November 19, 2014

#GraceOfYes North Dakota Style


It didn't take me long to get hooked, to find something that seemed so rich I had to run over to Facebook and post it, like I do when I happen upon a truth I think will resonate with and/or encourage others:

"At the core of each of us lies the conviction that by encountering us, others ought to know at least some tiny measure of God's enduring love."

Beautifully put and so true!

These words come from the heart of my friend, Lisa Hendey, who has just launched her book, "The Grace of Yes." In writing this book, Lisa wants us to take her hand and travel with her through the yeses in her life so that we might be encouraged to say yes more often, and more exuberantly, too.

Because she so completely believes in the message, Lisa asked her friends over at Catholicmom.com, the website she founded and to which I contribute regularly, to help spread the news of "The Grace of Yes." Here's the #GraceOfYes North Dakota style:

Even before yesterday's Grace of Yes Day, which had Lisa's friends and fans posting photos of themselves all over social media to shine light on her book...


 


She was nudging us into the excitement by asking us to help name the goldfish on the book's cover.


"Fiat" turned out to be the winning entry! I love it. And from early indications, the book and its resident fish seem to be doing swimmingly.


The subtitle of Lisa's book, "Eight Virtues for Generous Living," indicates the direction Lisa wants to take us; guiding us through how she came to say "yes" to the graces of belief, generativity, creativity, integrity, humility, vulnerability, saying no, and rebirth.

It's a perfect time of year to ponder the "yeses" in our life. As we approach Advent, we are getting ready to recall God's "yes" to us when he sent his only son into the world to teach us how to live and love, and even die. We will be pondering in our hearts, as Mary did, the yes that came from her heart, allowing the miracle to be.

Blogger Elizabeth Scalia wrote an article on Patheos, "In the Land of No, 'Yes' is a most dangerous word."

In it, Elizabeth says: "Everything grows in 'Yes.'" Aint it true? Yes is a living, growing, expanding word, whereas No seems restrictive, dying, anti-climactic.

Sometimes, we have to say No, but I want to live a life like Lisa proposes; a life full of a propensity toward Yes, especially when it brings with it the potential to expand goodness and love.

All of this talk of "yes" has made me think on some of my own yeses. The most obvious seems my yes to our kids...#1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Our #3 is a perpetual guiding light to us, though no longer here. As for the rest? Sometimes, the daily yeses to them come with a forced smile. Other times, with an easy grin. But just today, I was thinking of our kids and how much less my life would have been if even one had been a "No."

Help me be a "Yes" girl, Lord. It's always the better way.

I'm thinking, too, about the movie my husband and I saw on our date night this weekend, "Fury," the powerful World War II film starring Brad Pitt. In it, one of the characters, played by Shia LaBeouf, is trying to psyche himself up for doing what needs doing -- facing the enemy head on. He pulls out a verse from Scripture, Isaiah 6:8: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send?'...And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'"

Now there's a Yes that inspires -- sacrificing it all for the Lord, even though you know it means heading out to the front lines.

How far are you willing to go with your yes? Part way or all the way?

By the way, since Lisa sent me a gift, a signed copy of her book...

 

I have an extra that I'm going to give to the first person to comment today!

Q4U: What does your "Yes" entail? 


November 5, 2014

Election Hangover of Hope


By the time this posts, it will all be over. The votes will have been tallied, and winners and losers decided. The victory parties will be in full motion while the defeated will, post-concession, rightly retreat and rest until the next round.


All will be oldish news already by the time you read these words, and yet the pride I am feeling just fresh from the voting booth and over this election will remain well after the last political sign is pulled from the front lawn.

Maybe it's because I'm old enough to truly and fully appreciate the chance to vote. My 46 years of life mean that I've been able to take part in this process for 28 years now. That's a whole lot of little oval circles waiting to be filled in, and a whole lot of "chads" that have claimed their place in my history, for better or worse.

This one, I know, will stand out. What I've witnessed here in North Dakota has been incredible; so much so that if the measures I support and the candidates I tout are among the casualties, I still will have the satisfaction of knowing I was part of something amazing. Truly, I stand in awe -- over the process but most of all the people who took part.

People like Katie, who mightily promoted a measure that meant the world to her due to personal experiences, then took a verbal beating for it by some of her blog readers. She stood proud anyway, despite the lashings. That takes courage.


Or like Sarah, a friend  in her 20s who, having recently re-embraced the Catholic faith of her rearing, decided she wasn't going to be just a pray-er but needed to jump into the thick of things as a do-er. Sarah bravely volunteered to help create a video to support a measure to uphold life, knowing she could well lose a big chunk of her old friends over it. She walked into the spotlight boldly and did not relent, even when the rotten tomatoes started coming. Sadly, she did lose some friends, but happily, gained many more.


Or like Betty, a friend who, though now a United States citizen, is originally from Ethiopia. She inspires me every election since she's become an official member of our land, but reminded me this election just how spectacular voting is when, on her Facebook page, she admitted she gets as giddy as a kid in a candy store every election.

To exemplify her excitement, she shared this quote from a famous children's author:


These are just a few of the people that made me feel proud to be part of this process; a process that gives us all a voice and vote, should we take up the task -- and we should.

On Monday, I was invited to be a guest on a local radio program to talk about assisted suicide. The host, in talking of the now well-known Brittany Maynard death by lethal drugs, said that when it comes down to it, it really was Brittany's choice.

But I have a slightly different thought about it, and culpability. I told her that every action we take has an effect on others. When we make a choice, it reverberates outward beyond ourselves, and the people touched by it touch others, and those others touch others, etc., until this ripple effect reaches far and wide. "We never act in isolation," I said.

And it's true here, too. Even though we might go into a little cubicle to cast our ballots, our vote ripples outward and has an effect.

Here's something more. Even if no one else ever sees your vote, God sees it. Even if no one else ever sees what's in your heart, God does. All those hidden things you do everyday -- gestures of kindness so small they might well belong in "Who-ville" (speaking of Dr. Seuss), they count, big.

Your little stroke of the pen counts. Your small act of mercy counts. And your decision to sacrifice for another in that teeny tiny way? It counts, too.

Those of you who gave it your all in a way that might seem masked right now in the aftermath of an election, know that whatever it was that you did, that you believed in, if it was good and true, God saw it, and even if you can't see the effect now, you will someday. You truly will.

A Bible passage in my Magnificat devotional on Voting Day reads thus: "Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. (Rom 12:11)

That's all God asks of us -- to take up our pens and fill in the little ovals; to do what we know is right. He'll take care of all the rest of it.

To those of you who gave it your all, no matter the outcome, I am so very proud of you! Thank you, and may God bless America! (Yes, even those who voted differently than I.)

Q4U: What election do you most remember, and why?

October 29, 2014

Books, Planes and Father Leo


You can tell a lot about a person by what they read, no? And you can tell a lot about a person by what they wear.

Before I get to my main point, though, let me share a little background. This week, we've had a special guest at our parish. Fr. Leo Patalinghug has been giving a parish mission or retreat, you might say. Some might know Fr. Leo from his weekly cooking show on the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), or the books he's authored, or his regular radio program. He's also a black belt in karate, and as I learned last night, a beautiful singer.

Fr. Leo and Me Oct. 2013 when he was in Fargo for another event

Beyond all that, though, Fr. Leo is a great story teller, and on Monday night, he shared a story about a nine-hour plane ride, whereby he ended up sitting down with a gal who was reading Dan Brown's novel, "The Da Vinci Code."

When you sit down with someone you don't know on a plane, you can't help but be curious about what they're reading, right? I've had more than one conversation when traveling by air surrounding the subject or title of the book either my seat buddy or I had in hand. Reading material is revealing, and can be good fodder for a conversation.

Fr. Leo noticed right away that the stranger he'd be traveling next to for nine hours was reading a book that deeply criticizes the Catholic faith and is, incidentally, fiction, in case anyone was wondering.

As much as he wanted to take a nap, he realized early on that clearly that was not going to happen; not when the woman caught sight of Fr. Leo's garb. He was, after all, wearing his Roman collar, which meant...there was no getting out of it. The nap was nixed.

"Are you a priest?" the woman asked, closing her book.

"Why yes, I am," Fr. Leo responded.

And so it began, and continued, for nine hours. At first, he said, the woman was furious and full of anger. As he listened, he could feel his blood pressure rising. But then something happened. He felt a sense of the Holy Spirit, with a little nudge from Our Blessed Mother, Mary. He was, at that moment, put in his place, and he realized that an articulate defense of the faith was not what this woman needed. More than anything, she just needed someone to listen.

And so he did. He listened, and listened some more, and more beyond that. I'm sure at some point, he answered some of her questions, and offered consolation. Fr. Leo didn't share the details of what that conversation beheld, but he did tell us that the nine-hour journey ended with the woman insisting on giving him a big old hug.

Is that not beautiful? I mean, really. Think of the tension that began the plane ride, and how each of them was looking at the other as the enemy, and how God used that opportunity -- a priest seeing a book, a woman seeing his priestly collar -- to encourage a discussion; a discussion that turned fruitful and full of love.

God can use anything to reach His people. Even a book on a plane. You never know when the opportunities will come. They can come anytime, including just when you're just about to nod off into dreamland and take that long-awaited luxury nap.

God bless Fr. Leo, and God bless the woman whose heart was listened to, then softened. That we all would see such opportunity as it presents itself.

Q4U: Do you have a book-on-plane story? What fruitful conversations have you had on an airplane, if any?

October 22, 2014

Words Like Swords


Sometimes, words can feel like swords.


That's how I felt the other day while reading the newspaper. I was so excited to know that the story I'd heard might run had found light. I know a lot of the people involved in the story, which surrounds the fact that our local Catholic high school has been asked to carry the lead banner in the 2015 March for Life in D.C. in January.

I'd heard a few days after the fact that the story had been in. Leafing through past issues to find it, I saw the headline and photo and my heart leaped. I've been on those same steps before as a chaperone. I remember being with all of those young people and knowing that our presence counted; that the 25-hour bus ride and swollen feet were worth more than a couple days playing hooky.

I was delighted, too, to note the main subject of the piece: Julia Johnson, the sweet daughter of my beautiful friend Roberta, who left our world a couple years ago as the result of cancer. Roberta had been ardently pro-life from all angles -- from the womb all the way to making sure her neighbors wouldn't go hungry. Could there be any better pro-life student spokesperson than her own daughter?


But then, as I continued reading the first paragraph, my heart spiraled downward. "Julia Johnson has walked blocks and blocks each year in Washington, D.C., to support anti-abortion activism."

Anti-abortion activism? I realize that some would say this is accurate -- even some in the pro-life camp, as this writer does here. But it doesn't seem quite right to me, and I'm questioning whether this is the way Julie Johnson thinks of what she will be doing in D.C. come January.

Pro-life, pro-woman, pro-baby, pro-birth, pro-lots-of-things, yes, but anti...four little letters that take the whole meaning of something and turn it on its head. Four letters that convey something so very different than what Julia and her mother would hold to be what they're all about, I'm thinking.

Roberta was a person of great optimism. When I interviewed her on Catholic radio in her final year, she was so amazing in how she approached her illness. When people said they wanted to pray for a miracle, she poo-pooed that. She wanted things to go exactly as God had planned it, whatever that meant. It was amazing to be near her at that time and witness her vibrant, optimistic faith.

Thinking now about her vivacious personality, it's possible Roberta would have been okay with "anti-abortion activism." She did like to call things what they were. But I have a feeling, because she was all about life-all-the-way, across the spectrum, she'd prefer "pro-life."

I want to make it clear that I value the written word and our community newspapers. I've also worked in that newsroom before and know it's no easy task to pump out stories day after day under pressure. All in all, I'm grateful for the story and I think the reporter did a really great job on it. I just struggle with the negative connotations of "anti."

But if we're going to go with anti-abortion, I think it's only fair to go with "anti-life" then, too, in describing those who hold opposing views to the marchers. And yet, that doesn't seem fair either, does it? So how can we be judicious about this? Even the writer of the article linked above conceded that we haven't found a perfect solution to this dilemma; it's still a work in progress in terms of how to best name these opposing sides.

Just a couple days after I read this piece, I opened the paper and found this headline: "Roman Catholic bishops drop moves to accept gays." There it is again. Words like swords. That's one loaded headline. So loaded I don't even know where to begin in my commentary of it.

That's when I realize, I'm powerless over this machine. As long as the discrepancy between what we hold in our hearts and what others believe we believe exists, and as long as it's purported the way the machine sees it even if we see it otherwise, we're just going to have to suck it up.

The only weapons I have in the face of this conundrum is 1) a humble little blog, where I am allowed to have an opinion and share it, and maybe it will make a difference, but probably it won't; and 2) prayer.

Words are important and they matter, a lot, but at the end of the day, as a woman of faith, I'm back knowing that the battle I'm fighting won't be won by weapons or words or words-as-weapons. It will be won by love, one action at a time. That's it. That's the most I can do, the best thing I can do, the most powerful, mighty, honorable, brave, amazing thing I can do.

Just love. Few words, if any. Mostly just surrendering to Almighty God and saying, I'll be your servant, but you're in the lead. And then stepping in to continue to do what I can each day to love well, through word and deed.

Q4U: When have words felt defeating to you?

October 15, 2014

The Colors of Carmel Fall 2014


This weekend, I had a chance to hole away at the Carmelite monastery here in North Dakota.


It wasn't my first stay. Each time after the first that I've gone to Carmel, I have enough sense of familiarity that I wonder whether past visits have given me enough exposure to this beautiful spot of land to the point of leaving little left to discover.

Yet each visit, I'm surprised by what is new about the place.


 

This visit, it was the color. Oh, there's always been that, but not quite like this, presented in just this way.


 


One of my favorite batches of photos comes from my and my friend Vicky's first visit together to Carmel. It was absolutely stunning, and the light was incredible. I got a little of that this time, but not at sunset like before. Still, it was a joy to behold.


This visit, we didn't find as much of that light play. In fact, after the first day, I wondered if this Carmel stay would produce anything in the way of cherished photos.

Besides, I was there to work, as I almost always am when I go there. Well, to work, and pray and replenish. Would I even have time to look?

 

I worked hard. But you can only work so hard for so long. By the third and last day, my brain was tired. So in an inspired moment, I took to the grounds to see what I might see.

Despite the hazy autumn day, I was amazed by just how much color was there to be discovered.


Different than other visits. New objects of interest.


Hints of the Guinea fowl, which I did not spy with my eye this time, though I heard their voices in the distance a couple times. With their African blood I'm sure they're already in holing-up mode themselves, readying for the brutality of winter.


Yes, winter will come. My first visit to Carmel was in February and I will never forget how beautiful it was then, sun gleaming on sparkling snow. But I can only imagine the harsh days, too, and how long it must get.

Which makes me appreciate the now of it even more.


Carmel is a true gift, and its colors, a refurbishing palette.


This place has a way of reawakening my soul. I will admit, Our Blessed Mother has something to do with it. I will admit, too, that she calls to me every time, and every time I am captivated, and challenged to see her in a new light. This time, I felt her presence more strongly than ever. The statue? It's just a representation of a true spirit that moves through this place, and cradles me in her maternal arms when I am most weary.


 



In her post from her impressions the other day, Vicky said, "How can one not feel God (here)?  I do not have any urgency to find Him, He is everywhere.  I just breathe deep."


Yes, yes, that is it Vicky. I feel that too, every single time.

It is hard to pull away from this nourishing place -- food prepared with love by the Sisters who pray pray pray for you and me...


...doing everything they can to chase away the darkness with their chants.


This time, Mother Joseph Marie wrote me a note my final day there inviting me to early evening prayer. I've sat in on compline before -- the night one -- but not vespers, which happens before supper. Sitting there, listening to the lovely litanies, the enchanting chants, I had the greatest urgency to run back to the guest house for my pillow and curl up on the pew for the evening.

I cannot see them, only hear. They are cloistered. And as Mother explained to us during a brief visit this stay, their order is one of only about four in the United States that falls under the Carmelite Nuns of the Ancient Observance.

I feel it here, a sense of being in a place of time gone by. I smell it in the incense, prayers rising up to heaven with few earthly distractions to impede their aromatic billowing.

It is all very simple, but incredibly deep and rich. Never have I felt peace like here.


I am privileged to take it in through all my senses. And I will admit, I have a hard time, every time, pulling away. But my life calls, and so I go and enter in again to the noisy world that awaits.

I sense that God wants me to hold some of this peace in my heart even in my returns home, however, so I am always looking for new ways to bring Carmel back with me -- its beauty, its peace, its smells, its colors.


Q4U: Where did you experience fall most vibrantly this season?


October 8, 2014

When Life Happens...


...the blog sometimes suffers. I have been trying to get back to my regularly scheduled program here, but Peace Garden Writer has been hit the hardest with my fall schedule.

So what have I been doing to merit my M.I.A. status?

Well, the crazy started with an out-of-town school author visit, which, I have to say, was one of my favorite so far. The kids were awesome (teachers, too)...


...the weather amazing, and the adventure also gave me a chance to see my grandmother and mother, which is always a blessing.


We also had a nice visit from the in-laws last weekend. This is "Mom #2" and me.


Grandma and Grandpa filled our boys' and their cousin's bellies with brownies and Mountain Dew then let them sleep over in their hotel room. Weee!

And speaking of Mountain Dew, a sweet gal I know in basic training needed some encouragement to push through her final couple weeks. This was my attempt.


There's been a 17th birthday party in there somewhere, too, along with a chance to assist my daughter in playing hookey over the lunch hour so we could indulge in some Olive Garden. Presenting the post-demolition cake and coffee:


Oh, and nails. With teen daughters, this is sometimes a given on these special days. 


It's also parent-teacher conference week, which means visits to school and checking up on the kids' progress. So far so good but it always makes for a lot of extra bouncing around.

I love the chance to see what projects have been keeping them busy, though. This one by my youngest made me pause and smile.


My husband also was gone a few days on business, but he brightened us with a photo of a San Diego sunset. And I thought North Dakota sunsets were awesome!


So, you see, I have not been hiding  under a rock or anything of the sort, but I have been awfully schedule-heavy. I've only shared a few highlights here. The days have been full with more to come.

I have missed my Peace Garden Writer posts but it's good to engage fully in life, too, and sometimes, that means pulling away from the screen to tend to the other pressing things.

Thanks for your patience.

Q4U: What has been marking your living these days?

September 17, 2014

Flannery's Bedroom


I have tried very hard through the years to establish an office in our home. With five kids, this is no easy task. For a while, I inhabited a little nook off the laundry room. But the area preceding it became overrun with laundry and I couldn't think.

Later, I cleaned all that up and tried to organize things and moved out further from the little nook, still in the same long room where the laundry facilities are, at a long table that served as my desk, near a window...but it soon became similarly disorderly around it and I couldn't think.

I later took over our family room, and for a while that worked. It was my haven. Until a neighbor started some odd behavior and I could no longer open the shades wide and enjoy that space as much as I had. Then the kids broke the TV upstairs so the only one they could watch was in my office, and slowly, I got bumped...again.

I am still waiting for the tried and true "room of her own" where I can sink in and feel at ease. Every time I think I have it, it eludes me.

So when I was looking for a new cover photo for my Facebook page recently, this jumped out at me, for reasons I will shortly reveal.


Introducing the bedroom of Flannery O'Connor, taken with my own camera this past summer during my writer journey to Georgia.

I think my two travel companions would agree. This room held us absolutely spellbound. It didn't just sit there being; it spoke to us.

Toward the end of her life, this became Flannery's sanctuary. Some of her best work was written here, much of it in bed when it was hard making her way around the house, flitting about freely.

"I have been at home a week and feel I'm getting somewhere. I have to stay in these two rooms but R. has got me the table with the electric typewriter on it put so I get out of bed into the typewriter, so to speak, and every day I am able to do a little more," she wrote in June, 1964 (Habit of Being).

As the lupus took over (thus, the crutches), this became the place where Flannery spent so much of her time. Her world had become so very small, but her writing, so very rich.

"I've had four blood transfusions in the last month," she wrote around that same time. "The trouble is mostly kidneys - they don't refine poisons out of the proteins & therefore you don't make blood like you should or you lose it like you shouldn't or something. As far as I'm concerned, as long as I can get at that typewriter, I have enough..." 

I, too, have become relegated at times to sitting on my bed, propped up with pillows, writing away in the small cell of my room. This occurs even on days when the kids are at school and my "office" is once again available, but, as it turns out, has been left a mess by the leprechauns.

Resigned, I head to the bedroom and curl up. I say my morning prayers, check in with social media if time, then roll up my shirt sleeves - often pajamas - and get to work.

When I posted this on Facebook as my new cover photo, I knew very few would know of its significance, other than my fellow Flannery friends. When I mentioned this during a three-way phone conversation this afternoon, we giggled about it - how some might erroneously assume it is my bedroom.

But then they might wonder about the typewriter. That made us laugh more, because, of course, I haven't used an actual typewriter in years.

Back in Flannery's day, one of her most cherished gifts was a television set some religious sisters gave her for helping them with their manuscript. Flannery had as much fun watching the ridiculous commercials as anything, and gleefully critiqued each one. Sounds like my kind of girl!

All this to say, considering how Flannery's bedroom became a cocoon of sorts to her, carrying her from one life to another in a sense, and that I, too, often hole up in my bedroom when writing, it becomes clearer why this photo pulls me right in. I look at it and it's like I am visiting Flannery all over again, and there she is in bed, waving me in for a spell, asking me to stay a while.

I've seen it with my own eyes, and I delight in it with Flannery, knowing it was her sanctuary, and that no plush accommodations in the world could take the place of that little spot where she could go into the deepest part of herself, and come out with a masterpiece of the imagination.

Q4U: Where do you find "home" in terms of space for your writing groove?