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.

How Not to Get Caught in the Tradition Trap this Holiday Season

Christmas Tree With PresentsHoliday Season? That’s right, friends! Whether we’re ready for it or not the holidays are upon us. And with the holidays…Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s… comes a mob of traditions.

Trunk-or-treating at Grandma and Grandpa’s church

Aunt Becky’s mac-n-cheese, a Thanksgiving staple

Mr. Wonderful’s Ten Days of Christmas

 Church on Christmas Eve

 Monkey bread on Christmas 

 Chip dip, Catan, and champagne as we ring in the New Year.

 The list is endless and seems only to grow with each passing year.

Each year, before the holiday crazies get going I have a little tradition of my own. Every fall one of my favorite authors, Nicholas Sparks, releases a brand new, tear-jerking novel and my tradition is this: On the day his latest story releases I drive to Barnes & Noble where I find his book waiting for me just inside the door. I browse through several copies savoring the process. I check the pages for crimps and crinkles. I sniff the dizzying new book smell. I pick the perfect one and hold it close to my chest. Next I meander over to the café and order my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season. Then I sit, sip, and read until my heart’s content or my hubby/kids need me at home.

Christmas LightsThis past Tuesday Nicholas, (because I like to pretend we’re on a first name basis), released his first novel in two years, See Me, and I was bound and ready for a trip to B&N. I planned it out in my mind. Tuesday is story time at our local Barnes & Noble providing the perfect chance for both my girls and me to have some fun.

But then life happened. So much life I can’t even remember what derailed our plans, but no matter, here I am on Saturday afternoon, my tradition still waiting to happen.

And to be honest, while I’m excited to read Nicholas’s new book, and let me just tell you, I always, always, love a good excuse to go to Barnes & Noble, I’m kind of not-that-into-it this year. I’m wondering if it’s time to let go of this tradition.

Maybe it’s because we don’t really have the money right now to spend on a new book I don’t really need. (Want? Heck, yes! Need? Not so much.)

Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since one of Nicholas’s books captivated my heart like his earlier novels did. (Don’t get me wrong, I love all his stories but The Longest Ride doesn’t hold a candle to my all-time favorite, The Notebook.)

And maybe it’s simply because traditions are supposed to serve me, serve us. Never the other way round.

Black FridayThis is what we need to remember as we gear up for the holidays. Traditions can be wonderful things. They bring romance to our lives by drawing us to people, places, and things that make our hearts sing. Traditions encourage us to live outside of the norm, to grab hold of life, and in many cases should be fought for even when they’re inconvenient.

But if we’re not careful, traditions, or rather, the pressure cooker we build around them, can enslave us to patterns, habits, and behaviors that no longer serve a purpose, at least not a healthy one.

Whenever we find ourselves feeling not-that-into a tradition it’s time to take stock and ask ourselves the whys and wherefores behind the tradition in question.

Is it a blessing to us or others?

Does it require time and money we don’t really have?

 What’s the worse that will happen if we decide to do something different?

 Who are we seeking to please?

Depending on the answers to these questions it may be time to let the tradition go. Giving yourself the freedom and permission to do so ushers in peace, and grace, and makes room for other blessings to grow.

I’ve shared this quote before, and I’d like to share it again. It’s so important and needed at the start of the holidays, and I hope it will help you navigate the tradition trap this year:

“Whenever Christmas (Insert: Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years, Christmas cards, Christmas trees, Black Friday, trick-or-treating, caroling, turkey, pies, decorations, presents, shopping, etc…) begins to burden, it’s a sign that I’ve taken on something of the world and not of Christ.”

~ Ann Voskamp (Insert Mine)

May this be your rule of thumb to keep traditions from ruling you.

This holiday season may you and yours find joy in traditions that whisper His name and freedom from the noise that doesn’t.

~From the Archives

A NaNoWriMo Love Story

english-innIt was the morning of my birthday when Mr. Wonderful walked into our room and asked me if I’d like to sneak away and spend a night at the English Inn.

The English Inn, a lovely and charming bed and breakfast in Eaton Rapids, Michigan has become, throughout the years, one of our very favorites places.

“Are you serious,” I asked, knowing full well that when it comes to matters of sneaking away, Mr. Wonderful is almost always quite serious. (Swoon!)

“Yeah, I’m serious,” he said. “But here’s the thing, some guys just called from Lansing and they need me on a job site first thing Monday morning. I can either get up at 5:00 and drive up from our house or I thought maybe we could check in and stay at the inn Sunday night putting me just a half hour away. I won’t be able to stay with you on Monday, but I thought maybe you could use that time to write until you have to checkout. With your birthday, I thought it just might be perfect. What do you think?”

What do I think??? Let’s bust this joint, Baby…

chaiseQuite honestly, here’s what I think. I think all this was nothing short than God’s birthday gift to me. I know it was and here’s why.

For weeks now I’ve been thinking, daydreaming really, about my secret birthday wish. I’ve been imagining how wonderful it would be to sneak away to the inn either by myself of with Mr. Wonderul for a chance to just sit down and write. No interruptions. No other demands. To be in a place of beauty, a place that inspires me, and place that feels like Jane Austen or some other fairytale creature might just waltz into my room or walk through the woods at any moment. (Not to mention a fireplace and a chaise lounge…squeal!)

For me this is heaven. It’s what I long for… secretly wish for.

But life is busy. It takes time and money to pull that off. It takes babysitters, and planning, and I feel guilty to even ask. So I’ve kept my wish to myself, thinking it just isn’t possible.

But God?

word-swag-english-innGod knows my secrets. He knows my daydreams and the wishes of my heart. And He knows how to surprise and romance me.

This is His way, to delight His beloved with a stunning romance. With a fairytale. A love story.

He knows our hearts! And He delights in granting our wishes.

I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve Him. And yet He is exactly what I’ve been given.

On my birthday…

And everyday. I’ve been blessed with the greatest of gifts…

A husband who loves me. (Thank you so much, Honey)

Parents who’ll watch my babies at the drop of a hat. (Mom and Dad, you are the best!)

And a Savior who woos and romances me.

I am faint with love.

What You Have to Know About Today

 

IMG_5847For God’s Message of Hope…

So what is it about the summer that makes the kids grow?

Clearly, there’s the sun, the sky, the gobs of fresh air. But there’s also the fact that summer was made for childhood, and inherently a child knows they must rise to the occasion. As they rise they have this way of growing like rows of emerald corn. Bright. Tall. Wholesome. Sweet. They stretch to the sky before our eyes.

This summer My Blessing grew into the pureness and fullness of seven. She grew into books and adventure and a love for testing the laws of nature.

God’s Promise grew into one. Leaving baby days behind a little more each day she embraced the wonders of a toddler’s world. She grew into words, and slides, and big attempts, despite her little size, to do just what her sisters do.

And Hope…oh, my Hope Girl As the heat of summer fades, Hope’s days of being four are dipping below the horizon like a shining sliver of orange sun.

Skin to SkinI don’t know what it is about the change from four to five but it gets me every time. It catches my breath and startles me, catching me off guard.

I remember this moment when My Blessing was about to turn five. How the hot arrow of realization struck me and singed my heart with knowing that My Blessing, age four, was about to be gone forever. Never to be seen or known again.

And now here I am with Hope savoring her fourness. Savoring her suckin’ fingers, and golden hair. Her faithful friend Froggy and twirling dresses. Her Barbies, and dolls, and princessy, glittery, has to be every-shade-of-PINK-under-the-sun-things.

Her tiny wisp of a voice.

Her heart that beats for Daddy.

Her half-pint size still not quite too heavy to pick up and squeeze and hold.

And I know these things won’t leave completely as she flutters her wings into five. But five brings us ever closer to that dreaded precipice. To that place and time when Barbies and dolls and dresses that twirl will lose the fight to friends, and make-up, and dresses that twirl boys’ heads.

Tenley HandLast night at bedtime I held her. I snuggled her so close she squeaked. I kissed her all over her face and looked long and deep into her sapphire blue eyes.

“Mommy, what are you doing to me?” She said with half a giggle and half a groan.

“I’m memorizing you,” I said. “I know I’m going to fall head over heels in love with Hope, age five, but boy am I going to miss, My Hope Girl, age four.”

To this she simply smiled, grabbed her Froggy, and rolled over, ready for the sweetest of dreams.

And, sure, she can roll her eyes and shake her head over her crazy mama. (Two gestures of appreciation, I am sure, have only just begun…) Of course she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t understand. But someday….

Someday God’s Message of Hope, age 34, will sit on the edge of a bed. She’ll look long and deep into eyes that look just like her own and she’ll know.

Mama wasn’t crazy. These days ARE fleeting and few.

 Each one a masterpiece, a summer sunset.

 Created, given, and meant to be savored.

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