Graduation Day

by Joanie Butman

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my son graduated high school in May. I’ve spent a good portion of the past few months compiling a photo book depicting Doug’s school years – a bittersweet exercise that is filled with nostalgia for the little boy I sent off to nursery school so many years ago.

Amidst a sea of parents at commencement, I watched with pride as he received his diploma. I was overwhelmed with emotion, but not for the same reasons as those around me. My emotional state wasn’t because he completed high school. As Doug himself observed after his sister’s graduation two years ago and the myriad of celebrations that ensued, “What’s the big deal? It’s not like everyone doesn’t graduate high school you know. It’s kind of expected.” I had to agree with him as I didn’t even attend my graduation. Of course, when it was his turn, he wasn’t complaining about all the hoopla.

At any rate, my overwhelming emotion that day was one of immeasurable gratitude – not because there was any doubt that Doug could and would make it to college. It was because at one point there was serious concern that I wouldn’t be here to see it happen. I was witnessing answered prayer – a silent plea sent up to God six years prior from a hospital bed.

When I was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2008, my only prayer was, “Please let me live long enough to get both my children settled in college.” And despite Dr. Doom’s ominous predictions, there I sat – a picture of health – not cured, but very much alive. There wasn’t a celebration big enough to contain my joy at that reality—especially because I knew too many others with cancer who hadn’t survived. 

Sitting in the audience at graduation, I recalled the verse I’ve clung to since my diagnosis, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). I left that scripture for my husband before I went in for my first surgery. No one knows whether or not that particular promise will be fulfilled in this world or the next, but I choose to trust that whatever His plans are for me, they far surpass anything I could dream up, whether I live another five years or fifteen. My hope and joy doesn’t depend on a future here, but a future with God regardless of where I am.

Coincidentally, at a teaching session last week on healing, the pastor explained that he asks anyone who comes to him for healing prayer the same question, “Do you believe God wants to heal you?” He was surprised by my answer, which was “I can’t really say. He certainly doesn’t heal everyone and it’s not because He can’t, so I suppose it must be because He doesn’t want to. And if that’s not His will, it’s because He has other plans for them. Who am I to question?”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

                                                         Psalm 55:8-9

That said, his question haunted me all week. Who can profess to know the mind of God? Certainly not me. There are times when He makes His will abundantly clear to me, but most of the time I have to choose to trust and rely on what I DO know. I choose to focus on WHO God is instead of looking for answers that don’t exist this side of the grave; namely, those beginning with the word why. Of the thousands of promises God makes in the Bible, explaining Himself is not one of them. We wouldn’t understand even if He did. However, I DO know that whatever He does is motivated by love in the same way we make decisions for our children.

My husband and I have spent the past 18 years shaping our son by giving him what he needed – not what he wanted. Trust me, he didn’t always like it. In fact, he once asked me if I stayed awake at night thinking of ways to “ruin his life.” Parenting includes making a lot of unpopular decisions on behalf of your children. My guess is that as Doug matures, he will understand and appreciate some of those choices in a way he couldn’t as a child. The same holds true for us, which is why God promises that all will be made clear to us ‘post-graduation.’

I also know that I’m glad He didn’t choose to heal me because I’ve grown more through this illness than I ever would have otherwise. I don’t believe He caused it, but He’s certainly used it for good. And for that I am eternally thankful. I was taught years ago that nothing is wasted in God’s economy; He can use anything for His purposes. Cancer is no exception.

Suffering is a perfect example of the illogical nature of God’s ways. What most people would choose to view as hardship, I choose to view as my greatest blessing. Once again, it’s all about perspective. Cancer has brought me closer to Him than I ever dreamed possible and given me opportunities to glorify Him in ways I never imagined. He is using it mightily. Who knows? Perhaps being part of the drug trial I’m in is part of the reason I’m still here. How exciting would that be, to be part of the process to develop a cure that will save countless lives?

In closing, when God is reviewing the album of my life, I think it will be obvious that He shone most brightly during my times of suffering than at any other moment. I don’t think He’ll be nostalgic for the child I once was because He’s always seen me—not as I was at any given moment in time, but as the completed person He created me to be. And I trust that whatever I feel as I watch my son blossom into a young man pales in comparison to the love God feels for each one of us. Just as Doug's graduation marked the official end of his childhood and the beginning of a wonderful adventure, so will our 'graduation' day - with the best still to come.