Shalom moments (2)October 6, 2005
“Amid the complex interplay of pattern and novelty, the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in California influences the weather patterns in Washington, D.C. [. . .] Love rather than alienation is essential to reality [. . .]” God’s Touch, by Bruce G. Epperly, pages 109-110.
María Paz* is a butterfly. When she was just a girl she had a caterpillar’s life crawling near the ground and hoping she could get what she needed without being noticed too much. She would hide in a corner at night when she heard her father bellowing down the block and before he would slam open the door blubbering drunken nonsense to her mother. She knew that when her mother sent her away to her grandmother’s house it was because the yelling had turned to beatings, and she would wait with the anxiety only a little girl can feel hoping her mother would be alright and call her home soon.
María Paz is a butterfly. Her mother eventually stood up to her father and forced him to leave. He did, taking every piece of furniture, the tin roof, and even front door from their two-room shack. He has another woman now, and her mother works long hours as a housekeeper earning barely a couple of dollars a day to feed and care for her family. She sits and talks with her daughter in the evenings when she comes home from work, listening to her stories about school and encouraging her to dream beyond the dirt streets and smells of open sewers.
María Paz is a butterfly. She has two older brothers; one is in jail and the other has moved back home with his wife and baby because he has lost his job. She walks an hour to church to Sunday School, youth group meetings, choir and theater practice, and worship because she can’t afford to take the local bus, but she is always there, shy and faithful, smiling encouragement to everyone else.
Church has been María Paz’s cocoon. In the safe, warm embrace of the church community, the molecular structure of her dismal childhood reconfigured into the beautiful woman she was to become. From a frightened and elusive, earthbound creature, there grew one beautiful, airy, and free.
Justin* was a foster kid. His father committed suicide, and his mother’s drug addiction prevented her from caring for her children. For many years Justin was bumped from home to home to the point that he refused to learn people’s names. Why bother to get close enough to learn someone’s name if they weren’t going to be around for long? One foster family loved him enough to adopt him, but he just couldn’t allow himself to love them back. In his pain, he pulled his hair out leaving scars and scabs on his soul as well as his scalp. Then one day, the preacher lady offered to take him to a play.
María Paz never dreamt that she would spread her wings and fly to another continent. She was only fifteen when the theater group was invited to bring the sights and sounds of the Pentecostal Church of Chile to the church in the United States. One night, during the performance, she noticed a boy of ten sitting in the front row; his eyes wide open with rapt attention and his face radiant with pleasure. Later that night she heard the boy’s story, and she wept as much for him as for herself. They were butterfly tears, not caterpillar ones that burn with powerlessness and discouragement, but tears that wash clean and leave commitment and strength in their place.
María Paz took Justin on her wings as she left and flew back home. She prayed for him at every theater group meeting. She wrote him letters and cards in Spanish realizing that he could hold them even if he couldn’t read them. She asked about him from every person she thought might see him or know about him. From across the miles of sea and land, she kept faith in that the weather would change for Justin; faith enough for two.
The next few years were stormy ones for the boy. He was tossed to and fro in the vast ocean of the social service system, and he nearly drowned in the confusion and pain. Like many other foster kids, he was in danger of becoming another number in the statistics of those children who don’t make it to a safe harbor and are forever lost at sea.
There and back again to the United States, María Paz had learned to fly, and she bravely kept beating her wings when she arrived home. She finished high school and started college. She became the leader of the theater team and kept playing the banjo in the choir. She learned to preach. She made friends with her father’s new wife and found many ways to encourage her mother and her siblings. And over the years, she never forgot the little boy sitting on the front row whose heart cried out to hers.
Justin is no longer a foster child. He has been adopted by a family that loves him deeply. He is a normal high school boy who dates, plays sports, and thinks about college. Pinned up in a place of honor in his room is a t-shirt with the signatures of the members of a Chilean theater team and hidden in a box under his bed are the letters written in Spanish that he cannot read. The storm has passed over.
María Paz is a butterfly. The fluttering of her wings has changed the weather patterns in the life of another thousands of miles away. Love rather than alienation is essential to reality.
*Names have been changed and the story fictionalized to protect the identities of the special people involved.
Elena Huegel is a missionary with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC). She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist.
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