I used to hate puzzles. For me, they meant long, boring hours spent at the table, trying to find just a single piece that fit while my mother and sister sped along finishing whole sections. You know the puzzles I'm talking about. Yes, those 1000-piecers with a picture of leaves or something in nature that are practically all one color. Tedious and frustrating were my words to describe them. I failed to see the beauty in a jigsaw puzzle.
Now, years later, I have come to develop an appreciation and genuine enjoyment of doing puzzles. Often when I visit my mother or grandparents we will just sit together and do a puzzle. It can be a very relaxing time; there is no rush to finish and it gives us time to chat and think at the same time. While our mind is busy visualizing where shapes and colors will best fit, we chatter on about the latest news or how cousin Carolyn is doing.
Last week I bought my very first 1000 piece puzzle. Since I live by myself, I figured it would be a good way to keep myself busy on those lonely nights. Of course, science also says that jigsaw puzzles help stimulate the brain in different ways: by reinforcing short-term memory, using both the left and right brain, and encouraging production of dopamine, which both regulates mood and affects concentration. So puzzles are not only challenging and fun, but improve our mental health!
The other day I was working on my new puzzle, a quirky combination of different colorful windows from all over the world, and I started thinking. As I searched for just the right orange to complete the shutters, I began to see how I often go about life like I'm doing a puzzle. I want everything to fit just right, so I spend ages searching for just the right piece. And sometimes I find it, but other times I don't. When I can't locate the piece I'm looking for, I get frustrated. In this Young Adult Missionary program, I have often felt like I didn't fit just right, like my placement wasn't what I was expecting. Yet God had other plans for me.
Here in Alabama, maybe I don't fit perfectly, because unlike a puzzle, life isn't perfect. People come in different shapes and colors, and we don't all fit exactly right together. We have to work at relationships, and living and working in community together. At our job, we must choose to make an impact little by little, in our attitude toward co-workers, in our encouraging words to clients, in our efforts to help a family improve their living situation.
I never expected to be working with a home repair ministry, or to be helping families apply for grants, but I'm enjoying it. Over the past few months, I have come to value the type of work Alabama Rural Ministry does, and take ownership of that. I am proud of our accomplishments this summer, of the 6 families that we served and the 23 children we loved on. Although we are a small organization, we have a lot of potential for growth and outreach to the community. So, I will keep puzzling through life, and trying to find where I fit into this beautiful mess that we call "ministry."