Peace Garden Mama II

A garden blend of family, faith and following the muse

   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.

TTFN!

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.

PGM


   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.

morguefile.com

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.]


   Sep 23

meaningful mondays: on going home

It wasn’t a planned trip. We decided the night before we were going to do it, my mother and I. So off we went, heading west, back to the place where I grew up and she lived nearly 40 years, to attend the funeral of one of my childhood friends.

If I could have chosen another way to get home, I would have. And yet, this is what was given us, and I’m grateful we both were able to rearrange things quickly enough to make it happen.

It was a bittersweet trip in many ways but I was gratefully surprised by the beauty, life and laughter that sneaked in among the heart-wrenching moments of tears. And after I’ve caught my breath, I’ll try to share a little more. For now, here’s a little peek — from our blessed jaunt through the North Dakota Badlands on Saturday.

A friend of mine calls journeys like this pilgrimages, and indeed, it was.

More soon…


   Sep 25

writing wednesdays: yearning for an open road for the mind

Did being alone ever become more than a desire, more of an essential, a thing that had to happen in order for you to thrive?

Been there, know that feeling well. And I’m going in deep with it.

Yep, I’m a little like this house sometimes, just needing a little space. And it’s all good, but it deserves respect.

Alone, Not Lonely/Roxane B. Salonen

 

I share more on this on Peace Garden Writer today. Go in search of a reprieve there, then treat yourself with a little nap. :)


   Sep 27

faith & family fridays: faith like a mustard seed

It was one of those evenings when I’d found myself needing a distraction, which led to a perusal through the Facebook trail. You know how it goes. You see something interesting, and before long, you’re far from where you began.

The photo caught my eye immediately, and then I had to catch my breath. It was a family photo from a reunion, but I found it absolutely brilliant.

Family Reunion (click on photo to enlarge)

 

And not only brilliant because of the way the family had obviously thought it all out beforehand, but, well, to be honest, I was transfixed by the beauty of it all — of seeing this big bustling family in all its glory, in all those colors, parceled out by T-shirts with each family “pod” or branch having chosen its own distinguishing color.

This moment in time, which had to have been tricky to capture, became a breathtaking bouquet of people, each connected in some way to the two sitting on stools in the middle — the ones who’d started it all.

I don’t know that I’ve met the matriarch or patriarch of this stunning brood, though I do know several of their children (one of whom graciously gave me permission to share this piece of their family history). But I’m captivated by this visual and what it says to me: “Trust in God and He will lead you to life in abundance.”

It didn’t escape me that the main couple chose yellow for their T-shirt color. Yellow, like mustard, or a mustard seed. Or, as Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “I assure you that if you have faith as big as a mustard seed, you can say to this hill, ‘Go from here to there!’ and it will go. You could do anything.”

Anything, like help create a big beautiful family from the simple but profound words, “I do” and a loving God to guide.

Jesus wanted us to know that it only takes a wee bit of faith to create a big, bounteous life. When this mustard-seed couple married all those years ago, they couldn’t have fathomed how their family would expand. They simply stepped out in faith, leaned hard on God, and this was the result.

Some in our world would see this as a negative, and say this couple has been selfish. But that would be unfair and wholly untrue. Rather, they have been selfless. Think of how many things they have sacrificed through the years in order to help bring all these souls into the world.

The really cool thing for me is that, though I don’t know every single person in this photo, I do know a fair number of them. Several, I met back in college. I once witnessed one of the couples falling in love when I walked into a room at a retreat and accidentally glimpsed them sneaking in a quick kiss. Several have been in Bible studies with me. We’ve shared pregnancies. Another has a child in my son’s class and they’ve played soccer together. One teaches and brings kids on mission trips to other countries.

There have been many crossing through the years, and I can say with confidence that this is a family with a beautiful, generous collective soul.

I know that there has been hardship in this family, too. One of the mothers has battled and overcome cancer. One couple lost a child in infancy. There have been heartaches woven into this picture of love, but there has been so much joy, too, because this is a family that has followed the mustard-seed model that Jesus presented. They have stepped out in faith, and God has delivered in a prolific way.

Along with inspiring me in terms of sheer numbers and the color, this visual also says something else to me: hope. It says, “Hang on, trust, lean it, let go, and hope for what is possible through God and God alone. Give Him your life and He will bring life to yours in ways you could never have imagined.”

Whether it’s through our family or in the other ways we move about the world, the application is the same. We don’t have to be big, nor does our faith. God can work with just a small amount, and even with that speck of faith, mountains and hearts can be moved, and the world can become a little more colorful and beautiful than before.


   Sep 30

meaningful mondays: following the heart home

[The following column was printed in The Forum, North Dakota's largest daily newspaper, on September 28, 2013. Reprinted with permission. Photos by author added for Peace Garden Mama entry only.]

Living Faith: When stopping the world is the right thing to do

By Roxane B. Salonen

 

“I just think you’ll regret it if you don’t do it, Mom.”

The words of my oldest daughter hit me like an ice-cube-cold glass of water.

I’d been living for days with the heavy reality that my childhood friend had died unexpectedly and I wouldn’t be able to be in Montana for the in-person goodbye.

“It’s impossible,” my head kept saying, while my heart tugged, “Are you sure?”

I’d even challenged God, demanding one night the answer be abundantly clear – the divine will obvious – by morning.

Problem was, I’d insisted on my timeline, giving God only a few hours to strike me down with the answer. Four days later, despite thinking I’d gotten the right signal, I did not feel at peace.

As it turns out, instead of coming from within, God’s answer had come through the voice of my teen daughter. But there was little time now to pull it off.

Quickly, I made a phone call. “Mom is there any chance …?” And then another to my husband, who would need to agree to take on the extras at home.

Within the hour, it was settled. Mom and I would leave in the morning for the place of my rearing and where she’d lived the majority of her life with my father.

Sometimes, you have to stop the world to live without regrets.

So last Thursday morning, after dropping the kids off at school, I grabbed a quick oil change and headed west. And for the first time in days, peace began to come.

From Bismarck, Mom and I continued on together, winding through sagging sunflower fields that turned to golden, just-harvested wheat fields as the sun closed in and we neared our destination.

Despite the weight of the reason for our journey, it all felt right.

We arrived just as the wake was about to begin, and as we walked into the sanctuary of the rural church in our reservation town, its walls bedecked in colorful star quilts, I felt a whisper, “Welcome home.”

At the base of the altar, I caught sight of the coffin, so hard to look upon but flanked by a plethora of floral bouquets and wreaths – including one a fellow classmate had ordered on behalf of our entire class in our school colors.

The faces, worn with grief, were not easy to take in and yet I knew seeing this in the flesh would become part of my healing.

I only had to think back a few months to my father’s funeral and how it seemed, with each person who showed up to pay respects, my grief-load lightened. Now, it was my turn to be part of that giving.

“I’m so glad you came,” one friend said, more than once. “Me too,” I said, no longer able to see how it had ever been a difficult decision.’

If I’d stayed behind, I would have missed so much – the tight, meaningful hugs; the spirit-filled funeral service at the church and deep resonance of the Native drums and song at the burial; and the warm deliciousness of the traditional dried-deer-meat and chokecherry soups and fry bread.

To think I almost relinquished an opportunity to travel with my mother, who helped hold me up emotionally, and inhale the familiar sights of the blessed route home – shadowed hills against blue, the spectacular Badlands, even the scattered, beaten-down buildings and rusted out junk yards.

I would have denied myself the chance to cry with my friends, say, “I love you” and mean it, and laugh until it hurt when the one adept at story-telling started in.

Each of these things started a process of a returning to whole that could not have happened if I’d stayed back, my heart split and aching to be somewhere else.

This is why we have these rites of passage – not for those who have left, but for us, so that we can better live through it and get to the other side of our sad.

It isn’t always possible to stop the world in this way, but as one friend said, “It’s just the right thing to do.” And I’ve been reminded that when we choose right, God affirms our choice at every turn along the road.


   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.

Another moment in the video shows Fr. Leo trying to get an adolescent to taste something he’s whipped up. “Try this, just a little piece. I promise you it won’t kill you and if you do die, I can do your funeral,” he says to convince the teen.

Obviously, Fr. Leo is not only faithful and a fantastic cook, but he’s also funny

Having him in our diocese, in our parish actually just steps from where our youngest child was baptized, was a wonderful blessing on a rainy, chilly Friday night.

My husband was away on business, so I went without a date but truly enjoyed the people who showed up at my table and ate and laughed through the evening with me.

I  wanted to bring a little of Fr. Leo’s presentation home with me, so I stopped in his book line afterward and picked up one of his latest, “Spicing Up Married Life,” and had him sign it to my husband.

“As a Catholic priest,” he writes in the introduction, ” I offer this book about marriage and romantic meals as a gift to be shared by husbands and wives…It’s a collection of ideas, ingredients and recipes to help married couples, whether just starting out or celebrating a jubilee, to experience all the blessings that God has in store for them as the grow in faith.”

It looks like a fun read, filled as it is with beautiful photographs of different delicious dishes…

“It’s amazing how good food can soften people’s hearts and minds,” Fr. Leo told us as one of the main reasons he’s doing what he’s doing.

He also shared some of the back story of how his “Grace Before Meals” program started. It wasn’t his idea; it came from beyond him and he was very reluctant at first. But in the end, he acquiesced and the program has been a terrifically tasty success.

Another quote I snatched up from the evening, which rang familiar, “Hospitality heals people,” he said. “And when we’re generous in our hospitality, we will be healed, too.”

I thought about the funeral I attended a few weekends back, and how very true this is. The warm soup and food I enjoyed with my mother, friends and strangers after my friend was laid to rest was truly healing for my body and soul.

There’s so much to this food thing, so much to explore about how God uses tangible, earthly things like food to reach us, to love us, to connect with us.

I’m inspired, to try some of these recipes, to read this book with my husband and in that way, share a bit of the experience he missed tonight, and to think anew about the lengths God will go to reach us.

The way to the hearts of God’s children is through their stomachs, it seems. Tonight, I have been fed. Now it’s my turn to feed another.


   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!


   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.


   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 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 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.

http://www.conversiondiary.com/

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 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 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!



   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!


   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?


   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!


   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 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 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…

PGM/W


   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 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 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 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.

morguefile.com

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.”

morguefile.com

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 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 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 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?

 


   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!



   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 http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/photos/top-photos-winter-olympics

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 http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/photos/top-photos-winter-olympics

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 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 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 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!

PGW