What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.
Butterflies flutter. To flutter is to “fly unsteadily.” But “unsteady” is not the word that comes to my mind when I think of a fluttering butterfly. I think better describing words would include beautiful, graceful, and light.
But beautiful, graceful, and light aren’t the words I’d use to describe how butterflies start out their lives. No. Butterflies start out as caterpillars and I think a better description of those creepies would be hungry and crawly.
When I was released from the hospital in 2004 after breaking my neck in a hiking accident, my mom secured a butterfly pin to a bag that hung underneath my wheelchair. During these first months in my newly paralyzed body, I struggled so much with my blood pressure that I spent a lot of time doubled over with my head hanging below my knees so I didn’t pass out. So instead of pinning the butterfly pin normally, my mom pinned it upside down so it would look right-side-up to me when I was feeling light-headed.
The Fourth of July was my first holiday out of the hospital and I went to a parade. My heart cringed as the Boy Scout troop came into view, carrying the flags and everyone along the parade route stood up. Everyone except me.
Tears fell as I realized that I’d never stand for the flag – or anything else – ever again in this life. I was so upset that I felt faint and I doubled over onto my lifeless legs to keep myself from passing out. With my head upside down, I looked at the right-side-up butterfly pinned under my wheelchair. I thought of the changes that real butterflies go through – from creeping caterpillars, to comfortable cocoons, and finally to spreading their wings and fluttering freely.
But did you know that butterflies actually can’t fly after they transform? They lay helpless, waiting for the blood to fill their wings so they have the strength to flutter before they can dry off their wings and, finally, take off.
Still upside down, I wondered if the newly formed butterfly was ever tempted to crawl back into its cocoon. I’d like to.
I think we’re all a little bit like butterflies. We go through changes that we can’t undo. Job losses. Divorces. Illnesses. Deaths. And we’re not even safe from the changes of others; their transformations effect our lives also.
We might try to sneak back into our cocoon and wait until we figure things out before we emerge again. We might pretend that things are the “same” as we continue to live like a caterpillar…until our new wings get in the way.
So how do we learn to fly? How can we get the strength to flutter and dry our tears and take flight into our new realities? We first have to fill our wings.
We have heard that the Savior rose “with healing in His wings” and, someday, everything that’s wrong will be right through Him. But until then, the Savior is concerned with our current, sometimes broken and lifeless wings and He will fill them with the strength we need to flutter, dry off, and ultimately take flight in our missions in this life. Our wings get a little stronger each time we find Him and each time we serve Him.
So where is He?
After I was paralyzed, I was looking for the Savior to help me figure my new self out. I wasn’t a caterpillar anymore, but I didn’t yet know how to fly. In what I thought was an effort to simply fill my time, I volunteered at a local elementary school to listen to the kids read. But it was this small, seemingly inconsequential service that enabled me to find the Savior and fill my wings, giving truth to the words from William Blake: I sought my soul, but myself I could not see. I sought my God, but my God alluded me. I sought my brother and found all three.
The scriptures say that “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my bretheren, ye have done it unto me.” As I served these kids, I found the Savior. And He began filling my wings with confidence and a knowledge that I still had something left to do and I still had someone left to be.
My wings began to flutter and I joined Utah’s wheelchair rugby team. When they dried off, I went back to finish college. I started speaking and writing and I took flight in an unsteady flutter as I began sharing my story through speeches and books.
I sometimes miss my life as a caterpillar, but I see now that my life is grander with my new, heightened perspective.
Along the way, I fluttered into the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant in New York. My platform, my one-sentence description of who I am and what I stand for, was then, and is today, Creating a New Reality through Service. When we serve others, we find Jesus Christ. And He fills our wings so we can take flight in our new, caterpillar-less, realities.
At the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, I won the Spirit Award. It came with a little gift they presented to me onstage. When I opened it, I saw a pin.
Of a butterfly.
We all are confronted with unwelcomed “new realities” that turn our lives upside down. We’re unwillingly transformed into butterflies when we were oh-so-happy to remain caterpillars. But as we seek to serve others, we find Jesus Christ who helps us discover ourselves as He fills our wings with the strength to take flight in our missions – even if that “flight” could best be described as an unsteady flutter.
Keep on Rollin’