Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Putting the Pieces Together

When I was younger, my mom and I (and later, my sister, when she became old enough) would put together jigsaw puzzles.  We'd especially enjoy this over Christmas break, as my mom is a teacher and we'd have time to tackle one or two each winter.  I hadn't really done this in a while, probably since college, until recently.

A while back, I started getting into puzzles again.  Specifically, after moving to San Antonio.  It started when I had to pick up some things for work at Hobby Lobby.  I hadn't been to Hobby Lobby in a very long time, and was entralled with all its offerings.  I found a couple of really cool puzzles there, and bought them.  Both were "collage" style, which are my favorite -- baseball and football.  As a random aside, my cousin Katie and her boyfriend (whose name is Brian) also did the baseball puzzle and finished within hours of us, even though neither of us knew the other was doing it (she lives 1,000 miles away)!  How's that for weird?

I digress again in this paragraph....feel free to read it or skip ahead to the next paragraph.....despite the fabulous selection of craft items, decor, and accent furniture, I won't be shopping at Hobby Lobby again anytime soon.  Why?  1)  Everyone can practice his or her own religion, but the personal beliefs of those at the helm of a corporation should not dictate the medical choices available to its employees.  I mean, if the founders were members of the Latter-Day Saints, would it be okay to deny employees coverage for organ transplants and blood transfusions?  Just had to point that out in the interest of fairness, as it would seem I was endorsing Hobby Lobby above, when I am not.  Not after learning this.  Stepping off my soapbox now...; and 2) the two puzzles I bought at Hobby Lobby (each costing $18) had missing pieces!  Seriously. We took up our living room rug and moved all the furniture to look for them, but found nothing. I don't think it was the cats either, as I never found misplaced pieces, "evidence" of consumed pieces, and there is also the fact that we have successfully completed other puzzles, both new and used (including one that looks to be from the 1980s, that my friends bought from a thrift store, a puzzle we borrowed from them knowing it has been through moves and partial completion previously) without any pieces being missing.  Only the ones purchased at Hobby Lobby have had this disappointing conclusion (it is very anticlimatic to realize you won't have that triumphant feeling of putting the last piece in place after HOURS of puzzling).

Despite being disappointed with missing pieces, the puzzles were fun, and Sheldon and I enjoyed putting them together.  Most recently, I put one together on my own -- the one that is pictured, a 1,000-piece Elvis Presley quote collage that was nearly the size of our coffee table (the picture is made up of quotes, like a photo collage).  In a way, it felt symbolic of what's going on in my life....I'm putting the pieces together.  Except in life, you don't know what the final result is going to be, what the picture is going to look like.  During all these hours of solo puzzling, I started to think about the parallels between what I was doing and my life's journey.

I feel like I had a good idea what my life was going to look like when I was with Brian.  We were putting down the pieces that formed a pretty good picture -- marriage, a home, our careers, two cats.  It was far from complete, but the borders were done, and a good deal of the middle.  Then, when he died, it was as if someone (ahem, God) swept the whole thing off the table.  There, on the ground, were the remnants of what we had been building together.  There were large sections still left intact -- our friends, my job, our house -- but it wasn't a cohesive picture anymore.  Everything was in pieces.

For a while, I vacillated.  Would I get back to work putting that puzzle together again?  I had sort of lost my interest and my passion for what we'd been building.  It wasn't the same without him, wasn't as fun.  While I was taking time to think about what to do next, I realized I could start a whole new puzzle, one that would look totally different.  As always, you have to start with the border.  The border sets the boundaries of the puzzle and tells the other pieces where to go, what space to fill.  It literally is where you start, and that was the first thing I had to decide in my life. When I started my new puzzle, the outline was no longer Iowa-shaped; I built it in the shape of Texas.

Having established my new boundaries, I had to fill in the middle, which is the meat of the puzzle, the pieces that make up the bigger picture.  What's hard is that life, unlike a jigsaw puzzle, offers unlimited pieces.  Everything around you is a piece that may or may not fit into your picture -- every person you meet, every job opportuity, every city in the world, every decision, every opportunity you can take or pass up, etc.  Sometimes more than one piece fits, and you have to choose the best one for your picture.  Sometimes a piece seems to fit, but later on you realize it doesn't after all, and you have to take it out and throw it back in the pile.  You have to choose your pieces carefully to make sure they do fit and they make the best picture possible for you.  Going into my new life, my plan was to go at it solo, and to work on putting my soul back together, then concentrate on the career portion of the picture.

However, as often happens with puzzles, things didn't proceed neatly as planned.  I did well with the healing portion, blogging and journaling, and talking things out with friends.  However, as I tried to identify the career pieces and put them into place, I kept coming across other pieces.  You know how some puzzle pieces are so distinct that you immediately recognize them and know where they belong?  Even if you try to ignore those pieces and continue laboring away at the part of the puzzle you are intent on knocking out, those pieces keep jumping out at you, to the point that you have to put them in place before you capable of seeing or finding any of the pieces you might be looking for.  Despite my intent to get the career portion of my life put together before anything else, the pieces that kept jumping out at me were the love and friendship pieces.

I put the friendship pieces in place eagerly, happy to have something fit into place so well.  The puzzle grew and grew as one piece led to another, which led to another and so on.  Eventually, the friend portion of my life started to look like it was going into "love" territory.  I kept seeing Sheldon on these pieces of my life.  I didn't want to put him into my life -- I didn't want to build that part of my life yet, because I didn't have the work part put together.  It didn't fit my plan.  Besides that, I didn't think it was a fit -- I literally remember telling him once why we didn't fit together.  I was so sure of this that I wasn't really willing to try just putting that piece into my puzzle.  I was sure he belonged in someone else's picture.  I tried out some other pieces, and none fit.  I kept seeing him amongst the pieces out there, and finally realized -- or finally admitted to myself -- that he fit perfectly into my bigger picture.

Now, I'm still laying pieces down, and picking up those that I realize don't seem to fit after all -- career pieces, more friendship pieces (some of these need to be set down in San Antonio), spirituality pieces, grieving and healing pieces.  Still, I work on the puzzle every day, and more and more of the bigger picture is coming into view. 

I wouldn't have planned to build my life in the manner and order that I have -- figuring out the love part of the picture before the career fulfillment part -- but, looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way.  In life, aren't love and family the most important things, and the biggest indicators of happiness?  I realized I'd rather have a career that fits into my family than the other way around.  That's not to say this is the best plan for everyone -- I think it really comes down to which pieces jump out at you, which ones have a clearly defined place in your life.  Those are the pieces you have to put together before you can move on to the next phase of the puzzle, even if that wasn't the way you intended for things to come together.



  1. Wow, Wendy, what a powerful piece. You just keep amazing me. : )

  2. As a person who loves to try to control outcomes, I can say with certainty that no matter how much I think I have my ducks in a row (or pieces in place), wrenches get thrown into the mix. And I realize I just can't control everything ... still working on that one myself :)

  3. Please pray for this young widow.

    1. Thank you for telling me. I will be praying for Julee.

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