Monday, April 20, 2015

Life is like a puzzle (without the box)


Anyone who knows Jonathan knows that he is a jigsaw-puzzle fanatic.


300-piece fish puzzle

Our house is full of puzzles.  There are puzzles Jonathan's done 500 times, and ones that haven't come out of the package yet.  There are plastic tubs with five or ten puzzles dumped into them. (Some day we may find time to sort the pieces, but that day hasn't come yet.)  There are favourite puzzles, like the "Toy Story" and "Cars" puzzles from Dollarama, that are on their third or fourth version because he's worn them out.  And of course, there are the two puzzles that survived the chocolate-syrup incident:  who knew you could wash puzzles in a tub of water, dry them in the sun, and use them for two more years?

Doing two puzzles at once?  No sweat!

It's really been only in the past five or six years that Jonathan's realized the joy of puzzling.  Because he is on the autism spectrum he has some difficulty with imaginative use of toys, so at first he just saw puzzle pieces as objects:  he liked to dump them out and put them in a container, but he didn't really see much further purpose for them.  But when he suddenly discovered that you could put them all together to make something -- well, life as he knew it was transformed!  Puzzles became his obsession.

 working hard with Grandpa

Watching Jonathan do a jigsaw puzzle is quite eye-opening.  The most interesting thing is that he doesn't need to use the picture on the box as a guide.  When I'm helping him with a puzzle, I have to keep looking at the picture to see what shape or colour goes where; otherwise it feels completely random.  But Jonathan's mind processes the puzzle differently.  He observes the pieces in relation to one another, not to a preconceived picture, and after doing the same puzzle a few times he knows it so well that he can often select the right piece when it's facing down in a pile of other facing-down pieces.  It's humbling to be sitting there with a puzzle piece in my hand, trying to figure out where it goes, only to have him grab it away and put it right where it belongs.

  Jonathan is an equal-opportunity puzzler:
"The Little Mermaid" suits him just fine.

In some ways our lives are like a puzzle.  Those of us who believe in God believe that there's a plan and purpose for each one of us:  the things that happen to us, the people we meet, and the experiences we have all come together to make up our life and the person we become.  But our life doesn't come in a box with a picture on the front.  We don't have things all set out for us ahead of time so that we can confidently place every piece of our life exactly where it belongs, with no doubts or mistakes or regrets.  And that's a disconcerting way to live.  We can start having thoughts like this:  Maybe I'll never get this puzzle done right.  Maybe there was a mistake at the manufacturer's and this piece actually belongs in a different box.  Maybe this event wasn't supposed to happen.  Maybe I'll never become who I'm meant to be without more information about the big picture.


Grandma loved her crossword puzzles;
Jonathan's all about the jigsaw puzzles.

There's a word for living life without having a picture on a box to go by:  faith.  In Hebrews 11 in the Bible, it says that "faith gives us assurance about what we do not see" and that "without faith it is impossible to please God."  If we knew the whole picture ahead of time, we wouldn't need faith -- and according to those verses, we do need it if we're going to have a relationship with God.  Living in faith means trusting even when we don't have a clear picture to work from -- trusting that the episodes in the story of our lives are part of God's bigger, better story.

So when he sits down to do a puzzle, Jonathan is practicing faith -- and teaching the rest of us in the process. 


 
(I've linked this post to the "Dream Team" linkup at the Different Dream Parenting blog.  - April 28/15.)

14 comments:

  1. Jeannie, the following made me think: "He observes the pieces in relation to one another, not to a preconceived picture, and after doing the same puzzle a few times he knows it so well that he can often select the right piece" In life, as we meet and interact with different people, as we relate to one another, we eventually (hopefully) learn who are the right people for ourselves to help us in life - friends and partners. If we had that preconceived picture to guide us, we would miss out on so much exploration and growth. What a lovely early morning read - as always. So glad to call you friend ((hugs))

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Pam. You are so right -- it's those unexpected "pieces" that often provide the greatest richness to life. Even with us: you were Jonathan's EA for only one year and we might easily have just lost touch, but then the writers' group connected us, and now that connection is going strong! Who would have predicted that ahead of time? I'm so glad you are part of my picture. :-) xo

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  2. Jigsaw puzzles as metaphors for faith is wonderful, Jeannie. Jonathan's ability to forge ahead without knowing the big picture is a great example for us all.

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    1. I agree with that, Tim. It's amazing the life lessons that are there right in front of us.

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  3. Having a loved one with autism definitely challenges you to see the world differently. It is amazing when you realise how they're figuring something out, and how different it is from the 'obvious'.

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    1. That's true, Sandy. It opens your eyes to a whole new world. Thanks for coming by today!

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  4. Jonathan's ability with puzzles astounds me! I'm hopelessly frustrated whenever I try to put one together, even with the picture and half the puzzle already done by someone else. And I totally identify with those questions about life-as-a-puzzle. I'm having a bit of a faith crisis right now--church related, as usual--and this encourages me to trust God. Thank you, Jeannie.

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    1. You're welcome, Laura - I'm glad you found the post encouraging. I am sure you will find your way through this crisis time.

      Yes, my son's puzzle-making ability and my daughter's skill at Sudoku are enough to just make me sit back and admire from a distance. They sure didn't get those abilities from me. :-)

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  5. How amazing that your son is so adept at putting puzzles together. I'm so glad he's found something he enjoys and is so good at. And your thoughts on faith? They encourage me today. We have a lot of unknows in our future right now, related to a trip we'll be making in August to relocate to Dallas for 9 months. (We'll return to the MidEast in summer 2016) God keeps bringing up the idea of faith to me. I started an on-line Bible study last week and the topic? FAITH! I need more of it! :-) (Hope your weekend will be calmer than your day today was...)

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    1. Thanks, Betsy. It sounds like your future doesn't involve a neat tidy picture on a box either. Interesting, isn't it, how a topic keeps coming up over and over again in our reading and in conversations with people -- so important to listen to those promptings!

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  6. Thank you for this glimpse into how your son's mind work and for linking it to faith. Thanks, too, for adding it to DifferentDream.com's Tuesday special needs link up.

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    1. You're welcome, Jolene. I appreciate your coming by and commenting.

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  7. I am an autistic flutist and I hate puzzles. They give me headaches. It looks like Jonathan enjoys them.

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  8. He is CRAZY about them! I guess we all have our "thing," don't we? The flute is one of my favourite instruments to listen to. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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