The Gift

by Joanie Butman

I received an unexpected gift this week that every mother yearns for. It was a parental mountaintop moment – the kind moms live for when you realize that your child actually processed some of the life lessons you’ve attempted to instill. I’m talking about those that really matter – not the ‘remember your manners’ kind. During the teenage years this type of moment is rare, if not nonexistent, which is what made it so poignant.

My daughter gave a meditation at her school, and she spoke about something that she learned from me after I was diagnosed with cancer. Our relationship is of the typical push/pull, mother/daughter variety, so there has never been a shortage of drama at our house. Given our history, I didn’t know whether to expect a Mommy Dearest revelation or not. Even though I hadn’t heard her speech, I knew parts of it but wasn’t quite sure how she would weave it. It was just so uncharacteristic of her to choose to open up that way AND to choose to invite me.

The impact it had on me personally was probably lost on others, but I am certain everyone was touched at some level. The pride that filled me had nothing to do with her “performance;” it was about her honesty and willingness to choose to share something so personal – to put herself “out there.” Sitting in the back tearfully at times but joyful throughout, I watched my daughter blossom before me. I reveled in the fact that I had the opportunity to witness her cross the finish line of her own hero’s journey – the first of many I’m sure.  I’ve been sitting on sidelines for years, but this was the most meaningful “win” I’ve been blessed to be a part of. It reminded me of a quote I read just last week:

"Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards,

they simply unveil them to the eyes of men.

 Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep,

 we grow strong or we grow weak,

 and at last some crisis shows us what we have become."

 Bishop Wescott

The young woman before me represented years of joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, of innumerable teaching moments for both of us because I have learned an enormous amount from my children. The times when the line between teacher and student blurred are more than you might imagine. As my young son told me years ago when he was tutoring me on the techniques of boogie boarding, "You have much to learn my little padawan." We all do, and being a parent is a constant reminder of that fact every day; and some of life's hardest lessons come through our pain and those of our children.

Undeniably, Hannah learned something invaluable through my diagnosis, and I believe the final leg of her journey involved sharing what she learned with others. Her journey culminated when she recognized the power her story held to inspire others. I think at that moment, for the first time, she understood why I write. It isn’t about being an “attention whore” as she has been known to call me. In fact, it isn’t about me at all. It’s all about encouraging others and helping them along their own path and through their own suffering. We don’t need to know what it is and probably will never know how our stories affect the lives of others – but they do. Of that I am certain.

Does anyone ever feel inspirational? I doubt it, but we all have a story to share. If we can use the power of our own pain to help relieve someone else’s burden even for a moment or simply to encourage them, why wouldn’t we? Simply put, fear. What I heard and observed at Hannah’s meditation was her choosing to embrace her fear. She had already learned to face the fact that I had cancer. Without a doubt, her first step was to face her fear of my mortality, and now she sought out the opportunity to share what she learned from that experience with others, which brought her face to face with another fear - making herself vulnerable. By making peace with what she feared the most, she reached the end of her journey and charted a new course with a new perspective. When you learn to travel together with your own fear, there is a certain peace. From what she said, I believe she now understands that if you don’t face what you fear the most, you will spend your life running from it, and it is exhausting.

Hannah didn’t discuss faith in her meditation, but faith is certainly what enables me to view any problem from a divine perspective. The following devotion from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling illustrates divine perspective beautifully,

"Make friends with the problems in your life. Though many things feel random and wrong, remember that I am sovereign over everything. I can fit everything into a pattern for good, but only to the extent that you trust Me. Every problem can teach you something, transforming you little by little into the masterpiece I created you to be. The very same problem can become a stumbling block over which you fall, if you react with distrust and defiance. The choice is up to you, and you will have to choose many times each day whether to trust Me or defy Me.

The best way to befriend your problems is to thank Me for them. This simple act opens your mind to the possibility of benefits flowing from your difficulties. You can even give persistent problems nicknames helping you to approach them with familiarity rather than dread. The next step is to introduce them to Me, enabling Me to embrace them in My loving Presence. I will not necessarily remove your problems, but My wisdom is sufficient to bring good out of every one of them."

The feedback we received since Hannah’s speech reinforced what we’ve known all along. My cancer was s blessing in disguise. It has been a gift to my family and to many others when we share what we learn from it every day. My choice not to try to outrun it but stop and embrace it joyfully, recognizing its blessings rather than its pain has made all the difference in the manner in which we travel the path that was chosen for us. Contrary to what most believe, we’ve been given a gift, wrapped in an unusual manner, but a gift nonetheless. And in the telling, she shared that gift with countless others.

We all have the ability to bestow an unexpected gift on someone who has had a profound influence on our life. The power of that gift is immeasurable. Why not choose to tell someone (a parent, a spouse, a coach, a teacher, a friend, a mentor) the importance of something you have learned from them or what they add to your life? It will be the best gift they ever receive.

There’s no reason to retell my daughter’s story. It’s hers to share.