I ring the doorbell and listen to the recognizable sounds of laughter, someone “rushing to the door.” There’s something special about being a welcome guest. Then again, maybe it’s because my 8-year-old friend, Chad, knows I come bearing gifts. Three days ago my friend Linda asked me to babysit her son, Chad, on Sunday: “It would be for the entire day!” The exaggerated tone indicating the length of time made me wonder if this was a babysitting endurance test. Yet here I am with a new 100-piece puzzle entitled Boats on the Harbor.
Late in the afternoon the puzzle is almost complete. Well, as complete as it can be. Standing over the puzzle, we notice four missing pieces. Where in the world are these four pieces? By now my joy and amusement for Boats on the Harbor has passed. I consider simply buying the puzzle again.
Twenty minutes later, after looking under the table and living room furniture, Chad shares an idea: “What if we make the missing pieces? We have cardboard and paint!” He shrugs, “Why not?”
The pieces must come together for a picture to surface.
I consider the necessary tools: scissors, cardboard, messy paint. Sigh.
We settle on a work area where paint will not create permanent damage to flooring or furniture. As I begin the tedious process of outlining pieces, Chad shares observations about the “unique features of a puzzle.” He describes it as the story of life, pieces coming together to create one finished picture, photo, person. How do you know all this; you’re only 8! Yet his words begin to resonate. Here I am, carefully re-creating the shape of missing pieces, cutting, preparing them for Chad to paint, all the while knowing: we will never have a perfect puzzle; there are missing pieces!
My part of the project finished, I watch Chad paint blank pieces into seamless transitions. He lets me paint the last piece, the blue sky. Once done, Chad looks at the puzzle, runs his hands over it. “It’s beautiful.”
* * *
At home I pack materials for my Monday morning. I accidentally trip on my purse, and all its contents spill out. I see it: hiding underneath the wallet, a napkin with four puzzle pieces. Scribbled on the napkin: “Found the missing pieces after we painted. Didn’t need them.—Chad.”
I place the pieces on the table. On their own, no semblance of Boats on the Harbor; the pieces must come together for a picture to surface. I remember Chad’s musings of puzzles reminding him of life. The realization strikes: in daily life we all need help finding missing pieces. Standing in the middle of our daily lives, looking ahead, uncertain of how the big picture will turn out, we often believe (in error) that we can control it. What must that look like from heaven? Humanity and its individual pieces? The ones the Holy Spirit helps us find for ourselves, for others, or with others to create something beautiful with inspiration and grace.
The next morning, headed to work, I instinctively grab one of the puzzle pieces and take it with me; a welcome guest to remind me of the pieces of my journeys ahead.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.