As you listen to commencement addresses, you hear all sorts of platitudes about how to live your life. Some offer good advice, and you should pay heed. Despite all that you have learned in your education, you will learn so much more in life. Sometimes you will be prepared with the wisdom you have gained, but many times in life, experience will be your best teacher. I can confirm that truth from my own experience. Despite all I learned from my excellent education, nothing really prepared me for the most important role in my life as an autism mom. When I look at photographs of myself at your age, I see an innocent, wide-eyed, hopeful girl who had no idea what challenges she had ahead of her. Yet, raising a child with autism has made me do all those things your graduation speakers have told you to do—dream big, work hard, and never give up—in ways I never thought I could do.
Aside from just the day-to-day experiences of helping my son overcome the challenges autism has presented, I have learned valuable lessons from scriptures and country song lyrics that have reminded me what’s really important in life: patience, perseverance, presence, faith, hope, and love.
What no one tells you about life is that you’ll spend a great deal of time waiting for something—waiting for a phone call, waiting in line, waiting for something good to happen. While you wait, just learn to be patient, which will serve you well when you are waiting for situations to get better. As Amy Grant sings in “It Take a Little Time,” “It takes a little time sometimes to get your feet back on the ground. It takes a little time sometimes to get the Titanic turned back around. It takes a little time sometimes, but, Baby, you’re not going down. It takes more than you’ve got right now. Give it; give it time."
Part of that waiting process is plugging away and never giving up, especially when quitting would be so much easier. As I’ve watched my son struggle to do tasks that most people can do easily, he has taught me the value of perseverance. He knows that eventually he’ll accomplish what he has set out to do, and as he often reminds me, “Wait and see.” In the words of Leanne Womack’s beautiful ballad, “I Hope You Dance”: “Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens. Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance, and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”
With all that waiting and working toward the future, we need to remember to savor the present, to appreciate all the good in the right now that we can easily miss worrying about the future. In her song “So Small,” Carrie Underwood offers good advice: “While you sit around thinking about what you can’t change and worrying about all the wrong things, time’s flying by, moving so fast. You better make it count ‘cause you can’t get it back.”
So how do we deal with all the worries in life? Faith will carry us through those times when we fear the unknown, the overwhelming, and truly terrifying. Life with autism has strengthened my faith because I’ve learned that I cannot do things on my own, and faith has comforted me by assuring me God is in control. As Garth Brooks sings in “The River,” “There’s bound to be rough waters, and I know I’ll take some falls. But with the Good Lord as my captain, I can make it through them all.”
In those rough waters, faith carries us, but hope sustains us, reminding us that what may seem permanent is only temporary. As we look forward with anticipation, we know that things will get better. In the words of the Rascal Flatts song “My Wish,” “My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to, your dreams stay big, your worries stay small, you never need to carry more than you can hold.”
While learning patience, perseverance, and presence will enhance our lives, faith and hope are vital to our existence. As the scriptures remind us, even greater than faith and hope is love. Without that overpowering force, our lives become meaningless. Love motivates us to help others, to be sacrificial, and to become the best people we can be for others’ sakes. Pure love guides us to do the right thing and reminds us that we’re never alone. As Lady Antebellum advises in their song “Compass,” “So let your heart, Sweetheart, be your compass when you’re lost, and you should follow it wherever it may go. When it’s all said and done, you can walk instead of run ‘cause no matter what, you’ll never be alone.”
Congratulations, Graduates, and as you step out into the “Real World,” I pray that you find patience and perseverance when you need it, enjoy the present, and remember to hang on to hope, faith, and love, which will always see you through any circumstance and help you fulfill your destiny in life.
“There are three things that remain—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13