Monday, January 19, 2015

meaningful mondays: DC bound...again!

I wasn't sure I had it in me to do this trip again. Fifty hours on a bus, squished for a large amount of that time in the fetal position, with hundreds of zeal-filled teenagers.

Last time around, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. And then my father died just weeks before, and I wondered, can I do this? Do I even want to?

I took a chance and went on the trip, my heart still heavy with the loss of my daddy, wearing his flannel shirt for both physical and spiritual warmth.

The experience turned out to be an incredible one, beyond my expectations. Even more, I was blessed to experience it with my oldest daughter.

And though I returned swollen from the walking and cramped quarters, my heart was lighter, healed by a journey that stood for what my father was about: the full-out embrace of new life.

Last year I stayed home, but as this year's trip came closer to reality, I found myself yearning to be there once again, and so I've tossed aside my hesitations, knowing full well what I'm getting myself into, and am diving in whole; this time, with my youngest daughter as a fellow comrade.

I've got my battery "juice pack" ready to go in the event my camera will lose steam -- which it no doubt will.

And this Rosary a friend made with my favorite Advent colors just delivered last week? Perfect for this journey. We will be saying plenty of prayers along the way.

I also went shopping for some new headgear to wear on live, national television. It's not FOX News or CNN, but it's looking likely I'll be interviewed on the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) the day of the March. So if you're watching television on Jan. 22 or live stream (here) via computer, sometime between 10 to noon Eastern time, you just might see me chatting with Teresa Tomeo about the forthcoming book I helped write!

My one regret is that I've been wanting for several years now to get my boys signed up and trained to be altar servers. This year was finally the year it came together, but wouldn't you know, the first time they are "on deck" together will be the Sunday I am gone. My mama heart is a little sad I'll miss it, but I know they're going to do great. I'm so happy they'll have the chance to serve God and be so close to Him through this ministry.

Finally, my heart swelled with happiness at opening the Forum yesterday and seeing that my friend Roberta's daughter, Julia, and our school had been highlighted.

As a good journalist will do, Robin sought out the contrary thought to this trip as well as the positive. It came mainly from one of our students' mothers, who feels this journey will be a big waste of time and energy. It saddened me to read that, after all I have seen the kids do to make this trip possible. But when I read Father Charles' and Julia's response to the negativity, I knew once again that goodness and light prevail.

I keep a photo of Julia's mama, Roberta, on a bulletin board in my room displaying images of those we've lost, and lately, I've been looking up at Roberta's face with such joy, one mother to another.

What we're witnessing in this incredible young woman, her daughter, is in large part a direct result of the love and life Roberta poured into her. I know she is beaming brightly from the other side of the veil, and that she will be right there with us as we march and as Julia speaks before hundreds of thousands before the Supreme Court.

We march because we love, and that's as simple and profound as it gets.

Please pray for our journey. I look forward to sharing the blessings of this trip upon our return! I'm likely to be silent for a good week but I will be back post-march!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

second-chance sundays: 'feed my starving children' returns to fargo

[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 Jan. 10, 2015.]

Faith Conversations: Feed My Starving Children returns to Fargo

By Roxane B. Salonen

FARGO – The biblical directive to feed the hungry became agonizingly personal to Bonnie Lund after a boy she’d sponsored in Africa died before any food aid had reached him.

Lund’s niece, Caitlin Gunderson, 19, was working as a missionary in Uganda last summer, and connected her with a child, Daniel, 13, who was in dire need.

“He looked like a much younger child due to malnutrition, maybe closer to 8, and he also suffered from AIDS,” Lund explains. “Sadly, Daniel passed away July 19, and although we had not even had time to set up the sponsorship, he already had a small piece of my heart.”

Lund says Daniel’s death turned what had been an ever-growing yearning to put her faith into action into bringing the Twin-Cities-based Feed My Starving Children initiative back to Fargo.

“I want to prevent this from happening to other children,” Lund says, “and I’m dedicating my efforts in Daniel’s memory.”

Though not the first time the program has come to the area, it’s always a daunting challenge. Each FMSC effort requires a minimum of 500 volunteers to pack 100,000 meals in the course of a day. In addition, funding is needed for the meals.

At 22 cents a meal, that equates to $22,000. The goal of the local initiative will be 200,000 meals and $44,000.

Lund, who attends Metropolitan Baptist Church, discovered that Atonement Lutheran Church of Fargo also wanted to work with the FMSC program, and ultimately connected with Ron Stensgard of that congregation, who is now leading the effort.

Both Lund and Stensgard have found the FMSC program to be exceptionally well run. “A high percentage of Feed My Starving Children’s funds go toward the food,” Lund says. “I’m very impressed with how sound they are and pleased to partner with such a great organization.”

Stensgard adds that he’s grateful the effort has grown beyond a one-church event to involve many local churches and individuals working in collaboration.

“I like to try to get churches together more. We don’t do a real good job of that at times,” he says. “I thought this would be another good way to help people abroad who really need help while bringing service opportunities to our churches and community.”

Truck full of love

Having worked with an FMSC project before, Lund has a clear sense of what will soon unfold.

The day before the event, a semitrailer will roll into Fargo containing bulk food including rice, dehydrated vegetables and nutrition supplements. From there, the food will be transported to the gym at Atonement Lutheran, where volunteers will sort and bundle up portions into what are called “MannaPacks.”

“Everyone will be wearing a hairnet and getting educated on what they’ll be doing prior to beginning their work at the stations,” Lund says.

The food will then be reloaded onto the truck and returned to the home site in the cities, then provided to partner organizations and distributed to those in need. The program’s food packets reach 70 different countries.

Stensgard says Mike and Tracey Burr of Action International Ministries, one of the organizations tied to FMSC, will be driving from Wisconsin to attend the Fargo-Moorhead drive. They’ll also be speaking at Atonement later that day about the program and their personal experience with helping fill the bellies of the hungry overseas.

AIM works in 25 countries, including the Philippines, where they operate 45 feeding sites in Manila and 25 in eastern Samar, Leyte, Cebu and Panay, along with another 10 in Bohol for quake victims and 17 in Albay, Nueva Ecijca and Cajayan De Oro – with nearly 12,000 people being fed at each feeding.

“The AIM group I’m working with works a lot with street kids,” says Stensgard, who recently traveled to Manila. “After six months, we try to get (the adults) to a position where they can return to society and hopefully find a job and lead a better life.”

Stensgard started his missionary work volunteering with Friends of Chimbote, a local organization begun by a former Fargo priest, the Rev. Jack Davis. In his decade or so of doing mission work, he’s seen a lot of hardship.

“There are 2 million people in Manila alone, and those who live in the streets really don’t have anything at all,” he says. “I’ve been at some of these feeding sites, and the people are really impoverished. Most are just looking for a helping hand.”

Natural disasters like typhoons haven’t helped. “There’s been a lot of destruction, with 80 to 90 percent of the coconut trees damaged recently, and that’s their livelihood,” he adds.

While feeding others is only the beginning, it’s an important start, Stensgard says. “Education is important, but you can’t teach a hungry mind. Father Jack used to say, if they’re hungry and they’re thinking about food, if you feed them, you can get their attention, and then they can learn.”

Stensgard says he’s fueled by helping others, but also, what he gets from it. “You won’t find out what true joy is until you serve along others and help others. We’ll never have enough material things, but when we serve, we can find more of an inner joy.”

He encourages groups like Confirmation classes and other church groups, including youth-oriented ones, to join in. “We don’t always do enough to teach our kids to serve, but what better way to do that than serving together?”

To Lund, the effort offers her a chance to walk the walk.

“Over and over we read in Scripture that the hungry, the poor, are so special to God,” she says. “He calls upon us as Christians to love, and I think this is one way I can show my love.”

Joe Rabideaux of Detroit Lakes, Minn., serves Feed My Starving Children food at a Manila feeding site during a recent missionary trip./Special to The Forum

If you go
What: Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event to package 200,000 meals in one day for malnourished children around the world
When: Jan. 24
Where: Atonement Lutheran Church, 4601 S. University Drive, Fargo
Info: Contributions may also be sent to: Feed My Starving Children, Fargo Area MobilePack #1501-247, Atonement Lutheran Church, 4601 S. University Drive, Fargo, ND 58104. For more information, call (701) 237-9651 or visit
Online: Visit or search “Feed My Starving Children – Fargo Area MobilePack” on Facebook.

Friday, January 16, 2015

faith & family fridays: an artist's quest to sketch for life

A couple months back, while serving as a fill-in host for Real Presence Radio, I had a chance to interview local artist Karen Bakke about an upcoming adventure.

Karen has been making a visual account of her world since her earliest years, when a teacher noticed her artistic talent and encouraged her to pursue art as a vocation.

As a lifelong, faithful Catholic, Karen has a heart for God's beautiful unfolding story of life through His people, and is masterful at depicting these life-giving scenes, whether through the murals she creates or the canvassed paintings that come to life at her hands.

Later last year, Karen began feeling inspired to do something special with her gifts, and a prayer led her to wonder what it would be like to sketch the experience of the 2015 March for Life. We almost always have the story in photographs and news print in some fashion, but what might she contribute, through her art, that could show another, completely visual, side of the story?

With this on her heart, Karen connected with a group of Catholic high school students here in Fargo -- Shanley Teens for Life -- and asked their advisers whether she could accompany them on their journey to the March in Washington, D.C., to create a sketched, visual account of the journey.

Karen's sketch pre-trip of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, DC
The powers that be said, "Yes," so in a couple of days, Karen will board one of eight buses in a North Dakota entourage heading East to carry out her artistic mission to sketch for life.

At the end of it all, Karen will find a way to pull some of the pieces from this quest into something life-giving that others will be able to absorb and enjoy.

As a local faith writer, I was assigned by the editor of our diocesan publication, New Earth, to trail Karen and write a story about her visual journey through the March. I'm really looking forward to keeping an eye on Karen and how she's using her art to document this story. This year, our school was selected out of hundreds to carry the lead banner of the march along Constitution Avenue -- an annual event that takes place on behalf of the women, babies and families whose lives are forever altered by abortion every day in our nation.

I look forward to sharing more with you soon. For now, would you join us in prayer for the success of this pilgrimage? I'll be going as both writer and floating chaperone, helping to play a small role in ensuring those who participate from our corner of the world will have a life-changing experience.

I've done this trip one other time, two years ago, and it was one of the most spiritually enriching experiences of my life. This year will be a different journey of course, and right now, I am looking at the blank pages that, in a week's time, will be filled to the brim.

There's also a chance I'll be interviewed on EWTN about the book I've helped write that will be coming out soon, so if you can, watch the coverage from home and maybe you'll see me in my winter gear before the March begins.

Thanks for any prayers you might offer for this pilgrimage. Most of all, I want to glorify God along the way and look for the signs of what He wants me to see so I can share what He wants you to see with you.

Q4U: How has art transformed you and your faith journey?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

writing wednesdays: words, glorious words!

Words have the potential to bring life or death. I know that sounds rather dramatic, but it's true.

These are three of the first words that have come in regarding an early reading of a project on which I've been working for nearly three years:

Exciting huh? Life-giving, right?

I share more of these great, life-giving words on Peace Garden Writer today, so I hope you will dash over there to see!

Monday, January 12, 2015

meaningful mondays: the best gift from my father

I changed my cover photo on Facebook this past week, pulling down the beautiful Christmas scene that showed Jesus in the manger as a light on a dark night, and replacing it with this:

Notice the hands, especially, my daughter's tiny fingers grasping my father's large hand, and her soft cheeks contrasting Dad's older skin, worn and wise. This is such a precious moment. There are many photos of Dad with our children, but this one delights me so much because it epitomizes how he was with our kids, down on the floor, making silly noises, interacting with them, celebrating them up close and personal.

To me, this was Dad saying, "You matter. You are tiny but you are important. See me? I see you!"

I loved that. I miss that. It's been two years since he died and he grows more special to me every day. I feel him near often, especially around this time of year near the anniversary of his death, which was yesterday. I feel his loving, paternal presence. I pray for him, and trust that he is praying for us, too, nudging our family in the ways he can from the other side of the veil, hoping we'll keep looking up, keep pointing ourselves toward the path that will bring us all together again someday.

In reflecting on his life this past week, especially in looking at this image, a major theme stood out and made me feel an abundance of gratitude. It was the way my father welcomed his grandchildren into the world.

My father didn't have a lot to offer in terms of worldly things. Toward the end of his life, his work productivity was not much. He'd let go of his beautiful gift of writing and lived a very simple life with my mother, focusing mainly on just living each day and keeping up with his favorite team, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

But what he did offer in great supplies was unconditional love. Even when he couldn't do much physically to love us, he always let me know that I was loved, and that my children were a gift. As our family grew, and some in our lives grew concerned our family size was going to tip the world's population off balance, my father didn't so much as pause at the announcement of a new grandchild. To him, it was always a blessing to hear news of another soul coming into the world. He was my favorite person to call with the news that another baby had come into being.

Looking at old photos especially, I see traces of my children in him, and it makes me smile.

In a world that isn't necessarily open to new life, I cannot tell you how relieved I would feel after sharing pregnancy news with my father. Can there be any greater gift to one who has just learned of a new life within, knowing those in your life see the development as nothing but pure blessing? His reaction toward life stands out so strongly now, and I cannot thank my father enough for reminding me that even though life would involve sacrifice, it was always, unequivocally, a hopeful thing.

I'm sure this had to do with the fact that my father was the youngest boy in a family of nine kids growing up during the Great Depression (he's bottom right, with his sweet mama's arm on his shoulder). He knew that other considerations besides financial go into approaching new life.

I thanked him the day he died for this precious gift, and I will never stop being grateful for the best gift my father could have given me. Thank you, Daddy, for being so welcoming to all of us, not because of anything we had done but just because we are. That says so much about your good heart and I hope you know now how very good it really was and is.

I will be retiring this photo of the two of us as my blog banner soon, so I wanted to highlight it again here before it slips away for a while. I've kept it, unchanged, since Dad's death two years ago and it has brought me much peace.

Q4U: What gift did a loved one of yours who has passed on leave you?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

second-chance sundays: letter to my children about gift of faith

[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 Jan. 3 2015.]

Living Faith: Gift of faith carried by free will

By Roxane B. Salonen

To my five children,
One of the holiest seasons of the year in our family’s faith tradition is coming to a close, and my heart is filled with gratitude that we’ve all been together in celebration for part of it these past days.

It’s hard to say when that will happen again, or whether, since we are never guaranteed more than the current moment. That makes me all the more grateful, and now the perfect time to tell you what I see as the most prized gift of all.

This gift cannot be wrapped or topped with a shiny bow, but it is the mother of all treasures. It’s the gift of faith – the thing some of you have been ducking a bit of late, at least on the surface.

I don’t mind that we’re not all in sync right now. Though I worry at times you could miss this precious pearl of great price, my trust in God will not allow me to wallow in those thoughts for long.

Indeed, I’m compelled, by faith, to allow your free will and God’s free love to take over any imperfect wishes I might have for you.

Do I sense some eye-rolls? Oh, I know there’s something deeper behind all five, beautiful sets of those eyes, and in time, those thoughts will arise. When they do, I hope you’ll remember my words to you today.

Up until recently, your faith has been handed to you, but soon, you will be free to decide whether you want God to be integral in your life, just an occasional murmuring, or nothing at all.

As you make this decision, I hope you will reflect at some point on how you would even be here to think on these big questions if some incredible force hadn’t set the world, and you, in motion to begin with.

It is not unreasonable to conclude that that force not only loves us but is personally invested in our lives. At the knowledge of this, life becomes one swelling motion of gratitude.

Take, for example, those Christmas gifts you recently opened. They were nothing more than a manifestation of and response to that loving, divine presence.

A light entered our world, and the world has never been the same. With that light came hope, something we cannot live well without.

It took me forever to grasp the significance of all this, so I certainly don’t expect a quick return from you. I want you to grapple with all the hard questions and determine for yourself if this faith thing holds any weight.

So please, turn our presumptions inside-out. Scrutinize them from every angle possible. The only true travesty will be if you shrug your shoulders and surrender without examination.

Your life might not be easy at times. It could well be that in order for you to appreciate the light of which I am speaking you will need to be separated from it for a while.

It’s hard for me to admit that, and even harder to watch you walk away not knowing how it’ll all turn out, yet I realize this is where our choice ends and yours begins.

Your father and I have done our best to lead you in the way of faith. Now, it’s up to you. We dearly hope you will discover this beautiful gift, which we have tried to prepare you for. And yet we know at times it comes disguised and may be hard to see.

God will lead you there more assuredly than we ever could if you but ask. Will you recognize him when he walks onto your path through the love of another or a blessing that could not have come from human hands alone?

Stay alert. He is there always, close at hand, if you but look.

Dear hearts, despite what you’ve felt at times, you’ve always been free. It’s just that until now, God entrusted you to us. Now, one by one, we’re letting go of each of you so you can search for what is true, unencumbered.

Now more than ever we are trusting that the faith that has anchored us will prove to be a steady harboring force for you, too. So as you step further into the wider world, we will give you the space you need, but meantime, we will be praying without ceasing for your well-being.

Know, above all, of your innate goodness and how much you are loved. Our greatest desire is that someday, we can share eternity with you. We are reaching for that and feel assured it couldn’t possibly be as beautiful without you.

Love always, Mom

Friday, January 9, 2015

faith & family fridays: why are priests so happy?

This is old news, from a study done several years ago -- 2011 -- but I remember reading about it and I've thought about it a lot in the ensuing years -- the finding that priests are among some of the happiest folks around.

Father Tim and Baby Beth, June 11, 2000
The results struck me for several reasons. One, priest scandals and other issues surrounding the Church had erroneously led me to conclude that because of all these "clergy gone wrong" stories, certainly, morale must be down within the clergy. So priests happy? What gives?

A Zenit article from that same year suggested several reasons for our surprised reaction to the finding. "Some modern thinkers suggest that the only way to true human happiness is to be freed from the constraints of religion. They see religion as repressive of one’s true human freedom and humanity. Thus, using this logic, being a priest must be the unhappiest life of all."

The article also noted that, "To hear that priests are among the happiest people in the country is met with disbelief...The fact of priestly happiness is a fundamental and powerful challenge to the modern secular mind."

Thinking also from the modern-day perspective, one might be tempted to conclude sacrifices inherent in the work of the clergy, such as the vow of celibacy, might contribute to a lower job satisfaction rates. After all, we are led to believe the antidote for unhappiness is an unencumbered life with sexual intimacy at the ready. 

But I've been around enough priests to know that something else was going on in the interior -- something beyond what we read about in the newspapers. Though I'm sure there are a fair number of glum priests, I haven't bumped into a whole lot of them, and even more, I've heard more than a few priests express their absolute love for their job, how even though it brings challenges, they would not trade their job for anything, and they would, in fact, choose it all over again if given the chance.

Since so many of us are constantly searching for happiness, this seems fairly relevant and significant. While there may be many contributing factors to the outcome, after pondering this whole thing recently, I came up with a summary of why I believe clergy are among the happiest people around. And it all surrounds this idea: the inside matches the outside.  

Many years ago, I attended a retreat given by an old Irish priest, and he defined happiness as the merging of the desires of the heart, the interior, with the lived reality on the exterior. The more those two are in sync, he'd said, the happier the person.

This made an impression because at the time there was a lack in my life. I wasn't living the majority of my life with my interior and exterior in sync. Feeling the separation of the two on a daily basis left me unsettled. I was in fact living with what I see now as a wretched disparity, which led to much discontent.

But things have changed. Something began to happen to me as a result of that retreat that made me want the inside and outside to match. I knew what that priest was saying was right: that if I could get my two selves in accordance, I would be much more at peace.

I'm grateful to say that though I am not part of the clergy, I do feel that continuity at this point in my life, and yes, it makes a huge difference. Though not every day is bliss, I do feel a great synchronicity between the stirrings of my soul and my vocation as a wife, mother and writer. And of course, living with this reality, I wish everyone could feel this harmony, even knowing it's not always easily or quickly achieved. The pursuit is worth it, however.

In the case of the priest, even with all the challenges that go with that life, by and large, the inside and outside are well-matched, and form a continuity. They are free, even encouraged, to live on the outside what the inside is dictating, especially when they are close to the Lord. And this can be our lot as well. 

As it turns out, job satisfaction has very little connection to pay or social status. As this "Catholic Hotdish" blogger put it, "People are fulfilled when they are doing something worthwhile — when they have a job they feel makes a difference in the world." If you're a parent, you have a job that makes a difference in the world, no doubt about it.

Q4U: Does your inside match your outside, or are the two like two opposing sides of a magnet? If you are living with discord in this regard, what might you do to change that?