I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Friday, February 28, 2014

Fun in the midst of busy-ness

Aftercare duty on a Friday...not exactly my idea of fun...especially when there is much work to be done.

(Ooh, that rhymed!)

Luckily, there were only as many children in aftercare today as I have fingers (on one hand), so there were no behavior problems or things like that.

As I was sitting and working on a couple of things, I remarked to my fellow aftercare teacher (who happened to be my co-teacher from last year) that my to-do list for this upcoming week was pretty long...and only getting longer.

And so, I kept working. I soon realized, though, that one of my middle school students seemed to be bored, as none of her classmates were in aftercare today. So, I told her I'd play Connect Four with her if she brought it over to the table. She looked at me and said, "Miss Foyle, you can't play a game - your to-do list is too long."

Yes, that was probably true.

But I responded, "It's never too long to miss out on playing a game."

This was also true.

She smiled, and we played for only a few minutes before her mom came to pick her up.

Sure, it was 5 or so minutes I could have spent doing work and attempting to make my to-do list shorter. But, let's face it, the to-do list never ends. If we don't take the time to relax and have some fun, we miss out on some pretty good times, while the race we appear to be "winning" is one that is not really leading anywhere.

So, the next time someone invites you to take a break and join the fun, it just might do your heart good to take that person up on the invitation...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Small Acts of Kindness

Every other week I have the pleasure of supervising the fifth grade girls basketball team during study hall. Today, they didn't have much homework, so most of them worked on optional projects or read a book. One student, upon coming back from changing into her practice clothes, asked for a piece of construction paper, markers, and the names of our maintenance men.

What was she up to?

A little later on (as she kept working), she explained that one of her teammates had commented that they should do something nice for our custodians because they always clean up after all of the students, set up for basketball games, and more - She thought they should show a little appreciation. And, apparently, her teammate agreed, and so they made a card.

I'm glad to say I had nothing to do with it - the card was solely their idea. It was a small action, yes, but it came from the heart. It was an act of altruism.

And my heart was so happy in that moment - that sweet, unselfish moment.

Morning Meditation

About a week ago, the dotMagis (Ignatian Spirituality) blog posted a morning meditation - it's called "The Grace I Seek". I have found using it to be a most reflective and beautiful start to my mornings...

The meditation guides you through 3 questions:

What am I thankful for at this very moment?

What challenges may I face today?

What do I feel is lacking in my heart at this moment?

And then it leads you to focus on what you need to ask God for today: What is the one thing you truly need or desire? 

Finally, it ends with the Suscipe.

It's focused on today...in less than 4 minutes - that works out for anyone's busy schedule.

If you're looking for a meaningful prayer practice for Lent, I would encourage you to try this prayer. (Or, there's an evening one, if that better fits your schedule.) It really does help the day's mindset.

And it helps me stay focused on God.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Prayer Overhaul...But not mine this time...

Thank God for Lent. (And thank God it's coming soon.)

There are a number of areas in my life that need a little "fixing up," but tonight I want to focus on Lent for my middle school religion classroom.

From the start of the year until now, I have been asking students to sign up to lead prayer each day. The 6th grade classes usually show a video, while 7th and 8th grades usually do petitions and prayer.

All was well...for a time. But as of late, prayer has been getting a little out of hand. A number of students (in each of the various classes) have not been treating our prayer time with the reverence it deserves.

And I've been struggling with how to handle this...but I know I need to address it...and soon.

So, as I said before, thank God for Lent. (This is my chance to change it up!)

Here are my thoughts for prayer leader requirements in each grade level - each student will now be required to lead prayer independently (though, they can opt out by not leading prayer at all if they are not comfortable):

8th - Saint of the Day
Since these students are receiving Confirmation next Friday, they each have a Saint name they will be taking, as per the Sacrament requirements. What I envision is each student preparing a short tidbit and/or leading us in a prayer to the Saint on his/her assigned day. My goal in this is that students learn more about their own Saints as well the Saints of their classmates, all the while trying a new prayer experience for Lent.

7th & 6th - Alternate between write your own prayer and Sacred Space
Lent should be a different feel from the routine. As of late, students have fallen into patterns of leading prayer, sometimes for the best and other times for the worst (behavior-wise). Having a bit more structure and a more serious tone should help students better enter into this solemn season. (We may also take some days doing contemplation/mandalas or guided meditation.)

Wish me luck - this overhaul is much needed...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

We Had Our Moments

To quote Friday's blog post -->

"I am so blessed with friends in the local area who have willingly and generously given of their time to help out by giving witness talks and/or leading small groups throughout the day. They are the best, and I cannot even begin to thank them enough."

At the end of today's Confirmation retreat, this sentiment rings truer than ever.

To say the retreat went off without a hitch would probably be a lie. There were times when I scrambled to keep us on schedule, and there were other times when students were talking briefly during a witness talk. We ran out of soda pop, and most students didn't get to finish their icon projects.

But, overall, it was a beautiful, reflective day. Here are a few of my favorite moments:

As we were getting ready for the start of Mass, students noticed my twin sister, who immediately & automatically received celebrity status. Later, a student mentioned that we practically dressed the same way. To this, I noted that we had the same color shirt, but that was about where the similar clothing stopped, as we wore different colored pants, we boasted different styles of shoe, and we had different hair styles. But, I mean, he was right – we were practically the same…

In his homily, our priest gave three short accounts of Saints: Mother Cabrini, St. Clement, & St. Maximilian Kolbe. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about any of these Saints, so I was eager to hear about them. My favorite short story was that of St. Clement - Upon asking a group of gambling men for the winnings to give the orphans he was helping, he was directly spit at by one of the men. Instead of retaliating, he wiped the spit away and said, “That was for me, but now what about the money for my orphans?” In doing so, St. Clement made the man look like a fool in front of his friends, and they said, “You’re all right, Father,” and they gave him the money.

 During the first witness talk, my friend, Brendan, praised the students for the great questions they ask me in class. At that time, the students finally made the connection that Brendan is my “seminary friend” that I keep talking about in class as one of my main sources of information of Church teaching – when the students ask me questions I can’t answer, I usually email or call him, and he talks me through the topic, and then I relay the information back to the students. “We thought he was older,” one student mentioned. I could almost see actual lightbulbs going off over their heads. Priceless.

There were so many good moments today that it’s impossible to relay them all here. And, let’s face it, I likely can’t do them justice.

So, I’ll leave you with the poem that another friend read during his witness talk. I think it's a good way to end this evening and a solid idea to start this upcoming week -->

The Dash 
by Linda Ellis (copyright 1996)

I read of a man who stood to speak 
at the funeral of a friend. 
He referred to the dates on the tombstone 
from the beginning…to the end. 

He noted that first came the date of birth 
and spoke the following date with tears, 
but he said what mattered most of all 
was the dash between those years. 

For that dash represents all the time 
that they spent alive on earth. 
And now only those who loved them know 
what that little line is worth. 

For it matters not, how much we own, 
the cars…the house…the cash 
What matters is how we live and love 
and how we spend our dash. 

So, think about this long and hard. 
Are there things you’d like to change? 
For you never know how much time is left 
that can still be rearranged. 

If we could just slow down enough 
to consider what’s true and real 
and always try to understand 
​the way other people feel. 

And be less quick to anger 
and show appreciation more 
and love the people in our lives 
like we've never loved before. 

If we treat each other with respect 
and more often wear a smile, 
remembering that this special dash 
might only last a little while. ​

So, when your eulogy is being read, 
with your life’s actions to rehash… 
would you be proud of the things they say 
about how you spent YOUR dash?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

God's Time

God's time.

What do you think of when you hear that term?




(I'll give you a few moments to think about that.)




Does it make you think of things working out on a schedule you cannot control? Perhaps you're thinking about how God's timing is different than human timing? Or, does it make you think about it being the time to let someone go/pass away because it's in God's hands?

While I was driving up the parking garage at the hospital this morning for Ministry of Care (MOC), I was turning that very term, God's time, over and over in my head. Suddenly, I was struck with a thought, a different thought from the ones I listed above:

What if we started thinking of the term "God's time" in terms of every moment of the day belonging to God instead of to us?

There are times when I may be upset that I am spending way too long grading middle school assessments, or I may be frustrated because a meeting runs later than expected. I may think I don't have enough time to spend at the hospital or that I would rather do something else on a weekend than be doing things for school.

But if I stop complaining and, instead, think about this very thought - that all time belongs to God - I suddenly realize it's not my time in the first place. What I consider as my time is actually a gift from God; it doesn't belong to me. It's more like it's on loan. God just wants me to use it.

And when I think that, how can I be focused on any time constraints or frustration. When I think of time as a gift freely given to me, why shouldn't I spend it with others? Why shouldn't I use that time to work through meetings/disagreements with others? Why shouldn't I use that time to better my teaching and prepare my lessons to be the best they can be for the upcoming week?

God's time. That's what it really is. It's a gift...and it's mine...but it's not for me... Instead, it's for me to use for others.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ready for Retreat? I sure hope so...

Today was a long one at school...but I think we're just about finalized for Sunday's Confirmation Retreat. Schedules, ice breakers, reflection questions, supplies, and drinks/snacks...I sure hope I haven't forgotten anything.

I am so blessed with friends in the local area who have willingly and generously given of their time to help out by giving witness talks and/or leading small groups throughout the day. They are the best, and I cannot even begin to thank them enough.

My sincere hope is that the 8th grade Confirmation candidates see the strong Catholic faith being lived on a daily basis by these young adults (and not just their Religion teacher). I also hope that since one friend coming is in the seminary that they will see how young people still accept vocations to the priesthood.

If you have some extra prayers to send up this Sunday, please pray for the hearts of my students to be open to God's message and love on retreat. Please also pray for my retreat team, that God bless them abundantly for their generosity and friendship.

Thank you.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Game Time in Religion

I tried out a new "game" with 6th grade today. (It was inspired from the Shakespeare PD opportunity at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre I attended a few weekends ago.)

Here's how it went down...

We were learning about sacramentals, which, to be fair, can be confusing to understand due to the fact that the term is very broad and pretty much all-encompassing. (For some background info, check out this slide presentation.) Objects or actions - these bring us closer to God by helping us experience His love/grace in the world around us. (We also watched part of this video - it gives some various examples, quotes, etc.)

So, once we established what sacramentals are, it was time to provide some examples on their own. I named a Sacrament (e.g. Baptism) or celebration (e.g. Mass) of our faith. One at a time, I called students up to become a sacramental for that particular Sacrament/celebration. For Mass, students became the tabernacle, holy water font, stained glass windows, statues of Saints, the bread & wine, people genuflecting, and more. The students slowly filled in the "scene" until they were all part of it. (Looking back, I should have just had about 5 students at a time and then moved on to another Sacrament/celebration because it was hard to keep them all focused and silent on the identifying of sacramentals, but it worked.)

For my 6th graders, it is essential to involve movement and hands-on activities in the classroom, so this was definitely worth the shot. We'll see if it pays off tomorrow when I ask them what a sacramental is...

Monday, February 17, 2014

5 Things I Learned About Writing a Novel from Reading the "Divergent" series

Take this post with a grain of salt...which is what you should normally do anyways, right? These writing lessons I've learned from the Divergent series are tips I am planning to put in my back pocket for the future. (I'm not currently writing a novel or anything like that.)

I'll try not to put in any spoilers.

1. Writing from first person (usually) makes the reader more emotionally involved in the story.
What would The Hunger Games be if not told through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen? The same is true of Divergent - Tris, the trilogy's main character, has a lot of thoughts and emotions swirling around inside of her, and, unless she's the one to tell the reader what she's feeling, we would not have much of a clue. (The third one gets really interesting when the perspective gets traded between Tris and another character - it's good to see the story from both sides and to be left hanging for the next part with one character while it jumps to the other character.) Though, I would argue that it's not essential for a story to be told from first person, it does get the reader up close and personal to the action. I mean, if not for Tris's eyes, would we have the same feelings for Four? Debatable.

2. Focus on a rebellion...with lots of moral choices.
Rebellion. Something all teenagers are dealing with in some degree at some point during adolescence. Blowing it up to large scale proportions (involving a whole population/country) and forcing moral choices about the value of life or having to choose the lesser of two evils really makes for a worthwhile read.

3. Remember that nothing can be gained/won (nor plot line solved) without sacrifice
I won't say much about this one because it would give away part of the third book, but, as you can see throughout human history, sacrifice has the potential to be the ultimate sign of love. (Think Jesus Christ.) Many people sacrifice themselves, beliefs, etc. throughout the series. (If you've read the series, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, what are you waiting for?) A good novel cannot forgo sacrifice(s). Period. 

4. Pack in the action.
A good fight scene. Things blowing up. People being rescued. Lives being threatened. Fears being faced. Oh, yes, please. Bring it on. (Just not in real life.)

5. All you need is love...and hate...and forgiveness/redemption.
Complex/multidimensional characters have real-world problems. And everyone deals with love, hate, and (hopefully) forgiveness. Tris has a complicated and evolving love story with Four. She loves her parents and her friends... But, as it is a time of unrest and rebellion throughout the series, there are, unfortunately, so many people Tris finds herself beginning to lose...or hate (and, thus, need to forgive). That's why we, as the readers, can connect so well to Tris. She is human. We feel her joy and pain. We face her struggles with her, both in her fear landscape and in the real (book) world. The series is ultimately a story of sacrifice and redemption - that's what has helped this series garner so many fans and so much support...but if I say any more, I fear I would spoil something.

Don't worry...the ending is safe with me...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Not Much

Not much to say tonight - pretty tired after last night's escapades to see Gypsy at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (On the town on a Wednesday night - gasp!) What a wonderful treat that was...but it did mean that sleep was significantly less than normal. And that showed today - while I tried to make up for it by being extra energetic, I pretty much wanted to do nothing (exercise-wise) when I got home this afternoon. However, I did get laundry, packing, and lesson-planning done. (Woot!)

Looking forward to getting some much needed R & R this weekend (as well as some family visiting) - no school for us on Monday. It's much needed in the midst of this fast-moving month. (Quite frankly, it's hard to believe February is halfway over - and it just keeps going by faster. We are exactly 3 weeks away from Confirmation, and that is itself an intimidating thought. I sure hope these kids are ready...)

And so, while nothing of substance truly exists in this blog, this is where I leave you tonight. Yes it's early, and, yes, I am going to miss the figure skating competition right now, but sleep is much needed.

In the words of Kristoff (in "Frozen"), "Good night. Don't let the frostbite bite."

P.S. Totally unrelated, but I came across a Christian website full of prayer station ideas while browsing around Pinterest earlier. Just thought I'd share - seems like some solid ideas...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shirley Temple Reminder

As you probably heard on the news or read online, Shirley Temple Black passed away today. A symbol of hope during her childhood for those in the Great Depression, she was able to bring a smile to everyone's face due to her adorable looks & curls, memorable voice, and impressive dance steps.

Personally, she reminds me of many a Sunday morning, when, upon coming home from Church, my sister and parents would turn on "Shirley Temple Theatre" (or whatever it was called) and enjoy that week's episode as a family.

It was relaxing, wholesome fun. It was one of my favorite ways to spend my Sundays. And I am so grateful that my parents made sure that both Church and family were the foundation of the start of each week.

Too often nowadays families are too busy - running kids to and from practices, traveling on business, etc. Where does family fit in? Where does God fit in? Often, both of these crucial things get pushed to the side. And at what cost? Our society emphasizes this go-go-go culture...

But what do we really gain from that?

My argument would be that we don't earn much.

I wish families would take back Sunday and take back time for family and faith. It's something small but so very important if we want a better future for the next generation and the rest to come.

It doesn't have to be Shirley Temple...but find something or someone that brings you together.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snow, snow, snow - that's all anybody talks about...

Similar to many people in the Midwest (well, in anywhere but the Southwest and Southeast), I've had it up to you know where with the cold and snow. (Which, ironically, is almost to where the snow actually is - no joke.)

But there is one thing person character who I believe really can help shake the winter blues (and chills) away:


(If you have not had the pleasure of seeing "Frozen" yet, get to your nearest movie theater as fast as your feet will carry you - it's too cute to miss!)

Between his voice and his lovable looks, I honestly can't help but smile anytime I see pictures/images of him (like the ones below).

And, as my sister (or some of my close friends) can tell you, I "warm up" every morning before rushing into school by switching the radio to the "Frozen" soundtrack I have in my car and listening to this song:

It is so darn clever. I mean, how can you not love the part pictured below? 

(You thought he was going to say "puddle", didn't you?)

Might I suggest that the next time you're feeling frozen cold or maybe just have the blues, think of Olaf and his carefree nature. He's sure to be a character who continues to melt hearts for a long time.

Think warm thoughts, my friends. Soon it will be summer spring not so cold...?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A (Happy) Thought

One of my new favorite daily morning emails is from the Daily Quipple. There's usually a quote, suggestion, inspirational image, etc. to help get your day off on the right foot.

For example, here is Sunday's - it came right to my inbox (how lovely!):

See? Easy reminders & suggestions - simple tips to move toward happiness. (And our world could definitely use a little more happy.)

I just wish I could see the stars more in the city...

On a heavier note, this article by Fr. Robert Barron is a worthwhile read about upholding the moral teachings of the Church. It's a bit lengthy, but it is also important to keep in mind in our world today.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Sick" of It

Sometimes I fall into the trap of taking things for granted...my health, for example. And when a cold knocks me on my butt (like it did the past 2 days), I can't help but think fondly of the days when my head doesn't hurt, my throat feels normal, and I can think clearly.

Maybe it's good to be sick once in awhile - it makes us remember we're not invincible.

Being sick reminds me to be grateful for the health I've been blessed with. It reminds me to take care of my body and get plenty of sleep/drink lots of water. (And maybe I should keep my distance from students...ha ha...)

That being said, it's off to bed for me. Yes it's 8 o'clock. Yes I am trying to combat this wicked cold.

I can do it...I can do it...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

We're (Still) Tuesday People...

Today was the first "solid" class I've had with my second 6th grade period in quite some time.

And I think I know why.

While the content/style of the lessons was the same - we're doing Family Life right now - the delivery was different. I think they could tell I was passionate about the subject: aging & dying. And, being a class that has faced a lot of death, from classmates to teachers to elderly relatives, they were genuinely interested in the topic and had many good questions, connections, and reflections.

It was incredible.

Oh, and we started watching "Tuesdays With Morrie" today too - which just makes everything better. We're not yet 10 minutes into the film, but the 6th graders are already eager to see what happens to Morrie next.

A good class indeed.

Here's an article worth reading from America Magazine: Truth & Truthiness: What Catholic Catechists Can Learn from Colbert - the point being that effective catechesis requires a few elements that Mr. Colbert does well, namely "delight, instruct, and persuade". It's definitely worth the read when you have a chance - aside from the many great points it makes, it serves as a reminder that catechists are ministers to those we teach and that we need to reach the hearts of our students before we can reach their minds. Plus, if that wasn't enough, it's written by an ACE grad.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Be Passionate

My 6th grade homeroom students were up in arms this morning over the Superbowl - how it was a horrible game, how the commercials were terrible, yah-da-yah-da-yah-da.

After awhile (and once most of the students had entered the classroom), I stopped them and said, "If you guys would get this impassioned about your faith just once! Instead, you're talking about a football game that, in the grand scheme of life, has no bearing at all." To this, most just stopped and stared at me. And then it was pretty much time for class to begin.

But, seriously, if you think about it - imagine what a difference it would make if people...
- talked openly and passionately about their faith like they do about sports, movies, and music
- were more interested in reading about the Church teachings than the latest celebrity gossip or latest heartthrob teen novel
- spent more time in face-to-face conversations than via texting or social media

The list could go on and on, but I think you probably get my point. What has our society come to? Where are our priorities? Is this who we want to be as a whole - empty, rude, self-centered/me-focused...?

In my Bible Study small group tonight, we ended by discussing the idea of action steps - What can we do this week to try to be better Christians in our daily lives? Small, practical steps - that's all.

So, tonight, I ask myself, What can I do to make a difference of making Jesus and the Catholic/Christian faith a more important & visible part of my life this week? (And I'll give myself a little time to think about my answer.)

And I encourage you to do the same...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

We're Tuesday People...

Saturday was not a very productive day. After I went to the gym, I did manage to do 2 loads of laundry, but then I spent over 3 hours of my time watching the rest of Downton Abbey Season 4. (Don't worry, I won't put any spoilers here. I'll just say that it was really good.)

I believe it was time well-spent...it just didn't really fulfill any purpose except pure entertainment.

Later on (but before the trivia fundraiser event for my sister's school), I previewed the made-for-tv movie, Tuesdays with Morrie, in preparation for using it in my 6th grade class later this week to discuss some topics of aging, death, and dying. Though the book is definitely better, I think the movie will do just fine.

So, this morning I had a mission - to design a mini reflection assessment (to accompany the movie) based on our report card standards (SBRC). I hope it will provide the students with an opportunity to take what they've seen and what we've discussed and reflect on, ultimately, the meaning of life (and what we can learn from those who have gone before us).

Actually, I got quite a lot done today - went to the gym, developed two assessments, & read the rest of the Pope Benedict book for Thursday's group meeting. The only thing I absolutely have to do later is go to Mass, but there are still a few work-ahead things I could do to stay on the ball (and keep my sanity) for school.