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.