What do you call the parts, shapes of a normal jigsaw puzzle? Innies and outies? Holes and protrusions? Maybe we can agree to call them “inlets” and “peninsulas,” at least for the next few paragraphs. Why is this so important? Because I believe we are all in some way like jigsaw pieces. Since the operation (see Spondylodiscitis), I have again become so aware of how important this is to me. For our family, it was a unique experience having so many people come to our aid in our time of need, for which we are very grateful (see More Workers). Yet, I could not avoid making some unsettling observations.
Many of these people were friends, people with whom we have shared other significant experiences as well. For example, there were the two women with whom we were in a home group, and with whom we worked together to produce a fantastic Concert with the youth group in Buchloe years ago, when Jan and I were first married. These two nurses called regularly and made the long trip early one Saturday to even visit me. Another dear, dear friend came often to visit. She was the woman who opened her home to me when I first moved to Germany, and we became great friends (she is my “German mama”), and we still try to visit with each other a couple of times a year. Then there were others who lent a helping hand or showed deep concern with whom I haven’t had such a long history of friendship, but with whom I have, more recently, either enjoyed occasions of mutual social exchange, worked side by side, or shared some other common experiences and interests. All of their help and concern has evoked a flood of gratitude in me, and most importantly, has led to an even greater mutual affection and to a deeper friendship with each other.
Now, I know Eric Clapton says that “nobody knows you when you’re down and out,” but my recent experience with some people in my church leads me to believe, that there are people, who only want to know you when you’re down and out! Maybe I shouldn’t even mention it, because I am talking about a very small minority of those who jumped in during our crises, but it does so highlight, in my opinion, a very irritating misconception of what being “church” is all about.
We have been at this church for five years now (quite a long time for me), and let’s be honest, my husband and I are not the kind of people that are easily overlooked. We are loud, in your face, jumping up and down, “here I am, here I am,” kind of people. We see a hole, a job we are qualified to do, and we jump in with both feet - without a parachute. And with all the begging for more volunteers that our church, and probably many others, do on a regular basis, you would think that this would be a welcomed sight for the leadership and staff of our congregation. Do you hear me laughing? Sometimes I wonder if I have joined the church of the 3 blind mice. Resume´! “What’s that?” Prior experience! “But not in THIS church.” Studied theology and teaching. “Who’s asking?” Vision! “Don’t tip the boat.” “But we do need someone to bake cookies for the Christmas party!” Put this way, if I treated my lawnmower as I have been treated, it would be rusty, with dull blades and out of gas. My dog would be dead, and my cat would have long gone next door. I just gave up trying to register on the radar, and had already “moved on” inwardly...
When a funny thing happened: I got sick. And almost over night, I became a celebrity! Like now that I have a problem, they can suddenly relate to me. One teaching pastor, who usually never even looks me in the eye, has never been open for a friendly theologian to theologian conversation, has never really acknowledged my being the thinking, responsible, creative, competent, educated, interesting, gifted person that I am :-), actually spearheaded an aggressive campaign to help the Fischers. She asked the congregation for and signed up several volunteers to come over and help clean or cook for us on designated days and times, without even asking or consulting us if, in fact, we wanted or could use this kind of help, if those were good times or if we even needed her to do that kind of networking for us. After all, we are adults. I almost feel bad now that I have written it down. It sounds so harmless. And if it had been a good friend, who had done it, it would have been a whole other story. But a good friend would have come by, had a Latte, cracked a few jokes about how awful I look, told me about the last fight with her husband, and asked if she could borrow a cup of sugar. Then she would have said, “by the way, some of us got together and decided we are going to take turns cleaning this dirt hole, so don’t give me any lip about it.” See the difference?
Back to the jigsaw puzzle. I believe we are puzzle pieces with “inlets” AND “Peninsulas!” And to be honest, when people can only relate to my “inlet” parts, I start feeling like a big “0.” When I tried to bring in my strengths and capabilities, my vision and gifting, ie, my “peninsulas”, I was completely ignored. An obvious “inlet,” my being sick, turned up, and I made the headlines. That makes me suspicious. Sometimes I wonder if church staffers see themselves just as “docking stations” for all of those poor, pitiful people with big gaping “inlets,” needs, deficiencies. They provide the answers to our questions, council for our social malfunctions, mobilize resources, are the hub of our network, the gate keepers for who is or isn’t, can or can’t. In short, too often I think typical church clergy see themselves as being made up of only “peninsulas,” and can only relate to the “inlet” parts of other people.
But I am conscious of a much deeper longing, a longing for more than just an impersonal docking station, where I am only welcomed with my insufficiencies, problems and sicknesses. I am increasingly aware of an intense desire to embrace others and be embraced in my entirety as a person, with my “inlets,” “peninsulas” and all. I realize that all I am really looking for is friendship. I am actually thankful for these past months of misery (What am I saying?), because it deepened my friendship with a few people. My “inlets” are an important, undeniable part of who I am, which allow me to celebrate the “peninsulas” of others, but I am more than just a big “0.” I feel best around those people who are willing and able to recognize that.
And I believe that this is possible at every level of intensity. Not being able to do much of anything else, while in the clinic, I found myself in the observing/contemplating mode. What so touched me at this clinic, was how many of the staff were open to real connection. To be sure, some were just “doing their job,” but many shared their own stories of back problems; car accidents; difficulties of being a single, working mom; personal school history as advice for our big decision to place Charis in the right school next year. Even the taxi driver became more than just some anonymous man driving me from point A to point B., but a living, breathing jigsaw puzzle piece open to connect with another such piece even for a brief moment. I found myself moving towards people, curious about the big “bubble” of their life outside of my tiny point of connection, even knowing I would never see them again. I wish church was like that! People from every direction continually moving toward each other out of awe, curiosity, celebration and yes, genuine compassion, finding that every, single jigsaw piece has a unique shape and place in a grand, colorful and beautiful picture.