“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” -Nathaniel Hawthrone
As I was preparing worship and a sermon for what would be my last Sunday at Peakland United Methodist as their Associate Minister, the communications coordinator, Kim, shared with me the bulletin cover she designed. It had a key verse from one of the scriptures I was using and a picture of a butterfly. It was perfect on all sorts of levels.
I hesitated to ask her to change anything. Finally, I asked if it would be possible to make the orange butterfly a yellow butterfly. She gave me one of those, “that’s an odd request” look, and then said, “Sure.”
It was important to me that it was a yellow butterfly.
On the surface, it is an odd request. But, here’s why I made it.
After my dad died in April of 2001, my mom went on a trip to the beach with some friends. Whenever they talked about my dad, a yellow butterfly would appear, and flutter around them. Once home, Mom told me and others in the family that story. Whenever any of us would see a yellow butterfly, we would think of Dad. Still, fifteen years later, whenever I see a yellow butterfly, I think of my Dad.
In our Christian faith, butterflies symbolizes resurrection.
I know lots of people who are mesmerized by butterflies. There are plenty of churches who deck the halls with these winged insects at Easter. I have written a lesson for children where they talk about the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly, with the emergence from the chrysalis symbolizing new life.
The butterfly is an important symbol in our faith.
The butterfly is a reminder that the old will slip away and be replaced by the new. One of the scripture passages in the Service of Death and Resurrection is Revelation 21:1-7. In this we read, “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.'”
While there is much about faith that is still a mystery to me, I know that there is hope in resurrection. This hope is what gives us courage to live each day to the fullest. It enables us to strive for newness, and not be complacent with the old. It reminds us that the One who is always with us, will make all things new.
Here’s the thing: These butterflies always seem to show up when I’m having a hard time.
In moments of uncertainty, great stress, or decisions that are bigger than me, a yellow butterfly would appear. And I would be reminded that whatever I was going through, I was not alone. A reminder of the great promise that “I will always be with you.” (see Matthew 28:20)
At other times, it would remind me that I “got this.” That whatever big decision or life change I was about to make, was indeed the right one. As if my Dad was saying to me, “Be confident in yourself. You can do this.”
During the week when my family and I kept vigil over my PaPa (my grandfather) as he transitioned from this world to the next, yellow butterflies were all around.
Some of my cousins and I stayed a night at the house, and I’m glad we did. Even though PaPa’s condition had weakened as the day went one, late that night, he got himself up out of bed and was using his walker to go to the bathroom. This random burst of energy did not last. He was not going to be able to get back to bed on his own without help.
In the morning as the next shift of family members came in, my cousin Angie and her husband Tommy were walking over to her mom’s house. Later she shared with us that she offered a prayer and then asked Dad for a sign.
Immediately, a yellow butterfly showed up.
The butterfly stayed with them, just ahead, as they walked down the driveway, up the road, and to her mom’s house. Once they reached their destination, the butterfly flew away.
Then, on the day my PaPa claimed the promise of the resurrection, a butterfly was fluttering around outside his bedroom window. My back was to the window, but my brothers and cousins saw it.
While my PaPa had not been in the greatest of health recently, he was still moving around on his own or with the aid of a walker. A week before his death, he had walked on his own to his work shop and came back with a wooden cat he had made to give to Toddler J.
The rapid decline in health was a surprise.
The sudden reality that he was actively dying was a shock.
The presence of hospice was hard.
The yellow butterflies, however, reminded us that we were not alone.
It was hard to see him in such a weakened state. A man who was so strong in so many ways, now relying on his grandchildren to be strong for him. This was a man who did not speak often, but when he did, you hung onto every word. It was difficult to see him barely able to form words and sentences. It was even harder to administer the morphine to help control his pain.
Yet, through the pain, the suffering, and the crying, all things are being made new. The resurrection gives us hope for that day where there will be no more pain, suffering, or crying. A day when there will be no more dying.
As I stood in the pulpit eulogizing my PaPa in the church that he cleaned every week for forty-plus years, I happened to look out the back window and there fluttering around was a yellow butterfly.
Now, as Toddler J and I sit in our sun room watching squirrels, this week we have watched a few yellow butterflies.