It’s lying there on the table in the breakfast nook. Smirking, maybe even giggling at us puny mortals, to even think that we might be able to conquer it…
I’ve mentioned before that Cheri and I, like apparently millions of other couples and families, have been doing jigsaw puzzles during this pandemic experience. I do believe that it fires up the synapses in the brain, forcing the eyes to sort out shapes and colors from the pile of pieces. It also reinforces patience, and the ability to make good choices, like walking away from the thing for a while to recenter your brain a bit. Basically, outside of trying to diffuse a bomb or working to compose the perfect Mozart opera, building jigsaw puzzles is probably the highest form of idle consumption of time you can engage in.
So, our pattern is pretty constant. We take the pieces of the puzzle in a pile, and first sort out the border, which becomes the framework for what comes next. Granted, we always miss a couple of them and have to try to find them in a resorted sift. Next, it’s simply a matter of looking at the box, and deciding if you want to work on the trees, and I try to put together the rowboat in the water, or whatever. You also know of course that the creators of the puzzles are terribly deceitful, so that as you think you have all the pieces needed to construct the red door in the middle of the picture, you suddenly discover that there are also red leaves on the tree, and a red chair that looks like the same wood on the door, and… Even given all that, most often the puzzles are doable. Granted, we have done some dumb ones like a round puzzle of jellybeans, or one that was almost completely black except for the stack of Oreos and the glass of milk. My blood pressure goes up just remembering those monsters.
As we have ordered puzzles from our favorite puzzle company, we have been lured and enticed into ordering – for free, with a large purchase – a “mystery puzzle.” Sounds fun. I assumed however that the company meant that out of their vast inventory, they would pick a random jigsaw puzzle and throw it in along with the others we had ordered. That’s what I understood as “mystery.” We wouldn’t know until it came what the puzzle would be.
But oh no – there was a more fiendish and even diabolical definition of “mystery” that the puzzle people had in store! As I opened the box that came through the post office… by the way, I don’t know about you, but one of the things that has added to the adventure of the pandemic is the whole practice of “ordering online.” I hate wearing masks and having to go through the whole rigamarole at the stores, and then finding out what I needed to get was not in stock. What has arisen, then, is that we have really resorted to ordering stuff – lots of different stuff – from our various on-line sellers. Now, I know that hurts the local economy somewhat, but if the items aren’t there anyway, they can’t sell them. The fun part, however, is that many days feel like little Christmas mornings. I’ll be working along at my desk, and I’ll hear a truck on the street in front of our house, and then the ring of the doorbell, and sure enough, there on the steps is a special surprise, just for me, that I previously had picked out, ordered and paid for. Still, it’s fun! I have to say that our son Adam outstrips the entire family in his ordering. He’s working from home and has money to burn, apparently…
But I interrupted myself. As I opened the box that came on that morning, I saw the stack of boxes of puzzles to entertain us – and then I saw something rather curious. On top of all the puzzle boxes was a sealed plastic bag full of probably 500 jigsaw pieces. It looked suspiciously like the bag in which you will find the pieces of the puzzle that is inside the box.. You know – the box – the multicolored, picture on the front and sometimes on the back as well that lets you see what you are undertaking to build over the next number of hours… box.
But there was no box. No box. Just a bag, full of alien and unidentifiable pieces, which without a box became an immediately difficult and gonna-be-tough puzzle. Why, it was almost a mystery… which, at that moment, I “got” what the puzzle company planned to do. I could almost hear them in their dark, spiderwebbed strewn, candle burning workshop, saying something like, “So – they think they are smart, do they? They think they are honing their synapses, and gaining visual acumen! Well, let’s just see what kind of smarty pants they really are! How about we send a puzzle WITHOUT the box! (Insert diabolical laughter here) We will teach them not to think they can conquer the empire that is jigsaw…”
Yesterday we finished the puzzle that was a picture of about thirty glass marbles of all sizes. Challenging, but doable. As I then went to the stack of undone puzzles, waiting for us to build, I realized that the ones in the stack were all Christmas themed, that I had ordered for us to do probably between December 15 and the New year. I hadn’t ordered any new, whatever-time-of-the-year appropriate puzzles. Except for one. Except for Mr. Bag-O’Pieces. I carried it out to the table, and strangely, Cheri didn’t ask where the box was. She only said, “Oh. That one. Well, it will be a challenge!”
It was almost time for dinner, and then we were going to watch a movie and so we just left the bag on the table. Snickering at us. We will start it today. I have no idea what it’s going to look like, but that’s what a mystery is. Something to be solved. And if not, something to be given to Cheri’s sister and her family as a “gift.”
You know, we really don’t have many mysteries to solve in our lives. There is not much that is truly “unknown.” And there are some that will never be solved, like why one week ago, the temperature was 78 degrees, and now this Saturday morning, we are in the process of being given a couple inches of snow. No reason to ask “Why?’ with that. By the way, “why” is always the last question answered. We do carry certain mysteries around in our back pockets, of course, like why one lightbulb will burn for years, and another last for mere days. Or why someone loves us and someone else really doesn’t care for us at all.
The greatest mystery, of course, is when we take time to try to understand why God created us – me – in the first place, and has promised to love me and give me life in abundance. Why me? Why am I blessed? There are loads of reasons why it shouldn’t be this way, but when I plug those in, I make the mistake of thinking that blessings and love, especially from God, are based on achievement or merit. The real mystery is not that we have earned God’s love, but that through Christ, God first loved us, and claimed us, and blessed me. Because God wanted to, and it is part of God’s nature to embrace this world, and you, and give who we are meaning and purpose and hope in our lives.
A bag of puzzle pieces is a silly, pastime mystery to solve. A life of being loved is a mystery solved when we simply accept and then live lives of gratitude for that Gracious Gift which is now in our hands. That is a journey into the Known, with joy.
Word for the Day: salmagundi. Not to be confused with Solomon Grundy, but it is pronounced sal-ma-GUHN-dee. It starts of course with Latin sal, “salt” and condire, meaning “to season.” It’s where we get the word “condiment.” It then walks along until it gets to French salmis, which is salted meats. Salmagundi in its true form is a stew with many ingredients – lots of seasoning. In the larger sense, a “salmagundi” is any kind of hodgepodge or mess of things that may not normally go together. I wish I would have known, as we cleared out my mom’s house, that the best description would have been that there was a tsunami of salmagundi! Unfortunately, some people’s lives could also fit that description…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.