The past couple of weeks have been particularly exciting ones for my mum this year. Not only has she celebrated her 60th birthday, she is also retiring from full-time teaching. On Wednesday the school she works at hosted a special ‘farewell assembly’ for her, to mark the 15 years she has served the school, and to give all the staff, students and families a chance to say thanks and goodbye. My dad and I were also invited, along with past colleagues and head teachers. All my memories of primary school came flooding back as we watched the different year groups file in one after the other into the main school hall, wearing the same school colours as my sister and I wore during our time there. There was a sudden hush as the headteacher stood up and counted 3…2….1… All the children then silently sat down and even the adults chatting happily in the back row stopped talking.
During the assembly, each class sang a song and then presented Mum with a giant book full of messages and drawings about their best memories of being in her class. There were some awkward silences as kids who must’ve rehearsed what to say a hundred times over still forgot their words the minute they stood up in front of the rest of the school, and some hilarious moments as the older kids read off a cleverly-written script that introduced the different performances, saying things that I’m fairly sure they didn’t really understand, but all the grown ups found hysterical. At the end, various representatives from the governors, parents and teaching staff said some words about how much Mum has given to the school, to the children she’s taught, and to them as a staff team. I was really proud to be sat their hearing how much Mum’s work is appreciated and the difference it has made.
But my favourite part of the whole afternoon, even better than the strawberries and scones that followed the assembly, was Mum’s own words about her time at the school and what she was going to miss. She said she was really thankful for everyone’s kind words, and that she appreciated all the effort they had gone to. Addressing this as much to the children as to the adults present, she compared the whole of life to a journey we all take, and said how much she had enjoyed this part of her journey at the school – laughing and enjoying good times with the kids she had taught, and being honest and real about the hard times that life brings our way. I really admired her at that moment, for how she stood in front of the kids and parents and colleagues and her friends and acknowledged the fact that, for all the good memories she can look back on, there are sad ones too. It doesn’t do any good to gloss over this truth, even during the happy times when those memories seem far away. But for Mum, this wasn’t a hopeless, mournful wallowing in past sorrows, but an opportunity to says thanks, very simply, but very clearly, to her God who had brought her through it all, and who she could not do without.
Sitting in the car with her later that day, we were talking about the afternoon and how it had all gone, and Mum said that she knew she could not stand up there in front of those people, receiving their praise and thanks, and not say anything about who really kept her going, about the one who gave her the strength to do all that she has done.
I am SO thankful for my parents, and for the way they have shown me a glimpse of God’s love at work through them. I’m thankful that as Mum retires and faces new challenges and opportunities, as a family we all know that He who began a good work in her is faithful to see it through to the end, and will be with her every step of the way. I’ll be praying you enjoy the next part of the journey with Jesus, Mum!