Friday, 2 August 2013

Popular posts: With butterfly wings

Well, there I was just about to put this post up again because it's one of my most popular posts, and as I read it, I realised how little has changed. I find it both depressing and comforting that a year ago during the summer school holidays I was struggling to find time to spend with you, Lord God, and struggling generally with day to day trivia of life.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, hey.

I was flat on my tummy yesterday in the garden photographing a butterfly.

For all these reasons it seems apt to repost this:

Evening, God.

It's been a while, hasn't it? Busy busy busy, you know; school holidays, packing for trips, the odd tummy bug. I'm wanting to catch up. 

Today we went to a Butterfly Centre. We went in bright sunshine, came home in torrential rain and picnicked in a howling gale, but we had a wonderful time. 

What a fantastic place. 

Birds of prey, fabulous peacocks, ancient tortoises, snakes and spiders and butterflies. Amazing, delicate, extravagantly beautiful butterflies. They lived in a recreation of a tropical rainforest complete with pools and tropical flowers, creepy crawlies, bats and birds. Everywhere things scuttled and crept and fluttered and slithered. The air was hot and humid and the sun shone through the transparent roof and transported us to another place. A large scaly lizard like thing as long as my arm perched up in the roof and a display of tiny, jewel-like poison dart frogs kept Katy occupied for ages. Elizabeth was mesmerised by a large snake slowly consuming a white rat and I was transfixed by the beauty of the butterflies. 

In our garden we often get butterflies. We have buddleia and cornflowers and marigolds and lots of (ahem) 'wilderness' areas and we're used to seeing what I've always thought of as cabbage whites and something that looks a bit like a red admiral (but probably isn't, I realise). I don't know much about butterflies and I confess that even today I was more interested in gazing at them and trying to take a decent photograph than I was in reading the educational material available. 

Fragile, but strong enough to do what it's meant to do.
Stunning colours, so fragile. Amazingly detailed; some of the butterflies looked as if they'd been coloured by hand. Elusive - they landed on a leaf at eye level but before I'd raised my camera they were off again, flitting between luscious blooms from petal to petal, weightless. They've been described as 'living flowers' and I like that. 

Apparently the average lifespan of a butterfly is about a month. They don't live very long, but while they live they are spectacular. They are pupae, then caterpillars, then they snuggle into their chrysalis for a while and then they hatch into gorgeous creatures that flutter and dance and sit on flowers waiting to have their picture taken, if any huge and clumsy human being stumbles near. 

Each of these tiny insects is unique. You made each one different. You chose their colours, the design on their wings, their size and shape and habits and flight pattern. You watch over each chrysalis as they sleep and you count very wing beat. What a Creator you are, to take such joy in the tiny and helpless. Even the fleeting life of a butterfly has meaning in the fragile eco-system of the rainforest, just as it does in my back garden. 

You made them beautiful just because you could. Your attention to detail never fails to amaze me. You could just have made a red one and a blue one and a yellow one, but the intricacy and detail are breathtaking. Today we even saw transparent butterflies. How cool is that? 

You know what captured my imagination today, though? It was when I came to the cabinet where the butterflies emerge fully formed from a chrysalis spun by a crawling caterpillar.  Ranks of chrysalises (is that the plural of chrysalis?) hung in rows - bright green, dark green, yellow, red, russet, even shiny gold. Some butterflies were in process of struggling slowly out of their cocoon and this is where it got to me. 

A butterfly has to battle to leave the chrysalis. It's not easy. It works hard to tear its way out and it has to fight, then rest. 

Fight, then rest. 

It is in the action of pushing its way into the world that the butterfly gains enough strength in its brand new and breathtakingly beautiful wings to fly. If I were to help a butterfly out of it's chrysalis, it would die. It would never fly. It would never become what it was meant to become, because it had never built up its muscles. If butterflies have muscles. I'm not sure about that, but you get the drift. 


Maybe I'm like a butterfly. I know that I live longer, but that's nonsense really because I know that my lifespan is only a tiny wingbeat in eternity. A blink. I know that I'm not as wonderfully beautiful as a butterfly, but then you tell me in the Bible that I am just those things; wonderful and beautiful. As I peered at those tiny insects today, feeling enormous and substantial in contrast with their delicate fragility, it made me think of the way you look at me. I am as vulnerable and ephemeral as a butterfly. 

I am nothing without you, my Creator.

Struggle, then rest, then struggle...
I too have a purpose, and I need muscles to fulfil it. If you helped me out of my chrysalis every time I tired and moaned and cried out to you to do it for me, then maybe I would never fly. 

So often I don't like how life is hard. I don't like that it takes so much effort and that even the good things, even the blessings, are hard work. We went to the Olympics last week and we visited family and we did wonderful things that are good gifts from you, opportunities that are rare and to be cherished, and yet I found myself exhausted simply with the daily job of negotiating life with two small energetic children who are programmed to get up early, stay up late and make much noise in between. 

I keep asking you, Father, why is it so hard? Is it just me? The generations before me just got on with things, why do I struggle so much? I want you to take the difficulty away and give me a break. But maybe, I wonder, if you did, then I might never have the strength to fly.

'Mummy, it's you with butterfly wings.'
Is that it? Do I need to push my way out, struggle, rest, struggle, rest, until I emerge into the light and open out my beautiful wings? Only then I'll be strong enough to take off and do what I was made to do. Fulfil my purpose in life. 

A few days ago my little girl, Lizzie, gave me a picture she'd drawn on a bit of notepaper. She handed it to me as a present. 

She said, 'Mummy, it's you. It's you with butterfly wings.'


So here it is. 

I'm as unique and beautiful as a butterfly, and my life is just as fleeting.

If you created and painted the butterflies with such painstaking love, then what a work of art am I?

A butterfly is just a tiny insect but has a vital, God-given role to play in the world, and so do I... 

Fragile as they are, they need strength to do what they were created to do. They struggle, and rest, and then one day they spread their beautiful wings and fly.

And you smile.

That's good enough for me. 


  1. I remember this lovely post, and it rings as true for me now as then. Indeed, where would I be if He'd helped me out before my wings were strong enough? He knows the purpose of each season.

    1. Thanks, Ginger. I'm still struggling to get out, I think.....

  2. Very apt for me, too, Helen...

    1. Thanks Lucy. 'Me too' moments mean a lot.


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