The black and white purse matched her spectator pumps perfectly and she looked “oh so proper”. The pretty butterfly was walking along the sidewalk clutching her handbag in front of her. As a former shoe sales lady, I can tell you that the spectator pump is an ultra conservative classic style of dress shoe. It is distinguished by the two contrasting colors with the heel and toecap always a darker color, similar to a grown-up saddle shoe. A proper lady wore them with a matching purse in the crook of her arm.
This is the picture that God gave me one quiet morning while alone in the sanctuary of the small church where my husband was the senior pastor. That funny little walking butterfly began a long and traumatic transformation in me, that many years later took me into a tattoo shop where I asked for a permanent butterfly to be inked onto my wrist at the age of 54. Minus the spectator pumps and handbag!
But, to get back to the story of how God used a walking butterfly to change my life. The idea of a butterfly walking along the sidewalk caught me off guard that morning. Just one week earlier, God had spoken to me very clearly through a completely different butterfly picture. He had revealed to me that I was inside a dark and ugly cocoon, but love was setting me free. It took years for God to convince me that I was loved. He kept saying it again and again. He sent me love notes through people who prayed for me and through songs on the radio. He said it in books that crossed my path and He whispered His love for me straight into my heart in times of prayer.
But I was slow to believe Him. Fear and love do not get along. The two opposite emotions cannot exist in the same space at the same time. I was afraid of the world, its speed, its violence, and its laughter at me if I said the wrong thing or dressed the wrong way. Danger lurked everywhere. So much could go wrong on any given day. Worry and fear became a part of Susie, part of my personality and outlook.
Yes, I had loved God all my life, giving my heart to Jesus at a young age. But life in this world still hurts and bad things happen, so I had built a safe cocoon to hide inside and protect myself. My cocoon worked really well for many years. I was serving God, helping people, and taking care of my family. I was comfortable. My cocoon and I were “just fine, thank you very much!” I had designed it myself, so it fit me perfectly. It was the right size and shape for me. I could have stayed inside my crusty little shell forever…. as long as I did not grow.
As I write this I realize that you may need a more tangible picture of what life inside a protective cocoon looks like. I am now so far removed from those days that it is difficult to even put myself back there to give you a glimpse inside the confining, but safe place I had built around myself. But I will try.
I had no strong opinions about life’s little things. My favorite color, flavor or clothing style was always open and re-forming according to who was asking. What restaurant to go to or movie to see was an unanswerable question. People-pleasing was my hobby and worry was a full-time job. Most major decisions were fear-based. Which was the safest, easiest and least risky way? Do not ruffle feathers; do not make a scene, ever.
This pattern made close friendship difficult if not impossible. I was too frightened to approach even the friendliest group of people, assuming they would not be interested in me and would consider me a bother. I took no real risks and felt safest by following all the rules carefully. I frustrated my patient husband by even refusing to jaywalk across the street.
And then God began sending me love notes! It seemed like every time I picked up a book, stood in line to be prayed for or turned on the radio, I was hearing a love message from my God. I even got a little annoyed at this repetitious Sunday School level “word from the Lord”. I remember being in more than one group setting as we shared the latest message we had heard from God. My friends were hearing deeply profound instructions that sent them all over the world speaking to nations and transforming hearts and minds. They had seen pictures of large crowds in arenas listening to them or feeding an entire nation of the poor and wounded. While to me, God was saying, “I love you Susie.”
It was a truth that I needed to hear, that I needed to believe.
God’s message began to reach me. Deep inside my safe little cocoon, a slow but steady change was taking place. I was beginning to believe that I was God’s Beloved. Could He really love me completely? Already? As is? If the maker of the universe loves me, and is truly pleased when He looks at me, well, that would change everything! If I could actually believe and embrace such a thing, my whole world would be altered.
Little by little my new form grew and expanded until the crusty cocoon began to feel uncomfortable and small. The fear-filled caterpillar was becoming a butterfly. God was no longer content to let me hide inside my self-designed layer of fear. The Susie He had in mind was much too big and beautiful for a dark and confining little cocoon.
1 John 4:18 says that “There is no fear where love exists. Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love.” (International Standard Version)
My cocoon was broken open and the butterfly had emerged. She was enjoying the new freedom and broad expanse of life outside the fear-based encasement. I laugh now when I recall that one of the first big opinions I expressed was in a movie theater. As the movie began, the sound company always gave that little demonstration of their big abilities by going from quiet to super loud in our ears and I hated it.This time I said so. “I HATE that!” It felt momentous to me, a major breakthrough that had me chuckling as the movie began.
So on that quiet morning in our sanctuary, I was on my knees asking God to please equip me. I wanted to do all the great assignments He had for me. I told Him that I needed more wisdom and talent to be what He wanted me to be. I desperately wanted to be that great big, beautiful butterfly.
His answer was simply two little words, “Walking butterfly”. I smiled and even giggled as I could immediately see the prim and proper butterfly with matching shoes and purse walking along the sidewalk.
Why did I laugh?
I had been begging God to equip me. I wanted Him to give me what I needed to fly, now that the cocoon was gone. His answer was right there in the picture. The proper butterfly was dragging a pair of gorgeous wings behind her along the sidewalk.
She is already equipped.I am equipped! I have everything I need to please God. I was already pleasing Him! The full-grown wings were right there behind me.
Friend, you are deeply loved by the creator of the universe. God knows you well. His love is not blind; He sees it all. And still He loves. The mighty love that God has for you is bigger than the wall or cocoon you have carefully constructed around yourself. Love and fear cannot peacefully co-exist. You must let go of one to grab hold of the other.
Do you have promises from God that you are waiting on?
Is fear stopping your forward movement?
Are you asking Him to equip you before you make a move?
You may want to look behind you.
Your wings may already be there. It is time to fly.
Oh Father, thank you for loving us today, in this moment. Your face is looking into ours and your eyes are deep pools of pure love. You are not waiting for us to get it right. You are not impatient with our slow progress. Thank you for loving us in this moment with complete acceptance and joy.
And thank you for the glorious wings we carry and that will carry us.