For ten weeks each summer, I had the privilege of shepherding 35-40 students a week as they sought a deeper relationship with Jesus. Those kids brought so much joy and sadness, hope and hurt to camp with them. And they shared it with me. I walked away from my last summer of Centrifuge thinking, “Nothing will surprise me now.”
Those first two summers of my Centrifuge experience, there was a youth group who came from Shawnee, Oklahoma. Cody and Chase Rutledge were in that youth group. Cody was in my Bible study in 1987 (I think she was 15?), and her brother Chase was in my Bible study the next summer. I kept up with them both through letters and phone calls long after camp was over. They became two of those heart friends that you meet in the journey of Kingdom building. I lost touch with them when Cody headed to college.
One afternoon at Glorieta, Cody and I were sitting on the grassy hill that overlooked the recreation field. We were talking how both of us tended to want those lightning bolts from God, those claps of thunder (I think of them as “blue envelopes from heaven”), those distinct and unmistakable messages from God that say, “This is My will for you. Do it.” It was so hard to tell some days if I was doing the right thing because I stuck out from the crowd. I was passionate, and artistic, and sensitive, and a college drop-out who wanted to be a youth minister. I didn’t fit with my team (most of whom were seminary students), yet I didn’t fit with the campers, either (I was supposed to be their “leader,” not their peer).
I didn’t tell Cody all that. But that was where I walked back then.
Cody was struggling with making the “right” choices and pleasing God while pleasing her parents while following her gifts and dreams. Sometimes those paths didn’t seem to line up.
As we sat there on the hill and shared our hearts---not as camp counselor and camper, but as friends on the same journey---there were many moments of just listening to the wind. New Mexico is beautiful in the summer, and that day was pristine as I remember it.
We sat there together, talking and listening and being, and a butterfly flew our way. It landed on Cody’s arm. It just sat there while we held our breath and knew that we were in God’s presence. I look back now and see that He was whispering to us His delight in us, His reassurance that He was guiding us, and we were pleasing to Him.
At the time, I was simply mesmerized.
Cody sat so still while that white butterfly flitted all around her. It landed on her several times--- on her arm, on her shoulder, in her hair---before it floated away on the wind. We looked at each other and just started giggling (after we exhaled).
That moment captivated me. Because I was with my friend who loved me and accepted me and cherished me and related to me. Because God had shown up and answered so clearly the questions we had been asking. He whispered to us that day His love and His acceptance.
I wrote a poem about it:
in white whispers
the gentle wind floated
the gentle wind floated
her treasure to me
with trusting tenderness
the tiny creature lighted
on my quivering arm
one still moment
a thousand revelations
on velvet wings
the warm breeze carried
the other day
God was a white butterfly
and He tickled me with love
Months after camp was over, I sent Cody a bookmark in the mail. It had butterflies on it. I thanked her for teaching me the gentleness of a butterfly. Cody loved me well when I was convinced I was unlovable. I called her my “butterfly friend.”
Fast forward 20 years. Lots of ministry, a family estrangement, a marriage, a child, a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, two dogs, six surgeries, and at least eight churches later.
Last week was the opening day of Breakaway. I’d led two sets of music and was standing in the back of the room listening to the teachers tell about their Bible study classes. I’d been praying about a lot of things lately: Our church is in huge transition, and where do my family and I fit in that process? I have to have major surgery (again), and how can I lead (Who is supposed to stand in my place?) while I recover? Lord, what are You doing, and where do I fit into it?
I hear the voices whispering all the time: “It’s just a matter of time before they all find out you’re a fake and you’re nothing special at all. God doesn’t give you inside information about anything. It’s just you and your ideas. You’re going to lead them all astray. You’re just lying to yourself and everyone else. What a fool you are.” Same tune as it was on that hillside in New Mexico twenty years ago.
I’m learning to pull down every stronghold and take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus and His Truth. I’m not a fake. I am a delight to my Heavenly Father. I love Jesus with all that I am. He is using me to build His kingdom. God has gifted me and trained me for this very time to be here, now. I’m learning to tell myself the truth. But that doesn’t silence the accusations. They are incessant. Relentless.
So I’m standing there at Breakaway in the back of the room, amazed at how many women were gathered there, blown away at their hunger for fellowship with God and other women.
And this young woman walks up to me. She’s looking straight into my eyes, and she takes me by the arms and says, “You’re my butterfly friend from Centrifuge.”
Wuh!!! I said, “Cody? Oh, my!” Instant hugs and giggles---“You’re beautiful!” And I promise: I heard God shouting His laughter. And His answers.
I am so called here, now. He is working and moving---like the breath in the dry bones in Ezekiel---He is bringing me, my family, my church ALIVE!
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD, You alone know.”
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet --- a vast army.
Then He said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”
We must have been a sight, Cody and I in the back of the sanctuary, having our reunion in whisper-shouts. What a wonder! What a wonderful God I serve!
What a whirlwind as the bones grow skin and the Spirit starts breathing.