by Teresa Pollard
Eight year old Debbie Parker peered at the butterfly ornament and chewed her thumbnail. It was hanging from a gold wire stand which sat under a glass dome on Grandma Watkins’ old upright piano next to the hall staircase. The ornament was glass too, but it was enameled with one blue and two dark pink flowers, and there was a large orange, black, white, and gold, Monarch Butterfly fluttering above the flowers. It didn’t look like any normal butterfly she’d ever seen though. The colors had an iridescent glow, more like angel or fairy wings than a real butterfly. It fascinated her, none the less. Every time she had come to see Grandma this Christmas, she’d stood right here on the stairway where she couldn’t be seen and stared down at the ornament on the oak piano below. Why wasn’t it on the Christmas tree in the living room with the rest of the Christmas ornaments? Why was it under a dome? It was so pretty. If it was her ornament, she’d hang it at the top of the tree where everyone would see it and tell her how beautiful it was.
The large green artificial Christmas tree in front of the picture window in the living room had lots of ornaments on it too. Bells, gold lace ribbon, balls of every color, bows, tinsel, sleighs, angels, stars, and tiny nativity sets adorned the tree. They were pretty too, even when the tree wasn’t lit up with hundreds of tiny white lights like it was now. But none of them held the fascination of the butterfly ornament. It wasn’t on the piano last year.
But then again, she was only eight. Maybe it had been here last year, and she didn’t remember. She didn’t remember a lot of things about last Christmas. She couldn’t. It hurt too much to remember. Mommy had been here last Christmas. She was sick, but she’d tried her best to make it a good Christmas for Debbie. She did remember that much. They’d gone to see The Nutcracker ballet, to feed the ducks down at the duck pond, and played laser tag at the mall. Mommy had even gone out at four o’clock in the morning on Black Friday to find everything on Debbie’s list. She only knew that because she’d heard Grandma complain about it so many times since. This Christmas, mommy was with Jesus. Aunt Sarah told her Jesus needed another angel. That made Debbie so mad. Didn’t Jesus already have enough angels? She’d only had one mommy. And she wanted her back! Christmas was Jesus’ birthday. How old was He anyway? Mommy used to say she would stop counting when she reached 29. Debbie wondered why? It didn’t matter. Mommy never got there. Debbie could count to a zillion. Was Jesus that old? Had He stopped counting? Was that why he needed another angel? To count his birthday candles for him?
“Debbie, time to go!” Her daddy called from the kitchen.
“Coming, Daddy!” She raced down the steps and through the hall to meet him. From the corner of her eye, she saw the butterfly swing back and forth as her footsteps vibrated on the wooden floor. The light reflecting on the glass as it swung made it even prettier. It made her smile.
When she got to the kitchen, Daddy was standing in the doorway with his baseball cap in his left hand and her back pack on his shoulder. He was ready to go. Grandma had that effect on people. She sat stooped over at the kitchen table peeling a humongous pile of potatoes. She liked to cook. You could tell. She always cooked enough to feed an army instead of just one person. She also liked to eat. She was a large woman with wispy gray hair. She wore wire rim glasses too, but she was far from the image of Mrs. Santa Claus. Big people were supposed to be jolly. Grandma Watkins wasn’t. She seldom smiled. She was a good cook though. She often sent home food for Debbie and her daddy. If the smell coming from her backpack was a clue, today was no exception. She smelled fried chicken. And probably apple pie. There had been a whole one on the counter earlier. Now there were only a few slices. Even Grandma didn’t eat that much! But she knew daddy wasn’t a very good cook, and she worried they didn’t get enough to eat. Because of all of mommy’s doctor bills, they didn’t eat out much anymore. That was okay. Debbie was learning to cook for him. She made good spaghetti. Daddy loved her spaghetti, even if the sauce did come from a can.
“Tell your grandmother goodbye and give her a big hug,” Daddy commanded, giving her a gentle push toward the older woman.
“Bye, Grandma,” she whispered, her reluctant gesture all but ignored. “We’ll be back Friday. Daddy has to work overtime at his spare job at the sock factory this weekend, so he wants me to spend the weekend with you. He can have supper with us Friday night though. Is that okay with you?”
She hoped it wasn’t, and she could stay at her friend Katie’s house, but it wasn’t to be. Grandma nodded without looking up from her potato pile. “I’ll pick you up from school right after the bell rings. Be sure to remind your daddy to write you a note Friday morning. And I’m bringing some cookies for your class Christmas party that morning too. Is there any particular design you’d like on them?”
Debbie tugged at the arm of her hand-me-down knit Christmas sweater as she thought. “Could you make a butterfly like the one on the piano? I think you have a couple of butterfly cookie cutters under the cabinet next to the refrigerator. I saw them when I helped you make cookies for the soldiers at the VA hospital. ”
“A butterfly isn’t very Christmassy, Pudding,” her dad chuckled. He patted her blond curls. “How about bells or wreaths? Or better yet, snowmen. Boys always like snowmen. ”
“No, I want butterflies,” Debbie insisted, not quite stomping her black patent leather shoe. Daddy would be upset if she did that. But she did cross her skinny arms and pout a bit–Just enough to make him grin and rub her head again. He was the best daddy in the world.
Grandma Watkins sighed. At last she nodded. “Then butterflies it will be. But I’ll warn you, I’m no artist. I can’t make them nearly as good as the one on the piano.”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine, Mom Watkins,” Hank Parker, Debbie’s dad, assured her. “I appreciate all you do for Debbie. And she appreciates it too.” He set his jaw and gave her the look that said she’d better appreciate it. “Can you thank your grandmother, Debbie?”
She nodded. “Thanks, Grandma. You can come to the party too. It starts at twelve o’clock right after lunch. You can come to lunch first, too, if you want to. We go to the lunch room at eleven twenty. ”
Grandma Watkins dropped her knife and took Debbie’s hand. She gave it a gentle squeeze. “Thank you for asking, Debbie, but I can’t. I have a doctor’s appointment Friday morning for my blood pressure medicine. I’ll drop off the cookies to your teacher before I go.”
Debbie breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t want her grandmother to come to the party anyway. She didn’t want to go herself. If Jesus was so mean, he would take her mommy, why should she celebrate his birthday?
Debbie got through the party. She almost forgot to be unhappy for a while. Besides Grandma’s butterfly cookies, which the girls thought were quite beautiful and the boys said tasted great, there were candy canes, ice cream bars, brownies, and all kinds of other treats. Debbie hadn’t eaten much this last year. Her daddy had fussed a lot about that. But today she did eat, and it was good. Especially the butterfly cookies. As they bit into them, Katie had giggled and whispered to her that she was going to love her Christmas book. They played games and sang silly Christmas songs too. When it was almost time to go home, they traded gifts. The class had drawn names for a gift exchange. All they were allowed to give each other was books, but Debbie loved to read, so that was okay with her. Katie had drawn her name. Her book was bigger than most of the others, and it was wrapped in iridescent tissue with a large pink bow. The wrapping paper was so beautiful she almost didn’t want to unwrap it. She wanted to thank Katie for the gift, but when she went to find her, her teacher, Mrs. Williams said she’d had to leave the party early for a dentist’s appointment. When Debbie at last opened the wrapping, the book inside had a large Monarch butterfly on the front. It looked an awful lot like Grandma’s butterfly. She’d check it out when she got back to Grandma’s. The bell rang, so she rushed to shove the book into her back pack and get to the door. She hoped Grandma had gotten out of her doctor’s appointment on time. It was so awful to have to stand in the car rider’s line for almost an hour waiting because your ride was at the back of the line.
The wait wasn’t too bad, but when she picked Debbie up, Grandma Watkins was even madder than usual. She’d stopped by the grocery store on her way to the school, and “some dummy” had banged into her grocery cart just as she was checking out, causing her to break the dozen eggs she’d just bought to replace all the eggs she’d used for cookies. Now she had egg ick all down her pant leg. As mommy used to say, “She was not a happy camper!”
As soon as she unlocked the door, Debbie raced ahead of her to the hiding place on the stairs. Before dropping her book bag onto the landing, she pulled out the new butterfly book. She was right. The butterfly on the cover was identical to the butterfly on the ornament. And it sat on two dark pink flowers and one blue one just like on the ornament. How was it possible? She was so engrossed in the comparison; she didn’t hear Grandma enter the foyer.
“Debbie, what are you doing? What have you got there? May I see it?”
Startled, she tried to hide the book behind her, but instead, it sailed through the rail, hit the piano on its corner, and flipped over, knocking the glass dome to the floor as it crashed flat and the dome shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces. The ornament didn’t fall all the way to the floor, only to the lid of the keyboard, but it was enough. The ornament was also broken into several large pieces.
“Oh, Grandma, I’m so sorry!” Debbie wailed. “I didn’t mean to break your lovely butterfly. Honest I didn’t. Please forgive me.” Huge tears ran down her cheek. “I have about thirty dollars in my piggy bank at home. You can have it all. I’m so sorry. Please don’t tell Daddy. He’ll be so mad at me. ”
Grandma wasn’t angry! Tears fell down her cheeks, but not for the ornament. The tears were for Debbie. “Hush, child. It was an accident. I know you didn’t mean to do it. I’ve got eyes. Besides, it wasn’t my ornament. It was yours. I meant to tell you all about it this weekend. Now, stay put right there on the staircase while I get something to clean up all this mess. The last thing we need right now is a trip to the emergency room to get glass out of your feet or hands.”
After Grandma had gotten the broom and vacuum cleaner to clean up all tiny pieces of glass from the dome while Debbie sat as still as a statue on the step, she picked up the piece with the butterfly. “Look, Debbie. The butterfly isn’t broken. The picture is still all in one piece. ”
Debbie sniffed and wiped more tears from her cheeks. “Yeah, but what difference does it make? The rest of the ornament is toast. ”
Grandma Watkins pursed her lips together and her brows knit together almost making a single line. But she still didn’t look mad. She took a deep breath, and then nodded to Debbie. “Can you run up to my sewing room, please, and bring me the big brown craft box from under the desk? And there’s some fine gold glitter on the second shelf of the bookcase. Bring that too. I have an idea how we can mend this.”
Debbie shrugged and ran up the stairs. The items were easy to find. When she came back down, Grandma was standing with her back to her at the dining room table. Walking over beside her, she set the craft box onto the side chair. Grandma had fitted all the pieces of the ornament back together like a 3D puzzle. Only one piece was missing, and that lay on the table beside her.
“Now, Debbie, I need your help here. We need to do a bit of surgery. But I warn you. This is going to be a delicate operation. If we’re not extra careful, we could make things worse instead of better. ”
She was so serious, and yet so funny, Debbie saluted like she was in the army.
Grandma’s brows rose, but she nodded. She got it. She laughed. “Okay, Private. First, can you pour some of the glue into this bowl, and add some glitter to it? A little more. That’s good. Now, stir it up with a craft stick. Perfect. Next, suck as much of it as you can up into this medicine dropper. Right. Now, hand it to me. Thank you, Private. You did a great job.” Turning the ball as she went, she worked the glitter glue along every crack with the medicine dropper. Then she glazed the entire ball except for the piece with the butterfly with a thin layer of plain glue and sprinkled glitter on it too. When she had all but the last piece done, she placed it into a cup that fit it almost perfectly, and worked the final piece into the puzzle, and repeated the former processes. “Now, Private, please run get my hair dryer from my bathroom. We want to get this glue dry as quickly as possible before the glass has time to fall apart again. Having such a big piece on one side is going to help since it gives us a place to cradle it while it dries, but I don’t want to take any chances.”
Again Debbie saluted and ran to do as bidden. When she returned, she gazed at the repaired ornament. “Ooh, Grandma! It looks beautiful! I think it’s even prettier than it was before! The way you made the gold glitter into veins looks like you did it on purpose. ”
“You may be right. But please remember, it’s extremely fragile right now, so you can’t touch it. Don’t even breathe on it hard until it’s completely dry, or it might fall apart”
“I won’t. I promise.”
“I know you won’t, Sweetheart.” She gave Debbie a peck on the cheek and winked at her. Grandma had never winked at Debbie before in her life. Maybe she had something in her eye. “Can you stay here and keep an eye on it for me while I go upstairs and change.” She chuckled. Debbie was certain she’d never heard her do that before. “I’ve still got the egg ick on my pants leg, and I’ve got to get them off and cleaned before they’re completely ruined. And if I don’t get a shower real quick myself, I may go nuts. Oh, well. Some days you’ve got to break a few eggs, so they say. I didn’t know it was supposed to be so literal.”
Debbie had no idea what she was talking about, but she was glad Grandma was in a better mood, though she wasn’t at all sure why.
She giggled. “Sure, Grandma. I’ll holler if it starts to come apart, but I don’t think it will. You did a real good job of mending it. Will you tell me about the ornament when you come back?”
“Yes, I will. I’ll be glad to. Be right back.” As she went upstairs, Debbie could have sworn she was singing a Christmas carol. What was wrong with her?
When she came back, Grandma had not only showered and changed, but had put on some lipstick too. Debbie didn’t think she’d ever seen her wear lipstick. And she wore a smile. It made her look so pretty. Even if she was old.
But Debbie was confused when she asked, “May I see your book?” She thought they were going to talk about the ornament. She handed her the gift from Katie.
Grandma ran her fingers over the cover. Then she held the book to her breast and gazed upward for a moment. “Thank You, Lord.” Then she turned her gaze toward Debbie. “Sweetheart, did you happen to notice who the author of this book was?”
She shook her head. “No. I didn’t get a chance to read it at all yet. All I saw was the butterfly. It looked just like your ornament, so it made me curious.”
Grandma turned the book around so Debbie could see the cover. “It should. The same person painted both of them. Your mommy. See, her name is right here on the front.”
Debbie read, “Kara Watkins. What? That was mama’s name before she married my daddy. I never knew my mommy wrote a book. And I didn’t know she could paint either. You and Daddy never said anything about it.”
She breathed a contented sigh. “I’m not sure your daddy ever knew about the book, Honey. He was working so hard at two jobs, besides taking care of you and your mom. Between her job, taking care of you, and trying to finish her college degree, Kara hadn’t painted in years, although she did it all the time when she was your age. She loved butterflies. When she took ballet when she was a little older than you are now, she once played the Princess of the Butterflies for her ballet recital, and after that she drew them constantly for months. And she wrote lots of butterfly stories to go with the pictures. That’s what you’re holding now. Katie’s mom works for a publisher. She had the book made especially for you from your mom’s stories and illustrations. And your mom made the ornament last year. It was one of the last things she did before she got too sick to do much of anything. She wanted you to have something to remember her by. But I didn’t know Katie’s mom had the book ready for the book exchange. ”
Tears streamed down Debbie’s face. “But I broke Mommy’s ornament. She would be so mad at me. ”
“No, she wouldn’t, Honey. I promise. She would know it was an accident just like I do. ” Grandma pulled Debbie into her arms. “We were both broken, just like the ornament, Sweetheart, but if we will let Him, Jesus can mend us and make us even better than ever—just
like you said the ornament looks better now than it did before. ”
She sniffed. “But, Grandma, Jesus is so mean. He took my mommy just cause he wanted another angel. He already had lots of angels. He didn’t need my mommy too. ”
Grandma hugged her again, even tighter this time, and they rocked back and forth so hard, Debbie was dizzy. “Oh, Honey, who told you that?”
“Aunt Sarah.” She whispered. “At mom’s funeral.”
Grandma wiped her own eye. Her voice took on a harsh tone for a moment again, but this time Debbie was certain she wasn’t mad at her. “Well, Sarah was wrong. Sometimes people say stupid things because they think it will make us feel better. But it doesn’t. It’s just plain dumb. Jesus loves you. And He loved your mommy too. Your mommy isn’t an angel. She’s a person. And she’s still a person. She’s a person who now lives in heaven.”
“But I want her here. I need a mommy. And so does daddy. He’s so lonely. Sometimes I hear him cry at night after he thinks I’m asleep.”
“I know you do, Sweetheart. And I do hope your daddy finds someone wonderful to be a mommy to you and a wife to him. You both deserve it. But your mommy couldn’t be that anymore. Cancer made her body break down just like that dome. It was smashed so badly it couldn’t be mended anymore. Did you ever see a caterpillar? Did you know a caterpillar is a butterfly? It just doesn’t know it because it hasn’t changed yet. Our bodies are kind of like that caterpillar body. When we die, if we know Jesus, it’s not really dying. It’s simply our body changing into our forever body like the caterpillar changes into the butterfly. That’s why your mommy wanted you to have the ornament and the book. She wanted you know Jesus, and to love Him. She wanted you to become everything Jesus meant you to be. She was so sorry she couldn’t be here to watch you grow up. That was her worst pain of dying. Leaving you behind. But her greatest hope is that you’ll become like a butterfly and join her one day in heaven. ”
“Are you like a butterfly, Grandma? Will you be in heaven too?”
“You know what? I am. But I sure haven’t been acting like it much lately, have I? Even before your mommy got sick, I was already broken. I started to break when your granddaddy died, but your mommy’s sickness turned me into a bitter old lady. Two losses so close together can do that to us if we don’t cling to Jesus. But that’s going to change. My wandering in the wilderness days are over!”
Debbie didn’t quite get the last part, but she knew one thing. She wanted to cling to Jesus too. “Can you help me turn into a butterfly too? I want to spend forever with mommy and Jesus.”
“You bet I can. It will be my honor.”
After explaining the ABC’s of salvation and leading Debbie in prayer, both of them were in tears as they clung together and stared at the ornament.
Grandma jumped up. “You know what? Let’s put this ornament on the Christmas tree where it belongs. We’ll put it right at the top where everybody can see it. Butterflies are symbols of the Resurrection, and what would Christmas be without the Resurrection? You do know what the Resurrection is, don’t you, Debbie? It’s when Jesus came out of the grave on the third day, and walked around in his forever body in front of everybody for forty days before going back to heaven to wait for us all to join Him. I’m so glad you wanted me to make butterfly cookies for your class. Now, when you go back to school in January, you can tell all your friends about what they meant. This is going to be the best Christmas ever. ”
Debbie clapped her hands and giggled. “But the Resurrection is at Easter, Grandma. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. Mommy used to bake a birthday cake for Jesus at Christmas. But she forgot to make one last year.”
“I know. She didn’t forget, but by then, she didn’t have the energy to bake. She asked me to, but I guess I was like you. I was so mad at Him, I wouldn’t even bake Him a birthday cake. Why don’t we go bake one now? I’ll bet your daddy would love a slice of birthday cake for dessert tonight.
The ABC’s of Salvation
A—Admit to God you’re a sinner; that you’ve said, done and thought things
not pleasing to God. (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 1 John 1:9)
B—Believe that Jesus is God’s Son; that He came to live a perfect life and die
to pay the penalty for your sin. (John 3:16)
C—Confess Him as your Savior and the Lord of your life. (Romans 10:9-10)