Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Finding the pieces

I've never been a huge fan of jigsaw puzzles.  I mean, I see their value, and their place in the world of 'family game night'.  I think they have the potential be a fun family activity {so long as your family can work cooperatively without fighting over who places which piece and/or can avoid becoming bored or frustrated by the level of difficulty}.  It's not that I despise them, I just don't generally chose one as a pastime.

For me, they're not an accurate reflection of real life.  They're a snapshot of perfection, an image that's been specifically chosen for some sort of aesthetic appeal.  The image is carefully scored and cut into pieces with the intent of creating just enough of a challenge along the way, but will always result in a completed picture that fits perfectly within its borders.  The knobs and bumps of the individual pieces blend seamlessly to create a picture that looks like perfection when you're at a far enough distance away.

On the rare chance that I decide to dedicate some time to a puzzle, it's an activity of solitude.  Peace.  Kid-free.  And when I do work on a jigsaw puzzle, I start off with the highest of intentions.  Methodically, I pluck the edge pieces from the pile of knobby, bumpy mess that's scattered on the table before me.  My eyes scan for the straight sides that signify I've found a component of the barrier I'll be constructing later.

When I've unearthed all of the perimeter from the chaotic pile of cardboard chips, I place the corners.  The essential pieces that signify the outermost limits of width and height.  The vertices that encapsulate the world in which you're going to spend a span of time working and trial-and-erroring. Using those as a starting point, I begin snapping the remaining edges into place until finally, I've completed the frame.  It feels good.  I've got a neat and tidy little fence in which my entire puzzle world can fit.  The boundary is definitive.  Straight.  Perfect.

Not long after the feeling of accomplishment from that simple task wears off, my attention span tends to waver.  At some point, the momentum and excitement shifts.  I just want to get 'there'.  I want the finished puzzle before my eyes, whole and complete and beautiful.  I crave that feeling of satisfaction I just know I'll have when I see what I've created with my own hands.

But 'there' seems sooo far away.  I get distracted.  I become overwhelmed.  I try to work for as long as my eyes or my back or my kids will allow, hungrily scanning the daunting, jumbled pile of pieces; snippets of the whole I'm so eagerly hoping to create.  Generally, I find myself abandoning the project along the way; pushing it aside to make space for other activities in my life that give me a stronger sense of satisfaction.

My {dis}connection to the overwhelming world of puzzles bleeds out into my big, messy, real world.  I guess a more accurate statement would be that my big, messy, real world has leeched itself into every crack and crevice--even the leisure fun-for-some-not-for-others world of jigsaw puzzles.  Which doesn't bode well for my quixotic self who spends more time than I'd like to admit entranced by idealistic visions of *whole*, *complete*, *flawless* situations.

Social media plays a *huge* part in how we view the 'world' nowadays; snippets of perfection are shared daily, and I, for one, am just as guilty as the next person {somedays most days: more so}.  I have been known to conscientiously angle a picture *just so*, so as to avoid capturing the sink full of dirty dishes or pile of unfolded laundry that is the reality of my life, and the lives of pretty much every person I know.  I've been known to filter  bad and share the good, to become entangled in the web of 'me-too-but-here's-why-my-situation-is-so-much-better', and to portray an image of a life that looks whole and complete and idyllic.  I'm guilty of it.

The picture of what I have chosen to share with friends and family and the whole bigness of the world wide web is just that.  A picture.  An image that's been carefully selected to fit inside the frame of space into which I'm allowing you to glimpse.  And the real truth is that more often than not the picture I've posted is one of several I've snapped of the exact same shot, in an attempt to find the 'best' one.  {I'm sure I'm not alone in this truth.}

I've encapsulated an aesthetically pleasing image within the corners of my iPhone camera or my trusty DSLR.  I've made sure the pieces are in the 'right place' {like a clean(ish) background, a toddler who is fully clothed, or the obligatory mascara-ed eyes}, or have eliminated the pieces that aren't in the 'right place' {like dirty dishes, a toddler who isn't fully clothed, or the eyes that show a little too accurately the lack of sleep to which I have been gifted}.  I've taken those pieces, those snippets of what memories, smiles, hugs, and funny realities I'd like to archive and uploaded them from the safety and security of the veil of physical distance between us.  The knobs and bumps of the individual pieces blend in to create a picture that looks like{a valiant effort at} perfection wholeness.  You don't see the messes, the box of hair dye, piles of 'stuff', the complete picture.

The bigger, truer, more accurate reality I'm in the midst of isn't quite as 'whole' as is being portrayed on the screen {somehow, I don't think I'm alone on this one *wink, wink*}.  If it's a picture including me, I'm resting heavily on my beloved mascara and obligatory Instagram filters in an attempt to mask my true appearance.  When I share a little status update, it's usually taken a trip through Humorville.  Whether it's through a kid-conversation or a sarcastic dig at something that is a minor life annoyance {and more often than not, a first-world problem}, humor is one of my favorite tools.  The motivating quotes, thoughtful inspirations, or snippets of a current book I'm reading?  In all reality, I don't even really post those for anyone other than myself.  It's a quick and easy trick to take a screen shot, crop, and upload when I come across something I'd like to remember {but it makes my heart smile to know that those quotes speak to others as it has to me}.

The whole messy bigness of the real world in which we live is far, far from the reality of the jigsaw puzzle world.  The jigsaw world fits into a box.  The box yields a picture of the image you'll eventually create; should you stick with the process of correctly placing pieces long enough.  The pieces are all there for a whole, complete picture.  The edges are neat and straight with corners that turn at ninety degree angles and denote a specific boundary in which that idealistic world exists.  In the puzzle world, each piece has a whole posse of puzzle piece 'friends' who work together to offer support and keep each other in line right where they're supposed to be.

The messy bigness of the real world rarely {if ever} fits into a box.  Without a box, there isn't a way to contain the pieces that you'll encounter along your journey.  Without a box, there isn't a place to view an image of what your end result will be.  Sure, you can craft a picture in your mind, plant a seed of hope in your soul.  You can nurture your seed and sketch out your imagined picture.  You can be extra cautious and try to keep the messy, unwanted pieces of someone else's puzzle from infiltrating your space.  You can carve out spaces and places and time for solitude; opportunities for you to work peacefully on fitting more pieces into place.  But humans weren't created for long periods of solitude.  We are meant to connect.  We weren't put on this earth to live life in a neat little box, keeping all of our pieces to ourselves.  We are meant to explore.  To experience.  To share.  We weren't given a portion of edge pieces with which to build the boundaries of our image.  We were given pieces that are all shaped with bumps and divots and tongue-and-grooves.  Very few of our individual pieces bear any clues as to what the splotches of color will eventually create.

As we sift through our allocated pieces, we start to construct little patches that fit together well.  We find places in our lives where these pieces have begun to give us glimmers of hope.  And as we sort through our pieces; placing what we can, casting aside what we will come back to when we've got a little more of the picture complete, we quickly realize that the pile of pieces we have are not going to be enough.  So we look outward.  Look around.  Our eyes fall upon pops of color and wobbly, odd shapes that you just *know* will fit perfectly into your picture.  And so you approach the person possessing the pieces that you've spotted.  And depending on the kind of person you are, and the kind of person they are, and the circumstances under which you've encountered each other; you reach out and grab those oh-so-desired pieces.

Sometimes you'll snap them right into place out in plain sight, oblivious and uncaring of the response you may receive from others who are out seeking pieces for their own puzzles.  Other times, you'll feel a little more vulnerable, a little less willing to allow others to see just how those pieces fit into your own puzzle.  And all-to-often, there will be times that you'll swear you've found a piece that will fit, only to discover you're in the same conundrum Cinderella's stepsisters faced when presented with the glass slipper. Not right.  Too small.  Too big.  Too painful.  Too empty.  Not 'enough'.

Here's where we face a decision.  For some, the easier thing would be to ignore the gaps or grin and bear the pain so as to give the impression that we're a little 'more together' than we were before.  That our search for pieces wasn't fruitless.  The scary and less-traveled road tends to be the vulnerable path of transparency.  The place where you acknowledge that the pieces you tried simply didn't fit, didn't work, didn't help make you whole...and that you are no where near as 'together' as you had initially hoped to be.  Sometimes, it's the place to admit where you're worse off than you were before.  It's the space where you admit your brokenness.

Eventually, if you keep travelling down that path, you will stumble upon the place where you recognize that no matter how many pieces you get into place, there is a whole big, giant space for the largest piece of you.  That one cornerstone piece that doesn't have a definitive shape but somehow, without it, none of the pieces you've placed would stay in their spot for long.

What I came to discover is that even though I grew up going 'to' church, I wasn't making an effort to be 'at' church.  I wasn't connecting, I wasn't reaching, I wasn't seeking.  I was a box of random pieces, some that made sense; most that did not, and quite a large amount was missing.  I was going out on my own and looking for those pieces that would fit in my own puzzle.  While I was able to find a few, more often than not, I was facing the ugly stepsister syndrome.  Pretending, making-do, ignoring, grinning-and-bearing.

It hasn't really been until this past year, this past twelve months of latitudinal relocation and identity shifting and internal struggle and physical aching and giant gaping holes of uncertainty that I started to branch out into a wider excavation site for those missing pieces.  It didn't take but a few short minutes of driving one April morning, and a couple of curious steps into the church that we now call home for me to realize that I'd found the piece that fit perfectly into my whole, big, giant space of emptiness.

Does that mean that I'm now 'whole' since I've enthusiastically and passionately perused my Christian walk?  Absolutely not.

But, for me, what it means is that while I still may not have a picture of the image I'm working to create, I am more actively seeking to know the One who does hold that picture.  I'm finding that with His help, all of my other pieces seem to have a stronger hold in my life, and the pieces that haven't taken root simply fall out of the way to make room for those that will.  I'm more okay than I have ever been knowing that true perfection is not something I will ever be able to achieve here on this earth, because He is the only presence of perfection in my life.  And that's all I really need.

In finding His piece, I have found peace.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A lesson in 'best'

Yesterday, my bubbly little kindergartner came bounding in the house after walking home from the bus with a 'very important message from the teacher'.  Her tone and word choice implied that she was mimicking exactly how her teacher has conveyed the information, an adorable nod to the pedestal upon which Brynn places the magical Mrs. J.  However, she didn't clue me right away as to the source of this message, so I was a bit confused {and attempting to wrangle a kid in the house and out of shoes while directing another to unpack his backpack}.

Loquacious 5 year old:  "Mommy, I need to make sure I get enough sleep tonight, I have to have a good breakfast in the morning, and it is super important that I'm on.time.for.school. tomorrow."

Multitasking mom: "Uh...okay.  Well, you always get a good night's sleep, eat breakfast every morning, and have never been tardy."

L5yo: "But it is VERY important that I do that tonight.  I can NOT be late tomorrow."

MM: "Um...you weren't late today, you weren't late yesterday, you won't be late tomorrow."

L5yo: "Okay.  Good.  Tomorrow is a VERY important day.  We are having a 'smartness test'."

MM: "A 'smartness test'?"

Interrupting 7yo: "Brynn, 'smartness' isn't a word.  {pause}  You won't do well if you use that word tomorrow."

MM: "Gav, knock it off. {internal smirk and high-five for his astute observation}  Brynn.  Tell me about this 'smartness' test.

L5yo: "I don't really know what it is."

I7yo: "Oh, that's grrrreat." {sideways glance met by my annoyed stare back in his direction}

L5yo: "Here, I have a paper all about it."

I7yo: "Don't you think you should have done that from the beginning?  

{smirk and high-five, dude.}

As it turns out, the 'smartness' test is in fact the CogAT, which will appraise the level and pattern of cognitive skill development for our loquacious 5 year old.  The school is testing every kindergartner, the results of which will be shared later in the school year.  I'm definitely intrigued to find out the results.  

Last evening, dinner came together relatively quickly thanks to the trusty crock pot, so we ate earlier than we're generally known for.  After kitchen clean up and the kids took their showers, we relaxed with a little Frozen Planet on Natgeo.  Brynn was very concerned with the time, asking how much longer until bed time, as if I would forget.  {ha!  trust me, baby...at that point in the day, it's down to the second"}

When I asked her if she just wanted to go to bed 'now' {twenty minutes earlier than her norm}, she happily bounced her curls up the stairs, brushed her teeth, and slipped into dreamland within two minutes of me closing her door.  {If only Raegan were that easy...}

This morning, she awoke bright-eyed and crazy-haired, which is most definitely not her norm.  Excited for her test?  Oh...no.  You see, it's the month of December.  Which, in this house {and many others}, means we have one extra inhabitant making {more} messes and causing general mischief.  Yep.  The elf.  THE elf.  Our elf Oscar adds a mix of excitement and competition and frustration and anger and trepidation in our house, as each morning the 'race is on' to see who can spot him first.  As of this morning, I'm 0 for 3 in getting Gavin's spirits back up in time for school all because Brynn made it downstairs first and spotted the little creepy guy.  One could say I bring this on myself, but the excitement makes up for it.  {Okay.  I'll be honest.  Screw the kid's excitement.  I like that I can use him as a threat for good behavior, alright?  I'm out of ideas to get these kids to listen and behave.  Threats in the form of a red felted friend who tells Santa about their shortcomings is what gets me through from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.  Guaranteed there are thousands of moms [and dads and grandparents and babysitters] who could give me an amen on that one.}

Aaaannyyyyhow....on our drive to school, Gavin was less than willing to participate in a conversation, still stewing over his defeat in the Great Elf Game.  So, after a Taylor Swift song ended, Brynn turned her attention to sharing a bit of herself with me.

Timid 5 year old: "Mommy, I am kind of worried about this test today.  What if it's hard?  What if I can't do it?  What if I get it wrong?"

Coffee-Wielding Mom: "Brynn..."

T5yo {who is now interrupting}: "I know, mommy...I just have to BE the best, I just have to do MY best."

CWM: "umm...yes, you are exactly right, Brynn.  {inner monologue: 'where in the heck did she come up with that?'}  
That is so.exactly.right.  Where did you hear that?"

T5yo: "I didn't hear it, I just thought of it."

CWM: "hmmm...well...that's pretty awesome, Brynn."

I7yo: "You'll be fine on your test today, Brynn."

It is pretty awesome when you realize that something you taught your kid actually sticks with them, and they utilize the lesson at an appropriate time, in order to do some good for others.  It's even more awesome when that 'thing' your kid learned and applied may not have even been a direct lesson you taught them, and they're synthesizing information from the various places they learn: home, school, church, television {don't judge.  my kids watch tv.  they're still able to function appropriately.  [Raegan's shenanigan's excluded]}.  

But then...THEN!  The 'thing' they've learned, the concept they've finally got a grip on becomes something that does good for others.  And not just 'other-others' . 'YOU-others'.  Your kid.  Your five year old kid takes a simple concept, a common sense thing that we should all possess in the depths of our soul--

Just be YOUR best, not THE best

--and reminds you of the simplicity of protecting UNITY of mankind.  We're all just out there in the world, doing our 'own best', seeking acknowledgement, requiring love and acceptance.  The world of competition and disapproval and judgement and looking down upon others and coveting others is not from a Godly place.  It is not from a place of 'best', not from a human heart, or a Godly covenant, but from an evil pit--a vortex of negativity that threatens our souls.  

Ironically enough, I came across this verse today as I spent time in quiet reflection:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.                                                                                                                   ~Colossians 3:23 
I am reminded in this season, where it can be easy to be tempted into additional 'life traps' of competition in gift-giving and party-throwing and time-spending and house-decorating, that my best *is* the best, because I am an example of HIS best.

Today, I was the best I could be for where I am now.  Was I perfect?  Um, no.  Did I lose my temper with my ornery toddler rather than walk away and count to 10 {or 20...or 50}?  Definitely.  Did I get frustrated with the driver in front of me who appeared to be oblivious to traffic laws?  Of course.  Did I use a less-than-patient voice when my kids were very obviously using the dinner conversation as a means for avoiding the spaghetti squash that sat on their plates?  You betcha.

Buuuttt...all those 'worsts'...all those reactions that I wish I could snatch back and replace with a nicer, calmer, more graceful version of myself...any one of them had the power to drag me into a vortex of shame.  And when they pile up and compound on one another?  Forget about it!  The weight of shame can be so burdensome that it becomes easier to give up the resistance and allow yourself to become a part of the downward spiral, finding some way to cope with the ride, no matter how nauseous you may become.  I've been there--plenty...and I still find myself visiting there on my 'blah' days, when I'm feeling lost on how to obtain the joy of a peaceful existence.

And then there are days like today; when I'm finding myself making questionable decisions and having knee-jerk reactions, and somehow, I can still conclude that I was my best for my present-day self.

What gives?

When I feel that weight of shame burdening my shoulders and my vortex of self-blame and negative labeling infiltrating my soul, I simply do my best to cast all my anxieties on THE best, because He cares for me.  The vortex of competition and guilt and comparing and shame can be a wicked and harmful place in which to be.
Brynn's memory verse from last month came to life in my faith journal, so as I flipped open to a new page, I found pause on this particular verse, for it reminded me that while I was riding out the storm of shame from my worst moments, that THE best had my best under His control; so long as I gave up my control.

My best is far, far from THE best...but with His help, I can handle the worry.  I can deal with the 'hardness' of life.  I don't have to worry about if I can't do it, because I know I'll find my way.  And I don't have to worry about getting it wrong, because whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

His best is THE best, which helps me become my best.

And the same rings true for my loquacious little five year old.
Thank you, Sunshine <3