On Watching a Caterpillar and Leaving Our Home

A week ago, perhaps more, maybe less, I spent an hour watching a caterpillar make its way from the dill plant he and his friends have been consuming all the way around our pool to the garden on the other side. He took the long way and the journey was arduous, full of terra-cotta pots and a privacy fence and the ever watchful eye of me. Inch by inch, I barely moved through the pool, holding onto the side and staring at his tiny legs and waddling body. I did not know he would be a monarch until a day later when I saw a metamorphosis of this same kind of caterpillar into a splendid butterfly. I knew for sure yesterday when there was no longer any sign of my dill-revenging caterpillars and instead the presence of four monarch butterflies fluttering around our backyard and front. When we moved in I planted as many bee and butterfly attracting plants as I knew would survive a Texas summer but, as the poet says, “things take the time they take,” and it’s only this summer that we’ve seen the wildlife in abundance.

We thought the pear tree in our backyard was stunted or simply ornamental. Turns out it just needed a good pruning. The pears are growing fat and fast this year. I hope the squirrels will leave enough for me to make a few jars of chutney. The curly willow was a straggly skinny sort when we bought our home and now it provides a canopy over half the pool, its tendrils creating a sort of sanctuary from the heat. Our front yard is absent a tree now. In its place a little wildflower meadow was planted, small, just five feet in circumference but it fills my bottles and pitchers with flowers every week.

For the past three weeks I’ve been packing and painting and planning and trying to find just one place in our house not covered in construction dust. I’m grateful for the dust because it means progress but progress never feels as nice in the middle of it. Still, “things take the time they take.” Yesterday we took a breath in the evening, after a few weeks of shortness and apologies and spending more than we planned and fearing everything we don’t know, and we reminded one another: we’ve invested a lot into this home, not just financial equity. We’ve laid floors, removed outdated features, replaced the air conditioner, gutted our bathroom, and so much painting. But we’ve also invested a lot into this home with our hearts. It was a nondescript brick rancher infested with weeds, a concrete backyard with no landscaping, and replete with eighties features throughout and we’ve loved her into something beautiful. Maybe she’s not beautiful to everyone but she’s been beautiful to us.

I am rarely sentimental. I think it’s in my nature to be, but the effect of having moved so many times, having had so many roommates, and having seen so few dreams realized is I have learned to cut and run and rarely remember. But I have always felt sentimental about our home in Denver. We loved that home, truly loved it. We would say to one another often, in spite of all that was wrong in the world around us, we could see ourselves growing old in that home. I have never felt that way about a home before and when we finally came out from beneath the rubble of her sale, I thought I never would again. But somehow this brick rancher in a small neighborhood in Flower Mound, Texas has waddled its way into something beautiful.

I am rereading Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms this morning again and here is what she writes about the process of metamorphosis, “This changes is so profound that the caterpillar transcends its previous existence to take on a completely different form with a completely different set of capacities. I doubt the caterpillar has much cognitive understanding of the process itself or the end product. Something much more primal is at work. Something in the very essence of this little being says, It is time. And so the caterpillar obeys this inexplicable inner urging and enters in.”

I often feel lost in the world these days. I feel startled by how “at peace and in place” my peers seem to be, writers, influencers, thinkers, preachers, teachers, podcasters, and dreamers. And I realize some of you might perceive that to be true of me, but trust me when I say that I wake each morning waddling the long way around instead of flitting beautifully between flowers. But it helps me sometimes to think of nature doing what it was created to do, without thought or even feeling. The pears are borne because the tree was pruned by a person. The wildflowers grow because we scattered their seeds. The caterpillars turn into monarchs because I didn’t feed them to my friend’s chickens when she asked. This home, as stale and impersonal as it was when we became her owners, has become our friend. And I, undeniably, grow too. It takes time but things take time. And progress feels slow and battered and worn and tired and dusty and takes the longest route, but eventually the monarch emerges, the echinacea blooms, the willow weeps, and the home becomes hard to leave.

Yesterday I took a shower in our new bathroom, its champagne fixtures perfectly fit, its beadboard the perfect shade of gray, every detail of that bathroom (even the ones we’re still scrambling to finish before we list the house next week) was thought about for years. We may seem impulsive to the casual eye, but everyone who knows us well knows when we spring a seeming sudden change we’ve probably been churning with thoughts about it for three months or three years. We budgeted for every fixture and feature and it’s not a fancy bathroom, but it’s simple and beautiful, the way we like. I leaned my head against the clean white tile for one moment and felt like crying. I know it’s a silly thing when there are wars and rumors of wars and there are orphans and refugees and rampant racism, but for someone who rarely dreams of what could be anymore, I felt sad that the realization of a thing came hand in hand with the leaving of it.

Did you know monarchs only live for a few weeks?

It is true, Mary Oliver, you are right, “things take the time they take,” but sometimes we think the time they’re taking and the thing they are or might someday be isn’t what they are at all. Sometimes the things taking the time they take are not the thing at all. Sometimes they are more and sometimes they are less. Maybe the thing isn’t the point at all but the time and the taking of it.

Her poem goes on,

Don't worry.
How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?

How many indeed?

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Link Love & Handle With Care, now available for pre-order

Who’s tired of bad news? Me too. Here’s a little gathering of beauty from around the Internets I’ve rounded up for you. They’re mostly about our bodies and minds and human limitations, which are things I think about a lot these days. I hope you enjoy.

This piece of sublime writing on sex by Aarik Danielson:

I want to tell them that the breath and the blush come in an instant, but it takes years to get it right. When you say “I do,” you picture yourself as Superman; more often, you resemble Everyman—tough to keep your cape looking neat and tidy while you’re naked. Some nights are all sweetness and haze, and you can’t untangle. Some nights you retreat to your corner of the mattress, rummaging for all the fig leaves you can find. 

I want to loosen my grip and tell them of awkwardness and shame, how our bodies make promises, break promises, and make up for broken promises still. I want to say something about the battle of being known, convey that every inch of her is worth fighting for, that better is one day lying next to her than a thousand elsewhere. But I hold back my words in the name of propriety, for the sake of honoring the mystery. 

This post from Stephen McAlpine on touch:

And she knows what I am going to do, and I know what I am going to do, and it seems like a long slow dance towards her. And in those few seconds, those couple of heartbeats, that 5:15 pace, I reflexively calibrate the amount of pressure my moving hand is going to impinge on her shaking, trembling, papery fingers.  And I raise my right hand to meet her own upraised hand, and as I breeze past we give each other the gentlest, gossamer soft high five, me being careful all the while not to hit her bandaged fingers.

This piece from Sarah Cottrell that resonates:

The idea that my body had internal wisdom built into its DNA was antithetical to everything I had believed to be true about what it meant to nourish and cherish your body. Trust my bodily intuition when it comes to eating? You might as well ask me to scale Everest. I couldn’t remember a time when I had made eating decisions based on internal cues. 

The evidence supporting intuitive eating, as it turns out, is undeniable. We don’t get to decide how our bodies are created to function—we only get to accept it or reject it. My body had cared for me exactly as it had been created to do, and I hated it for that. I believed the lie that the true me was a disembodied brain that should be able to bend my body to its will. It turns out that the true me was an embodied soul with creaturely limits and realities designed by a good creator. 

This shepherding word from David Taylor to his seminary students:

If you've been in seminary long enough, you will know that for many people it involves the experience of deconstruction. Things you long thought or believed or did are questioned, or put under a different light, or deepened and expanded, or refuted and qualified, or they lose their taste altogether and you're left hungry for something better, richer, truer, but you can't quite figure out what that is just yet.

This breath of fresh air from Margaret Renkl:

Parents, we ask you to hold your applause until the names of all the medal winners have been announced. When the ceremony is over and your child has not left her seat, though nearly every other kid is taking home ribbons and trophies and enough scholarship offers to make a real dent in the national debt, please take a few moments to congratulate the winners as they head off to their well-earned celebrations. Then we ask that you return to your seats. We have a few special achievements left to acknowledge.

In addition,

I’m giving away a gift card for a massage in your local area. If you’re interested in taking part, mosey on over here.

Also, I’m delighted to announce that Handle With Care is ready for pre-order. If you’re not sure why you should pre-order (or if), here’s Sarah Mae on some thoughts about why pre-ordering is great for you and the author. Click here or on the image below to preorder!

Here’s a little teaser of what you’ll read when it releases, from the chapter on touch within the nuclear family unit:

For the whole of our lives there will be some who try to hold us back physically, spiritually, mentally, or emotionally from moving forward into the best of what Jesus has for us. They will do it because they earnestly believe they are doing what’s best—not because it is best, but because it seems best. When it comes to touch, they will discipline too harshly or not at all. They will withhold touch or give it sinfully. They will be cold in response to our touch or effusively suffocating with it. And Jesus is right there in the midst of it all. In this passage, he moves into the space of what seems best to the disciples and says instead what is best: “Leave the kids alone and don’t try to hold them back from me—these are the ones the kingdom is for!” And then he places his hands on them for a blessing.

In every family since the very first family, we have used our hands for good and evil. Adam never raised his hand in protest to stop the serpent from deceiving his wife, as far as we can tell. Eve used her hands to pull the fruit from the tree and then hand it to her husband. Their son used his hands to kill his brother. Their descendants used their hands to rape women, remove children from their home, deceive brothers, defeat giants, kill lions with their bare hands, bear gifts for an infant King, and then nail him to a cross. Every person who has ever lived has used their hands for harm and for good, and each one has done it thinking it seemed best in the moment.

Perhaps they were blinded by a white-hot rage like I was when I slapped my brother across the face, yet the rage was born in an unspeakable grief—Jesus sees that grief and died for it. Perhaps they were blinded by generations of broken fathering or abject disappointment in their own parenting—our Father shows himself to be a better Father. Perhaps they were merely guided by what they saw their parents doing—the Spirit is a better guide. Perhaps they were enacting out of lack, out of what they wish their parents had done—the Spirit gives a better comfort. Or perhaps they feel they have no control over their body—here, our God shows himself to be more sovereign. Jesus cares about the little children and the hands he lays on them are full of blessing. He inserts himself right into the narrative of what seems best in the moment to show what is best, and he does so using his hands.