The Surprise Hiding in That Struggle

beauty in struggle by Laurie Wallin 1Sitting in the line to cross the international border, the traffic moves slow enough to count pebbles in the gravel road. The data connection doesn’t work on my phone, so I can’t ignore the drawn faces of children asking for coins–children for whom I’d empty my wallet if I had any cash at all in it. I try to interact with them instead, but what they need is tangibles and they get annoyed at my attempts to talk.

It’s uncomfortable in more than one way, and hot.

Sweat traces lines down my neck, adheres my shirt to my back, plasters flyaway hairs to my cheeks and forehead. Deisel fuel fills the air, along with the pungent swirl of dust, cinnamon, salsa, and the body odor of leather-faced men wearing five hats and a dozen satchels to sell.

I wish that I could be anywhere but here.

And then…

Then it pours through the window—this surprising gust of refreshing cool air. This ridiculously sweet-smelling breeze. It brushes across my forehead, through my hair, transforms the sweat rolling down my neck into an elaborate cooling system that extends down my back.

It is so surprising—so celebratory, beautiful, and unexpected.

As the day lengthens, the sun rises high in the sky, the heat swells, I roll up the windows and turn on the air conditioning, thinking I’d prefer steadily cooled air. It takes no more than a minute to feel it: not refreshing, but this missing of something. It takes another minute before I realize what it is, and why somehow the pumped air is such an extreme let down.

It is the contrast.

Without the heat, the smell, and the discomfort, I miss the pleasure of the breeze. Remove one, remove the other. I miss the joy and beauty of the breeze so much that I roll down the windows and choose the heat and stench so the gift will come back and once again dance over my skin.

The controlled air may not offend the nose, parch the throat, or plaster cotton to skin, but neither will it allow the joy of variety, of wanting, of seeking beauty.

It reminds me of the scripture that says “Be still and wait for the salvation of the Lord” (see Exodus 14:13). How can we wait, hope, anticipate what we’ve already done for ourselves? Why would we look for salvation (also translated help) when we’ve rolled up windows of the unmanageable and uncomfortable in favor of the illusion of control and stability?

Once we have felt the adventure and variety of God—the unexpected relief and wonder of His help in the midst of discomfort—the stale familiar will never suffice again.

It’s the contrast that reminds us how much the gifts are worth it. Why would we ever settle for less?

For you: Where have you seen this to be true lately? Where do you hope to experience this?