faith fridays: grappling with my relationship with the church

“How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face—and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you. Then too — where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough, I know better.” – Carlo Carretto

I must confess, whenever evils within the Catholic Church rise to the surface, as they have so loudly recently, I go to Mass the following Sunday expecting the pews to be empty, and I’m always shocked on some level to see that they’re not – that the church is as full as ever. And there I am among those who have returned, clamoring back into the arms of the one who has so often sheltered me, knowing there are still, and always will be, evils lurking somewhere within.

How can a church be holy and still house such wrongs?

It seems impossible at times to sort through, yet the answer is very simple. It comes down to this: the Church comprises both God and man, good and evil. This is true not only of the Catholic Church, but every church and every relationship that has ever existed and will exist. The Church teaches truth and offers guidance on how to achieve holiness, even though its members cannot possibly reach perfection in this life. She remains there for us as we reach toward what is good and pure and eternal, even while we move through our earthly lives of suffering and imperfection.

The above reflection by Carretto, shared with me by a fellow Catholic writer, describes well how many of today’s Catholics feel. We are weary, tired of feeling we must defend the Church we love, and yet we have no choice but to stay near Her, even while the dichotomies swirl around us. There is no other place for us to go.

I can’t help but relate this reflection to those other relationships in my life that are nearest and dearest to me, yet fraught with love-hate passion. I think back to when I was seven and feeling so severely misunderstood that I decided I must leave, must run away from the wretched place causing such turmoil within me. I put an apple and cheese and some crackers in a backpack and headed off into the Great Beyond. But just a few blocks down the road, in our town without a leash law, I was confronted with snarling dogs and forced to return to the place where, I stubbornly realized, I would be the safest and most loved, if not always completely understood.

"Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face—and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!"

I am thinking now of my almost-teen daughter, who is caught between wanting to do her own thing and realizing that if she does, she could compromise her well-being. It is a tenuous situation, that of a 12-year-old whose brain is complex enough to know a few important things but who is still not mature enough to go without her mother’s counsel. In one hour, she’ll tell me I am the worst mother in the world, and in the next, hand me a note that professes her love and sorrow over how she’s conducted herself in my presence. She frequently ping-pongs back and forth between emotional extremes, deficient in her ability to distinguish where hate ends and love begins. "I don’t know what’s come over me," she’ll say, aching for reconciliation.

Humanity is what has come over her, of course. The interior battle of the soul, of right and wrong choices, is raging within her, as it rages in all of us every day of our lives.

"But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects."

Like a frustrated teen, it is so tempting to unleash our frustration in a single direction, at a single person, at a single entity, as the case may be. I am often the brunt of my daughter’s fury because I am the one who happens to be standing in the way of her wild will to do as she pleases and not consider the consequences. I’m a perfect target. Because of my love for her, I’ve set myself up.

Similarly, it has become easy, even popular, to cast stones at the Church for what “it” has done, while failing to examine our own sins and wounded-ness. It is easy, while trying to sort through true injustices, to not see the whole picture and discern where love might begin and hate end.

Certainly, the evil within our Church needs to be brought to light. But let us not, in our fury, as we examine the facts, forget to also examine the imperfections inside ourselves. And let us not forget that, like the loving mother whose arms are ready to receive back her disenchanted daughter, it’s quite possible that the one we so easily condemn could be the very one we most need, the one who is still best equipped to save us from ourselves.

Q 4 U: Where do you see yourself in your faith journey? As an innocent child, a rebellious teen or a wise adult?




forum column april 2010: peeking at the what-might-have-beens

[Note: I hope you enjoy my April contribution to "Parenting Perspectives," a weekly column of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota’s largest newspaper. As a monthly contributor, I’m usually satisfied with the headlines The Forum selects, but this time, their version didn’t seem to encapsulate what my column is about so I added the alternative title to this post.]

Parenting Perspectives: Life’s path is a choice (a.k.a., peeking at the what-might-have-beens)

By Roxane B. Salonen, The Forum

This fall will be a significant one for our family as our baby enters kindergarten and our oldest begins high school.

Though we’re not there just yet, the momentum toward change has begun. In anticipation, I’ve found myself startled by occasional episodes of dream-like ruminations.

I am walking hand in hand with our youngest, approaching a long hall. Light emanates from sporadic spots up ahead. Doorways, I realize.

We move forward, and though we don’t linger, we slow at each of the openings long enough to peek inside, where I glimpse moving pictures of what might have been.

In one room, I am dressed in a business suit giving a presentation to clients who sit in rapt attention. Later, I drive away in a shiny car with a sun roof, heading for my red-brick mansion on a hill. Two children, a dog and a nanny greet me at the door.

Another room has me on a plane, living the life of a travel writer. I’m off to Egypt to see the pyramids. Next week, it will be Greece, where I’ll eat my fill of souvlaki and baklava and write my next novel.

I walk farther and find myself in the English department of a university, where I am filling my students’ minds with classic texts and poems. One of them will go on to win the Pulitzer.

There are more doors filled with similar visions, all of which surprise me, not because they couldn’t have happened but because they could have. I sense I should be looking into the rooms with longing, but I’m distracted by a draft that has me searching for something warm to wrap myself in.

For one brief moment, a voice taunts: “See what you could have been, what you might have done?”

Suddenly I am aware my son has let go of my hand. I shirk the voice as I look around, panicked.

Oh, there he is! He is rushing toward me with a daffodil in his hands, its petals still folded. “Here, Mommy,” he says, reaching upward. I am thrilled to accept his spring gift.

He dashes off again, returning a few moments later, this time walking slowly as he precariously balances a glass of sloshing water. As I place the flower inside it, a look of contentment spreads across his face.

I glance behind me; the doors have vanished. Ahead, a heart-shaped door beckons us back to where we began. Its frames have been decorated haphazardly with the artwork of five children. A welcome mat below shows wear and a few stains. Loud noises come from inside – and warmth.

I’ve arrived at the place of my dreams, exactly where I was meant to be.

Roxane B. Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and her husband, Troy, are the parents of five children. She also has a blog at

mama mondays: indulgences and awards

I had a chance to experience my second conference of the month this weekend. While it’s not typical for me as a busy mom to indulge in two conferences so close together, these two opportunities were too good to pass up. So, Daddy had soccer duty (four games in all) on Saturday while I headed out to the conference site, here in Fargo this time, ready to grow in knowledge of what it takes to thrive in the profession of communications.

I mentioned in a post-conference essay a few weeks ago that good food (and the luxury of not having to prepare  meals) is among the wonderful perks of conference-going. The spring conference of the North Dakota Professional Communicators this weekend was no exception. The pasta bar at lunch and the London broil with seasoned potatoes and fresh green beans at the VIP Room for dinner really topped off the experience, not to mention the homemade dessert:

The conference ended with the presenting of the Communicator of Achievement Award, as well as other award-giving, in particular those for the 2010 NDPC Communications Contest. I was very pleased to learn that entries for my parenting columns received both first- and second-place honors. The first-place entry will go on to nationals. I felt honored to accept my awards and enjoyed watching fellow communicators receive theirs.

In case you missed them when they first appeared, here are two of the four columns (two per entry) that garnered the awards:

Stay or Go: A Mother’s Perspective on Valley Flooding

Twelve Days of Christmas and Chaos

And speaking of awards, I have been feeling terribly guilty because, while I have received various blogging awards from blogging friends in the last six months or so, I have yet to reciprocate. And even though these honors are perhaps less distinguised than the more formal sort, they are the way we bloggers give thumbs-up to one another and I definitely feel there are bloggers in my midst deserving of the same awards I’ve been so delighted to receive.

For example, last Friday, I received the "The Beautiful Blogger" award by Laura at Wavy Lines:

That made my day! So now I’d like to turn back to the blogosphere and award some of my most beautiful blogging friends the same. There are many worthy recipients. These are just a few that have brought a particular spark of beauty to my life lately. If you have a moment today, please visit them:

Mary @ Play off the Page

Marie @ Murray’s Momma

Liz @ Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Geek

Kim @ Kim’s Pondering Beyond Breast Cancer

Who in your life deserves an award this week?


faith fridays: 7 quick takes friday (vol. 25)

Welcome back to “7 Quick Takes Friday,” an occasional feature that offers a glimpse of where my thoughts have been lately. It’s been a while since I’ve joined the quick takes "carnival" so glad to be contributing once again!


Kid quotes:

Nick, 5, standing by the door to the garage, talking in a loud, whiny voice:

“Are we gonna go now?”


“I was just wondering. I don’t really wanna go.”

This reminds me of a time our family was traveling through the Badlands when I was about his age, and my father was upset because my sister and I were not paying attention to the surroundings, looking for wildlife. He’d suggested we do so, I think mainly as an antidote to our squabbling, but also because it wasn’t uncommon to spot buffalo, or even something exotic like a cougar, in that area.

“Why aren’t you two looking for animals?” he’d reprimanded.

To which I, now looking out the window, quickly replied: “I see an animal! (Pause…) …called a cow!”

This story was repeated many times so I never forgot it, but what impresses me now is that I remember my thought process at the time. It went something like this: “I want to prove to my Daddy that I am looking for animals, and there’s one to prove it, and I’ll tell him. Oops! He’s gonna think I saw something really interesting and he might be mad when he realizes it was just a plain old cow. I’d better tell him the name of the animal, just in case.”

That’s how it went, and I can imagine Nick’s similar thought process, clarifying that he wanted to know whether it was time to leave, but that his question did not indicate he actually was excited to go. Just that he wanted to know. You know. Just cuz.


Speaking of…look who turned FIVE a week ago today!


First letter: Nick’s first letter to me, written a week or so before he turned the corner:

A note to all those who thought we were stark-raving mad to welcome a fifth child into our lives: just two words…no regrets.


She shows seashells: Troy’s parents came back from their southern winter getaway recently, and had some treasures to share with us that they’d collected on the Atlantic seashore. Here, Troy’s mom has gathered the kids to tell them the Legend of the Sand Dollar. And yes, she had an extra one that we pounded open to see the legendary “doves.” As it turned out, there was too much sand to really get the full effect. Still the kids enjoyed sorting through the collection and claiming some for themselves. Who doesn’t like touching a piece of the ocean?


Inspiring quote: I heard this on Catholic radio earlier this week but can’t remember the exact source or wording. Still, it seemed profound to me:

“It is through suffering that we come to know ourselves. Those who do not suffer cannot know who they are.”


The tulips are back! I’m partial to the peach-colored one.


New writing blog: I’ve taken some concrete steps toward a long-range plan involving a new venture. I launched my new writing blog, Peace Garden Writer, last week as one of the steps toward this goal. It will replace my “Writing Wednesdays” that used to appear weekly here. If you have a chance to stop by, please leave a comment so I know you’ve visited.

Q 4 U: Share one thing about yourself that most people wouldn’t guess or know.

For more “quick takes,” see Conversion Diary.


mama mondays: five!

Our Baby Then:

And Now:


“Mama, did you see me waving to your feet?!”
— Nick, 5, to me in the pool this weekend after emerging from the water sporting his new goggles.

And then, after I joined him underwater with my goggles so we could “talk,” upon popping to the surface: “Mommy, you look funny under there! You look like Harry Potter!”



It’s hard to believe, but our youngest of five is now five. For his birthday, we took an early summer vacation at a hotel here in town. Having been assigned a room on the fifth floor, he delighted in pushing the 5 on the elevator button panel. Our little fish then spent half a night and several hours the next morning doing his favorite thing: swimming and exploring the vast "ocean" with his super-cool underwater exploration goggles.

Five is a big age. The morning of my fifth birthday, I stood on a stool in the bathroom in front of the mirror, where I waited…and waited…and waited to see myself growing a year older.

When you’re five, the world is full of delightful possibility. You question everything and nothing all at the same time.

I appreciate these realities so much more now than the first or second or even third go-around. As a 41-year-old mother who has nudged four others from the hearth and into the beginnings of the real world, I understand well what’s coming. Soon, the zeal for life will lose some of its shine. The freshness that comes with turning five will fade with each passing year. If he’s lucky, it will return many years from now, when wisdom trumps knowledge and the world becomes, once again, a place in which to witness everyday miracles.

For now, I’m taking notes. I’m re-learning what’s important: the pure beauty of the first spring flower, letters on a page, numbers on fingers and a warm place to go at the end of the day. I’m re-visiting the chance to laugh at things that normally might whiz past me, to blow bubbles in my milk, to make funny faces just because I feel like it.

I’m re-discovering how to play the air guitar, suck the ice-cream out of the bottom of my cone, and look at the world from a new viewpoint.

I’m finding all over again that you can be someone’s friend even if you don’t know their name, that soup is better when slurped, and things don’t always have to match to be useful.

When you’re five, the world is big but everything is possible.

When was the last time you did something goofy, just cuz?

faith fridays: good dirt

Shortly after I returned home from a writer’s conference on Sunday, my youngest son, age 4-3/4, came in from outside with a little gift. It was a daffodil, only it hadn’t yet opened so it was all folded onto itself. I felt a little melancholy receiving it, knowing he’d be turning five by week’s end (today) and that this could well be the last spring I’d receive a gift of flowers from his small hands.

“Oh, thanks honey!” I said. “I guess we’ll need to get some water for this.”

A few minutes later, he came back into my bedroom where I was “recovering” from the drive. He was holding a glass filled to the brim with water, which was sloshing over the edges. He had a serious look in his eyes. He set the glass down on the nightstand next to me and we placed the flower in it.

The next day, he was telling me about all the other flowers like that one in the back yard. He was excited and asked if I would come see them later. I didn’t want to discourage him from picking flowers for me, but I did want him to know that the flower he’d brought in the day before likely would open up and die before the others.

“But why?” he asked.

“Because in order to grow well, a flower needs water but it also needs dirt to live in,” I answered.

A little while later, I could feel his presence nearby but I was too distracted to notice what he was doing, how he was hovering near the flower. When I looked at it a few minutes later, I could see something was different.

“Did you do something to the flower?” I asked.

“It has dirt in it. Now it won’t die so fast.”

This kid was melting my heart left and right. His gestures of love, for me and the flower, were not getting past me. He not only wanted to give me a gift, he wanted to give me something that would last, that wouldn’t die soon.

The flower has opened up beautifully. One of its petals is suffering at this writing, not for lack of soil and too much water but because of a curious cat that won’t leave it alone. Even so, every time I pass it, I hear it whispering something to me. “Love,” it says. “I am infused with love and now you are as well."

When the two of us finally went outside to look at the daffodils in the dirt, he was so joyful he was practically dancing on the way to the spot where they were growing. My young son’s appreciation for spring flowers has been such a beautiful sign of what is possible. New life is so captivating, even to an almost-five-year-old.

Yesterday, he drew a picture for me at the drop-off childcare where I brought him while I attended a meeting. He pointed out the green flower he’d drawn and made sure I saw that it had dirt, just like the yellow flower in our home and those outside. He wanted to make sure his pretend flower had as long a life as possible, too.

And today, I can’t help but think of that dirt and that flower and how eloquently they point to our relationship with God. Dirt isn’t always, well, dirty. We need good dirt, good soil, laid down at our base in order to flower in the way God wants us to. Without good dirt, we, too, will die an early death, spiritually if not physically.

My son’s small but poignant gesture has given me so much. It’s reminded me of the power of love, the power of new life, and the power of nurturing a rich-soil relationship with the Creator.

What are some of the things you do to enrich the soil at your base? OR, when was the last time the simple act of a child touched your heart?

don’t forget the chocolates!

When packing for a conference, there’s an unwritten rule about one item that must be included:

Chocolates. Don’t dare forget the chocolates!

There’s just something about getting out of town for a weekend that brings out the playfulness in a mother, and chocolates seem to be the writer-mother’s "drug" of choice.

This time last week, after throwing in the final load of laundry prior to my out-of-town trip, I opened my Facebook wall to update my status:

"Heading to Sioux Falls later today to take in a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Having a slumber party with my writer friends tonight. Pillow fight anyone?"

Later that evening at the hotel, I checked and saw that my best writer-mama-pal had posted a response. Mary and I have traveled to many conferences together, but she learned about this one after she’d scheduled her piano students’ annual spring recital. Though I enjoyed the solo drive south, Mary’s absence was felt. So I was especially delighted to "see" her on Facebook responding to my earlier proclamation:

"But, you’re eating chocolate, aren’t you?" she asked. "And, talking as fast as you can about books and ideas and kids and writing. I know what I’m missing!!!"

Of course, she nailed it. She did know. She’d been there before. The bag of Dove chocolates was indeed within reach, and my two South Dakota roommates and I were on a roll, ruminating about the world’s problems, commiserating over the challenges of the writing business, and sharing our joys and hopes for what we’d like to achieve in our lives as mothers, wives and writers.

As with most such things, conferences are valuable experiences in and of themselves. They are time-outs from the real world to think about the bigger picture. Everyone needs that every once in a while. But the behind-the-scenes moments can be every bit as valuable as the presentations themselves.

I will count among the weekend’s treasures two evenings of dining with conference organizers and presenters — the good food that was consumed as well as the lively conversations that went down as a result of being gathered with like-minded colleagues from far and near.

Driving from Fargo on a sunny, spring afternoon, listening to the book-on-tape I’d checked out at the library a few days prior in anticipation of time alone — this, too, will remain a cherished part of the weekend.

I needed this conference. It was time. I’d just emerged from winter, Lent, flood worries and a desserts fast into Easter and spring. After pulling back from the world for a while, it was time to engage in it again. The conference fit in well with the grander scheme of where I’m at in my life and what I seek.

While I can’t share every last detail of my Sioux Falls adventure, I do want to leave you a few morsels of sweetness — bits of food for thought I wrote down over the weekend, notebook in hand. I hope something here inspires you, whether for writing or life in general:

Rebecca Johnson, author –

"Your best resources are the people in your life." 

"Most subjects have been written about before. Let your challenge be to look for the fresh approach."

"I never apologize for writing non-fiction. It’s been such a source of inspiration for me!"

"Think of how humbling it would have been for the scientist who held this new species for the first time, knowing you’re the first person to see it, ever." (When talking about the Census of Marine Life discoveries, in particular, the never-before-seen rainbow crab.)

Chris Richman, literary agent –

"You need to be prepared for the opportunities."

"Even if you’ve written the next masterpiece, the pitch has to be something that makes someone want to read it."

"Simply put, a query should state what your book is about and who you are."

"(Within the query) Use funny turns or phrases to make your voice come out."

Linsday Schlegel, editor –

"You must write for children the same way you do for adults, only better."

"A picture book story should take you somewhere."

"You can use rhyme but don’t force it." 

"You also can use repetition. Just don’t say it exactly the same way every time."

Maya Angelou, from the book-on-tape, A Song Flung Up to Heaven

“To become wonderfully successful and to sustain that success in any profession, one must be willing to relinquish many pleasures and be ready to postpone gratification.”

Q 4 U: When heading out of town for a weekend, what is one item for which you’d have to turn back if you forgot to pack it?











writing wednesdays: debut of peace garden writer

Well, it’s a big day for me. I’m launching my new writing blog, Peace Garden Writer, over at Blogger. From here on out, most of my Writing Wednesdays posts will be over at this exclusively writing-oriented blog. This new blog is  part of a grander vision that I’m revealing little by little, and I hope that if you are a writer or are interested in the writing life, you’ll consider stopping over there, today and on each Wednesday from this day forward. It’s still pretty bare bones in layout, but I’ll get there eventually. It takes time to build a good blog.

Thanks to all of my readers for your faithfulness. I really do appreciate you!

Debut Post on Peace Garden WriterTop Ten Reasons to Attend a Writer’s Conference

See you at Peace Garden Writer, and if you feel inclined, leave a comment to let me know you’ve stopped by.

I’ll be back here on Friday!