Dancing with Butterflies
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36–NIV).
On Saturday, my parents proudly showed us their latest project–a monarch butterfly habitat where several chrysalides already hung from the wire roof and one monarch, having emerged the day before, pumped life into its wings.
A miracle, I thought, thanking God for His marvelous creativity.
And if that wasn’t enough, an hour or so later, I discovered several monarchs dancing around my root cellar garden–flitting from flower to flower, taking respite, as they do each late September, from their southbound migration. I tried several times to capture a photo, but the winged-wonders were too fast.
My “chase” was interrupted by a phone call, though this caller could never be a true interruption. My cousin Carol called to extend an invitation to Bill and me, inviting us to come and visit her and her husband in their Kentucky home. Always a delight, she said, “We’d just love to have you and Bill Mill (her nickname for him) come for a weekend soon. Look at your calendar, and let us know what might work.”
I expressed how lovely that sounded, but then explained that–at least for the immediate foreseeable future–even a weekend getaway was unlikely. “Maybe come November or December,” I added, telling her bit more about the upcoming weeks and why it would be difficult to travel until then.
Carol was thankful to hear a bit about what’s going on with us and graciously added, “Oh yes, let’s just stand on tiptoe and wait with expectation.”
And with those words, I stopped my chase. Right then. Right there. Because even as we spoke, I was walking around my flower garden chasing butterflies. Her words weren’t only absolutely perfect as they related to our attempt to plan a Kentucky visit, but ironically–though she had no idea–brought a metaphorical moment in my life cheek to cheek with that literal moment, when I was quite literally chasing butterflies, trying to take a picture.
Her words transported me. Once again I was that Little Girl standing en pointe, looking in and longing to hear an invitation to join the dance. To hear–
***The following is an excerpt from my memoir My Faith Looks Up (WIP).***
The monarch butterfly, having rested briefly upon the window ledge, flew once more, lightly bumping its reflection in the glass and capturing my attention. I stopped watering geraniums to watch as it turned to glide, carried by the wind over a sea of grass. I followed with my eyes until it disappeared, waltzing somewhere among daisies. In that moment, I, too, was carried away — a little girl, standing on tiptoe….
At the age of four, I accepted Jesus’ invitation to dance. In my mind, it was much like dancing with my daddy. I’d step onto his big feet and, fumbling at first, let him guide me around the room. Dancing with Abba seemed much the same, and I learned the proper steps from the start — the Bible stories and the Sunday School songs. My parents loved me. Jesus loved me. The whole wide world seemed to be my backyard and the Ohio farmland just beyond. I was a happy child.
It seemed I twirled and awoke a teenager. My world was changing. As a young girl, obeying the Bible and my parents was easy. I’d prayed with true intent, asking God to help me make good choices and guide me in my relationships. I desired to remain pure until marriage, keeping Jesus the lead in my life. Then, at thirteen, I met Billy, and our relationship began to take first place. My heart and affections were divided, and I forfeited my boundaries, making unhealthy, sinful choices.
This new dance drew me further from the One who loved me most. With Jesus no longer my primary focus, I spiraled away. The truth of God’s Word and the lies of the world tugged at my heart, each vying for attention. I had a choice. With whom would I dance? The struggle left me weary, and because sin separates us from our Father, I felt isolated and sad. Indeed, the dance had changed.
Over time, a reoccurring image formed in my mind. I began to envision myself as a little girl standing on tiptoe just outside a window, peering through glass. Beyond my reflection, I could see inside — everyone going about their lives with normalcy and joy. It was as if the world was contained within those four walls, but I was left on the outside, alone. No matter how long I stood there, I was never invited in. Never welcomed. Never told that I belonged. I stood there looking until finally, by necessity or by choice, my thoughts turned toward something else. From my mid-teen years into my early twenties, I returned time and time again to the vision of the window, and each instance left me feeling more alone.
I married the young man who’d held my heart since junior high. I was nineteen. Bill was twenty. With the world before us, I dreamed of being a teacher. He studied to become a doctor. We moved to Kentucky to pursue education and careers.
Hopes were high — though, honestly, my spirit was low. Despite graduating with honors and earning the respect of both professors and peers, I felt like a little girl pretending. The window-vision came often — a continuous reminder that somehow I’d fooled everyone into thinking I had it altogether. But I knew the truth: I wasn’t really good enough. Smart enough. Capable enough. I was sinful, and any minute the world would discover this.
Our first couple years of marriage had many challenges. After all, I was in many ways still a child. We battled selfishness at times due to old habits, brokenness and dysfunction. We loved one another, however, and we did love God, maintaining a genuine desire to honor him as a couple. We persevered.
But even more than our determination, the Lover of our souls was tenderly prodding, gently guiding us to dance in broader, more beautiful space. His grace was preparing us for freedom beyond comprehension — spinning my window-vision full circle.
I sensed Abba’s loving invitation, “May I have this dance?” Though tentative at first, I began to step into his presence, spending time with him each morning, reading the Bible and praying. In those moments, I expressed my love for the Lord, repeating four simple words over and over — “I love you, Jesus.” I also claimed by faith, even when void of feeling, that he loved me, saying, “You love me, Lord.” Over time, the words “You love me, Lord” became “I love you, Maureen,” as I began to hear his voice speaking personally to my heart. A counselor and friend, the late Margaret Therkelsen, had written a book called The Love Exchange, and I used her Spirit-guided method for talking to and listening to God as part of this devotional time. As days turned into weeks, I changed — maturing in my faith while, ironically, feeling more and more like Abba’s child.
One day, while in prayer, I heard the Lord say, “Return to the window.”
What? I felt the familiar sting of loneliness and wondered why God would ask me to return to such a painful place. “Really, Lord? Why?”
His answer was simple. “Trust me. Return to the window.”
Because I desired to obey him, despite my doubt and fear, I returned. In my mind, there I was again — standing en pointe, peering in the window. Immediately, I felt alone and sad. Why was I always on the outside? Why didn’t anyone notice and invite me in? But my questions were tenderly interrupted….
“Turn from the window.”
Such a simple request, yet I hadn’t considered turning around to see what was behind. So intent on getting inside, I’d never imagined what was waiting for me on the outside. Having come to recognize his voice, however, I took a step of faith. Obeying, I twirled.
With my back to the window, a whole new world welcomed me — green pastures under a blanket of blue, white cotton clouds overhead and butterflies. Oh, the butterflies!
I began to run, away from the window and over lush grass — chasing butterflies with a net I held in hand. I heard the Lord speak, “You’re free. No longer look to others to find your sense of worth. Instead, turn your gaze toward me — the Way, the Truth and the Life. See yourself through my eyes. In this freedom, I’ll enable you to help set others free.”
That day in early 1991 was a turning point in my life — when a twenty-two year old woman truly rested as his child. Though there were unforeseen difficulties ahead — infertility and a long journey to motherhood; serious health issues for my husband; the loss of two daughters through failed adoptions; and academic struggles for two of our three children — Jesus has always been near. He has never left nor forsaken me or my family. His mercy and grace have been our covering. The new vision he gave me offered hope and gave my life’s dance direction and purpose.
One part of the vision, however, continued to give me pause. For years, I didn’t understand why the Lord would have me chasing butterflies, capturing them with a net. After all, I wouldn’t actually do such a thing. Catching butterflies was for insect collectors who display them with pushpins on bulletin boards. That wasn’t my nature, and I believed the One who knows me best knew that also. So what could it mean? I wondered.
In the spring of 2005, while having my quiet time, the Lord answered. Once again, he invited me to revisit the image of turning from the window. There I was, running barefoot through grass, net in hand. Butterflies danced all around, and I chased them — catching one for a brief moment, then letting it go. Then another. And another. The Lord said, “Just as I told my disciples to cast their nets for fish, they became fishers of men. You, too, are to cast your net, pursuing people. The butterflies are those who are captured by words, spoken and written by you as directed by my Spirit. Go and share my words. Help set people free!”
It’s a paradox — capturing “butterflies” that they might find freedom, but that’s the way of our kind Abba, the Pursuer of hearts. He pursued me, captured and changed me. Joy and freedom weren’t to be found behind glass but rather, in simple obedience — by turning around. My truest reflection could never be seen in a window pane but in the eyes of my Savior, the Lover of my soul — whose anguish purchased my release from captivity.
The monarch butterfly, having turned from the window, waltzed on the wind. In my mind, it dances still. There are words to be shared — a world to capture for freedom. With pen in hand, I dance too.
We hung up–Carol and I. No definitive plans have been made regarding a Kentucky visit, though there’s the hope for such at some point. The invitation’s been offered, and sometimes that’s what’s needed most. That single word–
Until then–“…Stand on tiptoe and wait with expectation.”
I’ll keep chasing butterflies, catching them when I can and promising–as imperfect as I am–to always offer an invitation–
Come and meet the One who is The Word.
Chasing and catching butterflies is my life’s work, and my words–as feeble and fallible as they may be–are my offering, that the message of Jesus might be discovered…
Yes–that each might dance, flying with freedom.
Dearest Word, enable us to know You better and, in doing so, help others to know You too. Use our words–both written and spoken. Better yet, use our very lives, that we might–as encouraged by St. Francis of Assisi–“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” So be it.
(This is my friend Renee Allsbrook whose songs, including My Faith Looks Up to You, have been an inspiration to me and many. Check her out at Novare Music–www.novaremusic.com.)