The black asphalt, newly-laid, burns in the evening July sun, filling the air with a scorching smell. One garage door lifts to reveal a knot of men on stools. One walks down the driveway and out on the street. He smells drunk, his footsteps sound drunk. I look into his eyes for just a minute, somehow see the white hair and the brown beer bottle at his side and the big shoes. A few garages down, several women watch girls draw on the tarmac with colourful chalk. There is a rabbit, big-eyed and trembling in the shade of a blue spruce. A man waters his lawn lazily, as if the incessant rain that deluged Ontario this Summer is not enough. I want to get under that merciful stream.
This morning, through earbuds, I heard a voice from the Southern States drawl, “there is no perfection short of glory.” He said our struggles are part of God’s love for us. That struggle is one thing we can always count on. God is the one who changes us. He changes us through struggle. In love.
I pause on a bridge, thirsty for shade. A brown creek gurgles beneath. The wheel of a child’s bike breaks the liquid surface, almost like a bone bursting the wrong way out of skin. It is so quiet. The realm of sunshine is just beyond the borders of this shadow – all within tranquil, all without panting.
Somehow, somehow, God’s love isn’t in the place we left, or waiting for us when we’ll arrive at some moral destination. Somehow, it’s right smack in the middle of struggle with sin and flesh and hot, sweaty days. Struggle isn’t our chance to piece together something to bring before God. It is his very own gift of love to us.
Just – where on an ordinary afternoon does the secret of that lay? What geography can my mind and heart take to land me in the certainty of being loved?
This morning I cradled Psalm 23 in my mind, “He restores my soul.” I imagined a lovely piece of furniture or building wrecked by war; hands that touch and shape and chisel and bring back into daylight a new shape of oldness. Restored. Reclaimed, remade, renewed, revisioned, reloved – a pulsing cycle of re- . Again. Again. Again. “I want you to be as beautiful as when God first thought of you,” George MacDonald wrote somewhere, and I think of how that has been my prayer too, for others. How it is God’s prayer and plan for me.
I lean into the cement railing of the bench, watch the motion below. My crossed arms, pressing under my ribs, catch each thud of my heart, pushes me into a gentle motion, a shared pulse with the creek below. Behind me a willow tree bends to sweep grass.
He chooses struggle to be the place to build us back into beauty. Today’s long office hours and burning ashphalt road is where his love is poured out – not behind me in winter past or beyond me in rainy season future. It is right here, right now. Love on a hot July day in Canada.