Crucible of the Chrysalis: A Season of Loss

I have always been fascinated by butterflies. Not the Lisa Frank florescent butterfly prints on my folders and pencils as a kid, but by the fragile, beautiful monarch butterflies that you seen in the forest or a field or when walking down the street.

When I was six I received a butterfly garden kit for my birthday. While that sounds like a creepy kind of garden to plant, it was one of the most fun learning experiences for me as a kid. The “garden” is actually is a box made out of cardboard and plastic where the observed caterpillars transform into butterflies. The kit comes with a postcard that is sent to the butterfly company requesting the caterpillars, which soon arrive in a medium-sized cup with all the nutrients the little crawlers will need. Over the course of a couple weeks, the caterpillars crawl to the top of the lid of the cup and begin to spin their chrysalis, the hard, green shell which encapsulates their transformation. Once the caterpillars have all been cocooned on the lid of the cup, the lid is attached gently to the top of the butterfly garden box so that the future-butterflies can transform and fly.

            The butterflies emerge nearly two weeks later, one by one, when the transformation is complete. Six-year-old me was fascinated and delighted, and I watched the butterflies flutter around their butterfly home for several days until it was time to set them free. I fed them, made sure they had enough of their sugar water and nutrients, ensuring their habitat was as accommodating as it could be. When the day came to let them go from the observation garden in which they grew, I was thrilled. There was nothing in me that was saddened to see them go—I knew they needed to be fully alive, fully fly, and fully free.

            The chrysalis is an incredible aspect of Creation. It is a self-spun shell that holds the most beautiful of transformations, yet there is a time period in which the caterpillar must go into hiding. The caterpillar is changed in every way in the chrysalis; the metamorphosis process changes organs, tissues, and limbs, enabling the leaf-walker to become a sky-flyer. It is inside the pupa—the chrysalis—that the life-altering transformation takes place.[1]

There have been seasons in my life in which I have felt like flying, like this moment was what I was made for and these gifts are how God knitted me together. There have been other seasons in which I felt like I was in hiding, fearful of the things around me and wondering why on earth the Lord would lead me to such a desolate place. For a caterpillar who instinctively knows that there is more to the life she is living, the hiding place of a chrysalis feels eerily like a tomb instead of the place of transformation.

Several years ago, my husband lost his job at the church at which we both worked as youth pastors in different ministry areas. When we found out the news, we were devastated. This was the church where we met, where we had our wedding reception, where our friends and community resided, and where we had dug in roots together in dating, engagement, and marriage. Where would we go now? How would I stay in my position in youth ministry when he was broken-hearted at home, not at church or at work with me, and we were in completely different places? The Lord was speaking, Trust Me. I have you, but this next season will be hard. You are entering three years of drought. I wanted to rebuke this word that He had given, that things would be hard for the next three years. In fact, I tried to ignore it and push against it, willing it to go away. In that whole process, my husband had applied for a youth pastor job at a different church to which we were sure God was leading us. The whole thing seemed to fit—the families, the surf culture, the values, the movement of the Lord… Yet a week after my husband’s severance package ran out, we found out that another guy had received the position.

            Heartbreak broke out. To be honest, I was angry. I was devastated. I was disappointed. I felt like no one would take care of me so I had to take care of myself… and my husband. I was angry at God; we had tried to serve Him and His church so faithfully with our whole lives, and this is what happened. I felt like the people in my life wouldn’t take care of me so I had to take care of myself. Aaron was also deeply wounded, feeling betrayed by people he trusted and some of whom he felt at one time were friends and mentors. It was the kind of thing where you fall asleep at night, crying, and wake up hoping that it was just a nightmare. The nightmare was real, and we were losing everything. I felt like I was drowning.

            I sat with my mentor, Jamie, at coffee in Glendora, California, near my alma mater just several days after the metaphorical earthquake had hit. She sat and listened, entering into the pain with me. I told her about the ways that I was angry at God, at my church community, even at my husband. I felt I couldn’t trust God—especially the Father characteristic of who God was because I definitely did not see Him as Good. In fact, I saw Him as harsh, demeaning, and expecting perfection. Jamie looked sweetly into my eyes and spoke Truth to me: You know that the image of God from the Beginning is male and female, and that the masculinity of God is fighting for you. I want you to also notice the women in your life who have shown you God’s image: kindness, gentleness, compassion, and heart to mend the broken-hearted. I wept. I had not even seen God’s gentleness and grace in the midst of the storm. All throughout Scripture, God’s capacity to heal, bind up the broken-hearted, set captives free, and cover God’s children as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings all reflect the character of a God who mothers as well as fathers. Jamie pointed me to the aspects of God’s character that I needed deeply in these moments. This was a God who gently, daintily, and sweetly ministers to His kids.

            I stayed in my youth ministry position four months after my husband stepped out of his job at our church home, and left at the beginning of August to step into seminary (I had received a full scholarship that would start in September) and into a position of being on support for a nonprofit which I was running at the time. We entered, grieving, into the three-year drought in which we encountered loss like we had never known before.

         Friends drifted away; our pain was too real and heavy for people to want to walk in it with us. In fact, I don’t blame them even at all. I wasn’t a good friend because I wasn’t healthy myself. We were drowning financially, spiritually, emotionally and relationally. With my school schedule, running a nonprofit, and working full-time at Starbucks for $8.40/hour, we were pulled apart from one another. Our finances, which were so secure in dating, engagement, and the first year-and-a-half of marriage, were shattered, and therefore so was our sense of fun and exploration because those required finances. The picture of what I thought our marriage would be when we said “I do” was lost. My sweet husband fell apart on nearly every level and I didn’t know what to do, and there was not much I could do given my time constraints and his broken spirit. We even nearly lost our marriage. We lost our sense of belonging at our home church because we were no longer there. We lost our good credit scores. We even lost Aaron’s truck (it was repossessed), his cat (ran away and didn’t come home… he was heartbroken), and his sense of self as he didn’t know who he was or what he wanted any longer. I lost trust in him, and even at times at God. I lost my creative drive to seminary and working four jobs and running a nonprofit. We lost our little rental home in Dana Point to mold which was all over our bedroom (we loved our little beach bungalow). Aaron lost his sense of smell because the mold grew polyps in his nostrils and he had to have them surgically removed, and he still has not recovered his sense of smell, and therefore his sense of taste. He lost his ability to surf during those months because he couldn’t breathe, and also lost his drive to work with the surfing ministry because he couldn’t point people to a God he didn’t believe in.

         God showed up, though, every time. There was broken moment after broken moment, decisions made that were terrible and unwise, words spoken and fear that riddled us to the core of our existence. But God showed up. He was in it with us. He brought us to a new place. He pulled us out of the mud and the mire and set our feet on the Rock of His presence. Aren’t you glad we serve a God who restores and redeems all things?

         The chrysalis of life has changed us, my husband and I. We no longer are walking based on the things we see with our eyes but we are flying by faith in the One who gave us the wings to fly. We are on the other side of the most hellish three years I have ever been through, and we are here, fully alive, fully restored, fully redeemed, and so confident in God’s provision and presence in our lives. Let me speak of God’s faithfulness: we have a new community, a new church home in which healing—major healing—has happened for us, a new home, a renewed marriage, wonderful jobs, and most of all a wonderful confidence in the reality of God’s sweet character. It feels like we are altogether transformed.

         If you are walking in a season of loss, of failure, of rejection, of heartache, in the Name of Jesus I want to encourage your heart and say that this is not the end, in fact, this is the beginning of what God is so sweetly, gently, and intentionally forming in you. You may feel as though God isn’t listening, that He doesn’t care, that He is somehow against you and is trying to “trick” you or “test” you. Let me speak to that in truth: That is a lie. God does not trick us, nor does He tempt us. He works in spite of the mishaps of life, and He knows all about our peril and our fears and our pain. He suffers with us and for us, and reminds us that He is so near. He is calling you to fight in the ways that matter—in the spiritual realm instead of fighting those around you. The enemy wants you to blame the people around you, yet God is telling you there is a greater, unseen battle, and we must become attuned to those kinds of attacks. God’s Word says that we are not unaware of the enemy’s schemes, and it is with that knowledge that we take authority in the Name of Jesus, the Name that is above every name, and fight on behalf of our brothers and sisters, our families, our kids, our marriages, our schools, our friends, the Church, and the oppressed. Dear sister, rise up and claim the faith and the calling that He has given you. Step into your identity regardless of the circumstance!

         There are moments in my life in which I have had an overwhelming sense that the Spirit of God is right there—next to me, moving in me and through me and in the lives of people around me. Often, in those moments, a butterfly floats by me, and those butterfly-flutter moments have happened often enough that I notice His pattern-presence, saying, “I’m here. I see you and I am carrying you. I am faithful, and I am gentle. I know that you have walked through darkness, heartache, and the sense that I have abandoned you. But I am right. here. I am as gentle as the wings of a butterfly, and as capable of transforming you into the image of my Son as the chrysalis transforms a little, fat bug into the beauty of a butterfly.

 

[1] : http://www.thebutterflysite.com/life-cycle.shtml#sthash.4y2UH0AD.dpuf

kate johnson

Southern California