NOTE: ‘Tis a season of transition. The much-anticipated college years are here in full force. Our oldest just moved into her dorm suite (750 miles away) a little more than a week ago, and our youngest starts early college in just a few days. The following letter is the “you’re off to college now” letter I wrote to our oldest. I share it and pray that it may bring some sweet bit of comfort or encouragement to my friends who are also in this weighty moment of transition or soon to be.
Dear daughter who loves butterflies,
As the last sticky bits of strawberry jam disappear down the drain, I immerse the glass jar into the soapy water and remember countless jars just like it that we cleaned and saved for your butterfly collection. You certainly have had a fascinating relationship with butterflies for most of your childhood.
This fascination was probably already developing, but I don’t think I noted it before that last month of Kindergarten when we raised those painted lady butterflies. “You can’t be a caterpillar all your life!” you emphatically encouraged a slow caterpillar. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Remember “Butterfly Meadow” and how we stood there in wonder as the butterflies hesitated a good long while? Did they not see how bravely we had unzipped their habitat, expecting them to rush out?
Did they not realize we were setting them free to fly high and far? Eventually they fluttered off, and you chased one of them far into the field. Letting go felt bittersweet and confusing and glorious all at once.
Since that noteworthy morning, we have added more memories of raising and releasing painted lady butterflies and monarchs, too.
You have collected jars of butterfly specimens to study, painted watercolor butterflies, crocheted butterflies, and folded more origami butterflies than anyone else in the history of ever. As I was typing up these thoughts earlier this month, you handed me your newest creation: a macrame butterfly keychain. Of course!
Although you have successfully caught butterflies (and dragonflies and fireflies, too!) with your bare hands, you have not stopped chasing butterflies – across fields, apple orchards, gardens and parking lots.
But earlier this summer, it was like the tables had turned, and the butterflies began chasing you! How did it happen that not one but TWO butterflies landed on you while you were sitting in the middle of a yellow innertube, floating in the middle of a river, near the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee? How kind and gentle of you to give the one butterfly a safe ride to the riverbank. All joy!
Like those lovely painted lady butterflies from your Kindergarten science project, you also hesitated a bit when I thought you were ready to be released into the world. You didn’t rush off. You dared to go slow. You took a gap year to work and write and serve. You explored your options carefully.
Frankly I wasn’t quite sure what to think of that plan at first. It was hard to see you not take off when so many of your friends left for college. It was hard and a little heartbreaking to be in a place of not knowing what was next for you, even though we treasured every moment of our “bonus year” with you at home.
But looking back I see how God had plans for your writing. TWO BOOKS! And I see how God was answering our prayers for wisdom and discernment. He was guiding your steps, preparing your heart for this big move. And now, in obedience to Him, you are flying off to where God is calling you – flying to a new city in a new state with a different climate and with friendly people who speak in lovely southern accents.
Letting you go so far away (a full day’s drive!) feels both scary and sacred. It’s bittersweet and confusing and glorious all at once.
Life in our family won’t ever be quite like this again. And that is why I hold on tight. I thank God as I joyfully tag along to all the last things before you leave home – a dentist appointment and an orthodontist appointment, a trip to the library and a trip to the movies. I hold on tight as we listen to that audiobook or spin around on the newly installed tree swing, as we go on a last-minute sailing excursion or grab lunch at the place with your favorite salad bar and have a deep discussion about biblical manhood.
As we take family pictures and selfies and fill these days carefully, the song lyrics to “These Days” by Love & the Outcome fill my head and my heart.
“These are the days, these are the days / The days we’ll never get back
These are the days, these are the days / And these days are all we have
I don’t wanna miss, miss / The moments slip away
It’s a gift, a gift / Every breath you take
Wake up, wake up / Feel your heart beating
Wake up, wake up / Alive and you’re breathing“
And so, filled with gratitude and wonder at the gifts and the time we’ve been given, I wake up. I breathe deeply. I dry the inside of the empty jar. What treasures might you fill it with in this next chapter of life, I don’t quite know. I set it aside for you anyhow.
These new days ahead are like empty jars, ready to be filled with beauty and joy and wonder. As you study God’s word and His creation, as you worship and fellowship with new friends, and as you discover more of the good plans He has for you, I pray.
May goodness and mercy chase after you all the days of your life, like you chase after butterflies. May you recognize and welcome that goodness and mercy when it lands on you in the most unexpected places. May you always remember that “The best is yet to come.” May you hold on tightly to God’s promises and trust Him always. He is faithful.
C.S. Lewis encourages us, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
So go forth, go find something marvelous to fill that empty jar.
And fly high, my beautiful, lovely Butterfly! God made you to soar! (Isaiah 40:31)
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 NIV
*photo cred: @lilahutchphotos