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Tattered But Not Torn

Butterflies symbolize new beginnings and beauty from ashes for many people, and this butterfly signifies those things and more.

I think God sometimes sends us messages through his creation, and butterflies have become quite significant for me not only because of their beauty, but in large part because of the message they proclaim. Several years ago, I had gone through a very difficult time and, upon coming out of that time and into a new place in life, I began noticing more when butterflies were around, sensing that they were a sign from nature to encourage me. Being who I am, of course I felt compelled to capture their images in paintings.

One late August day in 2013, Ray and I took a bike ride along the Cranberry River rail trail near Richwood, WV. It was one of those days when you savor every bit of nature because you can just feel summer drawing to a close. The trail was beautiful and there was a long, dark tunnel which was quite an adventure, and another illustration of coming through a hard time. We couldn't see the other end in the darkness when we began, but knew there would be light after we carefully walked our bikes through the dark.

After the tunnel, we decided to take a snack break along the river before turning around and heading back. While Ray was peeling the orange for our snack, I was taking pictures of wild flowers and noticed a beautiful swallowtail butterfly flitting from flower to flower. As hard as I tried to keep up to snap a picture, it always flew off just as I was getting near. Finally, it paused on some Joe-Pye-weed for me to get close enough to snap a photo. I tucked the pictures away, hoping one of them would be good for a painting some day.

In the summer of 2015, my little sister who also loved butterflies was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wanted to do a small painting of a butterfly in her honor and went back through the photos that I’d been storing. By then, I had several butterfly photos from which to choose and decided on this one because of the pink flower, which was Lariann’s favorite color. When I blew up my tiny image to print and use as reference for painting, I noticed small notches out of its wing that I hadn’t noticed before. Wow. This creature did not let this flaw deter it one bit! Flying with strength and gathering nourishment, I think it had fun giving me quite a chase. I knew this was the perfect photo to use. I had dedicated this painting to my sister and am humbled that it touched others significantly as well. The painting sold in its first exhibit and the prints have sold steadily, receiving many touching comments. When I had prints made, I made sure Lariann got the first one. She loved it and hung it in her writing area where she wrote encouraging articles for others in her blogs.

A couple of years later, in February of 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and began my fight just after Lariann finished her treatments. She and many friends who had also gone through this horrible disease were there to encourage me. Sadly, Lariann later fought metastatic breast cancer and, in 2020 joined my other sister Cheryl and my mom in heaven who were earlier taken by this disease. I am so very, very thankful to be a six-year survivor this February. Because of this, I am determined to live every day to its fullest and to be as much of an inspiration to others as I can. I often feel like I can very much relate to that butterfly. I am tattered; I don’t feel quite as well and energetic as I would have without having gone through chemo and having to be on medication that causes joint pain. At times, I have felt that my worth was less than it used to be or less than others who were totally healthy because I felt limited in what I could do. Then, a few years ago during a leadership course I was taking, I was challenged to ask God what lies I was believing about myself. He impressed upon me that my feeling of being "less than" was a lie. I was reminded that scripture tells us that "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) I have learned that the word that was translated as “workmanship” is from the Greek word poiema, signifying a beautiful work of art, poetry, a masterpiece. There is not a qualifier in that, saying that only if I am in perfect health, or feel full of energy am I of value. Our value is not because of how great we are or the amazing things we can do. Our value is because the creator of the universe calls us His masterpiece.

The other day, I was meditating on the verse that says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17) Whoa! Let that sink in! He is singing really loud over me?! If that isn’t humbling and wonderful at the same time! If my creator is singing over me, I want to be dancing! Let my life be my dance to His music! Can you see it? It's a crazy thought, isn’t it? Let it sink in to your being; think about how, if we are doing what He created us to do, that is our dance. And it is beautiful to Him.

We all have things in life – sickness, relationship problems, loss of loved ones, job struggles – so many things that can slow us down or make us feel like giving up or like we aren’t good enough. We keep going like this resilient butterfly who flew like crazy with a tattered wing. We can keep going because we are loved by our friends and family who cheer us on and support us, which is wonderful. Sometimes humans will fail us, but the greatest thing is that we are loved by God and He gives us strength. He is singing over us! We might look tattered on the outside, but we are not torn!

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