Once Upon a Butterfly…

Photo by Bethany Clay

Once upon a time there was a beautiful butterfly…

At the beginning of summer my daughters, Blessing and Hope, captured a caterpillar and put him in a jar. With a little help from me they filled the jar with sticks and leaves, added a little dish for water, poked holes in a tin foil lid, and placed it in the sun.

For weeks we watched him closely. Our little friend, Fuzzy, seemed content to crawl around and munch on leaves. Chomp! Chomp! Chomp! He’d munch his way through a jar full, and we’d clean it out and fill it up with more.

The desired result was obvious, Blessing and Hope couldn’t wait to see this wormy little guy transform into a butterfly before their very eyes.

However, a quick Google search led us to believe that our caterpillar was actually on his way to becoming a moth instead. No matter, with a little more research we found that he especially liked milkweed and stocked his jar accordingly.

What research didn’t tell us was how much and how quickly milkweed leaves turn to fuzzy grey mold. Seemingly overnight Fuzzy started his cocooning phase as our milkweed started to rot.

So there we had it, in a few days time, a jar full of mold and one cocoon hanging by a silver thread.

Fuzzy’s future did not look bright.

A week or two passed. I should really throw that thing out, I thought to myself one morning while looking at the jar placed over our kitchen sink. There was zero sign of life from Fuzzy, his cocoon now covered in mold. There’s just no way…

Where there is no way He makes a way.

The next day my girls and I were in the middle of our morning schoolwork (science lessons, ha! ha!) when my mom called from the kitchen, “Blessing! Hope! Come look!”

Squeals of delight filled our house as we saw what she held in her hand: A tiny moth, freshly hatched, flapping its shriveled wings.

A living thing. A new creation.

Here we are at the end of summer. It’s been months since I’ve come to this blog in part because this past season, hasn’t differed too greatly from Fuzzy’s time in our jar.

Not long after my last post, a post where my hopes were high for diving into my writing…getting lost…as I called it, I derailed into a different sort of lost-ness.

Wounds and hurt and sins from my past, I thought long dealt with and buried, resurfaced with a nasty, rotting vengeance.

My relationship with Mister Wonderful, my dreams for writing, my desire to homeschool, even my hope for our family business and our home building project, seemed to dangle by a thread.

I realized it one morning in May. I needed help. I needed healing. I needed a cocoon wrapped around me. Love pulled tight. A miracle worked on the inside.

For the first time in my life I sought and found the help I needed in the form of a Christian counselor willing and able to take on my yuck and decay. Lovingly, wisely, she tended my leaves through this summer season, stocking my jar with good things to chew on.

Every few weeks I was fed. Truth. Love. Possibilities. A little more, a little more, until at last it started to happen, that wrapped up feeling I longed for. That wound up tight, impossibly fragile yet impossibly safe place of not just knowing I am healed, forgiven, loved but also feeling it. Experiencing it. The reality of the cocoon.

To emerge a living thing. A beautiful thing. To stretch my wings and enter into life and all He has for me, a new creation.

A friend once told me that when a caterpillar goes into its cocoon it is physically broken down to its very atoms and is from there rebuilt, remade, transformed into a butterfly.

As a Christian I’ve always known in my head that God loves me and, yes, there have been countless times when I felt His love in my life.

But this is something different. This is love, this is Him, going down to my atoms, defining who I am.

And this defining, redefines everything. My identity, my marriage, my desires, my hopes, my dreams.

This feeling, this awareness would have been enough for me, but the Author is writing a fairy tale and nothing short of happily ever after would do.

Spring house at Stoney Creek Farm

Fresh out of the cocoon He gave me a storybook opportunity to spread my crumpled wings and fly.

At a bed & breakfast called Stoneycreek Farms in Boonsboro, MD (an old 1800’s farmhouse refurbished into an inn) my three best writer friends and I met for a week of beauty, rest, and writing. We’re talking my own king size bed, my own fancy bathroom, hours and hours of writing time, dinner and laughter and movies each night with kindred spirit friends, long talks, walks down flowery paths and creek side trails, porch swing reading, soaking in the love of God for one whole week.

It was like one long, passionate kiss from my Savior.

“It’s time, Dearest,” He told me as I prepared to leave. “Write for me. Unleash your pen.”

Photo by Bethany Clay

How so very like Him. To call out my heart from the deep, from the almost discarded, and supply me with more than I need, with more than I could dream of or think to ask for. To fuel the burning dream inside me. To awaken me to all things good, to His love and care for me.

While at the inn, as we now call it, we saw them just about everywhere.

Butterflies…

Unfurling all kinds of magic and beauty, they fluttered all around us.

My friend Bethany spotted one in particular, a swallowtail perched on a flower, and captured him with her camera.

“He was missing one of his tails,” she told me as she described her amazing find.

“Oh!” I said with that spark of happy I get when schoolwork meets life. “My girls and I just read about that in one of our lessons. It’s part of their defense mechanism. They have these long tails that break off when a predator tries to capture them, allowing them to get free.”

Nodding, Bethany smiled. “He’s a survivor.”

“That’s right,” I said. “A survivor.”

Where there is no way He makes a way…

A chance to break free.

Miracles worked in darkness.

Worms transformed with love and the magic of butterfly wings.

Three Things to Remember When Life Sets You Back

So it’s been a while.

When I lasted posted on this blog, Christmas carols were still playing, lights were still hung on trees, and hope filled my heart for a fantastic start to the coming New Year.

Writing goals…

Homeschool goals…

Get-in-shape goals…

They each beckoned to me with the promise of a fresh start, a new year.

New Year’s Day came and went. So far, so good!

January 2nd, my best friend, Beth, arrived for her yearly visit from China.

January 4th, my new niece was born.

We were off to a smashing start.

And then January 5th happened. Blessing started to cough. Promise came down with a fever, Hope with a runny nose.

It’s okay, I thought. Nothing a little Elderberry and a day or two on the couch can’t cure.

Wrong.

What started as a cold for my girls, turned into colds for Mr. Wonderful and me too, and a long cycle of sickness ensued. As soon as one of us got well, someone else came down with something new.

Chest congestion…

Ear infection…

A sinus cold from you know where…

Nearly six weeks later we’re still recovering.

And those goals for my new year? Those beautiful visions of getting ahead? Of getting on track? Off getting things done?

They feel long ago and far away, forgotten. It’s hard to even remember what they were.

Wherever they are, whatever they were as I get myself, my family, my home back together, back to health and life as usual there are three things I’m trying to hold onto. Hoping that if I cling to these above all else, somehow, eventually, the pieces will come together and I will have the new year I hope for.

First of all…It’s a slip not a slide: My very wise friend and fellow writer, Cindy Bultema, once spoke about the importance between a slip and a slide. Slips are quick and easy to get over. Slides are long and drawn out. The difference between the two is almost always my attitude and the way I choose to see and react to what life brings. So January and February did not go the way I planned, hoped, or expected. So what! They don’t have to be a slide or, in other words, these past few weeks DO NOT determine the rest of my year. They can be overcome. I can move on. Quick. Easy. A slip not a slide.

Next there’s this…God’s grace can cover this too: The weeks of sickness my family has experienced is something I can’t control and sometimes recognizing what’s within my control and what isn’t, is half the battle. Rather than fighting against something I can’t control, my limited energy is much better spent doing the things I can do and trusting God with the rest. Because the truth is, His grace really is enough. For all the things that go undone, for all the ways I fall short, He provides what’s needed. Always, just what’s needed. So, yeah, we’ve missed a ton of school days. And, yeah, my writing is on life support, and yeah, these thighs, they ain’t gettin’ smaller… but we’re doing what we can, as we can, and somehow, I trust. I TRUST. It’s all gonna shake out in the wash.

And finally…None of this determines my worth: This is the big one isn’t it? The one we don’t even realize we’re doing to ourselves. The one that sneaks in like a snake and steals every spark of truth we have, every shred of joy, every fiber of peace. When set backs like this happen, when things don’t go the way I planned, it’s so easy for me to go there, to that place where I’m discouraged, where I’m convinced that I’m a failure, where all evidence shows I’m blowing it big time. And once I’m there it’s hard to get back. But the truth? This has nothing to do with me. It. Is. A Cold. A long-lasting, miserable, terrible cold. It is not a reflection of who I am and it’s not a measure of what I’m worth. When I find my identity getting mixed up with what’s going on around me, I know it’s time to start taking captive each and every thought. Inspect every one. Keep the truth: God’s got this. I am loved. It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. His grace is sufficient. I am His and He is mine. Nothing can steal my peace or my joy. Pitch the lie: Ha! You haven’t blogged in a month and you call yourself a writer? How could you? What were you thinking? You are a terrible mother. What a mess you’ve made. What a failure. What a screw up.

Whether it’s at the start of a brand new year or anywhere in between, when the stuff of life sets you back, hang on tight to these three things. They may not take the sting away, but they will get you through.

Like Elderberry mixed with a day or two on the couch, may they be nourishment, comfort, and the cure for what ails you.

Three Things to Remember for Gut Check Times Like Now

 

patriotic-flagIt’s gut check time.

 In my house

In my heart

In our country

It all became incredibly real to me this morning. On a cold and rainy Wednesday, in a house dark from low hanging clouds, nothing was going right. Everything around us was crumbling like leaves.

An alarm clock didn’t go off, kids were yelling and fighting, my cold wasn’t going away, his deals weren’t coming through. A dream we’ve all been counting on, hoping for, sat dusty on the shelf.

I had this feeling of holding my breath. An anxious feeling. A deep feeling. A feeling of just wanting everything to come together, fall in place, turn out perfect.

Isn’t perfection what we’re all hoping for, searching for, chasing after?

And aren’t we all sort of holding our breath? 

In a world where we constantly dribble out posts, and blurb out speeches, and rail through our long and thought out arguments of who, and what, and where, and why and, honestly, who cares? I’m tired of the fluff, the Sunday school answers, the witty quips and replies.

Nope. In times like these, I need the real stuff. The good stuff. The stuff that moves me. The stuff that moves mountains.

I need the stuff of God.

For my family this morning

For me this day

For our country at this all important hour 

I need to look up. I want to lean in. I have got to figure out a way to keep pressing on.

So where do we find the stuff of God? How do we hunt for it, chase it down? Of course there are millions of ways but for me, it all keeps coming back to three essentials:

 Prayer

Worship

And The Lord of the Rings

Not expecting that third one? Don’t worry, I’ll explain…

IMG_5648But first: Prayer

I know, I know, the Sunday school answer, right?

But it isn’t right; it’s wrong, so wrong, to feel that way about such an important thing and so reflective of how far we’ve gotten from where we need to be.

That prayer is taken so lightly, resisted so fully, and overlooked so readily is evidence of a heart and a people holding God at arm’s length.

Because prayer is power. It is aligning ourselves directly with the King of Kings. With His throne. With His armies. It is our way of doing combat in a world constantly at war. This is true on the level of our individual hearts, our household, and our world at large, our nation included.

We need prayer. We need to pray. It is vital, and in gut check times like this prayer is how we adjust our focus away from ourselves, away from what is happening, and zero in on His way, His truth, His love.

This is how we look up.

Next up: Worship

Again, I know, we’ve heard it before, and yet worship is the last thing I ever feel like doing because worship is surrender. In order for me to worship Him directly, I have to stop worshiping all the lesser things that have taken up space in my heart. 

It’s so much easier to check out than surrender up a song, a dance, a word of thanks. But when I do? My arms open wide; literally, I can’t keep them in. My knees bend and I fall to the floor. I am physically bowed low and internally overcome. I am filled with nothing less than His presence.

All those lesser things I was worshiping, clinging to, hoping for ebb away as He fills in the blanks, the cracks, and all my broken.

This is how we lean in.

FootprintsAnd press on…

How do we press on? When dreams are put on hold, and hearts are smashed, and our world is so completely screwed up? 

When rulers are wicked? And injustice thrives? And all hope seems lost? 

Enter: The Lord of the Rings

In my family we turn to Hobbits. To Aragorn and Arwen. To our old friend Gandalf and the epic story/struggle of The Lord of the Rings to get our hearts on track. Because in this story, we see our story. In their struggle we see our own. In their victories we remember what ours have been and imagine what future victories could look like.

We remember who we are and Whose we are, and in remembering we find hope. We find the stuff of God.

I know this looks different for everyone. For me it’s LOR and other tried and true movies, books, and stories. For you it may be a song, a picture, a verse, a day at the lake or a walk in the woods. 

You know the stuff. Whatever gets you your heart back. Whatever reminds you who you are (God’s Beloved), what you’re made of (His image, His likeness), who you belong to (Him, the Savoir, the King). That’s what we have to hunt for, return to, fill up on, linger in. 

This is how we press on.

We all want perfect. 

Perfect dreams to come true

Perfect houses to live in

Perfectly behaved children

Perfect love 

Perfect health

Perfect policies

A perfect candidate

IMG_4076It all became incredibly real to me this afternoon. After the turmoil of this morning. After praying with my family and stirring mac-in-cheese to the tune of The Great I Am, after making plans with my man and my girls for a popcorn and Frodo night…

The perfection I want in this life, whether it’s in a perfectly picked-up living room, a perfectly executed day of school, or the dreams I imagine coming perfectly true, none of it is for here. Perfection isn’t for this world. Perfection is for heaven. I am never going to get it perfectly all together. I’m not supposed to.

I can stop holding my breath…

What is for here is Him. HIM! And I can have all of Him I want. But to get to Him I have to look up. I have to lean in. I have to press on. 

Our future is uncertain. Nothing is as it should be. It would be easy to lose hope. 

 And yet? 

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand… 

 All other ground is sinking sand.”*

 

* From the hymn, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, by Edward Mote

For When You Just Want to Shut Down and Stop Your Heart from Bleeding

 

Tarheel PinA few weeks ago I posted a blog about what to do when your life feels like a March Madness buzzer beater and you’re on the losing team. Little did I know this was just the fate that would soon befall my beloved UNC Tarheels.

For anyone not into the drama of college basketball and the NCAA tournament, last Monday the University of North Carolina went head to head against Villanova in the championship game. With just seconds left on the clock Carolina’s Marcus Paige made an epic three point shot to tie the game and force what everyone thought would be an overtime square off.

But it wasn’t to be.

As the last tenths of a second ticked away Villanova’s Kris Jenkins shot a game winning three pointer destroying hopes and dreams of a UNC victory.

Going from the ultimate college basketball high to the ultimate low I watched my favorite players leave the court looking stunned, distraught, and dejected; my feelings, tumultuous as they were, surely only a fraction of what they were feeling.

To say the least it was heartbreaking.

Now I know the world of college basketball and all that transpires in the throws of March Madness is small cookies compared to the battles taking place in the real world. It’s a micro issue, respectively, but even still it stirs the hearts of those invested. I know it rattled mine.

And if nothing else, it has served this week as a reminder to me of a truth that matters in all of life’s battles both big and small:

Those who love deeply, hurt deeply. 

 

It happens all the time, the temptation to save your skin and your heart from pain. To check out, give up, ignore, don’t look, don’t touch, don’t feel. Don’t listen, don’t see, invest, get involved. Don’t go deeper. Don’t be real. And for heaven’s sake don’t let yourself be vulnerable. Because pain is always involved when you give your heart away. 

All day Monday I fought a subtle urge to not even watch the game. If they lose, I thought, I don’t want to see it. The disappointment that would cause the players…Coach Roy…me… would just be too unbearable.

But that game? That game! And, yeah, I got burned in the end…But how could I miss that game? 

When you find yourself hurting deeply, take heart! It means you loved deeply. And what has the Savior shown us about life but that loving deeply is the only way to really and truly live? 

All the things we love, the big and the small, it matters! It matters to Him. It matters to the story of your life.

When you start to get that feeling, that temptation to stop right there, to go no further, to look away, stop and think for a minute. Don’t just think about what you want to avoid, imagine what you’ll miss by shutting down your heart:

That relationship

That sunrise

That victory

That wholeness

That health

That smile

Laughter

Kisses

Welcome home hugs

Knowing what you’re made of

Knowing what He’s made of

Knowing what forgiveness feels like 

A life with as few regrets as possible

For all my Carolina dreams of winning the national championship, for all life’s battles both big and small, for all the deeply hurting, perhaps Garth Brooks said it best in the words of his classic song: 

“And now

I”m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end

The way it all would go

Our lives

Are better left to chance

I could have missed the pain

But I’d have had to miss

The dance” *

Lean in. Invest. Be open. Stay open. Stay. In. The. Pool. Be you. Be real. Give your heart away. Give your heart to Him.

And whatever you, no matter what, don’t abandon the big dance for the sake of all the madness.

No, grab your Cinderella slippers and linger after midnight.

*Lyrics from The Dance by Tony Arata

March Madness: For When Your Life Feels Like a Buzzer-Beater (and You’re on the Losing Team)

 

NetSince the last time I posted:

~ My husband fell in our garage, severely spraining his ankle and breaking his foot

~ My mom-in-law was in a bad car accident fracturing her foot in six different places

~ I received emotionally distressing news related to my writing life

~ All three of my girls followed by Chris and me came down with chest colds that won’t go away

~ Two birthday parties for my little ones have been cancelled and rescheduled due to injuries and sickness

~ In addition to the cold I came down with a painful mastitis infection

~ Chris’s grandfather became seriously ill while traveling away from home

~ Our homeschooling schedule has been turned on its head

And yet…

~ There’s also this:

IMG_5648~ And this:

Blue Eye Belle~ And this:

Blue Moon Smile~ There’s the super-cool ice machine my husband’s business associate sent him to help with icing his foot

~ There’s medicine and immune boosters helping all of us heal

~ There’s a chance for me to grow as a writer and make my novel better

~ There’s our pastor friend who prayed over us

~ Family and friends who understand a change of plans and give us grace (times two)

~ A special guest speaker at my writing group and a wonderful evening with friends

~ Little girls that keep being golden despite their stuffy noses

~ Prayers for Grandpa and signs of improvement

IMG_5649~ The first glimpse of spring in Michigan

~ Supernatural pain relief for my mom-in-law after her recent surgery to repair her foot

~ My mom who has kept our clothes clean and our bellies full

They call this season March Madness and our March, so far, has been just that. We’ve been attacked emotionally, spiritually, and physically. It’s been one thing after another and at times my spirits have sunk pretty low.

But there’s also been a lot of good, a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. In the midst of the madness, in the midst of the storm, I’ve been reminded this week that we do have a choice.

~ We can choose to focus on the good or focus on the bad.

~ We can choose to keep our eyes on God or keep our eyes on all that’s going wrong.

~ We can choose to give our hearts away to Satan and his attacks or we can stand in the name of Jesus and fight to keep our hearts intact.

 Anyone can praise God when things are going great, when life is good and beautiful. I want to praise Him in the midst of the madness. As the popular lyrics of Matt Redman’s worship song says, “let me be singing when the evening comes…” * I want to be found signing at night regardless of the day.

My life, as of late, feels a bit like a buzzer-beater. It’s been fast! Dramatic! And crazy! And it feels like we keep coming up short, like we just keep losing. 

But with God nothing is ever lost. Anything and everything is always there, working together for good.

* 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin