Peace Garden Mama II

A garden blend of family, faith and following the muse

   Aug 21

Fifty years ago today…a spark

In a sense, my life started here…


It’s a special day and I’d love to share a little more. My streamlining efforts lead you to Peace Garden Passage, where I’m happy to reveal a little more.

   Aug 19

Surprise: getting religion writing right

I had something kind of fun – and very surprising – happen to me recently.

It has something to do with this:


The details are on the blog where I spend most of my hanging out time, but I’d be happy to have you visit Peace Garden Passage to catch it all.

Peace be with you!

   Aug 14

Family vacation at Duck Lake

It was memorable, with not much in the way of obligation but to just be.


One of my favorite kind of vacations. Won’t you enjoy it, too, at Peace Garden Passage today?

   Aug 12

Dolls from Dad: A gift from heaven

It’s a sweet little story, and I feel honored to have a chance to share it with you.


If you don’t mind hopping over to Peace Garden Passage, I’d be much obliged!

   Aug 07

Banquet in a field 2015: Celebrating abundance

It was another beautiful evening, almost like a fairytale…


You’ve got to come over to Peace Garden Passage and see!

   Jul 31

Lions and babies and ice cream, on my!

My heart is heavy, but my sweet tooth? Still engaged.

Ice cream can help heal a broken heart, I’ve been reminded.


More on Peace Garden Passage today…

   Jul 29

‘What about all those starving children?’

Good question, and one that deserves an attempt at an answer, I think. Mine is over at Peace Garden Passage today….

Hunger-1 (2)

   Jul 24

God’s sweet consolation

God really is a very good and loving God. I was reminded of that recently during a visit to Stillwater with some friends.


Sweet consolation indeed. I hope your visit to Peace Garden Passage today will bring a little of this loveliness to you…

   Jul 22

Fickle about Facebook

I’m curious your thoughts about social media at this point in time, and Facebook in particular. Where are you at with it all?


Here are my thoughts today on Peace Garden Passage…

   Jul 17

The threat of the little pink blankie

What threat does a little pink blankie bring our world?

mandy 367_pe (2)

I share my thoughts today on Peace Garden Passage. I’d love for you to weigh in…

   Jul 15

The unforeseen blessing: Carmel again

The flowers are definitely one of the things that pull me there.


But there’s more to it than just that. I’m sharing a little more today on Peace Garden Passage about how I’ve come to be connected to the Carmelite monastery here in Eastern North Dakota, and why I love it so much.

   Jul 10

Baby’s leaving on a jet plane

My littlest birdie is flying away for a while…


A piece of me goes with him on this adventure. I ponder his leaving on Peace Garden Passage today!

   Jul 08

The writer as a prophet

What does it mean to be a prophet, and can a prophet find honor among one’s own?


I take a peek at this topic today on Peace Garden Passage...with the help of some friends and a heroine. Come see!

   Jul 03

God’s piggy-back ride

What, you think it’s way too far up to jump aboard?


Not to worry. God will stoop down to retrieve you when it’s time.

More today on Peace Garden Passage...

   Jul 01

When to speak, when to go silent

It’s something to think about…

hush (2)B

I pontificate on whether to keep up the chatter or hush up today on Peace Garden Passage. C’mon over!

   Jun 26

Grandma’s 101st, my conflicted heart

Yes, she’s been around that long. There was reason to celebrate.

And yet, something wasn’t quite right. Something was missing.


I share more about my conflicted heart surrounding Grandma at Peace Garden Passage today…

   Jun 24

Coming right up: Philly, the pope and me

I’d pretty much given up hope on the possibility of this adventure, but late last week, the call came, letting me know that all would come through after all, and I would have a chance to attend the World Meeting of Families — the annual event that, this year in Philly, would include a visit by Pope Francis — as a reporter of local stories of faith along the journey.


It’s a bit of a second chance for me, and I can’t wait to share more — much more! Here’s just the beginning of it all, on Peace Garden Passage today.

   Jun 19

The real reason I’m still Catholic (A tribute to Dad)

There are many reasons, but I’d say this is one of the biggest.


I’ve got a lot more over at Peace Garden Passage today. And if you’ve ever been to the Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery in Mandan, ND, or even if you haven’t, I think you’ll enjoy the visual tour, at the very least.

See you there!

   Jun 17

Holy surprise: Patti on ‘Fox and Friends’ and our divinely planned coffee date

You won’t believe what happened when my friend Patti and I, who have 15 kids between us, tried to plan a coffee date. Here’s a hint, from her husband Mark’s computer screen screen-shot image:


I loved writing about this whirlwind of a day. Come on over to Peace Garden Passage today for the rest of it!

   Jun 12

A home that holds part of my past

So many memories in this place, and so much interest from those I don’t know. For me, it was all about the love inside.


I’ve got a little more about this home that will always be special to me, and our whole family, over on Peace Garden Passage today. Please, come over and knock on the door!

   Jun 10

‘I couldn’t un-see them’

The words have haunted me, but in a very good way; a way that brings so much hope.


I’m pondering and pontificating on these four words today on Peace Garden Passage. Come on over!

   Jun 05

Splashing in puddles

Hey, want to join us? It’s pretty fun!


Well, maybe mine is just proverbial puddle-splashing, but it’s still beats the alternative!

Come jump in at Peace Garden Passage!

   Jun 03

One to harbor, one to protect

The visual I share today is something everyone in our community and beyond deserves to be privy to. I hope you’ll take a moment to learn what I have learned on the sidewalk Downtown Fargo these past months:


You’ll find more at Peace Garden Passage!

   May 29

How much do you trust me?

I know it’s a strange question, especially since I am a stranger to some of you. Let me just say that I have never, in all my years of blogging (since 2008) asked for anything like this, and yet, the time has come, and I pray that my plea will be fruitful.

Here’s a hint of what I want to share with you today:

Whitney (2)Read more at Peace Garden Passage!

   May 27

‘Where else could I go?’

It’s quite a question, and it has an answer. Sort of.

The whole thing came to me in a text. Details over at Peace Garden Passage!

   May 22

The grandma I never knew and the fire of our faith

I never met my Grandma Mary Beauclair, and yet she has taught so much about the fire of our faith.


Find out more today on Peace Garden Passage!

   May 20

Angel feet: The gift of being a godparent

I’ve got a precious new little friend in my life.


Come meet more of her today on Peace Garden Passage!



   May 15

More than words on the sidewalk

I’ve been humbled by my time praying on the sidewalk in front of North Dakota’s only abortuary.


Come on over to Peace Garden Passage today to learn how.


   May 13

April showers bring May flowers

Yep, it’s true.

Flowers (2)

I’ll share a little more on Peace Garden Passage today! Come on and get a whiff of the aroma!

   May 08

My daughters eyes

Oh, they are something alright…


Come meet this little lady who has made my life all the richer here.

   May 01

Getting ready for ‘The Good Fight’!

If you’re not Catholic, and even if you are but don’t listen to radio much, you might not have heard of “The Good Fight.” It’s a national radio show hosted by a beautiful woman who has a lot of good and true things to say, and I’m privileged to be one of her guests this weekend, along with a couple of comrades.


Come find out more on Peace Garden Passage today! And if you can, tune in!

   Apr 27

Searching for sunken treasure

This one just flipped my heart. I think it will yours too.












See you at Peace Garden Passage!

   Apr 22

Behind the scenes of writing ‘Redeemed by Grace’

I’m sharing some photos on my blog today that have been in hiding, waiting for the right moment to be brought into the light.

Like this one for instance…(peek-a-boo!)


And if that cutie pie doesn’t woo you over to Peace Garden Passage today to see the rest, I don’t know what will! :)

   Apr 17

Accentuate the positive

What if we all started looking intently into the good of one another?


Here’s what happened when our school started doing this with our youngest son:

   Apr 15

The test of inexhaustible beauty

It’s deep, but also so very simple. I think you’re going to want to know more, and you’ll find it over on Peace Garden Passage today.

You’ll get a chance to see a bit of this guy, too, after all, and, well, he’s kind of fun. And very special. And almost 10.

NICKThanks for following me over to the passage!

   Apr 10

Pam Tebow, Our Blessed Mother and Divine Mercy

Somehow they all fit together, in a beautiful way.


Here’s how: See you at Peace Garden Passage!

   Apr 01

Our book en Espanol?

Yes, it’s true! Not only is our book, “Redeemed by Grace” in English, but now, voila…


Come over to Peace Garden Passage for more. See you there!

   Mar 27

Our book in England, the fidelity of priests

This is exciting! I hope you’ll stop by Peace Garden Passage today to learn more. :)

Here’s a  teaser:


   Mar 25

Watering schedule refresh

It has something to do with flower pots, and watering schedules… see here!

   Mar 23

About that about…

I was busy tidying up a room this weekend.

Well, not an actual room. But a “room” on my website.  The “About” room to be precise:


Come over to Peace Garden Passage and see more!

   Mar 20

Catching you all up!

I’m so sorry to leave you hanging! Okay, it’s not like anyone was waiting around. But maybe a reader or two missed me, or wondered why I’d gotten so slack on posting. The truth of the matter is that I’m busy doing some spring cleaning. It is the first day of spring, right? So it snowed? Oh well. The calendar says…

Anyway, I’m trying to streamline my work into one main stopping point, so recently, I created Peace Garden Passage, the theme of my new website (or rather, my old website that I’ve just revived) at

Here’s a screenshot of my home page, so far anyway.

homepage (2)

We’re still working on it, so expect some more pretty additions soon. But for now, little by little, things are coming together, and seeming a little more orderly. I hope you like the changes! I’ll come back here to update you, but I’ll do it with links that point you over to Peace Garden Passage, to keep things sane on my end. I hope you’ll come over and visit, even though it means one more click. It would mean an awful lot to me. And I’d love to receive your comments too. Really I would!

Here’s what you’ve missed in the last couple weeks:

My Fling with Planned Parenthood (March 20)

Celebrating ‘Peace Garden,’ Elise Parsley (March 18)

A Time for Lambs, Kids and Yaya (March 16)

Our Eyes Met, Then She Was Gone (March 12)

A Fresh, New Look! Peace Garden Passage! (March 11)

Thanks for sticking around. I hope to make your visits worthwhile!

   Mar 04

writing wednesdays: the buzz on our book

There aren’t too many greater thrills in life than sharing the work of your heart with a friend, especially a friend of the heart.

I’ll write more on that soon, but today, I want to call your attention to something else.

Shhh, do you hear that? It’s the buzz about our book!

I don’t want to give too much away but if you want to get in on the grapevine utterances, I’ve compiled a little list of the reviews that have come in so far over on Peace Garden Writer today.

What’s it like for us, reading the reverberations of the story we’ve set in motion? You’ll find that out too!

   Mar 02

meaningful mondays: so much sorrow

I hesitate writing posts like this, and yet by not doing so, by only writing about the joys — and there are many — I fear I might somehow miss reaching someone, or come across as unauthentic. There comes a time, and Lent seems fitting for it, to show that along with all of the sunny days and consolations come many heart-piercing moments.

It seems so fitting that my soul sister Ann and I consecrated ourselves to Mother Mary on Our Lady of Sorrows feast day. We hadn’t planned it that way, it’s just the way it fell, and I knew we couldn’t hide from it or wish for a more sunny feast day to land on.

We got our Lady of Sorrows for a reason, and I trusted it; that the reason would bring about a good. Indeed, before then and since that day, many tears have fallen between the two of us.

This weekend, it just sort of gripped me for a while; the pain of being a mother right now, in this age, and in this phase, and with this disposition. I’ve always felt things deeply. That’s the way God made me and most of the time I would never want it differently. The joys, too, are so deep, so euphoric, so bliss-filled. Would I want less?

No, but to offset that, there is the other side of it. Just as deeply as I naturally absorb the joys, even in the small things — things some might miss — so, too, do I take in, fully, wholeheartedly, the painful moments.

[Screenshot image of an image I found here.  The caption describes the object as “A wooden carving of the ‘Virgin of the Seven Sorrows and Mother of all those who cry’, by Spanish artist Francisco Romero Zafra.” It is displayed in a church in the Andalusian capital of Seville, southern Spain. Photo by Marcelo del Pozo/Reuters.]

And there have been a lot lately. Oh, nothing like what some have had to contend with. I see how the world is hurting, and all of the horrific things people are going through, and that, too, breaks my heart. But it is relative isn’t it, in terms of what we actually feel? We feel the things that touch us directly so much more deeply. That is human nature. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. And the more deeply we feel those things close to us, I suppose, the more we can begin to sense what others might be going through.

In that way, this soul-piercing existence we live begins to make some sense. We can understand that escaping suffering does not lead us to greater understanding, greater empathy. It leads us to satisfaction, temporary peace, and lack of a need for God.

Do we not see, then? It is in our suffering that we become readied to open up to the suffering of others, and then to reach out when we can to soothe that suffering. The more we can feel Christ’s own suffering, the more we will understand what it is He wants us to do, for Him and for those around us.

This suffering won’t last forever. It is temporary. The more we are allowed to endure, the more prepared in a way we will be with what happens next, what is required of us, what will lead us to eternal bliss.

There’s consolation there, is there not?

And yet…when the sorrow hits, does knowing all this make it any easier? No, not really. At some point we can bear it up well no longer. It is then we surrender, close the door, go into ourselves, and just let the tears flow as they may. This, too, is necessary.

Do a Google search of images for Our Lady of Sorrows to see more of what I’m talking about. Some of those images are so powerful to me, and so helpful. To know that Our Blessed Mother hurt as much as I am hurting right now does bring relief. It helps me to know she knows, and is with me, and will help bring comfort and encouragement. She’s been here, but she’s also on the other side of it now. Like when we suffer something and then, after working our way through the abyss and experiencing it fully, come out the other side, ready to help others who experience the same.

And that’s what this Mary stuff is all about. It is nothing to be troubled over. This is not some kind of Catholic superstition. Mary is real, she is Jesus’ mother, and she wants to bring us relief, to provide a safe place to go, to offer her maternal arms as vessel for our tears. She wants to help sop them up and squeeze us and remind us that our tears are bringing us closer to her Son, rather than further away. Is that not the most beautiful thing ever? I find it so.

Somehow, in this messy life I live, this life that has been filled with more tears than I know what to do with, I do have that assurance that God is with me, closer than ever in fact, and that every single one of those droplets of tears that flow, salty and sloppy, from my eyes has a purpose and power that will, in the end, be part of my salvation.

“God can be trusted, even when he is leading us through the deepest darkness. This means that great faith is justified – for Abram, and for us.” – Fr. Robert Barron

Q4U: How do you love God in your tears?

   Feb 27

faith & family fridays: ‘redeemed by grace’ sightings

Seems every time I turn around, another one is turning up.

Here’s one of the first sightings of our “Redeemed by Grace” book. It’s only been out a little more than a week now but the pre-orders helped get this story flying into the hands of those eager to hear how God moved the heart of one Ramona Trevino and transformed her life. This is Aurora.

I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting this wonderful woman in person several times now. Aurora heads up the Spanish ministry at Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, Inc. Speaking of which, Ignatius is putting out a Spanish edition of our book soon, too! We’re super excited about that.

Lauren Muzyka and I ran into Aurora at the March for Life last month over by the Eternal World Television Network tent, where we were in line to be interviewed. We got bumped due to lack of time but it was a thrill to be in the midst of the media action all the same.


Oh, and speaking of Lauren, she just received her copies this week!

She’s been waiting patiently for them to arrive, especially given her special role in the project. Along with having introduced me to Ramona, Lauren writes the foreword to our book and, well, it’s such a beautiful introduction that we’re pretty sure if you’re not certain why you’re reading “Redeemed by Grace,” after absorbing Lauren’s lead-in, you’ll definitely want to continue!

And then there’s Breanna.

She’s my Mary Kay lady, along with my occasional accompanist when I cantor at church. Oh yeah, and she’s a wife and mother of four adorable kiddos, and just an all-around amazing woman.

I wouldn’t want to forget Nancy.

She’s a fellow mom of one of my oldest daughter’s classmates, and I really enjoy her. Nancy was one of the first people to see my book the day it arrived on my doorstep. I’d brought it into a local Catholic book store to share it with them, and she happened to be there buying some greeting cards. Nancy was so intrigued by the news of our book that she wanted to buy a copy immediately!

Oh, and I can’t forget these two.

Shari, left, is a LONG time friend. I’m talking all the way back to kindergarten. Yep! We have known each other since forever ago, and I was so blessed to learn how quickly she ordered the book after finding out it was “out there.” She bought it for her mama, Jeanne, and presented it to her, along with a drawing she’d done of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. How cool is that?

I don’t want to forget this lovely lady, Patti McGuire Armstrong….

She’s a fellow Catholic mother of many and writer from my mama’s hometown of Bismarck, ND, not to mention a true prayer warrior. We’ve spent time together on our knees in the cathedral of Bismarck, sending up tandem petitions for our families and sharing the joys and challenges of being Catholic mothers in today’s world. She’s truly a gift to me for so many reasons.

Those are the visual sightings that have come onto my radar so far. I know there are more and I look forward to sharing images of them as they become available.

By the way, Ignatius Press has developed an author website for Ramona, and you’ll find me represented here as well. Make sure to check it out!

Q4U: Would you indulge me by adding a photo of yourself and our book to my collection? You can send it to Thank you kindly!

   Feb 23

meaningful mondays: a little vase of something fun to come + a soup story

I’m just a little excited about something. Hint: It’s green and yellow and warms my heart.

Only I can’t say exactly where this will be, or what will come with it. BUT…I think those who have been faithful followers of Peace Garden Mama and Peace Garden Writer, or even just plain old friends with little old me, will be tickled with me over it.

Wednesday’s the day I’ll share more about that lovely image. But while we’re waiting on those sunflowers to simmer…

I have a story about this weekend to share. It all started when I got a note from my friend Laetitia asking if I wanted to get together. It’s been hard finding time to sit with friends lately, even though it is one of my all-time favorite activities. But it had been a very long time since I’d seen her. Too long. I cleared my schedule Saturday to make it work.

We’d gone back and forth a few times on plans, and even postponed it from last weekend, when Valentine’s Day got in the way. But finally, the time had come. I’d just wrapped up a weekend writing project and was excited to get out and see this sweet friend.

I arrived at the coffee shop right on time, 3:30 p.m. She wasn’t there yet, and I hadn’t had lunch, so I decided to order a little something. The menu had been expanded to include more food items since my last visit, and I was thrilled to see the Reuben sandwich included. And soup, too. My father loved a hearty Reuben and was also a big fan of all different kinds of soup. I can’t help but think of him when I order that combination. And it had been a while since a Reuben had come my way, so  was ready!

At 3:32 I thought I’d better text just to make sure we were on track: “Just got here and ordered lunch. I haven’t eaten yet,” I typed. Then I thought I’d better make sure we were thinking of the same location, since this coffee shop has two. “25th right?”

“Yes,” she replied. Good. Certainly, she’ll be here any minute, I thought. “See you soon!” I texted back.

I sat down and checked my email. My food was announced. I collected everything and sat down to enjoy it. I had my back to the door so I kept looking back so I’d catch her eye when she arrived.

Which would be any minute now. Right?

Or not.

I enjoyed each bite of the Reuben and every last drip of soup. I thought of how my Dad used to use ice cubes to cool off my hot soup when I was little and we were eating at one of the many greasy spoon cafes he loved. I was enjoying my time filling up and warming up. But I was alone still. No Laetitia.

I paused. Should I order a drink now? Where could she be? Finally, a text came in. “Are we at 2 different locations???”

Oh no. Oh NO! No wonder she hadn’t arrived yet. Now, how did this get mixed up? Weren’t we clear?

“25 Dunn,” I texted. Then, for clarification, “Are you at Caribou?”

:) I am at Caribou 25 and 13. Yes.”

“Ahhh, that’s where things went wrong,” I texted back. “I’ll head over. I thought you’d said Dunn.”

And she had. I confirmed it. But, you know how it goes, right? Two different coffee shops with the same name in the same town in different locations. It’s bound to happen every once in a while.

When we finally found each other…at the wrong coffee shop…we laughed for about the first 20 minutes. Before we could do any real updates, Laetitia felt compelled to explain the scenario from her end. We laughed some more, realizing that each of us was waiting for the other at another location, and how mixed up the texts were as we were thinking of two completely different scenarios.

In the end, it didn’t matter. We had a cozy conversation there in the wrong coffee place. It was truly lovely, and our little mishap made it even all the more lively and real.

Besides. I think I was meant to savor that soup alone, thinking about my Daddy, just him and me, so that my heart would be even more full and ready by the time Laetitia and I found one another.
Q4U: What’s your favorite sandwich and soup combination?

   Feb 20

faith & family fridays: surprise! a song for our book!

I still remember how I learned about the song. “I have something to share with you,” Ramona wrote in a text. “Do you have a minute?” Soon, we were talking by phone and she told me about the song she and her daughter Lorena had written together; a song that was linked to the book we were in the middle of writing together about her life — Redeemed by Grace. “Cool, send it to me!” I said.

I found it in my email inbox the next morning. I was lying in bed when I opened the file on my smartphone and began listening. And as I did, shivers began running through my body. The good kind of shivers. The kind of shivers you can’t plan but that tell you something extraordinary has just taken place.

I sprang out of bed to find someone with whom I could share it. It was Christmas break, and my oldest daughter was up making coffee. She would be the first guinea pig. Being close to Lorena’s age, she responded with great interest to the song. If she wasn’t awake before, she was now!

This is something different, I thought. This is unique. A song written in the middle of our fleshing out the chapters of a book about Ramona’s life. A song about her life’s journey. Written by her, and refined and performed by her sweet daughter. The same daughter that, when Ramona got pregnant at 16, might have drawn a few scrutinizing glances their way.

And yet here she is now, beautiful inside and out, and with this natural gift that did not come from years of lessons but the sheer will to tap into a gift that God had bestowed on her long ago, even while she was being knit in her mother’s womb.


The song still gives me shivers. Honestly, I’ve cried while listening to it. And in difficult times I’ve found it healing. It’s mesmerizing in many ways. So when Ignatius Press talked of possibly doing a book trailer about a month ago, I chimed in, “Hey, there’s this song…” Would they consider using it with the trailer? It seemed a perfect fit. And truly, what a unique and beautiful thing. As both a music and word lover, I couldn’t help but see the sparkling treasure add our laps; something that would only add even more to the gift coming from Ramona’s soul, with the help of my hand.

So now, for the first time ever, we’re sharing with the world, here on Peace Garden Mama, the song, “Only You,” in its entirety — not just the bit that was part of the book trailer, which I’ll also post below.

But first, allow me to let Ramona her own version of how it came to be. Trust me, you will want to read to the end, then listen for the couple minutes it takes.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever – by Ramona Trevino

I’ve always been a fan of poetry, music, and art.  As the first line in John Keats’ famous poem states, a thing of beauty IS truly a joy forever. That’s exactly how I feel about the song, “Only You,” that I wrote with my daughter, Lorena. This song brings me a tremendous amount of joy for many reasons, and my hope is that it will bring others that same joy, because, well- it’s beautiful.

“Only You” is a song that was truly a prompting of the Holy Spirit. I was inspired to write this song after hearing a woman who sings and shares her personal testimony and conversion via song. I was so moved by her story and the lyrics to her songs that I was instantly compelled to do the same with my own story.

Beautiful music has a way of moving us. It has a way of speaking to our hearts, allowing us to interpret the lyrics however we see fit. It has a way of healing us, a way of inspiring us, and a way of speaking for us when we can’t find the right words. Music has a way of telling a story, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do with this song. I wanted to write a song from my heart that was inspired by my own personal story, “Redeemed by Grace.”

On the evening of December 22, I told my daughter, Lorena, “Go grab your guitar! I’m feeling inspired.” She returned, we sat down, I wrote, she composed and in about 20 minutes we had a song. We had a piece of poetry that summarized my whole life in just a few lines. We had a song that has moved me and others to tears.

For me, this song has even greater meaning than just its beauty. My daughter, Lorena, has never trained or studied music in her life. She picked up the guitar one day at the age of 13 and just began to play, compose, and write her own songs. So when she sat with me on that cold winter night in December and produced this beauty of a song, it only further confirmed how God has gifted my daughter with such great talent in the hope that she would one day glorify him through them.

When I discovered that “Only You” would be used in the book trailer for my book I was over the moon. Not only was I overjoyed to share the news with my daughter, but overjoyed that others would have the opportunity to listen to her beautiful voice and witness a truly special gift that God bestowed upon this special girl I have the privilege of calling my daughter.

And now, introducing, for the first time ever in full, “Only You,” by Ramona and Lorena, performed by Lorena :  Only You


The book trailer that includes the song…

Q4U: When did God last touch your heart with song?

   Feb 18

writing wednesdays: how did these characters add to our book launch?

They were an added bonus, and I look forward to sharing just how.

Come read the full scoop over at Peace Garden Writer!

   Feb 16

meaningful mondays: peek at chapter 1, and be a fly on the wall of our webcast tonight, Feb. 16!

Those who’ve been reading my blog the past weeks know that I’ve written a book about former Planned Parenthood manager Ramona Trevino, and that it’s coming out soon. Well, soon is now! This is the week our book, “Redeemed by Grace,” launches!

You can be among the first to read the first chapter of this beautiful story of a soul and the redemptive grace that saved her from darkness!

Here’s a sneak peek…

But if you sign up to take part in the online web chat tonight — hosted by 40 Days for Life co-founder David Bereit — you’ll get to read the rest, just by clicking this link to register:

Simply share your name and email so you’ll be able to log on tonight (8 p.m. Central/9 p.m. Eastern), and the first chapter will be immediately available.

Then tonight, you’ll get to hear the whole inside scoop from a panel of pro-life warriors, including these three — all people who played some part in Ramona’s life-changing conversion. I’ll be among them to share my part as the writer.

We’ll talk. You just have to listen. It’s that easy. And it will be about an hour of your time, but we are pretty sure you’ll come away from it enlightened and blessed.

Go ahead and pay bills, get your kids another glass of water, feed the dog, whatever you need to do during the web chat. Just have the volume turned up loud enough so you don’t miss anything.

This is the last chance I’ll have to pull you in so please join us while you can! After tomorrow, it’s too late. I look forward to hearing later what you thought!

Just a few more things before I go. It was a sweet weekend. Troy and I attended a Couples’ Night Out that our church hosted, complete with a meal and dancing, and were the lucky winners of one of two door prizes to attend next year’s event. So, we’ve got Valentine’s Day 2016 already planned!

Love is a good thing, and Ramona’s story is about love, too. The love of God, and learning to love herself enough to make choices that would lead to a joyful soul.

We all deserve that, and I hope Ramona’s story inspires you and others to want it even more.

P.S. If you’ve reached this post through Fr. Paul’s bulletin this weekend (Sts. A/J family), just go down a post and you’ll find the one you came looking for. Thanks for reading this one, too! You’re more than welcomed to join the webcast tonight, too!

Q4U: Will you join us tonight? And even more, tell me what you thought of it afterward? Also, please pray for Ramona, who is ready to have a baby any day now. And for another member of our book team who recently experienced the loss of a dear relative. Thank you!

   Feb 11

writing wednesdays: what is a book trailer anyway?

We’ve got one, and we’re pretty excited about it. It’s just one more way of presenting the book we’ve been waiting for months now to share with you all.

It features the author, Ramona, who gives just some glimpses of the story she told and I wrote.

Ramona’s quite a special person. I look forward to sharing more soon. For now, catch a little of her on the trailer, which you’ll find over at Peace Garden Writer today!


   Feb 09

meaningful mondays: on a jet plane…with her five kids

It’s not me but my friend Sarah who left today. Like, moved, for real and forever, perhaps.

Here we were on Friday in her now-empty, sun-lit family room:

It was her final day in her home, which happens to be just due north of our home, on the other side of the school that comes in between. We just found out, on Friday, that we moved into this neighborhood the same year. Only we didn’t know of one another at the time.

Well, I knew of Sarah through her brother, a priest whom I very much admire. I knew he had a sister in town, and that she had five kids, and a statue of Mary in her front yard. But I didn’t know she was so physically near to me. I had no idea.

Then last year, at a couple’s night out hosted by our church, we landed at the same table. Imagine our surprise when mentioning where in Fargo we lived, we both said the same thing. “We live by (school).” “Really? We do too!”

And then this fall we ended up in a Bible study together, and that sort of sealed the deal for what has becoming a flowering friendship built on faith.

Sarah is one of those people that brings life to a room. The two of us often arrived together to our study group. With so many details to tend to before walking out the door, we’d almost always come a little late, flying in together, giggling at our similar habits and inability to be early.

Sarah is the kind of person who, when things get heavy and deep, can immediately bring light and clarity and joy to a situation. It’s a gift, and we all knew it, but you kind of take it for granted. You just assume, well, this is the way it will always be. This person will always be around to sprinkle joy like this.

And then the announcement, and the “for sale” sign, and the goodbye party, and the attempt to put on a happy face. Because as Christians, we know that we never really say goodbye, and that it’s selfish, really, to think that we ought to have a person all to ourselves. Especially when someone brings joy, we know well that God is likely wanting them to spread that around a little. And yet, we can admit it. It’s still hard. Especially when it’s someone like Sarah.

And we both felt and verbalized this, too: a tinge of regret. To think that all those years, we could have been stopping by one another’s homes for tea, coffee, to commiserate about some of the challenges of being in the club of Moms of 5. Not only Moms of 5, but moms who both experienced a sixth pregnancy after child number two, along with the loss of that third child. And each of us, not knowing of the other at the time, named our children who made quick trips to heaven “Gabriel.”

God’s ways are surprising, and often not predictable. I had been getting to know Sarah more this year, and then, right at the end, in those sacred hours before leaving for good, she opened up her home to me, emptied out the contents of her fridge, brought me on a tour of her empty house, and cried with me over things that are on my mother heart, not to mention rejoiced with me over good things that are happening. It was a meeting that might have seemed too late, and yet it gave us a chance to laugh when her teenage son, promising to take a nice photo of us, decided to click prematurely to get this lovely shot (Sarah is very expressive and uses lots of hand gestures, and I love her all the more for it!):

We could go on mourning lost chances, or perhaps it would be much better to see the blessing that we did meet after all. Because as we hugged goodbye, the moving van looming large and long and sucking the contents of her home to be transported hundreds of miles from our Fargo neighborhood…

…I felt something happening. The deepening of a bond that, though late in coming perhaps, came all the same. And because we live in the age we do, this separation does not have to be so hard. We can stay in touch, continue to share the highs and lows, be comrades to one another in the journey ahead.

I’m trying to focus on that now. I must. Because saying goodbye is hard no matter what. It just is. But this isn’t the end. This is, in a way, the beginning. God found a way to bring us together late, so there must be a reason for that. I am eager to learn what He has in mind for this friendship, even from afar.

Now, more than ever, we’re counting on those little ones, those third babies who slipped past us all too quickly, our children we did not have adequate time to love, to be lights to us, and intercede from above. Sarah, in particular, needs a few prayers as she makes this move to her new home in Colorado, where her husband has been already working at his new job for a while now.

I can’t help but call upon St. Raphael, patron saint of travelers, to help usher her through. It’s a good one to have near for anyone who will be traveling at any point in the future. It is not just about the traveling, but what we’re to find along the way and on the other side.

Prayer to St. Raphael for Travelers

“O Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, toward those who are waiting for us: Raphael, Angel of happy meeting, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for. May all our movements be guided by your light and transfigured with your joy.

“Angel, guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him on whose unveiled face you are privileged to gaze. Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of life, we feel the need of calling you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country. Remember the weak, you who are strong, you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God.


Ah, Sarah, I miss you already, but I feel so blessed to have known you in any measure. I am already anticipating the next hug with those incredible Colorado mountains that beckon so beautifully in the background!

Q4U: When did a meeting that seemed to come to late become a blessing to you all the same?

   Feb 04

writing wednesdays: the mysterious box

What could it possibly be?

I couldn’t remember ordering anything…not lately.

But then it dawned on me.

Maybe, just maybe…!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So was it? Well, go here to see!

   Feb 02

meaningful mondays: meeting mr. rustad through my daughter’s tears

I remember seeing the six-pack of Tab soda in the kitchen the first day of school this year. My oldest daughter, a junior at Shanley High School, was on a mission. She’d purchased the once-popular pop for one of her teachers, and was now intent on presenting it to him at school the next day.



“Someone still drinks Tab?” I thought, suddenly hearing the old Tab commercial from my childhood in my head. And yet I couldn’t help but admire whomever this was from the get go. Anyone who could keep this old drink alive and convince his students, the first day of school even, to keep his stock replenished must have a great sense of humor or be quite clever, and probably both.

Due to family logistics, I didn’t go to my daughters’ high school conferences this past fall, so I didn’t have a chance to meet Mr. Randall Rustad, the history teacher “O” has come to adore. Oh I would hear the stories, and sometimes, in my mind, even get him mixed up with his son — the younger Mr. Rustad, also a teacher at our school.

The elder Mr. Rustad in earlier years at Shanley High School

But in time, I would sort it out, by necessity and some urgency.

Last Saturday, while in D.C. for the March for Life, we received some disconcerting news from our high school principal back home.

“Randall Rustad had a heart attack early this morning. He has since had a stint put in to remove blockage in his major artery. He is doing better but the doctor said he is not out of the woods. We will share additional information as we can.”

We were on the bus at the time, on the way to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and immediately, we went into prayer mode, dedicating a Rosary for the teacher who had made it through but was in fragile condition.

Shortly after arriving at the basilica, one of the other chaperones who works at the school pulled me aside. She’d left her camera on the bus but wanted to know if I could take a photo with mine in the chapel dedicated to JPII, our school’s patron saint, and include in it the candle that had just been lit in honor of Mr. Rustad. She wanted everyone back home to know we were storming the heavens from our post in D.C. for this beloved man.

After we returned to Fargo, I learned that my oldest daughter, who’d stayed back to work and help out at home, had been doing a service project with Mr. Rustad on Friday, just a day before his heart attack. Suddenly, that time she’d spent in his care and guidance with the other students seemed all the more precious.

And so the prayers continued. Then, Thursday night, reports started coming in through social media that Mr. Rustad, having taken a turn for the worst, had passed. I looked for confirmation online, but found none. Our hope was to visit Mr. Rustad Friday morning since my daughter dearly wanted to see him. The next morning, reports continued to be conflicting. A local news station had even reported his death, and yet nothing had come in from the school. Finally, a friend called the hospital and learned he was still with us. What a beautiful moment it was for us to realize that we might get a chance to pay a visit to Mr. Rustad after all. This moment of second chances before me, I cleared my afternoon schedule to bring my daughter and her friend to the hospital, where the family was gladly accepting visitors.

They lovingly welcomed us, and we stayed for about 30 minutes, my daughter, her friend and I, listening to their stories, watching them stroke his arm and say what needed saying, opening and reading the colorful cards that had been pouring in from his students. It brought me back two years to Jan. 2013, when I was the daughter near my gravely-ill father’s side.

What might have been an excruciatingly difficult scene was, instead, a picture of faith and the love of family. Yes, there was the recognition that death was likely near. But also the realization that each moment more was a gift. The family’s willingness to welcome us into that sacred space spoke of generosity and, again, of a faith in God deep enough to include others who had loved their father, husband, brother. When we left, my daughter’s friend thanked me for bringing her, and both said they were grateful we’d gone.

Saturday, we received the news that this dear soul had been transferred to his home, and early that morning, passed through to the other side of the veil. Our school chaplain sent out a note that he’d be saying a Mass at the chapel for anyone who wanted to come and pray for Mr. Rustad’s soul and his family.

As we turned into the parking lot just before 5 p.m., the school marquee loomed large and sweet.

I can’t think of any better words to demonstrate the kids’ love for this man, who was the center of many pranks through the years, but who seemed a very willing participant…

Rustad Prank at Shanley, 2012 (WDAY story)

A teller of ghost stories, especially at the old Shanley building in North Fargo, which was replete with sightings of ghostly beings….

(Hear Mr. Rustad’s account of ghost sightings at old Shanley.)

And who found ways of making sure his supply of an outdated diet cola was kept fresh and flowing.

Tab commercial, 1982

Just this fall, he was interviewed by our friend, Scott Hennen, on his radio show.

Radio interview with Scott Hennen, Aug. 21, 2014 

The Tab he mentions at the beginning of the interview? The same Tab my daughter helped supply.

Also Saturday morning, I read a Caringbridge update on someone else for whom we had prayed on our pilgrimage to D.C., Michelle Duppong, a young woman from western North Dakota battling stage 4 colon cancer. Her sister wrote the following in her update after having paid visits to two ailing friends:

“When Shell and I were leaving the hospital, something struck me.  I turned to her and said, “Do you realize that we just visited Jesus twice?  I mean, Jesus said, “When I was sick you visited me.”  …I’m sure that many of the people who’ve visited Shell during her hospital stays didn’t realize that they were making a “mini-pilgrimage”– they’ve gone out of their way to do an act of charity.  And Christ tells us that whatever we do unto others, both good and bad things, we do unto Him. How beautiful! That must be why I felt joy inside me after leaving both Annette and aunt Donna’s rooms despite the circumstances. I had just visited Christ.”

As we were leaving the hospital room Friday, I slipped over to Mr. Rustad’s side and made the sign of the cross on his beautiful forehead. I can’t imagine how hard it was for my daughter to see him in that unresponsive state, but because of my experience this year with the study, “Consoling the Heart of Jesus,” I was able to see Jesus in Mr. Rustad, as Renae had described, and had the same awareness that in visiting that hospital room, I’d just visited Jesus. What a privilege.

My crossing with Mr. Rustad came too late, and yet…I have come to know him even so. Not through a parent-teacher conference, but through the tears in my daughter’s eyes. As hard as that is, how blessed I am for it. For her tears tell me that someone mattered to her a great deal. Someone who, when I wasn’t around, had made her laugh and live more than she might have otherwise. And that… makes Mr. Rustad my hero.

May the perpetual light shine upon you, dear RRR. Thank you for sharing your life with my daughter. She was one of the last students in your charge, and we will be eternally grateful for that last vibrant day of yours on the earth. Enjoy your new home, but — and I mean this in all seriousness — please save some Tab for us!

   Jan 26

meaningful mondays: march for life 2015 surprise

I’m still recovering from the March for Life 2015 trip, and what a trip it was!



This post is going to be visual heavy, but I have to share at least some of it verbally. There was so much more than the March but I’ll focus on that only today.

First off, the Plan A didn’t happen. I was slated to be interviewed on EWTN about the book I helped write that is coming out next month. Mass before the March meant I had to hustle to the EWTN tent and wait my turn.

It was fascinating watching the pro-life bigwigs come in and, one by one, step into the spotlight with EWTN host Teresa Tomeo. I was pumped up and ready to go.

But as time wore on, doubts took hold. I was conflicted between standing there much longer and joining our North Dakota crew, whom I could see just across the way stationed in front of the main stage, where our spokesperson, Shanley senior Julia Johnson, was set to give a talk to the throngs of people gathered.

Finally, things began gearing up and I saw the organizer say to Teresa, “We’re done.” She wanted to to know if they could do a few more interviews to record for later, but the answer came: no. It wasn’t going to work.

So off I went, grabbing everything I’d need for the main event. My disappointment was there, but fleeting as I worked through the crowd, nervous now that I wouldn’t make it to the front of the line in time to march with our crew. Thousands were gathering and I kept losing my fellow North Dakotan also heading that way as we wove in and out of the bustling bunch.

But at least I knew my chances of finding them this year would be better than any other. Just head to the front! Finally, I found them, and we were just minutes from starting off. I raised my camera to take a photo and…what? “Full Card.” I was out of room! But God’s grace flowed in through a fellow parent-photographer friend, Gretchen, who just happened to have extras. “Thank you Jesus,” I’m pretty sure I said out loud.

And then, at the cue, we were off!


I was planning on being somewhere near the front, I’d hoped, but within a short amount of time, a few of us parents had somehow been pulled into the media circle ahead of the front line.

Could this really be happening? Would I be allowed to stay here? Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d be not only up front but in front of the front. I snapped away, one photo after the other, knowing that this was indeed a moment in my life that would stand out as a highlight.

The other parents who’d gotten lucky with me and I couldn’t stop smiling. We were elated at being able to see the up close glimpse of our kids, and the smiles on their faces as they marched and chanted. Their joy was something to behold.

As we approached the big hill leading to the capitol and the Supreme Court steps, we ran ahead further so we could get a bird’s eye view shot. We were giddy, ecstatic, so incredibly excited. This would be the pivotal moment and our best chance to see the whole march.

The police and their motorcycle brigade were like body guards to our line of hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers. And the scene from on high? Just as spectacular as we’d imagined.

At the top, the air shifted…

Soon, we realized something was going on up ahead. A small group of protesters — 50 to 100 in all — had gathered to block us.

They had signs, too, declaring their opposition to what we were doing. But they didn’t have permits like we did to march in the streets, and so at least eight of their most defiant were arrested.

My 14-year-old witnessed much of this, while I stayed near our group, which waited calmly for the police to give us the green light to continue.

At the conclusion, we all met at the capitol steps for the customary group photo. And a short time after that, Senator John Hoeven stopped by to say hello, and bring a few giggles to our tired crew.

One of my favorite moments was this one, when at the conclusion of this incredible event, I had a moment to catch up with my daughter and give her a little squeeze. I’m so glad we experienced this together, even if for some of the time we were separated. We will always have this memory to share with one another.

I’m still pinching myself over how Plan A eluded me, but Plan B? Oh, it was even better. Having a chance to be part of the most vibrant energy of the March by being at the lead — even before the lead — was beyond exciting. I didn’t forget to thank God for the beautiful chance He put before me when my own plan floated away.

He has it all in hand, and it’s good. Very good. And just like the motto of this year’s March: “Every life is a gift!” A good and precious treasure.

Q4U: Did you catch any of the March for Life coverage or read any of the reports afterwards? What did you notice? What did you think?

   Jan 19

meaningful mondays: DC bound…again!

I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do this trip again. Fifty hours on a bus, squished for a large amount of that time in the fetal position, with hundreds of zeal-filled teenagers.

Last time around, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. And then my father died just weeks before, and I wondered, can I do this? Do I even want to?

I took a chance and went on the trip, my heart still heavy with the loss of my daddy, wearing his flannel shirt for both physical and spiritual warmth.

The experience turned out to be an incredible one, beyond my expectations. Even more, I was blessed to experience it with my oldest daughter.

And though I returned swollen from the walking and cramped quarters, my heart was lighter, healed by a journey that stood for what my father was about: the full-out embrace of new life.

Last year I stayed home, but as this year’s trip came closer to reality, I found myself yearning to be there once again, and so I’ve tossed aside my hesitations, knowing full well what I’m getting myself into, and am diving in whole; this time, with my youngest daughter as a fellow comrade.

I’ve got my battery “juice pack” ready to go in the event my camera will lose steam — which it no doubt will.

And the Rosary a friend made with my favorite Advent colors, and just delivered last week? Perfect for this journey. We will be saying plenty of prayers along the way.

I also went shopping for some new headgear to wear on live, national television. It’s not FOX News or CNN, but it’s looking likely I’ll be interviewed on the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) the day of the March. So if you’re watching television on Jan. 22 or live stream (here) via computer, sometime between 10 to noon Eastern time you just might see me chatting to Teresa Tomeo about the forthcoming book I helped write!

My one regret is that I’ve been wanting for several years now to get my boys signed up and trained to be altar servers. This year was finally the year it came together, but wouldn’t you know, the first time they are “on deck” together will be the Sunday I am gone. My mama heart is a little sad I’ll miss it, but I know they’re going to do great. I’m so happy they’ll have the chance to serve God and be so close to Him through this ministry.

Finally, my heart swelled with happiness at opening the Forum yesterday and seeing that my friend Roberta’s daughter, Julia, and our school had been highlighted.

As a good journalist will do, Robin sought out the contrary thought to this trip as well as the positive. It came mainly from one of our students’ mothers, who feels this journey will be a big waste of time and energy. It saddened me to read that, after all I have seen the kids do to make this trip possible. But when I read Father Charles’ and Julia’s response to the negativity, I knew once again that goodness and light prevail.

I keep a photo of Julia’s mama, Roberta, on a bulletin board in my room displaying images of those we’ve lost, and lately, I’ve been looking up at Roberta’s face with such joy, one mother to another.

What we’re witnessing in this incredible young woman, her daughter, is in large part a direct result of the love and life Roberta poured into her. I know she is beaming brightly from the other side of the veil, and that she will be right there with us as we march and as Julia speaks before hundreds of thousands before the Supreme Court.

We march because we love, and that’s as simple and profound as it gets.

Please pray for our journey. I look forward to sharing the blessings of this trip upon our return! I’m likely to be silent for a week but I will be back post-march!

   Jan 16

faith & family fridays: an artist’s quest to sketch for life

A couple months back, while serving as a fill-in host for Real Presence Radio, I had a chance to interview local artist Karen Bakke about an upcoming adventure.

Karen has been making a visual account of her world since her earliest years, when a teacher noticed her artistic talent and encouraged her to pursue art as a vocation.

As a lifelong, faithful Catholic, Karen has a heart for God’s beautiful unfolding story of life through His people, and is masterful at depicting these life-giving scenes, whether through the murals she creates or the canvassed paintings that come to life at her hands.

Later last year, Karen began feeling inspired to do something special with her gifts, and a prayer led her to wonder what it would be like to sketch the experience of the 2015 March for Life. We almost always have the story in photographs and news print in some fashion, but what might she contribute, through her art, that could show another, completely visual, side of the story?

With this on her heart, Karen connected with a group of Catholic high school students here in Fargo — Shanley Teens for Life — and asked their advisers whether she could accompany them on their journey to the March in Washington, D.C., to create a sketched, visual account of the journey.

Karen’s sketch pre-trip of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, DC

The powers that be said, “Yes,” so in a couple of days, Karen will board one of eight buses in a North Dakota entourage heading East to carry out her artistic mission to sketch for life.

At the end of it all, Karen will find a way to pull some of the pieces from this quest into something life-giving that others will be able to absorb and enjoy.

As a local faith writer, I was assigned by the editor of our diocesan publication, New Earth, to trail Karen and write a story about her visual journey through the March. I’m really looking forward to keeping an eye on Karen and how she’s using her art to document this story. This year, our school was selected out of hundreds to carry the lead banner of the march along Constitution Avenue — an annual event that takes place on behalf of the women, babies and families whose lives are forever altered by abortion every day in our nation.

I look forward to sharing more with you soon. For now, would you join us in prayer for the success of this pilgrimage? I’ll be going as both writer and floating chaperone, helping to play a small role in ensuring those who participate from our corner of the world will have a life-changing experience.

I’ve done this trip one other time, two years ago, and it was one of the most spiritually enriching experiences of my life. This year will be a different journey of course, and right now, I am looking at the blank pages that, in a week’s time, will be filled to the brim.

There’s also a chance I’ll be interviewed on EWTN about the book I’ve helped write that will be coming out soon, so if you can, watch the coverage from home and maybe you’ll see me in my winter gear before the March begins.

Thanks for any prayers you might offer for this pilgrimage. Most of all, I want to glorify God along the way and look for the signs of what He wants me to see so I can share what He wants you to see with you

Q4U: How has art transformed you and your faith journey?

   Jan 12

meaningful mondays: the best gift from my father

I changed my cover photo on Facebook this past week, pulling down the beautiful Christmas scene that showed Jesus in the manger as a light on a dark night, and replacing it with this:

Notice the hands, especially, my daughters tiny fingers grasping my father’s large hand, and her soft cheeks contrasting Dad’s older skin, worn and wise. This is such a precious moment. There are many photos of Dad with our children, but this one delights me so much because it epitomizes how he was with our kids, down on the floor, making silly noises, interacting with them, celebrating them up close and personal.

To me, this was Dad saying, “You matter. You are tiny but you are important. See me? I see you!”

I loved that. I miss that. It’s been two years since he died and he grows more special to me every day. I feel him near often, especially around this time of year near the anniversary of his death, which was yesterday. I feel his loving, paternal presence. I pray for him, and trust that he is praying for us, too,  nudging or family in the ways he can from the other side of the veil, hoping we’ll keep looking up, keep pointing ourselves toward the path that will bring us all together again someday.

In reflecting on his life this past week, especially in looking at this image, a major theme stood out and made me feel an abundance of gratitude. It was the way my father welcomed his grandchildren into the world.

My father didn’t have a lot to offer in terms of worldly things. Toward the end of his life, his work productivity was not much. He’d let go of his beautiful gift of writing and lived a very simple life with my mother, focusing mainly on just living each day and keeping up with his favorite team, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

But what he did offer in great supplies was unconditional love. Even when he couldn’t do much physically to love us, he always let me know that I was loved, and that my children were a gift. As our family grew, and some in our lives grew concerned our family size was going to tip the world’s population off balance, my father didn’t so much as pause at the announcement of a new grandchild. To him, it was always a blessing to hear news of another soul coming into the world. He was my favorite person to call with the news that another baby had come into being.

Looking at old photos especially, I see traces of my children in him, and it makes me smile.

In a world that isn’t necessarily open to new life, I cannot tell you how relieved I would feel after sharing pregnancy news with my father. Can there be any greater gift to one who has just learned of a new life within, knowing those in your life see the development as nothing but pure blessing? His reaction toward life stands out so strongly now, and I cannot thank my father enough for reminding me that even though life would involve sacrifice, it was always, unequivocally, a hopeful thing.

I’m sure this had to do with the fact that my father was the youngest boy in a family of seven, growing up during the Great Depression (he’s bottom right, with his sweet mama’s arm on his shoulder). He knew that other considerations besides financial go into approaching new life.

I thanked him the day he died for this precious gift, and I will never stop being grateful for the best gift my father could have given me. Thank you, Daddy, for being so welcoming to all of us, not because of anything we had done but just because we are. That says so much about your good heart and I hope you know now how very good it really was and is.

I will be retiring this photo of the two of us as my blog banner soon, so I wanted to highlight it again here before it slips away for a while. I’ve kept it, unchanged, since Dad’s death two years ago and it has brought me much peace.

Q4U: What gift did a loved one of yours who has passed on leave you?

   Jan 09

faith & family fridays: why are priests so happy?

This is old news, from a study done several years ago — 2011 — but I remember reading about it and I’ve thought about it a lot in the ensuing years — the finding that priests are among some of the happiest folks around.

Father Tim and Baby Beth, June 11, 2000

The results struck me for several reasons. One, because priest scandals and other issues surrounding the Church of today had erroneously led me to conclude that because of all these “clergy gone wrong” stories, certainly, morale must be down within the clergy. So priests happy? What gives?

A Zenit article from that same year suggested several reasons for our surprised reaction to the finding. “Some modern thinkers suggest that the only way to true human happiness is to be freed from the constraints of religion. They see religion as repressive of one’s true human freedom and humanity. Thus, using this logic, being a priest must be the unhappiest life of all.”

The article also noted that, “To hear that priests are among the happiest people in the country is met with disbelief…The fact of priestly happiness is a fundamental and powerful challenge to the modern secular mind.”

I would have thought sacrifices inherent in the work of the clergy, including celibacy, would have contributed to low satisfaction rates as well. After all, doesn’t the world suggest just the opposite as an antidote for unhappiness? An unencumbered life with sexual intimacy at the ready?

But the findings also struck me because I’ve heard quite a few priests through the years — either those I’ve known as pastors and friends and those with whom I’ve worked — say they truly love their job and would make the same choice all over again if presented a do-over.

Since so many of us are constantly searching for happiness, this all seems fairly relevant and significant. While there may be many contributing factors to the outcome, however, after pondering this whole thing recently, I came up with a summary of why I believe clergy are among the happiest people around.

It all comes down to this: the inside matches the outside. And this can apply to all of us, not just clergy.

Many years ago, I attended a retreat given by an old Irish priest, and he defined happiness as the merging of the desires of the heart, the interior, with the lived reality on the exterior. The more those two are in sync, he’d said, the happier the person.

This made an impression because I hadn’t been exactly feeling, or living, with my interior and exterior in sync back then. I felt the separation of the two and it left me unsettled. I lived with what I see now as a wretched disparity that led to so much discontent.

When our interior and exterior are in accordance with one another, peace comes. And at this point in my life, I do feel that continuity, so I can say that, yes, it makes a huge difference. Right now, as a writer of faith, I feel a great synchronicity between the stirrings of my soul and my vocation as a wife, mother and writer. It’s really a beautiful thing when the pieces come together. I would wish this harmony for everyone, though I know, from personal experience, it’s not always easily or quickly achieved. It is worth the pursuit, however.

Obviously, not all priests and other clergy are happy, but by and large, it seems, most are. Which indicates to me that the interior-exterior match-up is, for the most part, working pretty well in that vocation.

According to the study, job satisfaction has very little connection to pay or social status. As this “Catholic Hotdish” blogger put it, “People are fulfilled when they are doing something worthwhile — when they have a job they feel makes a difference in the world.”

Q4U: What has your experience in this realm been? Does your inside match your outside, or are the two like two opposing sides of a magnet? Are your soul and body in harmony, or discord? If discord, what might you do to change that?

   Jan 07

writing wednesdays: this onion won’t make you cry

I’m grabbing an onion to help tell a tale today; the tale of a book about to be launched.

It won’t burn your eyes, I promise! But you have to follow the scent over to Peace Garden Writer to get the skin-ee.


   Jan 05

meaningful mondays: a sister’s fidelity

Just before the clock struck midnight New Year’s Eve, I received a notice on Facebook of an urgent prayer request from Bismarck. We were just about to clink our champagne glasses of sparkling grape juice here at home when, after checking the time on my phone, I read that a young woman — whose path I’d crossed briefly while working at the Fargo Diocese in 2012 — had ended her 2014 learning of a very unexpected stage-4 cancer diagnosis.

Though feeling very unsettled, I didn’t say anything to my family. Instead, I clinked away and celebrated the upcoming year with them. But inside, I was in knots just as the New Year was emerging.

From what I have observed, namely from attending at a faith conference a couple falls ago that Michelle helped organize and lead, she is a truly faith-filled young woman — the kind of person God would undoubtedly delight in having work on His behalf on this good but troubled earth for years to come.

I knew that in receiving this news, I was being called to be one of many prayer warriors for Michelle, who joins other friends in ardent need of prayer in 2015.

When I signed up to receive Michelle’s Caringbridge entries to keep up with her journey, I began reading her sister’s reflections and was quickly and deeply drawn in. I realized that being a prayer warrior for Michelle, though hopefully helpful to her, will also be a gift to me, too, as I keep up with her sister’s accounts.

“This is what faith is,” I thought. Faith is learning your loved one has just been handed a burden beyond comprehension and, by default, choosing to trust fully in the Lord anyway. Faith is facing a long, dark tunnel, wanting nothing more than to run screaming in the opposite direction, and yet taking his or her hand and leading them into the tunnel, and moving through it together, without any clarity on where it will lead. Just doing it. And trusting.

Could I do the same? I’m not so sure. None of us can know unless or until it happens to us, can we? So I figure the only thing we can do is prepare for that possible eventuality, hoping it will never be handed to us, but also that if it should come to it, we, too, would be as ready for God’s will as Michelle’s family seems to be.

In the renditions of what has taken place so far, I see absolutely no signs of hopelessness, despite the cloud that seems to loom over their lives at present. No. Michelle’s sister instead has chosen to focus on the gift of amazing doctors and taking one day at a time and seeing their cross as an opportunity to spend time with her dear one.

I’m not asking you to sign up for the journal entries — though please do if you feel compelled — but would you join me in praying for Michelle and her family? It seems an unjust thing that such a light would be at risk for being diminished. I just have to believe, as the family no doubt believes, that a miracle is coming. But just how will this miracle manifest? Perhaps it has already begun to unfold.

I will prayerfully watch and learn. Michelle and her sister have already taught me something new about faith, and for that I am grateful. Above all, I pray that good things will come this family’s way.

Q4U: What are your prayer requests for 2015? I’m happy to add them to my list, too!

   Jan 02

faith & family fridays: a leftover bone to pick (or throw or just chew on): do pets go to heaven?

This one kept coming onto my horizon towards the end of 2014, but it never get the attention I wanted to give it, so I thought I’d throw a bone to it now.

The topic is whether pets go to heaven. Traditionally, the Catholic Church has said, in nutshell, not likely. There’s a reason for that, beyond that the Church is plain old mean and wants people to feel sad. No, that’s not it at all.

From what I understand as a lay person (I’m no theologian), the reason the Church teaches thus is that animals and humans are not on the same level, and she wants to make sure we keep our being and relationship to God in proper perspective. While we humans enjoy and even are sustained in some cases by animals, they are not made in the image and likeness of God as we humans are. Because of this likeness to the creator, and the order in which he created us and the emphasis God put on our creation as man and woman, humans do have a special place in God’s heart that transcends his relationship with animals, even though animals are very special, too.

Trust me. I’ve been grappling with this for a long time. I’ve been a pet lover since my youngest years, and when my first “real” dog was killed by a car when I was about eight (I say real meaning he wasn’t another of the strays that had wandered into our yard on the reservation, where there was no leash law, but one I chose out of a litter), I wanted to believe more than anything that I would see my dog in heaven. His early death shattered me, and in my grief-stricken state, it brought solace to me to think I would see “Tickles” again someday.

Tickles 1, my first dog

But about a year later, my mother took me to a theater documentary movie called “Beyond and Back,” which detailed an investigation studying the reality of the soul. Part of this research included observing the human body before and right after death, and weighing the body (see 52.00 of documentary). Researchers discovered a very slight reduction in weight after death, which they posed could be evidence that the soul did have some mass and had exited the body, leading to a slightly lighter weight. When they conducted the same experiment on dogs, there was no such difference.

I remember looking up at my mom in the theater, and her at me. She knew what I was thinking. “My dog isn’t going to heaven, is he?”

The topic came up at difference points in my life, usually at the death of a pet. And though I’ve come to understand a little better the Church’s teaching over time, I still needed to work out a likelihood in my mind that made sense.

Geddy and Alex, our first “kids”

While I do believe that humans have eternal souls and that human beings are not on the same plane as animals, I also understand heaven to be a beautiful and wonderful place, containing some of the beings we loved most while on the earth. It makes sense to me that God, who can make anything happen, could conceivably arrange to have my pets end up in heaven someday, too.

Saying goodbye to Frasier, December 2000

I’m not completely settled on this topic, which has come up against recently. Pope Francis apparently gave a homily that made many pet lovers cheer at what they perceived to be his papal pronouncement confirming that animals indeed will be in heaven after all. Once again, it seemed, the pope was turning the Church on her head and bringing spiritual enlightenment into the dark world. Pet lovers everywhere celebrated.

Despite my longtime desire to see my deceased pets again someday, however, I was not as quick to jump on the band wagon. I have seen the media jump onto these things too quickly too often, and in doing so, relaying statements that are a bit slight of what was actually said. I’m not a fan of taking words out of the pope’s mouth and making them something he never intended, even though I still like thinking of my pets being in heaven.

From what I’ve read, the “animals go to heaven according to Pope Francis” was a case of his words likely being taken out of context. That’s not to say definitively that there won’t be animals in heaven. But it’s not clear. And though it matters, I guess what I’m wondering now is: how much?

As a grieving child, I needed that assurance.

Olivia with Sugar (deceased) and Spice

And as an adult, I still have a sense of all the good things I’ve known being in heaven. But…I am also at a certain place in my spiritual life that I am okay letting go of any definite ideas of what heaven will be like.

It will be nice if my deceased pets show up there, but what matters much more to me now is that the people I love are there. I do believe that animals have souls of sort, but I’m not sure whether they’re eternal souls, destined for the afterlife as ours are; something we can conclude by reason, and also, through the proofs of our faith.

I don’t want to take anything away from my friends who are hanging on with all their might to the idea that their pets will be, without a doubt, within the confines of the pearly gates. But I am gently challenging the insistence that that be so. Should we be attached to this idea? Or are we putting an unfair leash upon ourselves?

Is it possible we might be limiting heaven by making heaven only an extension of what we have known on this earth? Could we just trust that God will make heaven plenty palatable, pets or not?

It’s a tough one, isn’t it? Because we can only imagine what we have known. We cannot imagine something we have not known. Such as the possibility that heaven, as I’ve heard it proposed, will contain colors we have not yet seen. It’s fairly impossible to conceive of something that is not in existence in our world now. We can’t even begin to imagine…

I find peace in letting go of very definite ideas of heaven. I just don’t feel comfortable trying to box heaven into the limited world I have known and can conceive of now because I have known it. I think heaven will be much more than we can conceive and then some.

I do have a strong sense that heaven will be filled with human souls. There are some hints of this in Scripture, though much of it is vague and undefined. And that’s okay. There needs to be some mystery about the next life, and I suspect if we did know more, we couldn’t handle knowing it. So, better to just live the best lives we can now and keep our sights set on something very beautiful, but as of now, incomplete in our minds, it seems to me.

I don’t want to get attached to any specific ideas about heaven and I don’t think we’re meant to, but that doesn’t mean I don’t yearn for it. If my deceased pets do show up, I’ll be delighted, I’m sure. But I’ll be even more ecstatic to see my family members and friends all there. God willing, they all will be.

And maybe, perhaps, Marlene, Tammy, Salty, Sheba, Tickles, Midnight, Tickles 2, Corky, Alex, Geddy, Frasier and Sugar, too.

Q4U: What do you think? Pets in heaven, or no? Does it matter?

   Dec 22

meaningful mondays: a zany christmas party to save the world

It’s become one of my favorite events during the holiday season, and also, one of the most important. Each passing year, in fact, I’m more and more convinced that this little gathering, which takes place in the privacy of one of our homes, just might save the world.

The annual wig and nog and glog party begins, as all parties do, with an invitation, followed by a trip to the thrift store, sales rack or attic in search of the zaniest head gear possible.

This party is not for the glum. Only the merry are invited, and merry we are this night. You can’t help but be. There’s a reason for all our smiles, which I’m getting to, soon.

But back now to this idea of saving the world. It’s a bit ambitious, right? One most will say is as crazy as the head gear we wore at this year’s festivities. (My husband and I are in the back row, left.)

It’s a big idea, especially when considered from the outside, not to mention downright laughable! But on the inside, something else entirely is going on, because this party is all about marriage, and why we keep saying yes to it, over and over again, despite what the world seems to want, despite what sometimes seems logical, despite all the difficult moments.

We say yes, like Mary, who did not know in her “yes” all the joys and also trials that would come about because of that one word. Nevertheless, she said yes, and it is in large part because of that that we are saved. Because without Mary’s yes, the savior would not have been born. This is a fact of the most sizable proportions.

Our Marriage Encounter group has become more precious to me each year because I sense more and more the erosion of marriage, of the yes, of the hope of what the union of a man and woman can become. It is only through marriage that children can come into the world and be enveloped into a unit that ties them with their mother and father. Marriage is how our world has flourished. Each member within that unit becomes irreplaceable to each other. This is a big idea, and it’s real.

So every time we celebrate this seemingly impossible pairing of man and woman that often expands to include others, which leads to a world that is growing rather than fading, we are adding something valuable to the cause of the world’s sustenance.

We’re not here to judge those whose lives did not lead to the ideal. Ours didn’t either. We’re just here to say the daily yes can lead to a beautifully fulfilling life that’s worth reaching for. We all come to it broken, but hopeful, trusting mightily in the Lord and His promises.

Everyone in the group has a story to share, and the details are no less perfect than the blue, pink and burgundy strands of hair on our heads. But through God’s grace, and only through it, we are survivors, you might say, and we are here as witnesses to attest to the fact that it’s worth saying “yes” to marriage, even when it’s not easy.

Our evening always ends with a rousing and very competitive game of “The Newlywed Game.” It’s a blast to try to guess how our spouse has answered a list of questions posed in another room out of our ear shots. Though there is only one victor, we all go away feeling like winners just because we are still here, despite the odds.

We leave filled up on eggnog, glog and other Christmas treats, and walk out the door inspired at having seen, once again, the impossible in action, and ever more hopeful for what can be when the “yes” to one another becomes a living thing.

Dear Lord, please be with all those whose marriages are hurting this Christmas. Let them feel your hopeful, healing love. For those who are trying their best to say “yes” each day, be with them, too, in the daily struggles and joys. Help us be a witness to others, that in us, others might see a spark of something good and worthy that can only come from your heart. We cannot do this without you, Lord, so please, be with us now and always. Amen.

   Dec 17

writing wednesdays: email or phone?

Which do you prefer? Emailing or talking on the phone?

I don’t mean you have to always pick one or the other. Most of us need and do both. But if you had your druthers, which would it be?

One tends to suit the introvert more. I’m sure you can guess. But there’s more to say on that topic, and you have to dial Peace Garden Writer to get the skinny. I hope you will!


   Dec 15

meaningful mondays: o holy night

“It is just about time to change things. It is just about time to say: Fine, it was night, but let the night pass, and let us decide now for day. Let us decide with a determination that comes directly out of these terrifying experiences, out of these lived connections, and that is therefore completely unshakable, even in the midst of instability.” – Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., a German Jesuit priest condemned to death by the Nazis in Berlin, Germany

I am filled up with joy on this Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of JOY!

There is darkness yes, so much darkness, and yet we are there, now, when a light pierces the black. And it is a light so bright that nothing can diminish its warmth, beauty and goodness. Nothing.

Sunday night, we were privileged to watch our two daughters perform with their high school choir’s 2014 candlelight Christmas concert, “My Soul in Stillness Waits.” Even the words in the program alone were enough to move me, without one single note of music. But when the music came? I was moved, and my heart set right.

One of the first songs, “Muusika,” asks a question:

“It must be somewhere, the original harmony, somewhere in the great nature, hidden. Is it in the furious infinite, in distant stars’ orbits, is it in the sun’s scorn, in a tiny flower, in tree-gossip, in heart-music’s mothersong, or in tears? It must be somewhere, immortality, somewhere in the original harmony must be found: how else could it infuse the human soul, that music?”

What a beautiful, deeply meaningful time of year is Advent, which leads into the climactic moment of Christ’s birth — God’s touchdown in our misery-ridden world.

Recently, someone on Facebook asked what my favorite Christmas song is. I have a couple, but the one that has been in my heart the longest is “O Holy Night.” One year, quite a while ago now, I sang the solo for this song at midnight Mass. And nights like Sunday night bring it all back in a most beautiful way. Time stands still and I go back; back to the night of my solo, and then further back yet, to the night a babe was born who turned the world upside down in the most awesome way possible.

Do we realize how blessed we are to have this as our vision? I dearly hope we have not forgotten. Our yearly celebration of Christmas is a reminder. Let us not forget. Let us not lose sight of what we are moving toward!

The blessing of Sunday evening was enhanced by our two daughters singing, our Bishop John Folda on piano, a string quartet, a hand-bell choir, our very incredible choir director, Rebecca Raber, and a few other extras. (Listen to O Holy Night here.) Now, if I can just hold this night close to help gently illuminate the path in the crazy days ahead.

Q4U: What song sings in your soul this Advent?

   Dec 08

meaningful mondays: the gift of dance


It might be hard for many to appreciate just how big this gift was for us.

Our youngest son, dancing in this year’s Advent program — a program that has been launching our Advent season in a most beautiful way for the past 12 years or so. Some of those years, our children have been background participants, and other years they’ve had larger roles.

We have just one year left after this one before our youngest moves on to middle school, and when that day comes, these programs likely will be part of our memory only. I will miss them, and miss my young kids looking out into the crowd, searching for their mama as my guy did here.

The combination of knowing we’re nearing the end, mixed in with how hard a year it’s been with our teenagers, and the fact that a good friend of ours is the hardworking choreographer for these annual events, made it especially emotional this time around.

I didn’t cry. Well, maybe a tear sneaked out right at the end during the signature piece, which leaves most of us moms a happy mess (see link below).

But mostly I was beaming inside, because in a very real way, our son’s part in dancing in this event was a beautiful piercing of light into a dark, dark world; dark out there, but at times in these last months, dark inside our home, too. And by dark I mean that it’s been hard at times to find any kind of sustained surface peace. I find the deep-down peace to be fairly constant.

I do live with such joy most of the time, and it’s sincere, but we’ve been handed our fair share of trials, and right now, we seem to be moving through some of the most perplexing of them in terms of our children and their futures. It is not easy, even though God always provides just enough grace for us to move through it.

So given that, I can barely hold back how my heart leaps in moments such as the Nativity Advent Program; this year, through our son’s participation, and in the finding of little surprises like his Advent artwork in the hall near his classroom as I passed by on the way to the bathroom.

In about an hour, this same son will lead the prayer of petitions at the school Mass for the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He practiced last night and has his part down well. And then this coming weekend, our daughters will perform in the high school candlelight Christmas concert, another yearly event that I always anticipate with great eagerness. I know that by the end of it all, my heart is going to be aptly filled, and oh so ready to receive Christ.

What a blessed life, through it all, in glad praise of our good and faithful God!

(To see the whole dance, go here. And here for the “Lights of the City”finale.)

Q4U: What has been your light in the darkness this week?

   Dec 04

faith & family fridays: the fruitful pause

“Life may be brimming over with experiences, but somewhere, deep inside, all of us carry a vast and fruitful loneliness wherever we go. And sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inward in prayer for five short minutes.” – Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life (p.93)

I think of this time of year as a big, beautiful pause, similar to what Etty described in her diary written in Amsterdam, before she had to tear away from the life she’d known to work, and then die, in a concentration camp.

I’ve been reflecting on Etty’s beautiful ruminations this week, and couldn’t help but call that excerpt to mind as I contemplate Advent and what it means to me, as well as how I can make the most of it. It’s strange, because so much about our lives centers on doing, plotting, moving, but now, we are called to pause, even if only for two deep breaths, or five short minutes of “turning inward in prayer.”

For the past five years or so, I’ve had a great help in getting Advent aptly launched, having been invited to partake in an Advent by Candlelight event that has been offered annually by several parishes in town. One of the first times, I was a speaker, and several others, a musician. Those times were blessed with the chance to give, but it’s also very beautiful to be a simple recipient, like this year.

The evenings differ each time, but always involve hanging out at a table with other women in a room of beautifully and uniquely adorned tables soaked in an ambiance of candlelight with music (like this), dessert, and an inspiring message and contemplative reflection.

Nothing was going to stop me from being there this year as in the past, and having had a highly tense afternoon with the kids, I was so ready. In fact, knowing this evening was on the horizon seemed about the only thing that got me through that tense hour in the van, a hormonal teenager causing me to grip the steering wheel as a stress headache began to manifest. 

And then…in that room, that candlelit place of peace, given the chance to shed it all if only for a while: bliss. Etty has it right. We can hardly avoid the busy, but the moments of reprieve, however slight, mean everything. Without a chance to pause and restore, we have nothing to give.

And we must give. We are made to give. Giving is what God has done for us and, in turn, what we are compelled to do for others in order to live vibrantly.

“This much I know,” Etty later wrote, after learning that someone she cared about had been selected to leave for the dreaded camps, “you have to forget your own worries for the sake of others, for the sake of those whom you love. All of the strength and love and faith in God that one possesses, and which have grown so miraculously in me of late, must be there for everyone who chances to cross one’s path and who needs it.”

Such a selfless statement. Often, I think, the world interprets the pause as selfish, when in reality we need the pause to give ourselves time in between one necessary task and another in order to breathe, and therefore, garner the strength to, once again, give.

I guess what I’m saying is: pausing is not an option. Pausing is an imperative. Etty knew it, even in the midst of an uncertain future, which had her proclaiming, “We now live side by side with destiny…and nothing is how we learned it from our books.”

Indeed, a day longer, and even one more breath, is not guaranteed, so let us pause as we can to have the strength to give when the time for that comes, as Etty did so well.

Q4U:  How do you settle yourself to pause in order to give again?

   Dec 03

writing wednesdays: seeking space

Do you have those quiet little spots to which you need to retreat on a frequent basis? If so, you might be an introvert!

Yes, I’m continuing my ruminations on introversion, and I think you will find what I share as intriguing as I have, thanks to two women who are helping me out today.

Head over to Peace Garden Writer for more.

   Dec 01

meaningful mondays: randy nelson’s smile

The news came from my daughter by text this morning, 10:49 a.m.

Two words, “Randy died,” and instantly my heart felt as if it had plummeted into my gut.

We were just talking about him over Thanksgiving break. Middle girl was wearing a T-shirt she’d gotten through volunteering at a pulled-pork benefit dinner in late September, and Troy, noticing it, asked the kids how our school’s big, burly, larger-than-life athletic director has been faring.

In August, we received the sad news about his cancer diagnosis, just as the new school year was about to launch, and we’ve been in the midst of processing it ever since.

“I’ve seen him hanging out around school,” our middle boy said brightly in response. “Oh that’s good,” we said, grateful for the news.

It settled us temporarily knowing Randy was back in the place he loved, yes, thrived in. It wouldn’t seem right, really, for him to be anywhere else. To many of us, Randy has been the face of Shanley. We’ve seen him lead more school community events than any one principal or superintendent; it’s been his strong, welcoming voice that has brought us back to school year after year.

Every fall for as many as I can remember, Randy has summoned all the parents with kids in school activities for a mandatory parent meeting. After our lazy summers at the lakes and pool and on vacation, his cool, confident, fatherly voice has coaxed us gently back into the new year ahead.

And then would come the fall picnic with its announcing of fall athletes, and Randy also there, leading the whole thing, getting the school psyched up for another bustling season.

His face always radiated a smile, even when the mood was more serious. Randy was a cross somewhere between an NFL linebacker and Santa Claus.

The news that he’d been stricken with cancer sent our summers crashing to a concerned halt. It was hard to believe this man, known for helping bring so many teams to victory, was now facing the most challenging scrimmage of his life.

There wasn’t too much time to think. Before we knew it, one fundraising dinner was pulled together, and then another. The  whole community came out to support the man who has on so many occasions been our spokesperson, and gratefully, we received him. Though vulnerable and a little shaken, he told us what we’d meant to him and how much he loved us.

I waited for my chance. I wanted him to know how much he’d meant to me and our entire community in turn. I thought I’d missed it, but then I spotted him in the sea of people and took my spot in line. A fellow mother was just sneaking a blessed medal into his hands as I pulled up front for a hug and said the words that needed to be said. I am so grateful for that chance.

And now, unbelievably, he’s gone, as of this morning, Dec. 1. The kids, middle through high school, were called into the auditorium and given the hard news, followed by an offer for those who needed a little time to grieve to do so rather than head back to class right off..

Dear Lord, be with his precious family. That’s all I can think of now.

When I first heard, I gulped a few times, talked a while with my husband on the phone, and then – I had to because deadlines don’t wait – I got back to work. But a while later, as I was wrapping things up, this popped upon my horizon — an article by WDAY on Facebook — and gripped my heart…

Seeing his great smile, it hit me hard, and I had to stop…and weep awhile. That’s a smile that’s as genuine as they come, and it’s going to be missed something awful.

On my own Facebook page, I wrote: “Just can’t seem to wrap my brain around how this big, vibrant guy, who was the face of Shanley in so many ways, could be gone. You were and are so loved, Randy. I’m sorry you left us so soon. We weren’t quite done having you in our lives.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about death the last several days while reading the diaries of Holocaust victim Etty Hillesum, “An Interrupted Life.” In my own grief, I turned to Etty. “What can you tell me now, sweet soul? You, who wrote of death so wisely?”

As I waited for my daughter in the school parking lot, I opened the book and landed on a page with these words of Etty’s:

“Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate.” 

Clinging to those words, I continued on.

“And if you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich.”

Thank you, Etty. That’s exactly what I needed today.

Randy, you are missed. You will be missed for a long time. May the perpetual light shine upon you always, as yours has shone on us, dear man.

   Nov 28

faith & family friday: thanksgiving boy + a cornucopia of blessings

On Nov. 27, 2002, the little cutie on the left welcomed the tiny cutie on the right into our family, and life hasn’t been quite the same since.

Any guesses how I can love this guy so easily?

On Thanksgiving, he turned 12. I knew we were in for a beautiful couple days of celebrating when, while out doing Thanksgiving errands, this sundog appeared.

Within a couple hours, I’d gathered up the chicks and we were off — all seven of us in the minivan once again, for the first time in many months.

Well, eight, if you count our reluctant canine, who wasn’t so sure about things but managed quite well in the end.

Grandma knew a Thanksgiving boy would easily get bumped from the spotlight so had things party-ready at the hotel when we arrived.

Pizza was eaten, presents opened…

And all that sugar put the sillies in the cousins.

The next morning, while the two cousins were waking in a fish house out on Lake Minnewaska…

we were stretching from our night at the new Grand Stay hotel in Glenwood. Numero cinco and I got up and ready in time to attend Mass just a few blocks away. Mass on Thanksgiving has not been a tradition, but I’m hoping it will become one. After all, Eucharist, in Greek, means “Thanksgiving.” There’s no better way to start the day.

And a quick dip in the pool one last time afterward was just the thing.

We arrived at Grandma’s and Grandmpa’s in time to watch Uncle Mike frying up the Lake Minnewaska born walleye on the deck out back.

Grandma Gladys said, “This is about the best thing I’ve ever tasted.” That’s saying a lot, coming from someone who has been around a few decades! (It really was quite amazing…)

From there, a little grace with the gang kicked things off nicely, and we were off and eating…

It was a grand feast and I can’t be more thankful for the blessing of it.

My in-laws are pretty awesome the way they welcome and warm hearts and tummies with their serving attitude. I’m humbled to be one of the blessed recipients of all this giving. I know many are literally left out in the cold on such a day. That we might all be welcomed and warm.

Soon enough, we were back home, with just enough time for birthday boy and I to head to the theaters for some time in the recliners with a big tub of buttered corn. That’s a Thanksgiving food too, right?

And now for Black Friday fun. Truthfully, it’s the thing I most dread, but I’ve been lured in by a service project one of the kids signed up to do that required an adult presence. For three hours today, we’ll be folding unfolded clothes at a large sporting goods store here in Fargo; all for a good cause. Nevertheless, given the sacrifice quotient, I’m pretty sure I’ll be given a few days out of purgatory for this one.

Q4U: Were you serving recipient or giver this Thanksgiving?

   Nov 26

writing wednesdays: why did the turkey stand in the corner?

Because he relished his alone time, of course!

Well, don’t you?

This turkey’s got a lot more to say about carving out time to himself (no pun intended, honest!). Head on over to Peace Garden Writer for a gander, gobble gobble.

   Nov 24

meaningful mondays: our extra-special 23rd anniversary with the timberwolves

This weekend, we celebrated our wedding anniversary…with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It was a special one – 23 years on the 23rd – so merited a special celebration. Our trip to Minneapolis definitely felt special.

Through my husband’s work, we were offered the chance at courtside seats. I doubt this will ever happen again in our lifetime, but for a few short hours, we were treated VIP style at a professional sporting event.

We traveled with Troy’s co-worker and wife, Joel and Jill, and enjoyed a meal together before heading to the Target Center.

While there, we flipped a coin to see who would get the courtside seats the first half. Troy called heads. Guess who won the toss?

Our special tickets meant that we were treated extra special. People looked at us like, “How do you rate?” Then they congratulated us for getting lucky. This kind man was our escort to the hidden places where only special people go.

We were taken to a special room with private lockers and treats on the house. After placing our coats into classy wooden lockers, we made our way to the courts via a special “courtside folks only” entrance, arriving just as the teams were being introduced.

Flashing our special tickets, we were led to our special seats, which were even more “courtside” than we’d imagined.

Earlier, Jill had commented that she wanted to get so close to the players that they could drip sweat on her. We were THAT close.

I can’t exactly describe how it felt, but it’s a wholly different experience being right ON the court, just inches from the action.

The media was right there.

The security guards came within feet of us every time there was a break in the action on the court. See the guy on the left? He was like a Swiss Guard, never cracking a grin. He’d just stand there, surveying the crowd for any unwanted monkey business.

The mascot, Crunch, paid a visit to our section and made this little guy giggle.

We were so close to everything that it almost felt surreal, like we were inside of someone’s dream. These hip hop dancers, The Pups, came out on one of the breaks to shake their booties.

I’m sure we looked wide-eyed, while others near us seemed to be settled in like this was all so very usual.

I love basketball, so it wasn’t hard to watch the game, and during our half courtside, the Timberwolves were ahead pretty much the whole time. My characteristic four-fingered whistle got lots of use.

Then at halftime, more special stuff when we were treated to the extra-special Backcourt Club (like backstage), where all sorts of special things were going down.

At the start of the second half, we switched seats and were relegated to the spot where our friends had been earlier. See Joel in the orange? That’s where we’d been, cozy with the courts.

Once we left our coveted spots, the game went downhill in a hurry. I’m sure the Timberwolves sensed our absence and just couldn’t quite recover.

Now, the real truth is, their loss had nothing to do with us. In fact, we weren’t special at all. Just extra-special blessed for a few hours the night before our 23rd wedding anniversary. This trip could not have happened without the generosity of others, and we are grateful. Not only was it exciting, but it gave us a chance to glimpse how the other half…er, maybe more like the other 4 percent…live.

I have to admit. I enjoyed being treated like royalty for that short while. But the second half gave me a chance to pause and reflect, and by then, the excitement had worn off a little and my emotions had given way to thought. I’ll save most of those deeper reflections for another time, but suffice it so say…I began to feel very grateful for my humble little life in North Dakota. No, it doesn’t provide lots of chances for glitz and glamor. But my life is so incredibly rich. And if I had to choose between the two — regular courtside seats and my usual life of mostly nosebleed section seating — I’d trade in VIP for a more humble existence any day.

The truth of the matter is…my humble, ordinary life of being a mom and wife married to a humble, ordinary guy and raising five fairly ordinary children in a pretty humble city is really where it’s at.

I don’t think I’m just trying to convince myself of it. I’ve got a sweet deal going on.

And we must be doing something right. After all, try as we might, we couldn’t even get into Hell…or Hell’s Kitchen at least. We tried, but we were turned away. Too nice, they said.

No, I’m kidding. We just hadn’t prepared enough in advance (made reservations).

We missed out on some good food, I hear, but the place we landed instead was very pleasing with its rooftop view with lots of light and a heavenly gaze.

What a great celebration! So many fun city sights…

And as I told my Facebook friends tonight, each year more that Troy and I find ourselves celebrating this milestone of another year of marriage, it feels like that much more of a miracle.

Q4U: What is the miracle you celebrate at this time in your life?


   Nov 21

faith & family fridays: a pause can change the world

It’s the simplest thing, really, and yet often hard to do it seems.

The pause. It all comes down to this, I’m realizing. As in, our life depends on it. Our salvation depends on it. The flourishing of humanity depends on it.

Let me explain. Without morality, our world would crumble in an instant. We are moral people, made thus by our moral God. Morality has taken on a negative tone in this age, but I’m here to offer a different vision of it. I’m here to say morality is very, very good, and we can’t do without it.

And for morality to work, the pause has to happen. What I mean by pause is…that moment of restraint. The little bit of time to think before acting. The chance to hold back from our reactive, human inclinations and choose another path.

Do you see where I’m heading now? And do you see why it’s such a big thing?

Think about it as it relates to social media. We read something that rubs us the wrong way and immediately, our brain engines begins firing. We want to engage. But should we? And if we do, what should we say? Does it matter? We live in a world that seems to be leaning in the direction of it not mattering, and yet I think it does, a great deal.

The pause can change the whole outcome of the conversation, or whether we even have a conversation, or whom we have it with.

I’m coming to see the pause button as a gift from God to allow us enough time to challenge concupiscence (the inclination toward sin) and do what’s right. Often, the right thing is not the first thing that comes to mind. If you’re human, you know what I’m talking about, and I am the first among those who have failed in this at times.

Since my earliest days I’ve been quick to react, but my first reaction hasn’t always been the most prudent. The older I get, the more I am getting this. I still don’t do it perfectly, and when I don’t, I know it. I feel it. I didn’t pause long enough and now I’ve gotten myself in a mess. I should have utilized the pause.

Have you ever paused before acting, then acted, and felt relief, knowing that if you’d reacted on gut instinct everything could have turned out much differently, far worse?

The pause matters. But without developing one’s conscience, the pause could end up being a waste of time, a spinning of one’s wheels, fruitless. So there must be something there to begin with; a base to build upon.

God put something in our moral well to get us started, but it’s up to us to follow through, develop and build  so that when push comes to shove and we’re in a position of needing to make a moral decision, we’ll have something in reserve. The bigger the reserve, in some ways, the better the pause, the more right the action or reaction.

It’s pretty simple, really, and yet I know it’s a journey, and that each soul comes at it individually and in its own time.

What’s most important is that we recognize the value of the pause, work to build spaces for it to dwell, and know when to use it.

Reflection, restraint, prayer, holding back, being mindful, taking time to ruminate, discernment, fair judgment, choosing the right words.

We live in a world of weak words, when cursing is acceptable and reactions come at the quick click of a button. We’re all susceptible, but we don’t all have to cave to the pressure. There’s a better way.

Consider the pause. Regard it. Honor it. Get comfortable with it. The pause doesn’t mean you are rendered powerless. The pause just means you’re going to commit to taking a little more time so that what comes from you will be thoughtful and just and right.

Q4U: When did you pause recently in a way that made all the difference?

   Nov 19

writing wednesdays: following fiat

Yes, that’s right, but not like the car.

No, not that.

This is the Fiat I’m talking about.

You can follow Fiat, too. Just swim on over to Peace Garden Writer and take a little dip!


   Nov 17

meaningful mondays: school family dance!

For 13 years now we’ve been gathering canned goods each November to gain entrance into our elementary school’s fall family dance.

It’s always very noisy and energy filled. The kids come dressed in themed attired. This year’s theme? Neon!

My son and his friend came equipped with neon goggles thanks to Joey’s mama. They danced until sweat beads were running down their temples and dripping onto their shirts.

I still remember when the song “YMCA” by the Village People hit the radio waves. Who knew all those years ago that it would still be fun to stay at the YMCA in 2014?

If for some strange reason amnesia has erased this fine song from your memory, “there’s no need to feel down”…here you go!

Our sixth-grader has graduated from elementary, and often laments over the simpler days of yore. I encouraged him to come to the dance with me, “for old times sake.” He did, and I think this pretty much fixed his pining inclinations. After a while of wandering around with a couple of his pals, he decided he was too old for this nonsense, and sat with me on the sidelines, spinning a neon bracelet.

One of the highlights of every fall family dance is the d.j. Nate Callens has been providing music for this event for 11 years now. He has a way of making it super fun for the kids. There are very few who are hanging on the walls. Most are out there on the dance floor most of the duration, and it’s a lot because of Nate’s fun presence, I’m sure of it.

At one point, I took a bathroom break, and while wandering the halls of the school, noticed the adorable artwork coloring the walls. Each class chose a saint to depict “in abstract.” So many of my favorites were represented, but I had to take a photo of this one to share with my friend, Blaise, husband of Karen of the Flannery brigade from this summer.

Isn’t Blaise a cool name? If I were to have another son, I’d cast a vote to name him Blaise.

Our fabulous art teacher, Jean Eppler, is doing amazing work with the kids, from what the halls attest.

St. Blaise, pray for us!

Q4U: What memories does the YMCA song bring back for you?

   Nov 14

faith & family fridays: if bible alone, which one?

I have to start this post with an admission. I didn’t understand during my childhood or even teen years one of the major dividing points between Catholics and Protestants; the Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura,” or “Bible only.”

The short explanation of the doctrine, at least how I understand it, is that everything we can know about the Christian faith is contained in Holy Scripture. We need nothing beyond that. By and large, Protestants believe that anything else is extra, and a distraction, perhaps, from the Holy Word of God.

I also want to say that I truly do admire the Protestant verve over Scripture. After all, there are few things more invigorating as words for our Lord himself, not to mention the stories of those who lived in Jesus’ time, and in the case of the Old Testament, the base of Christian history, and how pre-Jesus and post-Jesus all flow together into one cohesive guide. The emphasis many Protestants put on Scripture should be a light to us all.

But having said all that, from early on in my “entering the real world” years, I was stumped over the idea that some Christians were “Bible-believing” and some were not. Churches touted their offerings by those very words. “We are a Bible-believing Christian church!” The problem to me was, aren’t we all? I scratched my head, wondering what I’d missed along the way.

I’m still looking for the answer to that one, actually, but in the meantime, I’ve come to a partial understanding of what the term “Bible believing” means. The idea, I think, is that if your church places a strong and whole emphasis on the Bible alone as the authority on which the Church stands, then you are a Bible-believing church. Anyone else — namely the Catholics, and I’m sure there are other variations of the Christian faith that might qualify too — would be the non-Bible-believing churches…I guess?

I’m still stuck on that, because our Mass and the Eucharist at its center — the source and summit of our faith — is completely Biblical. But I want to move past this temporarily to get to my main point, which is this. Yes to holding the Bible high. I’m there. And for the sake of discussion, I’ll even grant this idea of sola scriptura, even though I have a different understanding of what the whole of Christendom comprises. But there’s something else that bothers me, especially since having invested in my current read, “Where We Got the Bible,” by Henry G. Graham.

Now full disclosure here, Graham was a convert from Presbyterianism to Catholicism, in the early 1900s and at a time when converts to Catholicism were very rare, especially in his native Scotland. The son of a minister destined to become the same, he somehow landed in Rome. I’m reading about his conversion now.

In the main part of the book, he goes into great detail on the origins of the Bible, and it’s all been more than enlightening to me, especially given this idea that the Catholic faith is labeled, by some Christians, as not being Biblical. Graham makes the case, and very expertly, that isn’t even close to being true. And having read it now, and realizing just how many translations and editions and variations of Holy Scripture have come into being, both in the years since the canon was finalized and prior to it, I’m now asking new questions. Including, if it’s really sola scriptura, which version?

After reading Graham’s very well laid out case for the origins of the Bible, I can’t help but wonder that if, indeed, the Bible is our only authority for our Christian faith, should we be in more conformity over what version of the Bible is the right one? Consensus has been hard won through these many years since Christ’s death, and that concerns me, and should concern anyone who wants to get it right.

It seems to be a matter of importance, especially if one is basing his whole life on Scripture, that the version of Scripture serving at that base should be solidly agreed upon. There should be no question whatsoever that it is the complete word of God, right?

More and more, Christians are being challenged on Scripture, stories that have an increasingly secular world confused and, therefore, are refuting its validity. It’s becoming harder for Christians to argue their points based on Scripture given this environment.

Now I certainly wouldn’t propose getting rid of Scripture, but I am wondering more and more how we’re going to settle the variances among ourselves so that we will have a unified version to offer that we can all agree to stand by.

I haven’t even dared yet open the can of worms of differing versions between Christian and Protestant traditions — the reality that the Catholic Bible has more books, and that those extra books also can change our understanding of our Christian story.

All of this might seem benign, but in the end, if we are going to rise and fall by Scripture, we should care, I would think.

So, what’s the answer? How do we solve the variances? I feel confident in the Catholic Church’s view of Scripture. We uphold and honor and live by Scripture too, but it’s not all we uphold and honor and live by. We have Sacred Tradition to complement Scripture, and together, these two make the whole. In fact, Sacred Tradition came first, and Scripture from Sacred Tradition. Or, as Graham says toward the end of his book, “The Bible is the Church’s offspring.”

I didn’t write this to unnecessarily challenge my Protestant friends on sola scriptura, however. That’s an age-old difference between our traditions that likely will stay firm. But that doctrine and the variances of said scriptura raise questions in my mind; questions that, in an increasingly secular world, we’re going to need to answer.

This is an inquiry post more than anything; a chance for me to try to wrap my brain around something that has confounded me for a while now. I’m open to the ideas of others regarding the above thoughts that have me perplexed, or any related subject matter.

Q4U: What questions about Scripture tug at you?

   Nov 10

meaningful mondays: party hopper!

The older I get, the more I appreciate weekends at home, hunkering down with a book or just taking a breather and catching up. But every once in a while a weekend comes along with a host of possible social events, and in the case of this last one, four came in the course of a day.

In trying to decide which to attend, I ended up committing to all four, which made for a whirlwind but very fun day and evening. I try to avoid situations in which I might spread myself thin, but this time around, I discovered that party hopping can be a blast!

I didn’t find out until Saturday that some friends who moved to Arizona this past summer, who’ve been back visiting this week, would be guests of honor at a party at a friend’s house that same evening. But how can one refuse seeing friends who have gone missing when they show up? I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to see Patricia and catch up on the latest. Plus, when the host mentioned her husband would be cooking his native Peruvian food, well, at that point it was settled.

I missed the chance to take a photo of Patricia, but sneaked a few from the party. The center of attraction besides Patricia was the lomo; Lomo made by Lucho. Lucho, by the way, had to make a hasty exist just as the lomo was about to be served. A doctor, he got a call to do a baby delivery, so he did not get to enjoy the meal with us, but had the privilege of helping bring a new soul into the world, which is just the coolest thing!

I do hope there was some lomo waiting for him when he returned. Seriously, I am going to be craving this stuff everyday from here on out. It was that good.

Tender, well-flavored strips of meat with tomatoes and onions on rice, along with a side of fresh green beans, fresh fruit and apple crisp for dessert made for a tantalizing visit. Invigorating conversations and a hug from Patricia topped it off.

The next party was at Stella’s and Greg’s. I have no photos to show, but the house was filled with people who had worked super hard on a recent effort to pass Measure 1. While I wasn’t super involved in that effort, I did help from the sidelines. They had planned this party before the eventual defeat of the measure, but called it a victory party. After all, some victories are seen only from the long view, and we are convinced that the cause for life is worth the fight; the lifelong fight, if that’s what it takes.

This proved to be the perfect party for me because it was filled with people who believe in the kinds of things I do, had great snacks, and ended with a small collaboration of people gathering around the table to have a truly deep and delightful discussion. For an introvert like me, this is when things get fun at a party — when the crowd has thinned out, and just some die-hards remain. That last hour made it all worth it, and I felt energized, having helped close out the party.

Earlier in the day, I had a chance to mingle with my longtime children’s author mentor, Jane Kurtz, who lives in Oregon now, but previously was a North Dakotan, and did much to inspire me in my work in children’s literature. Jane is such a beautiful soul; it’s never a bad day when she is around and I adored the chance to hang with her for a bit. Add my friend Bethlehem, “Bette,” to the mix and there was no chance of things going sour. I’ll write more about this gathering on Wednesday.

Finally, a friend posted on Facebook a couple days back that she’d be selling her awesome-applesauce mittens at a special event, so I pulled my daughter with me to do a little Christmas shopping. Not to mention grab a pair for myself, since my mittens have all gone AWOL. Her business, which she runs with her mom and sister, is called Three Woolly Chicks and a Gopher and produces the cutest, and warmest, mittens around! I was so pleased with this little venture. I’m not much of a shopper but I just love shopping local and crafty around this time of year.

All these events happened in one day and by the end of it, I felt filled up on “happy,” good food and love.

Q4U: What party did you attend recently?


   Nov 07

faith & family fridays: my part-time ministry: lunching with friends

I’m finally going to call it what it is: a ministry.

Boy that feels good! For years, I’ve not been giving it its due, but more and more, I am seeing the truth of it, this lunching with friends that I do so frequently.

Thursday’s lunch, Scratch Deli, Fargo (w/extra cookie for son at home)

I’ve been doing it for many years, even in the years when the kids were little. I would bring them to a drop-off daycare a couple times a month to take time out with friends.

Even in the years I felt guilty about it — the mother-guilt thing — I sensed at bottom that this act of leaving the house to spend time with friends was valuable. I’d even go as far as saying it’s spiritual.

Finally, I am recognizing it for what it is: part of what God wants me to be doing, and part of the way I can best serve Him.

It helps to think of it in terms of my deep-down yearning to be a nun. I’ve posted about that several times before, and I’m sure it makes some giggle. But the yearning helps me think more about my purpose — what I’m ultimately here to do.

As I’ve said before, the yearning doesn’t mean I believe I’ve chosen wrong, or that I want another life. It’s more of a heaven-leaning desire. The life of a religious sister allows a full-out dunking of spending time with the Lord in a way I am not allowed in my current vocation, but desire. I’ve been called to something else.

So in the yearning, I step back and ask the question, “Okay, this is where you are, Roxane, where you belong, so in what ways can you go deep to serve God here in this life you are living, versus the dream life you sometimes pine for?”

In pondering this, the regular lunching I do with friends comes to mind. Because what I’ve found is that when my girlfriends and I take time out of the busy to meet for lunch, it’s not just about feeding our stomachs but feeding our very hungry souls. And it’s something I couldn’t do as a cloistered nun.

And it becomes a necessary mingling of two souls –an effort useful in and of itself.

I think it comes down to this: the gift of time. Taking time out to converse with another soul sister is a valuable endeavor, as important, perhaps, as a nun serving a house guest lunch. It seems so ordinary, but often, when we part, the friend of focus seems changed somehow, and I do, too.

God has called me to be in the world, and so it is in the world, in what would seem a most natural and ordinary act – that of taking time to be with a friend – that I am able to fulfill His purpose for me.

This is a bit of a stretch, you say? Lunching with friends is a luxury, not a spiritual endeavor! Well, I beg to differ. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that something more is at work than just an ordinary, and somewhat meaningless, lunch out.

When I jumped into full-time, outside work a couple years back, one of the things I missed most of all was not having the time to lunch with friends. When I did go out to lunch, I needed down time, and space. I craved alone time. And my lunch hours were short. I began to feel the loss of this ministry, and it was a small part of the reason I chose a different route, and am now back at home.

Working from home comes with its own challenges, but one of the benefits is that it does allow me to have the kind of schedule that accommodates my lunching ministry. And the beautiful thing about this ministry is that, like most ministries, it’s circular. My friends, I think, appreciate these times, but so do I. We almost always come away feeling like something important took place, even if that something important would seem invisible to most.

We shouldn’t exclude these small, ordinary acts as significant. The kingdom of God is built little by little, one lunch at a time. We need each other, and it’s important, especially in this digital world, that we take face-to-face time to be with our fellow journey-women.

Now, to find time to lunch with everyone in my life who matters — I’ve got quite a list, I have to say, and I’m blessed for it. I hope the same is true in reverse

Q4U: Do you see having coffee or lunch with a friend as the sacred act it is?

   Nov 03

meaningful mondays: pope bill merhkens, mentor and friend

My dear friend and longtime spiritual mentor, Fr. Bill Mehrkens, is “91-plus” now, as he told my daughter and me this past weekend during our visit to his retirement home in Bemidji, Minn.

We drove two and a half hours each way to see this sweet man for about half as many hours. More driving than seeing, and yet I would do it again in a heartbeat.

This was our first glimpse, along with the colorful cross above that drew me straight in. These are the numbers to his room; the room he may well die in, he told us. “I can’t even walk anymore,” he says. “Three things are killing me.”

He named two of them — bladder cancer and heart issues from a heart attacked he experienced years ago. But the third one? “I can’t remember.”

It’s very inconsequential. He is dying, and he knows it, but that’s beside the point. What he wanted to tell us more than anything else — and he said it several times, with a huge grin — is that he is still living, and still enjoying life.

When you are in Fr. Bill’s presence, you can’t help but feel more alive. He told us he misses being in more direct contact with people as he did when he was a priest all those years. But he said he finds other ways. Even sitting in his room watching TV and seeing all the people out there in the world who are hurting, he takes time to bless them. “God loves them too and they need a blessing. Who else will do it if I don’t?”

Oh, this precious man who will bless people a half a world away because if he doesn’t, who will?

“That’s beautiful,” I say, adding that to me, it indicates there are no bounds on love; that love transcends time and space and even the obstacle of a television screen.

Fr. Bill wants to keep loving as long as he can. He says he loves the visitors that come. And he loves the squirrel that comes to visit outside his window, even though a lot of people squawk about the squirrel because it eats all the bird food. “I like the squirrel as much if not more than the birds,” he says.

Even as he talks, the squirrel is doing acrobatics from the bird feeder outside the window, making us giggle. The squirrel’s personality has won us over. I’m glad Fr. Bill has this little visitor. It is an alive thing, and Fr. Bill is very much alive so it’s a match.

Father Bill tells us that there was a brief time he wondered if the priesthood, a path on which he began in 8th grade, had been a mistake. But it was a fleeting thing, and once he stepped into the realm of priesthood, all doubts left forever. “It’s been a good life,” he says.

Just then, I glance over at a photo on top of a dresser. It’s Fr. Bill as the pope! What is this now? I have to know more.

His characteristic smile spreads wide. He wants to make sure we know the facts — how a friend had gone to Rome, and during the trip, asked Pope Francis for his beanie, and Pope Francis actually gave it to him. “He’s the kind of guy who will do that,” Fr. Bill says. I make a note of this. If I do visit Rome as I hope to do before I die, I need to ask the pope if I can have his zucchetto. Fr. Bill tells us his friend put the beanie on him during a recent visit, took the photo, and then sent him this framed picture, declaring him pope. Even though he’s not, he says, a lot of people ask him about the pope, and he’s happy to share with them what he knows. “He’s my boss, after all.”

He then points to the wooden statue near the framed photo. It’s St. Francis. “Did I ever tell you my middle name?” he asks. “No,” I say. “It’s Francis.” Aha! It’s all making sense now. There’s a theme going on here and it goes along with what I’ve been thinking ever since our pope was named pontiff. These two, Fr. Bill and Pope Francis, are men of the cloth cut from the same cloth. They do have a similar way about them. Mercy is each of their bottom lines, and they love Jesus and his church.

I know I’m only one of thousands who has been profoundly affected by this man’s gentle, wise presence and friendship. He shows us a stick that someone has meticulously fashioned through wood-working, having burned into it a writing of John Henry Newman, along with naming Fr. Bill as “my best friend in the whole world.” Yes, this is the kind of friend who deserves to be shared with many.

Toward the end of our visit, Fr. Bill talks about his days at Lake of the Woods in Northern Minnesota, a place he used to frequent to be in touch with God’s beautiful world. He loved the peace of it and he loved the animals — including the bears and wolves — and even the insects.

Fr. Bill said that unlike some, he didn’t usually sweep away the cobwebs of his cabin because he knew they were the homes of the spiders, and he welcomed the spiders. They are part of God’s world, too, after all. Of course, he says, animals are not more important than people, but they’re a close second, perhaps.

But my favorite part of the visit was this.

Having my daughter there with me felt very special. She’s met him before but I doubt, until this day, she’s understood why I would clear a whole weekend day to spend a few hours with an aging priest in another state away. But he drew her in, because neither age nor position matter to him. Fr. Bill seeks the humanity in all, and he honored her humanity during our visit. By the end of it, they’d each made a new friend.

Our couple hours with this dear soul were golden to me, and I hope that during our time together, something small began to stir in my daughter’s heart as it did in mine all those years ago when I, just a few years older than she is now, heard him speak for the first time, note cards in hand, at the Newman Center on my college campus. It’s been quite a journey, and one that easily could have diverged in a whole other direction if not for Fr. Bill.

I may not get to Rome anytime soon, but Fr. Bill’s cozy little room in a humble retirement center in northern Minnesota will do well for now.

Q4U: Where is your Rome?

   Oct 31

faith & family fridays: abortion, haircuts and heroes

I was going to write about Halloween today. I typically do that this time of year, and it was perfect, with Halloween landing on a Friday and all. I had some really neat stuff to share about the origins of the holy days that started the whole thing off and the roots of some of the customs.

But my plan came to a screeching halt when a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to join her downtown Wednesday to pray in front of North Dakota’s only abortion facility, and this happened:

I’ll explain more about the photo in a minute, but first, let me lay out the day.

This wasn’t the first time we’d joined up to do this. Our city is just ending its 40 Days for Life initiative for the season, and my prayer partner and I wanted to make sure we did our part by taking time out of the busy to pray for these little babies and their hurting mamas.

The week prior, we’d actually been there with one of the world’s leading pro-life advocates, Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. But the day we spent with Fr. Frank out on the sidewalk wasn’t an abortion day. Good, because we didn’t have to confront what happens at the facility on a weekly basis. But bad, because in the safety of not seeing it, we can be deceived, forgetting that it really does happen.

We didn’t necessarily seek out going on a Wednesday, abortion day, but that’s the day that seemed to work best with our schedules. It’s almost always tense on those days, and yet there tends to be a heightened sense of purpose, too, especially when women begin filing through those doors just beyond the green “carpet” that precedes the building.

Come to think of it, this really is an appropriate subject for Halloween. This abortion stuff is downright scary, and pretty dark.

Sometimes, we cry at the sight of those women being ushered in, the escorts flanking them to protect them from the pro-life “bullies.” (They don’t want anyone to know that what we mostly do there is pray and sing and offer a witness of hope.)

The friend who comes with me to the sidewalk is my hero, as are the others who gather there, especially on Wednesdays. It’s hard.

We don’t get filled up with emotion just because we know the women will be taking part in the killing of their own children, but because we also know that they are confused, hurting, and almost certain, in despair.

We want to be a face of someone who cares. They might not receive us that way, but speaking for myself, that’s what I want to convey. There is usually only a short time when any kind of exchange is possible. We who are there praying know we only get a brief chance…to say a word of truth, to try to say a word of love, to give them information, perhaps, that will help them change their mind.

We know minds aren’t changed often, but even one changed mind is worth our efforts, we feel. It means life. It means one more tiny person whose life was set in motion will have a chance to experience the wonders of living. It means one more mother will not have to live with regret; regret that is oftentimes stuffed down so deep it manifests in disguise, as something other than what it really is.

These Wednesday visits can get intense, but the tension this week was more acute than I’d experienced in the past. It started as we arrived and noticed the barriers from road work, which had the escorts scattered more and in greater numbers than what I remembered from times past.

The escorts seemed to be having a good time, laughing and giggling together. They’d brought out some snacks — donuts and crackers — and intermittently were jamming to music, dancing on the sidewalk.

In between the dancing and munching, they would stop to escort a woman inside, where she would get in line to await the extraction of her baby from her womb. (sad face…)

Now, back to the woman with the sign. Obviously, she was trying to mock us. I posted this on Facebook and there was quite a conversation thread over this visual.

At one point, she was inching a little too closely toward two people standing near the curb with their signs. From her actions, she seemed hostile, and I began to feel protective of the woman nearest her who seemed about my mother’s age. I wouldn’t have been okay with someone talking to my mom like that. I stepped up and in between them.

Terse words were exchanged, but even then, I tried to be loving in this difficult discussion, even as f-bombs were flying at me and the others. I know that these people protesting our prayerful protests are not the enemy. They are God’s children too. But, The Enemy has them in his grasp. So I try to look for a sign of their goodness. I wanted this women to know she is loved. She wouldn’t accept my words.

I didn’t feel threatened, though. I felt protected by the armor of Christ and Our Blessed Mother. I felt called to be bold, but not harsh. I wanted her to feel some spark of goodness, in herself or in me, even as she spewed hateful words my way.

After a while, a policeman came up to her. He’d driven by earlier and had seen her in a confrontational stance, it seemed, and asked her to tame it down while reminding her of where to stand.

It felt like a little sign from God. This policeman is my hero.

After he left and she quieted down, out of nowhere, it seemed, a tall man in a white jacket — a doctor  — appeared. He stood next to the angry woman (whom I am naming Therese so that I can hold her in prayer with a name). For a moment I wondered if he was an abortion doctor. But when he turned around and caught my wondering eyes, he showed me his Rosary beads. So I knew he was with us.

And what a witness, really. What a beautiful witness. To take time out of a busy day as a physician seems a little more than ordinary. At one point he and “Therese” got into a verbal exchange, and he explained to her that, as a physician, he was there to uphold life, as he had promised to do when he took the Hippocratic Oath.

This doctor is my hero, too.

It’s interesting in many ways. The newspaper for which I write as a columnist is located less than a block from the abortion facility. I know there’s no way they can come over every Wednesday and cover what’s happening at the sidewalk in front of the Red River Women’s Clinic. But I can’t help but think they might be missing out on some of the biggest drama going down in the city every week.

I’d rather it weren’t the case. But until that light-filled day when we can, as a society, agree to alternatives other than death to address unplanned pregnancies, I’ll keep praying, whether as a live witness on the sidewalk or wherever else I happen to be.

God be with us…


   Oct 27

meaningful mondays: a meeting of nun wanna-bes

It’s not always easy keeping in touch with and seeing special friends, especially when they live four hours away, like Jean from Mitchell, S.D. does.

Jean is one of those forever friends you can count on for certain things. For example, I know that  whenever we get together, there’s going to be a lot of giggles along with plenty of serious, thoughtful discussion. It’s a beautiful mix that is just part of the dynamics of our friendship; a friendship that is refreshingly circular.

But it’s been a few years now since I’ve seen Jean, and having a chance to meet up this weekend seemed like something of a mini miracle. Our last-minutely planned gathering came together so easily, I can’t help but feel the divine hand in it. In the end, at the very least, I think we can credit the nuns.

Jean had reached out a few weeks ago after I wrote a post admitting that, after spending so much time at monasteries, I’d developed a deep-down yearning to be a cloistered nun. Of course, this yearning cannot be satisfied. I’m a wife and mother of five and know that that vocation is what God has called me to. But there’s something so alluring about this singular-focused life devoted to prayer and God and living in a close-knit community as the nuns do. The peace I have felt during my visits to Carmel has yet to be equaled. It’s not such a stretch to see why, given the busy, chaotic world all around.

So Jean wrote in with a confession. She told me that she shares this dream with me, but she’s guarded about whom she tells because of the sideways glances it seems to elicit. After all, she’s happily married and Protestant, so what, pray tell, could she possibly be thinking?

In an email back, I assured Jean she’s not crazy and that we must discuss this more soon, in person; it had been way too long since we’ve gotten together. Immediately, she shot back a note saying she’d be an artist-in-residence for a week at a school a few hours from Fargo, and could we find a halfway point and meet on Sunday?

I consulted my GPS to see what a halfway point might be, and when I realized it would put us in Wahpeton, near the monastery that has been my harboring place, I knew we’d found our meeting spot. Plans came together at record speed, and this past Sunday afternoon, we had our little convergence, which included a quick visit to the monastery and a several-hour discussion at the local Fryin’ Pan over pea soup and pie (and a few other palatable particulars).

I am still pinching myself over the chance to have parlayed with this lovely lady. I won’t go over the details of our visit, because what happens at the Fryin’ Pan stays there, you know, but I will say this much. We talked about the nun thing and agreed that there’s something more to this than a nonsensical yearning.

Having glimpsed this cloistered life, we’ve been allowed a peek at what heaven will be like; a time and place when all of the distractions and splintering and pulls in diverse directions will come together, and all of the extras will fall away and our gaze will be directed, clearly and pointedly, to the source of love, and we will move toward it, whole and heart-filled, and breathe deeply at last.

Sunset that accompanied me home from Wahpteon, ND

It’s something to hope for. The task now is to form ourselves so that we’ll be ready when the time comes. And if part of that forming includes a slice of pumpkin pie and a dollop of whipped cream with a good friend, well, the journey there can’t be so bad, either, it seems to me.

Q4U: When have your plans fallen together in flawless fashion?

   Oct 24

faith & family fridays: breakfast with fr. frank pavone

When we learned several months back that Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life would be flying to Fargo in October to keynote our local Teens for Life’s annual Cupcakes for Life event, we parent volunteers were thrilled.

Fr. Frank is as passionate about the pro-life movement as they come. I’ve heard him speak before, including a few years ago in D.C. during the March for Life, and again at a Catholic media conference in New Jersey two summers ago.

What I didn’t expect was to be invited for breakfast at our local Village Inn restaurant the morning of his visit; the invitation came just a few days prior. And today was the day. This morning, after dropping off the kids at school, a relatively small group of parents, along with the chaplain and superintendent of our local Catholic high school, gathered at this longtime haunt of locals to “break bread” together.

It was relaxing and enjoyable. Fr. Frank is a sweet man. Though he’s been vilified in some circles, having met him a couple times now, I see only fervent optimism, deep concern for women and babies and a beautiful love for the Lord of Life and our fellow brothers and sisters.

It was an honor to have him here, and an honor for me personally to be among the few who enjoyed eggs and bacon with him. He shared a little about his life on Staten Island (when he’s static, which isn’t often) and he wanted to know about all of us, too. We went around the circle, sharing whey we’re involved in this group and other ways we are advocates for life.

Toward the end of our short hour together — Fr. Frank had to hurry over to a school assembly right after breakfast, then on to other planned events of the day — he shared some encouraging insight with us.

“Before we all leave, there’s one thing I want you to know,” he said. We were all ears.

Fr. Frank expressed his optimism for the pro-life movement, how vibrant it is, how young it is, and he said something that I know is going to stick with all of us. He said one thing that can’t be taken away from the movement is the stories of the post-abortive women and the devastation they’ve experienced.

I can’t remember exactly how he said it, and I didn’t have my recorder with to freeze his words verbatim, but his sentiments were something along these lines: “Scars don’t lie.” The stories of women whose lives have been altered forever by abortion, from mothers who felt forced to take part in one of the most unnatural acts in existence, are not going to be quelled. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

He talked about how the healing is happening, and justice, too, not so much by what any of us might be doing (though he encouraged us and said we are points of light along the way), but because injustice necessarily corrects itself. By virtue of it not being of God, and of the way the world is meant to work, abortion is losing ground as an accepted action, and will continue to. Too many have been harmed, and unnatural, wrong acts correct themselves in time.

It was refreshing to hear this. Those of us who believe that death is never a good answer to any “problem” in society can feel disheartened at times by a culture that touts death as an acceptable answer. Death does happen, but it should always happen naturally, at God’s appointed time, not at our own choosing. This is my fervent belief, and it’s one of many reasons I am solidly pro-life.

Our breakfast with Fr. Frank was just the beginning of an amazing day. Right after that, I visited a local preschool and shared other passions of mine — that of words and stories and the awesome state of North Dakota. The kids were absolutely charming and so smart!

This afternoon, a group will gather at the local abortion facility and take part in a peaceful prayer event, then celebrate Mass with Fr. Frank at the nearby Adoration Chapel. Tonight, the Cupcakes for Life event will take place with Fr. Frank rousing the troops.

It’s a 60-degree, beautiful fall day, and everything feels especially blessed. It’s a good day to be alive and living for life

Q4U: Have you ever dined with a hero?


   Oct 20

meaningful mondays: pro-life pie (and a dollop of measure 1)

I’m not a big political person. My faith is the prime motivator of my life’s works. But sometimes, the two converge and I can’t just burrow my head in the sand.

As well, I want to be a conscientious, informed citizen, and I’ve done my best to do so on the upcoming election, which is almost upon us. On Nov. 4, we’re going to be asked here in North Dakota to make a big decision. It’s one that other states are watching with a careful eye. What we do here could affect the rest of the country.

So if you’re not from North Dakota, don’t think it won’t affect you. It will. Measure 1 especially has huge consequences for everyone in this nation who cares about the sanctity of life.

Yesterday afternoon, I joined the Lutherans for Life people at their annual dessert banquet and heard a little more about Measure 1. The keynote was Janne Myrdal, chairwoman for ND Choose Life, which has been at the forefront of working to pass Measure 1.

I’ve heard Janne’s story before, about how her parents had made brave choices living in Norway during the Nazi invasion; how they’d “done the right thing” even when it put them in harm’s way.

This is part of Janne’s legacy — doing the right thing in the face of oppression and opposition, and she carries the torch for her family and others who cannot. “We have been asked to stand for life in an incredibly and relatively easy society,” she said. “Unlike those before us, we’re not likely to suffer bodily harm for standing up for the unborn.”

So can we be even a smidgeon as brave as Myrdal’s mother the day she was walking home from high school and a friend working for the Opposition approached her, demanding to see her brother? Can we say, “No” to what’s wrong, and “Yes” to what’s right even if it makes us uncomfortable or causes us to lose friends?

Lutherans for Life participants watching a video on Measure 1

A lot of people have become conflicted and confused about Measure 1. Some don’t understand that we’re at this juncture in the first place not because the pro-life people wanted to stoke the fires, but because the Supreme Court said to the states, “We’re giving some of this back to you. We’re going to let you restrict abortion according to the will of the people in your state.”

So North Dakota acted, putting in effect common-sense laws regarding abortion, including the requirement of full disclosure to women seeking abortion about the procedure; requirement of an ultrasound; a ban on partial-birth abortion, gender selection abortion and aborting Down Syndrome children at will; as well as the requirement that any doctor performing abortions must have hospital admitting privileges here, for the protection of the woman.

These seemed like no-brainer type provisions to our legislators (from both parties) and those they represent, but because of the implications, the big guns from out of state came in to try to bully us. Planned Parenthood has funneled millions of dollars into this campaign, despite the fact that North Dakota has not one Planned Parenthood Clinic on its land, east to west. In addition, their cunning marketing folks have found ways to make it about something it isn’t and put fear in the ordinary citizen to intimidate them into voting against the measure.

One way I know I’m on the right side? One side leads to death, and one to life. That’s always the deciding factor to me.

Deuteronomy 30:19 is one of my favorites for this cause. “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Myrdal said that though many people of faith are on board with Measure 1, it’s not an issue for the faithful alone, and one of the biggest proponents of the measure up for vote is an atheist. “Even the unbelieving know what life is,” she said.

Using a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Myrdal said that if Measure 1 passes, it will be as if we’re “driving a spoke into the wheel of injustice itself,” adding, “Planned Parenthood should not get to buy our elections in North Dakota.”

It’s an all-out war right now, but those of us on the side of life have much behind us — a grass-roots effort of common sense, life itself, and a hoard of young people who get it, because they know that they could easily have been one more of the abortion statistics.

Later this week, I’ll tell you about another huge pro-life initiative that I’ll be an even more integral part of; this one involving cupcakes, and my daughters’ peers serving them.

Speaking of the kids, not long after I had a delicious piece of homemade apple pie at the Lutherans for Life event, I ran home to pull together another dinner for my oldest daughter. It was her baptism anniversary last night, so we did our customary special dinner and pie of choice, along with the lighting of her baptismal candle.

Despite how hard it often is to be a mother of teens, I can’t imagine a day without her in it. 

“It’s easy to be pro-abortion if you’ve already been born,” Ronald Reagan once quipped, as relayed by Myrdal. It’s so true. Let’s stay on the right side; the side of light and life.

Unequivocally, I choose life, now and as long as I have life to live.

Q4U: Have you even been bold in the face of opposition?

   Oct 17

faith & family fridays: highlights and heavenly wonderings

Thursday will go down in my personal history book as a lifetime highlight.

Last spring, I was asked to be keynote speaker at the annual fundraising brunch for a local religious order, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, here in Fargo. I have been a guest at this brunch in the past and felt honored to have this opportunity.

After talking through what my presentation might comprise way back then, I suggested I share how my experiences on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana had shaped my faith life. The organizers seemed to be very receptive, and so it went.

Another order, the Carmelite Nuns of the Ancient Observance also here in North Dakota, provided harbor for me as I prepared the bulk of my talk last weekend.

I couldn’t have done this day without them. (For more from that beautiful weekend, see Wednesday’s post).

On the way to the convention center where I was to give the talk, I sent up some prayers to a handful of my favorite saints, asking for guidance and calm. Uttering these words out loud in my van, a great reassurance came over me. I was in capable hands with the likes of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Gianna, St. Gabriel and St. Faustina.

Just that morning, St. Faustina had brought comfort through these words: “O my Jesus, You Yourself must put words into my mouth, that I may praise You worthily.”

The event happened without a hitch, from the delicious brunch and visiting with friends and family…

To the talk itself, through which I noticed the attentive expressions on people’s faces, and received the gift of laughter in just the right spots, and with more enthusiasm than I’d imagined.

It was a beautiful day that gave me an opportunity to share from the heart. At a book signing afterward, I was cheered by the comments of those who had attended.

I loved hearing about how the talk resonated with individuals in a variety of ways. “I’m from Culbertson, Montana,” one said, “so I know the landscape.” “I grew up near White Earth. So much of this rang true.” “This reminded me of my experiences near the Badlands of South Dakota,” another noted. “Thank you for sharing!”

But now, a confession — something I shared with my hairdresser the morning of the talk. I told her that with all the time I’ve spent at monasteries in recent years, I’ve come to think that I might have missed my calling. The sisters at Carmel spend much of their day in prayer, song, and in the simple tasks of living and caring for one another, and more and more I can see the beautiful value in this life.

Did I miss it, I think? Well, it’s too late now! I can hardly go back, and would I really want to?

The thing is, no, I wouldn’t want to not have experienced family life and all of the treasures it offers. But that yearning? It’s still there, too. And I think, perhaps, that it is a yearning that goes beyond this world. I think it is a thirsting for the perfect world of heaven. In the sacred space of Carmel, I have become familiar with the closest thing to heaven outside of bringing five new little souls into the world.

So again, without a doubt, I would not have wanted to forgo family life. But can I imagine myself dedicating my life totally to God in the context of a place that centers its time around praying for all, singing with the angels, and “hiding away” in the cloister, not to shirk the world but to keep it fully in its heart and soul? Yes. I really can!

If I were given a chance to do it all over again, I would hope for more discernment for my life’s direction and looking into all the options. I would search all these out and ask God, “What do you want me to do?” In my early years, it didn’t occur to me God might have a plan different than what I seemed to be seeking.

Did I get it right? Did I step onto the right path? I won’t know this side of the veil. I do believe, however, that God allows us to do things our way, and even if it isn’t the perfect way, as we draw nearer to Him, he helps us make adjustments so that His plan for us begins merging more and more with ours.

So I wouldn’t discount that maybe my visits to the monasteries are God’s way of reminding me what will be someday. For someday I believe, if I stay close to Him, all of this will be a part of my life. In heaven, I won’t have to make a choice or feel conflicted. I won’t wonder, should I have?

It will all be there, the life of unencumbered prayer, of joyful singing, of loving my loved ones fully and completely unconditionally, and being loved back just as completely.

I am grateful for having been shown both of these lives, and for experiencing both, too, in whatever ways have been presented. I am very blessed.

And so I will continue on this path, keeping an eye on what might have been, knowing that someday, quite possibly, it all will be, with nothing lost.

Thank you, Lord, for all of the beautiful opportunities you’ve offered me, despite my imperfect desires, which, I hope, will become more and more formed with what you want of me. And Lord, please help me fulfill your purpose for me on this earth right now. Your will be done.

Q4U: Have you ever wondered, what if?


   Oct 15

writing wednesdays: more carmel colors

The other day I promised more from my recent visit to the Carmelite monastery. Photos from these visits are among my favorites to share with readers, because I feel in a way I bring you with me when I post them. I hope you feel it.

Here’s a quick peek:

I’d love to show you the rest. It’s over at Peace Garden Writer — just a quick little click away!

   Oct 08

writing wednesdays: trying to return

I’ve been M.I.A. on my writing blog, Peace Garden Writer, for a few weeks now.

You can blame it on fall, and a few other things.

Either way, I’m going to try really hard to be back on a more regular basis from here on out. If you’re feeling up to it, come visit my busy over here and tell me what you’ve been up to while you’re at it!

   Oct 03

faith & family fridays: buy a cupcake, make history

I’ve been on a parent planning committee associated with our high school’s Teens for Life group, and knew the exciting news at school year’s end last year that our school had been selected from all the schools in the United States to carry the front banner for the 2015 March for Life event in D.C.

I knew also that the main organizers had big ideas about this year’s march. What if we made it possible for every single student from our Catholic high school to be able to be part of that banner-carrying moment? After all, how many chances does one have to carry a banner that will lead a march of some 500,000 or more people at our nation’s capitol, and for a life-giving cause?

I knew, too, that for the past several years, this teen group has organized an event called Cupcakes for Life to raise funds to help make the trip possible for those who want to attend; that they ask a speaker to come to make the night extra special; and that they wanted this year’s speaker to be extra-special special.

After all, the person would have to be prominent enough to double the size of the usual event in order to raise enough funds for every student in our high school to have a chance to go. Which would be an historic move. Never before has an entire high school emptied out of regular classes and athletic events for such a cause.

When I found out several weeks ago the name of the speaker who had agreed to come to humble Fargo for this cause, I was as ecstatic as the rest of those working behind the scenes to make it happen. Father Frank Pavone is one of the, if not THE, most prominent pro-life speakers in the country, and maybe even the world. And yet he agreed to come to our city, to our parish, to our school, and do what he could to stoke the fires of love and incite the next generation toward a life-giving mindset, to pray for an end to abortion, to more assuredly bring about a culture of life, not death.

Father Frank’s coming to Fargo, and if you’re in the area, there’s no better reason to satisfy your sweet tooth and get an injection of inspiration. I’ve heard Father Frank speak a couple times before, and each time, I felt completely jazzed about our beautiful mission: creating a world where no babies die and no mothers cry.

Yes, despite what some say, we sincere pro-lifers have a heart for the babies and the mamas, too, and we want to change the world, one heartbeat, one cupcake at a time.

If you can’t come due to distance or another commitment, but you believe in this cause, there’s a way to get involved. Go to our school website and make a donation. In that way, you’ll be helping a student get to D.C., and when they March for Life, you’ll be marching with them.

Thanks and God bless!


   Sep 22

meaningful mondays: last-minute family love

Mom had sounded the alert last week: my Aunt Jeannine and Uncle Bob would be coming through North Dakota from Texas in the coming days.

When it comes to extended family, in my mind, everything gets set aside. The older I get, the more precious family becomes. And since losing our father, my sister and I have become more endeared than ever to the pieces of him we find through his siblings, cousins and others who have played a role in his life.

So I was thrilled to learn Jeannine, his baby sister, youngest of the nine siblings, would be shooting through town with her sweet husband Bob. But the week filled up quickly and I didn’t get in touch until midweek, just a few days they were to arrive.

“We’re in Great Falls,” Uncle Bob said. By the time I got my aunt on the line, she was wondering if there was a way to arrange a meeting place for whatever family I could gather in a matter of days. “We’ll be there Sunday. Would brunch work?”

With the help of another local relative, I was able to do some quick brainstorming, and by Friday, we had a game plan. We would reserve one of the club rooms of a local hotel and do what we could to reach people last-minute and hope to fill the room with a handful or more relatives.

One call led to another, and soon, we had more prospects than we’d even expected. A wedding in town meant that some of the cousins from as far away as California just happened to be around.

In the end, the club room was bursting at the seams with young old and middles, which seemed something of a miracle to me, given the amount of time we had to pull this off. People are busy, after all, and I just wouldn’t have expected we could get this lucky!

I’m not going to discount the possibility that the Holy Spirit was working overtime to make these connections happen.

Just a day before the event, I was talking by phone to several cousins I’d heard of in name only, and maybe met at some reunion years ago; people my father had known better in another time. Some of them have read my column and kept in touch that way. But I had not been the beneficiary in reverse.

So Sunday morning, my youngest two boys and I joined this group for a breakfast buffet, and I came away feeling warmed to the core over this last-minute opportunity.

I caught up with my aunt, then had some of the loveliest conversations with cousins and cousins-once-removed and other relatives I have not had the pleasure of knowing well. A few of us agreed to stay connected through Facebook.

Once again, God has blown me away. Just when I think I’m settled in the friends who surround me, and in all the beautiful relationships in my life, He surprises me by sending a few more my way recently. Some have been new friendships that hold promise of new life, while others are connections with those who are tied to me by blood and bring me closer to my father.

People matter. Relationships are life. Family love is beautiful.

Thank you, God!

Q4U: How did God surprise you recently?

   Sep 19

faith & family fridays: the kiss of Jesus

I came to the Adoration chapel empty, confused, hurting, worried, spent. I came hoping that God would have something for me. “Dear Lord, please speak to me. I need to hear you tonight,” I said.

This past summer has been the summer from Hades, and brought me and my mother heart near the brink. Just when I have felt I could take not one step more, however, a sliver of grace has been given to get through that moment, that hour, that day.

It has been in the Adoration chapel where I have found the only solace at times, and this night was no different. I felt assured that at some point in the course of that Holy Hour, God would give me what I needed.

A little over a month ago now, I finally decided to dive into the “33 Days to Morning Glory” do-it-yourself retreat in preparation for Marian consecration. This whole consecration thing is a new idea to me, but I have become convinced of its merits, and my time of surrender was near.

It was August 27 precisely, and I turned to Day 15. “Lover of the Heart of Jesus;” the section of the retreat focusing on Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta — a woman who held fast to Our Blessed Mother as she lived out her earthly life, always keeping her sights on Jesus.

As I reached the direct quote from this dear, humble, diminutive saint who lived in our own time, I knew that God had pointed me straight there. The revelation gripped my heart as I read Mother’s account of suffering, and one way we might look at it.

“Suffering has to come, because if you look at the cross, he has got his head bending down — he wants to kiss you — and he has both hands open wide – he wants to embrace you.”

Crucifix at Carmelite monastery in Wahpeton, N.D.

Immediately, I was drawn deeply in. It was as if the Lord himself were cupping my face to get my attention.

“When you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening. Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you.”

In that moment, I could feel something deep inside shift. It’s like looking through a prism of colors and seeing one that you didn’t know existed until that moment. I could feel my body respond, my breathing slow, the toxins that had been building up within begin to dissipate.

“That suffering has to come,” Mother continued, “that came in the life of Our Lady, that came in the life of Jesus – it has to come in our life also. Only never put on a long face. Suffering is a gift from God.”

I know it’s hard to wrap our brains around that last utterance. A gift? But when you think of suffering as Mother describes it — a gift from Jesus — and consider the suffering he went through for us and in order to return to the Father, it becomes apparent that we, too, will have to experience suffering if we, too, are to return to the Father. Not that we should ask for suffering or enjoy it when it comes, but at the very least, we can take heart that the trials of this world will more surely orient us toward our good God, who awaits us on the other side of them.

I don’t like it as it’s happening. I don’t want it, to be honest. And yet…when I think of it this way — the kiss of Jesus, and a more sure way to God himself — I can more easily accept it, and cling to Jesus and Mary for help in overcoming it.

Q4U: Have you been kissed by Jesus lately?

   Sep 17

writing wednesdays: a place to curl up

Where do you curl up to write or read?

Here’s where Flannery O’Connor used to take refuge.

Toward the end, when her world became very small, this was it, and she wrote some of her richest writings in this little spot.

There’s more today on Peace Garden Writer!

   Sep 15

meaningful mondays: the day i became a christian

For years, ever since my children were small, I’ve been making a big deal of their baptism anniversaries. To me, this day equaled and even exceeded the importance of their actual birthday. And so we celebrate with pie of their choice, a special meal and the lighting of their baptismal candle.

Because this wasn’t a tradition in our home growing up, I haven’t thought much about my own baptism date. Instead, I focused on the kids’ special days. But recently, I got to thinking about my own pivotal moment of new life in Christ while perusing my first-ever photo album, and I realized anew that I, too, have every reason to celebrate my becoming a child of God.

Fr. O’Flannigan, my Aunt Aunt and me, 9-12-68

The more I grow in my own faith journey, the more meaning I find gazing at this certificate:

Why it took so long for me to fixate on this, I don’t know, but suddenly I am overtaken with gratitude that my mother took the time to record this special day, certainly one of the climactic moments of my life. Her mother heart knew I wouldn’t remember the day, but guessed I’m sure that someday, I might want to reflect back on it.

Forty-six years later, these photos mean so very much.

I am reminded anew that the water poured over my head…

and the the oil placed on my forehead in the sign of the cross…

along with the priestly blessing in the stead of Jesus Christ himself…

and the very real but invisible grace imparted in this moment with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…”

…combine to create the beginnings of my life in Christ. And despite all my missteps along the way, and all the fussing I’ve done, somehow because of this day, I have managed to find my way back to the center of love.

Catholics believe in infants being baptized for this reason. We don’t believe baptism to be a moment when we can audibly profess our belief in Christ, but the one when Christ himself chooses us, claims us for His own. With the help and support of our families and Church community, this seed of grace will be watered. And then ultimately, we decide whether to continue to grow in this direction through the choices we make each day.

We can’t undo our baptisms. Once we are claimed by the God Most High, that’s it. We are His, forever. Certainly, we can choose to turn our backs on this Love, but He will always be waiting for our return.

Remembering our baptism is about more than a piece of pie (though, in case anyone is wondering, I chose my favorite, pecan) and a special meal. It is a thinking back on the most monumental moment of our life as a Christian.

I didn’t need to be fully cognizant of what was going on. That seed of grace was planted, and over time, did grow into something that has changed my life, forever.

Thank you, Mom, thank you, Dad, for passing on this beautiful faith of hope, love and life to me. Please be assured I am doing all I can to make good on the promises you made to God to bring me up in the faith. Please pray with me that my children will feel this grace stirring within their own souls so that they, too, will feel compelled to run into the arms of Jesus and surrender to his plan for them.

Q4U: What do you know of your baptism day? How has its meaning to you changed over the years?

   Sep 08

meaningful mondays: teresa, joan and beauty

The ironic confluence was nearly impossible to miss. Just a day after Joan Rivers passed away on September 4, we celebrated the birthday anniversary of another woman who has made an impression on the world, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

They were both in their 80s when they died, just six years apart in ages of death: Joan was 81, Mother Teresa, 87, and yet what a contrast.

I think Joan Rivers was a gorgeous woman, especially before plastic surgery. Here she is in the 1980s at a premiere of “Steel Magnolias.”

I wish she could have embraced her beauty the way Mother Teresa embraced hers, not through searching the mirror for affirmation, but seeking beauty in the faces of the sick, dying and destitute all around her.

Mother Teresa was on a mission to find Christ’s face in everyone whose path she crossed, and it was there, too, that she found her worth. Botox would have been the furthest thing from her mind and heart.

I don’t write this as a criticism of Joan Rivers. She lived in a different world altogether, and she had her own motivations for living her life the way she did, but I think the images of these two women and their two different approaches to beauty can teach us so much.

I’m looking at myself now, and my own weaknesses, which became strikingly apparent to me this morning when I accompanied my youngest son into the elementary school “in the raw;” in other words, without a stitch of makeup — an unplanned event.

I will admit, I feel better with my mask intact. I’ve become accustomed to my morning routine, and it’s what I most often present to the world. But I also know it’s a crutch, and that on some level I’m bound like Joan was.

What’s perhaps different is that I am resisting it, internally at least, and I’m going to keep working at how I can let go of the external fixes with the goal of becoming as free as Mother Teresa, who, I’m thinking, never rose in the morning with the thought of applying mascara to her eyelashes before dashing off to go about her business.

I’m not quite there. I am in the world and need to figure out a balance. I don’t think it’s wrong to want to present oneself in a way that instills confidence. At the same time, I’m going to keep challenging myself on this point, because we have so many influences all around us, every day, that lure us toward more fixes, and there should be a healthy limit to the lengths we go to to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.

Joan Rivers was the ultimate example of what can happen when we get carried away by trying to manipulate the exterior beyond what is reasonable or fair to ourselves.

God rest her soul. I truly hope and pray that now she is free and understanding how much she was loved all along.

Let’s learn from her. Let’s see what we can do differently, day by day. Perhaps we can take a hint from Mother Teresa, aiming to focus less on what we see in the mirror and more intently searching out beauty on the faces of those around us who are in need and begging for us to respond in love. We don’t have to go far. As Mother Teresa pointed out many times, it often begins right in our own homes.

Q4U: How has our culture’s concept of beauty challenged you? What lengths are you willing to go to challenge back?

   Sep 05

faith & family fridays: duped!

As a mother of teenagers, more often than not these days I feel like I’ve been duped.

So this past Sunday, when the Scripture was read from Jeremiah 20:7-9, I was drawn to it like a fruit fly to a juicy, freckled banana:

“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” 

(Ouch. Yep. That’s me, thinking this parenting thing was going to be some sort of lovely dream with a few bumps but mostly sweet satisfaction along the way. Right.)

But it doesn’t end there. Let’s dig that knife in a little further now.

“You were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the days I am the object of laughter; everyone mocks me.”

(There go those eye rolls again. Yes, I know them well.)

“Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message, the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.”

(All that I have lived for, every sacrifice, seems to be biting me in the leg about now. The payoffs seem so far away.)

And so what to do? Well, that’s right here, too, believe it or not. The supposed solution to all this madness.

“I say to myself, I will not mention him. I will speak his name no more.”

(Uh-huh, the old cover one’s ears with one’s hands so as to ignore, and if that doesn’t work, how about the silent treatment? It’s so tempting, isn’t it? And it works, for a while, but then…)

There’s always a but

“But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

And there it is. I’m sucked right in, all over again; pulled in by a torrent of love against my will. Against my will, no matter how many eye rolls I must endure, I am in this for the long haul; in this family, here as a mother even while the subject of constant derision by those I have helped love into existence and poured my life into so they might have life. I am helpless against the force of God’s undeniable goodness, mercy and justice, and all the hope it offers, over and over again, calling me anew each day, over and over again, though so often I want to instead cry out, “This is too much. This is hard. How long must I endure it?”

I am like a toddler then, not understanding why, and yet running to my mama, my papa, because love is the thing I cannot deny myself, even when so much about it doesn’t seem to make sense and doesn’t add up. This force more powerful than anything I have experienced keeps me coming back, despite uncertainty. The silent game falls short, for I cannot deny God’s goodness. I have agreed to follow Him and He has agreed to take me up on that,

I’m too far in, too far gone, too bowled over by love, even when that love seems to bring nothing but heartache. My only recourse, then, is to keep moving forward, further into the unknown, straight into the middle of the confusion and everything beyond my control, to a place of total surrender…again…and again.

I have no choice. After all, I cannot imagine the alternative: doing this very same thing but without Him.

Yes, I’ve been duped, and I’ve no one to blame but myself, and many to thank for leading me here. For I believe with my whole heart, and every day I have said, and every day from here on out I will continue to say, repeatedly, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

And so I will. To the end, and to a day when all will right itself, and love will saturate my weary bones, and I will sigh, and surrender one very final time to love.

Q4U: Have you ever been duped?

   Sep 03

writing wednesdays: words from 1968

It’s been 46 years since my mama cut out this little square of newspaper and pressed it into my very first “scrapbook.”

All these words in our lives help tell our story. This was the “once upon a time” in mine.

My brief pondering on the topic is over here today on Peace Garden Writer.

Peace be with you!


   Sep 01

meaningful mondays: kiss from God (reunion with a friend)

I’ve known Christina for several years now, but it’s only been recently that I’ve been in her physical presence and gotten to know her in the flesh. Christina was the driving force behind our writers’ adventure in the Deep South this past summer. I gave an account of those travels earlier here while they were happening, in June (including this one).

It was hard to bidding farewell to Christina and Karen, my two travel comrades, when we parted the end of June, but less daunting knowing Christina, a Wisconsin native, would be moving West in August, and hoped to plan her journey around a stop in Fargo.

This weekend, it came to be. As planned, Christina, along with her cat, Ginger, who is moving with her, and her parents, Dan and Jean, who are helping transport her belongings, ended their second leg right here in Friendly Fargo.

Now, as much as I love Fargo, it’s not a frequent destination for much of the world. It wasn’t a final destination for Christina and her parents, either, but their reprieve here was such a blessing to me, and coincided on a weekend when my own mother is in town visiting for my birthday.

Christina and I deliberated some of the top choices for eateries in Fargo and ultimately, I pushed for Santa Lucia based on location, food excellence and atmosphere.

From the review I heard the next morning on the way to church, the expectations were met and exceeded. It was a lovely evening with the six of us, and oh so yummy!

I even received a little surprise — a card from Christina…


…And a variety package of Lindor Truffles. (I’m not saying for sure but they might be gone already, though if so, I must insert the deed didn’t happen singlehandedly).

Seeing my lovely friend’s face once again, enjoying a meal with her once again, and attending Mass with her once again was like a little kiss from God.

And you know what? I’ll take it. Because these are the things in life that make all those in-between times that drain and drown the soul not only tolerable but livable and hope-filled.

After Mass, I introduced Christina to the Healing Room at our church, where I was anointed for the first time by our priest on Friday (as mentioned here).

What made it especially beautiful for both of us is that St. Raphael, whose hand is extended to us from above in the painting behind, has become a very special part of our friendship. Not only is St. Raphael the patron saint of travelers — and it has been traveling through which we have bound — but he also had a very special place in the heart of our heroine, Flannery O’Connor, who kept him near throughout her illness, which ultimately claimed her life at 39.

Our friendship and journeying together seemed to come full circle in this moment, and in some ways, made this goodbye easier to take. In fact, when my birthday rolls around tomorrow, Tuesday, it’s going to feel very strange, because I feel like the celebration has already happened. The blessing certainly has.

Another confluence is that Christina, 27, is heading to the same place — with so many unknowns before her but a lot of excitement and hope — where Troy and I headed in a similar fashion when we were at the shining age of 23 and newly married, our lives unfolding before us. We are grateful to have helped be part of the sendoff, and I know for certain she will bring a light to the West.

God be with you, sweet Christina. St. Raphael, be with you. Flannery, be with you. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, be with you. You’re going to do great!

Q4U: What special guests have you received recently?

   Aug 29

faith & family fridays: the anointing

Today, I received an anointing from my priest.

Here’s what happened. We walked into the healing room in our church. Father pointed out the beautiful painting of St. Raphael above a chair with soft cushions. St. Raphael was, in the painting, extending his hands in a loving and beautiful manner. (Unfortunately, no photos of dear St. Raphael.)

He told me to sit down, and he left to retrieve his little booklet containing the order and words for the rites of the Church. I sat there, and it was during this time of waiting I thought to take a quick photo. I’ve never been anointed before, though lately, when it’s been offered, I’ve wondered whether I would benefit from it.

It felt peaceful, just sitting there in that room, looking out into our beautiful sanctuary, sun shining through the stained glass windows. I’ve sat “out there” many times. I’d never sat in here.

The words above the curtains brought additional comfort: “Heal me Lord, that I may be healed. Save me, that I may be saved. For it is You whom I praise.”

Then, Father returned, and proceeded to reach into a little lit cabinet, where he retrieved the holy oil that he would use to confer the sacrament, along with the prayers. He laid his hand on my head for what felt like several minutes. This action was like a preparation. I imagined Jesus’ hands on my head, because in essence, that is what is happening. Jesus is working through the priest to reach us; to reach me.

After this, he said some prayers, then placed the oil in the sign of the cross on my forehead and in the palm of my hands. We said some prayers together, and it was done.

Nothing fancy, nothing long, but very serene, very much appreciated.

I left feeling the blessing of that anointing. I left feeling loved by Jesus. I left feeling that maybe, something had changed; that the heaviness I’d been feeling in recent weeks had just been shown a sliver of light, and that maybe it would see that light as its escape.

In the past, this sacrament was reserved mostly for those on their deathbeds. I’m not on my imminent deathbed. In a way, though, we’re all there, aren’t we? We’re all just one step closer to the day we breathe our last. But so far as I know, I don’t have any disease that is an immediate threat to my life.

However, I have been inundated with difficult things, and I guess that was enough for my priest to feel that the anointing would be helpful. And I trusted him on this, and glad I did. I wish more could experience this. I hope they will seek it out.

Each year, our church, on the Feast of St. Blaise, offers this sacrament to everyone at church, in communal fashion, who is ill or aging. I guess, with my 46th birthday coming up, I am aging. Well, I’m not getting younger anyway. And though I wouldn’t consider myself elderly, I am grateful I had a chance to experience this sacrament today.

Father reminded me that many people approach the sacrament wrongly, expecting too much, believing they will be cured of their infirmity, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about procuring (us)/bestowing (Jesus through the priest) additional graces to help us deal with the crosses that have already been placed before us.

By the time I reached home, I’d received some clarity about some things that have seemed muddled, and I was able to write them down. I felt all the prayers of those who have been promising them swirling around me and blessing me. I felt a small but welcomed burst of new life.

I can’t say for sure how all this is going to turn out, but this was an unexpected and beautiful part of my day, and a brief period of time I will remember for quite a while, if not forever.

Q4U: Have you ever been the recipient of a healing or anointing? What was it like?

   Aug 27

writing wednesdays: when life gets messy…

Maybe clean it up, maybe embrace it. What do you think?

I’m delving into the messy today on Peace Garden Writer. Care to jump in the dirt pile with me, plunge into the chaos, smear a little spaghetti sauce on the face?

Alright then, let’s go!

   Aug 25

meaningful mondays: skipped steps, delayed responses

Because our oldest child didn’t follow the usual course, or at least the one we’d envisioned when he was a little whipper snapper — bright-eyed, blonde and boisterous and speaking in full and correct sentences well before age two — we missed a few steps along the way.

There was no college to prep for, no paperwork to fill out or campuses to visit, nothing of that sort.

He’s still discerning how and where he’ll spend his future, and though at one time this grieved me, I have come to understand that this is him, and he’ll find his way a different way. And that’s okay. It has to be. Though they can be difficult to reckon with at first (we parents can’t help but dream about our kids’ futures, it’s in the job description), sometimes the unanticipated steps make life the most interesting.

But also because of this I wasn’t expecting what I have felt this school year as my friends whose kids are his age are taking the long drive to college, leaving them on the college steps and watching them through the rear-view mirror as they make their way home, an empty space in the car and hearts.

I’ve had to live vicariously through my friends. One morning after our morning walk, Katie invited me into her home for coffee. Her son had left for college a few days before and his room was already all cleared out, making way for a new craft room. She’s been through this a couple times before and seemed fairly ready. But it was strange for me looking into that empty room.

I’ve seen other updates on Facebook — another of my son’s former classmates leaving here, another going there. It’s possible some, including those I got to know so well on last year’s choir tour, I’ll never see again.

Our other four kids are back in school now and in years past, it hadn’t come onto the radar, but this year it’s hit me. Our high school hallways are void of an entire class of kids — bunches of souls whose voices had filled those same halls with their unique sounds and forms. They’re just…gone.

Since my son didn’t go down the college road, I haven’t moved through the steps that would have indicated, “Something’s different, something’s changed.” And so instead I’ve had these seemingly random jarring realizations of these students I’d known since they were babies suddenly going M.I.A.

Of course, it’s all good. This is how it’s supposed to work. This is what kids do and this is how parents respond. From the minute we first hold our wee ones in our arms, we are preparing them for this: the exit. And yet, wow. Such a big void when they are suddenly no longer rustling around the home.

Katie admitted it was eerie that first day without her son. It wasn’t like he’d been there a whole lot over the summer, she admitted. But he’d been whizzing in and out frequently and they’d come to expect that whooshing sound as he flew from one thing to the next, grabbing food from the fridge on his way out, no doubt.

I did experience this during our family vacation. Our oldest was working so he couldn’t join us, and as we toured the city of Duluth, I kept looking back, like a mother duck searching by habit for the duckling she senses isn’t among the pack, only to realize he hadn’t come along on that particular journey; that he wasn’t supposed to be there. And yet…there is a sense…like a ghost trailing along somewhere. It’s the oddest thing.

So, I’m just pondering all this now, these children who are the classmates of my oldest, because this is a new thing for me. And even though I didn’t go through the “normal” mothering steps here, I’m still experiencing a lot of that feeling that things will never be the same. I am feeling the grief in that, because there is a hole. No one can kid themselves there isn’t. But also the hope in it.

My son has a whole big life ahead of him, too. I haven’t helped plant him in his dorm on some campus somewhere — and to be honest, I don’t think that would have worked anyway. Someday, I can see that happening, perhaps. He’s got the brains for it. But not the motivation it takes. Not right now. That and he’s never been one to do what everyone else is doing just because everyone else is doing it. And while it’s driven me crazy in moments, I’ve come to have a healthy regard for it, too.

One of my favorite of his classmates and I went out for breakfast earlier this month. She considered me one of her moms and I couldn’t let her slip away without a good hug. But when she wrote on Facebook from the airplane bringing her to basic training the other day, I sat at my computer and bawled like a baby. Or a grieving mama.

Somehow, even in the absence of going through these motions of having a child leave the nest for someplace far away, I am being given opportunities to experience it anyway. What I’m feeling is real, and a little bit odd and unexpected, but I’m almost certain it’s preparing me for something beautiful someday.

Q4U: How do you approach the letting go times? What is the hardest part? The best?

   Aug 22

faith & family fridays: why matter matters

Recently, I attended an event that brought some fresh Christian voices my way. The Catholic Answers conference in my husband’s hometown of Glenwood, Minn., left me feeling enlightened and gifted with new ways of articulating things about the faith I’ve known but haven’t been able to describe easily to others before.

Some of the most profound insights for me came in the opening talk, given by Dr. Charles Bobertz, who is also a Catholic deacon. Bobertz teaches theology at The College of St. Benedict’s and St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., all-women’s and all-men’s Catholic colleges in our neighboring state to the east.

His talk, “How Catholics Read the Bible,” helped me understand different approaches not only to Scripture but in how faith and religion are lived out, particularly from the Catholic point of view, and why our version differs at times from the Protestant version.

The subject matters to me because I have so many Protestant brothers and sisters who, while they profess and believe in the same God as I do, have a different approach to faith than my Catholic one. I think it’s important to grapple with our differences in order to understand one another better, so we can continue to work together to build the kingdom of God.

He talk began with an explanation of the Ancient world, and how people in Jesus’ time understood the world in general and faith in particular. During the time of Jesus’ death, two different approaches to faith emerged: the spiritual view, and the spiritual-plus-earthly view.

The most debated question in Christian circles following Jesus’ death was, according to Bobertz, “Did Jesus rise from the dead in the body or in the spirit only?” This led in turn to the two different approaches to the Christian faith; one focused mainly on the spirit, and the other, the intermingling of both earthly and spiritual matter.

Now, consider for a moment all of the “stuff” that makes up the Catholic faith — the bells and whistles, the incense, the vessels, the ashes and chrism oil. Think of the physical aspects of the sacraments (water, rings, robes,) and the bodily movements (genuflecting, sign of the cross, kneeling). Think of how we approach the body even after it is dead, along with Lent and its ashes and fish.

These elements of our Catholic faith help us express our faith and can bring us closer to the Lord. But some of our fellow Christian brothers are sisters tell us this “stuff,” this earthly matter, is superfluous to what is necessary to live out the Christian life.

It’s true, we don’t need these things to get into heaven. But do they matter? Yes, we believe they do.

Think again of that hotly debated question: just spirit, or spirit and body? In the Jewish faith, the body was part of the deal, and you see these signs in the Jewish tradition of an emphasis on “matter.” It mattered to the Jews, then and now, and it matters/ed to Catholics, too. We brought the Jewish emphasis on the physical and its relevance to the life of faith with us.

Dr. Bobertz mentioned the widely popular YouTube video from a few years back, in which a young man makes the bold claim that he’s “spiritual but not religious.” Many in the Christian world cheered his proclamation. But some Catholics scratched our heads, because we don’t see religion as a bad word. Religion gives form to all of those “things” I mentioned above. Religion respects and invites matter to be a part of the equation, and the body to join with the spiritual.

And therein lies this whole different approach to faith that can help explain our current diversions. “To be Catholic is to be religious and then spiritual, because God is in the world,” Bobertz said. “God is in the world, making the world sacred.” God is in us, too, making us sacred. And this vision of faith, he added, “affirms the sacredness of the Church.”

Consider the question, “Are you saved?” which sends so many Catholics into a tailspin, not because we don’t know, but because we sense there is something more to our answer than a simple yes or no, and we also sense somehow that if we try to give it, we’ll be immediately misunderstood. And we might.

To some Protestants who subscribe to the “spiritual only” view, all you must do is “believe in your heart” and you are saved. But to the Catholic, it’s this as well as all the earthly matter that comes with Baptism, for example, that explains salvation. Our salvation begins at Baptism, with the words of the priest, which is really Christ speaking through that human vessel, “I baptize you in the name of the father, son and holy spirit;” with the water poured over the child; the chrism oil placed upon the child; the white garment worn; the baptismal candle lit.

These things are not irrelevant. And then our conversion continues throughout our earthly lives.

This view also affects our approach to Scripture, according to Bobertz.

“Catholics take the liturgy, the material sacredness that is in the world, and we apply that to Scripture,” he said. “So the whole understanding of what it means to be Christian in the world is different for Catholics.”

This is why, too, a wedding on a beach won’t do. And why it’s not enough to just experience God in nature, though of course we do and can. But the church building, though not an end in itself, does contain a sacredness that cannot be found anywhere else, and that is why we reserve the sacraments for these holy buildings. God is there in a particular and special way and we honor that. We honor the earthly.

Bobertz didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know, but he said it in a way I’d never heard it before, and in that, I could feel a spark rushing through me at the realization. I knew I’d just been blessed by his view.

Even the Eucharist can be explained through this viewpoint, he said. “The Eucharist is really the resurrected body in our midst.” Which, if you ponder that for a while, is profound.

Some of the young people in my life are going to these colleges, or are already there. Some will end up taking one of Dr. Bobertz’s classes — lucky them. I feel certain they’ll come away with a clearer understanding and deeper appreciation for their Catholic faith. Our faith and perspective is a treasure, and Bobertz reminded me of that in sharing his perspective, which really comes down to these two simple words, as he put it:

“Matter matters.”

Q4U: Does matter matter to you?


   Aug 20

writing wednesdays: dad at the fargo theater

It’s their anniversary tomorrow; the people whose lives came together to make mine.

I can’t help but have Dad on my mind this month for other reasons, too. Atticus may have something to do with it, I suppose.

It’s all laid out today on Peace Garden Writer.

   Aug 15

faith & family fridays: banquet in a field

I’m still not exactly sure how I got so fortunate to be invited, but when the invitation came, I knew I couldn’t say no to dinner in a prairie field.

Yep, there I am, Peace Garden Mama taking a sunflower selfie!

The event was organized by a group of women who are part of an organization called Common Ground North Dakota; comprising people who love these prairie lands. They wanted to do something to bring city and country folks together and help us learn from one another; especially for us city dwellers to discover some of the stories of the people who feed the world from the crops here.

The  gal on the right below giving a nod to the cooks is Katie Pinke, my blogging and real-life friend of Pinke Poste. She’s the real reason I got to come!

I ended up finagling my friend Laura, fellow mother of five, to be my date. I knew she’d 1) appreciate a night out 2) find it fascinating and 3) be gracious to the hosts, because she’s just that kind of gal. As we approached the entrance together, she was just as giddy as I was!

In fact, though I interview people for a living, Laura took the lead in question-asking. Here, she’s learning about wool (right) that comes from North Dakota sheep.

When we arrived, we were warmly greeted, and told we could roam around to visit the stations that had been set up and sample the products, which originated from 11 different crops, also on display.

The evening was absolutely amazing weather-wise. We could not have ordered it any better for roaming around the fields, sampling fresh North Dakota products, mingling and indulging our taste buds.

Among the appetizers were Tuscan bean salad, potato salad in apple cider vinaigrette, corn fritters, flax seed crackers with corn hummus, sunflower brittle, endamame salad and candied walnuts.


I will be honest. There were more than a few bugs to keep things interesting, but honestly, what would a field feast have been without some critters buzzing around? Very unnatural at best.

After we’d made our way around the grounds and had our fill of appetizers, the dinner bell rang. No, I’m not kidding! We got called together with a good-old-fashioned ringing of the bell.

Laura and I were blessed to somehow end up next to the field owners/hosts — Mr. and Mrs. Peterson of Peterson Farms in Harwood. He joked and said he couldn’t take much credit for the whole thing. All he had to do was show up in time for dinner.

The chefs are people I know — the Nasellos from here in Fargo. I first met them through my youngest son, who is friends with their son. Then a few years back they started writing a food column for The Forum which comes out a day different than my column, so we have that in common, too.

But unlike them, I don’t know how to cook this kind of grub. I was so excited to hear one of the main entrees would be lamb, but the beef tenderloins absolutely blew me away. I’ve never tasted any meat so tender. It was incredible.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, I suppose. Before that came the chilled gazpacho soup garnished with cucumbers and extra-virgin olive oil.

And a dish of basil pesto pasta topped with toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.

A little cup of lemon sorbet drizzled with North Dakota honey cleaned our palettes in preparation for the rest.

Side dishes included roasted red peppers, green beans, roasted red potatoes, and horseradish and a veal glaze for the meat. Peaches and cream shortcake with toasted almonds made up the dessert.


Just as we were finishing up our meal, the sun started to descend and I was in photograph heaven. I flitted about trying to capture what I could of this rare opportunity.

When it was all done, they gave us mugs and swag bags, and had us hoist ourselves back up onto the flatbed to hitch a ride to our rigs.

Definitely not something you get to do every day, not to mention ever in a lifetime for most. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, shared with a treasured friend and a field full of fun new and old friends.

And it did get me thinking about those farmers, who work so hard to produce this bounty, not just for our little group but for the whole world, really. They don’t get a lot of glory, but they sure do deserve it.

I can’t help but point up to the sky, too, in thanksgiving to our good God, who is so dear to the hearts of these people, and who so lovingly helped set the stage for this memorable night.

If heaven produces banquets like this, we are in for a treat someday. The only thing different, I’d imagine, is that there won’t be any little buggy beetles there, I’m pretty sure.

Q4U:  What or where was the most unusual meal you’ve ever had?

   Aug 13

writing wednesdays: all puffed up are we?

It’s tempting, isn’t it? To think it’s all about us. But is it really?

I’ve got a few thoughts that I hope will inspire you in your writing and living. But you can’t discover them without visiting Peace Garden Writer today.

See you there!


   Aug 11

meaningful mondays: family vacay in delightful duluth

Our family may never experience flying on an airplane together. In opening our hearts to a bigger family, we silently agreed to give up this luxury, though we may not have known it at the time we were in the midst of collecting kids. But one sacrifice I’ve never been willing to make is to forgo spending time together away from home every summer, even if it means limiting trips to within driving distance.

The Black Hills was an early destination of choice. We’d never been there before and it seemed like the right time. But when we realized our time frame would hit the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally, we decided we weren’t up for battling crowds and spiked prices, so we began devising a suitable Plan B.

After a fair amount of rumination, I threw Duluth, Minn., into the mix. Some of us had been there several years ago for a cousin’s wedding and done a few touristy things, but it was quick and focused. Maybe something more intentionally vacation-y would fit the bill. The four-hour distance seemed about perfect and from what we could tell, Duluth has a lot of offer families wanting a little relaxation time together.

We left Wednesday morning and came back Saturday night, but we covered a lot in that time, and by the end of it, I’d put it high on the list of favorite family vacations so far.

To appease the younger kiddos, we chose a hotel with a water park. This was a compromise, since earlier deliberations had us considering an amusement-park destination, and I’d put in my vote to avoid spending our time together going on rides in the hot sun like a few years back.

It’s important to me that our time together has some sort of opportunity for restoration with a side of education when possible. I want it to be a little more than a joy ride. The best trips, in my mind, leave you feeling connected to the place, and enlightened somehow.

For many reasons, Duluth proved to be a dream vacation for me, and I haven’t heard too many complaints from the rest of the crew, either. It has just about everything I would want — an ocean feel without being on the coast, a city with a small-town feeling, and a coastal, creative vibe. We were only four hours from home but it felt like we’d traveled a great distance from our prairie home.

We enjoyed many terrific meals. The first was mine to enjoy with a friend I’ve known for a while now through a mutual friend but never met in person. What a great start to our adventure, sharing my morning with Jennifer at Amazing Grace Cafe, which also exposed me to the lovely area of Canal Park; a portion we’d missed somehow during our last visit.

Hanging out with Jennifer also gave me a great overview of the area. She explained how the fog in the mornings is common in June and August, as well as the relationship between the two cities of Duluth and Superior. She also gave me some choice insider’s advice. If you want good pie, she’d said, skip the well-known Betty’s Pies and go just a little further up the road to try the Rustic Inn & Gifts instead. It will be worth it, she’d promised.


We were not disappointed. The pie was fabulous, but the big surprise for me was the best bowl of homemade chicken and wild rice soup I’ve ever had the delight of tasting.

We shared three big pieces of pie — five-layer chocolate, apple and strawberry rhubarb — though we gobbled them down too quickly for me to snap photos of the actual pie.

We also spent time at the shoreline just off Canal Park…

Enjoyed introductions to various critters at the aquarium…

And an evening pizza cruise.





We topped that off with caramel apples at one of many candy shops scattered throughout the area.

I’ll save my photos of Gooseberry Falls for another day. It’s hard to narrow down hundreds of photos in one post.

For now, I’ll close by saying again how much I loved Duluth — enough that I could imagine myself living there someday, if ever I were to peel myself from the Fargo I also love.

In an email from my Mom, I was reminded of a family connection to the place. My Grandpa Louis,  my father’s father, grew up in this fair city. It felt right somehow to be here during my father’s birthday month when he is so much on my mind. It was one of the treasures of the trip that didn’t come to me until we were well into our adventure, but brought a deep happiness to my heart.

Grandpa Louis in the middle, my Dad, little Bobby, far right

Perhaps this is why it felt so instantly like home to me. There’s something about knowing a part of you has a connection to a part of the earth like this, no matter how small and hidden.

We’re back now, and better than when we left, filled with new memories, refreshed by water and green, better equipped to meet what’s next.

Q4U: Where did you find yourself restored this summer?

   Aug 04

meaningful mondays: celebrating dad

To be honest, Dad was never much for birthdays. Growing up the youngest son of nine kids, there were years in there where birthdays sort of got lost in the shuffle.

In fact, for most of his life, Dad didn’t even know his actual birthday. An aunt was adamant it was Aug. 4, but not everyone agreed, and Aug. 8 ended up becoming the day he would celebrate his birthday, if there was a celebration to be had.

It wasn’t until social security kicked in, and his birth date was released to him along with other documents, that he and my mom noted his true, recorded birth date of Aug. 4. Aunt Mabel had been right all along, it turns out.

Dad’s not with us here any longer, but anyone who’s lost someone dear knows what it means when the birthday of a special person who’s gone on rolls around. I’ve felt those little tendrils of grief sneaking up, and they’re never welcomed, but it’s only been his second birthday, now, post-death, that our family has faced this date, and I think I’m doing okay.

I’m becoming more accustomed to Dad not being around, and at the same time, being around more than ever. There are so many ways his spirit lets me know we’re still connected, and I’m grateful for each of those moments, whenever they come. Sometimes, they come in dreams, and they are wonderful.

I’m so glad my father was born on Aug. 4, 1935. Not just because without his life, mine wouldn’t have been possible, but because his presence brought something unique and unrepeatable to the world, and even those parts of the world that never had a chance to know him have been affected because he lived.

I really believe that each one of us makes a profound difference to everyone else, and I’m so very grateful that my father’s mother, Mary “Daught” Boyle Beauclair, loved big families and lovingly welcomed my father, her “Bobby,” into the world. They had a great relationship — strawberry ice cream was her favorite, and to find himself in her good graces when he was a teen, he would spend some of his hard-earned money from babysitting or washing sheets at the hospital on some strawberry ice cream, just for her, and a little for himself too, I’m sure.

I wish I could have known my Grandma Mary — she died before I had the chance — but I knew her through her son, who helped give me life, taught me how to love nature, and let me know that no matter what, even if everyone else in the world would turn their backs on me, he would always love me.

Even now, at 45, I still need that assurance. Even though I can no longer go up to him and ask him, I still need to remember how he put it the day I felt so low and he brought me back up with his words. Even two birthdays after his death, I haven’t gotten over the need to wish for his big bear hug, though I know it might be a while before I’ll feel it for real again.

Dad may not have been much on birthdays, but I’m hoping he’s past that now, and that from his new location he’s smiling, okay with the fact that we are thinking about him, honoring his life in our own quiet ways, looking forward to when the bear hugs and birthday cakes will be once more.

Happy 79th birthday, Daddy. Love, Rock

   Jul 25

faith & family fridays: interior freedom in the summer

I’d never heard of Jacques Philippe until January, when my sweet friend from Canada sent me a book in the mail.

“Here is a little book I’ve enjoyed of late and thought you might appreciate as well,” her inscription said. “Mine is coffee splashed and full of ink and pencil so this is absolutely yours. Hugs, C.”

It’s a precious thing to know you’re being looked after — a gift from God to realize that as faith sisters, we have one another in our heads and hearts, even through many miles. This is one of the primary ways God cares for us, I think, by putting dear ones in our path.

So I received this gift happily, but then life intervened. I read a little, loved it, but soon got pulled away to other readings and writings until I’d all but forgotten about Jacques Philippe.

Recently, however, I began being drawn to it again, and now, the gift that came to me back at the first of the year has become like gold in my hands during these summer months.

It is small, but rich. Like C’s, my copy is all marked up, underlines and notes everywhere, and it’s possible a few coffee splashes have found their way onto the pages, too.

“So what’s it about?” friends I’ve mentioned it to have asked. Basically, what the title suggests: interior freedom — something I’ve needed in a rather desperate way this summer.

This has been the summer my faith has been put to the test, in particular through what I have faced with some of my children. They are growing up, and making decisions apart from my influence. Some of the decisions have caused me pain. In the midst of this, I have felt numb, without fair recourse, and worst of all, cut off from the lifelong line that has led me to them.

There is a surrender in process that has been particularly soul-piercing, confusing, jarring. So reading a section of Philippe’s book, “Consenting to difficulties,” brought life, hope, a new perspective.

We cannot change our lives effectively without accepting, welcoming and consenting to all the external events that confront us, he says.

“That isn’t so hard in the case of what we perceive as good, pleasing and positive. But it is hard when any kind of setback or suffering is involved,” he says

It is not a matter of becoming passive and learning to endure everything, without reacting, he says, nor should we limit ourselves to accepting things grudgingly. But we should truly consent to them, in a sense “choose them.”

“Choosing here means making a free act by which we not only resign ourselves but also welcome the situation,” Philippe says. “That isn’t easy, especially in the case of really painful trials, but it is the right approach, and we should follow as much as possible in faith and hope. If we have enough faith in God to believe him capable of drawing good out of whatever befalls us, he will do so.”

I don’t know what you think about that, but to me, that’s powerful stuff.

Philippe, as it turns out, is a priest, a member of the Community of the Beatitudes founded in France in 1973. This book and others he’s written are translated from French. I’m glad there are more where this one has come from.

Fr. Philippe has spoken to my heart this summer and given me hope, all the way from France. I feel like I’ve stumbled onto a huge treasure in this man’s reflections and insights. Perhaps he can offer the same to you.

Q4U: What has kept you bound this summer?  Have you been freed, and if so, how?

   Jul 23

writing wednesdays: yes, it’s just a card, but…

Old-fashioned, belabored, not all that important, right? Just a greeting card. Doesn’t need all that much attention.

Or does it?

Here’s my take on that, and why the right space counts in writing just about anything, including messages in greeting cards.

It’s over today on Peace Garden Writer. See you there!

   Jul 21

meaningful mondays: farewell to an irish blessing

I didn’t know Fr. Peter Hughes well — not as well as some in my life.  I would see him at gatherings here and there during the years he served here, and I knew more than a few people who held him beloved. Then one day in 2011, I was given the honor of writing a story on him on the occasion of his golden jubilee as a priest. The day we sat down together, I discovered why he was such a magnet to so many.

With space constraints before me, my editor and I decided to let him do the talking. Our time at the now-defunct Cardinal Meunch Seminary in north Fargo is etched in my memory, in a precious place. Some of his thoughts became infused into the article that resulted, and the rest is simply in my heart, but I have called to mind his broad and loving perspective about God’s hand in the world and in our lives many times over.

Father Hughes’ life ended where it began, in his homeland of Ireland; a place I also count as part of my ancestral grounding. The middle of his life, however, included long stops in both Nigeria, where he was part of a group of missionary priests known as the Holy Ghost Fathers, and North Dakota, where he spent several decades shepherding the prairie flock here. Many, far and wide, including in the Emerald country and here in the Heartland and there in the African jungle, have been touched by his life, which included a deep devotion to Jesus the Christ and his mother.

Since his death this week, I have learned even more about him, including that one young lad, name of Bono, who eventually found his fame in a rock band known as U2, once stood by Fr. Hughes’ side as one of his altar servers. And in our local paper this week, I learned he once captured video footage of the civil strife in Nigera in the late 1960s, which was aired on NBC. He was interviewed during this time on the Today Show.

Fr. Hughes’ real claim to fame, though, was of a humbler variety; the simple loving of God and neighbor, and doing what was possible to make life a little more charitable to those who walked near him.

I have not been able to find a link to that older story, so I am sharing it here, at the request of friends who now are yearning to remember, to hear his voice in phrases, to touch his wisdom and faith and love once more.

May the perpetual light shine upon you, dear Father Hughes. I have every confidence it will and then some.

Father Hughes celebrates Golden Jubilee

By Roxane B. Salonen

In his half-century as a priest, Father Peter Hughes has experienced everything from the high of Mass with Pope John Paul II to the low of a brush with what might have been an untimely and brutal death.

The high took place in 1984 when Hughes, a native of Dublin, Ireland, was just starting his 28-year stint with the Diocese of Fargo. He’d had the fortunate experience of helping lead a three-bus caravan from North Dakota to Canada to meet and celebrate Mass with the former pontiff.

The low happened while on a missionary assignment in Nigeria. As part of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit Order known as the Holy Ghost Fathers, Fr. Hughes was helping introduce Jesus to Africa. But when a civil war erupted between Christians and Muslims, things turned unsafe, especially at night.

One evening, six militants broke through a dividing line and forced Father Hughes to drive them to the next town. “I put two in the front seat, four in the back, and one had a tommy-gun to my head,” he recounted. “It wasn’t until later that I realized how it could have gone. When I got into bed that night I started to tremble. He’d had his finger on the trigger.”

Despite the difficult end, he’ll always remember that time as one of the most blessed of his priesthood. “The Church was thriving there at the time. I baptized about two thousand children a year. I once did 133 baptisms in one go.”

When it was time to leave, Father Hughes made the transition with ease. The pattern of going easily from one thing to the next seems to have been set during his earliest years as the youngest of six children. “Of course, I always claim I was the neglected one,” he said, grinning.

In reality, it was a good life lived in a country rich in faith; a place in which the whole community worked to raise up the next generation. “You didn’t just answer to your parents for misbehaving, but to the locals, too,” he said.

An altar boy in his parish of St. Sylvester’s, the young Peter was formed by parents who greatly respected the Church and priesthood. One priest friend would come over every Monday night to eat dinner and play cards with the family. And music nearly always rang through the house.

“My mother was an opera singer…and we’d have a party every Sunday night at our house. If you wanted to attend you had to play or sing a couple songs.”

Eventually, his father, owner of a grocery store and tea business, moved the family to the coast eight miles from the city. There, the kids swam in the ocean several times a day and stayed active in sports. “We lived beside a castle,” he said. “We had cricket, tennis, soccer – what a life, I tell you!”

Soon after his mother died of heart failure, a teenaged Peter shared his thoughts of joining the priesthood with a local pastor. He finished high school in the seminary while continuing to enjoy his beloved cricket game and bicycling around his homeland.

A year after his ordination on July 16, 1961, he left for Africa. Nearly instantly, he felt at home.

“People say that it must be so different, but human nature is the same whether it’s in white skin or black skin,” he said. “And they gave us a great reception there. There were 306 of us Irish Holy Ghost priests in Nigeria.”

As civil strife increased, the priests became “black-listed” from the area. “They maintained we prolonged the war for 18 months because our guys started airlifting food and medicine every night for the Christians.” Recently, the ban was lifted.

After a pause back home, Father Hughes went to Zambia, where he spent another 13 years. In 1983 he came to North Dakota to help one of his fellow Irish priests and was swiftly snatched up by Bishop Driscoll. “I arrived on a Monday, went to a funeral on Tuesday, and I got a letter in the mail the next morning appointing me to Jamestown.”

Though North Dakota was no Africa, he took to the prairie quickly. “I’m a bush boy at heart,” he said. “I enjoy people no matter where I go, but I like North Dakotans and I like the pace here.”

In his many years of priesthood, he’s seen many changes within the Church, but appears to have it all in perspective. “I went to Africa 49 years ago to bring them into Christianity, and now they’re coming back to save our Christianity,” he said. “It’s all in Scripture. If God doesn’t get the grapes in one vineyard, he’ll go to another.”

That’s not to say the lack of gratitude he’s witnessed in “richer” countries doesn’t concern him. “You see people going to the lake, mowing the lawns, playing with their snowmobiles on a Sunday morning; that hurts me,” he said. “The more we have, the less time for God. It’s a material paganism.”

He added that though we’re surrounded by goodness, we’re not necessarily reaching those at the bottom of the steps outside. “Are we reaching the people who are not (in the pews)? Are we only saving the saved?”

Regardless, he still finds the attempt to bring Christ to others worth the trouble. “That’s the joy of it, isn’t it?” he said, a sparkle in his Irish eyes.

Father Hughes will celebrate his Golden Jubilee in his homeland, where he and a group of priest friends will convene for the first time in many years.





   Jul 18

faith & family fridays: Jesus’ grandparents

When people ask the name of our parish, and I answer, many scratch their heads. “Who are Sts. Anne and Joachim?”

When I tell them they are Jesus’ grandparents, I often get even more befuddled looks.

What’s so interesting to me is the fact that despite the Christian belief that Jesus was truly and fully human, many Christians don’t consider that, just like every other truly and fully human out there, he had grandparents!

Yep, grandpa and grandma, pappy and nanny; who knows what he called them but he had them!

This gets interesting, though, because the names of Jesus’ grandparents are not recorded in the Bible. So to many Christians, especially those who believe that the Bible alone contains all we need to know about faith, Anne and Joachim, parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus, just don’t come onto the radar.

But Catholics have a little more to drawn from. We’ve got Scripture, which is our go-to book above all others, and then we’ve got tradition — all the things that were passed down orally from the time of Jesus that are every bit as much a part of our faith as the Bible. In fact, the two complement one another, and there is an incompleteness to each one on its own. Or so goes the Catholic view.

And yes, there has been a lot of contention over this point through the years, but to me, it just makes sense. We have our lived experience and our recorded experience. Why would it be different for Jesus? I mean, at what point did Jesus say, before he ascended, “Put it in the book, and whatever isn’t in the book isn’t true.” It would take a hundred books to record everything anyone has ever known about Jesus’ life!

Case in point: you don’t find Anne or Joachim in Scripture, but they existed, they were real, and our tradition goes a step further and says they are bonafide saints. And why wouldn’t they be? They’re Jesus’ grandparents after all. Mary was a special gal, and it goes to reason her parents would have been faith-filled examples to such a young lady; a girl who would someday bear the very son of God!

Our parish was named after these saints because we are a younger parish with a lot of families, and Sts. Anne & Joachim are the go-to people for families. They know what it takes to have faith, to teach faith, and to live out faith. And it’s not easy, but we can rely on them for help when we falter. They’ve been there before, after all. No, they’re not God. They can’t effect miracles. But they can pray for us.

Thursday night, we gathered for our parish’s annual celebration in honor of our patron saints. We started with Mass. Afterward, I thought it the perfect time to grab some shots of Sts. Anne & Joachim as depicted in the painted mural on the back wall of our altar. I just love this depiction. It says love, and faith, and commitment, and it’s beautiful besides. Look at the way Mary is humbly accepting her special mission.

From there, we moved outside for our yearly picnic. I was too busy enjoying being with my family on a nice summer day to take photos, but the line for the brats, hot dogs and hamburgers was very long. We enjoyed catching up with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while, and having some Dippin’ Dots ice cream. We had to leave before the magic act, unfortunately.

I also enjoyed reading the reflection about Sts. Anne & Joachim in this month’s Magnificat; the author is Pope Francis: “According to a second-century tradition, Anne and Joachim conceived Mary as a gift from God after years of fertility. Devotion to Anne dates to around 550, when Emperor Justinian built a church in her honor.”

According to the pope’s summary, Anne is frequently shown teaching Mary to read the Scriptures. “Sts. Joachim and Anne were part of a long chain of people who had transmitted their faith and love for God, expressed in the warmth and love of family life, down to Mary, who received the Son of God in her womb and who gave him to the world, to us. How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith!”

Sts. Anne & Joachim, pray for us!

Q4U: What are your thoughts about Jesus’ grandparents?

   Jul 16

writing wednesdays: pondering pen on paper

It’s nearly obsolete yet carries so much power.

What will happen when it goes away forever?

This week, I explore the humanity in our handwriting at Peace Garden Writer. Claim your humanity and head on over there if you can!

   Jul 14

meaningful mondays: forever friend

Even back in college, she was always looking for beautiful things to adorn her world. So it doesn’t surprise me when I go to visit my dear friend from those years when the mounds of evidence show that nothing has much changed, for the good.

The special touches began showing up the minute we pulled up.

When she comes to Fargo, as she does some years, we usually go out to a nice restaurant with our girls, shop a little and, if we’re lucky enough to hit it right, take in a Trollwood outdoor musical.

Then, we spend the rest of our time talking well into the wee hours of the next day. Our topics cover everything from faith and family to assessments of our lives past and present, as well as our hopes and dreams as we look ahead.

When we visit in her small Minnesota town, the flavor is different, but every bit as wonderful. It had been a couple of years since we’d gone there, so a few things had changed from our last trip, but I was struck anew with all of the small things she’s done to make her house a welcoming home.

Like me, she’s a lover of words and knows their power to change an environment, to change a heart. I had so much fun going around her home and collecting all these words, like flowers in a bouquet.

The boys could not get enough of her backyard, which is something of an oasis in the summertime. Whether it was sitting on the deck and having our grilled dinner, or in the patio chairs in front of the firepit, or splashing together in the pool, which the boys did for about six different sessions during our 24-hour stay, we made use of most of the corners we were invited into.

A new kitten graced our visit, too, and as is usually the case, ignited a hope in the kids that we, too, could maybe get another kitten someday soon.

I’m afraid I dashed those hopes for now, but it was a good try. There’s just something about new life that sends kids spinning. I find the looks in my boys’ eyes as they watch little creatures at play so dear.

That was the best of it, but not all we garnered from this trip. The way home pointed out some pretty little spots.

And as the sun further descended, we were treated to quite the spectacle and had to pause to take note. It made for a little longer trip but it was worth it to breathe in a Minnesota sky on a mild, summer evening.



Thank you, God, for life-giving words. 


Thank you, God, for splashes in a pool. 

Thank you, God, for summer nights. 

Thank you, God, for forever friends.

   Jul 07

meaningful mondays: sparkles and sparklers

This year, I only had my phone camera to help me, but for some reason I just love trying to capture the sparkles of July 4. This year, I pulled in my photo editor to help me make a little Fourth magic. Just for fun.






More than anything I love the expressions on my kids’ faces!

Have a sparkly rest of the summer!

Peace Garden Mama


   Jul 03

faith & family fridays: ‘God Alone’

I’d only been returned from my trip South for about ten minutes when I saw the usual stack of mail that awaits a homecoming, including the package, a review copy of a book, I quickly and correctly assumed. As an occasional reviewer and radio host, I’m on several mailing lists to receive books of faith from various publishers. Sometimes I am able to delve into them; sometimes not.

But this one grabbed my attention. Fresh from Kentucky, I was holding a copy of a book filled with the wisdom of Thomas Merton’s journals, Simply Merton, most of which had come from the time he spent as Father Louis at the Trappist monastery in Trappist, Kentucky. It’s been a century now since Merton’s emergence into this world, time to celebrate the best of his work, the publisher determined.

Those who’ve followed my recent journey to the South will understand just why the book felt like gold in my hands. I stared at the cover showing a different angle of the monastery than that to which I’d been privy about a week prior, in awe of the confluence.

I have wanted to know a little more about Merton, especially after visiting the monastery where he spent so much time, and now, here it was, unrequested but delivered nonetheless.

A few years ago, I read an article that was somewhat critical of Merton, and because I want to go into everything with my eyes wide open, it was important to me that, along with reading some of his richest writings, I would also come to a better understanding of what about him bothered some. And now, just today, I happened upon this article, which gave me a clearer understanding of my misgivings.

It helps explain why some Christians approach Merton with some hesitation. At the same time, you’ll see at the end of the piece that his earlier writings are described as “beautiful” and orthodox and worth diving into. I think it’s fair enough that we approach those, even those we admire, with a measure of healthy skepticism, knowing that other than God himself, we are all on a journey, and no one but God is incapable of error.

Nevertheless, I’m still feeling incredibly inspired to have this connection with my journey. Flannery herself mentioned Merton several times in her letters. Though the two never met, they knew of each other, and were aware of the work each was doing. So as I continue to process all that this trip meant, I am discovering that piece of it, and interested in what insights might happen as I go.

Peek at the grounds, Gethsemani, June 2014. Note  the “No Talking” sign.

I think in the end, we pilgrims will agree that when we entered the monastery entrance and saw this…

…we were drawn to it like magnets to a fridge. Look closely at the words above the iron gates; two words that speak so much, and behind them, a beautiful garden of green — as mysterious as the words themselves, which could be pondered for eternity, I would suspect.

To Merton, these words, in part, signified a need for simplicity, to cast aside all encumbrances that might prove to be a hindrance to living for God alone.

Adoration following Mass at the Abbey of Gethsemani, June 21, 2014

As the author of this collection says in the introduction, the Abbey of Gethsemani “was – and remains today – a place to be free, a place to come and do ‘nothing’ but spend one’s time simply for and with God.”

I am only beginning to ruminate over what they mean to me, but the words pull me in, challenging me to question how I might live out the “God Alone” idea — a challenge I gladly accept.

Q4U: What do the words “God Alone” mean to you?


   Jul 02

writing wednesdays: the horse that won’t surrender

There’s this horse I know, and some think he’s a dead horse. But me? I haven’t given up on him just yet.

You want to check on that horse, see for yourself? He’s just over yonder at Peace Garden Writer today!

   Jun 30

Finding Flannery: The Ride to Lou’-uh-vul

God found a way to ease me back into home life from my adventure in the South, though it was hard peeling away from those rolling hills.

It helped when my extended family in Kentucky gathered for a home-cooked meal at Cracker Barrel — one looking just like the restaurant in Bismarck, N.D., where the idea of taking a trip down here first emerged this past Christmas.

These two, kids of my second cousin Chris, rode along with us to the airport in Louisville the next day, yesterday, and since they are the same ages as my youngest two, they helped get me properly oriented toward home.

I sat in the backseat with them while Mom and Blenda, daughter of my Dad’s brother Bill Beauclair, worked the front. I had my book of Flannery’s letters along and they wanted to know what I was reading. Before I knew it, I was explaining all sorts of things about the woman who had transfixed my friends and I enough to travel hundreds of miles to see the elusive peacock place where she’d spent so much time.

Eventually, the subject came around to their beloved hockey team, the Nashville Predators. They were surely impressed to know that I’d met Matt Cullen and interviewed his wife, Bridget, for a newspaper article a few years back.

At the airport, I had a chance to see one more of my Catholic writer friends. Suzanne had had to bypass our trip, reluctantly, in favor of other, more urgent obligations. So it was a true pleasure to have a chance to sit just a while with her before heading back to North Dakota.

I had to grab a bottle of this on the way out.

Sipping on a cool mint julep was something Karen, Christina and I had hoped to do, even if the non-alcoholic variety, but since it never came to pass, I thought I’d stir some up at home sometime, sit out on my back patio and think of them a spell.

Hopefully, it will bring me back to our beloved and blessed time at Andalusia. I’m sighing right now just thinking of it.

But there’s no doubt about the fact that real life needs attention now, too. These reprieves are glorious in part because of the real life that gets lived in between them. There’s no better way to appreciate the mountaintop moments than to live most of the time in the valley. It’s hard to come back to the mundane parts, like bills and deadlines, but necessary, and good, really. There’s a lot of beauty to be lived in these in-between spots; each day is a gift.

I couldn’t get over the Minneapolis airport and its high-tech setup. I felt like I’d time-traveled from a place of yesteryear and straight into the next century.

We ordered dinner right from the ipad. Every little booth in this whole corner of the airport had one and you do everything with the touch of the screen. When the waiter appears with the food it’s almost jarring. You forget there are real people still making it happen.

So now I’m home and far from where I was, but I’ve at least got my peacock feathers. They made it back, though there were a few fragile moments when I wasn’t sure they would. I couldn’t have asked for a better memento than this.

By the way, as Flannery said, traveling broadens a person, including on how to say things properly. I learned, on this journey, that it’s not “Looey-ville” as I’d thought and always heard, but “Lou-uh-vul.” And, as my cousin Blenda noted while on the subject, it’s not Lah-fay-ette, Louisiana, but La-FAY-et. Who knew? Not me, until now.

And by the way, any poking at the Southern dialect I’ve done these past days is truly out of my love for discovering new places and new ways of being and my meager attempt to enter into the life there. It’s been loads of fun.

And with that I’ll say, y’all come back soon now, hear? I’ve got more updates on the way.

Q4U: What have you learned about another place that you didn’t know before through traveling there?

   Jun 27

Finding Flannery Days 6/7: The Cats Came First

My promise to post every day of our Flannery adventure was thwarted by staying at a monastery that lacked a proper Internet connection. So I apologize for lack of proper follow-through. But sometimes, as Flannery well knew, you just surrender.

After this short catch-up post, the rest of what I will share in this series will all be post-journey meanderings. For this moment, however, you’re reading the words of one travel-worn little lady. So, let’s keep this short and sweet, if you please, for now, with just a few shots of our last major destination attraction before the three of us have to (gulp!) say goodbye for a while.

By the way, I am not relishing the thought of parting. These women have truly become my sisters on this brief but concentrated journey. But with that, I know that it’s only the beginning in many ways of all that we’re meant to learn from one another as we continue to find Flannery in our lives.

Flannery talked quite a bit about the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia, and it was a delight for us to finally have a chance to see it for ourselves, and worship several times with the Trappist monks there.

The cats were first to greet us. By the time we left we counted six in all. They were playful and we enjoyed watching them, and decided they had a pretty good setup at the monastery. We didn’t worry too much about monastery mice, that’s for sure.

The rest was just…well, beautiful, peaceful, a nice way to begin to wrap up our time together, really.

These holy places we’ve visited have given us such hope, presented us with such quiet beauty. We can only hope that through sharing of our travels, we are able to offer just a little of that peace to you.


   Jun 25

Finding Flannery Day 5: The Ghost of Andalusia

There really is one. We felt her during our visit.

Float on over for more at Peace Garden Writer today for Day 5 of Finding Flannery!

Peace Garden Writer

   Jun 24

Finding Flannery Day 4: Happy Bird Day at Andalusia

This was it. This was the day we’d been imagining for so long.

We’d traveled all this way, saved all those pennies, convinced our families it was worth it for us to be gone for a while…all for this.

Some might think us a little mad, yet if given a chance, most anyone would travel to where a hero found her voice. That’s all this has been — a chance to feel the spirit of one whose spirit has moved us.

And yet it’s been a little more than that as well. It’s been a journey of connecting, discovering and even of healing.

I’ve long thought green to be a healing color. Today, we got plenty of it. This was our very first glimpse of Andalusia Farm.

Well, after this anyway.

We’d breezed past this sign on our way into town the other day, and for a day beyond that, held the visual in our heads and hearts, wondering what it would be like for real.

Though the house attracted us — the elusive place where Flannery strung so many interesting sentences together — we seemed drawn by an invisible force to the grounds surrounding her old home. Early to arrive, we were the only visitors for most of the duration, and I can’t imagine a gentler, more appropriate introduction to the place we’d seen only in pictures and dreams before now.

Soon, we’d bumped into the home out back that had been residence to Flannery’s and Regina’s (her mother’s) hired help, Louise, Jack and “Shot.”



We couldn’t believe how accessible everything was. A few spots were marked off as the furthest point we could go, but mostly we were free to roam.

Signs let us know how to behave and that was just fine by us.

As we found our way to the back of that outlying house, we discovered a little slice of heaven. Flannery always did call Andalusia a bird sanctuary, and as we learned, it most certainly was, and still is.

You won’t regret stopping here just a moment or two and listening…

I’ve always loved birds but in the past couple years I’ve become even more enamored with them. My father pointed them out often, and in his passing, I was left with the realization of just what gifts they are to us.

Healing green. Healing birdsong. Healing stroll through hallowed ground in the company of beautiful companions.

Eventually, we found our way to what is something of a main attraction. At first, we heard him calling through the grounds in that haunting voice that echoed from tree limb to tree limb. I remember the sound from childhood when we’d visit the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck and the peacocks that wandered the grounds would “yell” to us. That was the sound.

And there they were.

Flannery’s special “pets.” At one time, there were as many as 50 on the grounds. Now, there are just three — the male, “Manley Pointer,” and his two lady friends.

Photo: Karen Pieh Mahoney

I found the females beautiful too…

Photo: Karen Pieh Mahoney

But Manley insisted on center stage.

When we first strolled up he was fanned out. The tour guide later told us he tends to do this in clockwork fashion, straight up at 10. We’d arrived at 10 but had missed the climactic moment, apparently.

But he was not quite done showing off. Soon, he was jumping up on a beam, giving us his best poses.

This is one of my favorites; Manley and Christina, posing together.

Ha! And showing off his sexy legs!

The birds seemed to like us. We had a connection. We were gentle with them, respectful, and in turn, they engaged and let us get some close-ups we had not anticipated possible.

It was as if Flannery herself were there with us, thrilled to show us her birds. “Aren’t they beautiful?” “Yes, Flannery, they are.”

It would only seem right that during our stop at the little gift shop later, I’d pick up a handful of peacock feathers for souvenirs for the kids.

There they are, just around the corner from St. Therese in that vase, which is just above “The Habit of Being” I’ve been talking so much about. Yep, that’s right. Signs of Flannery were all over this place, and we were eating it up like kids in a candy store.

We downloaded hundreds of photos today so I have to pace myself, but let this be a preview of coming attractions. There is more to come and it will be worth a return visit.

It’s been another beautiful day in Milledgeville. My cup is overflowing and I hope to bring back some of this abundance to my loved ones back home soon. But for now the adventure is still unfolding. Hurray!

Q4U: What heals you?

   Jun 23

Finding Flannery Day 3: Road Trip

When we rose this morning, we did so with a “Goodbye y’all” to  Springfield, KY, and “Howdy” to the long and unexplored (to us) road to Milledgeville, GA — all eight hours worth, and with a couple little stops for lunch and relief, make that nine.

There’s so much I’ve not had time to mention while working hard to hit the top layer of this incredible trip. My commitment to blogging daily means “Just the highlights, Ma’am” for now. But before I move on I must mention that despite being in the Bible Belt, we three Catholic travelers just experienced what is known as the Holy Land of Kentucky.

Photo: Karen Pieh Mahoney

Indeed, an incredibly rich Catholic heritage exits in the area surrounding Springfield. We felt we were among many kindred spirits; not far from our hearts after all. It was pretty cool. Just check out our jaunts around the area yesterday to see for yourself (see Day 2 post).

Now, having said that, it’s time to bring you into the loop of Day 3, which was 95 percent about traveling. In fact I was beginning to think all my photos for today’s post would be road shots.

Don’t get me wrong. It was an amazing journey. Three northern faith writers exploring the South together in search of Flannery O’Connor can’t help but make for a giddy ride, and it was full of that. We went through everything from country to city to country to city again.

And from sunshine to rain back with a return to sunshine then clouds.

Then finally, with just a few sips of our water bottles left, there it was on the horizon — our first sign of our main destination: the stomping grounds of our heroine.

Around that time, we also learned why Flannery had such a hard time — or maybe such a fun time — with spelling. It seems to be in the water.

I wish I’d turned my camera on our youngest traveler, Christina, who was practically jumping out of her seat in the back as we came within a few miles of Flannery’s hometown. She’s largely responsible for planning this trip and was beyond ecstatic to see this longtime adventure turning into reality before her eyes. Karen and I weren’t so subdued either.

Karen and Christina

When we got to Milledgeville, we couldn’t believe it. The town downright impressed us. It was much more modern, tidy, and sparkly than we’d imagined.

The Inn where we’re staying the next couple nights exceeded our every expectation. What a cool pad!

That’s just the outside. Here’s a peek at the inside, including my temporary room, the Oak.

And the chair where I composed this post.


We couldn’t help but gush at this little treasure of a city; a city many people have scratched their heads over while asking us, “Now where are you going again?”

It’s a neat little place that boasts Flannery’s digs, of course, but also what seems to be a very nice college, Georgia College & State University. We drooled over it and wish we’d have known about this place back in our college-picking days!

Then again there are no regrets, only moments to savor from the past and many to look forward to in the future.

Speaking of savoring, all that traveling made us hungry. After settling into our bed and breakfast — which is absolutely charming beyond imagining — we hunted down a restaurant that would offer a few Southern options, and seemed to choose right in landing on Buffington’s, where we had fried green tomatoes, catfish and salads, all the while a pair of musicians played a little bluegrass in the background.


I’ve long wanted to try fried green tomatoes and these ones, with their Parmesan cheese on top and spicy dipping sauce, did not disappoint.

The catfish was mighty tasty, too, with its yummy crust!

Well, it’s been a long day and I’m short on words now, but my heart is full and remains ever so grateful. Tomorrow, we start making our way into the center of what this trip has been about all along, and we can’t wait to share a bit of our findings.

Magnolia bud

God bless and g’night from Milledgeville, GA!


   Jun 22

Finding Flannery Day 2: Where Thomas Merton Trod

Day two began on a lovely note with a little fuel for the journey.

Christina lured herself awake with a little swing on the porch.

And once we’d packed our lunch, we were off for a Eucharistic service at a Trappist monastery.

I wish I could say I’ve read “The Seven Storey Mountain,” Thomas Merton’s well-known memoir, but I cannot, and because I cannot, I missed some of the significance of Day 2 of our journey South.

It reminds me a little of the time I was in Rome, back in college, before I appreciated the depth of just what Rome means to my faith story.  It’s on my bucket list to return, now that I would cherish each step.

Perhaps I will return someday to this beautiful part of the country too and have a greater appreciation for Merton. For now, however, I can say that Day 2 was beautiful, and that, like that naive college student, I took it in nonetheless with a sense of awe and a peacefulness in my heart.

It didn’t hurt that we started our day winding through the Kentucky hillside, finally landing at Merton’s old haunts, which are still very much alive today.

Alive with the prayer of the monks.

Alive with their voices (listen here), pleading to a good God we can’t fully understand.

Alive with memory.

Alive with beauty.

In some ways it didn’t matter that I didn’t know all there is to know about this sacred place.

I still let it all wash over me, let it heal my soul, let it slow my breathing.

After Mass and a chance to inhale this lovely, peaceful place, our “tour guide,” Southern Belle Beth, our fellow pilgrim and chef, brought us to another little spot of heaven — a place where she’s gone for solace as a Catholic writer before; to the mother house of the Sisters of Loretto.

She showed us many spots in which we might set down our picnic, but we chose this one, near a pond called Mary’s Pond, which runs parallel to a little road that had just been blanketed with fresh cedar chips.

We lingered and laughed and looked out on the pond, marveling at the turtles who poked their noses up, but would duck before we could take photos.

Karen, however, was able to capture the dragonflies.

We strolled through the grounds a bit…

Taking in the rocky grotto…

And a piece of art Beth said is one of her favorites, “The Magnificat,” which reminded me of my friend Katie back home…

The outdoor Stations of the Cross…

And many other lovely things.


And then, Beth announced it was time to depart. We needed to get on back to Cinnamon House so she could get home and catch an evening flight to D.C.

Now, we were on our own — three northerners in the South.

We took it easy the rest of the day, blending into our environment, letting our souls sit a while.

We caught up on some reading and writing and pondering what tomorrow will bring.

We talked about the joys of faith and some of the experiences that have led to where we are now.

And how much we appreciate today.

God is good and we all see this as an incredible gift that we are soaking in like thirsty sponges.

Tomorrow, we shall ride to Georgia!

   Jun 22

Finding Flannery Day 1: Springfield, KY

Hello Y’all!

Yep, I’m settling into my temporary environment here in the South, and so far so good!

This morning, after a nice breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Bowling Green, KY, my mama and cousin Blenda and I left Blenda’s house, along with her lovely crepe myrtle hibiscus bush, and headed for Springfield, where Day 1 of summer and our pilgrimage in search of Flannery O’Connor would begin.

I could tell from the road we weren’t in North Dakota anymore.

When we rolled into Springfield, Cinnamon House, our bed and breakfast, came suddenly into view. Our first Catholic writer comrade, Beth, was out on the porch swing.

It was the perfect Southern welcome. She’d been in the kitchen, preparing a meal for us pilgrims from the Midwest; Christina and Karen from Wisconsin, and I, from the Dakotas.

I said hello to Beth and goodbye to Mom and Blenda. As they pulled away and headed back to Bowling Green, I checked out our temporary digs.

Cinnamon House was just as charming as I’d imagined.

I chose the first room I came to since it was red, and, well, that’s my favorite color so it called my name

Lincoln is a big presence around here. His parents apparently married in this town, so you see a lot of him around.

But first, the meal, all of it garden fresh — kale and onions, a delicious meatloaf, homemade bread with basil butter, and roasted veggies. Dessert was a fruit crisp with rhubarb, blueberries and another berry that escapes me now, but…yum! We capped it all off with some hot tea.

Then I sneaked out to get a few more shots before sundown.

I couldn’t keep all this to myself so I ran back to tell the gals what I’d witnessed, and they joined me for another stroll to end the evening.

I tried getting some shots of the fireflies. I love them! We don’t have any in North Dakota, or none that I have seen. They are like little sparklers lighting up the grass. I can’t help but think how much my boys would love to try to capture them in a Mason jar.

We’ve only just begun our little adventure, but so far, it’s been a beautiful blessing. I am thanking God every hour for this chance.

Tomorrow, we will explore the grounds of the monastery where Thomas Merton wrote his famous memoir, “The Seven Storey Mountain,” along with other discoveries.

See y’all again real soon, now, you hear?


   Jun 16

memorable mondays: triple digits!

When I visited her last month, I said to Grandma, “Next time I see you it will be at your birthday party!”

“I won’t be there,” she responded with little expression.

“Well I hope you will be,” I said, smiling, though not able to crack her stern gaze. “100 years is a long time. We want to celebrate with you!”

And so on Saturday, we did, and she was there, thank God! There, and from what we could tell, taking it in as well as she could for someone who seems halfway between this world and the next.

A few years back, Grandma started showing signs of a forthcoming departure. Yesterday, she said something about not wanting another 100 years. I told her that soon enough, she’d be with those she has missed so much and for so long. Most of her friends have already gone, of course, and many other dear ones, including her husband, my Grandpa Joe. I asked her to greet them all for me when she gets to where they are. I want her to be eager for what comes next because her liveliest years are behind her now.

And yet it’s not everyday someone you love reaches triple digits. Maybe once, if you’re lucky.

I’ve had a lot of — too many — friends die young. This started in childhood. Funerals of children were not uncommon in my growing up years. And later, in young adulthood, I experienced the fleetingness of life again when so many of my friends, mothers of children, began leaving.

It gave me an appreciation for life, a stark reminder of how short it can be, and why each day is truly a gift. When God bestows longevity, it is a blessing, to the soul given that gift, and maybe more, to those that soul has touched.


This was as much a gathering for those of us who exist because of her, who have been the recipients of her love, have swirled around her through the years, dancing around the life that helped start off this brood.

It is very hard to imagine life without Grandma. Since age nine, this is the only grandparent I’ve known. My paternal grandma died before I was born, and my grandpas were gone by my 4th grade year. Grandma Betty has endured through all of this and is something of a living miracle, a witness of how much God loves us to bless us with her presence for so long.

This daughter of a lawyer/judge and teacher, who became a teacher herself for a time, married, then lived for her family, became a philanthropist, swam thousands of miles at her local YMCA, played bridge, entertained, told lively stories we will forever cherish; this only child who always had a bit more spunk than the next kid, who survived being widowed and never remarried, who loved traveling, who raised three daughters and loved six grandchildren and their 11 children – her great-grands – is a century old.

Born June 15, 1914, she’s lived 100 years and loved me for 45 of them.

Happy 100th dear Grandma. You have lived an amazing life and we are so honored to have been part of it!

My sister’s husband took the above shot, and each time I look at it I love it even more. It’s grandma, looking at a photo of herself at age 20. She didn’t say much, just gazed mostly, but how I wish I could have known her thoughts at this moment. The photo was taken 80 years ago!

After the party, the sky ushered us home with its beautiful, early-evening preview of what would be a downpour later. It was brilliant and breathtaking and affirmed everything about the day being a complete blessing.


   Jun 13

faith & family fridays: lopsided life

I didn’t see it coming. At all. But it did, and before I knew it I was completely overtaken, and my whole world had gone lopsided on me.

I was like a deer in the headlights.

It all left me feeling a little bananas.

Recently I’ve been forced to face some very hard scenarios as a mother. And in that, I’ve realized that no matter how prepared I had felt, or how much I had journeyed through and learned, or how well I’d built up my spiritual fortifications, sometimes, life brings situations that leave us clueless.

In such a time, everything that has led us to wisdom falls away and seems inaccessible.

These quandaries have involved my teenagers and the kind of details you always pray you will be fortunate enough to avoid. They are not immediately life and death, but certainly, you wonder where it all could lead.

Some of you parents have been here, too, looking up to the heavens and saying, “Really God?” And then reaching out your hands to that same God and saying, “I am totally unarmed, and ill-prepared.”

But it’s in being in that place you don’t want to be, when your stomach is in knots and all that you had hoped for seems far away, that you realize you do have armor after all.

You have Him. He who sees all, knows all, loves all, and will carry you through this, too, even though His voice has become very tiny; barely audible.

Barely, but not altogether gone. He is still here…in the friend who rubs your shoulder, the other who brings a comforting word, and the one who shares a Scripture passage she knows she heard for you and you alone at just that precise moment.

Even as the floor falls from under you, somehow you manage to hold onto something…the divine hand…just enough to not get sucked under.

Everything about me wants to go running and screaming from these years of parenting teenagers. I didn’t know a heart could break more than once in a day. I’m baffled by what’s been presented. But I know that giving up really isn’t an option. There’s too much invested. The only thing to do is plow through.

“Jesus I trust in you.” That’s all I got. And for now it is enough.

   Jun 11

writing wednesdays: a quest for the tangible

I love how the writing of one writer can enliven the life of another.

Reading an article today got me even more eager for my upcoming trip to Andalusia Farm. Now, I’m even more sure what I’ll be there to find.

Follow the trail over to Peace Garden Writer to discover what I aim to uncover…


   Jun 09

meaningful mondays: a niece marries

It wasn’t that long ago that she was 2, trailing me around her home, where I was a guest, watching me, her auntie, apply makeup as I prepared to meet the day. I’d come from far away, left all my busy work in a busy newsroom behind to see her, to hang out for a while with my little niece — the first of of eight children my sister and I would help bring into the world. And as she watched, I could feel her sweet young gaze and all its wondering.

Was she already imagining in some inexplicable way this day?

I didn’t expect the emotion that would rise up within me during the ceremony, as a string quartet played haunting melodies of life and love, as a future bride joined hands with her future groom, as they locked eyes during the vows, as she tried not to cry.

I see people crying at weddings and it’s hard for me to connect sometimes. I didn’t cry at my own wedding. I’d seen too many brides lose it walking down the aisle. I, on the other hand, was intent on remaining in control.

And I’ve sung at weddings of people I don’t know. It’s easier then to remain composed.

But this time, it was different. This time, that little baby face I saw sitting in her mother’s arms that very first visit, waking me up with her little giggles, and my awe over the fact that my sister had really done it — she’d become a mother — after all our pretending in our growing up years about this day, here it was. A child. My only sister’s child. And so beautiful at that.

And now, a blushing bride, and the years flash back and forward and in a jumble I realize…this is big.

This is the beginning of a new life, and the beginning also of many weddings and new souls coming into our lives and all that our growing families will come to mean in the coming years — and so much of it as yet unwritten.

Next, it could be one of our daughters.

Who knows? For now, I’m content with them serving punch at their cousin’s wedding.

I’m not quite ready.

Was my sister? She seemed so composed, so relaxed. She did a great job of being mother of the bride. I know it wasn’t easy every step of the way, but she did it. I’m so proud of her. Because really, even though it’s about my niece and her new husband, it’s also about my sister and her husband and everything they have poured into this life.

Now, they step away and hope they’ve done enough to teach her to be a woman, a wife, a mother.

The photos speak for themselves, but suffice it to say…it was a beautiful day. The rain of earlier had cleared just in time for outdoor shots.

And from there, everything seemed to flow as flawlessly as one might imagine it.

Oh, I’m sure there were a few hidden foibles.

But we couldn’t see it from the outside.

We just took it all in and enjoyed the sight of a new family in the making. Two saxophone players from North Dakota who met in Colorado and realized…this was something different than they’d known before.

I pray for my beautiful niece and her charming new husband, that they will always have the opportunity to share the music of their souls and never forget what it feels like to dance.

I pray that God would wrap His loving arms around them and never let go, and that they will respond in kind, and realize that it is only through Him that they will find true fulfillment in this world.

There is much reason to be hopeful.

And by the way, Happy Anniversary today to my sister and her husband, as if a wedding and another birthday the same day of the wedding wasn’t enough!

Q4U: What are you hopeful about this week?

   Jun 06

faith & family fridays: ‘a sense of deliberateness and calm’

Even writing these words, “A sense of deliberateness and calm,” brings me a sense of deliberateness and calm.

To me, this is the height of calm.

The times I have spent at the Carmelite monastery here in North Dakota have been some of the most divine of my life. And it’s not that the other times have left so little to be desired, but they largely take place within the chaotic cacophony of life.

I like that life is full of vibrant color, varied people and robust challenges. But calm is important too, and sorely lacking in our current world.

Earlier this week, we celebrated the 48th World Communications Day, and as part of that, Pope Francis issued some guiding words to help us make the best use of the technology we have before us in order to most effectively communicate. His message can be found in its entirety here and I’d highly recommend a look.

For now, I’m going to pull a few of the phrases that spoke to me, because I think they are for anyone to receive and process, whether you are Catholic or otherwise, and a professional communicator or otherwise. We humans all have a great need to communicate, and the better we do this, the more fluidly we can move through life.

The pope says communication is more a human than a technological achievement. Already, another image than what I’d been attaching to “communications” comes into my mind.

“What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding?” he asks. “We need…to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen.”

That’s not something usual these days, is it? We must plan for it, work toward it, and move into it. And if we’re so fortunate as to reach that place, we must let go of distractions and allow it to change us from within.

For some, this is very scary. For all, this is necessary.

“How can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter?…How do we draw close to one another?” Pope Francis asks. “Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God.  I like seeing this power of communication as ‘neighborliness.’”

The pope said that communication aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others is a form of violent aggression like that which was suffered by the man in Scripture who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. “Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbor.”

I know how easy it is to be tempted toward aggression in communications efforts, and yet as a communicator, I feel strongly that we must engage, including on popularly contested topics. But I feel that God has given me courage in this realm and a heart to go after those difficult topics anyway.

And so I will step into terrain that might feel foreign, that might involve risk, but I can do this because of God’s grace, because of the community that supports me, and because I have first dwelt in a place that has brought me a sense of deliberateness and calm.

Whether it be at the monastery or at the feet of Jesus in Adoration or sitting on a bench in the park watching my children play, purposefully seeking out these places of refuge serve to calm my heart. And when my heart is calm, I can lovingly enter the places of engagement that God is calling me toward.

If we only deal with safe topics, only talk to people with whom we agree, and never take risks in the realm of communications, I don’t know that we’re really serving God in the way He asks. Not everyone is called purposefully to be the kind of communicator I believe God has called me to be but we are all called to communicate as lovingly and thoughtfully as possible.

Sometimes the most powerful kind of communication is simply done through our right and loving actions.

But for me, words are often required. Fortified by the love I have known, and the calm I have cultivated, I can move in, offering up that same love, and die to self as God’s human vessel by seeking, challenging, receiving and being a vibrant part of the human conversation. I

Hopefully, my communicating will be part of what brings me ultimately into God’s arms, and maybe even attracts others to seek the same.

Q4U: In what ways are you being challenged to communicate, and challenged by communications, when it comes to your life as a Christian?

   Jun 04

writing wednesdays: flan plus that pretty bird

Okay, whose name begins as a Mexican dessert and who, in her life, had an obsession over colorful feathered friends, particularly the beautiful peacock?

If you don’t know her already, you’re going to love this gal and her imperfeck-shuns. Trust me.

Now fly on over the Peace Garden Writer for more, like now!


   May 19

meaningful mondays: party week in pics and vids

It’s been another month of parties and celebrations!

Before I go on, let me tell you about these guys. We have, far right, our oldest, and in the middle, the grad whose mom snapped this shot years ago, and to the left of him…remember that face. Okay? Just remember it because he’ll come back in a bit.

The final of five grad parties we attended this week/end included the precious picture above, featuring our big senior and his friends back when they were around 4 years old at Vacation Bible School. Melted my heart seeing my now-big-boy as a little cowpoke, arm around his buddies. I won’t do the “time flies” mantra. I won’t. But it does.

I honestly wondered how we’d make it to the other side of this week/end. I had things color-coded in my “to do” list and Troy and I were both dizzy looking at it. We had to make some choices, do some tag-teaming, keep things reasonable.

I couldn’t miss this one.

Look at the smiles on these women. Those are not fake, I assure you. We’ve been together a long time, doing our Tuesday afternoon Scripture pondering, eye-watering, belly-laughing thing. We feel big and deep and find comfort in doing this together. Now, one is leaving. It’s not easy saying goodbye. But you just have to close things off properly and we loved getting together to offer this official farewell. Our party included a lot of singing.Plus, you just have to close things off properly and we loved getting together to offer this official farewell. Our party included a lot of singing. We’re all pretty creative gals and we couldn’t help ourselves. We sort of…er…forgot we were in a public place. No one stops us from singing when we’re gathered around the fireplace Tuesdays at our friend’s house. It just felt so natural. In the end, however, we “church ladies” pretty much got kicked out of the place by an irritated bar tender who was trying to watch a in the next room over.

Oops! I  think he just needed a hug. Next time we’ll try that.

At the first of the handful of grad parties, our son’s tennis buddy, Alex, featured this cake patterned after his actual tennis racket. I love the tennis ball cupcakes!

We broke away from party #2 Saturday in time to make it to our younger sons’ piano recital. It was  nicely done, complete with bows after each song and piece, and we are still gushing over the progress we’ve seen over the last year. Here, Nick is doing a duet with his teacher. You can catch one each of their solos here and here.

Then Sunday night, our oldest daughter performed downtown with 30 or so members of her high school choir, who joined forces with a local adult choir and orchestra at a church to perform Faure’s “Requiem.” She downplayed the whole thing so I was not prepared for what commenced.

Sitting in the audience, and after a very busy span of days, I felt like I was being handed a surprise gift. Here’s one of my favorite portions of the requiem, “In Paradisium.”

And now, remember that face at the top of the page to the left? Here he is last night singing the solo from “Libera me.” Wow! And that with a cold to boot. I’m afraid our kids may not know just how blessed they are to be experiencing these things as teenagers. I guess that’s what we moms are for — to remind them.

So, we did make it through, and with smiles to end the evening.

Q4U: What made you smile this weekend?

   May 12

meaningful mondays: mother’s day 2014 in pictures

This weekend, I came upon a Mother’s Day post I did a few years back — a Mother’s Day reflection in pictures. It brought happiness to my heart, and seemed such a simple but poignant way of sharing how my family brought joy to me that year. So I thought, along with linking to that precious post, I’d do the same for this year (below).

Just one more verbal mention: I was treated to breakfast in bed by my middle son this morning. It used to be his sisters who took on this task, and as girls are wont to do, it came with all the frills. His he-version of breakfast in bed was a little tamed down — coffee and cocoa puffs — but his sweet smile and generous spirit reached straight through to my heart. I enjoyed every chocolate ball and the coffee was just perfect with the right amount of half and half!

Later, our whole family enjoyed a Mother’s Day brunch. Last night at a Mass for which I served as cantor, we had our May crowning featuring the mother of all mothers, Mary! Isn’t she gorgeous?

The rest of my Mom’s Day weekend treasures will be shared in the visuals below. One of my disappointments was not having the chance to get a mom and kids photo this year.

God bless all you mothers and the teachers who help make the day special with their organizing of projects that bring us so much joy!

Gift #1: What could it be???

Is this neat or what? An artistic tile with clips to hold photos!
Gift #2 from middle child: so sweet!
Gift #3 came with a surprise in the back…
Precious words that left me feeling immeasurably blessed…

   May 09

faith & family fridays: is ‘ritual’ a bad word?

My lovely and well-meaning friend was trying to make a point. She noticed how passionate I feel about my Catholic faith, as demonstrated through my posts and murmurings on social media. And our brief discussion led her to feel, for a time, defensive about her own faith.

“I guess I feel pretty passionate about my church, too,” she said, “and a big reason for that is it is focused outward to people not inward to ritual.”

I find it interesting to hear the perspective of those looking at faith — and a particular way of carrying out that faith — from the outside. 

We are both believers in God, but we each have our own ideas of the particulars of how our love of God should be manifest. I hope God will give each of us a little pass for at least trying. Neither of us is probably getting it completely right.

But her words contained a challenge, and what I perceive as a misunderstanding.

Ritual seems to have become a bad word outside some of the mainline Christian denominations, similar to the word “religion,” which I covered here a while back. I guess now it’s time for ritual to have its due.

So my question is, is ritual the problem, or is it our understanding of what ritual is?

According to the all-handy Wikipedia, “ritual” defined most simply is “a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence.”

“Rituals of various kinds are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present,” the piece goes on to say.

An expounding paragraph explains ritual in broad terms, saying ritual includes not only the various worship rites and sacraments of organized religion, but also the rites of passage of certain societies. “Even common actions like hand-shaking and saying hello may be termed rituals,” it says. 

Think swan preening

But a few paragraphs down, something else piques my interest:

“The field of ritual studies has seen a number of conflicting definitions of the term. One…is that a ritual is an outsider’s…category for a set activity (or set of actions) that, to the outsider, seems irrational, non-contiguous, or illogical. The term can be used also by the insider…as an acknowledgement that this activity can be seen as such by the uninitiated onlooker.”

I find the words “outsider” and “insider” interesting, since I had used the same. In the case of my friend and me, I am almost sure, based on her comment, that there’s a disconnect between her perception of “ritual” and mine.

Because, truth be told, if ritual is done right, it flows from belief, and rather detracting from it, provides a way to increase it. But when ritual is misunderstood,  it becomes simply something mysterious which, I can completely see, could become superfluous to the outsider.

Where my friend misses the reality of it as I’ve known it is that ritual is not meant to be the end-all of faith. Ritual is part of the way we come as believers to be fed. The act of falling to our knees in prayer and worship is, I think, ritualistic. We are in reception mode at that point, drawing on our Lord what we need to go out into the world and do the work of love.

Even eating to me is ritual, to some degree. We draw to the table, with all of our ritualistic tools — spoons, forks, bowls — and why? To be fed. To receive nourishment so that we can go on living as well as possible.

For me, ritual is the point at which I forget about myself and surrender to God, opening myself in an act of receptivity to be nourished.

Now, put that way, is ritual really so bad?

Of course it can be, like anything, misused, but I think we are way too quick as a culture to have an “either this or that” mentality. Example: “We can either worship God in ritual or without ritual.”

Why not both? Maybe we can have ritual that draws us inward, and then take what we’ve been fed and bring it outward. That’s how I’ve always understood it, so seeing it any other way is a completely new idea, and seems lacking.

It’s not that ritual is bad and reaching out is good. How about that ritual can help lead us to loving others more deeply? Why not that?

Q4U: When you hear the word “ritual,” what comes to mind? Is it a bad word to you? Or do you associate it with something more positive?

   May 07

writing wednesdays: for those who’ve forgotten how to breathe

Sometimes, the white spaces are too thin.

Here’s one way I’ve been able to deal with that problem in my own life:

The rest is on Peace Garden Writer today! Hope to see you there!

   May 02

faith & family fridays: “cum pati” and st. gianna’s

I’ve known of the St. Gianna’s Maternity Home in Warsaw, N.D., since before its grand opening a decade ago. In that first year, I had the privilege of touring its beautiful interior just on the cusp of its becoming a harbor for women facing unplanned pregnancy and dire situations meriting refuge.

And I’ve become endeared to the woman who inspired the name and mission — St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Several years after the home opened, my middle son, Adam, had a chance to meet Gianna’s son, Pierluigi Molla, who was in town for a special event associated with the home.

From afar, I’ve watched the home become a success story, not only for the babies who’ve been brought into the world because of it but for the mothers, whose lives have been rebuilt from the bottom up due to the care they’ve received there.

And on Monday, I was blessed to be part of a 10th anniversary celebration to honor the home and those associated with it.

My part was small. I sang one song at the end of the evening as things wrapped up and guests considered stewardship opportunities to keep the home running. But my reward was huge.

The home’s founder, Mary Pat Jahner, insisted my guest and I join the head table at the front and center of the long room. This head table included the keynote speaker and our state’s lieutenant governor, but it was as casual and humble a table as you could find.

Another of our table guests came with crayons and a stuffed teddy bear. She’s only nine — the same age as my baby — but when she gave her speech, all eyes and hearts were happily captive.

Mary Pat Jahner, founder of St. Gianna’s Maternity Home, and Geianna, 9

This little gal is not only full of spunk but she lays claim to having been the first baby to be born with the help of St. Gianna’s. She bears the same name, in fact, without the “saint” at the beginning — at least for now.

The keynote speaker is someone who has become personally very special to me, having spent time with my father in his final months in the hospital, starting in November 2012, until his death in January 2013. At that time, Monsignor presided over the funeral and, during a quiet conversation as we prepared to do the Mass music, he gave my sister and me a gift — a gentle glimpse into the soul of our father in his final days. I will be forever indebted.

Monsignor Thomas Richter, pastor, Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Bismarck

He normally speaks from the pulpit at my mother’s parish — Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck — but for this, he made the drive three hours west. I told him I was looking forward to his talk. He warned me he’d had little time to prepare and I shouldn’t expect too much. But at the end of it, as I wiped away tears, I thought, “If this is his ad lib stuff, I wonder what his prepared talks are like?”

Monsignor is one of 14 children raised here in North Dakota. His parents showed up to hear their son talk, and when they stood, his father did a quick farmer’s wave around the room, a toothpick in his mouth, and his mother beamed as any good mother would. They seemed to be truly salt of the earth people who have turned out a son with a remarkable grasp of the soul and what it thirsts for.

And my soul needed what he shared Monday night; first, a story of his brother, Andy, someone with Down’s Syndrome who is also a hero in the minds of many — much more than he will ever be, Monsignor said. “I’d like to think God sees it that way, too, and I’d be just fine with that.”

He introduced his brother in part to lead into the crux of our top earthly goal as followers of Christ. Though I’d come to sing not report, by the end of his talk I’d managed to scribble down a few notes. Thankfully, because I’ve been pondering them ever since.

Compassion was the real theme of the evening, and Monsignor described it as one of the greatest gifts God offers us. Because of this, it is also easily distorted.

He broke the word down to its essence in order that we might enter more fully into its depth. “Compassion,” he said, comes from the Latin words “cum,” or “with,” and “pati,” or “to suffer.” So it literally mean “to suffer with.”

Mary Pat left a beloved teaching job more than a decade ago to suffer with the girls and women who would enter St. Gianna’s Maternity Home. In that time, over 80 babies have come into the world who might not be here otherwise. And over 80 mothers have been transformed.

It is not easy work. Most arrive with a fair amount of baggage, as those clients and former clients who spoke will attest to. They are, like most of us, wounded in some way and in need of healing, not just emotionally but other ways as well. St. Gianna’s gives them nourishment, from physical to spiritual, and when they move on from there, the relationship remains.

St. Gianna’s cannot save everyone, but it is a start.

So Monsignor talked of the compassion the people there have in the truest sense of the word. “It takes a great soul to understand there are no easy fixes,” he said. It is the harder thing “to suffer with,” he added, and easier to have false compassion. This is the compassion of the culture of death, which says, “I see your pain, but I really don’t want to be at the cross with you.”

“When someone has to suffer alone it’s harder to make the right decision,” he said, making it clear he understands that women in difficult situations, facing bringing a life into the world when they do not have proper support, are truly facing a hardship. “But we can do better,” he said, referring back to another story he told. He noted how much easier suffering becomes, how much more bearable, when someone is willing to suffer with us.

Not take away the problem. Not erase it. Not bring fresh wounds to those still not healed. But offer true compassion by “suffering with.”

It’s beautiful, is it not? I can’t imagine anyone there not being moved — moved to rethink this idea of compassion and what it really is.

Are we willing to enter into the suffering of others? This is what living is, according to Monsignor. There’s something powerful here, something deep, something worth taking into our hearts and pondering.

We may grapple in this world with the sincerity of our compassion, but one thing is for sure — God never will. When He offers compassion toward His children, there’s nothing false about it. He’s for real.

Q4U: What do false and true compassion look like to you?

   Apr 30

writing wednesdays: those who rock standing rock

A week ago, I was heading down…the Atlantic…Highway.

Oops! For a minute there I was back in 1989 singing with the B52s! Let’s try this again.

I was heading down old Highway 1806 in North Dakota on my way to a very special author visit with some incredibly inquisitive, darling students.

Truly, you won’t want to miss my journey to this corner of North Dakota. Peace Garden Writer has the skinny today! Last one there’s a rotten Easter egg!

   Apr 25

faith & family fridays: reason for the religion

I’d just read an article about how hard it is to shake the Catholic from our blood, no matter how hard we try.

The gist was that our Catholic faith runs deep in our veins, and those that leave the faith often find aspects of the Catholic sensibility and even tangible history that remain a residual part of them.

As a grateful Catholic, and someone who has approached the faith at one time from a wandering, wondering distance before finding her way back fully in the fold, it is hard for me not to respond with an, “Amen! I get this!”

Naturally, I wanted to share this interesting piece with my Catholic friends in particular. Since many of them are on Facebook, I started there. Upon posting a link to the article, “No-Exit Catholicism,” from Ethika Politika, I added these thoughts to my status update:

“Interesting piece on how being Catholic can take hold of individuals and cultures. Even those who wish to walk away cannot totally un-thread from Catholicism’s beautiful grasp.”

But a Christian friend misunderstood my intentions – at least it seemed to me – and offered a gentle challenge:  

“I see the tie as Christ himself. Don’t lose focus on the reason for the religion in the first place.”

Not being entirely clear on her words, I initially did some self-analysis. Does she think I am somehow discounting that Jesus the Christ is intricately involved in this entity called the Catholic Church? It hurt to think this could be the case, knowing the reality of how I feel about Jesus.

Of course the reason for the religion is Jesus. Of course!

Needing to sort through the words that brought me straight to the core of my beliefs, causing me to face them head on and size up the misunderstanding, I asked for clarification.

She responded that she feels my posts, like this one, sometimes come off as being “focused on Catholic over Christ.” She felt compelled to comment “because I don’t want you to get off track.”

So far the clarifications weren’t making me feel much better. There was a disconnect going on; that was clear to me. Thankfully, the underlying peace I feel at my core because of my faith and belief in Jesus gave me an assuring whisper: “Still here.” But it bothered me that she’d somehow missed my intentions.

What seemed to be happening was a misunderstanding between the Catholic mindset and that of a fellow sister in Christ who is not Catholic. In fact, in a way her comment fortified what the article was saying; that being that there is a particularly Catholic way of looking at the world, and you either see it or you don’t. Once you do, it’s hard to unhitch from that. If you never did, it would be hard to explain.

From the non-Catholic’s eyes, my zeal for Catholicism was somewhat off-putting. In highlighting the Catholic Church, I was being perceived as somehow dissing God – making the Church more important than Jesus himself.

But the truth of it is that for the Catholic who truly knows his or her faith, Jesus and the Church are one and the same. When I am leaping up and down about the Church or something awesome the pope said or some other beautiful truth that has been revealed to me through the Church, I am actually and truly leaping up and down for Jesus.

Other Catholics would get this, but Protestants might not. And in the end, there’s really nothing I can say to satisfy my friend or make her believe this Jesus = Church reality. There are too many forces, religious and non-religious, purporting otherwise. We forget that because the Church is full of human beings who sin that we cannot still have a truly holy community that has Jesus infused into every aspect of it. 

Because the Catholic Church looks so human so much of the time, especially in terms of the ways the world looks at us from the outside in, many, Christians and otherwise, cannot, will not, grasp the continuity of the two.

It’s one of those misunderstandings I will be forced to live with, I’m afraid. Of course, I can start editing all my posts to make it explicit that whenever I mention “The Church” I really mean “Jesus,” but to me, it’s redundant. 

I’m left with the realization that my Catholic readers will get it, and my non-Catholic readers won’t. And the matter may not be settled in this life. 

All that said, in the end I felt gratitude for the comments. They came from a good heart and I knew that from the start. For that reason they were never a threat, but an opportunity to try to explain and share the reason for my fervor regarding the Church, which I did.

And putting it most simply, that fervor comes from a heart that “once was lost, but now is found.” There’s no taking away my zeal at this point, but the exchange helped me see that I can temper that with welcoming challenges as opportunities to explain my true intentions whenever they are misunderstood by those who don’t share my Blood Type of Catholic.

Thank God, I do know the reason for the religion, and every day I feel blessed to not only live for Him but to live out my love for Him through the beautiful, revolutionary, mind-blowing entity called the Catholic faith.

Q4U: Have you ever felt misunderstood when it comes to “the reason for your religion?”


   Apr 23

writing wednesdays: in the bowels of the ho-do

Just when you think you know your city, turns out there’s so much more you don’t know. And sometimes, it takes descending the bowels of some of the city’s most interesting offerings to learn what the eye did not catch the first go-around.

Here’s a hint of what had evaded my eye in other visits to the Ho-Do.

I’m so glad I didn’t skip out on the event that brought me to this spot.

I hope you’ll hop along with me today and find out what I’m talking about. No need to stay in the dark any longer! See Peace Garden Writer.


Peace Garden Mama

   Apr 21

meaningful mondays: broken tradition, happy soul

I broke with tradition Holy Saturday night.

It was a very last-minute decision, but I missed our Easter egg coloring in order to attend the three-hour Easter Vigil Mass with our oldest daughter.

Miss “O” had been sent on a mission. Extra-credit points in religion class for going to this meaningful but long-into-the-night event. She’d never been to the vigil before, and truth be told, I’ve only been a couple other times. Each year the yearning is there, but with all the preparations of Easter and Easter morning, it’s been a hard thing to pull off.

But last night, about 30 minutes before our egg dyeing and dipping were to commence, I changed courses, asking my visiting Mom to take over the egg-shell coloring and my middle girl to take photos so I wouldn’t completely miss out. I am grateful for Miss “E’s” eye and willingness to be the recorder of visuals in my stead. I enjoyed looking at the colorful photos Easter afternoon.


Despite having missed the creative fun of Easter egg making, I have no regrets about the vigil.

Hearing the beautiful psalms, one after another, and the story of salvation history from beginning to earthly end, and then witnessing the baptism of one adult man and the reception into the Church of about nine others through Confirmation and First Eucharist was worth the sacrifice.

For those who’ve never been to a vigil, it begins in the dark, the only lights emanating from small candles held by those in attendance. It’s breathtaking to consider the implications of a world that has been in the dark but becomes seized by light and love.

And at the end of it all, the words “Alleluia,” which have been hidden from our ears and hearts all of Lent, break through in all their splendor. Our choir did an amazing job of igniting our souls through music (small sampling here).

As our priest, Father Paul, said during his homily, “If He is alive, then everything about Him is true…What an amazing night.”

Indeed, He is risen. This is no small thing. If He really rose, it’s a game-changer of eternal proportions. It should change how we live our lives in a dramatic way.

May the implications of this celebration wash through your soul and grip your heart mightily!

Q4U: What moment during this Easter season stands out to you as a game-changer?

   Mar 03

meaningful mondays: feeling the loss in a friend’s leaving

I tried putting on a brave face. I knew it wouldn’t help her a titch if I let the real feelings pop to the surface.

So I focused on the positives: that by moving to another city far away, my friend would become a blessing to others. It’s true, of course. She will. But I also know uprooting your family to another part of the country after settling in and finding your church, school, and a nurturing city is no small thing.

It’s part of our very mobile society, however. It happens all the time.

Someone is offered a great job and after a time of hemming and hawing, the decision is made to go. And at some point, there’s no turning back.

Frequent though it may be, I wonder if we properly acknowledge as a society the loss involved, not only for the mover but for those left behind. In fact, I would say in some cases it’s harder on those left in the wake.

I’ve never relished goodbyes and when we moved out West in our first year of marriage, it happened so fast that I didn’t have time to tell all of my friends we were going. I’ll never forget the shocked reaction of one who found out after we’d departed.

I realized then that I’d also probably refrained from a big announcement in part to protect myself from uncomfortable goodbyes. Clearly, I saw in hindsight, that had been a selfish decision. I’d denied some of my friends a chance to experience the stages of letting go I’d already quietly experienced.

Now, I’m on the other side of it, and I can say this friend has been generous in the sharing. She’s brought our circle of faith-sharing women into each step of the process and we’ve circled around her and tried to lend our supportive hearts and minds to make her uprooting a little less painful.

But in all of that I’d not let myself consider that this is a real loss for us.

It’s important to share that the friend who is moving a couple months from now is a vibrant person, the epitome of hyperbole. Along with being a true thespian, she’s a mother and wife, a teacher, a skilled vocalist and flutist, a dancer and a church decorator.

She began coming to our circle of faith-sharing sisters when her oldest of two children, now in middle school, was a baby. There, she poured out her life’s hopes, dreams and fears as we did in turn. Though we didn’t do tons of socializing together outside our group, we’ve definitely come to know each others’ souls from the inside-out during these years together.

So last week, as we joined forces in song-leading at a regular weekly school Mass — I managing melody and she handling harmony — it hit me.

She’s leaving and this kind of thing isn’t going to happen again. Come May, the harmonies will cease. The strength I feel from her leadership and musicianship in this instance, and the ardent yearning to know God I witness from her at our group, will be no longer.

The passionate responses and dramatic conclusions we’ve come to expect from this friend in our faith-sharing group will dissipate. There will be not just a tiny void but a glaring chasm.

After receiving the Eucharist that day, I went back to my chair and realized I couldn’t completely hold back the tears, though I remained discreet and composed through the final song. I can act too, after all.

But as we were putting away stands and music at the Mass’s conclusion, I felt a prompting to tell her what had just happened. Even though I knew it might set her off course a bit, I wanted her to know now — not two months from now — that she’d mattered.

“I’m grieving you,” I said, and within a few moments we were in a heartfelt embrace that I’m sure made those still lingering in the sanctuary wonder. It called to mind another grieving friend-hug I had in a swimming pool years ago when we learned a friend was leaving, not just to another town but our world due to a prolonged illness.

Sometimes, you just have to stop and acknowledge your grief — in fact, to name it in the first place. Whether someone is leaving the earth or moving a few states away, the loss is real.

Granted, my friend isn’t dying, but preparing for her to fade into the horizon is like a mini-death. And it deserves a little space — even if just an unplanned, unrehearsed moment of embrace among two friends.

Some in our faith-sharing group went to see our friend perform in her last public drama here the same night of the tearful Mass. In the “Forbidden Broadway” performance, she carried out a rousing rendition of both Carol Channing and Liza Minnelli. It was the perfect way for her to end her theatrical career here. We laughed our way through it, celebrating but knowing, too, that the goodbye has begun.

Now that I’ve gotten my tears out of the way, I think I can go back to doing what needs doing to help send my friend on her way. This is life, after all, always a welcoming, always a letting go. Not always easy, but always possible.

Q4U: What have you learned about grieving to prepare you for the next round?

   Mar 01

sunny saturdays: 7 for 7 – mother teresa’s seven

Saturdays aren’t my usual posting days, but I wanted to finish strong in my “7 posts in 7 days” challenge by Jen at Conversion Diary. Which meant I had to come up with a theme like I have for my regular posting days. I didn’t want to leave Saturday out.

After much pondering in my “this has been the coldest winter in memory,” “take me out of this frozen prison,” “Save Our (Icicle-laden) Ship” mindset, I decided on “Sunny Saturdays.” Because at this point it’s either think sunny thoughts or go mad, and I choose the former.

With that in mind…

Ahhhhhhhh…I feel like this sunflower, thirsting for sun, turning toward warmth and letting it wash me anew. Do you feel it too?

That said, I have a job to do. I’m to come up with my final post of “7 in 7” and I’m a bit depleted in words by now. A post a day is hard work with all of my other obligations besides. But I’m glad I did it. That said, I need a little help getting to the finish line, and have summoned Mother Teresa of Calcutta for assistance.

It was aptly timed that my Catholic writers’ list moderator shared this post this week – “7 Steps to a Holier Life by Mother Teresa” by Matthew Warner from The Radical Life website.

Being a fan like so many are of Blessed Mother Teresa, it seems very appropriate that she would assist me with this finish, add something bright to my Sunny Saturday, and help me (and perhaps you too) head into Lent with the right attitude.

The 7 steps include:

1. Slow down

2. Make some room

3. Open your eyes

4. Put great love into small things

5. Do not tire

6. Remember, it’s faithfulness not success

7. Leave the rest to Jesus


To read Matt’s brief elaborations of each, find them at the actual post. And for further edification, return to them, often.

God bless as we turn the corner toward this season of learning how we can live for others, and in that, find our true purpose and fulfillment.

Peace Garden Mama

Q4U: Do you have any steps to add?

   Feb 28

faith & family fridays: ‘prayer becomes the day itself’

The other day a friend from Canada sent our Catholic writers’ group a link for an article about a book,  “Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, and a Living Faith.”

This isn’t a review because I haven’t yet picked up the book — though I very much hope to soon. Maybe another Lenten read?

I received the link on a busy day but something about the title caught me, so I began reading the review. Ah, it’s about monasteries and the draw of them. Immediately I’m hooked. Having had the blessing of getting to know two monasteries so far in my life, I can’t help but be alert.

Carmel of Mary monastery, Wahpeton, ND, fall 2012

I know the safe harbor they provide for the weary soul. There are few things in life as lovely as having the space and place to commune with God in this way.

Through both, in different seasons of my life, I’ve rediscovered the quiet voice within and come out of the experience all the richer — fortified, ready to resume the ardors and joys of everyday life.

So I couldn’t help but be moved by this paragraph of the review:

“Valente arrives at the monastery beleaguered, anxious and exhausted. She is immediately startled by the saturating silence that surrounds her. As the alchemy of silence begins to transform, she discovers how the monastic day, regulated as it is by the chanting of the Hours, gives context and form to community life. Prayer becomes not some separate activity, but the day itself. She resonates with the alternating rhythms of work and leisure, the attention to detail and beauty, the care of each person, and the concern for the world beyond the monastery’s walls. She encounters women who find meaning and zest in life, who form lifelong friendships, who are humble and filled with gratitude, and who have no fear of death. She is stunned by the conundrum that it is precisely their restriction that offers them great freedom.”

Mid-paragraph I am seized by familiarity: “Prayer becomes not some separate activity, but the day itself.”

This has been my experience during my monastery stays. I’ve mentioned it here before, and to others at other times, that in recent visits especially it’s hit me later, or sometimes during, that rather than setting aside time as I thought I would have for intimate conversations with God, I have found those intimate conversations happen moment by moment as I breathe in the blessing of the sacred spaces and stillness. When I am there, my whole body feels restful, and in sustained fashion, this is such a healing thing.

I’ve noticed this too: that at Mass at the monastery, everything is slower — the words, the songs. When returning after a visit to my home parish filled with its families and another kind of vibrancy, I can’t help but feel that everything is a bit rushed. “What’s the hurry?” I think, having become accustomed to and immersed in something less harried.

From my perspective, the reviewer accomplished what she set out to do. This paragraph was a  description in many ways of my own experience, and for that reason I must read this book. Because I am going to assume that if one line from a review can resonate so powerfully within me, there will be more of those nuggets within.

And as Heather King, memorist and modern-day mystic, said last month in her blog, Shirt of Flame, “I read for the emotion, the feel, the sense of other possibilities. That click of, ‘Someone got it right. Someone described how I have felt, but never been able to articulate,’ or posed the question I’ve been posing all my life without even knowing I was posing it! Or someone told a story that is completely different from my story and yet, amazingly, gloriously, is in some way the same as my story.”

I’m assuming, however, that you don’t need monastery experience to get something out of the read; that this book will satisfy the promptings of anyone who has ever desired visiting such a place. This may be your introduction, your peek inside, and that’s a good first step.

Q4U: Have you ever experienced a day or portion of a day when prayer became the day itself?

   Feb 27

thoughtful thursdays: 7 for 7 – a pocketful of change and a root beeer

Thursdays don’t generally get much attention on my blog, but this week is special. It’s “7 for 7” – seven posts in seven days. It’s all in preparation for what will be mostly silence here for the 40 days of Lent. This week is my indulgence of words, you might say, as I explain here.

I wanted my Thursday post to be lighthearted — just a little something to make your day. So I thought of thoughtfulness as a theme, and that brought to mind something I’d shared this weekend with my Facebook friends.

Sunday night, I’d taken my two youngest boys out for “coffee.” No one actually had coffee. I had tea, and they had hot chocolate and root beer.

I had some paperwork to do and knew it might be something of a risk to attempt it at a small table with three drinks plus water and a son who isn’t known for his grace. Sure enough, not too far into our stay we had a root beer explosion, and it was all over my papers. The falling root beer bottle had knocked over my cup of tea to make it doubly drippy. It was a grand mess.

We got it all cleaned up and my son — the spiller — decided he wanted to buy a root beer to replace the one he’d spilled, and he thought that just maybe he had enough change to get the job done. He laid out his coins on the table — $2 in nickels, dimes and pennies. He then cajoled his older brother to come with him to the counter to make his purchase.

A few minutes after they tromped off to said counter, our youngest came dancing back to the table with a huge grin on his face and two crisp dollar bills in his hands.

I’d seen the cops come in but hadn’t noticed them up at the counter. Apparently, after Nick had made his purchase with his coin collection, one of the police officers had replenished the money he’d lost on the root beer with two new dollar bills. Our little guy was in heaven to say the least.

“Here, you forgot your root beer.” It was the barista, who’d come to find our thirsty boy. In all his excitement, he’d failed to bring his purchase back to our table.

What was fun for me in all of this, aside from the heart-warming elements of knowing a cop had made my son’s day, was watching others’ reactions. It caused a bit of a stir in the quiet, evening atmosphere of the shop. The two gals near us, around college age, had huge grins on their faces as they watched all this play out (we weren’t exactly quiet as mice), and the barista, too, seemed to be getting a kick out of the whole thing and her part in it.

Generosity is an alive thing. From the initial acting out of a kind thought, something heartening happens and spreads, and onlookers, if any, can’t help but feel lighter as well.

“Did you thank him?” I asked my son.

“Um, I think so.”

“Well I want to make sure. Go back and tell him thank you, just to make sure.”

So he did. Better to be safe than sorry, or as a friend once told me, to err on the side of love.

But I especially loved it when my son decided to share his “reward” with his older brother, who had come away from the scene with empty hands. It didn’t happen right off, but eventually, the moment of recognition came: if older brother had not accompanied him to the counter, he may never have found the courage to approach the counter in the first place. It was definitely a team effort and the result was divided in two.

My sharing this on Facebook elicited some great responses. The “random act of kindness” moment grew beyond the coffee shop as readers delighted in the act of one kind police officer to a young boy.

People want to hear about surprises, to be reminded that good still exists in the world, and that at bottom, our good hearts have not left us. Also, policemen aren’t our enemies. They’re there to help us, and on occasion, make a kid’s day.

Q4U: Have you been the recipient of an act of random kindness lately? I’d love to hear about it!

   Feb 26

writing wednesdays: how to keep from bursting

Want to know how to keep from bursting?

Don’t hold your breath any longer – but don’t burst either. Just head over to Peace Garden Writer for the secret hint.


   Feb 25

treasure tuesdays: 7 for 7 – tears and more tears

Today was all about tears. 

It started when, midday, I sat on my bed, closed my eyes, and started talking to God. My prayer quickly became a pouring forth of many things I’ve been holding in my heart — some worried things but mostly things for which I am deeply grateful.

It doesn’t take much to get my faucet running, especially if I am in silence and connected to that place within and without that brings me to my essence and the essence of God. In those fragile moments when I know I am safe with God, emotions come easily.

Eventually I had to end my prayer because my feelings threatened to overpower. This might seem dramatic but it’s what was. I have so much gratitude in my heart I can barely carry it by myself.

Does this seem strange? Perhaps I feel so deeply in such times because I’ve experienced other times when I’ve felt cut off from the source of life. I know it was all my doing but the fact remains that I have not always had such clear access to God’s love and light.

Though my tears stopped for a while, a couple hours after my prayer session, I attended an evening banquet with a friend. The event is hosted yearly by our Catholic radio station to garner support and provide for the station’s future. And it’s not just one station but many popping up “like mushrooms” (as our guest speaker noted) all over the state of North Dakota. It’s incredible. We’ve tapped into something big here and it’s making a profound difference in the lives of many Catholics and other believers, too.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but not long after arriving at the banquet with my friend, tears appeared again — this time from the station’s executive director. Equipping the whole state with radio to enliven the soul is no small task, but he’s doing it. Not only that but it had been an emotional day, beginning with a daughter going into the hospital for emergency surgery. And yet somehow, God had carried him through all of that, and there he was, having survived it, and thanking everyone for how they’d come to his rescue to lift his burden.

It was obvious this was not so much a business as a family, and that he was, like I had been earlier, simply overwhelmed by gratitude.

Then the guest speaker, Catholic convert Steve Ray, got up to share his conversion story. He also had to stop in the middle of his talk to collect himself. He’d been sharing about deciding to become Catholic after a lifetime of being passionately anti-Catholic; specifically, the moment when his teen daughter, after crying in her room over a letter he’d written explaining the conversion, told him the kids had been convicted and would be joining the ship, too.

Later, he spoke of other tearful times, including the day he stepped foot in a Catholic Church for the first time, and realized that in looking at the priest he was witnessing “an apostolic man,” someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew…the first pope. It’s an unbroken line traced all the way back to Peter himself, and it’s one of the reasons I stayed Catholic after some floundering in early adulthood — this realization that Peter was the first pope.

All these tears culminated in my realizing a life of passionate faith and tears go together. The kind of faith that brings us up close and personal with the living God can’t help but bring one to tears; not tears of sadness but overwhelming joy.

I had them. The radio director had them. And the presenter had them. And as I sat there listening to the presentation of one who had come back to life, there they were again, dripping down my cheeks. And I just let them.

Tears can be a little scary at times. When we are really crying, we’re also a little out of control. But they tell us something about ourselves and where we’re at. They remind us we are not frozen and numb but enlightened and alive.

Most of my tears these days are tears of joy and gratitude. For that reason, I imagine heaven as being a place full of crying people with tears everywhere, rivers of them; tears in abundance that say, “I love and I am loved.”

God, help me to always feel this deeply. Don’t let me ever take for granted this blessed connection I have with you. Remind me of my need for you always so that my tears will never run dry. Amen.

Shanley High School students “mobbing” Catholic convert Steve Ray

   Feb 24

meaningful mondays: 7 for 7 – my own mardi gras

When I read Jennifer Fulwiler’s challenge on doing a “7 for 7” blog venture (seven posts in seven days), I thought, yeah, that’s the last thing I need — more obligations added to my already wildly spotted week! But then I began to think a little differently about it.

And what I came to realize is that such an exercise would be, for me, something of my own personal Mardi Gras.

My sister and I in New Orleans, Summer 2011

Mardi Gras has a bit of a bad rap because of the crazy excesses it promotes in some corners of the world, but the idea behind it is religious in nature; that being that it’s a relaxation of the usual restraints in the hours leading up to a time of fasting — in particular, the fasting season of Lent.

A quick Wikipedia search brings me on a quick tour of Mardi Gras celebrations around the world.

In Belgium, the city of Binche has an annual Mari Gras festival that involves around 1,000 dancers making their way through the city while carnival songs play.

In some regions of Germany, the celebration is called Fastnacht, or “Eve of the Fast.” Some cities host parades the Monday prior to Ash Wednesday called Rosenmontag (Rose Monday).

Italy is where we get “Fat Tuesday.” Their celebration is literally named that, or Martedi Grasso. It’s the main day of celebration along with Giovedi Grasso, Fat Thursday, which takes place the Thursday prior.

In the Netherlands, the people celebrate “Carnaval,” which comes from “carne vale,” or literally, “Goodbye to the meat,” in Latin.

“As with many popular festivals, people tend to loosen some moral codes and become laid-back or loose, which is based in the ancient role-reversal origins of Carnaval, including dressing in costumes,” according to Wikipedia. This helps explain the negative connotations of all the partying.

And of course, many of us are familiar with celebrations in the United States, most characteristically the New Orleans version, which can be far from wholesome, certainly much more worldly than spiritual.

Despite the negative connotations of Mardi Gras, my aim is to retain the celebratory spirit of it, to put in a little extra and go as “whole hog” as possible in these days leading up to Ash Wednesday, the kick-off to Lent.

Next to the Advent season, I like Lent best in the liturgical year for its encouragement of fostering a more reflective, purposeful life. I’ve come to see it as a yearly and necessary purging.

And is often the case, I will be making some cutbacks here, posting only very occasionally throughout the season of Lent. Which leads me to my original thought that the 7 for 7 can be my “indulgence” of sorts before going quiet for a while.

Makes sense, right? Okay, then bring it on! I won’t promise lengthy posts. Not that you’d want that. But I will promise something every day of this coming week.

Here’s to Lent and a richer, deeper sense of living!

Q4U: Do you have a Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday tradition? What is it?

   Feb 21

faith & family fridays: once caught, we are his

When I was a little girl, my father used to take me fishing at Crandle Lake — a little spot of water in northeast Montana several miles out from where we lived.

This has to be one of my favorite photos from those years. It says as much about what isn’t obvious than what is; less about me and more about those who loved me. The pigtails with the yarn ties — Mom’s doing. The sweater draped around my shoulders to keep me warm — Dad’s.

Dad taught me a love of fishing and the being out in nature that came with it. From an early age, I learned the language of fishing and the peace that was possible when waiting for something to bite, not to mention the sheer excitement of feeling that tug on the line — often after a very long wait, especially for one six years old.

Recently, I read a reflection in Magnificat magazine that brought me back to those days of casting and reeling. It caught me and I wanted to share. It’s about fishing, but more, it’s about love. It comes from the mind and heart of Fr. John Tauler, O.P., a German Dominican priest, popular preacher and mystical theologian who died in 1361.

He likened love to the hook on a fisherman’s line. “The fish must take the hook or the fisherman can never catch him,” he wrote. “After the hook is once in his mouth, the fish may swim about and even swim away from the shore, but the fisherman is sure to finally land him.”

This, he said, is love. “Whoever is caught by love is held perfectly fast, and yet in a sweet captivity.”

Nothing brings you nearer to God, makes God so much your own, as the sweet bond of love, Fr. Tauler added. “Whoever is caught by this hook is so entirely captive that feet, hands, mouth, eyes and heart — everything that is himself — becomes God’s own.”

The work of perfect love, he said, is more fruitful to a man’s own soul and to the souls of all other people with whom he deals, and it brings more glory to God, than all other works.”

“The fish may swim about…but the fisherman is sure to finally land him.”

This is beautiful imagery. And assuring. For once caught we are His; we can be confident the One who loves us beyond all imagining isn’t about to let us go once we’re within reach.

Oh, we’ll try. The world will tempt us. It will say, “Look at this freedom here. Don’t leave the bounteous water for captivity!” And we will want so much to find a way out of the hook.

For one, the hook can appear painful. And who wants that? But eventually, at some point, we will somehow realize that we have been saved from having been snatched up and consumed, and that our fisherman does not plan to fry us up but will bring us to another, better lake where we will be nourished and allowed to grow to our natural capacity.

Captivity may seem confining, and indeed it is often so. But when Love is our captor, it can be just the opposite of that

I’m hooked. Are you?

[To read the whole reflection, see p. 250 of the February 2014 issue of Magnificat.]

   Feb 19

writing wednesdays: this guy gets what i’m about

Not everyone understands me, but there is one guy who does.

Here’s a hint:

Oh, he doesn’t know me, but if we ever were to meet, it’s almost certain there would be a quick recognition.

How do I know this? Well, skitter on over to Peace Garden Writer and all will be revealed!


   Feb 12

writing wednesdays: blame it on the dandelions

That’s right. If those dandelions hadn’t been there…

Huh? Oops, you’re on the wrong page. Get over to Peace Garden Writer and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Ready, set, go!

   Feb 10

meaningful mondays: my weekly date with God

Sunday night, I had a date with my husband on what has been declared by the Worldwide Marriage Encounter movement as World Marriage Day. We made good use of an Applebee’s gift certificate and enjoyed dinner for just a few bucks when all was said and done. It was a nice end to a weekend busy with obligations.

After dinner, I headed down south to our church, where I attended a training session for new “adorers” on the responsibilities involved in being part of the Adoration team.

I’ve been taking part in Adoration for several years now on a “come as needed” basis. Whenever I’ve felt an urging to visit God in the Blessed Sacrament, and when I wasn’t otherwise obligated, I made it my occasional trek.

Not once did I regret it. Not once did I feel like I was wasting my time, even though there is more just being than doing at Adoration. Instead, I left feeling more at peace, more whole, more equipped to face the rest of the night and the day that followed.

Sometimes, I’d even just sneak into the Adoration chapel during a busy day, on the way to here from there. I cannot express adequately the solace that has come from these visits with the Lord.

Recently, our priest sent out a challenge to us to discern whether now was our time to step things up and become a regular part of the Adoration schedule, which would mean a weekly, hourly commitment. I wasn’t sure if I was feeling a tap or not. I told myself I’d look at the list of hours that needed filling, and if one seemed a match and wouldn’t unfairly inconvenience my family, I would consider it. One did and I signed up.

Which means starting this week, I have a certain day when I’ll be there, committed, for an hour (plus the time it’ll take me to get there and back) to just hang out with God.

I didn’t want to be intrusive with my camera during our tour tonight so just grabbed this visual of the interior of our chapel from a card in the entryway. This is the place.

The idea with Adoration is that since it really is God himself there in the center of the monstrance (the golden vessel in the middle of the red candles in front), it wouldn’t be right to leave Him alone. Oh, I’m sure God could handle it, but when He’s exposed in the monstrance, He deserves our constant attention.

It’s not an obligation so much as an honor to be one of those who makes sure the Lord is attended to in this fashion. The picture doesn’t adequately show how peaceful it is to sit in this chapel, but I’ve been here many times before and believe me when I say it’s a place to which you want to return.

Date night with my husband was enjoyable, but I have a feeling date nights with God will be divine.

Q4U: When did you last experience the divine?

   Feb 07

faith & family fridays: olympics charm – a man and a woman

After watching a little bit of the Olympics with my family last night, I decided I needed to get my own body moving and go work out. My gym bag was all packed so off I went into the night, knowing I’d be missing something really cool but realizing too that I can’t put my life completely on hold during these great days of the winter Olympics.

I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore, but the Olympics is one of the rare exceptions. It’s one time I find it hard to not stay glued to the tube. But I was determined to stay the course and get my exercising done.

I walked into the Y with that mission in mind. I checked in and started off in the direction of the locker rooms. But then I caught a flash of something. I looked up and saw the flat-screen television attached to the wall in the lobby. Japan’s Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara were performing for the figure skating team pairs’ short program.

Found at

I froze, mesmerized by the sight of the duo gliding along the ice together. I plopped down in a chair a few inches away, knowing I’d just surrendered.

There is something so beautiful about a man and a woman flying across the ice; the strength of his masculinity serving as her rock, her foothold, and the fluidity of her femininity in beautiful contrast, dancing around his solidity.

Found at

It’s something I’ve admired since I was a little girl. The ice-skating itself is incredible to witness; to think they are out there in shoes with just a thin blade to hold them up and transport them from one end of the ice to the other. But then on top of that, they are somehow able to create these beautiful movements together. They’re like a living and breathing masterpiece on ice.

In those younger, little-girl years, I loved finding out the skating couple was a couple in real life. When this wasn’t the case, I grew quickly disappointed. I wanted so much for all the skating pairs to really be in love, not just to be pretending but to be as devoted to one another off the ice as on. I suppose it was a little like a fairytale, and who doesn’t want a happy ending?

These were the innocent feelings of a child, but it was coming from the gut level and felt very real to me then, and it still does to this day. And I think it has to do with this: male and female God created them. It’s basic and it’s beautiful. And when we see it, we have a deep-down-in-the-soul reaction to it.

I would even call it sacred. To me, these team skaters exemplify the creative complementarity of God’s vision for life when it is flourishing.

I also love that team skating is a demonstration of two bodies working together, closely and in harmony, and not in a way that is obscene. This is becoming more rare every day. We’re more accustomed to bodies of women and men being portrayed not in a sacred way but a way that is twisted from God’s plan. So a tasteful, classy representation stands out as extraordinarily lovely, and cause, apparently, for abandoning an exercise plan for just a few minutes longer.

Don’t get me wrong. I know this is plain hard work for these couples who have put in the time, day in and day out, and probably had more than their fair share of disagreements, injuries, and other real-life drama. But they also offer us hope that it is possible to find a way to glide along together in harmony, even though a few bumps and bruises will be inevitable, and remind me that man and woman are truly breathtaking when working in harmony.

For this, I will let the television god have my attention for just a little while every couple years.

I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Q4U: What’s your favorite Olympics event? Why?

   Feb 05

writing wednesdays: a few of my favorite expectations

It might seem like it will never happen, but we’ve rounded the bend folks. I can see it now. It’s in sight! One fine day upcoming, spring is going to have sprung.

That’s one of my favorite expectations. And you’ll find more today on Peace Garden Writer.

Hope springs eternal. See you over there!

   Jan 24

faith & family fridays: a tiny doubting thomas

I was absorbed in some project or another when they barged into my work space; my 13-year-old daughter and youngest son, 8.

He was in tears and struggling to find words, so she filled in the blanks.

“We’ve been talking about reincarnation, and he’s getting freaked out,” she explained.

“I don’t wanna believe it but what if it’s true?” he said between sobs.

Apparently, my youngest three kiddos had been having a deep discussion about life and faith, and it had all come around to the idea of reincarnation. My middle son, 11, had said that when he thinks about it, his stomach feels funny. And that got my youngest thinking…and wondering…and worrying.

If reincarnation were true, he must have been surmising, then everything he’d been learning about God, about faith from the Catholic worldview, would be false.

“I want to believe in God. I really do. But what if…”

After a while, my daughter left and I was alone with my littlest.

“Come here, hon,” I said, closing my laptop cover and shoving it aside. “Let’s talk.”

When he’d first come in I thought he’d been hurt in a sibling squabble. But it had quickly become clear it was his soul, not his body, that was hurt. Was I up to the task of setting things on a smoother course? For a moment, I felt incapable, and then somewhere from deep within, a calm confidence. I can do this.

After all, the anticipation of these kinds of moments is really what had set me on a path of better knowing my faith starting around 1994. The thought of my future children having big questions that I couldn’t answer had sent me spinning, and researching. Through this study, I fell deeply in love with my Catholic faith. Soon thereafter, I learned I was pregnant and knew I’d be calling on my new knowledge someday soon to help me in nurturing the souls of my growing family.

And now, one of those someday moments had come.

This same child would be Confirmed in the spring; his soul was readying for something big. Suddenly, I saw the question less as threat and more as a wonderfully-timed moment in his spiritual life.

And I was ready, not by my own accord but by God dwelling within me.

“First, I want you to know that God made you to ask questions and he wants you to ask questions,” I began. “In fact, he doesn’t ever want you to stop asking. God is the one who put that curiosity in you in the first place!”

“But what if it’s true?” he asked. “What if that really does happen?”

We talked for a while, and though I don’t remember now everything that I said, I assured him there would be a lot of different ideas that would come to him during his life, either by others or through his own mind, and that there was time to sort through all of this. I told him his questions would bring him closer to God in the end; that asking them would actually help him love God more; that those who don’t ask, or who simply don’t care, are more at risk of being far away from the love of God than those who do.

“I want to believe,” he said. “I really do. But I don’t know…” He was still in distress.

It was then that inspiration rose up.

“I can really see that you do want to believe, and the really cool thing about that is that God sees you wanting to believe, too, and the fact that you want to believe makes him so happy!” I said. “It’s hard to believe in something you can’t see, but he sees your good heart wanting to believe, and knowing that you want to is huge. God can handle your not being sure. He will keep loving you through all of the questions.”

As I talked, he began to calm down. Can an 8-year-old really understand these big answers, I wondered? I don’t know for sure, but what I do know is that he left the room a whole lot lighter than when he came in.

And then a few days later, this jumped out at me in the comments box of a blog:

“The desire of your heart is itself your prayer.” (St. Augustine) Or, translated by the one who shared, “To desire to believe is to believe.”

And there it was — sweet affirmation of what I’d told my young son.

Even when we’re not absolutely sure, even when we’re more aligned with Doubting Thomas than the saints in moments of unequivocal certainty, the desire to believe is as much belief as belief is.

Though I know this won’t be the end of his big questions, I’m not alone in helping keep my son going in the direction of faith, in belief in the God who set this world in motion and will lead us to eternal happiness if we seek him.

And to be honest, when I reflect further on this incident, I see so many good things. I see a conscience being formed, a desire to want to know truth, a yearning for love and goodness. It was all there — the biggest stuff of life rolled into a five-minute, spontaneous, teachable moment.

What I want most for my son, and his siblings, and all those I love and even those I don’t even know, for that matter, is the taste of true freedom; the kind this same son so aptly demonstrated during a boat ride this summer.

To me, this is a picture of someone being in a stance of complete trust because he knows he is tethered. And with God’s help, I want to help guide him so that by the time his earthly life ends, he will have returned to this place, arms open and trusting and lavishing the love meant for him from the start

What big questions have you helped answer as a parent?


   Jan 22

writing wednesdays: snowflakes on my windshield

Yep, that’s what they are.

But what does that have to do with the writing life? Well, flutter on over to Peace Garden Writer and find out! (Thanks, by the way…)


   Jan 20

memorable mondays: winter north dakota sky

I just want to share a little of the sky today — glimpses I’ve been getting lately, colors I’ve captured on my phone. I want to highlight these because there are a lot of complaints from the peanut gallery here in our fair state about winter, but let this remind us all that we have plenty to keep us inspired until the skeeters and heat are beating us down a few months from now!

A week ago, I took the kids sledding. I was content to stay in the car and drink my white-chocolate mocha. But when I saw the big hill the kids were ascending, I had to at least go see what was on the other side; the side where the sun hadn’t quite reached to melt the hillside. I ended up staying for most of the duration, but my favorite moment was walking up and wondering what we’d find on the other side. It was brilliant and exciting, and reminded me of what it’s like to go on a journey not knowing exactly what it’s going to be like until you reach the top. Pretty cool! There’s Nick, ahead of the rest of us, carrying his red snowboard.

On the gray days, we don’t see the sun very much, but you might be interested to know that North Dakota is one of the sunniest states along the U.S.-Canadian border. All those frigid days we experienced recently were filled with sunny skies. This is God’s way, methinks, of helping us endure the chilliest temps. But sometimes, the sun seems to be on vacation. All the more wonderful then to be taking the kids to school on a slow, slogging morning and be awakened by a colorful horizon.

I have to admit, I almost made the boys late to school the day I stopped to get this shot. But it was totally worth the rush in my mind, don’t you agree?

I got it, savored and shared, and the boys got to their destination with a few seconds to spare. It started our day off at an excited pace, and we were all the better for it.

A slight change in angle and perspective, and I was blessed to seize what seemed more sunset than sunrise. This hasn’t been edited a bit, and it’s now my laptop desktop wallpaper.

Then a friend of mine texted Saturday night saying I had to get outside, quickly! At the time we were tucked away inside the sanctuary of evening Mass, so I missed it in real time. But she texted the image she’d gotten from her phone. I was taken by the colors and the “sun strip.” I labeled this photo, “peach sky.”

Who knows what the sky will offer next? I can’t wait to find out!

Q4U: When did you last peer up and find a delightful surprise?







   Jan 17

faith & family fridays: here to be healers, listeners, servants

Do you think of yourself as a healer? If not, you should. That’s what we’re here to do, according to Madeleine L’Engle.

And yet I want to challenge her. Me, a healer? I’ve always been one to squirm at the sight of blood. I knew I would never make it in the medical field no matter how compassionate my heart. And it’s been a real challenge for me as a mother to get past my emotions in medical emergencies to do what needs doing, though somehow I have pulled it off a time or two and come out the other side.

If I think a little deeper on this, however, I suppose I’ve done a fair amount of healing after all, just naturally in my vocation as a mother, and perhaps, too, in some of my other capacities as friend, co-worker, wife.

I’m not sure I’ve thought of it as a primary reason for my being here, however, until recently.

In L’Engle’s “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art” (which I am slowly absorbing but completely loving), she speaks of the Christian artist as a healer and then some.

“The artist who is a Christian, like any other Christian, is required to be in this world, but not of it,” she reminded us. “We are to be in this world as healers, as listeners, and as servants.”

Healers, listeners, servants. That we would be made just for this purpose is a compelling idea. We are here not for ourselves, after all, so much as for others. Yes, our own salvation, our own life needs to be tended to, too. In fact, we must either heal ourselves or find healing for ourselves before we can do this work of healing, listening to and serving others well.

But at some point, hopefully, we become equipped to do what we’re here to do — to give.

I feel this giving in the work I do as a writer. I am healed, and in the healing, I find ways to share this experience with others, and then they, too, can be healed, and freed. I can think of no greater fulfillment than to help another come to healing, to understanding, to love.

In creating art, L’Engle said, we are “once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.”

Beautiful words, but certainly not limited to art. Whenever we are called on to be present to others, we must become unbound to a certain extent.

L’Engle’s words pull me in, make me nod, “Yes.” I see the water, the angels, and imagine myself “moving unfettered among the stars.” It is a lovely visual of freedom — of heaven, perhaps.

She goes on.

“We write, we make music, we draw pictures because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing,” she said. “And during the writing of the story, or the painting, or the composing or singing or replaying, we are returned to that open creativity which was ours when we were children.”

We cannot, she added, be mature artists if we have lost the ability to believe as children. “An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith.”

And so it is with living. We cannot be mature, cannot achieve what we’re here to do, cannot be our best selves, truly free, if we lose our ability to believe. We must, as children of God, as mothers, friends, wives, aunts, grandmothers, be in a condition of complete and total faith to do our best work.

It is when we are in this state that we can be healers, listeners, servants. And what a beautiful thing to be able to do — to turn to another and give them our whole selves; to be “God with skin” to others.

Q4U: How have you been a healer, a listener, a servant this week?



   Jan 15

writing wednesdays: revisiting lenore look

This was us in 2010, lovely Lenore and little old me.

To find out what Lenore, of Alvin Ho and Ruby Lu fame, is up to next, visit Peace Garden Writer!

(Yes, I’m talking to you!)

See you there!

   Jan 13

memorable mondays: kitty tulips on the day after

They arrived yesterday, unexpected, wrapped in brown paper. Harbored within, they waited.

I put them in a vase, then went on to finish out the day I’d been dreading — the first-year anniversary of my father’s passing.

It had begun with sunshine and breakfast with a friend, then a card from my husband, “Thinking of you,” which I opened just before he left town. But I started to retreat soon after he pulled away, and found myself wanting to be still, to just be alone in my room. I crossed off some plans I’d had on my “to-do” list and quieted myself, while the oldest kids carried on with their day, and the youngest two hovered near me.

I was still in this state when the doorbell rang, and the purple tulip buds were placed in my hands by the thoughtful friend who always seems to know. But I’ve never been accomplished at receiving gifts. Did I seem ungracious? I take things into myself first, slowly absorb, and it’s often later, when I’m in a quiet spot, that gratitude flows.

By evening, signs came that they were working on opening now that they’d found light. I could feel myself come back to life as they did.

I pushed through, mingling with my little guys, making them cocoa and marshmallows, eating blueberry muffins together. Phone calls and some sweet email and Facebook messages came too, bringing more life and love and some amount of peace. Finally, one last email from one of my dearest friends, a book, a warm body in the form of a daughter next to me. This is how I ended the day processing all over again the day one year before when my father’s spirit leaped from his body and moved on to where it was meant to go all along, leaving those who loved him with an empty space that we knew we’d have to work on filling.

Why this return to remember? What is it with us humans that we’re wired to return to loss to move through it all over again? I can’t say, and yet I know it happens and that it’s important.

And what’s more, we can’t do it alone. As much as we may want to curl up into quietness, it’s things like the card, the words, the unexpected purple tulips, and the kitties who want to investigate them, and the sun coming through, that do the healing work, despite our own efforts.

It happens by God’s grace, through others’ hearts, and it’s what brings us to the day after, to knowing we’ve made it, and then some.

Thank you, God, for the chance to remember without being pulled into the abyss. And thank you for the day after – a new day.

   Jan 10

faith & family fridays: called to be more than we are

Madeleine L’Engle has been enlivening my heart lately. I could cite any number of paragraphs in her book, “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,” but let’s just take this one, from p. 67:

“I am grateful that I started writing at a very early age, before I realized what a daring thing it is to do, to set down words on paper, to attempt to tell a story, create characters. We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.”

Me, receiving and giving love, as a baby

There’s so much there. The daring nature of writing. The courage required to just live, not to mention write. And how we cannot fathom all that God has in store for us.

“God is constantly calling us to be more than we are…to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.”

This brings me back to a Mass just after Christmas, when the priest noted how Joseph had been called to be more than he was by being asked to harbor the mother of God, and God himself.

What an immense responsibility, and nothing Joseph could have predicted before this point. Yet he was a good and upright man, well-versed in the ways of faith and the Lord. This helped him be willing to respond affirmatively to God’s call. Just like Mary had, he, too, said, “yes,” and despite any lingering reservations, put one foot in front of the other to do what needed doing.

My son, Adam, near relics of his patron saint, St. Joseph

Each day of our lives, we are being called to be more than we are. That might seem daunting, and yet as children of God, we are capable, through God’s grace. This is how we can accomplish more than who we are, just as Joseph, only by God’s grace, and Mary, only by God’s grace, could say, “Let’s do this thing!” (in so many words…)

“Do not fear.” We’re reminded that we are never alone, and so we need not panic. Each day as we’re moving deeper and deeper toward taking on the “more than we are,” the most important thing to remember is that we’ll be guided, even onto death.

A winter sunset Christmas 2013

It’s actually quite exciting, don’t you think? Joseph could not have fully comprehended that he’d play a significant role in bringing salvation to the world. Neither can we, and yet it’s happening. And we’re more equipped than we know…to be more than we are.

Q4U: When have you been aware you were being called to more than you thought you were?

   Jan 08

writing wednesdays: thinking bout you daddy

Just can’t get him off my mind this week. And it seemed right to think of him on Peace Garden Writer today as our family nears the one-year anniversary of his death. After all, he helped show Peace Garden Writer who she was all those years ago.

More over on my writing blog. I’d be obliged if you’d pay a visit…


   Jan 06

meaningful mondays: saying goodbye to christmas

Has anybody else been struggling with saying goodbye to the Christmas season?

As of today, it’s officially over. Epiphany, which we celebrated this weekend, marks the end of Christmas for the Church. We’re to move on now, though not away from the messages that have been tucked into our hearts. But on a practical, human level, I’ve been fighting walking away.

On Saturday night, my pianist and I lamented this as we practiced to play for and sing at the 5 p.m. Mass at our church, Sts. Anne & Joachim. Though I didn’t spend Christmas here, I was delighted to be there for several Masses following, so I could absorb the beauty of the sanctuary, all decked out in Christmas glory.

But as Bradley and I talked, we commiserated about how it’s all going to be gone soon. In fact, as I’m typing this, there’s likely a decoration committee at our church removing all of these beautiful adornments.


I, too, spent part of Sunday removing ornaments from the tree, pulling tinsel, and sweeping up pine needles. As I tried gently removing the ornaments, I was pierced several times by dry, prickly “thorns.” It was as if the regret I was feeling over saying goodbye was being cemented with a stinging, “Take that!” Like a knife being jabbed in and turned round a few times.

Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad, but as we discussed saying adieu to Christmas, Bradley said something that hit home. “After we take all the decorations down, we’re just stuck with the cold, bleakness of January.”

Ugh. He’s right, I thought. And I think that’s part of why I’ve been dragging my feet. I loved the glow of the Christmas tree, more than ever this year, as I shared here.

And on Christmas Eve, after midnight Mass, my family and I emerged from the cathedral into the most beautiful scene, complete with large, fluffy snowflakes falling from the quiet sky. As I shook Monsignor Richter’s hand, we noted how perfect it was, and giggled at our good fortune. It was the kind of Christmas Eve setting Bing Crosby sang about all those years ago. And there we were, walking into it!

That night was a reprieve from the bitter winter we’ve been experiencing here in North Dakota. It started Dec. 1, and hasn’t really relented for more than a few days in between before the next cold front makes its appearance. It’s early January, and though we’re normally hardy around these parts, even we are growing weary.

Add to that the fact that my father died a year ago on Jan. 11, and it probably makes even more sense why I’ve not been rushing past Epiphany like an eager beaver.

All that said, as I sang Christmas carols one last time for the year at that Saturday evening Mass, something new and hopeful was placed on my heart. The homily had just been delivered by our deacon, and it resonated.

He said the three wise men were pagans; unbelievers who, nevertheless, were so struck by the brightness of the star, and rumors of a forever king, that they left everything to follow it. He reminded us, too, that the light is still there, beckoning us. And, I would add, it will never leave as long as the earth is spinning. After that point, it will be much more than starlight, something even brighter and everlasting.

Just listening to his sermon, it was if the cold icicles that have necessarily formed around my heart just to survive began to drip. I realized that this isn’t some dreaded phase we’re entering. The light still shines, it will never go away even when blackness surrounds. We can always, at any point, look up and go in search of it. And when we arrive at its source, we will not be disappointed.

With this guiding vision in mind, I am feeling more equipped, less melancholy, more hopeful about what’s coming next. I realize that all good things must end, but they will be back, and in the meantime, new beginnings are about to happen.

I want to be awake for that, to embrace all of it, come what may. I’m starstruck now and moving again toward the light. I hope you’ll come along, too.

Q4U: What feelings does this time of year evoke for you?

Update: After posting this on Facebook, my friend Amanda and a few others noted that the Christmas season doesn’t really end on Epiphany. Here’s an informative article I enjoyed reading on the subject. It’s great news for this reluctant heart. Christmas continues, and after that, there are other feasts and celebrations to anticipate!

   Jan 03

faith & family fridays: outlet dependent

According to my current phone plan, I can’t upgrade to a new cell phone until the spring. Which means I have to suffer through my current need to remain near an outlet or charging source if I want to continue using my phone until that time.

In addition, my laptop battery was going low, so I ordered a new one, and the new one doesn’t seem a whole lot better. Yes, that’s a touch of despair you’re reading.

So lately I’ve been feeling a little inconvenienced by my dependency on outlets — almost trapped in a way. I can’t go too long with either of my main sources of communication without running to find an outlet.

At a coffee shop, I size up the joint to see whether it has adequate outlet-age before I can allow myself to settle in. I’ve been known to race to certain spots in order to assure my trip there hasn’t been wasted.

At home, while doing my daily writing work, I’m often running to beat the warning telling me if I don’t find an electricity source soon, I’ll be cut off.

And the yellow bars indicating an impending shutdown of my phone seem to come at the most inconvenient times, and far too frequently.

In some cases, I’ve been in a particularly precarious situation over this, especially when it comes to my phone. This summer, when I was stalled at an airport, I couldn’t communicate my delays to my family at home until I’d found an outlet, which were in high demand. I finally scoped one out in a most inconspicuous place, then guarded it like the neighborhood watchdog.

Ding ding ding!!! Outlet sighting!

I don’t like this feeling of being so dependent on an outlet. Even as I’m typing this post, I’m realizing the juice is waning and I won’t make it through to the end without a recharge. So off I go in search of the three-holed monster.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but this electricity dependency does seem to be controlling my life more than seems right. Recently, however, while ruminating over my situation, the thought came to me that this is analogous to my dependency on something else: God.

I can’t get too far in any given day without needing to plug into THE source of life. For bits, I go off on my own, thinking I can do it just fine, charging ahead, and then, bam, I’m pulled off course, and sent flying to the nearest “outlet of divinity.”

This might constitute the daily meditation in my “Magnificat” magazine, or a moment or two of prayer grabbed midday, or rearranging my day to go to Mass or Adoration. It could even just be some devotional reading or a book that is spiritually edifying. Sometimes, it’s the act of writing about something that’s been inspiring.

No matter what it is, this I know: I need God to help my life work, not in the same degree as I need electricity to ensure my earthly communication and work happen. No, much more than this.

I know my electricity woes are what my kids would call a “first world problem.” It’s relative for me, and a big pain, but it’s also temporary. In time, I’ll have a new phone, a better laptop battery. These things will resolve. And yet, I’ll always need some sort of way to stay charged up.

And so it is with my life with God. I need HIM! Not just every other day, but every minute of every day. And that’s okay.

In this mini-revelation, I’ve been able to turn this outlet-attached element of my life into something meaningful. Now, whenever I’m running to find a charging source, I’m going to have it be a reminder of the supreme source of energy, and as often (more than) I go on a frantic outlet search, I’m going to keep plugging into the source of love and life that will never lose its charge.

Q4U: What is your number-one go-to outlet for a spiritual recharge?

   Jan 01

writing wednesdays: word for the year!

This has been one of my favorite posts of the last several years: announcing my word for the year ahead. And indeed, I’ve got it in hand and am ready to announce it today over on Peace Garden Writer.

Coast on over and celebrate with me, and share your word, too, if you would!

Here we go!

   Dec 23

meaningful mondays: the healing glow of the christmas tree

The Christmas tree has always been a beautiful symbol to me, something to look forward to and to delight in. But I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed it as much as I have this year.

For one thing, I decided to go simple this year with Christmas decorating. Rather than spread them throughout the house, I contained them in one room — which I then dubbed “The Christmas room.” In this way I’ve been able to capture the spirit and feeling of Christmas without creating an exorbitant amount of work when it’s time to put everything away.

The most logical room for this seemed my office — a place where a Christmas tree could easily fit, and where I could spend time adding special touches and savoring what I have always particularly loved. I’m also the night owl of the family, and since this is where I spend the majority of my night-time sessions, it felt right.

Around this time last year, my office was just being put together. I didn’t know it then, but my father would die soon, and during the aftermath of his death, my office would offer safe harbor for me, a place to rest and heal surrounded by the comfort of books (a passion I shared with my father), an electric fireplace to warm my feet and a comfy couch on which to sit and ruminate, read and write.

I didn’t know that I’d need that healing so much now, but as much as I tried to avoid the pre-Christmas rush, it happened anyway. It just does. The preparations need to happen in order to set things up for the memorable, meaningful times with family that Christmas does best. We women in particular take this on as a gift for others, but it can make for some weary moments, too.

So in my exhausted state, I’ve slept by the glow of this tree for the past several nights, letting myself be lulled under by its gentle beauty. The tree has put me in an absolutely peaceful state at the end of some of the most frenzied of days, calming my heart, sending healing vibes. It has been pure bliss.

There’s talk from the secular world that we Christians have stolen this pagan tradition, and how dare we claim it as a religious symbol. It reminds me of younger years when, as a little sister, I would copy my older sister on things she liked, and naturally she would get a little miffed, but I couldn’t understand why she failed to see I was copying her because I loved her ideas. Shouldn’t she feel, instead, pleased?

To me, the Christmas tree is most certainly a religious symbol, and a symbol always represents something larger, deeper than what you see on the surface. If we were to worship the Christmas tree, that would be wrong. But that’s not what’s going on here. Certainly not in my heart.

What’s going on is that each ornament has meaning. Some are handmade by our kids. Some were given by friends. Some were on my grandmother’s tree years ago, and she gave them to me to use for my own tree, like the one below, one of my favorites. Each is beautiful in its own way, a fleeting reminder of Christmases past and all that are to come; and in that way, also representative of the life we’ve lived so far and what’s around the bend.

To me, the Christmas tree means family, love, beauty, peace, and the hope Christ offers and comes to remind us of and lead us toward. That’s not pagan, it is promise – something to live by, sleep near and die to self to have.

A very merry Christmas to you and yours!

What does the Christmas tree evoke for you?

   Dec 16

meaningful mondays: o holy night and birthday boy (18)

Last night was our high school’s annual Christmas concert, with a second performance tonight.

When our kids were younger, I dreamed of the day they might, possibly, just maybe, be in choir. Music has been a precious part of my own life, and though I never want to live through my children, what parent who has discovered something as magical and mystical as being part of a musical ensemble hasn’t hoped their children might have a chance at something like this, too?

We are living those days now, and I am in heaven. It feels like coming home in so many ways, since my husband and I met in choir our first years of college. Life then was so much about finding ways to keep music a life-giving part of our everyday. Did I know I was in the middle of something amazing? Yes, I did. I appreciated it then and choral music still takes up a lot of space in my heart.

Especially at Christmas time. To me, this is Christmas…snowflakes, warm drinks, tinsel, lights shining on pine needles, and music…oh, the music! Of course, it’s about so much more, but this is the ambiance of Christmas.

And to top it all off, the choir sang one of my favorites: “O Holy Night.” I sang the solo for this one year, as a young adult, and I will never forget that night. I was blessed by this version as well.

O Holy Night by Shanley High School Chorale (listen in!)

We are moving into the center of this season, and I feel good about it all, despite not being “ready.” No, I don’t have all the preparations in line, but I am becoming ready, and I feel blessed.

Today, our oldest turns 18! Wow! When did our little December baby find his way to 18?

Now, he’s a adult-sized guy, finishing his senior year, working hard at his first job.

We know that in many ways, our adventures are just beginning, and we look forward to seeing what’s next for this guy and for all of us as he leads the birdies into flight from the nest.

As he’s blowing out his candles, we’ll be lighting the pink one on our Advent wreath. Yes, it’s time to get serious about what’s coming. Here’s wishing you a very blessed last full week before Christmas!

   Nov 27

writing wednesdays: it’s all about him today

Yep, this guy here, the one who lights up my life on a daily basis.

It’s his day, and I’m letting him shine over on Peace Garden Writer today.

Here’s to 11!

   Nov 22

faith & family fridays: embracing the idea of eternal life

The thought came to me when I was pregnant with our fourth child. During that pregnancy, my aunt, my father’s oldest sister, was dying of liver cancer, and I was intently pondering life and death.

It started here:

Life doesn’t end with this one, and the next life continues on eternally. Eternal life means forever, as in never-ever-ever ending. 

And quickly progressed to this:

Wait now, eternal? Who would want that, really? How could that even be possible? Wouldn’t it get…boring or…overly long? Is that really something I even want?

Once my mind hooked into this, I couldn’t let go. For a moment, I felt physically ill thinking about it. We can’t wrap our brains around eternal, I know this, and yet this wasn’t about not wrapping my brain around eternal as, for the first time, confronting eternal. This was the first time I’d ever thought of it in a negative light and it was extremely disturbing.

Until this day, I’d always taken for granted that our natural propensity is to yearn for something more — that we have an innate sense of a life after this one — the Act II. I know I’d always been moved in that direction. However, the earthly part of me seemed trained more in the way of anticipating endings. And so a non-ending just didn’t make sense.

To be sure, I did not let this thought keep me up at nights. It was only an occasional disruption that would take hold for a little while. Eventually I would let it go and think nothing more of it.

But recently, it happened again, and I knew when I met with my spiritual director I had to bring this question before him. I felt a little silly as I explained being bothered by the idea of infinitude, feeling sure he’d think me a little loony, but he didn’t. I’m assuming it’s a thought others have had, too.

Now, I will be honest. I didn’t think he’d be able to come up with anything satisfactory, and I will also and share that I can’t remember everything he said in his explanation. But at some point, I experienced one of those “aha!” moments that changes everything.

“We really can’t understand it, that’s true,” he said, “but maybe we can think of it this way. We can understand relationships. Think of the love you have for your children. Is that something you can imagine going on forever?”

He continued on for a bit after that, but I didn’t hear any of it. I was stopped at the thought of the love I have for my children and how I could never-ever-ever imagine that ending…ever. And in that moment, even though I still cannot, nor will I ever, fully conceive of how forever works, it made a whole lot of sense how it’s possible for something to endure infinitely.

Roxane and child #4, Adam, on his Baptism Day

The “Love never ends” we find in 1 Cor. 13:8 came to life, too. When my father died in January, that’s what I was left with: love. And yet I haven’t felt for a moment that love has left, even though my father has, nor that he is really gone. No, I don’t feel that at all.

I don’t know how it will work. It still doesn’t make sense to me that we would ever want to continue existing into eternity and on and on and on. But I do know for certain that the love I have for my family doesn’t seem to have an end point. Even on our worst days together, love, not as a concept but a reality, is very, very big and yes, I can quite imagine it lasting.

And now, I can embrace the idea of eternal life and not feel ishy at all. Instead, when I think on it, the warmest, most wonderful feeling comes over me.

It’s something I could definitely get used to, forever.

   Nov 08

faith & family fridays: ‘something explosive happened’

Back in September 2009, I had the honor of sitting down for a catfish meal in New Braunfels, Texas, with one of my favorite bloggers, atheist to Catholic convert Jennifer Fulwiler of the popular Conversion Diary blog.

Here we were then, at the tin-roofed cafe that boasts the best catfish in Texas.

And again, just a few weeks ago at the Thirst conference in Bismarck, ND, along with Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of  Life.

Yes, you’re seeing right. I am aging, while Jennifer is actually getting younger. She’s also beat me now in family size, having given birth to number six this past year, while I’m holding at a holy handful.

This visit means we’ve gotten to meet each other once a piece on one another’s turf. Though, as it turns out, I have a Texas connection with my father’s two sisters living in the San Antonio area, and Jennifer has a North Dakota connection, having spent her first-grade year here.

That’s all background to the much more important topic of how Jennifer has, once again, helped inspire me, a lifelong Catholic, by her very thought-provoking perspective on what it’s like to become submerged into this beautiful faith family of Christianity from the outside.

I had the chance to hear two of her talks in Bismarck, including one on Catholic mothering, and another on her conversion from atheism.

I’d heard the conversion story before in pieces on her blog. It was something else to hear it as an actual presentation, however. I laughed, I cried, and I thanked God for her story and life. People were visibly and audibly moved.

For those who don’t know, or need a refresher, Jennifer was a proud atheist most of her life, until around the time her first son was born. It was then she began opening her heart to the possibility of God’s existence. Once she determined that God was, in fact, plausible, she began researching religions, narrowing it down to the Christian religion, in part because it is the only lasting world religion whose founder claims to be God. Her husband, Joe, had been impressed by this fact, and she figured it was pretty significant too.

In the beginning, the introduction came largely through reading authors who shared her former-atheistic perspective. The first such book she picked up was Lee Strobel’s, “The Case for Christ,” which, she said, made some compelling points. He recalled the history of 1st Century Palestine and the customs of its people. For centuries, the Jews of that time had held to religious and social structures from which they wouldn’t stray, even under the threat of persecution.

And then comes Jesus’ crucifixion, and with it, a “sudden” and massive exodus of Jews from Judaism. Over 10,000 Jews are now suddenly following Christ, claiming he’s the initiator of a new religion. And even more, Jennifer recounts from Strobel, “they are willing to give up or alter all five of the social institutions that they have been taught since childhood have such importance, both sociologically and theologically.”

Strobel, she said, made the point that whether you are atheist or Christian or anything else, you have to admit that “something explosive happened to Jewish culture in 1st Century Palestine.” He concluded that the explanation had to be that, in fact, the people had seen Jesus risen from the dead.

It’s not that I wasn’t already in awe over the Resurrection, because every Easter especially, I reflect on the enormity of this occurrence. But rarely have I thought of it like this, stepped inside the lives of the people then and really tried to grasp what this occurrence meant, not just to the apostles we read about at Mass every Sunday, but the ordinary people whose lives were blown away, changed forever, by this monumental event.

“Something explosive happened.” Indeed, it did. God allowed us to know for certain that it was, in fact, him who’d been visiting those 33 years, walking among us, in the form of his son, Jesus. And that he wanted to rock our worlds, change our lives, and refocus our attention on something much more attractive than anything we’d experienced — something that, if we set our sights on it, would lead us straight to heaven and into his divine arms.

Pretty powerful stuff, no? More explosive than the most explosive dynamite, and we are the blessed followers of this religion that is not just about ideologies, but about relationship, and not just with a creator, but with a brother, father, friend.

When Jennifer shared this, I felt like something explosive happened in my own heart, and I could feel myself moving another inch closer to love.


   Nov 05

writing wednesdays: write it down and we’re good

I’m over at my writing blog, Peace Garden Writer today, discussing the apparent impediments of the visual learner.

Yes, I’m watching you! Better to scoot over to where the good stuff is rather than keep this staring contest going.

I promise, I’ll be keeping an eye out for you!

   Nov 04

meaningful mondays: ‘dawn of day’ – book of remembrance

Sunday morning, I had the privilege of being cantor for our early-morning Mass. Thankfully, the time change made turning this night owl into an early bird a little more tolerable.

Also making it more tolerable was the sunrise that lit the way to church. As I was taking in the rich colors reflected in the clouds, I thought of what my name, Roxane, means: “Dawn of Day.” Could this be one of the reasons I am so transfixed by sunrises and sunsets? There may be something to this.

When I reached the choir room, which faces the front of the church, I peeked out to see if the sunset was still visible, and was met by this beautiful sight! That’s the statue in front of our church, Sts. Anne and Joachim, acting as foreground for the beautiful sky.

It’s been a meaningful weekend. Saturday, November 2, marked All Souls Day in the Catholic Church, and the day before that, November 1, was All Saints Day.

At an All Saints Day Mass on Friday, the students from Shanley High School helped lead song and prayer, and inserted time for honoring the deceased who’d been remembered in a memorial for the school in the past year. My father was among them, having received this honor from one of our daughter’s teachers.

I’ve written about this before, but I have to say again, it’s amazing how much healing can happen in simply hearing your loved one’s name. As I heard my father’s name called, and saw it in the program, and then as I saw his candle flickering with the others upon the altar, it was if his very spirit was with me.

I wanted a photo of the little candles dancing on the altar, but by the time I got there, they’d been blown out, so I walked to the chapel behind the sanctuary and lit another candle for Dad. Then I knelt for a while in prayer, asking God to be with him, and for him to be with our Gabriel, who would have been born in November 1999 had my pregnancy reached maturation.


And then on Sunday after Mass, I joined others in another spot behind the sanctuary to sign the Book of Remembrance. I added my father’s name. Such a small act — a stroke of the pen — and yet the permanency of it becomes so precious. For the rest of the month, all those whose names have been entered are prayed over at every Mass at our church. What a consolation to family and friends.

A small thing, or big? I think the latter. When we take time to honor those who have passed on, we offer ourselves a chance for further healing, and we honor the God who gave them life and in whose care they are now enveloped.

As my father told me long ago, “We are dying every day.” As a five-year-old, I found this statement troubling and stark. And yet, my father was right. It was one more bit of reality he imparted that I have not forgotten through the years.

We are dying, every single day, in body. But our spirits, if we’re living rightly, if we’re trying to seek what is good above all else, are very much alive, and rather than living to die, living with the hopes of continuing into eternity.

It’s times like this, when the Church takes time to celebrate the dying, that we rediscover these important perspectives. And far from making us sad, they should, if we receive them in the intended spirit, give us all kinds of wonderful hope.

   Nov 01

faith & family fridays: dr. edward sri walks with mary

This past weekend, at a conference here in North Dakota, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Edward Sri share his insights on Mother Mary.

Sri recently published “Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross.”

And as he does so well, he brought the Gospel alive for me during his time on stage at the Bismarck Civic Center, and made me more endeared than ever to Our Blessed Mother.

As I heard him talk, I couldn’t help but wish our Protestant brothers and sisters would open themselves more to the Catholic take on Mary. I know Mary is a stumbling block to many. But there is so much richness here, and I fear that in the worry we’ve gone too far with Mary, many Christians risk missing out on the treasures of walking with her.

It was Jesus who first walked with her, after all, and I’m convinced we can learn even more about Jesus by walking with Mary. I have a long way to go, but I have loved Mary from an early age and look forward to new discoveries in the years to come.

Sri, the father of six young children, introduced the topic by recreating the moments when his youngest daughter, Josephine, took her first steps. He recounted the glee he saw on her face at the thought of braving this new adventure, and then her hesitation as she peeked over the chair she’d been using for stability, her face and body now showing second-thoughts.

Until…she saw her father. Once he was in sight, little Josephine felt courageous, and so she let go and made those first steps, falling into his arms just as she was about to topple over toward the end. She was so delighted with herself at that point that she wanted to do it again, and again and again.

Sri used this visual to help us see that when God calls us out, when He asks us to step out in faith, He doesn’t expect it to happen all at once.

“Mary was a great model of someone who made those steps of faith,” Sri said. But she took them one at a time, and that is the way we all can and should approach our walk in faith with the Lord.

He noted that Blessed John Paul II once commented on Mary’s “profound walk of faith;” that though she was given great graces, she remained human, and, like us, experienced moments of trail and suffering — “times when she was in utter darkness.”

Sri mentioned several steps in Mary’s walking out in faith — steps we might use as a model for our own stepping out. I’m going to start with them now, and finish in subsequent posts.

The first step of faith comes the moment the angel Gabriel appears before her. We know from Scripture that Mary “was greatly troubled,” but not at the sight of the angel, Sri said; rather, it was at what the angel had said that bothered her.”Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.

Why would this have been troubling? Because, Sri explained, the wording would have indicated to Mary that she was being called on a mission; that she was being asked to be stretched as never before. “Mary realized she was standing in the shoes of Moses,” Sri said. And how daunting would that have been to a young girl? Wouldn’t we have been scared out of our wits as well? I know I would have.

But the Lord says, “Trust me, it will get better,” Sri said. “It’s okay to be troubled, but what do you do with those fears?”

Mary has a wonderful response, according to Sr. “She enters into an interior dialogue with the Lord.”

We are still only at step one, but hopefully you can see in this brief example how much we can learn from Mary by watching her responses. Because we, too, are being called out. There’s no doubt about it. As children of the light, sons and daughters of God, we will be asked to go on a mission. We’re at the chair, now, clinging mightily, wondering, should we let go? Should we go? Or would it be safer just to stay right where we are?

Like Josephine, and like Mary, there’s likely to be that moment of hesitation, and yet in the end we are able to glimpse, in the near distance, the arms of our father. With that in our sights, we can tell ourselves, “I got this!” And off we go.

But just as Josephine didn’t become an expert walker in one day, we’ll need to practice, to go slowly, to not get ahead of ourselves. And God will be with us every step of the way, offering us a safe place to land when we fall.

   Oct 16

writing wednesdays: in search of the styrofoam cup

It’s a bit of a stretch from what my writing post is today over at Peace Garden Writer, but this is the hint: it’s got something to do with being refreshed — particular as a freelancer.

Oh c’mon, you do want to know how to quench your thirst, now don’t you? Go see!

   Oct 04

faith & family fridays: cooking up a storm with fr. leo patalinghug

Don’t even ask me how to say his name. Fr. Leo’s good enough for me, though if you want to get technical, it’s Fr. Leo Patalinghug.

What’s more important is this guy can cook. I mean, really cook. And I know, because he cooked for me on Friday night.

Well, me and a room full of others from throughout the Diocese of Fargo.

The main dish? Penne ala vodka. Amazing!

I’d recently been exposed to Fr. Leo and his masterful theology/cooking gig while watching EWTN television. I love it when Christians are joyful about their faith, when they can show the love of Christ simply by who they are and the ways they move about the world.

For anyone who has seen Fr. Leo, he’s got quite a spark, and a million pounds of energy all wrapped up into one small Filipino body. He’s also obviously in love with Christ and the Church.

Fr. Leo brings these things together through his program, “Grace Before Meals,” a movement he spreads through television, books and his presence in the public. His aim? To call families back to the dinner table in order to enliven the faith life and our relationship with God and one another.

“That’s where the best conversations happen, while someone’s chopping up vegetables and I’m stir-frying this or that,” he says in this video, which will give you a good taste of what this guy is all about.