50 and still kicking

by Angela Drennan St.Clair

As my birth month of September comes to a close, my heart still marinates in the sweet celebration that my husband, family, and friends gave me. Birthdays, to me, serve as one of the most important holidays of the year, and each one is embraced and celebrated.

At 16, when my birth mother was pregnant, family members told her to abort. She didn’t. So, I celebrate my life every single year.

50, though, marks a year like no other so far, and as I reflect on who I was, who I am, and who I am still striving to be, I am humbled by the lessons I’ve learned, the seasons and people I’ve encountered, and the chapters left to be lived and written.

Being human, with all of its obstacles and intricacies, presents a never ending mirror that we can choose to ignore, shatter, or clean and refine. I choose the latter, and by God’s grace and unfailing direction, I will continue to listen and learn.

With all of my failures, trials, and successes, I accept this new chapter as an opportunity to strenthen my resolve to be who God has called me to be.

And in this new chapter, I dedicate myself to ongoing wife-ing, mothering, teaching, and the like, but it’s time to pursue my life-long goal of writing and publishing. With books being published probably every single minute, it seems a lofty goal, yet here I am, at 50, still longing for it.

So as I embark on this next trip around the sun, may the rays of time and space and inspiration shower me with the wisdom to produce blossoms of reflection adorned with vibrant colors of life experiences that connect all of us and challenge us to escape our comfort zones in order to grow wildly into the magnificent humans that God created us to be.

Here’s to 50, world. I send my upmost gratitude to all–even those no longer with me in this season–who shaped me into my imperfect, curious, and maturing self.

Virtual Learning: Week 2 of ?

For many teachers and students, last week served as the most unusual and uncertain spring break in history.

As a teacher and communications director for our school, I teach five classes and handle the school’s publications and social media. I spent my spring break walking my dog, doing spring cleaning, spending quality time with family (in person and via facetime), revamping lesson plans for potentially the rest of the school year, intermittently watching COVID 19 updates, and creating fun videos and informative social media posts for our school community.

As I prepared myself for teaching virtually through April 30 (and possibly beyond), I rose at 6:30 am, walked the dog, read my Bible, and drank my coffee.

Now, as I sit here this evening and reflect over the five classes of Zoom meetings, with postings and emails in between, along with one bathroom break and a quick bite to eat between zoom 3 and 4, my heart is full, and I am exhausted.

It’s interesting, though, how the fatigue of cyberspace differs from that of physical classroom teaching. The exhaustion, from my perspective, stems from revamping an entire quarter of work and deadlines, brainstorming out of the box approaches to filling yearbook pages for spring sports and activities that have been postponed, and feeling, through the screen, the weight of emotion these students carry as they long to be back together in their school or on the field or just hanging out in the parking lot.

IMG-5326Today, my first Zoom class began at 8 am. I showed up in a sweatshirt and jeans (a nice perk of teaching from home) with some of my students still in their beds with only their audio turned on.

“Next time,” I told those students who didn’t want to be seen, “I need to see your faces! I miss you!”

As we did each day in our real classroom, I began with the sharing of gratitude, and many of us were especially grateful for the sunshine we’ve experienced lately, and others took turns sharing a plethora of thankful statements:

“I’m thankful for my mom because she’s been cooking every night!”

“I’m thankful for friends.”

“I’m thankful for extra sleep.”

After gratitude, from one class to the next, we discussed revised plans and how I will take attendance each week and how communication during this virtual time is crucial.

“We must stay connected even though we aren’t seeing each other every day.”

No one had an attitude, and everyone participated.

My journalism students shared plans for their 2-minute videos, and in my yearbook zoom, we went page by page and created to-do lists and need lists so that we could help each other finish telling the story of our year.IMG-9171

We even sang Happy belated Birthday to Sam!

In my senior Advanced Comp/101 zoom classes, each student shared wisdom from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince–which we finished right before school closed.

Every time I read this treasure, I have a new aha moment, and today, hearing my students share what they had learned–without us even discussing it– made my heart beam! And oh how we as a society need this wisdom right now:

IMG-5331“I learned to see with your heart and not your eyes.”

“I learned how important it is not to judge people.”

“We must not forget what’s it’s like to be a child.”

 

“Relationships are essential.”

“Kindness matters.”

“Being tamed teaches discipline.”

“I think The Little Prince symbolizes Jesus and how he sacrificed everything, and the rose represents us.”

Okay, well, maybe I should not have put these nuggets of wisdom in direct quotation marks because I was actually paraphrasing, but you get the point. Hopefully.

As I closed each class today, I made a heart with my hands, held it over my face, and told my students I missed them and I loved them. I reminded them to put on love each day and to stay focused.

Then, I closed each class with the prayer our campus minister shared via email.

daily prayer

Since I teach at a Catholic high school, praying in class is a normal activity, and these kids need more normal today than uncertainty.

However, for all those public school teachers who would normally be afraid to say a prayer with their students, I understand. I used to be one.

Yet, still, I say, don’t be afraid. No one is going to fire you.

It seems society has a newfound respect for teachers right now, so if you feel like, go for it!

Offer a prayer opportunity after you end your virtual class and see how many kids stay connected to experience the peace of a prayer.

Now, besides zooms and postings and screens filled with sleepy, smiling teenagers, I send a shout out to all health care workers, and I encourage you, as I asked my NHS members to do, to take a break from the virtual world and create a small piece of art with heart. Once finished, write your name, city, and state on the back and send it to

Art with HeartIMG-5338

1315 Skipping Stone Dr

Evansville, IN 47725

If you’re still reading this, I thank you, and I offer up prayers for peace and wellness for you and our world.

 

The Class of 2020

As I wake early on this Tuesday morning, just like I would any other school day morning, I make the coffee, read my devotional, and go to Google Classroom to double-check the virtual assignments that I posted last Friday.

Last Friday. Sigh. When we left school last Friday to embark on the unknown of COVID-19, I heard some of my seniors in the hall saying,

“This could be our last day of senior year.”MJ-139

It is all so bizarre.

Our principal, in a school-wide assembly, told students and teachers to take everything home because no one would be allowed back in the building, and he concluded with a statement that we will have to remind ourselves of daily for weeks–perhaps months–to come:

“Don’t make this about you. You can be disappointed, and I understand that, but this is not about you. It is about all of us and doing the right thing for everyone.”

My seniors understand those words, as does my daughter who is a senior at a different school, and they will all do the right thing. They have no choice really, but the sting and reality of those words have settled hard on these smart, creative, big-hearted, dream-carrying, fear-of missing-out, young adults.

Through their eyes and screens, their senior year of “last times” is potentially becoming their senior year of “disappearing times”–from prom to spring sports to group bicycle rides to school the last week and much more.

Two weeks ago when rumblings of potential school closings could be heard, my daughter said,

“I will walk across that stage, Mom.”

Now, with rumblings of closing school for the rest of the semester and press conferences that speculate the COVID-19 wave spilling through August, my daughter–who rarely ever makes anything about her–is more than disappointed. She is sad because she sees that stage disappearing right along with her spring break trip and prom and everything else that comes with the end of senior year.

I am that mom and teacher who preaches positive thinking and gratitude and kindness.

What are you thankful for today? When negative thoughts show up in your brain, ask God to get rid of them and replace them with positive. Keep your focus. Be kind. Put on love.

All of these things I say, and yet, today, only two days into the school closure, I don’t have the right words for my girl and my students.

The only words that come to mind are from God, for in Proverbs 3:5-6, He reminds us that we may not always understand everything that is happening, but we must trust in Him and He will direct us.

However, when you’re 17 or 18, and high school is literally your life– you wake for it, you stay up late for it, you celebrate and abhor it–even God’s words seem to sting.

So, as all of us navigate this unknown for our kids, students, communities, and nation, I echo my principal’s words that we not make this personal, that we not make this about ourselves but rather the greater good, and I also cling to God’s words and put my trust in Him through all of this.

IMG-5690BUT, once we are able to give a hug again instead of an elbow bump, and once we are allowed to surround ourselves with more than ten friends, let’s make a promise to the class of 2020 that we will make this right, even if we have to hold a prom and/or graduation in one of our backyards or down the road at the 4-H Center.

Be smart, healthy, and safe, everyone, and let God direct your path. Peace.

The Power of a Podcast

attitudeofgratitudeLast November, I participated in my first ever podcast. I was excited and nervous and truly did not know what to expect. Will they only ask me questions about being a journalism teacher? What if they ask questions I don’t know the answers to? Will anyone really listen to this podcast? As I waited in the hallway, I said a prayer. I gave God my nerves and fear of the unknown, and after an hour-long conversation with three people covering everything from yearbooks to thank you notes, I walked out of that podcast with a huge smile on my heart. God is good.

I had no idea when that podcast would air, but today, my friend texted me with a screenshot. The podcast had finally been posted, and they titled it Being the Light! WOW!

Then, in the blurb by my picture, they wrote: “Angela St. Clair has the light we all wish we had. With gratitude, we present our newest episode with the adviser from Mater Dei High School. In this conversation, we discuss living in the present, being the light in the world and the importance of writing thank you notes.”

I had not even listened to the podcast yet, and tears filled my eyes. I was totally humbled and knew that God had heard my prayer that day back in November while I stood in the hallway. He had taken my anxiety and replaced it with His peace so that I could be a witness for Him through this podcast that was supposed to be about being a yearbook teacher.

I warn you, listening to this will take 30 minutes of your life, but I hope it will make you smile, increase your gratitude, and give you the courage to let your light shine!

Special thanks to Haley, Nelson, and Steve of the Herff Jones Yearbooks Mind the Gutter Podcast for providing this opportunity to me.

The Land

written April 30, 2018

the land

Today, I listed The Land

Daddy’s Land

and I cried

and I prayed

and I surrendered

Today, my brother drove The Truck

the ’53 Chevy, their truck

His and Daddy’s

and I cried

and I prayed

and I surrendered

Today, I asked my Brother

“am doing the right thing?”

“I’m sorry I am so emotional.”

“I am proud of you

and I can’t wait to see The Truck.”

“. . . to ride in The Truck,” he says.

He’s exhausted yet can’t explain his energy

“The Holy Spirit,” I say.

He wants free of The Land

I long for it.

I explain, maybe for the first time . . .

The Land

and Daddy

rescued me

from my little girl nightmares

He says he understands

and I pray Daddy does as well,

for

today,

I listed The Land

 

The everlasting presence of absence

When my Daddy left this world four years ago, he left a permanent scar on my heart, but I will not allow his absence on this Earth rob me of his everlasting presence in my life. Daddy’s spirit is with me every day; his love and guidance and kindness remain in each of us who still love and miss him.

Today, my brother, nephew, and I ate lunch at Ferrell’s, Daddy’s favorite, and then we played and visited for three hours at Linton beach. We ended the day at Daddy’s tree, the pine tree we planted three years ago when we buried his ashes on his land. It was a good day, and I think we’ve started a new tradition of honoring our Dad by being together and celebrating his presence, his spirit, which lives in each of us, especially in the heart of a three-year-old. I thank God each day for helping me through this journey of grief so that the weight of it does not suffocate me but pushes me to grow in His love.

My prayer for today

Peace-GuotesAs I sit at my kitchen table this morning, I become lost in snowflakes and the beautiful, bright cardinals making their way to the bird feeder on the deck. The setting befalls peace, and this time of year especially, we all need an extra helping of peace.

As we celebrate Christ’s birthday and welcome another new year, my prayer for myself, my family, my friends and all those I’ve yet to meet is that in the hustle and bustle of each day, we will keep peace in our hearts.

I pray we will put on love each day before leaving the warmth of our homes, remembering that not everyone wakes in a home.

I pray we will offer kindness before cattiness, that we will think before we speak or tweet or post.

I pray we will open our hearts to forgiveness and welcome its power of transformative healing.

I pray we will embrace joy every chance it is offered and that we will seek it and share it like our lives depend on it.

I pray for a shower of wisdom and guidance for each us and that we will know the path we are to take.

I pray we will understand and embrace the concepts of grace and obedience and choose to apply both our daily walks.

I pray we will each remember that within each us is the power to impact lives, for better or for worse, and I pray we choose “for better.”

Merry CHRISTmas and Happy New Year to each and every one of you. May we all choose the peace that passeth all understanding instead of the chaos of this world. For within us is Light, if we will only choose it. God Bless.

Filing Cabinet Finds: Part 1

In my garage stands a filing cabinet that has remained closed for over three years, but a few weeks ago on a sunny, Saturday afternoon, I opened the drawers, one at a time to inspect the contents– to sort the items to keep from those to recycle or donate.

Three years ago every item I shoved into this cabinet carried something sacred that would scream betrayal or spray guilt if I did not keep it. Yet, I’ve learned that when you allow yourself time to process, to heal, to seek God’s guidance and counsel, you discover that items in a filing cabinet won’t mend the shattered soul or honor his memory.

With a quick prayer for focus and rationale thought, I delved into the dusty cabinet drawers that now forever contain my Daddy’s scent and sense. From old work boots and t-shirts, birthday cards, Bible study notes, notebooks and folders and more, I exhumed all of it.

IMG_2574

IMG_2575

Consequently, this sunny Saturday afternoon project moved me a few rungs higher on the ladder of healing, and by God’s grace and perfect timing, I found treasures of wisdom and creativity from my Daddy.

 

Part 1 of the treasures and wisdom found in the cabinet consisted of a draft titled “Food for Thought” and a final copy without a title. My Daddy wrote this during his time in prison–a short but transformative period in his life when he earned his GED, learned hard lessons about family, friends, and foes and found Jesus Christ. The first draft of this piece read like a fill-in-the-blank and may have been an exercise he did in “class.” No matter how the sentences and phrases came to life on my Daddy’s notebook paper, the inspirational and chilling words remain filing cabinet items to keep.

IMG_2576

IMG_2577

by Gene Drennan circa 1978-1980

the most expensive indulgence:  hate

the greatest trouble maker:  one who takes too much

the cheapest, stupidest and easiest thing to do:  find fault

the greatest stumbling block:  egotism

the most ridiculous asset:  pride

the worst bankrupt:  the soul that has lost its enthusiasm

the cleverest man:  one who always does what he thinks is right

the most dangerous person:  liar

the most disagreeable person:  the complainer

the best teacher:  one who makes you want to learn

the meanest feeling of which any human being is capable:  feeling bad at another’s success

the greatest need:  Common Sense

the greatest puzzle:  Life

the greatest mystery:  Death

the greatest thought:  God

the greatest thing, bar none, in all the world:  Love

the greatest sin:  Fear

the biggest fool:  the boy who will not go to school

the most agreeable companion:  one who would not have you any different from what you are

the best town:  where you succeed

the greatest bore:  one who will not come to the point

a still greater bore:  one who keeps talking after he has made his point

the great deceiver:  one who deceives himself

the greatest invention of the devil:  war

the greatest secret of production:  saving waste

the best work:  what you like

the best play:  work

the greatest comfort:  the knowledge that you have done your work well

the greatest mistake:  giving up

 

 

 

One-hour Delay

It’s a one-hour delay for students

A meeting time for teachers

topic unknown. acronym foreign

THEN

She speaks

in a weighted tone filled with cold examples and questioning statistics

BLIND SIGHTED.

I’m stuck

in this room. surrounded on all sides.

It’s my job so I must stay.

Yet, that hole in my heart widens while my lungs tighten.

the Topic of the Year–speakers, faculty meetings, news stories

the buzz word for a few

a piercing memory for my tattered mind and healing heart

As the clamp on my soul tightens, she says I’m a victim.

I prefer Victor. Child of God. Redeemed.

Breathe.

Don’t make eye contact.

Focus.

Tune her out.

Stay. This is a test.

Role Play she says. Seriously?

No. I will not. I can not.

I did this. I tried that.

He’s still gone.

8 a.m. and the test, the torture concludes

under a cloud of anxiety

Quietly. Quickly. I escape.

to my room where his picture greets me and His Word soothes me

Breathe.

Dear God, help me.

Friends robed in compassion enter

1, 2, 3

They embrace me and grant me my release, my sobs

THEN

it’s time to teach

to pull myself up, wrap myself in His strength and do what He’s called me to do

and so I taught

and when the work day ended, I drove home

exhausted by the incarcerated emotion and surrender

After three years, I still feel the weight and brokenness of his absence

but I choose to exchange it for peace and growth and wisdom

For it is only by His grace,

that my shattered soul shines through the scar tissue of my healing heart