Last month I ran in a trail race called Shadow of the Giants near Yosemite National Park. Through the years, this race has become a favorite to run with my friends. The course winds through the Sierra National Forest. It’s always a feast for the senses as we run alongside the giant sequoia trees with their enormous trunks pointing toward heaven.
The first 4.5 miles are uphill as the elevation soars above 5,000 feet, but it’s all worth it when you get a whiff of the intoxicating scent of the forest, see the paths painted with wildflowers, and hear the symphony of rushing water below.
I trained for this race for three months, but three weeks before the race I tested positive for COVID. Thankfully, in about a week I recovered from the worst symptoms and tested negative. But I struggled with some strange breathing patterns all the way up to a few days before the race. My chest tightened even when I was resting, and I couldn’t seem to get the deep breaths I was used to.
My body felt strong enough to run the 20k, but I was nervous about what my breathing would be like at that higher elevation. My friend and I drove up the night before and stayed about twenty minutes from the starting line. We hoped this would help us acclimate to the elevation and get a better night’s sleep.
By God’s grace, I didn’t have any breathing problems during the Shadow of the Giants race, though I definitely had to take it easier than I have in years past. Our group of mama runners jog-hiked quite a bit of the race. There were times when I thought maybe I should push harder because that’s what I would have done before, but my spirit said to stay steady and savor the journey. There was an invitation to go slower and not feel ashamed about it.
This was a profound example of something much bigger. As we are coming out of this pandemic (if I can say that?), we need to go gently. We need to listen to our bodies and the pace of our souls. It’s tempting to jump right back into the frenetic pace, the striving mentality. But as I learned in my race, I don’t have to strive and sprint at that pace anymore. My body needs time to heal and my lungs space to breathe. That’s not something to take lightly.
In the final mile of the race, I noticed this butterfly flitting near my shoulder. Butterflies have been special to me since my husband’s cancer diagnosis in 2014. On the day my husband and I received the most devastating news of our lives, God brought me a butterfly.
I can still hear my daughter’s excited voice: “Mom, come look!”
Hovering over a bush with the other kids huddled around her, she motioned me to join them. I entered the circle of eight-year-olds full of wide-eyed wonder. Then I spotted what had drawn their attention: a butterfly with paper-thin wings of pale yellow outlined in inky black. We held our breath and took in all of its intricate glory. It felt sacred that this butterfly was letting us all lean in so close.
This seemed like such a small thing, but really it was a big thing. God used that butterfly to remind me of the miracle and metamorphosis that happens in us when we depend on Him through trials. I needed that promise.
A science teacher friend explained to me that the most surprising part of the life cycle of a butterfly is that she starts as a caterpillar who cocoons in a chrysalis. This is where the metamorphosis or change happens. If you opened the chrysalis in this middle stage, you would see a goopy, unidentifiable mess. But patience will reveal the butterfly pressing through the walls of the chrysalis and emerging with fully-formed legs, eyes, and wings.
The apostle Paul illuminated this idea in a letter to the Corinthians: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). We are completely transformed by the new life we experience in Christ.
Whenever I see a butterfly, I am reminded that surprising beauty emerges from that stage in our lives when we are squeezed tight, when we experience challenges, when we lean into grief and loss. That is when the metamorphosis of our heart happens. Through the years, the butterfly has come to represent my new life born out of the ashes.
In the Shadow of the Giants race, that butterfly reminded me God hides us, cocoons us in His presence, presses us through the hard circumstances of life, and gives us strength to emerge on the other side with wings. That sweet butterfly inspired me and kept me company while I let my feet fly through the ferns to the finish line.
Friends, we have been changed by this pandemic and the trauma of the last few years. We have faced trials, sickness, violence, and fractures in our communities. In these days, weeks, and months to come, you have permission to go gently. If you are in the middle of that chrysalis stage, give yourself time to grieve and go at a slower pace. This is where the true metamorphosis happens.