Puzzle. Part 2

I’ve noticed that it takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the patterns and shades in this puzzle each time I come back to it after a pause for something unimportant, like food or sleep. I need time to tune in again, slow my thoughts down. No wonder they use these things in therapeutic settings. My mother was a psychiatric nurse and I remember doing jigsaw puzzles on the ward with the patients. I was only young then, maybe six or seven, but I remember the sense of calm around the low tables where the puzzles were laid out.

For me it was a mysterious place where the grownups sometimes said strange things or would walk off suddenly or start singing or dancing. The ward was busy, with the occasional alarming outburst from behind a curtain or a bed somewhere. Conversation was scant, it was too disjointed for me to follow, so I remember I didn’t say very much. The patients and I came together around the puzzle, scenes with horses or rose-covered cottages or ships in full sail.

At that age, and in that place, seventies South London, I was used to seeing the brewery dray horses that still pulled the beer wagons around to the pubs, but the rest, rose-covered cottages and ships in sail, was the stuff of stories and a world I did not know. I loved working on these huge puzzles, just letting my mind wander to the places and the lives that slowly materialised out of all the disparate pieces.

The satisfaction I got as a child from fitting the pieces has not gone with the passage of years, the bearing of children or any of the other things that happen over the course of growing up. It is perhaps one of the deepest pleasures, understanding where, how and why things fit together.

Fast-forward exty years to my big cat puzzle. I find the piece of the right shade, pattern and shape for the bit of the picture I’m working on. It doesn’t fit. So I try to force it in. It’s slightly too wide or too high. The pattern is close to the pieces around it but not quite the same. I put it aside in frustration. It can’t fit anywhere else. Maybe it’s in the wrong puzzle. Can’t trust these manufacturers any more. After all, imagine how many they must produce. It must happen, right. Many pieces later, the ‘wrong piece’ fits in elsewhere and another unlikely piece slots into that earlier space. I stare at it. It shouldn’t have worked but it did. It looked like it didn’t belong and had nothing to do with the rest, but it fits. And now that it’s in place, in that way of jigsaw pieces, it’s disappeared. It’s become part of the whole. Without the whole picture that one piece is meaningless. Without that one piece the picture is incomplete.

So here’s today’s insight from the world of puzzles. We all fit.

I know, you don’t look/sound/think like anyone else. You like different music, films, styles of clothes. Or you were born to a family of musicians but you’re tone deaf. You are the curvy one in a tribe of wands. Or you would rather eat your own arm than go swimming and your Dad’s a swim instructor. You’re short not tall. Or practical not academic. Whatever it is, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Not here by accident but design. And even if you appear to look, sound and think like everyone else, there’ll be at least one difference that makes you you and no-one else. If the makers of jigsaw puzzles can turn the sky into hundreds of individually shaped and shaded pieces, how much more could the maker of all that is, seen and unseen, closely documented and yet-to-be discovered, make you just s-l-i-g-h-t-l-y different from everyone else around you?

You do fit. You do belong. You may find your place easily, it may be clear. Or you may have to wait awhile, until the support of other pieces, people, are in place. But be assured. Be encouraged. You do fit.

Psalm 139 v 13 – 16

For you created my inmost being;

You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

When I was made in the secret place,

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

Your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me

Were written in your book

Before one of them came to be.

Peace and quiet.

Been quiet for a while, just noodling around, reading other blogs, taking the pressure off myself to be constantly doing, producing, and figuring out. I was helped by the fact that the young ones were off school for two weeks. I did ask God for some peace, because holidays can be tricky, stressful times. And I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by the need to keep them occupied and get work done and not let the house descend into chaos.

Well, He answered.

I have to say that it was a surprisingly peaceful, no, supernaturally peaceful, break. If this peace thing is what I’ve been missing out on for the last couple of decades, then perhaps I’ve been getting back pay because it has been supremely calm and peaceful in my heart, my house and my life for weeks now. Nothing spectacular has changed in our circumstances, but something has been changing in me.

Fellow travellers on the road of self-doubt and second-guessing will know what I’m talking about when I refer to the negative monologue that accompanies me through each day. Harping back to previous mistakes/ embarrassments or opportunities lost, or projecting new ones onto the horizon. Well, it still drones on but for some reason I find myself hearing it from a distance. It’s not an audible voice, but a cast of mind that I have been more aware of and detached from. The writer of a blog I follow wrote out of a depressive episode recently, with amazing insights for both official and closet depressives. I suppose I’m doing the opposite here, writing out of a period of extreme contentment, joy and stability.

Many months ago I heard an old song by Cece Winans called Everlasting Love. The last line, and the refrain, is ‘Know that the peace that comes from above is the same everlasting love..’ I am blessed to be able to say it’s easy for me to accept the notion of God’s love for me because of what he’s done in my own life. But I always thought of peace as a separate piece, so to speak. Peace was dependent on my having all my ducks in a row, behaving perfectly, doing good stuff. Performing. It was something I had to earn, in other words. Once all the work was done, then I could have peace. That’s even harder than trying to keep a house clean and tidy with four children and dog in it. Dream on.

The idea that God’s peace is part of his love, and as such is not a goal to achieve, but a gift to receive and breathe in, began to filter into my anxious thoughts through this song. And in tiny and large ways since, these thoughts have been confirmed. I am learning to increasingly lean into that love and trust it with the weight of my anxieties, ambitions, failures and successes. I have stopped trying to pretend to be other than I am, to appear less weird or eccentric or ‘religious’ or whatever, and I have found myself received by those from whom I expected rejection. I have approached scary situations with a sense of fun that has surprised me, and genuinely seen mistakes as stepping stones to teach me about myself, not gravel in my shoes to hobble my progress. I am taking myself a whole lot less seriously, ironically, by taking myself more seriously. I am taking charge of my emotional responses instead of letting that whining petulant voice have all the fun.

Who knows what will happen when I hit a major setback. Well, I’ll be writing about that too, no doubt. Trouble has come, and it will come again. That is a certainty in every life. But I refuse to miss out on the good parts by dreading what storms may or may not lie ahead. I have decided to learn to be content, like Paul, in good and bad times, in plenty and in want, in health and in sickness. Because God is the same always, and his love will outlast this life.

Slow, stop.

This morning I found myself praying for help to move forward and achieve things today with God’s help. All quite harmless really. But that still small voice that speaks so softly I sometimes miss it, asked me why I wanted to move forward. Why I felt the need to move forward all the time.

I saw this in time to show it to my husband for father’s day, which happens here in Australia on Sept 6. Please watch.

Today, after a very active Sunday, which even included one of my twice-yearly gardening attacks, I am washed out, tired and slightly fuzzy-headed. Possibly cooking the same bug that’s been circulating through the school community. Or possibly nursing Mondayitis. My son is home too. Subdued and slow. We are ambling through this quiet day together.

There are times when all we need is not to achieve or finish or start, but simply take a break and slow down enough to hear those same words from our Father: I’m here and I love you.