A Lesson on Grace, Granddaughters and Butterflies

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Dennis Garvin
Dennis Garvin

Whenever possible, I leave work and go play with my 7 year old granddaughter. She is my delight and we have been best buddies for virtually her whole life. The game we play is always up to her and frequently is something conjured from her imagination. Yesterday, we were playing ‘school’; my granddaughter being the teacher (‘Miss Teacher’) and I was the student (‘Freddy’), as well as the entire student body.

We went outside, in the backyard, on a ‘field trip.’ Miss Teacher signaled all of the class (me) to stop, then whispered ‘watch this.’ There was a beautiful butterfly in the garden. Miss Teacher advanced slowly with her index finger extended, whistling softly. She moved in the innocent optimism that the butterfly would certainly light upon the offered finger, to the delight and amazement of her entire class (again, just me).

The butterfly had other plans and Miss Teacher, undismayed, took the class to the next project, making paper crowns. Her grandfather, however, was cast back in time and nostalgia, to another day that had been very much like yesterday.

My granddaughter’s mother, Emily, was also 7 years old once upon a time. She had just finished watching the movie ‘Snow White…’ and been captivated by the way the birds had landed on Snow White’s hand. We walked outside, where the returning migratory birds were in raucous song. Emily extended the very same index finger as her future daughter would do; also whistling and walking softly in the innocent optimism that the birds would shortly be clamoring for a perch on her offered finger. Like her daughter, she was undismayed by failure. Children of this age don’t dwell on disappointment, while the world remains so full of mystery and adventure.

It is said that God blesses all of us. Those of us who recognize a blessing are merely those who are already tuned in, therefore cognizant of Grace. This was just such a blessing: an exhibition of an inherited innocence, wholly independent of the human genome; innocence mirrored so precisely in the child of a mother who had likewise displayed it.

That, by itself, would be enough. But no, there is so much more. When Emily became pregnant, a previously undiagnosed lung condition manifested itself inside her. She was hospitalized four times during the pregnancy, often too short of breath to walk more than 20 feet. She hardly gained any weight during the pregnancy, her muscle mass diminishing as the child grew.

I was frightened, and I was angry; not at the disease, but at the pregnancy. For all of her life, Emily had been the focus of my protection; but I was helpless before this implacable foe. I neither knew nor loved this tiny life growing inside my daughter, only that it threatened to kill her. As such, it was little better than a cancer. I wanted it gone.

Emily refused to consider a termination and politely advised she was ashamed of me: Mr. super- Christian, secure and slightly smug in the black-or-white absolutism of my ethic; now resorting to an expedient morality that I had previously condemned, instead of turning to God in prayer to protect mother and child. In a previous column, I wrote about hypocrisy, including myself in that diagnosis. Now you know why. At the time, I considered myself suitably chastised. Gloriously, both mother and child came through it ok, no thanks to me.

It took no time for this exquisite child to capture me in the sweet tyranny that only a granddaughter can exercise over her ‘Papa.’ I can honestly say that I could not now envision a world in which this little person had no part.

There is a Bible verse: ‘for where sin did abound, there much more did Grace abound.’ God repaid my sins of fear and distrust with Grace in the form of a granddaughter. Without her, I would ‘live in a seasonless world where I would laugh, but not all of my laughter; and cry, but not all of my tears.’ (Gibran, The Prophet)

I did not, and still do not, deserve such loving forgiveness; but then again, who does? Am I a Christian? Yes. Am I a judgmental Christian? I have too many shortcomings in my own life with which I must deal. I have no business worrying about yours. I am merely a grateful Christian.

– Dennis Garvin