As a child sometimes my father took us out on our birthdays for dinner and dad alone time. These were very significant times for me. Being alone with dad meant great philosophical conversations. One particular conversation lead to some incredible wisdom even though at the time I thought it was an awful thought. My dad said that even when you are married and love your spouse you fall in and out of love all the time. He said the feeling of “being in love” comes and goes. He further went on to say what mattered is your commitment to love. I was a typical little girl and thought happily ever after meant feelings of endless mushiness. These words of wisdom helped me understand that when the “in love” feelings were difficult, to behave as if they weren’t. Eventually the feelings return, often even more intense. Those dry spells are what give a relationship strength and depth. Faith like love works the same way. When my parents divorced I stopped trusting the commitment part of love and protected myself from testing the “out of love” phase by never feeling the “in love” moments. In my mind I always knew God was there even when I denied He could be defined. When I began to go back to my faith I wanted to logically understand God and His Church, but it didn’t really occur to me to feel anything. I was ready for the commitment part of faith, but not the feeling. Loving God would mean risking feeling alone, rejected, and abandoned and if I felt those feelings how could I trust Him. I gave God my mind, but not my heart.
My first baby came in June of 1996. I was so grateful to finally have a baby to hold in my arms. Later that summer I received a phone call from my childhood friend’s sister. My friend Amy had been killed in a car accident. It was as if everything stopped. It was so unexpected I didn’t really know how to process the idea that Amy was gone.
My new baby and I flew from California to North Carolina for Amy’s funeral. Other than my grandmother’s death, I had never lost anyone close to me. I didn’t know how to behave or proper protocol for the situation. I was not at all prepared for the depth of emotion that her family was going through. The memories of the raw pain still make me cry and want to hold them all. I had been a typical teen the last time I had seen them. In the past they were background characters to my adventures with Amy. Now they were real individuals. People I had known all my life and at the same time knew not at all. I had the privilege of staying with Amy’s parents. Even in the nightmare they were experiencing they reached out to make me feel welcomed.
The night before her funeral Amy’s dad told me how he and his wife, as well as a family friend had separate experiences seeing a yellow butterfly and having comforting thoughts about Amy. Later that night I lay in bed staring at pictures on the wall; pictures of Amy’s family and our friends growing up. So many happy, fun memories stood out in dark contrast to the anguish outside the bedroom door. [There were also reminders of my sins. Some of the pictures were of a time in my life I regretted. This time would haunt me for years to come, but that is a topic for another post.] Amy’s dad’s story played in my mind again and again. Not only for the moment of peace it seemed to offer, but because in truth it was the most he had ever said to me. As I cuddled my baby son and cried for the loss of my friend I prayed that I could have my own Amy butterfly too.
The following morning we went to the church. It never ceases to amaze me, no matter where I go I always feel at home in a Catholic Church: the same liturgy, the same Jesus. It was a comfort to belong again to the Church of my childhood, the same Church Amy and I had gone to. Amy moved when we were in high-school. When she came to Florida to visit we would always go to Mass. Even when I was no longer attending regularly, when Amy was around we went. There was always something uniting about going together. During the funeral I sat in the back of the church and tried to absorb the meaning of everything that was happening. Just believing God was there was not enough. I found myself desperately wanting His comfort, His love. The desire to feel what I was going through really mattered to Him suddenly ached in my heart. The powerful emotions of the last few days were catching up with me. The inner parts of me that had long ago been locked up were longing to flow free.
When my parents were divorcing I prayed and pleaded with God not to let it happen. If I believed anything was possible with God then He would certainly save their marriage. With the absolute madness that followed their divorce I begged God to stop the pain. When the pain didn’t stop part of me shut down and figured it didn’t matter to God. No one had ever taught me that sometimes God says no or because other people are exercising their own “free will” pain happens despite God’s will. Our choices matter. I wasn’t 14 anymore and now I understood God cares even when we feel pain. Knowing God loved me wasn’t enough. I wanted to trust God. I wanted to feel love for and from Him. I wanted to risk praying for the impossible and trusting my faith wouldn’t disappear if I didn’t hear an answer.
As we drove from the church to the funeral a desperate feeling came over me. It felt as if time was running out and soon Amy would be buried and gone. It wasn’t a rational feeling. I found myself begging God for a butterfly. “Please God, if Amy is with you send me a butterfly!” Over and over the same cry was filling my heart. I stared at the coffin my friend lay in and had to have a butterfly before it was placed beneath the earth. I pressed my baby’s little hand firmly against the casket leaving a perfect baby hand print. I prayed that since Amy couldn’t hold this son to please let her hold in heaven the precious life I had lost last year. “Amy please tell God I need a butterfly too.”
Making my way from the large crowd that had come to say goodbye to Amy, I noticed several yellow butterflies off in the distance flying above the trees. I smiled, squeezed my baby tight and took a gamble with my heart. I prayed for the impossible. “God, that isn’t good enough. How do I know it is not just a coincidence? Yes, there are many more than asked for, but I just need one to know it is You.” No sooner had the thought formulated in my heart when a large yellow butterfly floated from the trees toward me. Everything was in slow motion. I did not breathe. I could not hear anyone around me. I stared with open eyes begging, needing, hoping!
My God’s whisper floated on the breeze, dancing in the air, passing between my face and the infant son I clung to. With the flutter of His breath felt on my check, I breathed again and the noise around me filled my ears. I cried out, “Did you see it? Did you see the butterfly?”
I felt God’s overpowering love.
Another friend came to my rescue and took me to the car before I further embarrassed myself and bothered everyone else at this most difficult time. I sobbed as she held me.
My heart had sparked.
Happy Birthday Amy!
I look forward to being with you again in His presence someday.