Friday, October 31, 2014

faith & family fridays: abortion, haircuts, heroes

I was going to write about Halloween today. I typically do that this time of year, and it was perfect, with Halloween landing on a Friday and all. I had some really neat stuff to share about the origins of the holy days that started the whole thing off and the roots of some of the customs.

But my plan came to a screeching halt when a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to join her downtown Wednesday to pray in front of North Dakota's only abortion facility, and this happened:

I'll explain more about the photo in a minute, but first, let me lay out the day.

This wasn't the first time we'd joined up to do this. Our city is just ending its 40 Days for Life initiative for the season, and my prayer partner and I wanted to make sure we did our part by taking time out of the busy to pray for these little babies and their hurting mamas.

The week prior, we'd actually been there with one of the world's leading pro-life advocates, Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. But the day we spent with Fr. Frank out on the sidewalk wasn't an abortion day. Good, because we didn't have to confront what happens at the facility on a weekly basis. But bad, because in the safety of not seeing it, we can be deceived, forgetting that it really does happen.

We didn't necessarily seek out going on a Wednesday, abortion day, but that's the day that seemed to work best with our schedules. It's almost always tense on those days, and yet there tends to be a heightened sense of purpose, too, especially when women begin filing through those doors just beyond the green "carpet" that precedes the building.

Come to think of it, this really is an appropriate subject for Halloween. This abortion stuff is downright scary, and pretty dark.

Sometimes, we cry at the sight of those women being ushered in, the escorts flanking them to protect them from the pro-life "bullies." (They don't want anyone to know that what we mostly do there is pray and sing and offer a witness of hope.)

The friend who comes with me to the sidewalk is my hero, as are the others who gather there, especially on Wednesdays. It's hard.

We don't get filled up with emotion just because we know the women will be taking part in the killing of their own children, but because we also know that they are confused, hurting, and almost certain, in despair.

We want to be a face of someone who cares. They might not receive us that way, but speaking for myself, that's what I want to convey. There is usually only a short time when any kind of exchange is possible. We who are there praying know we only get a brief say a word of truth, to try to say a word of love, to give them information, perhaps, that will help them change their mind.

We know minds aren't changed often, but even one changed mind is worth our efforts, we feel. It means life. It means one more tiny person whose life was set in motion will have a chance to experience the wonders of living. It means one more mother will not have to live with regret; regret that is oftentimes stuffed down so deep it manifests in disguise, as something other than what it really is. 

These Wednesday visits can get intense, but the tension this week was more acute than I'd experienced in the past. It started as we arrived and noticed the barriers from road work, which had the escorts scattered more and in greater numbers than what I remembered from times past.

The escorts seemed to be having a good time, laughing and giggling together. They'd brought out some snacks -- donuts and crackers -- and intermittently were jamming to music, dancing on the sidewalk.

In between the dancing and munching, they would stop to escort a woman inside, where she would get in line to await the extraction of her baby from her womb. (sad face...)

Now, back to the woman with the sign. Obviously, she was trying to mock us. I posted this on Facebook and there was quite a conversation thread over this visual.

At one point, she was inching a little too closely toward two people standing near the curb with their signs. From her actions, she seemed hostile, and I began to feel protective of the woman nearest her who seemed about my mother's age. I wouldn't have been okay with someone talking to my mom like that. I stepped up and in between them.

Terse words were exchanged, but even then, I tried to be loving in this difficult discussion, even as f-bombs were flying at me and the others. I know that these people protesting our prayerful protests are not the enemy. They are God's children too. But, The Enemy has them in his grasp. So I try to look for a sign of their goodness. I wanted this women to know she is loved. She wouldn't accept my words.

I didn't feel threatened, though. I felt protected by the armor of Christ and Our Blessed Mother. I felt called to be bold, but not harsh. I wanted her to feel some spark of goodness, in herself or in me, even as she spewed hateful words my way.

After a while, a policeman came up to her. He'd driven by earlier and had seen her in a confrontational stance, it seemed, and asked her to tame it down while reminding her of where to stand.

It felt like a little sign from God. This policeman is my hero.

After he left and she quieted down, out of nowhere, it seemed, a tall man in a white jacket -- a doctor  -- appeared. He stood next to the angry woman (whom I am naming Therese so that I can hold her in prayer with a name). For a moment I wondered if he was an abortion doctor. But when he turned around and caught my wondering eyes, he showed me his Rosary beads. So I knew he was with us.

And what a witness, really. What a beautiful witness. To take time out of a busy day as a physician seems a little more than ordinary. At one point he and "Therese" got into a verbal exchange, and he explained to her that, as a physician, he was there to uphold life, as he had promised to do when he took the Hippocratic Oath.

This doctor is my hero, too.

It's interesting in many ways. The newspaper for which I write as a columnist is located less than a block from the abortion facility. I know there's no way they can come over every Wednesday and cover what's happening at the sidewalk in front of the Red River Women's Clinic. But I can't help but think they might be missing out on some of the biggest drama going down in the city every week.

I'd rather it weren't the case. But until that light-filled day when we can, as a society, agree to alternatives other than death to address unplanned pregnancies, I'll keep praying, whether as a live witness on the sidewalk or wherever else I happen to be.

God be with us...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

writing wednesdays: fr. leo's sign of the cross

Our parish here in Fargo has been blessed this week by a visit from one of the most on-fire priests I've ever met.

Here's a fun little video of him at another event, in another city, doing his thing. Three days of this kept us roaring out loud.

I reflect today on a little of what he shared Monday on Peace Garden Writer today.

(Yes, that's your cue to head on over!)

Monday, October 27, 2014

meaningful mondays: a meeting of nun wanna-bes

It's not always easy keeping in touch with and seeing special friends, especially when they live four hours away, like Jean from Mitchell, S.D. does.

Jean is one of those forever friends you can count on for certain things. For example, I know that  whenever we get together, there's going to be a lot of giggles along with plenty of serious, thoughtful discussion. It's a beautiful mix that is just part of the dynamics of our friendship; a friendship that is refreshingly circular.

But it's been a few years now since I've seen Jean, and having a chance to meet up this weekend seemed like something of a mini miracle. Our last-minutely planned gathering came together so easily, I can't help but feel the divine hand in it. In the end, at the very least, I think we can credit the nuns.

Jean had reached out a few weeks ago after I wrote a post admitting that, after spending so much time at monasteries, I'd developed a deep-down yearning to be a cloistered nun. Of course, this yearning cannot be satisfied. I'm a wife and mother of five and know that that vocation is what God has called me to. But there's something so alluring about this singular-focused life devoted to prayer and God and living in a close-knit community as the nuns do. The peace I have felt during my visits to Carmel has yet to be equaled. It's not such a stretch to see why, given the busy, chaotic world all around.

So Jean wrote in with a confession. She told me that she shares this dream with me, but she's guarded about whom she tells because of the sideways glances it seems to elicit. After all, she's happily married and Protestant, so what, pray tell, could she possibly be thinking?

In an email back, I assured Jean she's not crazy and that we must discuss this more soon, in person; it had been way too long since we'd gotten together. Immediately, she shot back a note saying she'd be an artist-in-residence for a week at a school a few hours from Fargo, and could we find a halfway point and meet on Sunday?

I consulted my GPS to see what a halfway point might be, and when I realized it would put us in Wahpeton, near the monastery that has been my harboring place, I knew we'd found our meeting spot. Plans came together at record speed, and this past Sunday afternoon, we had our little convergence, which included a quick visit to the monastery and a several-hour discussion at the local Fryin' Pan over pea soup and pie (and a few other palatable particulars).

I am still pinching myself over the chance to have parlayed with this lovely lady. I won't go over the details of our visit, because what happens at the Fryin' Pan stays there, you know, but I will say this much. We talked about the nun thing and agreed that there's something more to this than a nonsensical yearning.

Having glimpsed this cloistered life, we've been allowed a peek at what heaven will be like; a time and place when all of the distractions and splintering and pulls in diverse directions will come together, and all of the extras will fall away and our gaze will be directed, clearly and pointedly, to the source of love, and we will move toward it, whole and heart-filled, and breathe deeply at last.

Sunset that accompanied me home from Wahpteon, ND

It's something to hope for. The task now is to form ourselves so that we'll be ready when the time comes. And if part of that forming includes a slice of pumpkin pie and a dollop of whipped cream with a good friend, well, the journey there can't be so bad, either, it seems to me.

Q4U: When have your plans fallen together in flawless fashion?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

second-chance sundays: if you're in the parenting race, stay the course

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 Oct. 18, 2014.]

Living Faith: If you're in the parenting race, stay the course

By Roxane B. Salonen

Running has been with me for a long time.
It started on Track and Field Day my fourth-grade year. Until then, I had no idea of any special abilities in this area. But I left the field that afternoon with not one but four blue first-place ribbons.

Heading up the hill back to school from the track, an older student on the way down noticed the shiny new ribbons in my hands waving in the breeze.

“Holy cow, are those all yours?” she asked.

I nodded, still in shock.

By the time I left high school, my running abilities had led me several times to the Montana state track and field championships, and running had become part of my identity and strength, both inner and outer.

I brought this love with me to college, competing in track my freshman year at indoor nationals in Kansas City. But an injury sidelined my track career. Though I made the all-conference team, I never pulled off a full comeback.

At 46, my knees still show the wear, and despite living in a marathon-enthused city, I’ve had to let go of a hoped-for return to my running days. But the runner in me remains.

That’s why the email from my friend hit home. Our bond had been fashioned through our shared faith and parenting travails. Having visited some of the same troubling places I was experiencing, she offered a visual of the parenting journey I call “The Race.”

First, she reminded me of an excerpt from the Scriptural passage Hebrews 12: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.”
She then shared how, in becoming a parent, she figured she’d signed up for the proverbial marathon.

“I knew it would be a challenge, but so fun, too,” she said. “People would be cheering for me, there would be water breaks, and at the end I would get my finisher medal.”
But soon, the race began to turn treacherous, the path before her uncertain.

“I was put on this dusty course with no cheering crowds and no end in sight,” she wrote, noting that in time, she even noticed occasional rocks being thrown onto her path.

“I am sure I am not the only one on this particular course, but there aren’t many of us, so we don’t run together very often,” she continued. “And yet I have to say that when I need someone the most, I turn the corner and there they are, and I ask, ‘Hey, how much farther do you think?’ ”

Her fellow parent-runners respond, “I don’t know, but I’m not stopping now or I’ll get eaten by mosquitoes, and I have worked too hard not to get the finisher medal.”

Not all races, or children, are equal, my friend said, adding that the race she’s running with her oldest child has been much more challenging than the course she’s on with her youngest.

“That (latter) one is not a marathon but a 5K, and everyone tells me what a wonderful job we’ve done in raising him,” she wrote. “And yet I want to scream, ‘This is the three easy miles. Please send the crowd of cheering fans to my other race where I need it.’ ”

Oh, how I understand the need for encouragement when we’re in those perplexing parenting places.

“But God is good,” she said. “I’m not well-hydrated on the dusty trail, but someone always seems to appear with a paper cup of water when I really need it.”

Indeed, it is a blessing, when parched, to be offered refreshment by a kind soul. It makes us want to turn around and do this for others. It might not be a lot, but it’s something; it helps with one more leg.

“Roxane,” she said, “It will be such a sweet, sweet day when we turn that corner and the finish line will finally be there, and I believe Jesus himself will put the finisher medals around our necks.”

Hope. The thing we cannot do without. I am nodding now, and a tear has formed.

“Thanks for running the course with me,” she added. “We’ll do it.”

After absorbing her words, I write back, thanking her profusely for the gift, one side-ached parent to another.

“Running is a powerful image for me,” I told her. “It was where I received a lot of my early self-confidence, and then later, it symbolized the defeat of my physical body. But running in terms of the parenting and faith journey? That’s beautiful. Thank you.”

Many of us are still in the middle of the race. Our hair is wind-blown, our legs caked with mud. But I want to encourage you as my friend did me – hang on. The finish line is just up there a ways. And it’s going to be awesome when we finally break through.

Friday, October 24, 2014

faith & family friday: breakfast with fr. frank pavone

When we learned several months back that Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life would be flying to Fargo in October to keynote our local Teens for Life's annual Cupcakes for Life event, we parent volunteers were thrilled.

Fr. Frank is as passionate about the pro-life movement as they come. I've heard him speak before, including a few years ago in D.C. during the March for Life, and again at a Catholic media conference in New Jersey two summers ago.

What I didn't expect was to be invited for breakfast at our local Village Inn restaurant the morning of his visit; the invitation came just a few days prior. And today was the day. This morning, after dropping off the kids at school, a relatively small group of parents, along with the chaplain and superintendent of our local Catholic high school, gathered at this longtime haunt of locals to "break bread" together.

It was relaxing and enjoyable. Fr. Frank is a sweet man. Though he's been vilified in some circles, having met him a couple times now, I see only fervent optimism, deep concern for women and babies and a beautiful love for the Lord of Life and our fellow brothers and sisters.

It was an honor to have him here, and an honor for me personally to be among the few who enjoyed eggs and bacon with him. He shared a little about his life on Staten Island (when he's static, which isn't often) and he wanted to know about all of us, too. We went around the circle, sharing why we're involved in this group and other ways we are advocates for life.

Toward the end of our short hour together -- Fr. Frank had to hurry over to a school assembly right after breakfast, then on to other planned events of the day -- he shared some encouraging insight with us.

"Before we all leave, there's one thing I want you to know," he said. We were all ears.

Fr. Frank expressed his optimism for the pro-life movement, how vibrant it is, how young it is, and he said something that I know is going to stick with all of us. He said one thing that can't be taken away from the movement is the stories of the post-abortive women and the devastation they've experienced.

I can't remember exactly how he said it, and I didn't have my recorder with to freeze his words verbatim, but his sentiments were something along these lines: "Scars don't lie." The stories of women whose lives have been altered forever by abortion, from mothers who felt forced to take part in one of the most unnatural acts in existence, are not going to be quelled. And there's nothing anyone can do about it.

He talked about how the healing is happening, and justice, too, not so much by what any of us might be doing (though he encouraged us and said we are points of light along the way), but because injustice necessarily corrects itself. By virtue of it not being of God, and of the way the world is meant to work, abortion is losing ground as an accepted action, and will continue to. Too many have been harmed, and unnatural, wrong acts correct themselves in time.

It was refreshing to hear this. Those of us who believe that death is never a good answer to any "problem" in society can feel disheartened at times by a culture that touts death as an acceptable answer. Death does happen, but it should always happen naturally, at God's appointed time, not at our own choosing. This is my fervent belief, and it's one of many reasons I am solidly pro-life.

Our breakfast with Fr. Frank was just the beginning of an amazing day. Right after that, I visited a local preschool and shared other passions of mine -- that of words and stories and the awesome state of North Dakota. The kids were absolutely charming and so smart!

This afternoon, a group will gather at the local abortion facility and take part in a peaceful prayer event, then celebrate Mass with Fr. Frank at the nearby Adoration Chapel. Tonight, the Cupcakes for Life event will take place with Fr. Frank rousing the troops.

It's a 60-degree, beautiful fall day, and everything feels especially blessed. It's a good day to be alive and living for life.

Q4U: Have you ever dined with a hero?

Monday, October 20, 2014

meaningful mondays: pro-life pie (with a dollop of measure 1)

I'm not a big political person. My faith is the prime motivator of my life's works. But sometimes, the two converge and I can't just burrow my head in the sand.

As well, I want to be a conscientious, informed citizen, and I've done my best to do so on the upcoming election, which is almost upon us. On Nov. 4, we're going to be asked here in North Dakota to make a big decision. It's one that other states are watching with a careful eye. What we do here could affect the rest of the country.

So if you're not from North Dakota, don't think it won't affect you. It will. Measure 1 especially has huge consequences for everyone in this nation who cares about the sanctity of life.

Yesterday afternoon, I joined the Lutherans for Life people at their annual dessert banquet and heard a little more about Measure 1. The keynote was Janne Myrdal, chairwoman for ND Choose Life, which has been at the forefront of working to pass Measure 1.

I've heard Janne's story before, about how her parents had made brave choices living in Norway during the Nazi invasion; how they'd "done the right thing" even when it put them in harm's way.

This is part of Janne's legacy -- doing the right thing in the face of oppression and opposition, and she carries the torch for her family and others who cannot. "We have been asked to stand for life in an incredibly and relatively easy society," she said. "Unlike those before us, we're not likely to suffer bodily harm for standing up for the unborn."

So can we be even a smidgeon as brave as Myrdal's mother the day she was walking home from high school and a friend working for the Opposition approached her, demanding to see her brother? Can we say, "No" to what's wrong, and "Yes" to what's right even if it makes us uncomfortable or causes us to lose friends?

Lutherans for Life participants watching a video on Measure 1
A lot of people have become conflicted and confused about Measure 1. Some don't understand that we're at this juncture in the first place not because the pro-life people wanted to stoke the fires, but because the Supreme Court said to the states, "We're giving some of this back to you. We're going to let you restrict abortion according to the will of the people in your state."

So North Dakota acted, putting in effect common-sense laws regarding abortion, including the requirement of full disclosure to women seeking abortion about the procedure; requirement of an ultrasound; a ban on partial-birth abortion, gender selection abortion and aborting Down Syndrome children at will; as well as the requirement that any doctor performing abortions must have hospital admitting privileges here, for the protection of the woman.

These seemed like no-brainer type provisions to our legislators (from both parties) and those they represent, but because of the implications, the big guns from out of state came in to try to bully us. Planned Parenthood has funneled millions of dollars into this campaign, despite the fact that North Dakota has not one Planned Parenthood Clinic on its land, east to west. In addition, their cunning marketing folks have found ways to make it about something it isn't and put fear in the ordinary citizen to intimidate them into voting against the measure.

One way I know I'm on the right side? One side leads to death, and one to life. That's always the deciding factor to me.

Deuteronomy 30:19 is one of my favorites for this cause. "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live."

Myrdal said that though many people of faith are on board with Measure 1, it's not an issue for the faithful alone, and one of the biggest proponents of the measure up for vote is an atheist. "Even the unbelieving know what life is," she said.

Using a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Myrdal said that if Measure 1 passes, it will be as if we're "driving a spoke into the wheel of injustice itself," adding, "Planned Parenthood should not get to buy our elections in North Dakota."

It's an all-out war right now, but those of us on the side of life have much behind us -- a grass-roots effort of common sense, life itself, and a hoard of young people who get it, because they know that they could easily have been one more of the abortion statistics.

Later this week, I'll tell you about another huge pro-life initiative that I'll be an even more integral part of; this one involving cupcakes, and my daughters' peers serving them.

Speaking of the kids, not long after I had a delicious piece of homemade apple pie at the Lutherans for Life event, I ran home to pull together another dinner for my oldest daughter. It was her baptism anniversary last night, so we did our customary special dinner and pie of choice, along with the lighting of her baptismal candle.

Despite how hard it often is to be a mother of teens, I can't imagine a day without her in it. 

"It's easy to be pro-abortion if you've already been born," Ronald Reagan once quipped, as relayed by Myrdal. It's so true. Let's stay on the right side; the side of light and life.

Unequivocally, I choose life, now and as long as I have life to live.

Q4U: Have you even been bold in the face of opposition?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

second-chance sundays: 'don't worry be joyful' a song we can all sing

[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 Oct. 4, 2014.]

Living Faith: 'Don't worry, be joyful' a song we can all sing

By Roxane B. Salonen

Out of context, the pastor’s words might have been misconstrued by those prone to anxious thoughts.

“Those who worry do not know God,” he’d said.

But I knew what he meant. Rather than disparaging those who’ve ever had a worried thought – we’d all be condemned if so – he wanted to encourage and give us hope.

Just that morning he’d allowed worry to overcome him, he told us, noting that he’d had to remind himself that if we truly believe in a good and loving God, worry should never grab hold for long.

Worry is a human inclination, but it can be tempered with God’s deep love and caring for us. In claiming that reality, we can kick much of the worry threatening our daily peace to the curb.

Leaving church that day, the song, “Don’t worry, be happy,” came to mind. On the best days, this song can incite a whole lot of smiles, but it can feel wholly disingenuous other days, seeming downright offensive that anyone suggest we shirk our real worries at the cue of a corny tune.

And yet the pastor’s point still has much merit. Should worry drive us? It comes down to this: Are we in God’s hands or not?

Pondering the “happy” in the above-mentioned song brings me to another word that seems inseparable from belief in God: joy. While we can’t be happy all the time, as believers we should be able to experience joy most of the time.

Happiness and joy are not the same. Happiness is the petal; joy the root. Happiness is the wave; joy the steady, ever-flowing undercurrent.

When we fully absorb the reality of a good and loving God, joy can penetrate our souls in a way that the more fickle, surface happiness cannot.

In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis writes, “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.”

And as Diane M. Houdek writes in her commentary of this work, “Pope Francis and Our Call to Joy,” “If we trust that God loves us as individuals, as we are, we can’t help but be filled with joy.”

Further, she adds, knowing we are loved thus, it becomes easier for us to see that God loves those around us as well.
Joy spreads and begets love.

But joy can be threatened, too. Recently, I experienced a series of trials that tampered with my inner joy. Thankfully, amid that train of darkness, my joy was restored and revived.
It took a trip out of town with my youngest son to set joy back in motion.

After arriving in Bismarck and enjoying dinner with my mother, we wandered to the Capitol grounds to catch the sunset.

While awaiting the sky-burst on that warm fall evening, the two of us romped around on the grass, gleefully taking photos of statues, trees and sky, striking silly poses on occasion.

We paused to lie down on the grass and, head to head, sized up the looming “Skyscraper of the Prairie,” giggling while attempting a “selfie.”

Joy started sneaking back.

Then, just as golden, pink and blue streaks began to spread across the sky, a gray cat with a fluffy tail found us and endeared itself to my son, who was aptly enamored. The tender way he handled that little creature made my heart leap.

Joy had begun its healing.

The next day, I visited several area schools and talked to elementary students about the writing life and the great state of North Dakota. Their questions, smiles and thank-you notes engulfed my spirit.

Joy had returned full-on.

But how do we keep this joy thing alive?

Partly, it has to do with how we respond to others. As Houdek writes, “Perfect joy is the ability to return peace and love to those who cross us.”

What an empowering, lovely thought.

And while we cannot just turn on happiness at will, as Houdek says, “If we strive to be joyful on a daily basis, we seem to develop reserves upon which we can draw.”

With joy’s return and these reminders, I’m recommitting myself to keeping my joy-tank filled, renewed in the thought that if we let the reality of a good and loving God soak deeply into our bones, joy will pervade our lives.

And so I will sing a new song, “Don’t worry, be joyful.” Care to join in a refrain or two?