She was honored to sing at the military memorial service for a friend, but wondered how she’d do it without breaking down. Could a butterfly be a sign?
Mar 24, 2017
The yellow butterfly fluttered above the sea of military uniforms outside Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base, a lone flash of color. Had it actually been there the whole time—during the 21-gun salute, the playing of “Taps” and the presentation of the flag to the widow? I watched the butterfly linger over the heads of Katy and her daughters during the final prayer. It had been such a difficult day for them, for all of us, but somehow the sight of those tiny yellow wings floating on the breeze comforted me.
Colonel John McGuffee had been commander of my husband Barry’s squadron during the Gulf War. He was a man we loved and respected, a good friend. It seemed inconceivable he could be gone from our lives. Only a few weeks before, Barry and I had visited with him in the hospital. He’d had cancer. Still, there was a peace on his face that made me believe he’d be well soon. “When will you be getting out of this place, Colonel?” I asked.
“Well, Jo Ann, it looks like I won’t, as I will be journeying to the other side,” he said. “My prognosis is not good, and I don’t have much time left.” I looked to Barry in disbelief, but he seemed to already know.
“We’re here for you,” I said, fighting back tears. “For you, Katy and the girls. If you need us to do anything, just let us know.”
John sat up a little taller in his bed. “Well, Jo Ann, there is something you can do. Would you sing my favorite song at my service? ‘On Eagles’ Wings’—you know it, don’t you?”
John knew I’d sung at other military functions. He’d complimented me on my singing before. But I’d never heard this song. I wasn’t sure I could keep my emotions in check. Still, how could I turn down his request? “I’ll know it when the time comes—a long time from now!” I said.
The time came all too soon. I learned the song and performed it at John’s chapel service, praying it had been a comfort to Katy and their girls.
“He will raise you up on eagles’ wings....” the lyrics went. “Bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand...” I’d barely made it through without breaking down. I wanted to cry again now, seeing Katy clutching that folded flag. Instead, I stayed focused on that butterfly, looping through the air, hovering for a moment over my head, before winging off into the sky.
After the parting words had been given and as everyone shared greetings, Katy approached me. “Can you come over to the house later this afternoon?” she asked. “There’s a gift that John wanted me to give you.” “A gift for me?” I said.
“For singing today. He insisted,” Katy replied.
“I’ll be there,” I said.
I got into my car, taking a moment to center myself and shake off some of the sadness. As I pulled out of the parking space, a flash of yellow crossed my windshield. The yellow butterfly again. It stayed with the car even as I picked up speed, exited the base, and stopped at a light. What in the world? How strange that this bright spot of sunshine would follow me from John’s funeral.
That afternoon, I sat in the McGuffees’ home, drinking tea and talking about John’s service. “You did such an awesome job today, Jo Ann,” Katy told me. “You were such a blessing, and we really appreciate you.”
“To God be the glory,” I said. “I’m so glad you were blessed.”
Katy got up from her seat and opened a drawer.
“John and I agreed on a special gift to give you for singing for us,” she said, walking over to me with a box in her hand. “He gave me this same gift once, and he wanted you to have one too.”
I started to protest; it was as much my blessing to sing for them as it was theirs. But Katy wouldn’t hear of it. I gave in. I pulled off the wrapping paper and opened the box, reached in and pulled out what was inside. I caught my breath. In my hand was a Swarovski crystal figurine. A butterfly.
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