About three and a half years ago I began the process of watching my father die. It’s a terrible thing that most of us will experience within our lifetime; watching someone that we love slowly slip away from who they are, who they were, and cease to be among us.
During that time, I discovered a jigsaw puzzle app on my iPad that would allow me to work on puzzles anywhere, anytime. I carried my iPad with me everywhere. I didn’t think much about it. What? This was just my Candy Crush. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had picked up a compulsive desire to do jigsaw puzzles while I was watching and waiting for my dad to succumb to his frailty and move past this world.
I’m sure it sounds completely crazy (it did to me to), but those dumb, meaningless puzzles were anything but. Looking back, working those puzzles was so much more. For starters, it was a relatively harmless way for me to escape the reality that was choking me. I could sit for just a few minutes (or a lot longer sometimes) and leave fear, for those moments, and concentrate on solving the puzzle.
I say relatively harmless because I wasn’t drowning myself in alcohol, or poisoning my body with any chemical form of escape. But, I was still mentally checking out, which was my form of self preservation. It caused me to withdraw for moments at a time from my reality, which included three children and a husband. Thankfully, they were all very patient with me while I headed in and out of their lives for the months that this horrible experience took.
Realizing that this had turned into a very silly addiction (which as we all know, no addiction is silly) I gave up the puzzles a few months after my father died; pretty much cold turkey. They were no longer needed. The fears had come to fruition and there was no longer a need to escape. I just stopped, but not before I learned a tremendous analogy about life through those dumb puzzles. These truths are so obvious now, but to see them revealed to me through a GAME! It continues to astonish me.
Here’s what I learned.
When constructing a new puzzle, it is customary to begin with the flat edged pieces. The puzzle becomes easier to construct when the frame is in place because the framework allows you to identify “the right way” to use the subsequent pieces. Life, as a puzzle and like a puzzle, becomes easier with a solid foundation or framework. The border of the puzzle is like those things in our lives that help us orient the rest of the pieces of our life. Family, friends, faith in God, faith in yourself, values; all of these things help define the edges of your life. They help you to be able to take the new pieces that are given to you and orient them so that they can fit within the borders of the structure of your life and who you are.
Thankfully, I have a pretty rock solid foundation or frame. I thank my parents for that. When faced with life choices, I measure each choice up against my framework. Does it align with my core values? Will it take me away from my family? Will it help me grow or help me set an good example for my children? My commitment to my foundation helps me, time and again, to make good, meaningful choices.
Another lesson I learned from my hours of working puzzles is that no matter how much you want to complete a section of the puzzle, you simply cannot until the correct pieces are revealed to you. Often times the pieces need to come in a specific order and at a specific time for the image to make sense. I think life is like this. No matter how badly you want a part of your life to evolve, or change, or be revealed to you; sometimes it’s simply not time yet. The supporting pieces that you need are just not in place. That’s where patience and fortitude become necessary. The desire is not enough and virtues are tested, but the reward when all of the pieces come together in the right time and the right sequence are effortless and divine.
An example from my own life to illustrate this was my desire to have a baby. In society’s eyes, I married late at the age of 32. (And believe me when I tell you that my virtues were tested while I waited for my prince to come. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.) Our initial attempts at parenthood ended in hurtful failures. We suffered two back to back miscarriages that were devastating. But these ugly puzzle pieces served as GREAT perspective shapers and I needed them first to lay the groundwork for what was ahead.
Had I not miscarried those two babies, I would never have discovered that I have a genetic blood disorder that not only make me at risk for strokes, but also crippled my chances of sustaining a pregnancy without intervention. And because of this discovery, or new piece of my puzzle, when I finally got pregnant with our oldest, I was being followed by a high risk Obstetrician who was able to detect, at 18 weeks gestation, that our son’s heart was not developing as it should.
Those ugly puzzle pieces saved our boy’s life in many ways. One, we were prepared for his birth and had medical care lined up to start minute one. AND, maybe even more importantly, my husband and I were so sad after losing the first two, that by God, we were going to give this little guy a chance…every chance.
Which nicely leads to the final life lesson that I learned working the puzzles. The ugly pieces are just as important as the beautiful ones to complete the final image. As illustrated in my story above, not every piece is colorful and spectacular, but those that are not are still integral to the composition of the completed picture. The dark, seemingly blank pieces help to highlight and frame the star of the show. As in life, the dark times and missteps help to define the whole picture of our lives. They give depth to the beauty of our character. They provide perspective which translates to compassion. They are necessary as connectors between events in our lives to illustrate and support growth. And they provide the needed contrast to the beautiful times and triumphs that allows us to feel those moments more deeply.
These lessons have stuck with me through the years. Although I miss my father terribly, I do not miss the puzzles. I am grateful for the escape that they provided when I needed it, but more over, the time to open my mind to get a clearer insight on the puzzle of constructing my life.
1 Pic from www.myfaithmag.com