Throughout my many moves (at last count, my total was 24 times. Yep, you read that right TWENTY-FOUR different roofs over my head and neighbors next door in my thirty-three years of life) I’ve taken a myriad of approaches to unpacking — sometimes it was the “find only what I need and ignore the rest” approach. It’s amazing how long that can last when you try really hard to stay packed. Then there’s the tornado “unpack it all before I even go to bed tonight” approach. That’s a fantastic one when you are moving into a hotel and know you’re only going to be there a month or two. In all the moving situations I’ve faced, no matter what route I took, there always remained a “deal with this later” box (or heck, even a “deal with this later” ROOM in some situations!).
In our latest move, the fifth of our 3.5 year marriage and hopefully our last for at least a few more years, there was an “I’ll deal with this later” room. Our playroom, the room that would be called a family room if it wasn’t for a small child’s obnoxiously large stash of toys. As an interior designer by education, I still have principles about a well-organized physical space embedded so deeply into my brain I can enter a room and shiver, it just doesn’t FEEL right. That’s the way our playroom remained for six months after we moved in. IT JUST DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT. And on top of that feeling, I hadn’t figured out where to put my puzzle table.
A puzzle table is something I’d wanted for years. Having lived as a single woman, then with a girlfriend, when Lukas and I started dating and knew it was headed to the alter, I traded my nice apartment living for a twin bed sized guest room of a dear friend. She was an ANGEL to let me live there for 4+ months during our engagement. It was literal heaven not having to pay the monstrosity of rent that Atlanta real estate demands. It was also a mental challenge going from many years living in pretty spacious spaces to being crammed into a tiny bedroom with very little of my own stuff, since a storage unit and my mother-in-law’s basement was where the rest of my world possessions lived.
Marrying Lukas took me from her guest room to hotel rooms and although the space was much more than what I’d had, it wasn’t my stuff, it was hotel furniture and a few suitcases and plastic cases of our stuff we moved from place to place. Moving a card table wasn’t an option so it stayed in the storage unit while we moved around.
Once we moved out of the hotels and into our first apartment (HALLELUJAH), we still didn’t have space for my puzzle table. I’ll be honest, we could have made space, but my puzzle table dreams had started to drift away as I faced a season of depression where very little of what I enjoyed in the past was still enjoyable. Fast forward a year and a half later, now a family of three and no room in our house for anything extra (especially a puzzle table!), we knew moving was on the horizon.
When we decided to buy our house I thought FINALLY, I am going to have a place to do puzzles. Although “place to do puzzles” wasn’t on the list of must-haves for our new house, I was determined to make it work. The boxes started getting unpacked, the kitchen was organized, the closets became closets, not box storing facilities, and our house continued to transform into a home. But no puzzle table.
I selected the family room, or the only room in the house remotely large enough for a 34″ x 34″ folding table to permanently house my “puzzles in progress”. It took six months and a pandemic quarantine for me to spend time making this room something I enjoyed entering. And during pandemic life I cranked out some puzzles, it became one of my favorite ways to pass the time while Tabby was napping!
I haven’t done puzzles in a long time. After getting pregnant, Tabby nap times became my nap times, and my puzzle table turned into a storage table. BUT lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of process and that reminds me of the lessons I learned in my passionate puzzle season. Specifically, how much God uses process to change us, in small chunks. Sure, there are stories of instantaneous miracles and lives changed entirely in a split second, I believe God can do ANYTHING He wants in anyway He wants so I don’t deny the existence of radical moments like that. However, what I’ve witnessed in my own life, and in the lives of so many others around me, is more of a steady process of change. A one puzzle piece at a time change.
It’s the day in and day out choices, the tiny tweaks, the little moments of decision making, that have led to my life looking more and more like Jesus over time. The woman I was ten years ago, two years ago, two DAYS ago, is not the woman I am today. The Virginia from the past was doing the best she could with the grace, resources, and everything else God gifted her in that moment. The same way, right now, in this moment, I am doing the VERY BEST I can.
Often, I want God to show me the whole puzzle, to give me the glimpse at the big picture and yet, He calls me to live one piece at a time. As I sat, doing puzzle after puzzle during the early pandemic days, I’d look at those pieces and have moments of frustration, anger, annoyance, the desire to give up. And then there would be moments of elation, excitement, and hope. And I’d laugh to myself because — isn’t that life? Down moments where I struggle to keep moving forward and up moments where everything seems light and possible??
As I think about process, and the reality of the above, I challenge myself — can I hold on through the lows?
Lukas is halfway through week nine of surgery recovery. He spends almost 1.5 hours a day doing physical therapy exercises. Yes, he’s the most disciplined human you’ll ever meet and determined to get his life (and his shoulder) back to 110%. The process of recovering a torn rotator cuff is a slow one. He draws the alphabet in the air, he does this fancy pulley thing, he lifts a bar up over his head, he uses a towel or blanket to pull his arm behind his back. When compared to the hundreds of pounds of weights, the exhaustive amount of push-ups and the impressive quality of his physical ability not 6 months ago, what he’s doing now seems so small. His results aren’t glaringly obvious, if obvious at all, and I stand there and marvel at his commitment to keep going. His recovery is like putting together a 1000 piece puzzle with each tiny piece needing attention with a long road ahead to see what’s going to end up as the final product!
Lukas holds on through the lows. A lot of that has to do in his trust of his experts who are walking this journey with him. He sees his physical therapist twice a week and his relationship with them keeps him motivated. When he doesn’t see his own progress, he looks to them and their encouragement of him being right on track keeps him moving forward.
God functions like my physical therapist, telling me I’m on track and to keep going. My perspective of God, in the past, has been a disappointed authority figure, always upset with how I’m doing, me not quite measuring up to what he expects of me. But over time, that’s shifted to some deep truth beliefs that God is not disappointed in me but rather SO PROUD of how I keep moving forward. How I keep choosing Him, day in and day out, soooooo imperfectly in light of my expectations, and so perfectly in His, as I walk in the grace He offers.
When I ask myself — can I hold on through the lows? can I do this life thing one puzzle piece at a time? — the answer really lies in whether or not I can trust the One who knows the big puzzle picture. Trust is a HARD thing, especially to have trust when I can’t see. It’s not easy. And there’s not an easy button to get that trust. It’s a process, a day in and day out thing, a one choice at a time decision to put my trust in the One who says He is faithful. No matter how many times He’s shown me this in my life, I still need reminders. Constant, all the time reminders, of how trustworthy God is. I need these reminders, through scripture, through books, through others’ stories, through people around me, through my church community, through moments of solitude, through all kinds of things, because I need help to keep going, I need help to continue to stay committed to one piece at a time because I’m a puzzle in progress.