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Can the flap of a butterfly's wings in Venezuela really produce a tornado in Kansas that gives Dorothy and Toto quite a ride?

That's the gist of the Butterfly Effect, an observation that arises from trying to understand exceedingly complex systems.

Early in the 1960's, weather forecasters were thrilled at the prospect of finally having access to computers that promised to provide long-range predictions.

Their dream was to be able to give a bride specific guidance concerning her outdoor wedding two weeks in advance.

What the meteorologists got instead was the surprise of their professional lives.  Weather systems, it turns out, are just way too complex to predict.

Even today, after almost six decades of advancement in digital power, computers still can't tell us with certainty whether or not it will be sunny two days from now. 

In 1961, a researcher named Edward Lorenz stumbled upon the immense power of "initial conditions." 

Lorenz decided to rerun a computer simulation of a weather prediction. One of his original numbers was 0.506127.  He assumed that there was no need for that figure to be expressed all the way out to six decimal places, so he rounded it off to 0.506.  The result was a completely different weather forecast.  Adjusting just one initial condition by a value of one ten-thousandth changed everything.

Thus was born the Butterfly Effect.

The slightest variation in conditions - perhaps a butterfly's decision to fly over to that marigold instead of remaining on this snapdragon - appears to have the power to set up a chain reaction of events that will bring rain to your tomato plants a month later.  

Looking backward, the Butterfly Effect tends to generate despair. 

Can we ever know exactly why Hurricane Barry formed in the Gulf of Mexico last week and dumped all that moisture on Louisiana, or why such dark rage seized that employee in Virginia who gunned down his former co-workers?  The profound complexities of meteorology and human psychology remain mysterious.  We may never be able to discern the precise sequence of all the small causes that led up to such life-altering effects.

Looking forward, however, the Butterfly Effect can be a source of immense hope. 

You have the power to alter the future.  You can do it today.  

Think what would happen if you changed the "initial conditions" in a particular relationship.  You can encourage instead of tear down; forgive instead of resent; hug your kid instead of yell; keep a promise instead of saying "whatever."

Big things have small beginnings.

Mother Teresa said that all of us can't do great things.  But every human being can do small things with great love.  

Do something small today with great love.

Then trust God to turn that humble step, over time, into something incredible.  


 
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Glenn McDonald is the Director of Mission Integration for the Ascension Ministry Service Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, a role in which he serves as the workplace mission leader for 900 associates in the healthcare industry.

Glenn is an ordained Presbyterian minister, has 33 years of congregational leadership experience, and is the author of eight books on discipleship and spiritual formation.  He and his wife enjoy living on a small farm.
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