When fall comes to La Plata, it rains a lot. The same thing happens in winter. For that matter, summer and spring can be pretty wet too. And precipitation in this great city can only mean one thing: baldosas flojas.
You see, the sidewalks in a lot of Argentine cities are not made of your run-of-the-mill concrete. No, ma’am. They are usually laid with baldosas, or tiles, of various shapes and sizes and colors and materials. When the tiles are all in line and no rambunctious tree roots have disturbed their monotony, they make for a good-looking sidewalk. All too often, however, the tiles are loose (flojas), cracked, or simply missing. Or worse yet, they are precariously perched above a small, hidden puddle, just waiting for you to step on them to splatter you with a combination of festering mud and slow-growing algae. When I first moved to La Plata, we liked to call them “mystery tiles”—and they are the bane of every rainy day in the city.
I usually take the baldosas flojas in stride (pardon the pun). Sometimes I picture that game Minesweeper (you know, the only computer game that ever came pre-installed in the 1990s), glancing at the tiles before me, wondering which one will be explosive. Sometimes I guess correctly. Sometimes I guess incorrectly. Then, upon arriving at my destination (after crossing the city on foot), the Platenses (the people from La Plata) demand no explanation of the stripes of caking mud on my jeans. It is just a fact of life in La Plata.
Now, brace yourself for the cheesy part.
I do not tend to squeeze life lessons out of poorly paved streets. The other day, though, after being attacked by yet another mystery tile, it dawned on me: this is a lot like my life. I may have something out-of-keel, something that is not quite right in my life…but as long as the sun shines, we are all none-the-wiser. Just let it rain for a while—I get tired, run into problems, not feel so good, and… splat. The smelly concoction that was so carefully hidden by the loose tile is catapulted into public knowledge.
A few years ago, I was in the middle of a plain-old-painfully-lonesome season. The metaphorical rain had been steady, and it seemed like it would never let up. As I was crossing the city on my bike (which, by the way, does not save me from interaction with the baldosas flojas—they just squirt their murk from my rear tire into a nice, straight line up my back), I got a flat tire. This meant that, at some precarious hour of the night, I had to dismount my bike, heave it onto my shoulder, and carry it the ten blocks or so home. I promise you, I am not normally a grumbler. Believe me, though, this time those ten blocks were filled with some of the feistiest words I have ever thrown at the Lord. It felt like He had not been taking care of me: I was part of a few difficult teams, my missionary friends had moved back to the States, my father’s health was ailing, and there was great pressure to produce ministry results without much to show. Oh, and by the way, I was approaching thirty and was still single. Now I had a flat tire! That might not constitute steady rain in other people’s lives, but in the moment, I felt like I needed to build an ark.
Here is the moral of the story: that unbelief, that bitterness, that fear that God was not looking out for me? It was all there before teams got messy and friends moved away. I had been able to keep it hidden, even from myself. Enter ten long, dark blocks with a bicycle (which unfortunately was not made of lightweight titanium) on my shoulder, add that to an arsenal of lies that the enemy had fed me, and suddenly the rain revealed what was hidden underneath the baldosa floja the whole time. Consequently, for the past couple of years I have been working through the caked mud that was splattered all over my life during that season. Trust me: from experience I can tell you that it is not pleasant to step on a baldosa floja. It would be better if they did not exist. Ideally, we would be able to dig out the science experiment that is growing beneath the tiles before the rain hits, but sometimes we simply cannot. We just do not realize it is there—or we do not want to admit that we think those thoughts or believe those lies or say those things. Cue a few long downpours, and suddenly we are hit by a cold, smelly splash of reality.
But wait—there is good news. It is not just every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining pep-rally fodder. It is genuinely good news! Here it is: baldosas flojas can be an extension of God’s grace. Stick with me. In the soaked shoes and stained pants, we have an opportunity, an opportunity called sanctification. It is messy, murky, muddy, and at times mystifying. It can involve uprooting, confronting, declaring, and holding on for dear life. Nevertheless, as the puddle is being cleaned up and the tile is being set in its place, we catch glimpses of restoration and redemption and an all-out rescue. The sweetest part is, in the midst of it all, we catch glimpses of Him.
One day the rain will come again, as it always does. By God’s grace, this time there will not be as many Minesweeper-style explosions. There will always be baldosas flojas, of course. However, if the Holy Spirit has His way, little by little by little, bit by bit, we will make our way from muddy sidewalks to streets of gold.
I have decided that, in the meantime, I am retiring that pair of white pants. They will go better with gold anyway.
© 2013 Thrive.
Questions to Consider: How are you tempted to mask the murk just below the surface of your life? How do you deal with the smelly concoctions hidden by the loose tile before it becomes a problem?