Friday, May 17, 2013

Sunrise Swallowtails

We only moved a mile away from a place of great sadness to a new home, a place where we hoped healing lived as well.   Four months previous, our oldest son went home to Heaven after succumbing to a chronic kidney and lung condition.  Forced to pack up Tim’s things a little earlier than I was ready for, the boxes remained closed; memories tucked away and out of sight.  The new house gave us walls freshly painted and an ordered tree-lined street populated with playing children—all boys.  I pondered the additional pain of the sights and the sounds.  Summer break left me with more idle time to function, trying to do ordinary things in a straightjacket of hurt. I slept, cried, prayed, and wrote in my journal.  I felt deeply, I talked with God continuously, and I mourned. 
God, listen.
I made a discovery of a small park with huge sycamore and pine trees just a few houses down within my community.  The summer mornings found me awakening at 4:00 A.M. needing to talk with God and feel my son’s spirit.  I grabbed my music and with my tennis shoes tied, walked out the door to this park.  Around and around I walked the path that took me through the trees, around the pool and through the grassy areas.  Sometimes I counted the laps; eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Other times, I just sang the songs of sweet hope playing in my ear.  All the time I talked to God.  I asked Him all those hard questions. I told Him all my fears, my doubts, and I poured out my brokenness.  I longed for comfort and a sign that told me Tim was good, perfect, eternal.
 God, show me.
The sun began to rise from the east. Dark gray, to a lighter gray with a tinge of tangerine and pinks, the stars still twinkling in the dawn, the trees now silhouettes of grace.  Then I saw them.  Were they leaves floating down?  No.  They glide with direction, yet carefree. They float with purpose, yet relaxed. Butterflies.  Big yellow and black Swallowtail butterflies awoke with the morning’s first light to follow my footsteps.  Many flew ahead of me, some behind, some overhead.  This happened every morning that I walked.
God, delight me.
That whole summer, when and wherever I allowed my self to go, a Swallowtail butterfly gracefully flew into my path.  It fluttered into my vision, and angel from God; my son saying “Hi, Mom.”  The second summer after Tim’s death, I became proactive in a foundation that raises funds specifically for his particular chronic kidney condition.  Meeting with the coordinator at a restaurant, a butterfly also met us at the walkway and then followed us up to the entry door. We sat at a table facing a window.  While I ate and made plans for our upcoming fundraising walk, the butterfly relentlessly flew back and forth past the window.  “Well Tim, I am sensing a happy feeling from you about what I am doing here.”
God, heal me.
Four and a half years now, a day does not go by that I do not think about my son.  I await the first appearance of the butterfly in spring, but it always catches me off guard as I am gazing thoughtfully out a window, or walking to retrieve the mail.  Ministering to my soul, their beautiful wings dance to a song filled with music of promise--and I am comforted.  Like the butterfly, a worm who once crawled on his belly, barely inching forward, God wrapped His arms around me, held me tight until I felt OK enough to face the world again, and then let me fly.  Seeing His plans all from a different perspective now, my hope is to ask God to share this same hope with others who mourn, that their same comfort will arrive on Angel’s wings and a prayer. 

God, use me.
Employed with the local school district, I work as an instructional aide at a high school.  It began as any other day.  Spirit Week and Homecoming events filled this week’s calendar of activities. The news came as I sneaked in a few seconds late to second period. The stoic calmness of these normally hyped-up 12th graders for Foods class was palpable. “Something happened,” I quickly calculated. Indeed this tragic news stunned me as I gazed upon the heart-broken students sifting the information. A well-known, popular student and member of both my 2nd period and 4th period classes passed away in his sleep the night before.  I looked over to his chair across the aisle from my own in disbelief, Ellis’s seat empty.  Within another minute, our principal entered the room and relayed a confirmation. Then, she asked me to step outside.  With an encouraging hug, she spoke kindly expressing her concern for my own well-being.
“I understand you lost a son and if this day is difficult for you…” she spoke.
“I am good, really,” as I sniffed and wiped away my tears.  “Thank you, but I want to help. Can I help?” 
“Yes, dear. Come with me,” she instructed. 
I spent the next two and a half hours in a room designated for grief counseling. I helped spread out butcher paper on tables and dumped out colorful markers.  Water bottles and tissue arrived along with a constant stream of weeping classmates.  They gathered in circles hugging each other, unable to take it all in.  Walking over to a table, I shared how writing out my thoughts, my memories of my own son, in a journal, helped me.  I handed a felt-tip marker to a student and asked him to write a note to Ellis. And so it began. Without going into detail, I shared as a mother who experienced the pain of a son dying.
 “These words you write are precious and a gift to Ellis and his family; these memories keep Ellis alive in our hearts.”
 Nine tables with the tear-stained butcher paper memorials came alive with colorful stories, memories, song lyrics and expressions.  A group of about eight girls sat outside the room on a picnic table, mascara stains across their cheeks, trembling with grief.
“Can I tell you a story?” I said.
Huh? What? Not comprehending what I said.
“Can I tell you a story?” I said again.
“Sure,” as they looked quizzically to one another.
My butterfly story, how God sent me angels in black and yellow to guide my grief walk and how now they bring me a “Hi Mom,” I calmly shared. Within a minute, these girls were engaged and the sobs softened. 
“If you ask God to help you with your pain, He will. Something will remind you of your friend Ellis and every time you think of it or see it, you’ll feel warm inside and remember him with a smile instead of a tear.”
Their heads now lifted, they thanked me for my story and we shared more hugs.  I walked inside the room and found a black marker and a yellow crayon.  A big butterfly now flew across the butcher paper memorial. 
In II Corinthians 1:3-4, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
I am eternally grateful for my angel butterflies, a beautiful creation of God and a gift to remind me of God’s personal love for us all.  Sometimes all you need to do is look up to see Hope.
Coleene VanTilburg
October 28, 2011 


  1. Replies
    1. Lisa, thank you for joining my blog and for this nice comment. You are yourself, a gifted writer and I love your observations in life. I hope one day to connect in person with you again, before Heaven that is!

  2. Oh, my friend, I have heard all these stories before, but not in quite this way. As I read, tears filled my eyes and I needed to clear them to continue. I too paced below those sycamore trees, watched the butterflies and once even saw a large hawk sipping from the swimming pool. My butterflies are hummingbirds and always bring reminders of those I love who now live with the Lord. One graced my path today. And the purple blooms of the Jacarandas remind me of the day we buried my mom...thank you so very much for sharing!

    1. Without your encouragement, you allowing the Holy Spirit to open this path for us, this story, this blog would not be here. Lord, fill my firend with purple Jacarandas, flourescent hummingbirds, and butterflies of faithful friendships. love you!

  3. ". . . my hope is to ask God to share this same hope with others . . ." and you have, and you are.

    1. And together, we will walk towards His light, toward the hope He has stirred within us. Thank you dear forever friend.

  4. Glad I didn't miss this entry. God is so amazing how He uses the hurt and heartache in our lives to Glorify Himself. God's used your strength as the perfect person to soothe the hearts of those young people during their time of need. Timmy is so proud you are his Mom and I am proud to call you my friend.