Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Caterpillar Anti-Miracle

"My caterpillar died"...that was the reason I gave my pastor for why I was having a complete crisis of faith. I did a terrible job of explaining it then, (almost a year ago) and I've been hoping ever since that somehow God would make sense of it. And when I got that clarity, I would write an inspiring essay summing it all up with a neatly bundled conclusion as to why everything's going to be alright. 

Oh, how I wish I was sitting here with those answers. I want signs and wonders; I think they will give me certainty. But I think I understand now, that no matter how clear the sign or marvelous the wonders; life will bring us a reason to doubt...and sometimes more than doubt.

So, back to the caterpillar story. Caterpillars are nature's testament of resurrection. We've all used the caterpillar as a sign of hope for our future transformation, right? Except when my daughter and I stopped at a bug museum in Bremerton, I did not buy a caterpillar with any of that in mind. (I actually wanted to torment a friend of mine who is terrified of butterflies--but that's another story)

As that little jar sat on my windowsill, I don't know when it started to represent hope to me; but it did. I needed that butterfly; I needed a sign from God so I could keep hanging on. At the point when the caterpillar stopped moving, and just laid on the bottom like a rotting lump, it felt like God giving up on me. Actually, not just me, but US. That stupid caterpillar was despair on display, and every time I walked through the kitchen I wanted to weep. But I couldn't throw it away.

It was Easter time. I kept thinking about how hopeless things had looked for Jesus' disciples. Jesus was dead; it was over. None of them believed he was coming back. They were not encouraging each other to just "hang onto faith". Their only question must have been "what now?". Whether you believe Jesus rose from the dead or not, one thing is clear--it was not the faith of his followers that brought it about. So I kept thinking...even though I was certain that caterpillar was dead, it could still be alive, regardless of my thoughts towards it. 

Would you believe that on Easter morning, I found that caterpillar hanging from the top of the jar and in the process of forming his cocoon?  It's true; and it was nothing short of a miracle to me. In the following week, I shared my story of hope to my husband and daughter in the midst of their own crises, bringing even more meaning and joy to this wondrous sign that had been given to me. We all watched over that jar as if it contained the future of the universe. 

After two weeks, and even after the cocoon fell and turned into what looked like a raisin, I still could not throw it away. I put it in another room so I wouldn't have to look at it, but I still hoped with all the hope I could muster every time I dared peek that I would see a butterfly. I think it was another two weeks before I decided to bury it. I had a little funeral for that butterfly that never came to be--with just myself, and a God I feared truly might be mocking me. 

"Faith is a gift from God"--this is what the Bible tells us, and I've experienced it as true. I still have hope. In all my doubting, anger, worry, and crippling despair, God sustains me. I have no answer for it. And though I can't end this story with a tidy assurance filled image of setting my butterfly free, we know there are still butterflies in the world. I can even say I'm thankful, because my anti-miracle experience has given me a tiny comradeship with the millions upon millions of others with crushing disappointments and lack of answers. The other night on Dateline I listened to the story of a man falsely imprisoned for years. He prayed, he believed, and after many attempts he was miraculously released and granted a second trail. While awaiting his court date he basked in his freedom and lived fully, believing with all his heart he would be acquitted. I mean, how could God bring him this far, just to take it all away? I don't think I need to tell you the end of that story, and I still have more. With prayer and faith a friend's son is brought back home after being on the streets for nearly two years, only to die of a drug over dose after being clean for 10 months. How do we not cry out, "WTF God?!", or as Job so eloquently phrased the question, "Does it please you to oppress me?" Yet somehow, both these people hang on to hope in God, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. I don't mean to sum this up with anything neat and tidy, but I really think this faith in the face of all that is horrific is the real miracle...and like every miracle, it comes to us all by the grace of God. 

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
--Emily Dickinson