Of Hospitals, and Butterflies, and Praise

Sep 15, 2016

Butterfly Balloon


We’ve been here before: waiting for that callback from the on-call nurse, waiting to find out if we’re headed to the emergency room with this child.

But it never has been this child.

Her older brothers, yes. From staples in the scalp to midnight croup, from epi-pen jabs to that one nightmarish choking incident. We’ve called 911. We’ve opened the door for paramedics. We’ve carried little boys out to the car in the cold and dark of the night.

After thirteen years of parenting, we aren’t frightened by much. After nearly twenty years of marriage, we’ve reached a state of calm. It takes a lot to rattle us.

When Jonathan carried Elsa to the car on Labor Day and headed for the emergency room, I wasn’t afraid. When he called to say they were admitting her to the children’s hospital, I wasn’t afraid. When they told me the next day that she needed to stay for a second night, I wasn’t afraid. Asthma is our family inheritance, after all. From grandmother to mother to daughter and son. It is familiar to us.

When we brought Elsa home again, her virus-weakened lungs having been strengthened by inhalers, and fluids, and oxygen in a snaking tube, we remarked on how capable we had felt through the entire ordeal. Maybe after four children we had learned a thing or two? We know when to call the doctor’s office. We know how to trust (in doctors, in nurses, in God above).

We know how to stay calm.

We know how to move on.


A week has gone by, and it occurs to me there is something I don’t know. I don’t know how to stop seeing it. I don’t know how to forget.

When I lie in bed at night, my mind replays one moment over and over: Elsa, lying in our bed and working so very, very hard to breathe. The muscle at the base of her throat flutters with each quick and shallow breath.

It looks like a small butterfly trapped just beneath her skin.


On Monday, one week after she went into the hospital, we celebrated Elsa’s fourth birthday. She opened presents in the morning, and we ate pink birthday cake in the afternoon, but her favorite thing was the iridescent butterfly balloon.

She carried it around the house. She played with it outside in the yard. She lay down in the grass and held it over her head. All the better to see those butterfly colors against the deep blue of the September sky. All the better to carry on a laughing conversation with a soaring balloon.

The weather lately has fluctuated between just right and still too hot. We’ve spent a lot of time outside in it regardless. Elsa hunts for caterpillars in the herb garden that grows just outside the kitchen door. These particular green caterpillars seem very fond of Italian flat-leaf parsley.

I found one perfect, orange butterfly wing fluttering in the grass. I thought at first it was a butterfly, and I wondered why it didn’t fly away as I approached. Leaning down, I saw that it was only the one wing, caught on a blade of grass, moving back and forth in that day’s hot, dry wind.

Lord have mercy, I thought, this child I love is as fragile and vulnerable as a butterfly.

I am, too, I suppose, no matter how solid my own body feels when I plant my feet on the ground of my garden.

We are gossamer.

We are tissue-thin.

Liable to be whipped about in the slightest wind.

What is it Scripture says?

“The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16).

Those words have always made me feel sad. And afraid.

But I have learned how to be unafraid. I have learned that. There is sadness, yes, but there is beauty, too. We are like flowers. We are like butterflies. We are jewel-colored. We fly swiftly. We dance in the wind.

I want to forget, but these are precious things. God, I pray, make me strong enough to remember all of it.

The broken wing.

The brilliant orange.

The broken lungs, and the small, laughing voice.

Give my own weak lungs breath to sing the whole Psalm, all the way through:

“The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field;

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children …

Praise the Lord, you his angels …

Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, …

Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, my soul.”

(Psalm 103:15-22)


  1. Mark Day

    Love this and we love little Elsa Spring. Wish we could be with you often. lv d

  2. Heather

    You have a way of seeing this broken world in a beautiful way. A way that most try to ignore. Pretending that brokenness and beauty do not go hand in hand in our fallen world.

    I had a scary incident with one of my children a couple weeks ago. I too can not forget the image of almost losing him. I too need to remember that this life is all a fragile gift. I gently hold both the beauty and the broken. I praise the God who holds me through it all. Thank you for your words, so raw, honest and life giving.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you, Heather. May God be near in your remembering.

  3. katieleigh

    So lovely. I, too, find myself asking often for strength enough to remember and honor the all of it, these days.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you, Katie. Since writing this, I’ve realized just how much I want to forget, even how much I actively try to forget. Remembering is hard. Worth it. But so hard.

  4. lynndmorrissey

    Life is as ephemeral, fleeting, and fragile as a butterfly, but also as beautiful and brilliant. Thank you for this crucial reminder. God has taught me a lot through butterflies, and I love how they are such a friendly insect, in a sense. They don’t harm. They just bring beauty. I actually have known people who are petrified of butterflies. I suddenly wonder, Christie: Am I petrified of beauty, of its briefly brushing my life, because I’m afraid of its fleetness? Nothing lasts. Children grow up. And we grow old. But oh, dear author, truly to flourish in the midst of life, if however briefly–to bring beauty, as you do, through your words, to help others to be unafraid to receive whatever God brings, to attend to your children with love and grace in this time–their childhood–that fleets, knowing just how precious it and they are, to praise God no matter what, to know Him and to know the hope of heaven. I surely thank you for this. I needed to read it. I needed to be reminded of it. I pray that God continues to heal Elsa Spring, breathing into her the breath of His Spirit, being the fresh wind beneath her fragile wings.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you so much, Lynn. You bring up such a good point – something I hadn’t really thought of before. I do think I am afraid of beauty sometimes. Ordinary, regular, so-so: they are easier to handle. To look beauty – fleeting beauty – full in the face does require bravery. Thank you for reminding me of that.

      • lynndmorrissey

        Thank you so much, Christie. Your post means so much to me–not just for its own intrinsic beauty and value–but for the response it triggered in me. It really helped me understand my fear (which I know to most would sound irrational). I think I will write about it to sort it out. I love that about both reading and writing. They send us down roads we might not otherwise travel and explore. I can’t thank you enough.

  5. circulating

    so moving, so endearing… with tear filled eyes and an appreciative heart, I thank you

    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you for reading along. Thank you for listening.

  6. Kelley

    Your post and the scripture you quote reminded me so much of one of my favorite passages in the Talmud “Every blade of grass has an angel who bends over and whispers, ‘Grow, grow'” Your writing, as always, captures life so beautifully, Christie.

  7. Amy Hunt

    I am learning to live unafraid as I know the fragility of life. I know there is beauty and yet sometimes life being gossamer is what keeps me from embracing the gifts. Oh how I pray to live unafraid.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Me too. It’s an ongoing thing. We turn away from fear and embrace the gifts every day. Sometimes many times in a day. xxoo

  8. lauralynnbrown

    There is sadness, yes. And there is beauty too.

  9. Jody Lee Collins

    Oh, it’s the ‘but’ in God’s good word that always gives us hope. Thank you for this glimpse into how you’re living there.


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