Wednesday, August 27, 2014

writing wednesdays: when life gets messy...

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

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

Alright then, let's go!

Monday, August 25, 2014

meaningful mondays: skipped steps, delayed responses

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

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

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

But also because of this I wasn't expecting to feel what I have this school year as my friends whose kids are his age take the long drive to college, leaving their once-babies on the university steps and watching their faces fade through the rear-view mirror as they turn toward home, an empty space in the car and their hearts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

second-chance sundays: God's presence in the summer

[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on Aug.16, 2014.]

Faith conversations: Readers share God's presence in the summer

By Roxane B. Salonen

Ah, summer – a time to split with routine and soak in the warmth of the season.
For the believer, this can mean alterations in prayer habits as well, so I decided to ask, “How did God make his presence known in your summer?”

According to these six local faithful, even when we’re in vacation mode, God doesn’t stop showing up in our lives.

God’s smiles in Peru

When Katie Smith and her family decided to travel to Chimbote, Peru, with a group of students and chaperones from Shanley High School this summer, God’s face showed up all over the place, she says.

Smith was particularly impressed that the students chose the hardest option for their project – house-building – and worked hard despite the atmosphere being “dirty and very hot, with bugs constantly flying around.”

By the end of their time there, tears were flowing in abundance.

It was like watching Jesus on both sides, she adds, in the love the Peruvian children had for the students and that which the teenagers displayed in return.

“They were all on the same platform, enjoying each other and loving each other. It was beautiful to witness.”

The miracle of birth

Gary Opp of Fargo says becoming a first-time grandfather to Addison a few weeks ago was ample evidence of God’s loving providence.

“We went through that process of nine months of excitement, all the way to sitting up most of the night at the hospital, anxiously waiting,” he says. It was “4:11 a.m. to be exact,” he adds, when his son-in-law came into the waiting room to announce his granddaughter’s arrival.

He describes holding Addison for the first time as a wave of peace and serenity.

“When I first held her, I whispered into her ears, ‘Jesus loves you,’ ” he says. “I hope that I’ll whisper that into her ears as long as I’m on this earth. It was my way of saying thank you for the blessings
God has brought into our lives.”

The mouths of babes

Spencer Grow of Ramsey, Minn., spent much of his summer in Fargo as a counselor for Camp Good News, an evangelical program for children.

Grow says he felt particularly gratified watching the children resolve conflicts peacefully, apologizing rather than letting anger get the best of them.

“One of the kids was getting upset he wasn’t on the winning team for the game, but another kid said, ‘Here, you can have my canteen money,’ ” Grow says. “He didn’t even think about it. He just handed it right to him.”

Later, when a first-grader asked the provocative question, “If God knows the future, why did he create Satan?” Grow had a chance to explain, in a child’s terms, how the existence of Satan allows for more of God’s glory.

He credits the Holy Spirit for these moments of being able to help children see the ways of faith, which in turn increases his own faith, he says.

Closed door

Teresa Lewis of Horace, N.D., a mindset coach and speaker, felt a surge of frustration when a door closed in her life. But she soon saw the missed opportunity as a chance to reconsider an offer to co-host a morning show on a local, faith-based radio station.

“I feel like one of my missions is to be a positive light for people in a dark world, so my prayer earlier this year was that my territory would be expanded,” she says. “Well, radio reaches thousands. I finally realized, ‘I think this is God’s plan and I just need to follow this.’ ”

During one show, a woman listener called in and shared that because of the on-air conversation, she’d decided to make a major life change. Having been raped as a teen and given birth to the baby, she wanted to become a counselor to help others.

“God was at work; she was listening at the right time,” Lewis says.

A place for peaches

Marc Hanson, Barnesville, Minn., says he saw God’s hand after praying with a group of men about a challenge that had arisen.

The Red River Youth for Christ annual summer peach sale, a vital fundraiser for the local youth organization, had lost its usual parking spot, and thousands of crates of peaches were at risk.
“We were in a total quandary about where we’d park the semi-trailer. We needed an area with high enough exposure,” Hanson says.

Within days, the worry dissolved when a Fargo businessman stepped forward to offer space in his lot. Its high visibility helped bring about record peach sales.

“God is great, and there’s no doubt he was involved in that whole process,” Hanson says. “It became a chance to glorify and honor God and provide for this local youth ministry, which exists to share a life-changing message.”

A white rose

Suzi Senger of Jamestown, N.D., describes herself as a worrier, and when she was ordered to have a CAT scan by her doctor last month to test for cancer, her worry quotient spiked to an all-time high.
“I was very anxious and praying a lot for God to give me peace,” she says.

The test was done on a Friday, and she knew she’d have to wait it out the weekend for the results, which she found nearly intolerable.

On Monday, she was sitting on her deck admiring the yellow moss roses blooming in her yard, when all of a sudden something caught her attention.

“It was a big, white moss rose, which I’d never seen before, and right away my heart leapt,” she says. “It spoke to me as a sign that God was with me.”

The next day, she learned the results, which were, to her great relief, negative.

“God knew all along there was no reason for me to worry,” she says. “That rose was like a sign showing me that my faith was stronger than I’d realized.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

faith & family fridays: why matter matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's true, ultimately we don't need these things to get into heaven. But do they matter? Yes, we believe they do. Can they enliven and increase our faith? Yes, we have known this to be the case.

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

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

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

Consider the question, "Are you saved?" This sends many Catholics into a tailspin, not because we are uncomfortable with the question but because we sense there is something more to our answer than a simple yes or no, and we also sense that if we try to give it, we'll be immediately misunderstood.

To some Protestants who subscribe to the "spiritual only" view, all you must do to be saved is "believe in your heart." But to the Catholic, the earthly matter matters, too. Baptism is the beginning point of salvation to us, and includes earthly matter: the words of the priest, which is really Christ speaking through that human vessel, "I baptize you in the name of the father, son and holy spirit;"  the water poured over the child; the chrism oil placed upon the child; the white garment worn; the baptismal candle lit.

Not only are these "things" not irrelevant but we believe our conversion is set in motion at this point and continues throughout our earthly lives.

This earthly-spiritual view also affects our approach to Scripture, according to Bobertz.

"Catholics take the liturgy, the material sacredness that is in the world, and we then apply that to Scripture," he said. In other words, when we read Scripture, we are doing so from a different perspective than some Christians. "The whole understanding of what it means to be Christian in the world is different for Catholics."

This is why, too, a wedding on a beach won't do. And why it's not enough to just experience God in nature, though of course we do and can. But the church building, though not an end in itself, does contain a sacredness that cannot be found anywhere else, and that is why we reserve the sacraments for these holy buildings. God is there in a particular and special way and we honor that. We honor the earthly.

Bobertz didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, but he said it in a way I'd never heard  before, and at the thrilling realization of a new insight, I knew I'd been blessed.

The Eucharist also can be explained through this viewpoint. "The Eucharist is really the resurrected body in our midst," Bobertz said. Pretty profound.

Some young people in my life are going to these colleges, or are already there. Some will end up taking one of Dr. Bobertz's classes -- lucky them. I feel certain they'll come away with a clearer understanding and deeper appreciation for their Catholic faith.

Our faith and perspective is a treasure, and Bobertz reminded me of that in sharing his perspective, which really comes down to these two simple words:

"Matter matters."

Q4U: Does matter matter to you?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

writing wednesdays: dad at the fargo theater

It's their anniversary tomorrow; the people whose lives came together to make mine.

I can't help but have Dad on my mind this month for other reasons, too. Atticus may have something to do with it, I suppose.

It's all laid out today on Peace Garden Writer.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

second-chance sundays: todd burpo tells story linking prayer, timing

[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on August 9, 2014.]

Living Faith: Todd Burpo tells story linking faith, timing

By Roxane B. Salonen

I had a prior commitment the night of the recent “Heaven is for Real” presentation at the Fargodome, but when a friend offered her extra ticket a couple nights before the event, I rethought my course and agreed to accompany her to the show.

The event was part Christian rock concert, part discussion with Todd and Sonja Burpo, parents of Colton Burpo, the teenager from Nebraska who claims he visited heaven during a near-death experience when he was 4.

My friend and I both went into it with a similar mindset. We wanted to believe Colton’s testimony, but we had some unanswered questions we were hoping would be satisfied that night. We were firm on the hope that no matter the outcome, we’d come away with something valuable.

For me, one of the treasures of the evening was a story Colton’s father, Todd, told about a recent incident while traveling by airplane with his wife.

He described sitting in a triple-seat row with a third passenger squished in next to them. It was a woman, and she had a yellow book in her lap. Turned out it was the best-selling account of his son’s visit to heaven that Todd himself had written.

Sonja nudged him, as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to do something?” So being the dutiful husband, he asked the woman if she’d like him to sign her book.

“Why?” she asked, and he proceeded to explain he was the author, and Colton’s father. She didn’t believe him, so after a brief discussion, he asked to see the book. Reluctantly, she handed it over, and he proceeded to flip to the pictures in the middle.

Finding one of himself, he put it up next to his face, turned to her and said, “I’m not any better looking in person, I know.”

And then, to his dismay, the woman started to cry. He wouldn’t find out later the full reason for her tears, but in a letter she wrote him after their encounter, all was revealed.

She’d wanted to believe the story, she told him, but she just wasn’t sure. Was God even real, she’d wondered? So she asked him, “God, if you’re real and this is true, let me know somehow.” The very next day Todd Burpo showed up on the same flight on the same day in a seat right next to her.

Most believers would call this an answered prayer – God revealing his love to one of his creatures through a situation it would be hard to name as simple coincidence.

Some would call it a “God-incidence,” and say there’s something about the timing of it that gives it credibility.

The whole prayer and timing thing first came to my attention a few years back while pursuing an article on faith during flooding.

During one interview, as the subject began sharing different “God-incidences” that had occurred while her home was being encircled by flood waters, I began playing devil’s advocate.

“What makes you feel these were actual answers to prayer?” I pressed. “Couldn’t it have just been the goodness of humanity springing into action? Why give God the credit?”

She paused only a moment then said, “Well, it was the timing.”

She went on to explain that each blessing that had come her way then had been specific to the particular challenge at hand. The way it was resolved, including the person involved – someone who just happened to have what was needed to turn things right, and at the moment it was needed – assured her the divine hand was at work.

For non-believers, this likely would not be enough. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” they’d say. A feeling just won’t do. Where’s the real evidence?

But, as Albert Einstein once remarked, “You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is a miracle.”

And the beautiful thing is that we all get to choose. We can look at the darkened, sun-less side of the stained-glass window, or the side reflecting sunshine and the incredible array of colors.

I choose the sun-reflecting-color side, the miracle, the “God-incidence.”

What about you?

Friday, August 15, 2014

faith & family fridays: banquet in a field

I'm still not exactly sure how I got so fortunate to be invited, but when the invitation came, I knew I couldn't say no to dinner in a prairie field.

Yep, there I am, Peace Garden Mama taking a sunflower selfie!

The event was organized by a group of women who are part of an organization called Common Ground North Dakota; comprising people who love these prairie lands. They wanted to do something to bring city and country folks together and help us learn from one another; especially for us city dwellers to discover some of the stories of the people who feed the world from the crops here.

The  gal on the right below giving a nod to the cooks is Katie Pinke, my blogging and real-life friend of Pinke Poste. She's the real reason I got to come!

I ended up finagling my friend Laura, fellow mother of five, to be my date. I knew she'd 1) appreciate a night out 2) find it fascinating and 3) be gracious to the hosts, because she's just that kind of gal. As we approached the entrance together, she was just as giddy as I was!


In fact, though I interview people for a living, Laura took the lead in question-asking. Here, she's learning about wool (right) that comes from North Dakota sheep.

When we arrived, we were warmly greeted, and told we could roam around to visit the stations that had been set up and sample the products, which originated from 11 different crops, also on display.

The evening was absolutely amazing weather-wise. We could not have ordered it any better for roaming around the fields, sampling fresh North Dakota products, mingling and indulging our taste buds.


Among the appetizers were Tuscan bean salad, potato salad in apple cider vinaigrette, corn fritters, flax seed crackers with corn hummus, sunflower brittle, endamame salad and candied walnuts.

I will be honest. There were more than a few bugs to keep things interesting, but honestly, what would a field feast have been without some critters buzzing around? Very unnatural at best.

After we'd made our way around the grounds and had our fill of appetizers, the dinner bell rang. No, I'm not kidding! We got called together with a good-old-fashioned ringing of the bell.

Laura and I were blessed to somehow end up next to the field owners/hosts -- Mr. and Mrs. Peterson of Peterson Farms in Harwood. He joked and said he couldn't take much credit for the whole thing. All he had to do was show up in time for dinner.

The chefs are people I know -- the Nasellos from here in Fargo. I first met them through my youngest son, who is friends with their son. Then a few years back they started writing a food column for The Forum which comes out a day different than my column, so we have that in common, too.

But unlike them, I don't know how to cook this kind of grub. I was so excited to hear one of the main entrees would be lamb, but the beef tenderloins absolutely blew me away. I've never tasted any meat so tender. It was incredible.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, I suppose. Before that came the chilled gazpacho soup garnished with cucumbers and extra-virgin olive oil.

And a dish of basil pesto pasta topped with toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.

A little cup of lemon sorbet drizzled with North Dakota honey cleaned our palettes in preparation for the rest.

Side dishes included roasted red peppers, green beans, roasted red potatoes, and horseradish and a veal glaze for the meat. Peaches and cream shortcake with toasted almonds made up the dessert.


Just as we were finishing up our meal, the sun started to descend and I was in photograph heaven. I flitted about trying to capture what I could of this rare opportunity.


When it was all done, they gave us mugs and swag bags, and had us hoist ourselves back up onto the flatbed to hitch a ride to our rigs.


Definitely not something you get to do every day, not to mention ever in a lifetime for most. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, shared with a treasured friend and a field full of fun new and old friends.

And it did get me thinking about those farmers, who work so hard to produce this bounty, not just for our little group but for the whole world, really. They don't get a lot of glory, but they sure do deserve it.

I can't help but point up to the sky, too, in thanksgiving to our good God, who is so dear to the hearts of these people, and who so lovingly helped set the stage for this memorable night.

If heaven produces banquets like this, we are in for a treat someday. The only thing different, I'd imagine, is that there won't be any little buggy beetles there, I'm pretty sure.

Q4U:  What or where was the most unusual meal you've ever had?