Jake and the Missing Puzzle Piece

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We searched.

We scoured the dining room floor.

We peered under the rug.

We lifted furniture.

We surveyed every single piece. Not once. Not twice, but countless times.

Despite all of our efforts, the missing puzzle piece remained hidden from view.

Where was it?

Last week, Jake took a plunge. His dad challenged him to assemble a 500 piece puzzle all by himself. Jake likes puzzles. For a few years, Jake spent many afternoons putting together different types of Thomas the Tank Engine puzzles. However, the Thomas the Tank Engine theme offers only 20-40 piece puzzles. Jake’s interest waned. He assembled them once in awhile, but soon, stopped the process altogether.

Recently, John and I wondered how to transition Jake from one well-loved theme in an activity he enjoyed, to another. How could we encourage Jake to continue assembling puzzles beyond his special interest in Thomas the Tank Engine? This is a common challenge we face with Jake’s autism spectrum disorder.

There is more to this story that I may tell another time, but suffice it to say, we dug out a Portland puzzle that my sister had given to us many years ago. It had never been assembled before. Since Jake loves Oregon, we thought it might capture his interest. However, we knew that assembling a 500 piece puzzle would be a daunting undertaking for Jake.

His dad offered the challenge, nonetheless, and Jake accepted.

Jake started the puzzle on Tuesday afternoon. To our amazement, Jake had it finished by Sunday; almost.

There was a problem.

One piece was missing.

As I shared, we searched long and hard for that single piece to the puzzle. No matter where we looked, our efforts always came up empty.

Jake grew frustrated. Instead of focusing upon the 499 pieces that he was assembling with dedicated and thoughtful effort, he continued to fret about that single missing piece.

And when John and I explained that the piece may have not been included in the puzzle box when it was packaged, Jake could not understand that.

How could a puzzle be packaged and sold without all of its pieces?

The puzzle was promoted as a 500 piece scene of vintage Portland, not 500 minus one. Jake expected to find and work with 500 pieces.

As this situation played itself out last week, John and I continued to praise Jake for the work he was accomplishing with the 499 puzzle pieces. We didn’t focus on the missing piece. We didn’t worry about the piece that Jake couldn’t find. We set our sights upon everything that was coming together by the concerted efforts of our twelve year old son.

And to our delight and wonder, Jake finished the puzzle with what he had.

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One of our family values is that we do what we can. We don’t put limits on ourselves for what we will do, what we want to do, or what we eventually do. As missionaries in southern Africa, there is always something to do. Some one always needs something. Some one always has a request. Some one is always knocking at our gate. There are 499 plus one needs and counting here!

Instead of focusing upon what we are not able to do or the requests we are not able to grant, we do what we can with the puzzle pieces in life that we are given to work with each and every day. There is a great temptation to focus on what we are not able to do or a propensity to feel inadequate when needs go unmet. This worldly mindset is not beneficial.

For it is Jesus Christ alone, who completes all things. And if there is a missing puzzle piece or something that is not yet accomplished, we can be at ease. In fact we can be confident and sure. Paul wrote, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (New International Version, Philippians 1:6)This is a value we are attempting to instill in our children. We cannot do everything. However, we will do what we can. We leave the rest to our God and His Son.

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Can you spot the area where the missing puzzle piece belongs?

Jake did this last week with a 499 piece puzzle. It was a good lesson in perseverance. It was a great lesson for appreciating the beautiful 499 piece scene of Portland and choosing not to dwell on the fact that one missing piece made the scene, incomplete.

Our God asks the same of us in life. There is a masterpiece being created all around us and for us. We need not worry about what we think is absent or lost. Instead, let’s focus upon the amazing 499 piece scene that is being assembled and the joy of being invited to participate in its construction! Jake did and we’re so proud of his efforts!

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