Celtic Butterfly


Photos by Jamie Sutter

When I first saw the movie Patch Adams, I was beginning the process of facing my own experiences with childhood sexual abuse. I was twenty when I saw the film, and one motif is the recurring butterfly which represents one character’s journey toward healing from traumatic abuse. The butterfly represents life from death, beauty from ugliness, freedom from captivity. My three years of Christianity thus far had led me through many doors back to my past, forcing me to deal with layers of brokenness. This would prove to be the most painful, and most deeply ingrained, issue yet.

As is often the case with impacting symbols the butterfly has become almost trite in its overuse, from tattoo designs to sweatshirts. For me, however, the power of this image reverberated through my soul and took root. I was facing a monster so much bigger than me, one that had wielded power over every thought I had about myself and every relationship I’d been in, one that held me in a clawed grip that only did more damage when I tried to squirm out of reach. The Shame of sexual abuse infuses a person. Rather, since I can’t speak for other people or their experiences, the Shame infused me. It permeated. When I finally turned to face the demon in my late teens I was unbelievably blessed to have a tight circle of friends to support me through it. Two of them, both guys I had been very close with for years, confided in me at separate times that they’d always suspected I’d been abused. Without realizing it I had been dripping with the residue of my past.

It took years of therapy, prayer, ministry, weeping, anger, and confession to lead me to a semblance of healing. But Jesus is a faithful, faithful friend. Every effort I made toward wholeness He met with a supernatural touch. Through myriad people, words, prayers, and deconstructions I came to a genuine place of freedom. Yet I could still recognize the ramifications of a lifetime of broken thinking in how I viewed myself and other people. My approaches to friendship, intimacy, affection, sexuality were still skewed, still off.

Progress has been made. I’m learning how to think of myself as valuable, not used up or discarded. Love has become a powerful reality. Purity has been divorced from shame. Redemption has come to mean something. Layers are peeling off, dropping to the floor and disappearing into the trash. At the same time I recognize that there will always be more layers, at least until that day when the dark glass is shattered and I know as I am known. I rest in the knowledge that Someone knows who I was intended to be before the violations, and He is the only one with the power to restore Her to me.

I am that butterfly who fought with all her might to shake off the casket wound tight around her tender flesh. The journey to flight and freedom will be mine all my days. But it is a journey deeper and deeper into the vibrant life meant for me. It’s an endless path I travel, one that winds back on itself and sometimes feels like it’s going in circles but is always moving me forward. Ever growing, ever more colorful, ever more awake and alive. A butterfly in a garden all her own given countless days to explore new colors and scents.

This is the meaning of the Celtic butterfly. The day of the tattoo appointment I was still fretting over placement. I knew where it needed to go, but I refused. I knew how damn much it would hurt. So maybe my arm? But I didn’t want to look butch, or white trashy. My back? I wanted to see it. I thought of a dozen places and none of them were right. I knew it had to be my foot. My friend Andrew told me that was the only place that made sense. I was a total baby about it. After the bee on my ankle I had sworn a thousand oaths against every getting anything else done on my feet. But I knew. I see my foot every day, when I look down to see where my feet are headed. And it reminds me that this journey is one ever moving forward, toward freedom and life and resurrection.


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