When I am on vacation, I have one idea of how I like to spend my time. Celia, my four year-old daughter, has another.
Often when we are at Miriam’s parents’ home at summertime, I find myself alone for a few hours in the morning while the rest of the entourage goes into town to shop. Lounging about sipping coffee and reading one of the several books I’m in the midst of before an afternoon down on the beach of Lake Michigan is my ideal. Yesterday morning looked promising, as once again everyone went off to do their thing at an antique store (or was it Meijers? They told me but I was engrossed in my reading and did not hear clearly). Anyway, one thing they surely told me, but I did not factor into my “It’s going to be a perfect morning” equation, was that they were leaving Celia behind.
Now I love my kids, and playing Monopoly, riding bikes, jumping in waves, playing kickball in the sand and the like are testimony that I cannot exactly be accused of ignoring them on vacation. But I do like to read, and it’s tough trying to do so when a drill sergeant with gold curls is demanding your attention. Before I knew it, I was awakened from my reading-induced, semi-comatose state to find myself being accosted by the repeated demand, “Daddy, let’s go for a walk on the beach.”
In the first two dozen requests I’m sure this sentence must have been spoken with some respect and hope, and I, having mistaken it for something like the annoying buzz of a fly, must have kept on reading. But by the time my consciousness had returned to me this sentence was being blasted into my right ear with the force of a battlefield command. “Daddy, let’s go for a walk on the beach!” At first I looked up from my book ready to pull rank and explain to the assuming Sergeant York of the family that beach time is in the afternoon, while morning was for reading time. Yet upon seeing that earnest face and pudgy body in her bathing suit, I wilted. Sighing at yet another unread chapter, I laid the book down and hand-in-hand out we went, down the steps to the beach below.
As we walked along by the water’s edge, the rolling curves of debris left on the sand from the waves from the night before caught Celia’s eye. Smooth stones were collected. Driftwood was thrown back into the surf for another ride amidst the waves. Every bug was marveled at. A small, dead, silvery fish was examined. And an unread chapter was slowly forgotten as I looked at the real world again through the eyes of my child, every bit as fascinating and imagination-filling as my book had been. Then we came to the butterfly.
Having apparently been tossed for a while in the surf, the small, brown butterfly flapped helplessly at our feet. Closer inspection revealed that parts of its wings, created to float on air but unable to withstand the water, were torn. Celia kept oohing over it as I picked it up and placed it in her hands. With all the tenderness of a mother she turned from the wind to shelter it and held it close to her body to keep the stiff breeze from blowing it away. We turned and walked back to the house, the butterfly drying out and resting contentedly on her hand as she carefully carried it. An empty juice jug, with stones and sticks collected from our walk lining the bottom, served as its new home. A pink flower plucked from Papa’s garden was dropped inside in the hope of providing nourishment. The rest of the day it was carried around and shown to all.
Yet the hope of yesterday turned into the reality of today. This morning she asked to hold the butterfly, but I had to inform her it had died. There were no tears, just an “Oh, well, you can take care of it, Daddy,” and off she bounded to take wonder in something else. I was the one left holding the dead butterfly.
As I scattered the contents of the juice jar in the woods behind the house, and watched the fading color of the fragile creature blow away, I was reminded again of our own fleeting existence. Was it not just yesterday that Lindsay (now graduated), then Emory (now a teenager), took delight in showing me bugs and butterflies? Summer days and butterfly wings – bursts of God’s creative glory – will be gone with all the suddenness of the fireworks we will be oohing over in just a few days. And so will we, says the Scriptures that compare our days to flowers and moths. Though we moderns often believe thinking upon death is morbid, somewhere I recently read in one of those books that we are never more alive than when we are aware of how close to death and eternity we really are.
So as I head down to the beach now, I will sneak a book down in the hopes of finishing that chapter in between the children beckoning me for attention. Yet as I turn its pages and near the conclusion, I will remember what my daughter has taught me, a lesson learned today with a butterfly, a lesson that will be remembered again tomorrow when I discover she has grown. We are like books ourselves in the hands of the Lord, the days like pages, the end drawing near. Yet, in Christ, this is not a morbid thought at all, for we are headed to a never-ending glory. For these fragile body and souls we are were not meant for the churning, heavy surf of this sinful world in which we flounder, but rather created and now redeemed for the sweet atmosphere of heaven.