I glimpse wings from the window of my bedroom and walk outside for a closer look. I’d read that Gregg’s Blue Mistflower was a butterfly magnet, but this? Six pairs of wings! I drop to my knees, snapping pictures. The monarchs fold their wings like praying hands while sipping. Then, effortlessly, they flutter above my head.
These October wings are beckoning Christmas, the patterns etched upon them like hieroglyphics . . . whispers of an ancient story.
. . .
When my Aunt Dede used to pull out the yellow, textured paperback I loved to hear her read, I didn’t know Hope for the Flowers wasn’t “technically” a children’s book. It felt like one. When I recently read it to my seven-year-old son, he was enamored as I did my best to replicate the gentle voice inflections my aunt used so many years ago.
Trina Paulus didn’t set out to write a children’s book, but children fall into it, grasp the mystery, and request it again and again. I suppose she didn’t intend to write a religious book, either. But, as Madeleine L’Engle taught me in Walking on Water, all good art points to the Creator.
Hope for the Flowers tells the story of two caterpillars, Yellow and Stripe. They long to be “up,” but the only way they know how to get there is by climbing a pillar made of other caterpillars. It feels wrong, stepping on others and being stepped on, but how else can they fulfill their destiny?
Yellow becomes convinced there must be a better life, but Stripe can’t stop striving. Eventually, he discovers that the pillar leads only to death. There is nothing up there, and the only way to reach the top is to throw off the caterpillars who are already there!
Yellow misses her dear friend, Stripe. Sometimes she almost dives back into the pillar to find him, but she knows that is not the way to life. One fateful day, she observes a caterpillar hanging from a tree, weaving the last portions of his cocoon. Something resonates within her, but she is afraid. If it works, if she really could weave one too, it would be like dying to the only life she has ever known.
Yellow is brave. She follows her heart, and is born again as a butterfly! She can get “up” easily, the way she was designed, without hurting anyone. She is free and eager to spread the joy she has found! First, she flies to the pillar and flaps her wings at Stripe. He begins to understand and spreads hope on his way back down the pillar. The caterpillars don’t want to believe they could become butterflies. They think Stripe’s story is too good to be true.
The illustrations at the end of the book show countless pillars of caterpillars reaching nowhere . . . but they are getting shorter as the caterpillars crawl away to spin cocoons and become fliers! Stripe’s and Yellow’s message spread after all.
This book is a simple, beautiful allegory for the Good News! Yes, we all start out as caterpillars with a story written in our hearts. We know there is more we are made for! We long for perfection! For Eden! For God!
We strive, we fail, we work harder, but in our own strength we cannot reach what we want so desperately.
And then we look up and see the Way . . . hanging on a tree. The cocoon of Jesus’s love is waiting to cover us. If we’ll just crawl in and accept the gift, we’ll be carried “up.” We’ll die to selfishness and pride and be born again into the weightless light of Christ. We’ll become new creations, children swaddled in perfect love. And, we’ll be given wings that will fly us to heaven when our time here is through.
This joy we can’t contain! Like Yellow, we spread the news! We direct others’ eyes upward.
. . .
Kneeling in the soft grass beside the blue mistflower, wings waving over me, I feel heaven dip near.
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time . . .” 2 Timothy 1:9 (NIV)
Dearest Lord, may all of us who have experienced the presence of Jesus in our lives be like the butterflies, pollinating open hearts with love notes from You.