The people, places, events, classes, settings, etc were all absolutely incredible but even more profound was what I was learning every day in our holy hour at 8 am. I will state with conviction that although FOCUS missionaries have incredible formation, teachers, mentors and fellow FOCI (a friend of mine's abbreviation for the plural version of FOCUS missionaries, oh Scott Sroda how I miss you!), the true learning and heart revealing happens either during prayer with the Blessed Sacrament each day or because of it. If it weren't for the hour of adoration every morning the classes simply wouldn't have the same meaning, the conversations with fellow missionaries would lose their depth and we would be much less effective in our ministry. Needless to say, I am extremely pleased that this is part of our itinerary as missionaries and will be glad to allow Jesus Christ himself actually do the teaching, so long as I keep my ears open to listening!
As for the fun things that we were able to do in Champaign, I could have written a post every two days with fun and exciting new updates so I'll just give you a brief overview of the ones that stand out the most:
- Climbing trees. This is something I've never had the opportunity to do or was just too afraid but finally, with a couple of the previous Madison missionaries I successfully climbed a few trees! Here's a picture of one of them: Although this branch looks low, it's hard to actually get up and around there! With a little koala/sloth style shimmying up from the low point in the branch, accompanied by a lot of testing my upper body strength, Jimmy Becker was waiting up at the top to help pull me up and over. It was a great time and actually provided a great analogy for me for the future when relating our lives to how much we rely on God to pull us up the branch when we simply just can't do it!
- Karaoke. I think I already wrote about this, but it was just so fun I wanted to reiterate how much I really loved it.
- Brother college. They took us mini golfing, escorted us to the etiquette dinner, and each week when we had dinner with them they prepared mini homilies with good, succinct life lessons for us. One night for dinner the eight of us women prepared and sang Whoopi Goldberg's version of the Salve Regina for them and then on the last night was the grand finale: a water balloon fight. During our lunch we filled up buckets of water balloons and surprised the men after dinner with an attack (even though they were suspicious of criminal activity...). It may have been the most fun I had the entire time.
- Murphy's! A bar just two blocks from the Newman center which was packed with FOCI any ol' night of the week. I went there a number of times for fellowship and great conversation, but one of my favorites was the night we went and played cards. Nothing like coming back and winning a game of ERS (Egyptian RatScrew).
- My personal balcony. This is actually the fact that there was a nice extended ledge beyond my window (aka not a balcony...) over the front door of the building and I was able to retreat there on Saturdays for a little sun, alone time and reflection. All very necessary things when you're inside all week long and around a couple hundred other young people!
- L'Angelus. A young family music group that performed at a local bar and we all packed in and danced the night away. This night actually trumped the water balloon fight in terms of good, clean fun and their music is absolutely incredible. I highly recommend!
- Sporadic dancing. This happened every morning, most afternoons and definitely every evening either before or after dinner. My suite mate Molly loves to dance and in a particularly outgoing and crazy way so you could say we jived pretty well. She also introduced me to the pumpkin dance which we spent a lot of time attempting to imitate, Love Like Woe, and others. It was overall just really great and especially necessary to break up lots of intense learning and over stimulation.
- Jeff Cavins. The creator of the Great Adventure Catholic Bible study series, speaker and host on EWTN and Relevant Radio as well as an outstanding orator. He was *extremely* warmly welcomed to NST by the FOCUS missionaries who all dressed like him with blue shirts and yellow ties (apparently last year instead of having him come they watched his video series and in every vid he's sporting said attire). Check out his facebook page and see the pictures of how much my fellow nerds love a good Catholic speaker!
- The Holy Mass. Try to imagine celebrating the Mass every day with at least three rockstar priests (usually more) and over 200 young Catholics, ending with the St. Michael prayer and singing the Salve Regina. This was definitely the best way to wrap up a day's work and keep us all in line!
- Battle wounds. Well, I simply fell while running and trying parkour with Ash, another of the missionaries at Madison. Let's just say it's not my strong suit.
- The Talent Show. If you'd like to watch all or part of it it was actually streamed live and you can now click on that link to watch it! It was awesome to see all of the different and unique talents that each of the missionaries had (at least those that participated... I did not this year but next year I'll be sure to think of something now that I'm in the loop!!) and shared with us. There was choreographed dancing, (cheesy) joke-telling, singing, poem recitation, and even a storybook reading! The show lasted a mere three hours and afterwards the dancing at Brothers commenced and before long FOCUS missionaries had taken over the place and everyone there was having a ball! Question: What happened when 50 FOCUS missionaries walked into a bar? Answer: The entire place was transformed, other bar-goers joined in their good, clean fun and dancing, and their outward respect toward one another was noted by everyone (including the bar tenders!)
- Etiquette dinner. An excuse to get all dressed up and learn formal table etiquette and for those of us that didn't know... how to properly hold a fork and knife! AMEN! Also, at the tables whenever a lady would stand up, all of the men at the table were required to stand up when she left and when she got back to honor her presence. I made sure to stand up at least three times to 1) keep all the men on their feet and 2) be the center of attention (which I always love...). It was followed by a dance which is always a favorite, let's be real.
- Scavenger hunt. For women's recreation one night we did a scavenger hunt with 16 different clues to locations all around campus and after all was said and done we ended up running over 2.5 miles to complete it! We came in 4th place but it was some of the best college bonding we had all summer. Oh, and we decided to wear red so most of us ended up borrowing Badger t-shirts from yours truly. Spread that Wisco lovin'!
- Cereal. The cafeteria at St. John's was awesome and they had a wonderful cereal selection. The line-up included: Special K Red berries, Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Reeses Puffs, Cocoa Puffs, Apple Jacks, Cap'n Crunch with berries, granola, and regular Chex (which were never my choice). I love cereal. A LOT. So let's just say breakfast was great and if I had dessert it was usually a bowl of Cap'n Crunch. Yum.
- Accents. Everybody present possessed an accent of some sort, regardless of what they would say. Whether it was a New Jersey accent, Southern Alabaman, Northern, North Dakotan (no, they are not the same), or Coloradan there were accents galore and I gained a new appreciation for the way we Wisconsinites pronounce our o's and other words such as bag, flag, magazine, etc. I just love it.
- The Dating Fast. The part that I liked about this was not it in essence but rather poking fun at it and realizing how much harder it will be then I originally planned!
- New friends. If you haven't already guessed I met some incredible people and there really are no words that could express how much I love them and will miss walking to class, running, eating and playing with them every day.
And that wraps up my amazing summer in Champaign, Illinois! I already can't wait to see all of these wonderful people again and now I'm back in lovely Sauk Prairie until mid-August when I'll be heading out to Fargo, North Dakota! Can't wait!
God bless you all! Please keep me in your prayers as you are in mine,