By Eugene C. Scott
My mom was no longer breathing on her own. Her lungs had collapsed and I was waiting–waiting to see if God intended to let her join us again in this life or take her to join him in the next. The doctor said few people came off the ventilator successfully after this long. Because Dee Dee, my wife, had lost her father just before Easter, losing my mother meant none of our parents would be left with us.
It was June 2002 and I sat worrying and praying in the intensive care waiting room of Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver. Early morning sunlight cut through the tinted solarium windows and glinted off the plexiglass covers on the round, wooden tables. I sat alone staring blankly at the jigsaw puzzle under the plexiglass on my table.
As much as I wanted my mom to remain with us, if God’s healing took her to her true home, I wanted to let her go. My heart sagged. I bowed my head and prayed against my selfishness.
“God, she is yours not mine. If this is the end, take her gently.”
I opened my eyes to the puzzle decorating my table. It featured an early American scene, the stars and stripes, Colonial buildings, and a powerful white stallion prancing with a patriot on its back. Strangely though, the horse had a puzzle piece missing from its belly. For that matter, there were several pieces missing from the picture.
“Why decorate the table with an unfinished puzzle?” I wondered. Maybe it was simply a project to distract the minds of those waiting. I needed some distracting. I searched for the box that might contain the missing pieces. The solarium book shelves held board games, videos, and books, but no puzzle boxes. I looked at the puzzles under the plastic on the other tables. They too were unfinished. I sat down wondering again, “Why unfinished puzzles?”
Were the puzzles subtle reminders that life, especially as it exists in an intensive care waiting room, is always unfinished? Maybe they pictured what the Hebrew proverb said: “Hope deferred makes the heart-sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
I knew my mother’s longing, though she was seventy-five, wasn’t fulfilled yet. She still had a spectacular rose garden to tend. People from blocks away came to admire it. They would ask, “How did you get such a beautiful garden?”
“Simple,” she’d answer. “Plant some roses and pour your heart and soul into them for ten or fifteen years and presto there you have it.” She always was a smart aleck.
She also had her longer term and more crucial unfinished projects: her children and grandchildren. Some of us were grown but none of us in full bloom. Her grandchildren still needed serious spoiling! We had graduations, weddings, and a myriad of tiny life celebrations pending. She was our matriarch and we still needed her wise pruning and fertilizing. “God, don’t take her yet,” I prayed.
Then again, the puzzles were only a few pieces short. Maybe they were unfinished as a reminder that, though all lives lack a few pieces, they are as beautiful and complete as humanly possible. As Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything . . . a time to be born and a time to die . . . a time to search and a time to give up . . . .”
My mother survived the Great Depression and wars like the world had never known. After my father died in 1968, she raised four challenging children during a time when addiction and rebellion left many of our generation dead or emotionally, mentally, or physically disabled. Without any help from the government, she carved out a life-like a sculptor chiseling away at a flawed but potentially beautiful piece of marble. That piece of art became the stable center for us. She had lived a rich and hard life. Who was I to say her life was unfinished? I studied the puzzle and mumbled, “God, forgive my selfishness.”
Maybe the missing pieces of our lives are incidental. After all, the missing piece in the white stallion’s belly didn’t detract from his beauty. The absent piece actually produced a sense of depth, mystery, and reality. Thus is life.
So, what’s all this ruminating have to do with God and life and growth and faith? Frankly, if you’ll forgive the pun, I’m still puzzled. That June God saw fit to answer our selfish prayers and turn my mother back from heaven’s gate and grant us fourteen more months with her. I’m grateful. In that year she swung between a desire to complete the puzzle of her life, to ”finish the race,” as Paul said, and a deep belief that’s she had done all she could, or “finished the race.” She seemed more than willing to let God finish the picture.
This month, on April 19, my mom would have been 84. We lost her too soon. There’s a crucial piece to my life’s puzzle missing. Others may not notice, but I feel her absence. I look and she is not here. I miss her.
In August of 2003 she whispered she was ready to go home. She had made it to the wedding and the graduation. She was finished. I remembered that unfinished puzzle from the year before and wanted to argue with her and with God. Mom slipped away the next day. Arguing with God seldom succeeds.
But she is not gone entirely. Finish well, her life says. What do I need to finish? What have I not said and done? I am only a man, and know I cannot say or do it all. I cannot piece together the perfect life. Real life is much more complicated than even a fifteen hundred piece jigsaw puzzle. And perfection is God’s domain.
Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog. If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO
Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church. During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus. These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives. Join us. See tnc3.org for worship times.
14 responses to “Is Your Life Missing a Few Puzzling Pieces?”
Beautiful post, Eugene. Some of your best writing that I have seen. But better than that, it is both insightful and heartfelt. Life is a puzzle with the missing pieces.
I agree with Mike, great post Eugene! From one who loves puzzles I truly resonated with this post and also because I have an elderly father who is literally holding onto this life by a string due to what I believe is unfinished business. Great anaolgy about how life is like a puzzle with missing pieces, as long as we are on this side of heaven we will always be incomplete. That realization is often hard to live with as I long for my puzzle to be complete in the here and now.
It is an unexpected honor to have God turn my story into something bigger.
As a pastor sitting by beloved people who are holding on to their lives by a thread, I have seen it happen that they often pass in peace when somehow they finally realize they were good enough. As a matter of fact, my mom and I had that conversation. She and I and my wife Dee Dee all realized my mother had done all she could and was called to and she let go. I wonder how this works for those who don’t know Christ?
One of my goals is to try to finish business while I am still able. I rarely leave my family and friends without telling them how much I love them and how much I appreciate them. They call me mushy and sentimental. So what. It’s harder with asking forgiveness. But I try in that realm too.
I pray God will whisper to your father that he can finish his business and that more so–Jesus finished it for him. God bless, Eugene
Thanks, Mike. My mom was a beautiful, scrappy woman. I’m glad I could honor her with this. Eugene
Your gift to your mom — (and thereby also to us “others”) — is a beautiful example of the power of creativity and the perpetual promise of regeneration — (like her roses that came back each spring) — that God has implanted/embedded in the full scope of the largeness of Life, felt on the grand scale.
“Beauty for ashes” occurs all the time, but often we barely take notice of it as the sign of the “miracle” of the continuity of everything in God’s power, that it is. Of late, we’ve become more scientist than poet, confused and even blinded by all the facts, isolated details, and “proofs” — of what?
What does this say to us?
Circumstances and appearances change. Things age, erode, fade, even disappear, only to live to “inspire” yet again in another form — perhaps as completely naturally as the crocus duplicating itself each spring — perhaps distilled and refined by the intention and memory of a co-operating earthly artist. It’s the beauty inherent in each form, the special precious spirit, goal or essence, that we’re able to remember, that we wish to be able to recreate, memorialize, or communicate.
As we do this, that special beautiful essence that we “recall” — (which is often amazingly strong and resilient as well) — is enabled to return and be with us, living on in our words, distilled, refined — perhaps even more sublime — inspiring “others” in its same ways, reproducing itself, pollinating. Creative.
Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”
Isaiah 61: 1-3 (excerpts)
1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
2 “…to comfort all that mourn;
3 “…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”
Our efforts in these ways are very valuable to communicating “God’s Big Inspiring Picture” — something the dreariness of the atheists and sold-out scientists seem to have missed, or are really really taking for granted as being some kind of self-formed mechanical process that grinds out mechanical results, with little meaning beyond today.
So glad that God’s creative essence living within us is so much more than that.
God’s “Gift of Life,” natural and spiritual, which do not exist in this time frame one without the other, are truly designed “to be the Gift that keeps on giving” — now and into the ever-after. Consulting the manufacturer’s handbook in this regard is to be advised!
I’m not there yet, but I hear that “life” begins to look very different to people who have more and more friends and relatives waiting for them “on the other side.” I think the sense of connection to “here” begins to become thinner, while the draw to “there” becomes greater.
These are great mysteries — (by the way, the Catholic Church is pretty comfortable with “mysteries!”) — and the orchestration of how this all goes is pretty obviously in bigger hands than ours. We see that it’s not just a personal matter only, but an ebb and flow of something as huge and inter-connected as the cosmos: How do we feel when we contemplate the stars? Helpless and full of hope and inspiration at the same time? More questions than answers?
Perhaps the missing pieces serve as a gateway to the observing and questioning mind into other realms and (spiritual) “galaxies” that are just beyond our “knowing,” but very real and significant nonetheless.
Will I ever somehow become a “missing piece?” Only to others, but I think I’ll always know who I am and where I am with God. And in due season, for those us so destined, it is promised that we’ll be together again and for always.
Revelation 7:17 “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
Revelation 21:4 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
Lovin’ it, Oo-gene! (I had to spell it like that just once!,…please forgive me,…I’m too playful at serious moments!) God bless!,…g
Georgie: My name fits into many funny nick-names but that one is new. Funny and no forgiveness needed. Thanks.
Our culture too easily dismisses the wisdom of folks whose “connection to here” is becoming “thinner, while the draw to there becomes greater.” What a beautiful line and idea. We desperately need the wisdom of those closer to home. Thanks for offering yours here.
As a 54 year-old pastor, it seems to me the church and the Christian community is leaning more and more toward the young, more hip leaders while dismissing and discounting more seasoned leaders. I know I did this as a young youth pastor. I was so full of myself and my own supposed wisdom.
Now the funny thing is, I’ve learned so much from God redeeming my mistakes that, though I feel I may have a lot to offer, I’m not as adamant about offering it. I’m much more comfortable with mystery and the realization that there are whole galaxies of truth I don’t know.
But still it is a pleasure to walk arm and arm with someone more seasoned and to also link arms with someone less so and live and learn together.
Looking toward those tearless days with all those who have passed, Eugene
glad you didn’t mind about the name,…I think it was a cute little character on tv, or in a kid’s book,…can’t remember, but I didn’t make it up,…it kept crowding my mind until I just HAD to go ahead and finally SAY it!,…(I get called a lot of odd things too!)
At the point that my mother was beginning to have the effects of a dementia, I also decided also to waste no more time, and to get done whatever I could — do, say, write, etc. — now. Her situation actually turned into a great opportunity in many ways, a blessing in fact, not to be regretted — we lived it to the full, and experienced much joy between us. What more can we ask? God helps us to “redeem the time.”
Colossians 4: 5,6
5 “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.
6 “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
Great points, Georgie. Keep letting God speak to and through you. Eugene
Wow … this was pretty powerful to me.
You know what this kind of loss is like. Hope all is well up there in northern CO. Love ya. Eugene
I have to echo all these comments: beautiful post Eugene. So many women of her generation were incredibly strong. And scrappy. ( Love that term!). Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my mom. This June it will be four years. Or my dad (15 years–can it be?). Or my beloved Nana (18 years.). Loss is loss but as Paul says: we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Thank God for that.
Thanks, Linda. My mom taught me so much about life. And like you said, not a day goes by. Grief filled with hope sounds like a strange concept but it is real. I don’t know what our reunion will be like but I know it will be beautiful. Eugene