Pieces of the puzzle came together for me last week.

But I’m having trouble seeing the big picture as I’ve been searching for those missing pieces for a year now.

It’s easy to remember when it started. It was November 9, Oldest Son’s birthday last year, and we were on a college visit with Middle Son when I woke up with what seemed like a cold.

Except I didn’t get over it.

I’ve already written a lot about this, so I won’t repeat it all. But something was different about this feeling. Mostly that I lost my senses of smell and taste, and my sinuses always seemed congested. And I was often hoarse or unable to sing.

It just came to me as I was writing this, that this whole scenario happened to me before, a long time ago. Don’t you love it when one memory triggers another?

That time it also lasted about a year, from deep winter of early 1995 to late spring of 1996. The worst part for me was losing my voice. At that time we were very involved in our church, and it was like torture to not be able to sing out, or often to even talk loud enough to be heard.

I remember at the time I felt it was God pulling me back from some pride issues I was having. It may well have been his way of reining in my ego! And when I came to face it and learned to have humility about whatever gifts and talents God had given me, my voice returned to normal.

If I had documented every time I had these same symptoms I think I would find a pattern of my “normal” being limited by things I never thought to look for.

Sometimes I’ve been diagnosed with bronchitis, even pneumonia. More often with a sinus infection. For all these years, other than my long-ago original diagnosis of asthma, health care professionals have not made much of a connection between asthma and my issues.

And not one of them ever thought to test me for allergies.

Until after my near-death experience a few weeks ago.

The Monday following my most recent attack I was with my asthma and allergy doctor. So far we had been tackling asthma issues. I had participated in a couple clinical trials, and found some medications that worked better than what I had been using.

I was able to brainstorm with my doctor for a few minutes, and he was adamant that what I had experienced was not an asthma attack, but an allergic reaction.

And he was right.

I finally remembered taking Aleve an hour before I couldn’t breathe, and as I’ve looked back over the last year I realize I had been taking a lot of Aleve, especially before my worst attacks.

Yes, some of them were asthma, but some were allergic reactions. And some of my asthma triggers are turning out to be things I’m allergic to.

Which brings me up to last week, when I finally got tested for environmental sensitivities.

The worst thing I heard was that I’m allergic to trees. All the trees. All the ones I’ve loved my whole life. My beloved birch trees, that I used to climb as a girl. The willow I loved to drape around me like a beautiful dress and dance around in it.

And the maples I dug up from in front of my parent’s house and planted in our brand new freshly married yard, with dreams of my own someday children climbing and playing in their grown-up shade.

And the pieces fell into place. Why I can’t tolerate being outside for too long. Because it’s not just trees. Add grasses and weeds.

And it isn’t because I don’t want to take a walk or run around on a ball field or explore a forest.

If you could have seen me as a child you would be amazed that I could ever be happy inside four walls.

But for years it has been increasingly harder to enjoy, and I’m really sad to see the reason. Now I have to deal with it.

I’ve been referring to this whole process like it’s a puzzle and pieces have been missing. But when I started writing this post the words to one of my favorite songs as a teenager popped into my head:

“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold” (“Tapestry”, Carole King)

That idea of my life as a tapestry has always intrigued me. I do a little needlework, and the backside of a piece often looks drastically different from the finished side. But since adolescence I’ve always been aware that at any time I may be seeing the “pretty” side of my life, or I may have emerged behind what is easily seen to get a different perspective on my situation.

I think I really want to see this as a tapestry instead of a puzzle.

And there’s more. Dust mites. All the dust mites.

I have always known I can’t stir up the dust. This is not a new thing, but I was not constantly plagued with the physical aftermath before this past year.

My way of dealing with this has been to avoid cleaning. Even as a girl I would rather deal with laundry or dishes than vacuum and dust. And as an adult I decided it was better to not kick up the dust so I wouldn’t be sneezing and blowing my nose for days.

So I’m sunk, outside or in.

When I look at this section of my tapestry, will I see God working in the background to move me into a different season of life where he has things for me to do away from the things that cause me discomfort? Or will I see only what I can’t do or be around anymore, things that used to bring me such joy?

And between the two outlooks, I think I’d rather this be about learning a lesson in obedience from God and not about the restrictions imposed by allergies.

And why can’t it be both?

Because it isn’t just funny shaped pieces that somehow fit together.

Life is so much more a moving, shifting work of art. It’s a living canvas, a cloth knit with a changing palette of elements.

And just like in the act of writing these thoughts I saw a thread that entered the scene over twenty years ago, where I am now, whatever is ahead, is no accident.

This design has a designer. And though I may not like or understand what is being woven in me over this past year, I can choose to step off.

And lift my face.

And see that it’s just a small part, a unique and necessary pattern, in a masterpiece.