Monday, June 16, 2014

My Year of Singleness: A Time of Rehab for my Heart

"You're doing what?" is just one of the many reactions I got for choosing to do one year of singleness from May 2013- May 2014. Other reactions sounded like "Is that supposed to be spiritual?", "but you were already single", "did you have a problem with not being single?" and one of my favorites came from my friends who had never had a girlfriend or boyfriend, "I don't need a year of singleness; I've been single since I was born!".

So, then, why a year of singleness? Before choosing to do it, a few of my friends did 6-12 months of intentional singleness for varying reasons. When each of those friends told me they were doing a time of singleness, I politely gave a nod and an "mm-hmm" (as any good counseling student would), pretending that I understood their decision. Yet inside, I was thinking how ridiculous and unnecessary it was to do a year of singleness. Interestingly enough, those friends planted that idea in me without ever realizing that I would ever do the same thing.

In May 2013, I fought off the idea of doing a year of singleness- not because I was a serial dater...or even dating at all- but simply because my heart was tired. For a couple years, I had invested my heart into someone who I had no hope of being with. I tried for months to let go but I was also holding on so tightly. I was sick of it. My heart was sick of it. Sick of attaching my heart to someone who wouldn't reciprocate the way I felt. My heart needed a time of rehab. That rehab looked like a year of intentional singleness to me.

Despite the fact that I was already getting over the guy, I felt like I needed to finish healing with a retreat for my heart. A time where I would not allow my heart to become romantically attached again. I created stipulations for myself that would protect my heart from attachment. Obviously, No Dating was one of them (even though I wasn't really dating before that...but just in case I was asked on a date, the rule was made!). I even created the rule of No Crushing on Anyone. I know, cray, cray, right? How do you stop yourself from liking someone? I don't know. But I was going to do it for my heart's sake.

Because I like to look at experiences and extract themes or some sort of system from it, I have gathered that there were three seasons to my year of singleness. It's crazy because the whole point of the year of singleness was to avoid attachment in order to heal completely. Unfortunately, I did not end up avoiding attachment as you will find out soon.

Season 1 {May- August 2013}: Despite the Heat, my Heart Turns Cold

The beginning of Season 1 was hopeful yet also devastating. Hopeful because I felt that the following year would be one of healing. Devastating because I was going through various health issues. For those of you who know me well, you know that the past few years have been hard on my health. The last thing I needed was another diagnosis. In May 2013, I was told I may not be able to have children due to a syndrome I have. Don't get my wrong, I love kids, but I have never really been excited to have my own. I truly get more excited about adopting. Based on that, I probably should not have been that disappointed to know that I may not be able to have kids, right? WRONG. Suddenly, when you're told you can't have something that you thought you would have been able to have, you want it. I cried and cried. I labeled myself as unmarryable (is that even a word?) because no man would want me if I couldn't make a baby for him.

Eventually, I was comforted by hope in God. Anything is possible for God; to give me a man one day who will be able to handle my potential infertility or for God to give me a baby. I've seen many of my friends who were supposed to be infertile have babies. The thing is, I won't know until I try. I'm leaving this in God's hands.
Besides that heavy news, I enjoyed the rest of Season 1 of my singleness. There were no distractions and for the first time in a while, my heart felt like it was set free. I was enjoying my time of singleness so much that I began contemplating a lifetime of singleness. In hindsight, I wonder if I was trying to protect myself from anymore hurt. So, during the hot summer of 2013, my heart turned cold to relationships and future marriage.

Season 2 {September-December 2013}: I Fell in the Fall

I ended the summer with enjoying my singleness and contemplating a lifetime of it. On the most part, I continued wanting that during Season 2 of my year of singleness...but I did begin to fall for someone at school. He wasn't my type at all yet I was attracted to him and liked being with him. I pushed my attraction away so I could be faithful to the rules I placed on myself for the year. I thought that after my Christmas break, I'd get over my attraction and all would be normal again. How many of you see where the story is going? Yup, you're right. My attraction didn't leave when I came back from the holidays but it was only getting stronger.

Season 3 {January-May 2014}: Understanding Attachment

"What the heck is wrong with me?" is what I was thinking. Why couldn't my heart stay away from attaching itself? I shared my feelings with a friend and she simply and gracefully responded with "so, what's wrong with that? what's wrong with your heart getting attached?". She was right. I was acting like attachment was wrong- not only because it was part the rules for my year of singleness- but because I associated it with hurt.

To take that thought a little deeper, one of my classes was influencing the way I viewed relationships. In my Theology of the Human Person class, Dr. Victor Shepherd (the professor), spoke about Martin Buber's theory of I and Thou. This theory states that humankind finds purpose, meaning and identity when in relationship with others and with God. The more this theory was talked about, the more I appreciated my relationship with God and others. Suddenly, my desire to be single forever began fading. Dr. Shepherd spoke of marriage being one of the most intimate relationships a human being can be blessed with on this earth. Yes, intimacy can happen in other relationships, but the most intimate human relationship is in marriage. I was sold. Martin Buber's theory of the I and Thou Relationship was providing healing for my heart and even for my desire for marriage.
As for the guy I was crushing on, I realized how terrible of a match we would be. As quickly as my feelings began for him is as quickly as my feelings left. As brief an silly as that crush was, it helped my process of healing even though I broke one of my rules: Thou shalt not have a crush on anyone.

Conclusion of my Year of Singleness

When I started my year of singleness in May 2013, I never imagined ending it on a mission trip in Peru. I thought it was a beautiful way to end my year of singleness on May 2014 as I was focusing on Jesus and working for Him and the Gospel in Peru.

By the end of my mission trip, it was difficult for me to say goodbye to my new Peruvian friends. With each goodbye hug I gave to the missionaries' kids, the University students, ministry staff and all the people we came across during out trip, my heart was in pain. As I was saying goodbye to some of the students we taught English to, one of the missionaries we worked with said to me "You have a beautiful heart. Your heart attaches itself so much, doesn't it?". It was such a simple comment yet it impacted me so much. I am so grateful she made that observation about me because it concluded my year if singleness magnificently.
I realized that my heart not only attached itself quickly, romantically, but in all relationships. When a bond is made, my heart attaches itself. I am guilty of loving quickly and passionately. Many times, this love has taken me to get hurt. So although I look for opportunities to attach myself through relationships, I distance myself because I don't want to get hurt.
Everyone goes through this right? It just took me a year to learn it.

Did I end up avoiding attachment? No. I did get over the guy that caused me to enter the year of singleness in the first place. And the brief crush I had didn't last. But I attached myself to others. Not in an unhealthy way...but rather the way we're supposed to attach ourselves to others. God created us to be in relationship not only with Him, through Jesus, but also with others. Being in relationship is part of living out the image of God in us.

"I was made to live. I was made to love. I was made to know You." Brooke Fraser, CS Lewis Song

Ending my year of singleness in Peru (May 2014)
The missionary who impacted me more than she intended <3

The girl in the pink is the one who asked me "what's wrong with getting attached?"
The guy was my brief crush. Just kidding; he's a good friend. The crush will remain a secret ;) 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

"Why are you going to Peru?"... FAQ about my Peru Trip

I don't know why it's taken me so long to write about my missions trip to Peru. So, I thought I'd share with you a little bit more about why I'm going on a second missions trip since going to India almost a year ago.

I thought it would be fun to make this blog consist of my answers from Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about my Peru trip. Yes, I have been asked all these questions. Either I have really supportive friends or really nosy ones ;) I'd like to believe they're supportive! lol. Here are the FAQ:

1. Why are you going to Peru?
When I was in India, as I was walking in downtown Kolkata on a Sunday night after church, I suddenly began to wonder what missions in Latin America would be like. My heart was moved and was delighting in the work that we were doing in Kolkata (working with women rescued from the sex trade and children rescued from homelessness). I began to desire being involved in outreach work in Latin America. Why Latin America? Not sure. Maybe because I'm from El Salvador. I've never felt the desire to do missions in Latin America. Remember, I'm new to this whole missions thing! So, the first time I got that desire as I was walking in Kolkata, it puzzled me. I brushed off the thought and kinda hoped it wouldn't return. Yet, at random times during the trip, I kept wishing, desiring and wondering about missions in Latin America. To be honest, the thought off missions in Latin American was bothering me a bit, so I began to pray about it: "Okay, so I don't know why I keep getting these thoughts or desires to do outreach in Latin America, but God if this is something that you are planting in my heart right now, then I pray that you may make it happen in your timing. It's in your hands. Amen" Usually God takes a while to make things happen, right? So, I truly thought that if this were something the Lord would be leading me to, then maybe a mission trip to Latin America would be far in the future. Plus, I didn't plan on going on another missions trip soon after India.
Our team in downtown Kolkata
Fast-forward two weeks after I got back to Canada from India, I heard about a missions trip  my school (Tyndale) was planning to Peru. Immediately, I thought about the desire I had in India to do outreach in Latin America and my prayer of putting the potential trip in God's hands. I thought it may not be a coincidence that Tyndale was having a trip to Peru. I think it had been years since Tyndale went to Latin America. I put the potential trip Peru in God's hands. Eight months later and I'm off to Peru in a few days to be introduced to missions in Latin America!

2. Where in Peru are you going?
Lima and Arequipa. The majority of our work will be done in Arequipa.

3. Who are you going with?
A team from my school: 3 students, a staff member and me. We vary in age and backgrounds, yet we go with the same mission: to partner with Jesus' mission in Peru
Our team, eating at a Peruvian restaurant

4. What are you going to do there?
Our team will mainly be working with youth and young adults as we teach ESL which will serve as a bridge to build relationships with the people. We will also have opportunities to share about Jesus Christ, the Gospel and our testimonies. The missionary we will be working with has been so kind as to ask what else would we like to do. Immediately, I said "street outreach!" My hope is to see who the marginalized are in Peru.

5. How long are you going for?
17 days

6. Do you have any fears about going?
Yeah, might think they're silly fears, but they're real fears to me!
1) I'm afraid of getting made fun of for my rusty Spanish! I'm hoping that after a few days of being immersed in a Spanish context, I'll flow much better ;)
2) I'm afraid of having comments made about my weight. Being a Latina, I know how comfortable Spanish people can be talking about weight and telling you that you need to shed a few pounds! I've become accustomed to the Canadian way of not mentioning weight at all. Oh well, I may come back motivated to work out after a few comments!

7. Will you be going to Machu Picchu?
Not that I know of. It will be a bit far from where we will be doing our work.

I have been asked a few other questions which I am not adding to this blog post because they're a bit silly! You know who you are!

Now, I'd like to ask you a question: How can you support me? 
Three ways: 1) Pray for our team. That impact would happen; impact on the students to learn ESL, impact on the people we share the Gospel, impact on the missionaries we'll be working with (i.e. receiving encouragement and help from us) with and impact on our team. 2) Encouragement. If you have encouraging words or advice your'd like to share with me about Peru or missions, please do! 3) Financial donations. You can donate here: Send Arleen to Peru

At my Peruvian birthday fundraiser

Thanks for reading and stay tuned as we keep you informed on our trip. Check out our first 2 vlogs: Vlog 1 and Vlog 2

Thursday, March 6, 2014

More than just a bike ride

Just about every morning in September, we would grab our bikes from the garage and ride down our favorite bike trail. She always pedaled faster than me- not because she was competitive- but because she was so excited to be outside, in nature. I didn't mind because I admired the way she appreciated every part of our bike ride. With one hand she controlled her bike and with the other hand, she reached out for the branches and leaves to feel them. She never looked straight ahead or at the ground as she was riding, but instead, she curiously scanned her surroundings. She was always in child-like awe of the trees, the sky, the river running alongside the trail and the deer that would camouflage themselves so subtly with the tall golden grass. We would always stop for a break, to sit near the river. I took pictures of the scenery and scrolled down my facebook while she waited to catch a glimpse of jumping salmon swimming against the current.

To many, this may all seem ordinary. It was only 8 months earlier that few friends and I taught her how to ride a bike. She wasn't a little girl. She was a woman, in her mid twenties. How could she not know how to ride a bike?
Well, she comes from a South-Asian country where the liberty of a women is not the same as it is here in North America. Only men rode bikes where she grew up. She explained "Even if I did ride a bike, where would I go? Women cannot go anywhere alone."
It was her dream to ride a bike. When she came to Canada, that dream came true.

Our bike rides are so much for than just bike rides. I realized that bike rides for her meant freedom. For me, it has become more than just good exercise and a nice instagram picture. I have come to appreciate this little freedom that I have taken for granted for years. Beyond that, she has taught me to put my phone down and look up at the sky, the river and the animals on the trail. 

This freedom, as women, to bike (alone) and to survey nature is a gift from God. 

Me on my phone and her enjoying the scenery

Sky gazing while sitting outside

catching a glimpse of the salmon as they jumped up

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'"- Acts 17:24-28

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"But, isn't sex against God?"

When I tell people about what field I want to get into I get quite a few different reactions. Most of them are ones of surprise, shock, and confusion...masked in politeness that sounds like "oh... yeah... that's a really needed thing these days". 

I am studying to be a marriage and family therapist. Here's the unique part about it: I'm Christian and I want the focus of my work to be with sexual issues. When I tell some of my friends about wanting to be a sex therapist (or something along those lines), I get confused reactions. One friend recently said to me "'t it against God?" I responded with "He invented it!".

Whether it's Christians or non-Christians, many would probably not put God and sex in the same sentence. Sex is not bad; it's good. God created sex for a specific context though; marriage. Wait- before you blow me off and not read the rest of this because I mentioned celibacy...just give it a chance. By understanding God's purpose for sex and the context it is to be practiced in, we can understand so much about family, gender, sexual orientation and more. I want to be able to learn about, teach and defend God's view of a healthy sexuality in a theologically rich manner.

How can we as Christian not want to get into this realm? There are some things that may be disturbing to listen to, like sexual offenses, bestiality and getting sexually turned on by poop (this is actually happens!). Sorry, just grossed some of you guys out. Anyway, this stuff happens and as a Christian, I'd like to delve into this area because God is not as distant from it as the world thinks He is.

Upon my research for an essay about intersex (formerly known as hermaphrodites), I came across the book Controversies in body theology. I only read the chapter that pertained to my research, titled "This body trans/forming me: Indecencies in transgender/intersex bodies, body facism and the doctrine of the incarnation". It enraged me because it twists the teachings of the Bible in the attempt to show how the doctrine of the incarnation addresses transexuality. The author says "For all its drama against certain matters related to the discourse on body/ies and sexuality, the Church's pre-eminent dogma deal with trans/formation of the divine into a human body. Therefore, it makes Jesus a glorified transgender person!" We don't have to make Jesus transgendered to make Him relate to those who deal with sexual issues! This is ridiculous and unnecessary!

We don't have to twist the scripture to make God out to be someone who can relate to those who are suffering with sexual issues... He already does! In talking about Jesus, the author of Hebrews (4:15-16) says "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

May God send people to the dark areas that are complex and disturbing. He can handle them. He has the grace and power needed to help people who deal with sexual issues and bring them through it. It isn't only the great need that exists in helping those with sexual issues but it's also these kinds of lies that make me want to get into this area. I'd like to contribute a sound theological teaching that addresses the issues of sexuality. We never know what our future will look like, but if this passion of mine aligns to what God has in store for me then let it be done!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Birthday, Uncle's Death and Breast Cancer: The Theme of Life Throughout My Week.

One of the weird things I like to do when watching a TV show is figure out the episode's theme. Whether it's a kids shows or an adult sitcom, there always seems to be a theme, or a moral to the story. 

Sometimes, I can't help but think that there is a running theme in certain seasons of our lives. 

Since my school year started, I feel the running theme has been death and life. I feel this theme has been most apparent this past week. 

On Monday, it was my 28th birthday. How can anyone not think of life on their birthday? I know 28 is still considered young (to some people) but I am grateful I've made it to this age. I had such an amazing day, as I was showered with love by my friends with a surprise cake, love notes on my bedroom door, handmade gifts, donations toward my missions trip and many facebook birthday wishes. I felt loved and special. At the end of the day, I asked God "why did you allow me to have such a beautiful day? It was such a gift.". 

The next day, I realized what a gift my birthday truly was as I got news that my uncle in El Salvador had passed away. Once again, I was faced with the theme of life...and death. My uncle Nelson was a special part of my upbringing in El Salvador. Every Friday, my older brother and I would go to my grandparents house to sleep over. My uncle Nelson lived with my grandparents and would act bothered by our weekly visits. He would say "ay vienen los monstritos!" (Translation: Here come the little monsters!). Yet, when we didn't visit, he would ask "where are the little monsters?". He acted like a tough guy, being all annoyed, but I know he truly liked having us around. Now, my uncle is gone. It was unexpected as he was the baby-or the youngest- of his family. I am grateful that my uncle knew Jesus though. This is the hope we have in Jesus, that death is not the end, but those who believe in Jesus will see each other again one day in a new body. Believers will be resurrected and given a new body, because Jesus resurrected and was given a new body. But that's a topic for another day! The hope of the resurrection though is what redirects the theme of death back to life. 

To end my week, I had what my doctors called "the last follow up appointment". You see, in the summer of 2012, I was told I might have breast cancer. By God's grace, the lump in my breast was found to be benign (non-cancerous). However, the oncologist wanted to monitor it closely for a while, in case there would be malignant growth. So, I went to my follow up appointment and the ultrasound technician's friendly chatter died down a bit. She seemed to be concentrating on what she was seeing on the screen. I wondered if my lump had grown. She said she had to go show the doctor my results immediately. She asked me to wait. During the 20 minutes I waited, I thought "what if I have cancer?" I thought about the satisfaction I have in the life I've lived in Christ. I have no regrets. I would be happy to go if I needed to. After all, the apostle Paul said "to die is gain" (Philippines 1:21). The gain is that we would see Jesus! The ultrasound tech came back and said "You're okay. You don't have to come back here again. No more follow ups.". What suspense! Sheesh! I went to the bathroom to change back into my clothes, I looked in the mirror and prayed "I guess it's your will (or plan) for me to stay here a little longer, isn't it God? If it is, then let me live for You and do big things for You.".

It was time for my uncle to go this week, but it's not my time yet. This life, let us live it for Jesus. We are made for Him. 

"Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it 

finds its rest in thee.” -Augustine, Confessions.

On the topic of life, here's a little song I have in my head at the moment: 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Leadership Lesson: Weak vs. Strong

Leadership positions bring on challenges that can expose one's character. Every time I am in a position of leadership, I learn something new about myself; some things are pleasant...and some aren't! This semester brought on a big lesson for me as a leader and also on grief. 

In November, four out of six members of our student council lost someone in their lives. Four weeks of November brought on four announcements of death. Each one hit me hard because it resurfaced feelings of grief over my mentor's death, who I lost at the end of the summer. With each announcement of death, I became more and more heavy-hearted. All I wanted to do was stop everything- school assignments, student council duties, work, etc- and just curl up and grieve. All I wanted during November was to be weak. I became so frustrated when I realized I couldn't be weak. I felt pressure by my leadership role to be strong. The big question of November was: "to be weak or to be strong?" I see value in being vulnerable. Why couldn't I be weak, even if I was the leader? I thought it wasn't fair.

I then realized why I needed to be strong. 

One of the deaths that happened in November was a student at my school. The death was sudden and shocking for our school community. Our school handled this student's death in such an admirable way. They comforted the student body by talking about grief, providing counseling and exuding calm in the midst of chaos. The latter impacted me. When I saw the way the student dean lead the students with peace, I realized that it gave the students as sense of hope, that everything was going to be okay. 

I used to hate the saying "you have to be strong for others" because I feel that it can deny the person's sorrow and thus suppress pain. Now, I have come to understand the importance of that saying. If I am strong, those who I lead will also be strong. In chaos, I want to be the type of leader that brings wisdom, balance, and hope. Although I value vulnerability, there is a time and place for it...especially when you're in leadership. Just as the 911 respondent or the paramedic must remain calm in emergency situations, so should the leader to instill peace and hope in those he/she is responsible for. 

To all the leaders out there,  I am not telling you to suppress your emotions, but instead, find someone like a mentor, a friend or one person on your team who you can speak to about your true feelings. Although "weakness" is not something that should be looked down upon, a leader must decide if demonstrating his/her "weakness" will edify those who are being led. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Missions Messed Me Up!

Recently, I handed out Thank You cards to as many of my missions trip supporters as possible. I have been getting many comments on a little line I wrote in the card, which reads: "In all honesty, I feel missions has messed me up". One of my good friends laughed when he read that line and asked me "Messed up? Why don't you say 'inspired' instead?" 
Of course I felt inspired by the trip, but I also feel messed up. For years, I have been trying to figure out where I am going. In the past few years, I thought I was finally figuring out how my future would look like. I truly thought I was going to be working in clinical counseling here in North America. Now, I kind of doubt I will be doing that. I mean, I still love counseling and I know my counseling skills will come to good use in the future, but now I'm wondering if I'll be using those skills outside of North America. It may be too early to say, since I just got back from a short term missions trip to India 2 months ago, but I am afraid that missions may be a part of my future. I had an idea of where I was going... but now, I don't anymore; that's why I say missions has messed me up. 
Almost everyday, I think about the work we did in India and the people we met. I feel so nostalgic. I wish those three weeks in India didn't stop. That scares me. What is God doing in me?
Me, the girl who was closed to missions for years, thinking I was too high-maintenance to even go overseas now desires with all her heart to minister on the missions field. What's wrong with me? I feel so messed up. 
As soon as I thought I knew where I was going, I realize I really don't know. It's like God wants me to have faith in Him or something! As scared and messed up as I feel, I am also excited for what God has in store. 

This is one of my life verses, which continually applies to my journey: "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going."- Hebrews 11:8

My Prayer: 

Lord, I have no idea what You're doing, of where You're asking me to go. My heart is incredibly stirred up as I think of missions. I don't know what exactly this means. Continue to lead me. Holy Spirit, help me to be obedient to God's calling and to have faith in the plans God has in store for me. I don't want to trust in my plans, but Yours. Your ways are higher and better. I love You and want to follow You where ever You may take me. Let me do this without fear, for Your glory and purposes. Amen.

The youth who live at the train station. They impacted me more than they know.

These are women who have been rescued for the sex trade. Look at the love and affection they showed. How can my heart not be moved?