Life is full of surprises. Some surprises are the welcome kind – like when your child offers to do the dinner dishes, or your husband brings home dinner so you don’t have to cook. Some surprises are not so welcome – like a flat tire, or a medical bill the insurance won’t cover. Then there are those surprise encounters in life so unexpected, they are in an entirely different category. The kind that teach you something meaningful or impact you in a deep way. Like butterflies.
You may have heard about the migration of the painted lady butterflies occurring this month – millions of them – moving up the coast from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest. According to news sources, there hasn’t been a migration of butterflies of this magnitude since 2005. They are traveling along the coast by the millions due to the super bloom from all the rain. Since I only live about 30 minutes from the So Cal coast, last week I decided to take a day hike to see if I could get a glimpse of the fluttering phenomenon.
It was mid-afternoon, and I had been trekking up a trail in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park for about two hours. While there were wildflower bursts of color in full bloom all around me, green sprawling canyons behind me, and a sparkling blue ocean before me, there was not a painted lady in sight. I had no idea when they would migrate through the area for certain; I was just guessing based on local reports. After a couple of hours on the trail, I had kind of given up on the idea of seeing them when moments later, as I reached the top of a ridge, the most magnificent thing happened. Painted ladies – droves of them – were whirring up the canyon and over the ridge in front of me. I have never seen so many butterflies! There must have been hundreds of them, possibly thousands, all moving at breakneck speed. I was afraid if I blinked, I’d miss them.
My first instinct was to try to capture the moment, so I whipped out my iphone and started clicking away. But when I looked down at my camera roll I was disappointed to discover they were undetectable. They were moving way too fast for my phone camera to catch them. Initially I felt frustration, but after a moment of pause I realized something. This moment – this delightful surprise – is meant to be enjoyed right now. Not later. Now. And if I occupy myself trying to recreate this for a future moment, I am going to miss this moment.
I put away my iphone. I stood still. I watched in breathtaking wonder as hundreds of butterflies swirled around me. Some of them fluttered so close to me I heard the whir of their wings, and felt the air move around me. I closed my eyes and imagined that this is what a butterfly kiss must be like. I was mesmerized. It was magical. I felt so many emotions at once. Delight. Wonder. Awe. Amazement. Excitement. Joy. Gratitude.
I stood frozen in fascination for a full five minutes. They continued rising up out of the canyon. It was like someone took the lid off a giant butterfly box and they were being set free! Finally, after a few more minutes of butterfly heaven, I decided to keep moving up the ridge myself. Some fluttered beside me along the trail until it turned to the south. They were headed north. We were going in different directions now. We had our moment. And it was a moment that warmed my soul. Days later, when I close my eyes, I can still see them dancing and twirling in the wind above my head. The memory makes me smile.
Hope whispers, Be still.
I have always felt close to God when I am out in his creation. Nature grounds me. It brings me clarity, and peace – especially the mountains and the ocean. They both hold a magnificence for me that nothing else can rival. But this butterfly encounter was remarkable in a way that may just contend with the power of the ocean and the majesty of the mountains – it felt spiritual. I experienced God’s presence swirling around me in the whirring of those spotted orange wings. I felt his love.
I think God is closer than we often feel. That’s where faith comes in. He shows up in unexpected, even surprising ways. We just have to open our soul to the wonder around us to see Him…hear Him…feel Him. Which, for some of us, requires slowing down. When we discover those mystical moments, if we are too busy rushing through them or trying to recapture them to delight us later, we may miss the actual moment. I have been guilty of that so many times in my life. I am working on it.
God whispers, and the world is loud. Sometimes you have to get away from the hustle and bustle to connect with Him. Do something this week that brings you delight and ask God to show up and surprise you. Be open. Lean in. And then be still and enjoy the moment. You just might surprise yourself with what you discover.