My Puzzle Box

***I wrote this several years ago. I read it every now and then when things seem terribly difficult.***

puzzle boxHave you ever seen a Japanese Puzzle Box? They have sliding sides and keys that need to be moved in a precise order and fashion in order to unlock the box. Only then can the treasures the owner stored within be viewed. They are beautiful, intricate and complicated. The more difficult the puzzle, the more precious the treasure inside.

They have always fascinated me, these puzzle boxes. I have always wondered what the first puzzle box held. Being a hopeless romantic, I imagine it to be something completely worthless to the world, but beyond priceless to the creator. Something he knew would be destroyed or overlooked by others. Something he needed to keep always to remind him of something or someone special. So he created a beautiful puzzle box to keep it safe, knowing that others would admire the box without guessing the treasure within. So he kept it safe, and for those with whom he wanted to share the secret, he would bestow the exact combination. But they still had to do the work themselves. They still had to find the way inside to that precious item. I imagine that everyone who made it that far understood and fully appreciated the beauty held inside that box.

I have my own puzzle box, the most beautiful one in the world. He didn’t come with directions. Still, I always knew that inside of him was something beautiful that would defy all description. I knew that language would fail me if I ever saw it.

In the beginning, I was starry eyed and naïve. I believed that I alone could solve this puzzle box, unlock it and behold what was kept safe inside. I was his mother, after all. But failure came hard, fast, and often.

I didn’t know how to soothe his frustrated cries. Many times, I seemed to make it worse. I couldn’t tell the difference between any of his cries. I felt completely out of touch with “Mother’s Intuition”. Any success I had seemed to be pure chance.

At last, I caught on. I was able to discern his needs with increasing clarity. Happiness flowed from him freely. He smiled and laughed with more frequency. With renewed confidence, I doubled my efforts. I just knew that I was on the cusp of discovering the great secret.

But once again failure became my daily companion. Countless times I would helplessly battle with my box, trying to force it open. The gentle coaxing wasn’t working! I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t eat. I didn’t understand how to teach him. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just do normal things.

The temptation to give in to defeat was nearly overwhelming sometimes. When that happened, he would come to me with tender love and bright smiles. It was just enough to motivate me to stay the course. There was a treasure inside, and it was all mine if only I didn’t give up. 

This became the natural pattern of our life together, me and my beautiful box. My efforts resulting in nothing more than frustration. His tender and loyal love for me spurring me on.

puzzle box 2Every now and then, I would get something right. Every once in a great while, I would do things just right and get a peek at the beauty within him. A dazzling soul that the rest of the world didn’t see.

Quite by accident, I found that animals were part of the combination. I could use them (especially dogs and horses) to gain a little bit of access to what was inside. Then I discovered food allergies and a diet that changed his life.   I sought out new ways to teach him, new ways for him to discover the world.

Little by little, day by day, I was getting it right. Trial, error, trial, error, trial, and success. That became my formula for discovering the combination. The most important part was trial. I no longer thought of quitting, only trying.

And then someone said, “Don’t you wish there was a cure for autism?”

My answer surprised me. No. I don’t wish for that. I don’t want that. I know others feel differently. I recognize that they have different and more intense challenges. But it was only after that question that I realized what a beautiful gift my puzzle box is. He has something special inside. It’s something the world would ruin or toss away and count it for naught. If it was meant for the world to behold, it would never have been locked away so carefully. But it was locked away and given to me.

I finally understood my puzzle box. He was mine to protect and love and cherish. He was given to me for that purpose because there is something very special inside of him.  And just like I always imagined the first puzzle box creator, his Creator knew the combination and would only share it with the worthy. If I worked hard and tried my best, the secret would be shared with me. After so many years, I understood at last that the work to get inside is part of the wonder of the puzzle box. Only those who put in the effort can fully comprehend its worth. The treasures they hold aren’t made for everyone, and neither was mine meant for the world.puzzle box 3

The struggle to discern the exact combination has changed since that day. I strive to be content with my box as he is. My efforts to help him grow and understand the world have changed from a raging battle to a gentle walk together. Our bond has only grown deeper. More and more often, he shows me the way. Bits and pieces of the combination are revealed, and my time spent beholding the treasure within grows each time and comes with greater frequency. And just like his Creator, I will keep the secret of the combination safe. I will keep the treasure safe. The autism puzzle that protects him is equal parts a blessing and a challenge. I wouldn’t change it even if I could.

Take It, and Be Thankful


The picture of the metal puzzle box comes from

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