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.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 2015 "Quick Lit"

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post, where we talk about what we've been reading.  It's been a slow reading month for me, but I have two books to share:

Not My Father's Son - Alan Cumming.  This engaging memoir explores two interesting threads of actor Alan Cumming's family history.  The first is the mystery of his maternal grandfather's disappearance and death during World War II; the second is Cumming's own upbringing as the victim of his father's physical and emotional abuse.  When his father, whom he hasn't spoken to in years, reconnects to share a secret from the past, Cumming is forced to confront that past, and his father, in order to heal and move on.

This book has some dark, tough parts, yet what comes through most is Cumming's joyful, almost childlike personality.  The fact that that was preserved in spite of the suffering he endured as a child is a testament to the support and love of his brother, mother, partner, and friends, and his own determination to become more than just "his father's son."


Bold Love - Dan Allender.  I took this book out of our church library because it looked intriguing.  Published in the 1980's, Bold Love unpacks many of our Christian misconceptions about what love really is and explores how to love courageously and redemptively even in the midst of conflict.  I found much of this book helpful and thought-provoking.  Allender's style is idiosyncratic, though:  he is a passionate writer who uses a lot of metaphors.  When he talks about loving "an evil person," "a fool," and "a simpleton," I find the distinctions contrived, and sometimes his logic seems a bit convoluted.  Yet the honest, un-airbrushed examples are great, and the ending of the book is moving and inspiring.


What have you read this past month?  Please share in the comments!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Birthday poem

Today is my birthday, and my daughter Allison presented me with this beautiful poem that she'd written for me.  I want to share it here because it's the loveliest gift I could possibly have received.


From the very first day
when I opened my tiny eyes
and saw the sun for the first time
you were there
holding me
smiling down on me.

When I took my first steps
wobbling unsteadily
hanging tightly on to the wall
you were there
watching me
catching me if I fell.

Every day when I came out of school
running and skipping
rosy-cheeked from the sun
you were there
waiting for me
ready to play with me.

Those times I couldn’t hold it together
and tears drenched my cheeks
as I choked and gasped for air
you were there
holding my hand
telling me it would be okay.

When I was sick
and my weak body wanted to give in
as pain flowed through me
you were there
caring for me
praying for me.

Even when I was mad
and my harsh words pierced the air
and we turned our backs on each other
you were there
still loving me
ready to forgive me.

And in the happiest of times
when love swelled inside me
and I wanted to dance and shout
you were there
strumming your guitar
singing the joy I felt.

Through my whole life
through good times and bad times
peaceful times and fearful times
you’ve been there
strong and secure
always looking out for me.

And I know
that as I move on in life
onto uncertain, unmapped roads
you will still be there
believing in me
telling me you love me.

Happy Birthday, Mom! There’s no way to express how much you mean to me, but I hope this poem will at least crack the surface. Love Allison XOXOXO