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.

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