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Butterflies and Our Speech

Swallowtail butterfly on foxgloves, photo credit: Wendy MacDonald

[Originally published as Chasing Butterflies]

Once again, my husband of few words blessed me with a sentence that stuck with me and prompted me to write the following words of my own.

Each spring my hope of capturing clear photographs of butterflies takes flight. It starts the moment I glance out my kitchen window and spot a yellow swallowtail gliding over my garden greenery in search of flowers in bloom.

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The first sighting ignites a prayer. I ask God to please allow me the privilege of getting some lovely pictures of the beautiful creatures, creatures He made for us to see and enjoy.

Several butterflies later I finally found myself with a camera in hand while my husband and I walked through a public garden that was allowing no more than fifty people at a time to visit it. Joy of joys. We were the first guests to arrive, and aside from a handful of volunteers, we had the entire place to ourselves.

My husband sat on a nearby bench overlooking the rose garden while I photographed a humongous sweet-smelling peony flower that buzzed busy with honeybees. And that’s when I spotted a swallowtail. She flitted over the fading rhododendron flowers and then swooped down and alighted on a pink foxglove.

Stealthily I inched closer, not wanting to startle her. Click went my camera. Again, and again.

The butterfly showed off her acrobatic prowess by climbing up and down the sides of the plant and then sprung into flight again. She floated over the white flags waving in the cool breeze that played with my stray hairs that refused to stay under my cap.

I followed her and clicked more shots.Swallowtail on clustered flowers, photo credit: Wendy MacDonald

And this is when my man of few words said, “Chasing Butterflies would make a great book title.”

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Though two passions of mine suddenly collided—and exploded like fireworks—I still managed to keep my composure and my camera’s focused and attuned to photographing the subject at hand.

I squeezed my husband’s arm with thanks while sunshine caressed my shoulder with warmth that matched our sunny moods. “Yes,” I said. “That’s a perfect title.”

I breathed deep while excitement as thrilling as the birdsong all around us threatened to derail the photo-shoot. I wanted to drop everything, run home, and write.Swallowtail butterfly on a white iris, photo credit: Wendy MacDonald

My husband had no idea I had spent much of the morning daydreaming and planning on how to move ahead on a book idea that’s been brewing in the back of my mind. I had already written a rough draft of a book proposal and a few sample chapters. It was an idea that sprung from something I failed at over and over again. It was about the art of listening, learning, and loving. All three are deeply connected—deeply intertwined.

Chasing butterflies is much like pursuing intimacy within conversations with others. If one is not careful, not a gentle and still enough listener, words won’t alight in one’s mind or heart. The art of listening deeply so that meaningful conversations happen is akin to following a butterfly around a lovely garden. One must tread considerately. Barging in during a pause startles or discourages the speaker from landing on another flowery phrase.

To listen is to pause and ponder. To learn is to wait in the silence for an encore that dips deeper into the nectar of beautiful thoughts and lovely revelations. Love happens when we’re still. Be still and know that God speaks in whispers and gentle nudges that are easily missed if we impatiently rush to fill the silence.

I love words. I love writing them, hearing them, and speaking them. But I’m lousy—oh so lousy—at listening. And this is why I desperately need to chase more butterflies in each and every conversation that lands in my life garden. I need to remember the swallowtails and how they won’t share their loveliness with me if I move in too close, or too fast. People, like butterflies, need room to fly. Need time to drink in silence. Then speak. Then pause. Then sup some more stillness before being satiated with the sweet nectar of inspiration that overflows with heartfelt phrases worthy of the wait.

Listen to what James 1:19 NIV says about listening:

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My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

Chasing butterflies wisely in our conversations with God and others helps us listen, learn, and love better.

Wendy McDonald portrait

Written by Wendy L. Macdonald

I’m a writer, poet, and nature lover.
I also enjoy expressing myself through photography.
Creation has a lot to say…
My prose and poems are a small sampling of nature’s words.
I’m a Christian that loves reading the Bible. Find me at

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