• Dana L. Butler

on epic beauty, searing loss, and a wholehearted life

I’m not planning on writing Sunday evening when I make my way back from my walk by the river and flip open my li’l Mac on the table at “my” Starbucks.

But for the first time in a solid month, words flood my heart and I can’t shove them down. Something in me needs to see it — how wrangling and wrestling and wrapping sentences around the almost inarticulable can be like taking my finger and tracing slowly through a tangle of jumbled squiggles to find the thread that is the Spirit’s quiet working, weaving, connecting things on my insides.


Saturday morning Stan and I pack up sandwiches and kids, make our way down to Colorado Springs to introduce our littles to Garden of the Gods.

My gracious, it is beautiful. Red rocks like massive towers jutting up from the earth, with Pike’s Peak as the backdrop, still snowcapped and glistening against a perfect sky.

Ugh. I almost can’t handle the beauty. It undoes me.

We splurge on fudge from the gift shop and share a few bites before heading outside to explore. Our kids are soon covered in red dirt and it’s somewhere around 67 degrees — just so that when the wind blows, you ache a little for the sun’s warmth. Our light jackets are on, then off, then on again, which is all good because we’re in heaven out here together.

My favorite Isaac-quotes from Saturday are totally unprompted:

“Mom, I want to marry you.”

“I just love being with my family.”

{melt. my. heart.}

Our almost-3-year-old Maia-bean has dropped her afternoon naps, which is a little on the frustrating side, but also opens up our afternoon schedule, since we no longer need to shoot to be home by 1-ish.

Spring has arrived in Colorado, Isaac is more often regulated these days, and we are living as intentionally as we can, leaning into the life that’s before us with our whole hearts.

Or, as my worship team would say if they were in the mood to tease me (which they generally are):

C’mon y’all. Full blast.

And is there any other way to live? To really live?


My alarm goes off at 5AM most Sundays, and yesterday is no exception. I turn on the space heater in our bedroom and stumble out to the dark kitchen where our beloved Keurig awaits.

Warm coffee in cold hands, I return to our room, wrap up in a blanket, plant myself on the floor in front of the space heater.

I sit before the Lord, will my heart and senses to awaken to His nearness.

This is my Sunday morning ritual, and I don’t typically find myself in particularly heavy intercession for anyone during this time (other than possibly for myself — something super profound like, Oh Jesus, it’s too early — help!).

But this is where today is an exception. See, a very dear friend of a very dear friend — he’s dying.

Wait, what? 

Yeah. My friend’s friend.

I sit in the dark and I can’t stop praying for him, for his family. I’ve met his wife once or twice. Never personally met him. But because I’ve been told, I know he’s this incredibly precious, open-hearted, one-in-a-bazillion kind of man.


The sun’s rising and I’m driving to church, rambling to my friend (yup, same friend) on Voxer, and I find myself saying, “I used to think there was something wrong with me because I so intensely felt the pain, the grief, the loss of those I cared about.”

Now, thanks to things like the Myers-Briggs and whoever coined HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) as an actual thing — and thanks to the fact that I’m way more mature in all my “empathy-superpower-ness” than I was 15 years ago — I know that the way I feel for others is merely congruent with the way I love others.

And I’m learning it’s okay for me to feel this deeply. I can wisely steward my heart and emotions before the Lord — and I’m okay. {read: I’m not an emotional freak.}


I pull up to my Karlie-girl’s house (a precious high school junior who sings on my worship team) yesterday morning before practice, and while I’m waiting for her to jump in my car, I glance at Facebook.


Another death. This one sudden and by no means expected.

Godfor real?!

Jill, with whom we did house church years ago in Kansas City. Jill, whose parents mentored Stan and me for a season. Jill, who was a close buddy of a number of our friends and acquaintances in Kansas City.

I’m shocked, speechless, aching for her family, for her friends whom I dearly love.

Jill wasn’t a close friend of mine, yet I’m gutted. Profoundly impacted by the news of her loss.

And yet again, I contemplate the depth of my heart’s response.


We worship our guts out yesterday morning. No holds barred. Full blast. Lay our souls bare before Him, lift Him high because He’s worthy of it.

No matter what.

No matter how deeply life and love and loss wrench our hearts. How utterly they wring us out.

We will hold nothing back in the way we worship. Nothing back in the way we give our love to Him.


On the way home from Garden of the Gods Saturday afternoon, we swing into Five Guys, one of our family’s favorite burger joints. There are several other tables occupied.

And the music. Y’all, they’re playing great, great music.

And here’s a thing you should maybe know about our boy: Isaac does. not. care. who’s watching. I mean, does NOT.

And I hope he never starts caring, because after epic fudge and epic geographical splendor and epic burgers and fries, should pretty much always come epic moves.

You guys. This boy with unique needs who so frequently brings me to my end — he’s got dance moves every bit as unique as his needs. And especially given the fact that his challenges still frequently overwhelm me, I’ve gotta suck the nectar out of every second of these ridiculously fun moments.

So here we all are, our Isaac-Boy breakin’ it down, Maia occasionally joining him, and Stan and me overcoming our own all-too-grown-up inhibitions to bob our heads to the beat more than a little.

No matter who saw.

A good two thirds of the way into all our breakin’ it down, I realize this has gotta be captured, and if YouTube wouldn’t “mute” my video {“copyright infringement” since there’s music playing in the background — really?!}, I’d share it with y’all here — because I don’t have words for how the moment made me ache for all its goodness.

All His goodness.

And why is it that this sweet ache of living and leaning fully into the reality of God’s extravagance feels so similar — parallel somehow — to the ache that comes when I allow my heart to go there for others? When I let the feelings come, when I choose this deep empathy instead of shutting down inside to some degree.

Because they are mutually exclusive:

Self-protection and wholeheartedness.

Cynicism and hope.

Comfort and courage.

Meaning, to whatever degree I’m choosing self-protection, cynicism, and comfort, I won’t experience a deep sense of fulfillment: I won’t live wholeheartedly, I will miss out on a measure of hope as I look toward the future, and I won’t take risks.

And there is, I think, some facet of the Father’s heart, of His tenderness, of His extravagance, that we only experience when we lean forward, reaching out to feel the fullness of life, whether in the depths of grief, or in great joy. In searing loss, or in stunning beauty.

It’s in this posture that I find I’m fully awake — compelled toward this full-blast, wholehearted life by His trustworthy love.

{Y’all are so dear, my friends. Thanks for your presence, for your receiving of my heart today.}

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