Cabo San Lucas is a popular vacation destination at the tip of the Mexican Baja peninsula. People travel great distances to spend time in this place that is very predictable. The weather is predicable — always sunny and warm. The food is predictable — always fresh and delicious. The people are predictable, too. They are always kind and gracious; folks you enjoy being around.
Cabo is not just a place full of predictable, it’s also a place full of pleasant. Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets draw your eyes to the colorful sky at dawn and at dusk. The sound of the waves crashing on the beach is a backdrop to your day and lulls you to sleep at night. Trees with vibrant flowers and graceful palms sway in the breeze creating a beautiful display of color on the horizon. Just a few days in Cabo and you start to think that this is the place on earth where everything is predictable, everything is pleasant. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
But just a few years ago, Cabo was hit with a storm. A major hurricane tore through this predictable, pleasant town, destroying everything in its path. The airport was devastated, bridges were broken and homes were leveled. The flowering trees and graceful palms that had lined the horizon were ripped out of the ground and thrown into the wind. Everything that made Cabo beautiful was gone, destroyed, torn away. All that was left behind was the aftermath.
Aftermath. It’s a word we know and use, but I love the definition I found in the dictionary today. Aftermath is defined as ‘the consequence of an unpleasant event’. Cabo had been hit by an unpleasant event. The consequence, the aftermath, is what was left behind.
In the book of Nehemiah, we find Israel, another people who had been though an unpleasant event. For years their city, Jerusalem, had been a beautiful place. Songs of the worshipers were heard in the streets, families lived and ate together in community and God’s glory dwelt in the middle of it all. It was a predictable place, a pleasant place. It was a place where nothing could possibly go wrong.
Sadly, as time went on, God’s people sinned and rebelled against His Word and His ways. In spite of many warnings, they left the safety of walking in obedience and followed their own path. Their actions put them in position to be defeated by an enemy. They were enslaved and taken to a foreign land filled with foreign ways and foreign gods. Exiled for 70 years, life was not so pleasant anymore. The Israelites were far from home, far from the temple, far from being the people God had created them to be. Jerusalem crumbled. Broken homes, torn down walls and piles of rubble were all that was left of their beloved city. What had been a place of great beauty, what had once been so pleasant, was now a place of great devastation. Jerusalem had been hit by an unpleasant event. The consequence, what is left behind, is the aftermath.
Unpleasant events. They don’t only happen in far-away cities. They happen in places that are close. They happen to individuals. They happen to families. They happen to churches. They happen to you and they happen to me.
Things come upon us that we can’t predict in places we would never expect. The place where nothing could possibly go wrong suddenly gets turned upside down. Places that used to be pleasant are not so pleasant anymore. Whether it’s a result of the stuff of life, or a consequence of sin, a storm has come and what is left behind is the aftermath.
The aftermath in our lives will look different in every situation. It may resemble crumbled walls or ruins in broken relationships that need a major healing. It may resemble torn up trees leaving your life void of joy and color. It might feel like your house has been shaken to the core and the walls just cannot stand any longer. It may look unpleasant or feel unpleasant or let’s be real, it may just plain be unpleasant. These unpleasant situations want to make us stop, make us want to quit, make us throw in the towel and pull away from what God has planned for us, from what He has called us to do.
But what if there is another part to the aftermath? What if the aftermath we see with our eyes is only a part of the story?
What if the real consequence of our unpleasant circumstance is actually something glorious?
Perhaps there is a beauty to the aftermath seen only by those who keep pushing through.
You see, the people of Cabo didn’t stop when they saw the destruction. Broken windows and torn down trees inspired them to come together. Unified, they cleaned up the streets, rebuilt their homes and planted new trees, working hard to restore the city they loved. New color filled the horizon as new flowers budded and bloomed. If they had stopped, defeated by the challenge, they would have missed the beauty that was just ahead. They would have missed the beauty of the aftermath…new flowers, new friends, new vision, new life.
When Israel saw the ruins of Jerusalem, God’s people did not turn back but went forward united as well. People who had suffered together in their exile now stood side by side to rebuild the wall of the city they loved. Nehemiah 9 tells us that when the wall was complete, God’s people came together to hear the Word of the Lord. Together the people of Israel wept as they heard how they had fallen away from the holy ways of the God who deeply loved them. Together they confessed the sins that had kept them enslaved for so many years. Together they turned to God in repentance, and together they stood a people purified and refined by the outstretched arm of God.
If Nehemiah and the people of Israel had turned back when they saw the rubble, God’s people would not have come together, they would not have confessed and repented and they would not have heard the Word that the Lord had for them for that specific moment. They would not have become the people God created them to be then. Because they did not turn back in their unpleasant place, God’s people experienced beauty, and what a glorious aftermath it was! These people had a new freedom, a new unity, a new found fire and a new understanding of their God!
Just like those living in Cabo and those who lived in Jerusalem, the unpleasant place wants to keep us down but we are called to keep pressing on forward! It is easy to look around and see what is broken as the aftermath, but God sees something beautiful.
We see rubble and torn down walls. God sees rebuilt homes filled with hope and love.
We see devastation in piles around us. God sees order in the chaos and full restoration.
We see torn up, swept away trees. God sees new trees with new flowers already in bloom.
Are you experiencing an unpleasant event in your life right now? Is the place or relationship that seemed unshakeable suddenly shaking? Has your predictable, pleasant place become a place of broken walls and torn down trees?
Giving up now will keep you from experiencing the beauty just ahead. Stopping now will keep you from seeing new colors and experiencing new life. Do not give up! Keep pressing on! Pick up your Bible and find a friend who will walk this journey with you. What you see is not the end of the story. The real consequence of your unpleasant place truly is glorious! Trust Him and pray for eyes to see your story the way He sees it. God has a beautiful aftermath waiting for you!
The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem and bringing the exiles back from Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.
He counts the stars and calls them by name.
How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
His understanding is beyond comprehension! Psalm 147:2-5