About a week ago, I told my oldest students the story of the events surrounding this post from eight years ago. After moving seven times in five years, constantly starting over and proving myself repeatedly, I thought I’d found my place to put down roots — only to have the rug ripped out from under me again.
One of that school’s favorite songs to play in chapel was “Oceans” by Hillsong United. Lyrics like “the great unknown where feet may fail” and “You’ve never failed and you won’t start now” struck me to the heart and I cried more often than not during those services.
Not long after I’d officially been told I wasn’t being asked to stay, a guest speaker came to chapel. He shared about learning from God through the hard times, which in and of itself was applicable to my situation. But then he stopped and said “I never do this, but God laid a message on my heart for someone here today. I don’t know who you are or what your situation is, but your turn is coming.”
Your turn is coming.
I have clung to those words for almost a decade. I’ve had other jobs since then, but I somehow knew that they weren’t my landing spot.
But I’ve believed for a while that my current job is where I’m finally supposed to put down my roots. The events of this week have solidified that belief.
I told the story of being let go to my class because the eighth graders chose as their graduation song none other than “Oceans”. It’s been on repeat in my car as my children practiced it to sing at the ceremony, sending me down memory lane again and again.
Graduation tends to be a nostalgic time for me anyway. I’ve said so many goodbyes over the years. Faces and moments of past students flash through my mind in snapshots of poignancy. You know what sticks the most? The students who – in one way or another – share a glimpse of the impact I’ve had on their lives. Sometimes they tell me directly, with a handshake and direct eye contact. Sometimes they leave a mango on my desk because they know it’s my favorite fruit. A group of 6th graders pooled their money to buy me the perfect going-away present. Two 10th grade boys went to the principal on their own volition to ask him to let me stay.
I’ve cried at so many goodbyes, and sometimes my students did, too.
I’ve connected pretty strongly with my current eighth grade class, so as I sat in graduation and listened to their speeches, and then listened to the student body singing out the lyrics of “Oceans”, I waited for the all-too-familiar gutpunch of goodbye to hit me. Instead, I found myself smiling.
All my goodbyes in the past have been forever-goodbyes. I left the school, and usually, the state. If those kids ever go back to visit their alma mater, I won’t be there.
This week my students have positively flooded me with affirmations of my purpose and impact – the kind of things that have in my past experiences been connected with my forever-goodbyes. They gave me glowing comments in my yearly feedback survey, thank you shout-outs in graduation speeches, and then this morning, I came in to my board completely covered in sticky-notes. The notes range from quickly jotted affirmations, beautiful artwork, hilarious cartoons, sketches of rocks and goats (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions), and several sweet messages of appreciation.
While I took them down (and carefully stored them in a file folder), I once again waited for the gutpunch of emotion, and yes, I did tear up a bit as I read some of the most heartful comments from the graduates. But this time it’s different. This time the sadness is mixed with joy.
It’s not a forever-goodbye!
Some of my students have younger siblings still in the school. Others are deeply connected with underclassmen. I fully expect to see most of them at alumni events, popping in and out over the years.
This time, I get to see the bigger picture. I get to find out what happens. I get to have a glimpse of who they become. In fourteen years of teaching, that’s something I’ve never had. So while I am sad to see them go, my overriding emotion is thankfulness. I get to stay. Finally.
If any of you eighth graders are reading this – I’m so glad it’s you. I’m so glad I get to see who you become. Because who you become is going to be awesome.