​The Random Puzzle Piece

I have often felt like the random puzzle piece picked up and tossed into the wrong box, never really fitting in anywhere. Have you ever forced a puzzle piece into a place it didn’t belong? Even though the shape is almost right the picture doesn’t match. That piece always gets pulled out and thrown back into the pile, hoping to find the right fit later.

Child holding a puzzle piece of home

It took me years to be comfortable in my own skin, to own my own space, and be content with who I am.

I was a “surprise” child, with a different father than my 4 older siblings. I didn’t fit in their puzzle.

My birth father had a family of his own. Somewhere on the planet, I have 6 half-brothers and sisters (one within a month of my birthday) I have never met. So that was not the puzzle I fit into. Although, I have always been curious about them.

Baby Rhonda with a neighbor in Cincinnati Ohio
Me with one of our neighbors, circa 1967.

I was born in Cincinnati and lived there until I was 2. My mom was going through a divorce in the 60s and in a dysfunctional relationship with my birth father, so I had barriers to overcome from the beginning. As a broken family we struggled (being a newly single mom in the 60s couldn’t have been easy) we moved a lot and there wasn’t a lot of stability.

I remember being sad, my mom cried a lot, spent a lot of time in bed, she had headaches. As kids, we were shuffled about between sitters, friends whoever could look after us. My older siblings went to live with their dad, but that wasn’t my family. I think the younger of my brothers, who is seven years my senior, struggled with same feelings, not fitting in the family mold. He must have spent more time with mom in my early days because we have always had a bond. I think the break made all of us long for that perfect family.

Boby Rhonda's first birthday
My first birthday.

One of my first technicolor memories is of me stealing my brother’s matchbox cars, which were sacred, when he tried to take them back I hit him with a little wind-up music box that looked like a TV. Even though I wailed on him, we were tight.

Another of my early memories is being shuffled into the back seat of a Ford Mustang very late at night with everything we owned rolled up in a pink chenille bedspread. I remember it vividly because the chenille left a pattern on my face where I had fallen asleep on top of it. I was probably two or so. When I woke up we were in a new place, Lisle, Illinois, in a house with new people, my aunt and uncle. I don’t know if they knew it then, but they were soon to become my new mom and dad.

James Monroe sitting at the kitchen table among beer and booze bottles
My biological father, James Monroe.

My mom struggled with depression and at the age of four, my mom’s relationship with my father had fallen apart, she had a breakdown, couldn’t hold down a job and was struggling. She gave me up for adoption to her sister, my aunt. My two cousins, became my brother and sister, I think they were 16 and 18. While my new family loved me, took care of me, fed and clothed me, I still didn’t seem to fit. I didn’t understand what had happened to my family, what happened to my brother, where did he go? I had so many questions but as a kid, I didn’t know how to ask them and if I did, I couldn’t process the answers.

I remember riding on the elevator for my adoption hearing. It was in a big building and I was afraid of the elevator. I didn’t want to get in. I was told if I behaved, we would get milkshakes afterward. Isn’t it funny, the things that you remember? After that day, I became someone else. How strange for a 4-year-old.

At the adoption my name was changed, not just my last name, but my first name, too. I remember struggling with that, not knowing when or how to answer people. I think it started as a nickname before the adoption, as I was named after a country song, and when it played, I danced. But that day everything shifted. I had a new mom and dad, new brother and sister.

Baby Rhonda with a neighbor on a blanket in the yard laughing
Me with neighbor, circa 1966.

All in all, I think I was a pretty happy kid, even though I couldn’t make sense of so many things in my world. I spent a lot of time with cousins when family came around. My mom’s family was a big one and most of my aunts and uncles had 3 or 4 kids. So when cousins got together we could get pretty loud. I loved those times of family. I always wanted to be like them, they knew each other, they got each other. They fit. They belonged. Their puzzles were in tact.

I’ve never been able to pin down why I always felt so out of place, so different. Was it inherited from a father I never knew, from a mother who struggled with feeling like an outsider herself, was being shuffled around as a kid? In the long run, does it matter? I think that feeling set me up for struggles along the way and it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized, everyone is different, no family is perfect, no story has only one chapter.

Different is what challenges us to search within ourselves, to search out God and what He has for us.

In Psalms 142 David prays while he is in a cave. He is alone, afraid, isolated, he prays for God to bring him out. I love the way The Message reads, in verse 3 David says, “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, Then you knew my path. Later on in the chapter, he says, “Get me out of this dungeon so I can thank you in public. Your people will form a circle around me and you’ll bring me showers of blessing!”

I want to encourage you. If you are feeling different today, that’s ok. If you feel like a missing piece of the puzzle, that’s ok. Don’t let your past bog you down, that’s the enemy. That’s only one chapter. Please believe down to your soul that you are fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works. (Psalms 139:14) It may be your struggles and works that give someone else strength and courage.

My story has many more chapters, some good, some bad. Stick with me and you will hear more as I unravel all that is me.

All of those chapters make me the person I am. I am thankful for that gift. The person God created me to be, that person is different, has lots of flaws, is wrong a lot of the time, that person is vulnerable, but that’s ok, too. Too often people try to make a puzzle piece fit that just doesn’t. They think that if you have faith, you have to be perfect. In our weakness we are strong. Jesus didn’t die for perfect people, he died for the broken and we all broken.

The good chapters in my life give me the strength to withstand the bad that comes my way. The bad allows me to grow, to sharpen the gifts I am given, gives me the opportunity to lean into God and cry on His shoulder, to grow my relationship with Him, and it gives me experience that leads to wisdom. Wisdom is a gift to share.

Sharing lets you know you are not alone. Know that you are never alone. So come out of the cave with me and thank Him in public, praise Him in the sunshine and surround yourself with His people and dance in the showers of His blessings.

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