The last time I blogged was in August of this year. I shared some of the struggles I had faced the spring before and how the summer of 2023 was my shortest summer break ever. I talked about how I had worked on a few small house projects over my four week break and had just taken life a little more slowly than other summers. On August 1st, I jumped back into work, excited for the 2023-2024 school year.
August and September went well. We had new leadership in Central Office, a few new team members in my department, and some focused strategic growth-planning. It was shaping up to be a great first quarter.
And then came October.
On the morning of Monday, October 2nd, I was standing at my computer typing a report when I got a casual text message from my mom, "I'm gonna run up to the ER at KU Med."
Mom had been having some significant back pain for a few weeks and had pushed through the pain for a little while to get through September. We were just coming off of Homecoming week and basketball wasn't starting yet, so she felt like it might be a good time to go try to figure out what was going on with her. Little did we know that this trip to the Emergency Room would change our lives forever.
Mom was admitted to the hospital that night and in a whirlwind two weeks, had several tests and procedures done to finally reveal that she was facing Stage 4 Neuroendocrine cancer throughout her body. They sent her home with hospice on Wednesday, October 18th, and on Friday, October 20th, she went to be with Jesus.
Over the course of 18 days, we went from thinking she had a kidney stone or something similar, to planning a Celebration of Life for our amazing wife, Mom, and Grams.
It has now been just over two months since we lost Mom.
We have heard stories of her love and generosity from so many people.
We have created a hashtag in her honor to share these stories with others: #thankyoujeaniestephens.
We completed a (hilarious) bucket list of items that Mom had created for us to do, following her passing.
We have navigated a wonderful visitation and funeral with over 800 people in attendance. I will share more about her service in a future blog post. I don't think I've processed it fully yet.
We have gained another daughter, who will be with us until May (thanks to Mom's dream of hosting an exchange student).
We made it through Thanksgiving, leaning into the memories, the love of family, and the comfort of Jesus.
And this week, we celebrated our first Christmas without her here. We used paper goods from her house, handed out the stocking stuffers to the grandkids that she had already purchased (#thankyoujeaniestephens), and shared memories through the entire evening.
I know she would have been proud.
In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul says that there is a "peace that passes understanding". I have always heard this phrase and believed it to be true.
But over this last two months, I have felt it in a way that is truly indescribable. Losing my mom has changed me to the core, and yet -- the Lord has sustained me day in and day out, wrapping His arms around me and giving me hope for the future.
God is still good, friends. He is still here and He is still good.
And just like that...the last school year of my teaching career is over.
You might remember a few months ago when I announced my new position as the director of special services in my current district.
At the time that I agreed to this position, back in late August of last year, it seemed like a lifetime away.
It seemed like there was so much more time left in my classroom. I mean, nine months is a LONG time, right?
And yet, here we are...the last day of school.
I'd be lying if I said I was over-joyed as I left the school parking lot today.
Yes, I'm excited for my new journey, but I feel like every time a season in our lives comes to an end, there is some grieving that must take place.
I have known that public education was the career choice for me ever since I can remember.
There was never a time in my life that I thought of any other career choice.
I can remember being preschool age and "playing school" with my dolls and stuffed animals in my bedroom. (I always tried to recruit my little brother, but it wasn't quite as enjoyable for him.)
My new role is exciting and refreshing and something I am looking forward to.
But in reality, there are things I am losing.
Things I'm giving up.
Things I am having to let go of.
Building relationships with the same 20-30 kids day-in and day-out.
Being able to make an impact in the daily lives of the students in my classroom.
Creating lessons that are engaging and interesting for my kiddos.
Spending time with some of my dearest friends all day, every day...my hallway colleagues.
Yes, I know I'll still be making a difference.
I know I'll still be able to connect with children.
I know I'll still have an impact.
I know I'll be in the same building I've been in for the last eleven years.
But this afternoon, my students of nine months walked out of my room.
I waved goodbye to my students and headed straight to the cafeteria to set up for the celebration we have at the end of every year.
When the staff get-together was finished, I headed back to my room.
I walked down a mostly empty hallway to my mostly empty classroom.
And it was then that I had a few tears.
Okay, I had a lot of tears.
Even tonight, as I sit here typing this, I have a tear rolling down my cheek.
There are a lot of things to look forward to..
There's a lot to be excited about.
But there are also a lot of things to be sad about...and that's okay.
I think that sometimes we feel like there's something wrong with grief.
Like we shouldn't feel sad when we are moving into something that seems bigger and better. Why would I be sad about this opportunity? Why would I have a hard time moving into a position that seems so perfect for me?
Well...because it's normal.
It's completely natural to grieve the seasons of our lives.
Change is necessary and important...but change can also be difficult and painful.
So as I sit here tonight on the farmhouse front porch, watching the fireflies blinking away in the field across the road...I will just have a good cry. You might remember that I believe ugly-crying is a vitally important part of life.
I will cry for the thirteen years I spent in a classroom.
I will cry for the dear friends and colleagues...my teaching BFFs.
I will cry for lesson planning and connecting with "that one kid" and lightbulb moments for struggling learners.
I will cry for read-aloud chapter books, scented chart markers, and my favorite bright pink fake leather rolling office chair that I bought on clearance for $15 a few years ago.
I will cry for my teaching partner who has become like an older brother to me over the last ten years. I will cry for the comfort and the security and the partnership that will change drastically in the near future.
I will cry and I will smile.
I will look back fondly on the experiences and lessons and memories that have become so important to me inside the walls of my classroom.
I will clean out that classroom over the next few weeks and I will move (some of) my belongings down the hallway to my new office.
I can't promise that there won't be more tears.
And there's nothing wrong with that.
Cherish the seasons, friends. Each of our seasons is filled with important lessons and precious memories.
But grieve the seasons if you have to.
Tears from the farmhouse tonight...and hope for tomorrow.