‘Where’s your church? I’m standing in it.’
Yesterday I blogged about butterflies and transformation. It wasn’t a random topic choice. As I had shared with readers previously, our family had a tumultuous week that included a death, a birth, and a wedding. A detail I did not share at the time was that the family member we lost, was the mother of the bride. This circumstance was heart-breaking to everyone- but the ripples of sadness were of course strongest for the bride who had lost her mother, and for my beloved Aunt and Uncle who had lost their daughter.
When the pain of life seems too great to bear, I always lean toward symbolism. Finding small ways to make meaning out of loss is one of the most potent healers there is. With this in mind, as a gesture to honor the empty seat there would be at the wedding, I asked the bride if it would be okay to release some live butterflies in her Momma’s honor. She loved the idea and because the loss occurred on Tuesday and the wedding was on Saturday, there was no time to spare.
I hopped on Google and typed in the words: ‘order live butterflies.’ Oodles of sites popped up- I quickly scanned the page and clicked on the one that ‘felt’ right. Within five minutes the purchase was complete. The order confirmation came and showed a picture of the standard gift box the butterflies would come in. It looked like a large heart shaped candy box, shiny black in color with white polka dots and a pink bow splayed diagonally across it. This was the only packaging option available, so this would be what we were getting. It was not until I sent a photo of the box off to the bride that I was informed that the wedding colors were… white, and black, and pink.
This cosmic collision of color pleased me to no end, and I shared the story liberally- and there was much variation in how it was perceived. Everyone smiled, but most ascribed only minor meaning to the synchronicity. No one referenced the kind of direct interaction that I perceived to be at play. In my world, it was my cousin’s hand, reaching across from the other side, that guided me to that specific website … it was her way of letting us know that she was still very much present and active at her daughter’s wedding.
I know- some will read this and think I am brimming with wishful thinking- but I have a lifetime of experience that has taught me how the next world subtly transposes itself upon this world. As powerful as these interactions are, the connections are also very simple: they are seamless, unobtrusive, and tender. The lack of bells and whistles can unfortunately make some negate the significance of these events. I never sell my small miracles short- instead I hoard them- collecting them up like a child gathering seashells. At the end of the day, I may be the only one gazing at my hodgepodge collection of miracles, but these things – they are my church.
When the butterflies arrived to our house on Friday, I unfastened the outer cardboard packing. I was a little shocked to see the gift box itself was only about the size of a baseball. From the photo, my expectation had been that it would be much larger. This unexpected detail made my pulse quicken a bit. I had done zero research, read not a single review on this company… I had only followed my heart. What if I had made a mistake? The butterflies were supposed to be packed on ice and dormant- the folded instruction sheet advised that 45 minutes before their intended flight, they were to be set out into the warm air. I had envisioned regal monarch butterflies, (although nowhere had I actually read this…) Of course, now I was wondering how 24 of these grand creatures could ever fit into that small box that was sitting in front of me…. I carefully pried the small box from the packing and gingerly lifted the heart shaped lid. Inside was a grey lump of legs and wings… Not one of them was moving- nor were any of them beautiful. I felt my heart sink. They looked more like moths than butterflies- and I was not sure if they were dormant or one step worse. They were as colorless and still as they could be. I gently replaced the lid and put the ice back in the box and retired the whole thing to a back bedroom.
It is moments like these that require faith. I knew the worst thing that could happen would be to have this ‘live butterfly’ gesture, that was meant to bring comfort, instead bring no butterflies and no flight. I left that box untouched in a back room of our house for the next 24 hours, and I went straight to church. ‘My Church’ as today’s quote implies, is inside of me… and it comes with me wherever I go. As doubt creeped in, and the worry of lifeless butterflies nipped at my heels, I stayed focused on the loving Universe that I believe in; the one that would never deliver a black and white and pink box to my family… and allow the contents of it to be a mistake. I thought of my beloved cousin and her wide smile and open heart… and I affirmed with my whole being, that she herself, had picked this box, and these butterflies, with the utmost of care.
On Saturday afternoon we arrived to the wedding with our polka dotted box of hope in hand. The outdoor setting was gorgeous, and as we made our way across the grass I saw the empty chair. The visual hit me sharply, and my tears arrived more rapidly than I expected ….. A large purple organza butterfly was fastened to the chair back, and a picture of my cousin smiling peered out of a beautiful frame. In the row of chairs directly behind this, sat that new Momma. She had the telltale blanket draped diagonally across one side of her body, and jutting straight out from that blanket were the wrinkly little legs of a three day old baby at the breast. A smile then formed just as quickly as my tears had. I gently placed the tiny box on the empty chair, but before I turned to make my way to my own seat…. I lifted the lid just a little…. It did not look much different than it had the day before. No color. No life.
The wedding began and after the bride and groom took their places, the first thing the minister did was to acknowledge that a loss had taken place and that my sweet cousin’s presence would be honored with a live butterfly release. I held my breath as the box was gently opened… And right on cue…. dozens of small, beautiful, brightly colored butterflies began their ascension. When the grey lifeless creatures I had seen had become the vivid orange and black beauties that now gently wafted in the air, I could only guess. The butterfly release could not have been more perfect- it was seamless, and tender, and quiet…as connections from the other side usually are.
It felt good to have found a small way to honor a loss without diminishing the beauty of this new beginning. My cousin’s presence was palpable, and perhaps most telling of all, was the single butterfly that wasted no time making its way to the bride and groom- landing perfectly centered on the grass directly in front of them. It stayed there for the better part of the whole ceremony.
I am not sure why the butterflies were grey when I peeked at them…. But I know it was not my imagination because my eldest son saw them too. Maybe that is what a dormant butterfly looks like? Or maybe a transformation of a higher order took place- one that we could not witness directly? I am not too worried about understanding the hard logic of any of it- because the experience just as it occurred was perfect.
The wedding was beautiful- yes, there was sorrow, but more than anything there was overflowing joy. The empty chair was a poignant reminder of what was lost, but the love and unity among everyone who was there was a testament to the strength of connection.
And the two dozen butterflies – they were 24 perfect reminders that we should never give up on things during the dormant periods …those grey, quiet, times that life delivers to every one of us…. The days with no color…. they too, are just part of the process…. And if we trust the process and follow it through, the colors will unveil themselves, and the wings will give flight.
This week, my church just happened to have polka dots and a pink bow, and next week it is sure to be different. Where ever your church is….I hope you stand in it often.