Monday, September 1, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I even received a little surprise -- a card from Christina...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q4U: What special guests have you received recently?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

second-chance sundays: dating revisted: is this the best we can do?

[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 23, 2014.]

Living Faith: Dating revisited: Is this the best we can do?

By Roxane B. Salonen

I’ve got three teens and a preteen living in my house with a fifth one on the heels of them all.

This hodgepodge of once-tiny people who are suddenly growing eye level or beyond me means I’ve had to confront the topic of dating. In doing so, I can’t help but see the link between modern dating and many of the bigger issues of our day.

The topic concerns God because God loves us and wants the best for us. I think God believes in a stable society where men and women fall in love, marry, and in many cases have children, and that the more solid the family, the better the world.

It doesn’t always work out. Sometimes families fracture and divide. We live in an imperfect world, which I understand and accept, as does God. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for wholeness nor do whatever we can to make it happen.

Which brings me back to dating, because marriage doesn’t start at the altar, it begins at dating. The whole purpose of dating, after all, is to discern marriage.

Not everyone agrees. Recently, I shared this anonymous quote on Facebook: “Dating without the intent of getting married is like going to the grocery store with no money. You either leave unsatisfied or take something that isn’t yours.”

“You really believe this?” one friend shot back. When I said yes, he deemed himself speechless.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mother and I’ve been forced to look at this issue from the eyes and heart of one who cares deeply for the souls of her children.

It’s not only a fair discussion but an important one. Our society encourages 10-year-old girls to wear makeup and push-up bras and hints that they are incomplete unless they have a boy by their side.

We seem to think nothing of young dating, yet even while fostering this, caution our young ones to delay marriage until everything in their lives is perfectly aligned.

In other words, we’re promoting couples getting together younger than ever, and marrying older than ever, creating a lot of middle time that can lead to a whole lot of regret.

Spiritually speaking, each person that comes into our lives as a dating partner becomes a part of us. Their soul becomes infused into ours. So the more “experimentation” and failed dating that goes on, the more of our soul is scattered out there, with bits of us left imprinted in the hearts of others and vice versa.

So we enter marriage wounded with baggage from all the relationships gone wrong on our shoulders.

Once the first kiss happens, it’s over. You don’t hear about the second kiss. It’s old news. There are no “do-overs” when it comes to giving ourselves away.

So I can’t help but wonder about courtship – an approach to relationships that allows a couple to discern a future spouse from a respectful physical distance, keeping bonding at bay until the right time.

Sounds foreign and outdated, right? But is our current approach better?

We go from young people being single to leading them straight into a sort of mini-marriage, in which unmarried teens are inclined toward being together 24/7 or close. Eventually, the relationship either burns out or a pregnancy, abortion or marriage happens.

If marriage, it may have a rocky start; if pregnancy, a strained beginning; if abortion, a silent heartache. And with each, society weakens, relationship by relationship.

Certainly, I cannot hold up my own life or family as perfect models of how things ought to be, nor do
I pretend to have the answers to what I see as a very complex situation.

But what I do see is that we seem to be missing the reality of the high price of dating gone wrong, and the deep heartache that results, leading to emotional wounds that fester and spread, along with the STDs that sometimes accompany them.

A whole lot of people are suffering and souls being punctured because of our poorly thought-out approach to relationships and dating, and I don’t think we should take it as lightly as we do.

A kiss isn’t just a kiss. It forms a bond that leads to something more. That’s how God intended it. But God also had a perfect plan for how that bond was to be manifest – in a way that would bring about the most long-term fulfillment to us.

Maybe it’s time we looked at dating through God’s eyes. Maybe we need to slow down and stop taking what might not be ours to have. If we did, perhaps a lot of bruised souls might be spared.

Friday, August 29, 2014

faith & family fridays: the anointing

Today, I received an anointing from my priest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?