Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Butterfly Effect: It’s about more than butterflies

“Did you know
that there once existed a single man who,
more than a century ago,
that still dramatically
affects how you live today?”

Andy Andrews asks us that question in The Butterfly Effect.

He’s referring to a hypothesis presented in 1963 by Edward Lorenz, mathematician and meteorologist:

“A butterfly could flap its wings and set molecules of air in motion, which would move other molecules of air, in turn moving more molecules of air—eventually capable of starting a hurricane on the other side of the planet” (Andy Andrews, The Butterfly Effect).

In the early 1990s, physics professors around the world proved Lorenz’s hypothesis was accurate and is now known as The Law of Sensitive Dependence Upon Initial Conditions.

But the butterfly effect is about more than butterfly wings!

Andrews describes it this way:

“Science has shown the butterfly effect to engage with the first movement of any form of matter—including people.”

Andrews provides an example through the story of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a young, inexperienced Colonel in the Union Army who, in Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, led his men against one fierce rebel charge after another.

After surviving the day’s fifth brutal charge, Chamberlain and his men braced for a sixth—and even bigger—rebel charge.

Only 80 of Chamberlain’s 300 men remained.

Three sergeants huddled at Chamberlain’s feet, yelling, “Do something! Give an order!”

But what could Chamberlain do? His men had run out of ammunition.

He stood on a wall at the top of a hill, watching the approaching Confederate soldiers. Then he turned and ordered his men,

“Fix bayonets! … Fix your bayonets now!”

Knowing he faced overwhelming odds, Chamberlain led his men downhill, ripping his sword left and right.

Within ten minutes, Chamberlain had captured a Confederate captain, and his eighty exhausted, broken remnant of men—with no ammunition—had captured over four hundred rebel soldiers.

According to Andrews, historians believe that (1) had Chamberlain not charged on that particular day, rebels would have won at Gettysburg; (2) the South would have won the war; (3) possibly the U.S. would be two nations, the Union and the Confederacy; or (4) the U.S. would look more like Europe, divided into as many as thirteen nations.

Andrews goes on:

“Which means: When Hitler swept across Europe … had Chamberlain not charged on that afternoon so long ago, there would not have existed a United States of America to stand in the breach.”

When Hirohito invaded the South Pacific, “there would not have been a country big enough, strong enough, wealthy enough, and populous enough to fight and win two wars on two fronts at the same time.

“The United States of America exists as it does today because of a single man: One thirty-four year old … and one move he made more than a century ago.

Don’t you see? Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is a human example of the butterfly effect. One man who made one move whose effects still ripple through your life today.” (Andy Andrews, The Butterfly Effect; emphasis mine).

Did you catch that?

What young Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
chose to do on July 2, 1863,
rippled throughout the generations
and still ripples through your life today.

Think about people whose lives still ripple through your life today—

a soldier, doctor, policeman,
a grandparent, teacher, missionary,
a stranger, singer, preacher,
even people from generations past:
maybe a nation’s leader, a spiritual leader,
an explorer, scientist, inventor.

Who were they? What did they do? How did their choices and actions impact yours?

Take time—make time—to discover the ways God has gone before you, preparing for and carrying out the plans He has for you (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139: 15-16). Notice the ways God has used people in the past to bless, protect, and lead you according to His purposes for your life.

And then: Write your stories!

Flutter your butterfly wings. Your children and grandchildren need to know about those people.

“There are generations yet unborn
whose very lives will be shifted and shaped
by the moves you make
and the actions you take today.…”
(Andy Andrews)


  1. What a beautiful post, Linda! Butterflies are the ultimate symbol of hope (next to the Resurrection of course!) Mark this day as the day I get to hug you in person and let you know the butterfly effect you have had on me.
    See you soon!

  2. Well, HI, Kathy! SO wonderful to meet you today for lunch! You're every bit as dear and charming as I imagined you to be, and I thank God for you and for the butterfly effect you have had on me. :) --and nd will continue to have on me. :)

    Blessings and hugs and smiles,

  3. WOW, Linda. This just plain powerful! Thanks so much for telling us this story so very well. This is going to be bookmarked and shared.

  4. Bless your heart, Diana, I'm glad you found it helpful. I pray before writing each post, asking God to help me share something that will be helpful to others. He gets all the credit!

    Thanks, too, Diana, for all the ways you minister to so many of us!


  5. Amazing! I loved reading that. Beautifully written..


  6. Linda, such a beautifully written and moving post. As a Civil War buff, I enjoyed reading about Chamberlain and the butterfly effect as it is seen in his actions at Gettysburg. Gives me the necessary tools to look back on life and see where my butterflies have flown and are flying! Thanks so much for sharing this.

    1. Hi, Sherrey, when you lived in Tennessee you must have seen a lot of the Civil War sites. My husband is a Civil War buff, like you, and now that we live in the Midwest, we've traveled to a number of battlefields. He looks at it from a historian's perspective but it's always sad for me. Nevertheless, I see the butterfly effect from it. God can turn even wars into something beneficial, by His grace!