“Butterflies Take Flight” by Alice Smith in an interview with Donna Schultz

IMG_0742Donna sat on the opposite side of the church. Her golden hair streamed over the black shirt she wore at the 9:30 AM service. “Yes, I’ll tell my story about me and Jesus. Let’s do breakfast after Mass.”

Grasping the water glass with both hands, she sipped saying, “Not many people know my new husband has colon cancer. We found out nine months after we were married. One third of his colon was removed, and he agreed to nine chemo cocktails. A month after the last chemo treatment, he was checked for more tumors. God, I wish it had been a good report because it revealed #88 when #5 or below is best. So, the cancer has spread to his liver, and the doctors can’t treat the liver. The source is still the colon. He’s in trouble, and I believe it’s stage 4.” The server stood an extra 30 seconds waiting patiently for Donna to order. Her tears blurred the menu and she quickly decided on French toast.

“I am grateful that I have Jesus to help me. A new marriage with cancer isn’t a builder of a nice future. I think I would be going crazy if I didn’t have the Lord. I believe Jesus knows what he is doing and that his plan for me includes this scary situation with my husband’s health. Is Jesus proposing a new role for me? A role I already do well and feel comfortable in? I like to please people and definitely thrive on their gratitude. If he wants me to be a caretaker, I can accept that. It seems like I am always giving, giving, giving.”

The interview was going well. Donna needed little prompting. After the food arrived, I encouraged her to pause and take a bite of the plump, hot, French toast. And, I directed the conversation to talk about herself.

“I grew up with faith-filled parents and my older sister, Chloe. I went to a Catholic school until high school. You know the profile of that shy kid who watched everybody and everything on the playground before doing anything? That was me—a copycat! I had no idea how Jesus played a role in my life. As a Senior in high school, I remember wanting more out of my faith; I wanted more knowledge but lacked the resources: time, money, energy, passion. I know Mom and Dad kept religious symbols in the house, like a cross over our beds and a statue of St. Stephen in the living room to honor my Dad, whose name is Stephen. On holidays, we said grace before a special meal but never on a daily basis. I doubt I ever said a nice thing to Jesus before I ate.” Donna and I paused and picked up on the irony of thanking Jesus for our food. Already halfway through the meal, we whispered, “Bless us, oh Lord, for these thy gifts…”

“My first notion of Jesus as something more than a picture on the wall came from a final assignment in Literature class my senior year in high school. Clueless on how to write a children’s book, I was willing to forfeit the assignment for a failing grade. I just could not come up with a topic. On the day the topic was due, I saw a beautiful butterfly royally resting on the window ledge close to my desk. Butterflies? The idea sparked. Yes! I could write a story about the change in butterflies from something ugly to something beautiful.

I think I would be going crazy if I didn’t have the Lord.

That last, semester I was experiencing change, too. Seven months pregnant, I had transformed from a thin, good-figured teenager to a fat, full-figured one. The butterfly would serve two purposes. One, as a meaningful assignment for me and my baby. Two, as a means for hope. If butterflies can transform, then so could I. I hoped to be a good mother and forget that I was a crazy, mixed-up teenager.

Abortion was never an option. God’s plan for my maturity and adulthood was evolving the same way my child was growing in my uterus. My older sister said that I should have an abortion. ‘It will be done. No one will know.’ Can you believe I was on birth control but still got pregnant? My faith in Jesus was being tested. But, I kept to my resolve, and today my Sherry is my personal butterfly. Now I accept that Jesus sends me messages via butterflies.

I recall a big caterpillar crawling on my uncle’s pants at Copper Canyon after graduation. I would never have held a creepy, crawly, furry, black and orange caterpillar, but the time was perfect for me to hold it and accept my favorite uncle’s advice that soon I would be a beautiful mother and transformed after giving birth. The butterfly theme was making sense to me.

Five years later, my daughter and I returned to the same spot at the same time of year, and Jesus provided a field full of butterflies for my enjoyment. What started with a book I wrote for my child was now being made whole through Jesus’ blessings.

Today I see butterflies everywhere. I know Jesus is sending me a message. I like this method of communication. It’s a gentle symbol of hope. I see paintings, flags, clothes, and paper with butterflies in every color and size. It’s Jesus gently saying, ‘Hello. I am with you.’”

By now Donna smiled and started to eat her breakfast. She continued, “Tim and I were engaged in Tortola. Five jewelry stores later, we settled on a ring. While Tim was making final arrangements for the ring, I spotted a blue, opal-shaped butterfly. I wanted the pendant and expressed that to my soon-to-be fiance. The store clerk said he would include the opal at no charge with the purchase of the diamond ring. That encounter was so dear to me. I knew Jesus was present. The beautiful, blue butterfly was sewn into my dress for my wedding day.

I think my life is playing out like a butterfly. I was in a cocoon and transformed with the birth of my child. Some think I’m crazy, but I know I am sane, and I cherish all things that remind me of Jesus.

As a 30-year-old woman blessed with a new husband and a 13-year-old daughter, I say over and over, ‘I want to learn more about my faith.’ I want Jesus more and more in my life. I could be a miracle in progress. Why? Jesus is on my side. God knows there is something more for me.

I used therapy when my tween daughter was showing disrespect and telling her mother to go away because she hated me. A full-time employee, a mother, and a student completing a Master’s degree, I was a stress mess! The therapy helped, but my trust in God and Jesus was the ultimate therapy that resolved our mother-daughter fighting.

If Jesus was having breakfast with me, I would be shocked, afraid, embarrassed. I am not a saint, but the Jesus I know would be gentle and inviting. I can’t talk to strangers, but then, Jesus isn’t a stranger!

I still feel guilty about getting pregnant in high school. I feel guilty that I married a divorced man. But, I have settled these two issues knowing that there is hope in Jesus. My life is better with my daughter and my new husband. A role model – no way, but in my heart, I’m a good person who is fulfilling God’s plan for me.”

Note from Alice: Donna occupied the last seat in the last row of my classroom. Compared to the rest of the high-energy high school Juniors, I thought she would need coaxing to be an active participant. I was wrong. Donna engaged in conversation, smiled and apparently enjoyed the Adult Living class. A year later, my lunch buddies told me that she was pregnant.

“What a waste of talent,” they said. “She’ll never get to college and make anything out of her life.” I disagreed and stuck up for her, reiterating that motherhood is not a waste of talent and that college degrees are earned at any age. Thirteen years later, I think my lunch buddies are the ones who need to be touched by a butterfly and experience a personal transformation toward Donna. She earned her Master’s degree in Business Administration and has an income far more than that of a teacher.

Biblical Note: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my trust and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2 (RSV)

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