It was a normal evening. I was hot and tired. Exhausted. The AC was broken and the unusually cool June had suddenly become hot and oppressive just in time. Making matters worse, we had to keep the windows closed to keep the pollen out of the house because of Joel’s allergies. The children (supposed to be in bed) had been hemming and hawing and “I haven’t brushed my teeth yet” for the past hour. I was trying to finish the kitchen, but there was always another dish, always a bit more clutter to decide what to do with. I hadn’t fed the baby yet and I knew I needed to get to her soon. Thoughts filtered through my mind, “Clutter is just procrastination, Rachel. Why is this junk still in the kitchen?” and other such “motivational” questions and self accusations. I was walking around with storm cloud over my head and heart and I knew it… but somehow the simmering was oddly satisfying so I stoaked it a bit and continued scrubbing the pot I was working on.
“Hey, did anyone know there’s a butterfly up here?”
“WHAT??” I gasped and ran up the stairs with energy unavailable minutes before.
Two of my girls and Joel were gathered around a stained, dusty butterfly atrium that we had used to hatch 5 painted lady butterflies the previous summer. Apparently from the clutter and dried out parsley at emerged a butterfly, a spicebush swallowtail butterfly. And she was nothing short of majestic.
We all watched in awe as she slowly stretched her wings and started to flap them slowly. 3x the size of our painted ladies, she was mostly black with flecks of red, white and brilliant blue, she was elegance enveloped in a tiny creature.
“She’s alive, Mommy! We thought she had died! We thought she was dead but she wasn’t Mommy! Look, look!” The girls chanted at me.
We had found a fat, green caterpillar in the garden devouring our parsley the previous October. It was a strangely warm fall and our herbs had continued growing. We looked it up its features and found it to be a swallowtail caterpillar. I knew the frost was imminent so I told the girls to gather up the caterpillar with a bunch of parsley and put it in the butterfly atrium. I silently worried that once she hatched we wouldn’t have anywhere to let her go, but I figured we’d cross that bridge when we got to it. Frost was coming, and this late bloomer was going to freeze either way. Our guest munched for a while longer and started forming its chrysalis the same day. And that was the end. For nine. Whole. Months. The kids knocked the cage over sever times, the chrysalis was dislodged from its hanger, the parsley had dried and faded. The whole project had become clutter sitting on a dresser. More of mom’s procrastination.
We took pictures and awed at her for a while longer, then we prayed with the girls and put them to bed while they chatted excitedly.
I couldn’t help it. I felt the Spirit moving. The beauty that had emerged from the pile of garbage shocked me out of the mundane of my life that evening. It was so unusual, so unnatural, so SUPERnatural. It felt like a miracle. We had left that little brown package for dead and yet, here she was, emerging as a stunning new creation.
I thought of all the things I had left for dead.
My dreams as a young woman fresh out of university. My career. My talents. I thought of our desire to go back to China and the door that was quickly closing as the politics between the US and China had disintegrated over the past 3 years. The surprise baby we had… then the 3 more. I thought of how many times I had buried my plans and surrendered to God. The babies conceived and lost. The plans formed and set aside. The medical scares and trials, a NICU stay, the suffering and chronic pain disease that had layered dust and clutter all over our ideas and plans for “our” life. Cluttered, forgotten, set aside in the shuffle of life and child raising.
The allegory painted itself wider and wider in my mind as I finished the kitchen. I knew what happened with clutter and garbage in a home and beautiful is not the word I would use to describe it. And yet, here she was, a brand new butterfly; lovely and delicate. A miracle fluttering around, alive. And not just alive, but transformed. Gone was the brilliant green and slow moving, gushing rolls of a well fed caterpillar. She was totally, completely new.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:24-26
I felt the Spirit moving into the deep, cluttered, dusty places of my heart, reminding me that nothing laid down for Him is wasted. Nothing is forgotten. We fall into the fertile grounds of life, trial, suffering and aging; and the seeds of who we are die. But if we die to ourselves, if we lay down and embrace the depth of what He has planned for us, we bring forth many more seeds in this life. I thought of my four little girls, seeds themselves that I pray will in turn die for His purposes. We lose our lives and from them we will discover in eternity the miracle they metamorphosize into. But the butterfly had reminded me that what emerges will not be the same as what I laid down. It will be transformed, renewed, recreated. Different as a caterpillar and a butterfly, as a seed to a mighty tree. And I won’t know the extent of it all until heaven.