The caterpillar emerged from the cocoon and cried. Who was she now?
I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday. We hopped in the car and drove into the mountains with friends—I can’t remember whom exactly. What I do remember is rounding a corner in my boyfriend’s Camaro and being surprised that there was a casino tucked so deeply into the hills of North Carolina. Across from the casino was the place that would mark my body for life.
We walked inside and I was handed a book of artwork. Most of the pictures reminded me of airbrush t-shirt stands I might find on the sidewalks of Myrtle Beach. Maybe I should have turned around and walked out, but I didn’t. Instead I turned the laminated pages, looking for a drawing that told a story about my identity. Or maybe looking for an identity that I might become. Definitely looking for something simple so that my body didn’t become an air-brushed t-shirt.
I chose what every common girl of the 90’s chose, a butterfly. Nothing fancy. Perfectly ordinary. A little like me.
And I sat with my hand between the pages of the book while I watched the artist mark my boyfriend for life with the head of a ram.
I never asked why the ram. But I did try to come up with a story about the butterfly. The best I could conjure was that a butterfly was evidence that transformation existed in the world. That who I would be could be radically different than who I was. If anything, it sounded lovelier than not wanting to be air-brushed.
Just a few years later, transformation did come, and with it everything in my former life was undone. Friends. Habits. Addictions. Roots. I emerged from that Sunday morning new—determined to never look over my shoulder in longing.
For fourteen years this has served me well—this always looking forward and never looking back. I was less like the butterfly and more like the locust—shedding skin over and over again, leaving the old skins behind as evidence of how I’d grown.
And so now, as I explain the most difficult part of this transition away from spiritual leadership inside the church, I hear myself speak the same phrase over and over again, “I’ve lost a huge part of my identity. I’ve left behind someone I’ve been for a long time.”
But today I realized that doesn’t have to be true. Rather than shedding skin and leaving the old behind, I could be more like the butterfly. I can enter this season of rest and allow everything—all the mistakes, the successes, the celebrations, and the regrets—to be pressed in tightly, becoming part of the transformation—becoming a part of me.
And I could emerge from this journey completely unrecognizable except for the stripes on my back that declare, “It’s still me. My whole self made it through.”