you that you are worthless?

Who told you that you don’t have a choice?

Who told you that no one cares?

Have we done this to ourselves?

Well, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of not talking about it. I’m sick of the idea that in order to follow Jesus and belong to the church you have to have it all together.

Where is it getting us?

Instead of creating safe places, we’ve created a culture of guilt and shame.

You’re depressed?

Anxious?

Bulimic?

Bi-polar?

Schizophrenic?

HIV positive?

Have same gender attraction?

Suicidal?

Don’t talk about it. Pretend it’s not there. Pray about it. Don’t think about it. Blah blah blah.

We use language of shame and guilt. We create a culture of spiritual abuse.

And this is what we want to invite people into?

I don’t want to do it anymore. We need to talk about it. We need to acknowledge that in this day and age more people are struggling with mental illnesses than ever before. It doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian, it doesn’t mean God loves you less, and it doesn’t mean you’re sick or screwed up. But we can’t be quiet anymore. Because there are too many people walking around dying inside and putting on a smile so no one knows.

I have anxiety. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. A few years ago it got so bad that I started having panic attacks. My thoughts would make me so anxious that nothing could calm me down. I hated myself. I was frustrated with God because he wouldn’t take it away. I felt like no one could understand what was going on inside of me. I was so ashamed that I was struggling with this. I thought that going to see a counsellor meant I was crazy. I thought that only crazy people needed medication. And so I suffered in my worry, until I read this book by a young Mom who talked about how everyone should see a counsellor at some point in their life. She talked about creating space when you’re young to work out your “junk”. Somehow, those words in that chapter freed me. I decided I should talk to a counsellor. My anxiety got so bad that I started to feel like I couldn’t go on living this way. So I did some research and as I looked and read stories of people, I realized that there were others struggling just like I was. I started taking some medication to help with my anxiety about 3 years ago, and it’s actually changed my life for the better. I started seeing a counsellor, who I went to for about 2 years, which also helped me work through a lot of my feelings of guilt and shame.

As I started to feel better, I became more and more open with people about my struggle with anxiety, with coming to grips with the fact that I needed help and that I couldn’t do it on my own. As I started to share with people, they started to talk about their own struggle with similar things. It was like a domino effect, and I found that people need to talk about it. They need to know that they’re not alone, that their struggle shouldn’t make them feel ashamed, that there is hope and help and a light at the end of the tunnel. I started to find that the more freedom there was to talk about these things, the more the walls of stereotype and stigma came down.

God didn’t heal me of my anxiety. I still struggle with it daily. I still take stuff to help me. I still have days where I feel like I’m having a heart attack because I have so much anxiety. People can’t see it from the outside. Most people would never look at me and think, oh she must really struggle with anxiety, or she’s for sure had those dark moments that seemed so hopeless, where her parents didn’t even know what to do with her. God didn’t just take it away. This has been a long journey for me. A long journey of becoming comfortable with who I am, with owning the fact that I’ve got some junk and God doesn’t always just fix it. Sometimes he chooses to walk with us through it, because that’s how we learn to know him. He wants that for us so badly. So maybe in a way God did heal me, just not from what I thought I needed healing from. I’m tired of this “healing language” that tells us that we can always pray our problems away. Sometimes, God chooses to take it away but most times he chooses to jump in the mud with us and help us find our way.

And usually we find that there’s a whole lot more people in the mud than not, and they need us. They need us to share our story, they need us to come alongside them and tell them it’s not always going to be this hard. This is true community, and this is what the Church should be.

So please, can we just talk about it. Whatever it is, wherever you find yourself, find a safe person and just talk about it.

Be a safe person and listen.

Actively break down those walls.

Stand up against the language of guilt and shame.

Cast it out.

Call it out.

Declare that there’s no place for it.

My burden is heavy because I don’t want my students to grow up having to keep it all in. I don’t want them to think that the church is a place where perfect people live. I want it to be a safe space, with safe people, where they can share without shame.

We have to start somewhere.

So, where will you start?