The Metamorphosis

Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry;
Take your walk
To the shady leaf or stalk.
May no toad spy you,
May the little birds pass by you’
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly

~ Christina G. Rosetti

 

I’ve been thinking about butterflies a lot lately.

Not the ones fluttering around, flitting from flower to flower… No, I’m thinking about the ones trapped in a chrysalis. The ones who aren’t who they were but also not who they’re going to be. The ones who are surrounded all around by a protective shell while they liquefy…

I’m thinking about the ones who are becoming who they will be.

We have all seen caterpillars. When I was a little girl I was enraptured by the tent caterpillars that occupied (and subsequently destroyed) sections of a tree in our yard. I would go out with my glass mayonnaise jar with the holes poked in the lid, and harvest a couple from the tree. I’d prop a stick in the jar and drop a few leaves in there. And I’d watch them for a few days.

caterpillar close up hairy insect

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My mom told me, “Why do you want to keep tent caterpillars? They’re useless, they’re destructive.” I said, “I like them, I want to watch them. They’re caterpillars, Mom!”

So she sighed and indulged my fascination.

But I never stayed fascinated for long. After a couple of days I’d drop them in the yard and set the jar aside. A few days later I’d repeat the operation, but never stuck around to see what the little striped crawlies grew up to be.

In science class our teacher told us about butterflies and moths, and immediately I was glued. Then I was surprised. You see I thought when they cocooned themselves and hung from a branch maybe they shrank and then grew wings. I never knew that in the process they became, effectively, DNA soup.

dna soup

What the caterpillar once was completely died. No, it was still alive, but what it had been was unrecognizable.  According to the Scientific American in its article “How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?” the caterpillar in its silk cocoon (a moth) or hardened protein chrysalis (a butterfly) begins by digesting itself.

How odd. How counterintuitive — what good can come of something DIGESTING itself? Well, if it’s going to mature, it’s got to. In this mystery, certain cell groups survive and become aspects of the grown butterfly (eyes, antennae, wings, etc.). Submitting to liquefaction releases enzymes that digest all the butterfly’s existing tissues. Funny thing is, even before the process begins, certain caterpillars walk around with tiny wings inside their bodies, completely invisible from the outside. No one would know that buried in that earthbound creature is the means of flight. Now some species keep aspects of their original caterpillar form, such as muscle structures and bits of the original nervous systems. But, effectively, what emerges from that chrysalis after the set time passes is nothing like what went in.Butterfly chrysalis translucentIn the mystery inside the butterfly chrysalis, rapid-fire cell reproduction is occurring, fueled by the protein-rich DNA soup they’re in. Cells increasing a thousandfold, by the end of metamorphosis, these creatures could be named new creations.

close up of butterfly pollinating flower

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
~ II Corinthians 5:17

And what was bound to the earth spreads its wings and flies, flits, soars — sometimes traveling for miles and miles. What the caterpillar could never do, the butterfly is uniquely equipped to accomplish. And we marvel at its beauty and amazing qualities. We’d never see this coming if all we saw was the munching, crunching caterpillar, traveling over branches, eating every leaf, seedpod or flower in its way. Who would ever imagine wings on those adorable creatures? And who would even want to change a caterpillar? Aren’t they perfectly acceptable as they are? Why would we even need them to become butterflies?

Here are some fascinating facts I’ve discovered about these flying works of art:

  • There are 20,000 species throughout the world
  • They live one to nine months
  • Depending on the species, they migrate north to south, or south to north
  • Most butterflies lay their eggs on plants that will be eaten by the caterpillar when it hatches
  • They smell through their feet!
  • They are food
  • They are pollinators
  • Some adult butterfly species eat rotting fruit, carrion and other waste (acting as little trash disposers)
  • Their presence or absence is a predictor of whether an ecosystem is healthy.

And there’s so much more! But I think the most important reason we have butterflies is for God to show off His creativity and to make the world we live in breathtaking. They, like all of creation, exist to display His glory. Would any of this have happened if they had stayed caterpillars?

rainbow butterfly

And displaying God’s glory is also why we’re here. We start as tiny, helpless babies, growing in the environment into which we are born. We’re hapless inheritors of all the good, bad, and ugly our parents gave us. This, the same stuff they got, combined to form the original us. We begin in our origin stories, for better or worse, and do the best we can under the circumstances.

At some point, though, we sense a stirring deep inside. We hear our Creator’s whisper, and we respond. Some push away the Voice, sometimes for years. Some are wise and turn to Him immediately, but either way the Voice persists. At a point of decision, we realize we have the choice to say Yes and follow Him or No and walk away. When we say yes, the metamorphosis begins. If we say No, the Divine Pursuit persists.

This original Yes sparks a moving from glory to glory,  and it’s a lifelong process. Now of course all analogies break down and while the caterpillar is only once in its chrysalis, our lives progress from chrysalis to chrysalis. Our many liquefactions produce more and more of our Creator’s image, displayed more remarkably each time we crawl out.

Now unlike the butterfly, we have a choice:  stay earthbound, voracious caterpillars ever eating and never becoming anything but older and more like ourselves in our dysfunction… Or we submit to the painful process of dying to all we were before. This means lying helpless at times, cooperating with our Creator each time for however long it takes to become the divine being we were made to be: The splendid creature hiding inside all along. The glorious one who ever submits to each chrysalis time to display more and more of our Daddy’s stunning allure.

child with butterfly

You make everything glorious and I am Yours —
what does that make me? ~ David Crowder

We discover these transitional metamorphosis times are at times excruciating. The refinement often dredges up painful memories, sometimes flashing in so suddenly we are crushed, bleeding and crying out for relief. Other times we simply receive revelations, pouring liquid light into our aching hearts. In this submitting to every God-ordained change we learn what we would never know were it not for the liquefaction times, when all we knew of ourselves has passed away. This precarious, terrifying stage where we know we weren’t who we were but aren’t quite who we will be. It’s scary being soup.

And to submit to entering the chrysalis whenever Dad says it’s time.

But the good news is while we’re helpless on the inside, outside we’re surrounded by an impenetrable shell each metamorphosis time. We are completely cupped in our Daddy’s strong hands.cupped butterflyI cling to you,
and your hand keeps me safe.
~ Psalm 63:8

As we emerge all weak and quivering, drying our wings, we try our new selves on for size. Clinging to Him, we absorb living Light and strength for whatever is coming. We gaze into the beams of overwhelming Love, aware of a stirring deep inside. Excitement builds and bubbles out — we know whatever’s coming it’s going be amazing. It’s going to be impossible for who we were but totally doable for who we’ve become. We know we’re going to look back on the helpless time and say without a doubt…

It was worth it.

It always is.

And as we feel our wings dry, they begin beating in time with the breeze around us…We feel ourselves pulled from the branch where our former home hangs, shriveled.

And we take to the sky and soar!
We laugh up into our Maker’s face because the updraft is Holy Spirit wind.  And underneath are Daddy’s Everlasting Arms.

blue butterfly cloudy sky

 

 

 

A Changing Voice

close up of wire against blurred background

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“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
~ C.S. Lewis

I’m not who I was five years ago.

Five years ago. The downward spiral was at breakneck speed. I refused to take communion that day, the first Sunday in February 2014 because I thought I wasn’t a Christian anymore. The biggest lie had settled and rooted in me, rotting my understanding: I had become unsaved. A month later I would do the bidding of the voices in my head and attack my husband. I would sit stunned in a cell in Chester County Prison.

Five years ago I clutched out desperately in what was left… confusion, terror, constant visions of carnage, my own guilt. Mental illness, breakdown. Down, down, down. Yet held in strong, invisible arms. It wouldn’t get to the point of no return. But I didn’t know that yet.

In the process of finally accepting my bi-polar diagnosis and taking medication I began to see I was still in my Daddy God’s arms. I was accepted into the Mental Health Program at Chester County Prison. Moment by moment I began to breathe life in again. I was emerging from death thinking and living, and after five and a half months behind bars, walked out into the sunshine again.

Over the last four years or so since, I was protected like a little baby, snuggled close and rocked, fed, cared for. When the shame of what I’d done knocked me sobbing to the floor, I quickly recovered. I wrote and gave my testimony several times. I felt vibrant and free.

But in these past few months a new paradigm is pushing in. I am being set down on my feet, learning to walk. I’m beginning to feel the pain of growth, the emotionally excruciating process of enduring flash-backs. Instead of trying to push them away and shove in happy thoughts and feelings, I’m being asked to experience the torture. Press in and let it sink down deep. Feel it in a safe place (usually on the floor of my room, crying, worship music playing, a friend — or several friends — praying while I sit alone but not alone). I write and write in my journal, crying till I’m spent.

woman crying, pain

I see that like getting an abscess sliced open so it can drain, submitting to God’s work in this makes sense. I don’t like the sting of it, but if that’s part of the process I’ll grit my teeth and say Do it. Even when He tells me I won’t have anaesthesia this time that I’ll experience every stab, pang and spasm as it’s draining out — so be it. I choose to trust You. Do it.

I say Yes to God because as a Christian this is what I signed up for, not to stay in  dysfunction till it kills me from the inside-out. You see, much as I don’t want it to hurt, way down deep I really want to grow. To see what is actually going on inside. Then to move forward from right here as I am. To face what I did five years ago and to finally heal. To build on what has been happening all my life, accelerated these last few years, especially these last few months. The upheaval of what I had inherited in my family line – all this perfectionism, this inferiority/superiority, this I need correction, who are you to correct me?

And I realize I am so new at all of this and I feel so small, so incapable. I want to get better, though. So with shaking hands I hold the flashlight to see into the darkness of my heart. What is there, what is really there?

I’m waiting for revelation. Because as I begin seeing shapes gelling and forming images, how do I interpret them? And I’m so tired, I just want to sleep, to escape but somehow still move forward. Instead I press in. Feel it. Feel it some more. Yield, give in to the work that is where I am right now, the reality of the pain I carry. I can acknowledge there is a cause even as I have no idea the shape of it.

All my life my  modus operandi has been some form of Flail, Flight, Flee. I am learning now how to fight, to stand for myself. To know myself and accept what I see there. I am learning I am a created wonder, also hand-crafted (it’s not just others who are “special and God loves you very much”). I have inherent value and am worthy because I am born of God. This mind I was given (bi-polar and all), this body, this set of life happenings… my years of skillset-making — all have value.

I reach out to Ka’en, my best friend. A part of me resents that she is farther along, but what is that? She is farther along, this is such a treasure. She is showing me where she has been and it looks a bit like where I need to go. So I choose to humble myself. For foolish pride is like banging my own head with the shovel in my hand instead of using it to dig to the deeper life. To find the hidden path and to follow it, I need the light of one who has walked it before me. She shows me and I learn. We need each other, for where I have been is a new path to her, too. This intertwining of lives is what we were made for. Not in a co-dependent way but a divine integration of lives that builds up, strengthens, reaches out and loves as alone we could never do.

couples sitting in while facing mountain

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And I see that divine intertwining in my marriage. For this oneness is what we have in Christ, a dim representation but the best there is on this earth. So I choose to press in deeper, to see what can be learned here. In this world of marital disintegration, ours will shine as a beacon. There is hope. But where I am right now I don’t see the how of it. But I choose to submit to the path that will take us there. Whatever it takes.  I am willing.  Lord, I trust You for the next steps. That even now You are working in my husband’s heart, too. That he is feeling the pressure to change, too. That when the time comes he will be ready. That we will both be ready.

I am scared, honestly. I don’t see the way and all of this is so new. This generational junk busting, this icebreaking ship that is me, that is pushing forward for there is hard (good) work to do.

This I know:
The self-protection has to go.
The fear of exposure has to go.
The clinging to what is familiar at the expense of going forward into the unknown has to go.
The inferiority I mask with judgmentalism, with I’m better than you when inside I’m self-doubting – has to go.
Unteachableness has to go.

arms up surrender

What will fill its place? For we were made to be full of good things. We were made to embody all the Fruit of the Spirit…
Love:
sweet acceptance, openness, desire to draw out the godly in others, in me; gentle guiding, chiding, encouraging to grow, encouraging the God-seed in them.
Joy:
deep-down bubble in the midst of pain, a steady undercurrent of insight – for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  The settled calm of a weaned child with her mother. Smiling up at her Father, open and free.
Peace:
the all-is-well of understanding, placid sister of joy, the undergirding steadiness. Fruit of trust, I know my Dad is over all and in all. I can rest.
Patience:
I can wait, I can stay here as long as needed, for it will all come to fruition. I am settled in who I am so I can be tolerant, accepting of others. A sweet sister fruit of love, for love compels me to come alongside you and walk with you – however long it takes. Love is patient, love is kind.
Kindness:
sweet flow of patience, I see from others’ perspective and love them as they need in the moment. I give, I speak the very deeds and words of Christ, seeing Him in others, overflowing with hope of glory.
Goodness:
gentle purification, this Holy Spirit work scrubs my inner being till I shine with God-glory. A oneness between motive and action for the good I do pours from the good I have become.
Faithfulness:
Godlikeness looks like this. I don’t give up, never give up on others, never give in to the darkness but cling to my Jesus no matter what. I choose to honor Him and others regardless. I am in it forever. Perseverance is its little sister, its partner here. Unshaken.
Gentleness:
Selflessness breeds gentleness. I can treat others with tenderness in         speech and action. Honor treats with a soft hand, whether from a higher or lower station. A way of preferring them above myself, a stepping aside, a way to express love.
Self-control:
Gentleness flows from self-control. My impulses and urges surrendered, my controlling controlled by Holy Spirit, I can release the one in front of me from my desire to emote. It shows me the way I am to go in harnessed power. Meekness looks like this.

sliced fruits on tray

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A bellyful of sweet fruit, more and more as I am filled again and again – abundance, enough to share. A treasure trove of sweet water, pure and holy, straight from God’s throne, bubbling in my belly up to eternal life. Bucketsful for me and for the thirsty in my way.

Trials are to be embraced and rejoiced in. Counterintuitive, but isn’t that how this paradox works? So I embrace the pain and I decide, here and now, to let it do its work – all of it – in me.

Never done, there’s always a next level, a higher becoming. For becoming like Christ is becoming like God incarnate, and I am not anywhere near there yet. But where I am now is where I’m supposed to be. No condemnation, no shaming. Jesus took my shame on the cross. How horrible, how beautiful. How loving in excruciating illogical agony. You are love and this is what love looks like.

I seek truth, not to be cocooned in any self-deception, in seeing with human eyes only. Dazzle my eyes with what really is, and I will reel in freedom. Living in divinely-revealed reality is what I need. This is what true Christianity looks like and I want the Voice of Jesus to radiate out of my very being.

So I lay down on the surgeon’s table and close my eyes. I know however much it hurts I’ll emerge more like my Savior. It’s so, so worth it.

lioness lying on grey dirt near grey rock

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