faith fridays: something’s missing

Last night my friend and I were chatting over appetizers about the joys and sorrows of our lives, and as often is the case with faith friendships, at some point the conversation began to go deep.

Well, not apparently so at first. We were on the subject of puzzles and how much she enjoys them — the challenge of taking a bunch of seemingly random pieces and trying to figure out how they all fit together. She was weaving the story of her life with children, how her boys used to sit down with her and do the puzzles with her, and how now that they’re teens they’ll pop in and out but not sit for the duration.

Honestly, I thought the conversation was going to be about teenagers and their changing needs, but instead, it became something about humanity as she talked about the times she’s gotten all the way through a puzzle, piece by piece, only to find out at the very end that one piece is missing. One piece! And how much that bothers her — that one piece that has departed, is nowhere to be found.

That’s when things got more serious. “It recently occurred to me that that puzzle piece is us,” she said. “Each of us. I really think it is. That’s how important we are. When one of us is gone, even one of us, it’s just not right.”

And I realized, yeah, she’s right! I mean, that’s how God feels about us. He’s brought us here for a reason, right now, at this particular time in history. We are all the many parts of His one body. So when one of us goes missing…something is off, something isn’t right, and the world will not be right, will not be set on course, until all of the pieces are in place.

That won’t happen in this world, of course. It can’t. And we live with that tension — the incompleteness that oftentimes fuels us, keeps us seeking. Something’s not right yet. Something’s missing.

There are many points to be made with this one thought of a missing puzzle piece. For one, each of us counts, indelibly, unimaginably, too. The other is that we count. We can’t even begin to know our worth. We see ourselves from the inside out only. Everyone else sees us from the outside in. God sees it all. And someday we will see ourselves the way God does, and we will realize just how significant our piece was, how essential, how crucial, as well as the importance of everyone whose lives touched ours, whether for a moment or for our earthly lifetime.

I’m telling you, it’s going to happen. We can’t control when, we can only control what we do while we wait.

I can’t leave today without mentioning the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II. What a dear man he was and is! I grappled today with dedicating my Friday post to him or the puzzle piece. I decided that it’s all connected, especially after I heard a fellow blogger talk this morning on Catholic radio about the chance she had (and denied herself) to meet the Pope in person one year when she was a teenager. She said something to the effect that later, she realized that not having taken the chance, and knowing what she knows now of our former Pope, she’s certain he felt her absence, since this particular man has always been gifted at looking upon each person as a unique, unrepeatable individual. Because of that, she feels that her absence was glaring that day, like a missing puzzle piece. Something wasn’t right.

But it’s all been made right now. She’s a religious Sister, a self-described media nun (see her blog, Hell Burns) on fire for the Lord and enamored with the legacy John Paul II has left us. Even her near crossing with the Pope set her life on a completely different course. She’s doing what she can to keep her puzzle piece visible and connected to the rest of the flock.

My friend Lisa Hendey will be in Rome this coming week, arriving just as the beatification of JPII is underway. She will gather with 150 other bloggers in a special Vatican-sponsored meeting on social media and faith. This is a tremendous opportunity for Lisa, and she considers herself a representative for all Catholic bloggers out there. In turn, please consider following Lisa during her visit to hear about the exciting events in Rome in the coming week. I know I will! You can find out more here about how to keep up with Lisa’s adventure.  Also, here’s an article from the online Catholic news sources, Zenit featuring an interview with Lisa in preparation for this gathering.

Q4U: What lesson do you take from the analogy of the missing puzzle piece?

thoughtful thursdays: x’s at mary’s, prayer at ‘a and c’

Neece and I have dubbed the day for our mutual blog, An Atheist and a Catholic, “Thoughtful Thursdays.” We both love alliteration, and this goes along well with the other alliteration-happy theme days I’ve instituted here on Peace Garden Mama. Even though our blog is separate, I will try to send reminders on Thursday that we’ve posted. Today, we’re exploring what we wish others knew more about our worldviews. Neece is defining atheism, and I’m talking about prayer and what it means to me as a Catholic. Come and join us there if you’d like.

I’m also a guest blogger today on my good friend Mary’s blog, Play off the Page. I helped Mary find her way into the blogging world, and she’s taking off like wildfire. I’m so proud of her. Mary has engaged in the A to Z blogging challenge, and asked me to cover the “X” blog. I was happy to do so and enjoyed sharing my thoughts on this under-appreciated letter!

May your day be extraordinarily thoughtful!


writing wednesdays: a gal you’ll want to meet!

I’ve been privileged to have been introduced to several people who have turned out to be writing mentors of one flavor or another. One of them is Lenore Puhek, a fellow Montanan, and I’m featuring her today on Peace Garden Writer. Her encouragement and insight has been vital to me as a writer, and I hope you’ll garner some tips from her today.

Just know that Lenore often appears publicly in the garb of her book characters, so I’m not sure who you’re going to find today, but I guarantee it will be a treat! :)

Wishing you a peace-filled Writing Wednesday!

mama mondays: colors from holy week and easter 2011

Mama Mondays has been quiet this Lent, but with the onset of Easter, so, too, the colors of family life at the Salonen household come alive again!

Let’s go back to Holy Thursday. Our bedroom carpet began the “changing of colors” when, after four years of mocking us with its orange-speckled shag look, it was given a new start:

Old carpet
New carpet

Our second-grader helped prepare us for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper that evening with this:


We ended the day with a small birthday celebration in honor of my dear mother, who turned (gulp) 70 (which means that I am no spring chick myself). What I love most about this picture is my son’s inadvertent facial movements to match Grandma’s candle-blowing…

My Good Friday started out a bit disconcerting when my friend Vicky said she’d been experiencing a migraine, and that our planned visit might be cut short. But by the time I arrived at her home, things had begun to turn around. She colored my morning, nearly two hours’ worth, with her lively and beautiful spirit. You wouldn’t guess if you didn’t know that Vicky, mother of two boys, is in the middle of a serious fight with breast cancer. (Please keep her in your prayers. Updates and ways to help can be found on her blog, The Westra World.) Thank you again, Vicky, for the blessed visit!

After Good Friday services, we sneaked in a light dinner (pbj sandwiches), then commenced the longtime tradition of egg-coloring.

Saturday brought a last meal with Grandma Jane at a local Japanese restaurant, and a first guitar lesson by Daddy Troy with Nick, 6, who learned about three notes in the first go-around.

It also included some Saturday afternoon and evening Easter shopping, resulting in these colors: (Can you tell our teen son woke up in the morning and asked, “Hey Mom, when do we get to take pictures? Can we do it now, please, please?!”)



The 11 a.m. Mass at our church was so beautiful, the altar speckled with lilies and other flowers of varying colors, the stained-glass windows sparkling, the music particularly lively with songs celebrating that “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

I will fess up now; we had a few tense moments over the course of Holy Week as we struggled to get everything in order for the grand feast, visits and the kids being out of school for a couple days. But it was one of the most vibrant Easter days in memroy with the sun shining Sunday, finally, after several continuous bleak, rainy days. Indeed, hope has sprung!

Happy Easter! And may your spring be beautiful, colorful and full of the kind of hope that only a daily relationship with the Risen Lord can offer.

Q4U: What came to life for you this Easter?

faith fridays: when failing is winning

“We are not meant to ‘succeed’ at Lent but to fail and know our dependence upon Grace.” – Elizabeth Scalia (p.53, Happy Catholic)

Isn’t it nice to know this? That we needn’t have been perfect this Lent? That the point is really not so much that we have moved through it flawlessly, but that we have moved through it, grasping for our Lord each step of the way?

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t conduct myself perfectly this Lent. I got behind on one of my daily commitments, and I allowed details of my work to claim my attention to the point of not keeping up with my devotionals on a regular basis. There were Fridays I forgot it was Friday and inadvertently ate meat. Usually, I remembered at some point in the day, sometimes too late, but yes, I messed up a few times.

As enthusiastic as I was at Lent’s beginning, anticipating the amazing, spiritual experience that is always a possibility, some days I slogged through, more closely resembling a tired caterpillar than a butterfly on its way to a grand celebration.

But with this quote, I’m reminded that we’ll never achieve perfection in this life. We can only capture glimpses of it, sometimes just enough to keep us pushing forward. This life was never meant to be a utopia. Rather, it was meant to be a training ground for the true banquet that will come later — after the groveling has been groveled out, the tough lessons learned, the grief and joy experienced to a point of total surrender to Christ.

The dichotomy of the Christian walk came at me twice this Holy Week when friends in two separate faith groups reflecting on Passion Sunday asked, “Why the palm branches and celebration coupled with the sorrowful reading of Christ’s death?” It struck me this year, too — life and death so closely paired, contrasting each other just like this Lent did to me.

One gal offered a possible answer. Apparently in ancient times, the waving of palms signaled war. Given that, the confluence of apparent celebration and impending death doesn’t seem so contradictory.

I think this is an important reality to grasp, this glaring contrast of what are lives here are meant to be. In failing we win, in giving up we gain, and in dying we live. When looked at this way, we have nothing to lose by heading into enemy territory with confidence, knowing that even if it appears our side is losing, in the end, we will rise triumphantly and have abundance of life beyond anything we could have imagined.

On a related note, my atheist friend and I have enjoyed a great first week of our collaborative blog, An Atheist and a Catholic. We’ve reached nearly 1,000 views and were even mentioned on the online website of a national Catholic magazine. I see this effort as demonstrative in the “failing is winning” category. Neece and I have failed in the hopes we might have had at the start to convince the other that our belief is the most right, but in that “failing,” a friendship has been formed that already has borne fruit.

One more quote before I leave to move through the final piece of Lent — the commemoration of Jesus’ death — and onto the most glorious day of the Church year:

“Blessed are they who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12

Q4U: What are you willing to sacrifice for a greater good?

mama mondays: happy 6th birthday nick!

Our “baby” turned 6 on Saturday!

Here’s a glimpse of what he did on his birthday:

It’s also a teaser for what I’m going to be writing about on Wednesday. (Hint: there’s something special about the book!) Note that he’s wearing his new summer shirt from Grandpa and Grandma Beauclair, and swimming trunks, even though snow covered the ground outside.

I’ll be back writing regular-length Monday posts soon. It’s Holy Week, and Easter is coming. My Lenten fast will be over then and the real celebrating can begin!

Happy Birthday Nick! I love you!

faith fridays: on lenten surprises and coming alive

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Dr. Howard Thurman

I found this quote on p. 64 of Happy Catholic, a book I’ve been reading this past week, and it resonated powerfully with me.

As we inch toward the end of Lent, I find myself in awe by what has unfolded these past weeks. Every Lent as far back as I can remember has included at least a surprise or two, and this year has not disappointed. Maybe that’s why I typically begin Lent with a sense of great expectation. It seems no matter how much I try to plan my Lent, inevitably it becomes a journey full of details I could not have predicted as I set upon the path.

The biggest surprise for me this Lent has been the flowering of a project I could not have conceived of at the season’s beginning. In fact, even a week ago, this project had not begun to come to light, and yet, here it is: a public collaboration between me and my new friend, Neece, an atheist. Our blog, An Atheist and a Catholic, launched yesterday, and so far so good.

A few weeks back I mentioned our email relationship in a post here. And then, just this past weekend, I had a rather zany idea that perhaps Neece and I might share some of our private thoughts in public so that others might benefit from what we have learned. To my surprise and delight, she agreed, and here we are, just days after we started a lively and quick-thinking back-and-forth over email to determine color scheme, font and other details. It’s been an exhilarating, hopeful endeavor through which I’ve come alive!

Please don’t misunderstand and think it’s all been roses. In the past four months since I first met Neece through the blogging world, our email discussions have more often resembled the dreaded thistle — at least initially. Recently we each admitted that at times we were scared to check our inboxes in the event we might find email messages from one another that contained something controversial.  But we’ve worked through so much muck, so that instead of being on separate islands yelling at one another as some might expect, we are standing on a patch of virtual beach, two little girls with different colored suits wanting to make friends and show others it’s possible.

It won’t be easy. But if the way in which we’ve worked together over the past week is any indication how it’s going to go, I have a very positive feeling about it, and Neece does, too. In the first hours of this venture, we were on our way to 200 visitors. Early indications are that people from both ends of the worldview spectrum are eager to see what we’ll share. Yep, pressure’s on, but we’re ready! I can’t help but think of Pope Benedict’s recent challenge to believers and non-believers to begin trying to come together with the mission of creating a duet rather than a duel. That’s what this feels like to me at this point — more duet — even if it wasn’t always easy getting here.

Recently, I’ve become more mindful of what’s fueling this vitality charging through Neece’s and my inboxes. I would call it grace. I realize Neece wouldn’t name it that, but to me, when things are humming along in what feels like extraordinary fashion, I can’t help but consider that a supernatural power may have entered in. It’s up to Neece and I whether we’ll make good on that grace, to use it well, but there’s no doubt in my mind it’s there and the source of the excitement I feel.

If you can, stop and visit us on Thursdays. For now, here’s a link to our introduction as well as our journeys and hopes post.

Q4U: What, if any, Lenten surprises have come your way this season?

debut of ‘an atheist and a catholic’ blog

Well, today is a big day for me and my friend Neece. We are both bloggers living hundreds of miles from one another collaborating to launch a new blog; one we feel may be fairly unique in all of blogging history. When else have two people with diametrically opposed worldviews had the courage to take one another by the hand and boldly step into the public arena with their thoughts? If you know of such an effort, I’d love to hear of it so I can take notes! Until then, I’m going to assume we’re breaking some fairly uncharted territory with this. It’s a bit scary, but incredibly exciting as well. Neece and I have been talking for four months through email. We’ve worked through a lot, including ways to respectfully approach one another even with our vastly different ideas about many things. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far and have been delighted at how we’ve collaborated in the past four days in particular.

That’s right, four months to work through our relationship to the point of considering each other friends, and four days to come up with a concept for and design a blog together. The whole process went extremely smoothly as we worked out color scheme, header details and what our blog would be called, among other particulars. I’m very impressed with Neece’s skills and I think she was happy with my input as well. It was a lot of fun putting this together. Now all we need are a few readers!

We’re trying to keep this reasonable. To that end, we’ll post just once a week each Thursday. Our respective words will be distinguished by text color. And our comment policy, due to the potentially volatile nature of our having such different viewpoints, will be fairly strict. We do want to engage with readers and we’ll accept disagreement, but we will expect that it be done in a respectful way.

This is a bit of an experiment, so bear with us. If you know of anyone who might be interested in learning with us, please send them here:

Our introductory post, which went live the other day with only a few people knowing, explains more about how it was that we came together. And our launch post explaining our journeys and hopes should be up by the time you read this.

Thanks in advance for your interest in An Atheist and a Catholic. We look forward to its potential, and to our continued explorations of our worldviews, as well as our commonalities, hopes and dreams.

Q4U: So what do you think? Are we out of our minds, or do you find this as intriguing a concept as we do?

writing wednesdays: blog anniversary!

I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I started Peace Garden Writer, my break-off blog that really began here on Peace Garden Mama. I’ve truly enjoyed Writing Wednesdays and how it has evolved. And I thank you all for your part in that, through your gracious encouragement.

I celebrate that and something else on Peace Garden Writer today. Please come by and toast with me!