April 2, 2014

If I Could Talk to Adam Lanza's Father...

[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 was originally printed in The Forum newspaper, on March 29, 2014.]

Living Faith: 'I wish he'd never been born,' a father says

By Roxane B. Salonen

I had to double-back upon reading the words in the newspaper article.

They came from a father with a haunting admission: he wishes his son had never been born.

The world knows of the son whose father questions his existence. The name Adam Lanza became notorious after a school-shooting rampage in Connecticut in December 2012 that resulted in 28 corpses, including his own.

On some level the words of Peter Lanza make sense. This is a man who has been traumatized by the actions of his son, and the wounds are still oozing. Nevertheless, his admission is so counterintuitive to everything a parent should think.

Such utterances beg those of us who walk with faith to reflect. They provide an opportunity for the family of God to consider the situation anew, through God’s eyes.

I hope the kind of tragedy it took for Adam’s father to say these words will never be my lot, nor yours, but they challenge me nevertheless.

According to a recent report in The New Yorker, Peter Lanza keeps a box containing family photographs in the home he shares with his second wife, but right now it’s taped shut.

He told the reporter he can’t look at them, and if he displayed the photos of just his older son, Ryan, it wouldn’t seem right, so he keeps them all buried – like so many of his feelings.

“You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was,” he’d said. “You can’t fool yourself.”

But why can’t you, not fool yourself but mourn? It is here where I find an answer to what’s troubling me most about all of this.

No, I can’t possibly understand what Peter Lanza has gone through. But if I were faced with such a wretched scenario, I hope that by God’s grace I would be able to do what he hasn’t – to allow myself to grieve and honor the little child I helped bring into the world.

Awful things happen every day that are contrary to the plan of God. This is the result of the free will offered by God so we can love. But sometimes we misfire, or at least our brains do. We are fragile, complex creatures and God understands this most of all.

It’s been well over a year now and we don’t seem any closer to having unraveled the mystery of Adam Lanza’s mind on that tragic day or the ones leading up to it. Many remain justifiably disturbed that we can’t account for what happened, maybe most especially Peter Lanza himself.

But that doesn’t mean hope is lost or healing impossible. I believe it’s very possible, and for Adam’s father in particular it will happen the moment he is able to reach into that sealed-up box and touch the photos of his young son.

Because you can’t tell me that at 3 months old little Adam did not coo and grin, and in doing so, bring a smile to his father’s face.

If Adam Lanza had never been born, his parents would not have experienced the joy of his young life, fleeting as it may have been. Those moments of beauty and hope simply would not have happened.

What eventually took place was unthinkable, and because he cannot solve that puzzle, Peter Lanza is haunted, as many of us would be and are. But we’re not meant to be stuck in that place of despair.

Perhaps we need to set aside for a time, if possible, the evil that went down and instead try to see the situation as God might.

Peter Lanza may never be able to get over what his son was responsible for. He may always be plagued by the “what ifs.” But my prayer for him is that somehow, he’ll allow God to lead him back to the place of Adam’s initial innocence.

Adam Lanza’s life did count for something good. Maybe that’s not the way it ended, but it is the way it began, and there is value in that, not just for the Lanzas but for all of us.

Thankfully, God would never say to any of us, “I wish you’d never been born.” It isn’t possible and I hope that when we find ourselves wishing ill on those who have hurt and disappointed us, we can seek that glimmer of good, no matter how minuscule, and know that every single life is worthy of being.

March 19, 2014

Bye-bye 'What If?', Hello 'Why Not?'

I'm coming out of my temporary blog fast temporarily to write about an inspiring talk I heard today at our monthly meeting of Fargo Moorhead Professional Communicators.

This group, an affiliate of North Dakota Professional Communicators (which falls under the broader National Federation of Press Women) has been a valuable help to my writing career. As a freelancer, it's been invaluable in terms of networking, garnering credibility through contests and staying up on the latest trends in communications.

Our monthly gatherings with guest speakers have run the gamut from poetry readings to navigating the legal terrain of online communications. I always come away with something.

Today's session, however, had an extra spark. It was led by the beautiful and brave Chris Linnares, a Brazilian native who was drawn to North Dakota by love but struggled her first years here due to a lost identity and language barrier. These, along with our unbearably cold winters, left her feeling frustrated, inadequate and, eventually, depressed.

In her homeland, Chris was a successful communicator and psychologist who had her own radio show. The radio show, she said, had come about when she was still in college in her early 20s. As a student of psychology, she felt that many of the exciting discoveries concerning the human mind and how it functions weren't being communicated to the public. She wanted to talk about the newly uncovered realities that had been so inspiring to her.

When she first approached the station, she was met with a "Thanks but no thanks." Not once, but twice and more. But Chris wouldn't give up. She knew she had something important to share. So on her seventh visit to the station, she asked if there were any "dead" times in the radio's scheduling. The manager agreed to give her a chance. Her show took off and led to many other opportunities.

Chris said someone recently asked her why she went back to the station seven times. It wasn't because she wanted to be famous and hear herself talk on air but because she had something in her heart that wasn't meant for her alone. She believed in the message within. She believed in it so much that "no" wasn't an option.

But after being stripped of her identity upon moving to North Dakota and trying to make a go of it as a new mother in a land far from the tribal-based support network of Brazil, despair set in. Chris began to forget the messages she'd known so well back home. She began to doubt. She began instead believing the inner voice that said, "You want to do that? What if no one likes you? What if they laugh at your accent? What if..."

It was a three-year struggle, but eventually Chris found her way out of the hole and began once again inspiring those in her midst and beyond. As a professional dancer and speaker, she's brought her knowledge of the soul-body connection to audiences and helped women especially discover or rediscover their worth.

She's also founded a nonprofit called Women's Impact that focuses on wellness and empowerment for women and girls. Its main goal is to help women connect with other women with the ultimate goal of eradicating this troubling statistic: 80 percent of those in poverty in our world are women and girls.

Chris talked about the power of words, the power of communications. She said because of her experiences of feeling powerless, she appreciates even more how much words and communicating them well can mean. One word can change a life, she said. "I know because it happened to me."

She challenged those present to change the "what ifs"in their minds to "why nots," to transform obstacles to realized dreams by a simple turn in the words we allow to guide our lives.

I've heard similar sentiments before, but Chris's presentation was vividly told, shared from her unique heart, and it was easy to feel endeared to her through her sharing of struggles and triumph as a communicator. I left feeling uplifted and hopeful about my own unrealized dreams that have been tucked away for too long. It's time to say, once again, "Why not?"

To learn more about Chris, visit her website.

March 5, 2014

Heading into the Desert, Not Alone

Who likes the idea of trudging through a desert? Raise your hand!

What? No takers? (Congratulations, I think this makes you a human being.)

And yet here we are, Ash Wednesday, facing a desert that comes around once a year.

The other day my friend admitted she doesn't look forward to Lent, and is especially dreading it this year. We've been through a really long, cold winter -- a sustained frigidity unlike any I remember in my life. To that end, I would agree with her. It feels like we've already trudged through a desert, cold though it may have been. It has born down on our psyches and tested us like no other. And now we're supposed to enter into another time of denial? A human being can only take so much, it seems.

And yet...there's something to be said for giving it one last push. We can't know what we have in us, after all, until we've given it a whirl.

The prelude to Lent for me started out with a violent stomach flu that took me by complete surprise, and had me up all night Sunday, and sleeping most of the day Monday. Was this some kind of necessary pruning to prepare my heart for this next phase of desert? Perhaps.

Despite what my friend honestly admitted, and as much as I agree with her, I do approach Lent with hope. It is hard, but it is possible. We've done it all before. And what I've learned in recent years is that something valuable comes out of it to make me a better person, and that going through the desert leads to a more vibrant Easter. I'm counting on it. And with that in mind, I'm going to try to face it as bravely as possible, knowing transformation is on the other side.

As part of my Lenten fasting, I'm going to fast from blogging, as I have often in the past, to turn my attention to spiritual readings and more face to face encounters. I'll post on Peace Garden Mama only my newspaper story reprints, and be back at Easter to resume my schedule here.

Before I disappear for a while, I want to leave you with some thoughts from a newsletter I receive from the Daughters of St. Paul sisters. In a recent post, Sister Maria Grace Dateno mentioned three deserts we can experience in our lives. 

The first, she said, is Jesus’ desert where he was tempted for forty days, along with the “desert” of his passion and death.

"We 'remain' in the desert with Jesus in our prayer and meditation, such as when we pray the Stations of the Cross or read the passion accounts in the Gospels," she said. "In this kind of prayer, time melts away, and we can be with Jesus in his agony in the garden, or as he carries the cross, not simply remembering a past event, but remaining with Jesus in his suffering."

The second is our own desert of whatever kinds of difficulties we're going through, such as illness, loneliness, or confusion we are facing in our life. "We remain in this desert when we do not try to escape, but instead live through the sufferings by uniting them with the sufferings of Jesus."
And the third is the vast desert of the sufferings of the world. In other words, "all the people who are living through untold difficulties, heartbreak, injustice, desperation, tragedy, and pain. It’s hard to remain in this desert for long. But we are called to do just that—by our prayer, solidarity, and whatever action we are called to do to help." 

Then Sister asks, "What deserts are you facing this Lent? Perhaps you will spend time in all of them."

And to that she adds the most comforting thought of all, "Wherever we remain, Jesus is there with us."

I think that's the key. This is why we can do this. We won't be in the desert alone. Jesus will be right alongside us, giving us exactly what we need at each moment of our journey.

Now, let us walk into the desert, together.

February 26, 2014

Without Writing, 'We Would Have Burst...'

"There are times in one's life when an overwhelming urge arises somewhere deep in the soul, and one has to write." 
- Stephen K. Ray, author

I'd been hearing about this book for a while now. Monday night, the author was in town and it seemed time to "jump" into a purchase. My friend Madonna bought another of Ray's books and I grabbed this one, our intentions being to swap after we're finished and get two reads for the price of one.

Already, just one day into it, there are "dog ear" folds all over the place. I'm hoping my friend won't find the read too messy by the time I'm through. The first dog ear came at the introduction. This bodes well for what will follow.

I've said it before but I really do love conversion stories. Reading about the life of a soul and the journey it takes, leading up to the moment it turns a corner and is set on an entirely new path, is exhilarating. I can't help but celebrate for the converted; the one who has come back to life. What can offer more cause for joy, really, than a soul's salvation?

And Steve Ray, as I now know from up-close-and-personal experience, is one guy who, if you're not already enthused, will ignite a fire within your heart just from witnessing his passion. The lackluster who do not feel a surge of energy in his presence can't be more than stumps. This guy throws everything he has into his presentations. And by the time he reached the prairie, he was fresh from a trip to Israel. How do you accomplish such a zippy feat running solely on jet-lag fumes?

His conversion story, "Crossing the Tiber," started not as a book but a letter to his father to thank him for the example of faith he'd shown. I did something similar when I was going through my own conversion of sorts.

My parents hadn't lived out the faith perfectly, anymore than I have, though each contributed something of tremendous value. I'd say my mom did an especially nice job of guiding us with actions and eternal hope despite difficulty, and my father, with words encouraging us to stay with God, even during the years he didn't feel up to the task himself. How could I not be grateful for the ways they demonstrated that life with God is the better life?

Steve experienced a similar bursting when he discovered the Catholic faith was something more compelling and beautiful than what he'd been led to believe, and he wanted to give credit where it was due. He knew that his Protestant roots and his parents' examples had laid down the groundwork for him coming to the place at which he now found himself. He had to write out his feelings.

The first line of his introduction: "There are times in one's life when an overwhelming urge arises somewhere deep in the soul, and one has to write."

You know it, don't you? You've experienced it, too. There's nothing better, or more cathartic, than taking pen to paper in such times.

I can't imagine not having the tools I need and the gifts of expression that allow me to do this. Without them I would be forever at the point of bursting.

"This story had to be written," Ray continued. "We would have burst with pent-up joy had it not found its way onto paper."

Isn't it true? Writing is as much a need as anything else, especially to those of us drawn to this craft. But I would say it's a fairly universal thing. The cavemen found ways to draw those animals on the walls of their homes, to keep track of their lives, to give expression to what they were experiencing.

Writing, as much as anything, is an action that helps keep us from bursting.

Q4U: When did you think you would burst with ideas, and what did the release of that produce?

February 19, 2014

Introversion Series: Johnny Depp and Me - INFP

If you squint just so, you can see the resemblance, right?

Ah, I'm just having fun with ya! Johnny and I don't really look too much alike. Maybe in the eyes, both brown. But his hair is longer, and his earrings, much cooler.

We do have something in common, however; something that only 4.5 percent of the population can claim. We are both INFP's.

In Myers-Briggs speak, that means: Introvert (vs. Extrovert), Intuition (vs. Sensing), Feeling (vs. Thinking), and Perceiving (vs. Judging). To find out more about what these mean, visit here.

I took the Myers-Briggs personality type test quite a few years ago now, and I came out INFP then. So it was a surprise to me when my recent retake of another form of the test landed me in the same place. I figured that with 16 different types, there would have been some error along the way, but it looks like I'm fairly entrenched in this category.

So what does this mean? A summation of the INFP types says that Johnny and I are idealistic and loyal to our values and the people we care about, and that we seek to match our external selves with the internal.

True. Case in point: My faith is important to me, but just as important is living out these internal beliefs. It's not enough to have the belief. I want to put it into real-life action. The more I do this, the more peace I feel.

INFPs are also known to be curious and quick to see possibilities, and often catalysts for implementing ideas.

True. Case in point: The catalyst is a natural role for me. I've often called myself a cheerleader. I don't like to be the captain, but being an essential part of the team, and one with ideas that can be carried out, greatly fulfills me. 

According to the summary, INFPs want to understand people and we enjoy helping others fulfill their potential.  

True. Case in point: I love nurturing people, being a mentor to those in areas in which I might have something to offer, like parenting, writing and faith.

We're also adaptable and accepting -- unless a value is threatened.

True. Case in point: Because of my firm faith beliefs, I'll bet some who know me might question this first part. Adaptable? Accepting? Yes, very, I'd say. But don't threaten my values. I've thought long and hard about them and believe in them so much that I'm not likely to budge so much on those points. When it comes to individuals, however, I can be easily moved. 

Some might argue any test taker is bound to resonate in some way with some elements of every category. However, as I read the category of one of my son's, I couldn't identify at all. He was an "I" too, but came out as SFJ -- completely opposite from me. Another son had the NFP, but came out as an "E" -- I'd say the only true extrovert in our family of seven. The categories are distinct, and interesting to consider.

Another site noted that INFPS have a gift for creating and interpreting symbols; for this reason, we find it natural to write and enjoy poetry, and are drawn to hypothetical or philosophical discussions more than any other type.

We are also prone to withdrawing from the world and getting lost in our deep thoughts. And herein lies the reason for this reflection on my writing-oriented blog:

"INFPs also often become great writers and actors, as they can easily reflect and convey their own personalities using the fictional characters. Generally speaking, people with this personality type are extremely creative, innovative and goal-oriented – they can be great advocates for causes they truly believe in."

Did you hear that fellow INFPs? We've found our place!

Taking a test like this generally doesn't change anything. Who I am, I've been for a fairly long time. But it is affirming, especially when I read that I haven't missed my ship -- that the place where I dwell is the place where, it appears, I was meant to be.

This isn't surprising. I feel alive when I write, and that tells me something about the synchronicity of my life. Not that I'm great - I'm not - but that I've found the thing that melds most with what I'm about. Hooray!

And I guess if no one else understands me -- INFPs tend to feel isolated because there are so few of us -- at least I can count on Johnny Depp to lend an empathetic ear.

If you're into these kinds of tests, there's a super-short form you can take if your life is particularly busy, though it is less accurate than the longer form, apparently. This is the one my boys took to determine their type. They were directly opposite from one another in every category, and I'm not surprised.

Q4U: Have you taken a personality test? Were there any surprises or any profound affirmations?

February 12, 2014

Introversion Series: 'You Brooder!'

It's a beautiful thing to realize something over which you've been criticized is one of your most precious gifts.

A few years ago, someone labeled me a "brooder." While it wasn't done in a name-calling sort of way, it felt a bit critical to me; not unlike something similar I've also heard said about me: "You think too much."

Okay, you got me. Guilty as charged. Introverts do that kind of thing. But hang on here. I need to brood just a little, but I promise you'll appreciate the end.

First, full disclosure: my brooding ways have not always been beneficial.

You brooder you!

When I was in preschool, just a little older than this little princess, dandelions nearly got me in a heap of trouble. It was spring, and to me, dandelions were the most delightful flowers because they seemed to appear out of nowhere, nearly overnight.

A batch had popped up along the wall just outside our school and as we lined up there to wait for the bus, I became absorbed in the little yellow "flowers" and began studying them.

I remember the cool of the shade there, and how lovely it felt to be outside, examining and picking these bright-colored delights. I was so absorbed in those dandelions that I didn't hear the bus pull up or the kids behind me piling into it. I didn't even know it had started off until after I heard the rocks kicking up in its wheels.

When I realized what had happened, panic set in. I was soon running along the gravel road in front of the school, sucking up the dust of that bus in tears, certain I'd been left behind and would never be found again. It was an awful feeling of abandonment.

And all because of those dandelions and my brooding tendencies.

Thankfully, someone on the bus saw me running after it and it soon stopped. I was ushered onto the bus and into the arms of my waiting 4-year-old sister. I must have been all of 3 at the time. Camille, not my teacher, had brought me back into the world of safety and love.

I have no doubt that behind the bus, a trail of squished dandelions were lying lifeless in the wake.

Yes, my brooding had cost me but when I think of that day all these years later, I thank God for my brooding.

Brooding has negative connotations but what if we think of it just a little differently? These more positive words also describe what I am like when in this mode: thoughtful, reflective, intent, studious, curious, detailed, amazed.

And it is these qualities that have brought my writing to life. Without my propensity for stopping and quite literally smelling the roses -- and not only smelling but inhaling and inspecting, too -- I could not do justice to my work. Brooding brings a depth to what I do as a writer. It helps good writing become even richer.

As it turns out, this propensity in me is a beautiful gift. God made me to not just hurry by but stop and wonder, study and speculate. I love this about myself!

What a difference a perspective can make. What a difference a few adjustments in thinking can make. What a difference a tweak in words can make.

Q4U: Have you ever been criticized over something that has turned out to be one of your gifts?

February 5, 2014

About That Word...

Last month, I announced my word for the year: expectation.

It's a fine word, but one thing I've come to realize about the word of the year is that it needs a little maintenance, a little attention. Once it's out there, you can't just abandon it. It's always evolving, and it won't grow into the theme it's meant to be if you just put it in the corner and let it sulk.

So I've decided that I'm going to return to expectation from time to time -- maybe even monthly -- to report on how things are coming along with it. In what ways is "expectation" meeting the...well...the expectations that have been placed upon it by having been named my word for a whole year?

First, let's start with a visual. This is one of the things expectation can look like:

Expectation is what's around the corner. It's a lot like another one of my favorite words: hope. It has something to do, too, with this curious little kitty in that it's about anticipating the exciting things we're about to encounter.

The thing about expectation is you know something's coming but there's mystery involved. You can't know the full shape of it until you turn the bend. And even then there's still more to experience before you can actually look expectation in the hindsight eye.

Oh, I do love looking forward to good things! And as I think on those coming up in my life, I am filled with another great and applicable word: gratitude! I'm fairly certain that we start the process of dying the moment we have nothing to look forward to. We must have things to anticipate and get excited over to in order to live!

I'm happy to report that at present I have many reasons be living fully. Here's a little of what I'm talking about:

  • LOVE! Later this month, my hubby and I will attend a Couple's Night Out our church hosts annually for its married parishioners. This year's event will take place at the Bluestem Center for the Arts across the river in Moorhead, Minn. I'm expecting a great meal and an inspiring talk by our new bishop, who has impressed me by his gentleness and faith. I am looking forward to this fun night of celebrating love!
  • YOUNG AUTHORS! In March, I will return to Thief River Falls, Minn., to join other writers, authors and creatives to give a presentation at an annual young author conference. My talk will be "Truth, Dare, Double Dare," and in it, I'm going to spill the beans to the young people present on what the life of a writer is really like.
  • NYC BABY! At the end of March, my oldest daughter and I will board a bus bound for New York City to experience her high school's choir tour 2014; me, as chaperone, her as participant. I'm just a little excited about this. There's nothing like a great adventure. The itinerary includes a couple Broadway musicals, time at a soup kitchen and a host of other fun stuff. Weee!
  • HOLY SPIRIT COME! In April, our youngest will experience First Eucharist and Confirmation, and Easter will be in there somewhere, too, along with his ninth birthday and visits from extended family. At long last our littlest guy will be able to join the rest of our family in the Communion lines on Sunday. Yippee!
  • AUTHOR VISIT! I'm still wrapping up details on this one, but it's looking like I'll be spending a full day with a school in our state at the end of April talking about books, writing and dreams. There's nothing like entering a school with a box of books and being surrounded by a hundred smiling, eager faces.
  • SPRING! It is coming, really! We've had quite a winter so far and as one friend said, it's getting old talking about how old the winter is getting. But boy is spring going to be fantastic this year. Bring it on baby!
  • SUMMER VISITS! Summer plans are still in the works, but there are a few things brewing that have me super excited about summer 2014, including a possible visit from a faraway friend, a trip out of town to visit a great college friend, and maybe a faraway visit to another part of the country as well. Details are a little hazy yet, but that's what makes the expectation factor so full of expectation!
  • FALL SURPRISE! The fall promises to be extra fabulous, but I'll give only one hint for now: it has something to do with a book. The rest will be revealed in good time.
And those are just the highlights. Tucked in among all of those events are a few fundraising banquets for causes dear to my heart, lunch and coffee dates with friends, an abundant life with family and continuing the very fulfilling work I've been doing as a writer.

Life comes full of hills and valleys, but I feel like I'm riding along a very nice hilltop right now, and though I know the bumps and dips will be inevitable too, I'm going to embrace it while I can.

Q4U: What about you? What great expectations are around your bend?