Friday, August 7, 2020

Fitting the Puzzle Pieces of Life

It is finished! The 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of Fallingwater. After 64 days, we got ‘er done. One piece at a time.

The photo on the puzzle was taken during a visit to this architectural masterpiece in southwestern Pennsylvania as part of our 50th anniversary celebration. Now you know why the puzzle is very special to us.

            Along the way to finishing the puzzle, pieces seemed to be missing. And pieces left just did not fit—anywhere. At one point, we slowed to a standstill. Then I found four border pieces at the wrong place. With that fixed, a whole section fell right into place.

            Although I crawled around on the floor with a flashlight, one odd-shaped piece evaded us. Then one day I sat behind the table instead of in front and glanced down. Lo and behold, there it was—that elusive piece—tucked away under the broad center post of the table.

My husband found a piece by his chair in another room. How did it get there? Who knows?

Like Fallingwater, a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to blend into the landscape, the puzzle pieces—leaves, rocks, water—blended into each other. We sometimes searched for a half hour to fit one piece. Or none.

But that puzzle taught me much about the journey of life.

For one thing, no matter the number of broken pieces, life can be made whole and beautiful. Imagine 1000 pieces stacked around four sides of a blank board. Where do you start?

Life sometimes feels like that. The pieces of loss and heartache pile up so that we just want to pull the covers over our heads.

I felt that way when we lost an infant daughter and I lost my hearing during the pregnancy. Then two years later, I developed cancer and needed surgery. What else could go wrong?

But God makes something beautiful as he heals us and helps us put together broken pieces. Yes, it takes time and patience and a willingness to trust and to hope, but God is faithful over that long haul. I still miss my daughter, but I now picture her in heaven, well cared for, waiting for me.

For another thing, like that odd-shaped puzzle piece, missing pieces of life may be right under our table. Perhaps we feel something lacking in a relationship. Well, maybe there’s a way to add luster to a friendship or a marriage.

Perhaps we feel distant from God. Maybe there’s something we can do to draw closer. Perhaps we feel lonely or isolated, especially during these lonesome times. When I call someone to ask how they’re doing, I myself feel less lonely. So pick up that phone.

A little perseverance goes a long way. Sometimes we got distracted. Bill had yard work. Working alone on the puzzle frustrated me. But we never gave up. And now we have a beautiful puzzle, ready for framing.

Life demands perseverance. Cooking tires me, but we have to eat. Physical limitations slow me down as the years add up. It seems every day another challenge pops up.

But scripture says don’t give up. Hope. Trust.

“Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

No matter how bleak, we hope in God. Our faith may be stretched to the limit, but it grows in the process. Once you survive something, you learn that with God’s help, you can survive anything.

We pray for patience, but we only learn patience by persevering. We somehow become braver, more resilient and more sympathetic toward others after we’ve muddled through one of life’s hardships. Our priorities change . . . for the better.

So what’s going on in your life? For what task do you need encouragement? Kneel before God. Ask Him for help. Reach out to a friend. Then put your hand on the wheel and drive on.

I was certain the very last piece of the puzzle was missing. I had tried every piece multiple times and none fit. Yet at the last minute, when only one piece was left, it slipped right into that empty spot.

May it be so for you as you persevere on life’s bumpy road trip. Don’t give up. The best view lies just around the bend.


Friday, July 31, 2020

Book Review: Where to Submit Christian Writing

A small but valuable resource for freelance writers. If you’re new to writing, Jake Doberenz lists many small, nonpaying markets you might break into. If you’re an experienced writer, you’ll be familiar with many of the publishers listed, but you’ll still discover many denominational and other small publications that aren’t listed in the traditional writer’s market-type books.

I liked the way the e-book provides website links to each publication. Just click and you can view writer’s guidelines and more. I also like the way Doberenz arranged his book by separating paying and nonpaying publications. And I appreciate the wide range of topics indexed—from “Academic,” “Apologetics” and “Art” to “Screen Writing and Film,” “Women” and “Writing and Blogging.”

 I am happy I discovered this handy resource with concise descriptions of magazines including denominational publications with which I was not familiar.


Friday, July 17, 2020

Two Steps to Fall in Step with God

             Has a verse you’ve read a hundred times ever struck you in a fresh new way? That’s what happened when I read: “His disciples had gone into the town to buy food” (John 4:8 NIV).
            There the disciples were, with Jesus, the Son of God, the man who turned water into wine. The man who, a few chapters later, feeds 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. Why didn’t Jesus just conjure up some sandwiches and potato salad?
            Could it be that God wants us to participate with Him to accomplish His purposes? And as we work with Him, we get to know Him? We feel the satisfaction of doing His will?
Like the disciples provided food for Jesus, we provide God with something He needs—our interaction and support.
            So I ask myself, am I in step with God? What else might I do? How might we as Christians better participate with God?
            It all starts by sitting down and talking with God. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus prayed: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9-13 NIV). In that day, bread was a staple. And for many, it’s a real need during this pandemic. What exactly are your needs? Bread or otherwise. Tell God.
            Early Christians prayed for direction. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3 NIV).
            What kind of direction are you seeking? Whether you’re making a menu or making a move, pray about your next step.
            And after you pray, get up and do something. If I’m praying for a different job, I must send out resumes. It’s no use wishing I had a different job. It’s no use complaining about my boss. I must do the leg work to find a different job.
            If I want better health, I need to maintain a healthy body. That means exercising. That means denying myself food I know isn’t good for me, like the two Hershey Miniatures I just ate. Sure, I can have treats, but treats cannot be my way of life. The definition of a “treat” is something out of the ordinary that gives me pleasure. Not something I eat every time a hunger pang pokes.
            If I want better relationships, I need to communicate. I need to ask forgiveness as needed. And grant forgiveness, whether or not others ask for it. That means I make an effort to stay in touch with kids and grandkids, reach out to friends who haven’t called, talk to people at church who I don’t know (once I get to go to church).
            It’s no use complaining about being lonely, even in these lonesome times. If we have computers or phones, we can reach out. Others need our touch as badly as we need theirs.
            If I want a friend to know Jesus, I can remind them of Who He is. If I want a better relationship with God, I can set a time to interact with Him. I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to forget about God. I get busy writing or cooking or talking and I totally forget about the God Who made me and craves my interaction.
            You get the idea.
So what are your needs? What are you praying for? And how might you participate with God to answer your own prayers? Think about it.
            I’m sure Jesus and His disciples enjoyed that picnic lunch, complete with ice cream for dessert. Well, maybe they didn’t have insulated bags in His day, so it was probably fruit.
God enjoys whatever we do to help Him accomplish His purposes in the world. And surprise! That makes our own lives more enjoyable as well. Now I must run, for I surely have things to do.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M. D.

Did you ever wonder why someone flies off the handle at the slightest provocation? There may be good reason. In this book Dr. Van Der Kolk clearly explains the imprint of trauma on our lives and offers ways to combat negative forces that shaped us in ways that disrupt relationships.

Our experiences affect our minds and our bodies. Our thinking and emotions are shaped by our past, according to Van Der Kolk.

This book was more detailed than I expected, but using case studies, the author clearly made his points in every chapter. The book delves deeply into the misbehavior of children and the post-traumatic-stress symptoms of veterans. But the analysis and case studies make it helpful to anyone seeking to understand their own reactions or the reactions of others. It was very understandable and enjoyable reading.

Van Der Kolk’s insight makes sense: “If trauma is encoded in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching sensations, then our first priority is to help people . . . manage relationships. Where traumatized children are concerned, the last things we should be cutting the from school schedules are the activities that can do precisely that: chorus, physical education, recess and anything else that involves movement, play, and other forms of joyful engagement.”

Broken into five parts, the book looks at what constitutes trauma and its effect on the brain. Part 5 offers “Paths to Recovery” with chapters on various approaches including the benefits of participating in theater. In a day that promotes quick fixes through medications, this man makes a strong case for alternate routes to healing.

Published by Penguin Books, the book includes an appendix, extensive notes and an index, which I found helpful. I especially recommend this book for school teachers, Sunday school teachers and veterans’ family members, but it will be very helpful to anyone seeking to better understand others and themselves.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Gift-Wrapped, Ribboned and Delivered . . . to You!

          My grandson Scott once gave me two bugs. Oh, not real ones. These are ornamental bugs with a terracotta look. One is dark red; the other, orange. Both have bulging eyes, multicolored spots, springy metal antenna and hooks for feet. They’re maybe 3.5 inches high.

One bug hangs on the handle of a mason jar filled with clear yellow balls and topped with a solar lid that lights at night; the other sits by the jar.

          These bugs warm my heart because Scott picked them out for me himself. He knows my love of nature and wanted to give me something that his little boy heart loved as well.

When women at his church made blankets to take to the sick, he grabbed one for me because “Nana’s always cold.” How thoughtful.

I love the gifts I get from grandchildren that reflect their knowledge of who I am. On my kitchen wall hangs an oven mitt my granddaughter Rachel brought back from a mission trip to Haiti. It was made by women there, and Rachel knows I support missions.

As I look around my home I see many such gifts, each one special, each one picked with thought and concern.

Perhaps it would be good if we saw the people, things and situations in our lives as special gifts God has picked out just for us.

We tend to take people for granted. Our spouses will always be there to bring home the strawberries, to do the dishes, to take out the trash. Our children may annoy us with antics more often than delight us with cuteness.

Our neighbors may be ordinary people whom we rarely see and make little effort to do so. After all, we don’t have that much in common.

What about our colleagues, the people at work? Do we know anything about their families? Their cares and their concerns? Their joys and their pleasures?

The people in our churches come and go Sunday after Sunday. We say “Hi” and “See you next week.” We may be known as a friendly church because we offer friendly greetings, but do we ever invite these people into our homes? If not, why not?

But what if God brings people into our lives for specific purposes? What if He gives them to us to enrich our lives? And for us to enrich their lives? What are we missing out on by failing to appreciate them, by not getting to know them?

We might also look at the situations in our lives as provided by a loving God. That burnt dinner. That challenge at work. That car that won’t start. Challenges bless us with the gift of patience, one of the spiritual fruits listed in scripture. Challenges force us to rely on others, to work together to solve a problem. And as we do, we may be God’s image-bearer to a watching world.

What about our homes? Are they not gifts? From the humblest hut to the most spacious mansion, our surroundings can make us happy. It’s not what we have, but how we value what we have.
So look around at the persons, places and things that touch your life. How do you feel about them? Is there anything you might do to enhance a relationship? Or improve your environment? Or change an attitude?

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). Perhaps that means we shall stop wanting what’s on the other side of the road and appreciate what grows in our own backyard.