That’s what it was now, broken, with an asymmetrical flutter to wings that only moments before lifted the butterfly in a dance around the church lawn. Only a few seconds ago I had stood watching sunlight reflect off of its colorful wings as it bounced across the blades of grass.
The butterfly, however, was not what had first caught my eye as I stood in line to pick up my son, Alec, from a day camp for special needs children at a local church in town. It was the child — the boy with autism — that first captured my attention. He was tugging on the arm of his caregiver with a brawny strength, roughly pulling her this way and that as they waited for his family to come for him. The boy jerked the girl from spot to spot, physically unable to stand at a stillness. The young caregiver gently pulled him back to a safer place, never losing her smile, each time he got too close to the parking lot or a passing car. She never let go of his hand.
As I watched the two in a strange dance of their own, my heart ached for the boy just as it does whenever I see a child struggling with autism. That familiar feeling rose from the pit of my stomach, the same one that I felt when I did not know how to reach my autistic son Alec in his younger years. I will never forget how hard and long the days could be.
Lost in my memories, I was more than happy when the butterfly caught my eye. I couldn’t help but notice the tiny insect, darting from blade to blade with a seeming carelessness. I was so entranced by its dance that I forgot the sun’s scorch on the 100 degree day.
I can only describe what happened next as a visual that still haunts me.
As I watched this butterfly, the boy appeared from behind me, pulling his caregiver to where I was standing. In one quick swoop – and before his caregiver could stop him – his hand shot down and captured the butterfly in his clenched fist. She pulled it free from the boy’s grasp and I watched fragile wings fall to the sidewalk. Now earthbound, the butterfly fluttered for a few moments before dying.
Isn’t it strange how something so simple can hit you so hard? I could feel grief rising in the back of my throat, but I wasn’t sure what it was about the scene that hurt me most. Was it the brokenness of a boy who longed to touch something beautiful and carefree, only to crush the life from it? Or was it the thought of how quickly something so lovely can die?
The vivid scene stuck with me all night. I prayed that God would help me understand why there is so much pain in the world. I couldn’t shake the image of the butterfly’s falling wings from my mind.
The next morning, I packed Alec’s lunch and we drove off for another day at this excellent day camp. I parked the car and walked with my son up to the church. I stepped onto the sidewalk right behind a little girl about 8 years old with Down’s Syndrome. The sunlight bounced off of her golden hair as she skipped along holding her mother’s hand. Without a care in the world, she sang a song and when I heard the words that she sang, I stopped in my tracks:
“I am a beautiful butterfly! I am a beautiful butterfly”
With each light step, she twirled and sang this little song. A tingle ran up my spine as I realized what God was showing me.
Yes, Lord, I get it! These handicapped children are the butterflies. They are full of beauty! Filled with grace and wonder. How lovely and special they are to You, Lord, and how precious a gift it is to get to behold one single moment of the beauty that lives within them!
We are all a bit broken, aren’t we?
And yet, we are graced. We are graced to be touched by the beauty that exists in brokenness. There is a beauty beyond compare in brokenness. How precious it is to be a parent to one of these broken, beautiful butterflies, to be privileged to see God carry them through painful days by the strength of an encouraging smile. To feel the loss of what might have been, the crush of overwhelming need, and the Divine Light that runs through it all and makes it worth our efforts.
Thank you, Sweet Jesus, for choosing me to love a child with a special need.
After I entered the church that morning, I noticed that each of the day campers wore a handmade name tag necklace tied with yarn. Each child’s name was printed on a cardboard silhouette of — you guessed it — a butterfly.
Alec’s teenage camp buddy leaned down to greet my son with a high five and a smile. Then I noticed something else. All of the counselors wore colorful shirts with the words “I am a New Creation” on the front. On the back of each shirt was the week’s Bible verse:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature;
the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Finally, I understood! Like the butterfly, we are all broken, but, praise God, there is great beauty within our brokenness. Better yet, we are new creatures with a future and a hope of eternity — unbroken — in Christ. One day each broken body will be resurrected to a new beauty unimaginable in this life.
Forever restored, we will rise up to dance
a never-ending dance before the very throne of the Most High.
Love this post! I was a teacher of children with special needs for about 13 years until staying home to teach my own children. Our church just finished serving at a home for severely disabled children during VBS week. It was such an awesome blessing to serve them – God’s creation – just as we are. Thanks for expressing your thoughts so beautifully.
What a great project for your church to do! Kudos to them for reaching out to these kids. No doubt, many were blessed.
I cry these tears not for myself
I cry them for the joy I have been blessed to share
I cry them for the simplicity that I can only imagine
is greater than my wildest dreams. God’s magic seen
in the beauty of these precious gifts to parents.
Exactly! Oh, I love the comment about simplicity. These kids have so much to teach us.
We have adopted 13 of these beautiful butterflies … my greatest joy as I anticipate Heaven are thoughts of looking into their eyes & seeing them look back at me … listening to them speak & sing, the silence forever broken … watching in wonder as they walk, run & play … seeing the wheels turn as they think & process for the first time, simple joys they’ve never tasted … seeing them finally fly … :*)
What a beautiful image, and one that I know you will get to see one day.
I sit here and cry at this story, I have no words… I wish I could say more, but can’t, I am so sorry, this is one of the most touching things i have ever read and the most beautiful!!! Thanks Carol for sending me the link!!!!!!!!
Thanks, Sherry. I really did feel like God wanted me to share this story.
Kelly, I followed the link form Proverbs 31 and I am glad I did. As a mom of 2 adopted little girls who have “brokeness” I have been exhausted in my 7th year of parenting them both. Exhausted to the point of wondering what next….thank you for your eyes…..your eyes have seen the hope that I couldn’t this past week. Bless you. -mm
I know that feeling! Do you have some support? It’s a hard role, being a parent, but I know …that I know.. that I know… that God will give us the strength to endure. As for me, I try to laugh a little every day. Something about laughing (even when I don’t feel like it) makes me feel better.
One of the most beautiful analogies Ive ever read. My grandson has autism and I cant imagine him any other way. He has a joy and enthusiasm for life that takes my breath away and takes away my breath! Truly he is one of Gods most beautiful creations.
Thanks for sharing, and for being a great grandma! My son’s grandparents are SO important in his life, too.
So beautiful and divine in timing for me. As the humble parent of a broken butterfly and an administrator of a facility for many broken butterflies, one who went home to be with the Lord today I am and comforted by the words: Forever restored, we will rise up to dance a never-ending dance before the very throne of the Most High.
Your comment made me cry. God is so, so good, isn’t He?
My son, Christopher, has Downs. It’s a really special privilage to be his mom. Words just aren’t adequate to explain the blessing that he is in our lives. When I get all caught up in what’s going on around me, most of which I can’t control, the simplicity of his life and love brings me back to center. His favorite song is still “Victory in Jesus” . He “gets” it!!♥
Yes, they do “get it!” don’t they? So much more than I do on most days. I love that song, too. What a blessing to hear that sung by your son!
Love this Kelly.
I am so blessed by what you shared… I am a teacher for kids with autism…=)
I have a 4 year old daughter with autism and this link was passed on to me by several people. What a beautiful image and a lovely thing to look forward to. So happy to have found you!
All I can say is what a beautiful story. I could almost feel the joy in this man when he spoke of his child!! Just beautiful
Wow! I’m actually surprised you chose the word “broken” to describe a child with Autism, especially your own child. There is no such child that is created “broken”. Genesis 1:27 clearly states “God created man in his image”. The bible also states in Psalm 139 “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!”
While I understand the difficulties of having a child with special needs, I believe these children are sent to us as a calling to answer to God. Your child is an angel, just as a child with Downs Syndrome, and to be described as “broken” in my opinion is way off course. My daughter has Cystic Fibrosis and has been hospitalized more times than her dad and I put together during our lifetimes. As a result of her disease, I have been drawn closer to God; she was not the one broken..I was. And because of her, I have slowly started piecing my broken parts back together to become part of God’s flock. She is whole and angelic, and she has made me a better person. So if a child with special needs or Austism is considered broken in your eyes, then give me two dozen of those children. I see them as part of God’s invitation to “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest”. Matthew 11:28