A Hole in the Puzzle Part 2

Baby is pulling my shorts leg. He's learned how to make things happen. And we're walking, we're walking... to...where else? The pantry. Of course we are.

"Uhn," he grunts, gesturing for me to open the pantry door, and I oblige him. "Uhn," he grunts again, reaching toward the third shelf, where the gigantic box of Goldfish sits just out of his reach. For emphasis, he removes his pacifier and throws it down into the floor of the pantry along with his little blanket, making a bold statement that his mouth is not occupied by silicone anymore and is ready and able to receive morsels of goodness instead.

"OK, you can have some Goldfish," I tell him. "But pick up your paci and blanky, please."

Fixated on the Goldfish box, he does not oblige me. So I lean down to pick up the cast-off items myself, grab the Goldfish, and set everything on the kitchen counter.

I look back down at baby, and he's fiddling with something on the kitchen floor.

"What's that?" I say.

He picks it up and hands it to me.

Oh. My. Word.

If you read last week's post, you will understand why I stared slack-jawed at the puzzle piece in my hand.

I really don't know how the piece made it to the kitchen floor. I thought it was long gone. Possibly flushed. But apparently it may have been residing in the floor of the pantry for the past week alongside potatoes and onions, and my act of picking up blanky may have rescued it and brought it forth. The way bits and pieces of little objects and little nothings float around our house is always so mysterious.

All I know for sure is that my missing piece came back to me from the chubby, dimpled hand of my son. Thank God I had not dismantled the Wysocki yet. So I immediately went and did this...

And I relished punching the checkerboard into its place. Very lightly but very resolutely. That can't be anything but good.

Does this turn of events negate my earlier post? On the contrary.

Being made whole...in time...is part of the big picture.

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A Hole in the Puzzle

Hunting all over for the right puzzle piece. The one with just a little bit of red sign on it, mostly green grass, and some yellow leaves from that tree behind the building. It needs to go in that hole. That hole right there. The hole that's been bugging me for a good while now, gaping wide in that area of the puzzle, taunting me. Everything else around it, done. Pretty. Smooth. Fitting. Complete.

Ah, I see it! There's that booger! The renegade piece.

Then that feeling of lightly punching the booger into its place. The feeling that makes you want to go, "BOOYAH! Behold. I am the conqueror."

I love puzzles. Not the stupid kind - the kind that are a gajillion pieces and are a low quality, boring photograph of a yellow puppy. On a blue background. So that means all your pieces are either yellow fur or sea of nothingness. Who would ever...? No way, man.

The Wysocki puzzles are the only ones worth any effort. Americana artwork. Colorful old-timey signs, storefronts, interesting antique things, horses and carriages, and cute little people on cobblestone streets. Most every piece gives you a clue to its home if you study it closely enough. And I always want to go there when I'm working on them. I want to jump in there and be the little happy people on the streets.

To be able to bring order out of chaos, to bring perfection out of brokenness, to make everything fit together like it should in the end. Oh, Wysocki puzzles, how I love thee...

But what happens when you spend hours on a 1000-piece Wysocki, and you're helped occasionally by children who like to work on the easy signage but nothing else, and when you're helped zero by your husband who would rather have a root canal, and when all the pieces at the end are falling into place - bam, bam, bam - and when all the positive chemicals are firing in your brain because you are SO almost there - and then...



Don't even pretend like you don't see that gaping hole. The checkerboard piece is nowhere to be found in my house. Not under the table, the curtains, or the chairs. It could very well be in baby's digestive tract at this point. But it's definitely gone forever, marring the completed picture. So that really irks me. 999 pieces is nice, but 1000 would be extraordinarily better because the puzzle would be whole. Instead, the hole seemingly prevents wholeness.

Well, you know what?


Yes, there's a hole in my puzzle, and I don't mind pointing it out. It's down there in the lower left corner. The picture isn't perfect. Not all of my i's are dotted, and not all of my t's are crossed. Maybe they used to be. Maybe I only thought they were. The metaphor looms large. Lots to learn about this. More to come.

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Once Upon a Time

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary. And today's post is written by a guest, my own mom, Jane Cobb, who looked back through the scope of time and remembered a story about that day in 1999 that is worthy of telling. Here it is, in her own words...
Once upon a time, somebody decided to “donate” a full-sized house trailer to a picturesque little church.  It could be used for additional Sunday school classroom space, they said.   So the little church says, well, okay, that sounds fine, why not?  So these benefactors took their tax write-off and hauled it over to the little church.
But it was too big to get over the picturesque little bridge that was the entrance to the picturesque little church!  So they dumped it right there.  And that was that.
Now what shall I tell you about that trailer? I think I best give it a name, for this story to proceed.  HUGO.  That stands for huge, ugly, tacky, dilapidated, way beyond reasonable repair, extremely difficult to move and did I mention Huge and Ugly? That was HUGO, and there he sat.  A revolting, useless eyesore stuck right there at the side of the bridge.  At the entrance.  To the little church.
Then one day, people gathered to decorate the church. There was going to be a wedding!  Flowers and tuille and ribbons and satin and all  kinds of suchlike pretty stuff, inside and out.  Why they even decorated the rails of the bridge!
And there sat HUGO.  Glowering in his big gross-nastiness.
All the celebrants saw him and commiserated. “What a shame. There will be people coming from far and wide for this wedding. This may be the only time they’ll see our little church.  But we are a happy church, and that’s all that REALLY matters.” Besides, they agreed, “The logistics of solving  a problem like this are very involved, and time is very short. It’s understandable.”
So they went about their preparations for the next day.
Now there was a man named Henry. Henry was raised in Ohio. Call him a farm boy if you like.  But Henry was nobody’s fool and a darn sight smarter than most men I have known. Anyway, Henry was a man of the land. Loved farming. Loved the land. He was a collector of farm equipment of all kinds and not just for a hobby because  he actually used it. For clearing the spacious grounds of the picturesque little church, for one thing. Regularly he would harvest the grasses and hay that grew abundantly there, leaving the grounds in very lovely shape. Harvesting and recycling and conservation nothing new to Henry. He was a man of the Land. Sometimes he would give hayrides to the kiddies at the church. Sometimes he would build mazes out of hay bales for them. Sometimes he would help the poor who weren’t able to do their own harvesting. Sometimes you would see Henry on the road in one of his tractors going to and from his jobs. Had to drive around him. You know how that is.  (Henry definitely knows how that is!)
Well….late that night, Henry got to thinking about that little bride who was going to be married the next day.  That little bride, whose beloved grandmother had died the very day before!  (pause/still. This still brings tears to my eyes.)
So in the dark of night, Henry went out and started up his Minneapolis Moline.  Now if you don’t know what a Minneapolis Moline is, you really owe it to yourself to find out. I’ll just tell you, the farmers of the former soviet union would give their eyeteeth for one.  In fact, many have wound up over there.  This was one powerful American-made tractor!  And amongst Henry’s collection, there was one.  Yes!  A Minneapolis Moline!  Old, funny-looking, noisey and chug chug chug POWERFUL!
HUGO was about to meet his match!  Yes, Henry and the MM did it.  Dragged that monster way off to the side out of sight.  In the middle of the night.  And the next morning, the wedding took place.  HUGO-free!  Henry was not interested in getting credit for doing a good deed.  In fact, most people have no idea about this story.  He just did it. Period.
Did you like this story?  It’s a true story.
The little bride was my daughter.  And Henry is my forever friend.
Moral of the story: The world could use more men like Henry Pratte.
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Flushing It

So meanwhile, even in the midst of great trials, life continues, and I have to deal with it somehow.

1977. Baby Jennifer toddles into the bathroom, drops in the shampoo bottle, and flushes, resulting in a $75 plumber's bill that my parents coughed up. Probably would be twice as much now. The story is often referenced in my growing up years and beyond.

2014. I'm sitting in the living room on the phone with my mom this morning, home alone with my baby. And I hear the GLOOSH of a flushing toilet. "Oh gosh mom, the toilet just flushed." I run.

Baby had toddled into the bathroom, lifted the toilet lid, dropped in the shampoo bottle, and pulled the lever. He looks up at me with big, innocent eyes, working the pacifier in his mouth anxiously.

My mom, naturally, is laughing on the phone in my ear while I am trying to firmly correct baby with, "No, no, no!" and fish out the bottle that thankfully hasn't quite made it down the hole yet.

The little mini-me, repeating history in identical fashion. Just like his mom. It seems he got the shampoo-flushing gene. I sigh.

It's okay. I'd rather be thinking about real toilets than the toilet-like thoughts, fears, loops, worries and junk I have dealt with for months. Those are what really need to go down the hole. And I really don't even mind saying it.

Viva la flushing! GLOOSH.

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Grandpa sits in the black leather recliner smoking his cigars, watching the Kansas City Royals with grandma and mom and dad. I sit off to the side in my little kid desk, coloring and half listening to the grown-ups talk about base hits and outs and errors.

Sometimes I look up at the TV when the bat cracks, and the player throws the bat down and starts to run, but then things happen so fast, I lose what is going on. Wham, everybody scrambles, balls fly, umpire does something weird with his hands, and what the heck just happened? Safe? Out? Something?

Back to coloring. I was not an athletic child.

But now my kids play. I have to understand it better. And to my surprise, I like it. I like the Braves, and I like Craig Kimbrel and his unusual, glaring chicken stance that precedes every pitch. I like how he leans over and sticks out his elbows like the Karate Kid, just before burning up an almost 100 mph strike into the catcher's glove before the batter blinks.

I love watching my son step up to the plate, wiggling and strutting and tapping the bat on the plate, anticipating whatever is coming at him.

I love seeing my daughter's arm rotate 360 degrees before she releases the ball and steps forward, ballet-like in one smooth motion.

The pitches fly, the batters swing, the runners sprint for their lives, the game is in motion. The game is always in motion.

Wild, unexpected, twisty, screwy, hard, fast, and sometimes nasty pitches flying through the air, and I'm at the plate, holding the bat. No idea what kind of pitch I'm going to get. Not in control of that.

Oh how well I know.

I can't explain here the pitches that I've faced since last August. I don't know if I ever will. They've been complicated and shattering, and I imagine everybody in town wonders what is going on with the preacher's wife, but even the preacher's wife doesn't fully understand. I have not breathed easy since last summer. And it's May. I haven't posted anything here since December.

To someone who has always been in control of her life, who's always had everything just so, the straight-A student with all ducks firmly planted in a row, it has been nothing less than a tsunami of darkness that has debilitated me physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

These posts come out of my heart and out of my life. I can't write anything at all that's not me and not real. Most of what I have posted here was written with the goal of building others up. And because I shudder at the thought of opening up, and because I have not been in any position to build up, I haven't written anything at all. I am not being vague for the sake of being vague because it's so irritating when people do that with obtuse one-liners on Facebook. It's just that the story has too many moving parts. And I cannot pretend to blog frivolously about life as if everything is fine when everything is not fine at all, and it hasn't been for a long time now.

But friends have lifted me, have pulled in next to me in a grocery store parking lot and crawled into my vehicle to offer a shoulder to weep on, have listened on the phone to my heart breaking out of confusion and fear, have come over with no hidden agendas but just to bring meals when I haven't been able to make them, have held my hands and prayed with me while I was falling to pieces in the middle school parking lot, have kindly chattered nonstop at my kitchen sink washing my dishes to keep my mind off things, have taken care of our children at moment's notice, and have not made me feel embarrassed. Our dear church family, oh how could I ever begin to thank you? You've loved us, you've understood somehow, you are standing by your pastor's family in a time of great need, and I am overwhelmed even as I write this with tears of gratitude for all that you are and all you've done. God put us here for a reason, not just to bring us to you, but to bring you to us. How dearly we love you.

But none of this changes the fact that I'm still at the plate. I have to stand there, poised and ready with the bat every day when I wake up whether I want to or not. We don't get to choose the pitches we get. They just come. I hope that one day, I'll look back on this season of life like I did as a kid watching the Royals - crack, bam, scrambling, chaos, a big shake-up on the field, what just happened, Grandpa? What was that? Did that guy make it to first?

The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe.  - Proverbs 18:10

I am not righteous, certainly not with all that has happened, these burdens, this mess. On the contrary, I am broken to pieces. But somehow, in a way that I do not understand, I am qualified to run because of Jesus, because He and He alone carried my griefs and sorrows and my mess and your mess - that means I can run to him and be safe. RUN, burn up the dirt, all the way to the base. To the strong tower. Safe.


Thank you, God. I see your arms open wide.

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