I am currently working in my new Student Teaching assignment: Language arts Teacher for four classes of Juniors at Central Catholic High School in Portland. I will also learn about the school newspaper as I join my Cooperating Teacher in her Journalism class. So far I have primarily observed, but recently I assigned a paper to two of my classes: a four page mini-thesis paper. I am delighted that my students are doing very well with this assignment so far. Next month these same students will be writing a thesis paper that will be two or three times as long as the one I assigned. I am hoping that this shorter paper will prepare them for their next assignment. We’ll see.
My first student teaching placement has come to an end and I find myself looking back on my experiences there. I met three classes of wonderful middle school students (sixth through eighth grades). I enjoyed how everything was so new to the sixth graders and how they seemed to take delight in almost everything. I appreciated how I was able to get to know the students in the seventh grade class so well. I gave them writing assignments almost every day, and they revealed so much of themselves and their lives to me through their writing and our conversations. I was impressed by how self-directed the eighth graders could be; they showed a tremendous amount of confidence in their abilities. I even appreciated how I found my “teacher voice” while trying to keep some of the students on-task.
I had a lot of fun during Spirit Week. I participated in every dress up day to some degree (e.g., I wore slippers on P.J. Day and came as St. Clare on Role Model Day). That Friday my students wrote scary stories in preparation for Halloween. I told them that the stories could not be gross or gory, but suspenseful and eerie. While there was a little objection to my guidelines, I think that it actually helped them to focus on setting a spooky tone. There were a few stories that seemed to have been edited for guts, gore, and blood in that the writer would describe things that were wet or dripping, but did not specify what the wet or dripping substance was. The students requested that we compile the stories into a book. I finally had a chance to do this on our first snow day (which was coincidently my second to last day with them). When I came back the next day, I presented them with the book, and they presented me handmade cards to thank me and wish me well.
My last day there was fun and bittersweet. I have appreciated my time in this placement, but I am looking forward to moving on to new things. I am glad to be taking so many memories with me. The picture above was drawn by one of my students and given to me along with an envelope full of other cards. The artist did not sign this work, which is probably just as well. When I know who sent a card I think of that person each time I see the card, but when I look at this card I see all my students at St. Clare’s School.
Last weekend Sr. Michael Francine let me tag along with her and Portland’s Archdiocesan Vocation Committee as they hit the Archdiocese of Portland Youth Conference in Seaside, Oregon. This event is typically held biannually and hosts high school youth throughout the Archdiocese and even some from parishes in Washington. The Vocation Committee offered information about religious life and the priesthood, held workshops on prayer and decision making, offered a raffle, participated in games, and generally had a good time with the teens and chaperones at the conference.
I was there for work, but this often involved play. For example, I brought a few homework assignments with me, including an assignment to observe a group of people for 30 minutes. While I was intently observing some impromptu dancing, a woman noticed me and invited me to participate. As an observer I would have been reluctant to accept, but she had already grabbed my wrist and pulled me out of my chair before she finished her request. The next thing I knew, I found myself trying to do-see-do (and getting quite dizzy in the process).
Another example of how my work lead to play is the Mix ‘n’ Match Game. Portland’s Archdiocesan Vocation Committee is known for this game as they often play it at when they speak at events. Approximately four religious or clergy members line up on stage, each holding a sign. Each sign contains an answer to a question such as “Where are you from?” or “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” Several volunteers from the audience are selected to try to match each person with the correct sign. The crowd is always good at cheering the contestants on and trying to offer help. Even though some contestants did better than others, all were invited to collect a prize at our booth afterwards. In this respect, our philosophy toward this game is like our philosophy toward discerning a vocation because talent and ability are not requirements for a vocation, but willingness to participate is.
God does not call the equipped; God equips the called.
I am back in school at the University of Portland this fall, and I am student teaching at St. Clare’s School. It is a small Catholic school that offers one classroom per grade. I have been teaching Language Arts primarily to the seventh graders, but recently I have begun to teach the sixth and eighth grade classes as well. I like the kids; they are such an eager and polite group, and I am pleased that I know the names of most of the students. I enjoy the weekly school Mass where Fr. Charles encourages the students to sing and clap with the songs as well as to respond with enthusiasm throughout the liturgy. The teachers and administrators are very supportive. I feel very blessed in my placement.
My prayer the other day was not particularly fulfilling: I was distracted nearly the entire time and found myself desiring to get out and take a walk with God. So that afternoon I threw on a pair of walking shoes and headed to a natural area that I had not been to in a few years. I read somewhere that you can make your walk more prayerful by designating a certain point on the trail as a gateway that takes you out of the world. I did just this as I passed under a branch on my way in.
The overcast sky gave the day a strange feeling. Everything seemed to act or look differently than I would expect, including me. I had not walked long when I came across a young lady sitting on a bridge over a creek; she looked peaceful and relaxed. I wondered: If I sat along the creek, would I become as peaceful as she looked. I felt led to a spot along the bank where I sat on the hard earth and did little more than enjoy my surroundings.
I watched the water flow as water-skimmers fought the current. I reclined against a tree and lost my thoughts as my eyes skimmed the various fauna. I breathed in unfamiliar scents as my fingers passed over blades of grass. I listened to sounds, many of which normally would have distracted or agitated me, but today they seemed to relax me and bring me joy: the water in the creek, the traffic in the distance, the squirrels chasing each other, other people exploring the woods.
I could not understand why everything there seemed to make me so happy that day. There was nothing extraordinary about it. In fact, there were plenty of unpleasant aspects of the trip: I slipped in a creek, walked into an untold number of spider webs, and overheard Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” being played by some fellow visitors to the nature park. My explanation for the peace and joy I felt that day is that it was a gift, and I type this reflection in gratitude for the grace of God.
I made my First Profession of Vows on August 15th. I had been feeling increasingly nervous over the four days leading up to the event and I became a bundle of nervous energy in the hours before the ceremony. As I was bouncing around the house attending to last minute preparations, I suddenly realized that I did not know how to put all the pieces of my habit together. So, less than two hours before the ceremony began, I was hopping around looking for someone to help me. God was good to me and sent me to Sr. Juana who helped me with a laugh and a smile.
Sr. Juana may have been too efficient, though, because I found myself with over an hour of free time before the ceremony, and I had little to do besides bounce off the walls. I spent some time talking with some of my Sisters and a member of our nursing staff (Gwen); they helped me to keep from jumping out of my skin. The Sisters told me stories about their vows ceremonies, and I found comfort in joining my nervousness in solidarity with the nervousness of those who came before me.
The ceremony itself was wonderful! A number of people have told me how special it was for them. Gwen, for example, told me that although she has attended a number of weddings, after seeing me profess my vows she thought, “Wow, now I have seen a wedding for the first time.” I did not have thoughts like this during my vows. Every time I had rehearsed my vows I nearly cried at the beauty of what I was choosing. I am not sure how to describe it, but it was like I felt as though I were joining with something immense. So, during my profession of vows I spent a great deal of time thinking about the logistics of my profession (voice clarity, the sequence of events, etc.) in order to keep from crying.
In moments when I was more relaxed, though, I became very aware of the depth of the beauty and joy that was welling inside me. It was a feeling that brought me peace and assurance in my decision. One such moment came during the homily when Monsignor Dennis O’Donovan began to quote the Beatles song “Let It Be.” This touched me in part because I had not chosen songs for the ceremony to match the scripture readings of the day, but rather songs that express some of my favorite scripture passages. I was not sure if this would work, but his homily beautifully tied together the last scripture reading of the ceremony to the next song that we sang. I mused on how the Holy Spirit was moving and leading me, Monsignor O’Donovan, and everyone else in that chapel. I rested in the wisdom of Mother Mary and the guidance of the Lord.
Last week I made my annual retreat. I spent six days at the Palisades Retreat Center on Puget Sound in Washington State. Everything about that place was peaceful: the water, the woods, the atmosphere. My room overlooked the back gardens where I had a view of the rose garden as well as the fountain just down the hill. I loved to open my window in the afternoon and listen to the water. One day I even saw a pair of ducks enjoying themselves in the fountain!
There was a schedule that offered opportunities for me to attend group prayer, Mass, meals, and conferences put on by our retreat masters. Everything on the schedule was optional, and it was brief. I attended almost everything, but since there were two different styles of group prayer offered in the morning, I usually only attended the first one. We watched a movie Thursday afternoon (“Tuesdays with Morrie”), and enjoyed wine, cheese, and other treats during the film. I spent the bulk of each day in prayer, reflection, and reading. I used the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola which gave me seven prayer exercises to enter into throughout the day. I also used The Star in My Heart by Joyce Rupp which engaged me in reflections, and inspired me to attempt to create Mandalas like the one above.
This time of prayer brought me peace, but this did not come without effort. I spent plenty of time each day practicing discipline and self-control in order to let go of distractions so that I could “listen” to God in prayer. Several days, my prayer led me to explore emotional anguish, and it was not always pleasant to sit with this pain as I let God heal my wounds. Towards the end of the retreat, a Reconciliation Service was offered, and it was exactly what I needed. I feel restored and more whole now. My heart rests in the certainty of feeling loved and wanting to share that love with everyone else.
As a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon, I believe that it is important to be involved with the ministries on our campus here in Beaverton. One way in which I do this is to visit Ruth, one of our residents at Maryville Nursing Home. I go over the Maryville once or twice a month to see her. She loves to iron, so usually I just sit and talk with her while she irons her clothes. When she is not feeling well I sit in her room and talk, laugh, cry, and pray with her. Sometimes we just watch TV, but even that involves quite a bit of laughter due to our added commentary.
Some days we play hooky from ironing and find something fun to do: visit her friends, sit in the garden, cut flowers, play the piano, etc. This last week Maryville was celebrating the Rose Festival. Four Rose Princesses were nominated from among the residents at Maryville, and one was crowned as the Rose Queen at a ceremony this Friday. Ruth and I talked Sr. Janet into attending with us. The three of us showed up fashionably late, but in plenty of time to grab some ice cream and strawberries and join with some of the other residents in the celebration!
I found myself at Maryville this Sunday so I decided to stop by and see Ruth, and I ended up stopping to talk to a number of residents on my way to her room and back. It was a joy to be able to bring joy into the lives of so many residents, but it was also hard for me to bear the sadness of so many people. They shared the frustrations and tears that come with the limitations of their lives, and I felt my own limitations as I realized that I could not fix what was wrong. It seems like it would be easier it they simply had problems because a problem can be solved. Instead they have difficulties, daily crosses to bear. This Sunday I found joy in lifting their loads for a little while.
Summer is here…sort of. This year my summer break spans the months of May and June, so I have already arrived at my halfway point, and am counting my blessings. I am marveling at the variety in our weather: warm, cold, windy, rainy, sunny, stormy…sometimes all on the same day. I am positively delighted that for the first time in a year I do not need to study for a test during my break from school. I enjoyed a few days at the beach doing very little beyond reading and walking along the beach (and I have had plenty of time since returning from the beach to ice down the muscles I overexerted during my walks).
It has been a treat to help out around the house with various projects such as gathering old TVs that need to be recycled, and helping out in the garden. I feel especially blessed to have time to reorganize my room after the chaos of this last semester. I have been sorting through my possessions to determine what I can do without, in order to live more simply. This entailed the larger than expected task of reorganizing and filing my various notes and reading materials so that they will hopefully be a valuable and accessible resource for me when I become a teacher.
I feel particularly blessed that I am able to spend more time in prayer, contemplation, and reflection as I prepare to make my first vows this August. It has been especially lovely to be able defer to the wisdom of my Sisters as well as the writings of the Saints on this matter. Apart from my spiritual preparation, I have also been having fun designing my invitations and programs for the event. All-in-all, this experience has been a joy, and I anticipate that it will be a continued delight in the approaching months!
It is a delight to be a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon…though this life is not without its challenges. As one of the newest members to this community, I am still learning the ropes. This weekend I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a weekend with women in the Northwest who are also going through the formation process in other religious orders. It was a treat to spend so much time with women my age as we shared our vision, our hopes, our wisdom, and our spirits.
We attended a workshop over the course of the weekend that was designed to draw us deeper into relationship with God so that we can better serve in our ministries. We shared in conversation and laughter (LOTS of laughter) over meals and long walks, watched “August Rush”, attended Mass, and a number of us learned how to play Rummikub. For me, the highlight was being able to reconnect with these women whom I had not seen since we got together last year. It brought me joy to be able to continue to develop these friendships.
As paradoxical as it might seem, bonding with women of different orders made me feel closer to the Sisters in my own community. I came home renewed and joy-filled, and have been sharing this energy with my Sisters. I have been sharing some of what I gleaned from this workshop: the notion of “graced companionship.” We are truly gifts to each other: loving, supporting, and helping each other in community on our faith journeys. I am overjoyed to have so many graced companions!