Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Last

This is the fifth summer that the kids and I have raised Monarch butterflies. A few weeks ago, we found 11 eggs in the milkweed garden and eventually 7 made it to metamorphosis stage. One by one, 6 plump caterpillars transformed into beautiful jade-colored chrysalises dotted with gold that hung like chandeliers in a ballroom. The last caterpillar, however, had been slow to keep pace and I noticed that his antenna were bent backward at an odd angle. Concerned, I was happy when he finally took his place upside-down in the familiar “J” position alongside his siblings. 

The next morning when we came down for breakfast, we quickly saw that the last caterpillar had not successfully made his transformation. While the others were sealed up in perfectly smooth green chrysalises, the last one hadn’t been able to fully “unzip” his caterpillar skin. Half of the chrysalis protruded out at the top while the skin seemed to squeeze tight around the bottom half, preventing the completion of the metamorphosis process. 

The kids were distressed at the sight and asked what could be done. I googled for answers but came up with the sad consensus that this caterpillar likely wasn’t going to realize his dream of wings. Something had gone wrong somewhere along the path of construction and our hands, though willing, were unable to make a remedy. Josh, ever the prayer warrior, asked for one more day to pray and wait on the Lord and so we did. 

The kids admitted to me at various times through the day that the last caterpillar was hard to look at because his deformities were so…yucky. While the other chrysalises hung perfectly still in silent anticipation, the last caterpillar was seen struggling, pulsing even, where the skin hadn’t formed over his inner parts. The thin membrane looked like a balloon that was being blown up and then deflated and the kids wanted to watch it and look away at the same time. They worried that his pinched skin was causing him to suffer. I confessed that I didn’t know and that we were in uncharted territory. 

The next morning, we saw that nothing had changed overnight and Josh declared that it was OK to go forward with plans to euthanize the last caterpillar. We had read enough to know that only more suffering lie ahead for him, should he even be able to transform into a butterfly, and mercy was called for at this earlier stage. 

Anytime I’m teaching the kids about the cycles of nature, I try not to hide the difficult parts from them. We’ve examined dead birds found on our walk back from the bus stop. We’ve discussed what happens to baby bunnies that bounce out of the nest too soon. They’ve watched enough TV shows about the hunter and the hunted to understand that not every animal returns to its home at night. And now they were learning that not every caterpillar gets to soar.     

Using a pair of old tweezers, I pulled the half-transformed caterpillar down from the lid where he had woven his anchor and we marveled at the handiwork that one little creature could create. We gently wrapped him in a tissue and sealed him in a Ziplock bag, then placed him in the freezer where he would quietly and quickly part with life. It was a serious business but one in which we all accepted our role. After a few more questions, the kids turned back to their play and I went to think about plans for dinner that night. 

As I chopped lettuce and sliced tomatoes, I kept returning to thoughts of the last caterpillar, wishing there had been something else to try, one last effort to expend on his behalf. I felt dismayed that my hands were tied and rescue had been beyond reach this time. As I rued the hard parts of nature’s broken ways, I wondered why I was so affected by this last, lost caterpillar. Could it be the memory of my own forsaken plight and the One who reached into my tangled mess to save me? 

…the eyes that didn’t turn away from the yucky, deformed parts of my mangled soul…
…the skin that faced the lash to secure the healing of my rent body…
…the hands that agreed to the tying and the piercing so that my spirit might be reborn, a new creation of His highest design…

Far from the splendor and perfection of those 6 jade vessels, my sanctification in the Lord much more closely resembles that of the last caterpillar. Stuttered, struggling, seized by the remnant curse and utterly bereft without His gentle, omnipotent guidance, I rely on Him completely to see me through this life's daily transformation process.  

As I laid out the table for dinner, I came round to thanks for having been tasked with that day’s difficult work and for the reminder it provided. 

In my hands, the last caterpillar was hopeless, 
lost to the grave. 

In His hands, I am of hope, 
and free to the higher ground.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. 
But he laid his right hand on me and said,
Don't be afraid! 

I am the First and the Last.  

~Revelation 1:17