The Aftermath

The Aftermath-2

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, it’s always sunny and warm.  The food is predictable, it’s 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, the aftermath, is what was left behind.

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 the aftermath is what is left behind.

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.   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!   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 piled up 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 broken hearted 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

What’s Your .11?

Maybe I should begin by saying I am not a runner.

Around this time last year my husband told me to block particular dates on my calendar so we could head out of town for a long weekend.  As the date approached, I asked him where we were headed and what I should pack.  His reply was simple.  ‘It’s a surprise.  Pack casual….and bring your sneakers.’

Now, I really do trust my husband!  He has never steered me wrong before, so I didn’t question it.   I just packed my bag and off we went.  A few hours later, however, I found myself in Nashville, standing in a crowd, wearing my sneakers, a number pinned to my shirt, registered for a race I had not planned to run.

Finding myself in a race I had not planned on running shed some amazing new light for me on a very familiar passage in the Word of God.  This new perspective has shaped every challenge, every trial, every difficult event or journey that I have faced since.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul  writes:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?

Run in such a way as to get the prize.

For years, I have read that passage as if Paul were referring to the marathon of life.  From day one until the day we go home to be with Jesus, we are running a race of ups and downs, highs and lows, expected and unexpected events that become mile markers on our individual journeys with the Lord.

But the language Paul uses here is actually quite different.  The race Paul is referring to is not a marathon covering miles and miles.  The word Paul uses in the original language is stadio, a race that measured 185 meters, approximately 660 feet, the equivalent of just .11 miles.

Paul says in a stadio, in a race of only .11 miles, all the runners run.  Interesting, isn’t it?  Paul is referring to a short run.  He says in a very short run, just over a tenth of a mile, all the runners run.   These runs had a beginning and they had an end.   They were marked by a defined distance and a finish line, even if the runners were not able to see the finish line from where they stood.  These were not long races.  They were short runs in the grand scheme of the games.  I read that and I say, WOW!  I can run that kind of race!   A race of only .11 of a mile with a finish line just ahead?   Let me grab my sneakers and I will run for the prize!

But then we get a little deeper into the verse.  Paul says that in these .11 mile races, all the runners run. The word here for run is trekh’o, and the definition tempts me to put my sneakers back on the shelf.  Trekh’o doesn’t just mean to run.  It means to run with all you have, and then run some more. Trekh’o is defined as a time of extreme peril which requires the exertion of all our effort to overcome. Ouch.

The runners in these .11’s had to give the race all they had.  They had to endure the peril, but only for a defined time with the understanding that there was an end to their struggle, even if they could not see the finish line clearly from where they stood.   Someone had gone ahead of them marking out the start and marking out the end.  With this understanding, they registered for the games, took their place, and they ran.

Paul said that is the kind of race we are called to run.  These defined .11’s may be short, but they are going to be tough.   These .11’s are marked out for us with a beginning and an end, but they are times of extreme peril requiring that we exert all we have in order to overcome, in order to get the prize.  These are races that we don’t want to run, races we had not planned on running, but races each of us face at some point in life:

A financial pressure that has been looming around you.

A conflict in a relationship that has been dragging you down.

A child pursuing a path clearly against God’s ways and purposes.

An unknown in your future that leaves you on your knees late into the night.

These races are hard.  They weigh heavy on our hearts and minds and consume our thoughts and emotions.  They require all we have, but Paul calls them stadios.  He reminds us that they are only .11’s.   They have a beginning, they have an end and they cannot go out of the control of our God. These .11 races may seem to be long from our perspective.  They are difficult and challenging, but the One Who sees the beginning from the end knows that these momentary struggles are just that, momentary, regardless of how long they seem to us as we run.

And then Paul uses one more small word…he uses the word all.  All means all.   In this kind of race, allthe runners run. Sister, that means you and that means me.  No one is getting out of it.  We are the runners and all the runners run.

Why would the Lord allow us to run these .11’s?  Why would the Lord permit these times of peril and extreme exertion on our journeys?  Because at the end, there is a prize and Paul says that we are to run in such a way to get it.  That is good news.   There is a prize…and we can get it.  God doesn’t put us on an impossible race and then tell us to try to get the prize. He says you are on a race, there is a prize and there is a way you can run in order to win.  Put your shoes on, fix your eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith and run the race well!  We can finish our .11.  We can run our race.  Even those of us who have never run the race before.

This year, my husband took me back to Nashville to run the same race again.  This time I knew where I was headed and I knew I would make it through.  I had run this race with him before and I had come out stronger.  Running the race with my husband last year gave me confidence that I could run this race again.

I still trust my husband.  He registered me for a race he knew I could handle, even if I thought I could not. It was hard.  I had to run in a way I never had before, but I as I ran, the closer I got to the end, the finish line came into view.  My perspective changed, I crossed the line and at the end I got the prize.

I will always trust my God.  Every race that He has set before me is a race He knows I can handle with Him.  It may be hard, but I will make it through, even if I have never had to run this way before.  Whatever .11 He has ahead, I will run with purpose, not aimlessly, and I will get the prize, a deeper relationship with Jesus, conformed into the image of Christ just a little bit more.  That is a prize worth winning!

What’s your .11?  Where has God called you to run a marked but perilous journey requiring you to give all you have, holding onto Him in order to cross the finish line?  You can trust the One Who has marked out the race.  He started it.  He will finish it.  You will make it through.

Maybe I should end by saying I am a runner.   We all are.  We are not runners in races to receive an earthly prize.  We are runners in the unshakeable Kingdom of God on course to receive a prize that never fades away.

Get out your sneakers, my friend.  Put them on. Keep your eyes open, look straight ahead and run!   Run with purpose the .11 marked out for you!

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory

that far outweighs them all.  2 Corinthians 4:17

When God Says Go

Procrastination.  It’s not a pretty word.  To procrastinate means to delay.  It is the act of delaying something we know we are supposed to do.  We know what life looks like when we delay.  Around the house it looks like a sink full of dishes and a pile of dirty clothes.  At work, delaying what we are to do leads to assignments that lack punctuality and excellence.  Delaying in our relationships leads to half-hearted friendships and empty spaces.

But what does it look like when we procrastinate with God?  What does it look like when we delay doing what He has called us to do?

Rebekah’s story begins in Genesis 24.  A beautiful young woman, she has been to the well too many times to count. Her assignment has always been to get water for her family and on this day, she was doing just that.

At the very same time Rebekah approached the well, so did a servant. This servant had traveled a great distance on assignment to find a wife for his master’s son.  Prior to his trip, the master had given the servant instructions for the journey telling him that when he finds the bride for the son, if she will not come back with him, the servant was to leave her there and come back alone.

After a brief encounter with Rebekah, the Lord revealed to the servant that she was the one.  Rebekah agreed to begin this new adventure and hurried to tell her family the amazing thing that God had done at the well that day!  With much excitement and support, her family celebrated and encouraged Rebekah’s new road ahead!  It was clear to them that this was the next thing for Rebekah and surely God had purposed it all!

The next day it was time for the journey to begin.  As the servant prepared for their departure, Rebekah’s family entered the picture again.  Overnight their thoughts had changed.  They began a conversation with the servant suggesting that perhaps it was best, rather than leaving quite so soon, to delay their departure.  Perhaps Rebecca should remain with them just a few more days.

You can almost hear their conversation with the servant.   One by one they would voice their concerns, ‘We really do know that Rebekah is called to this.  We know that God has a plan for her life that includes departing from here, but really, she doesn’t even know where she is going…  Is she sure?  We are confident that God is completely in control, that He has great things for Rebekah, but she has no idea what is ahead…  Maybe she just needs a little more time here, before this new thing begins thereDoes the new thing really have to start so soon? Can’t it wait just a little bit longer? Maybe ten more days…or so?’

But her brother and her mother replied, “Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so….”  Genesis 24:55

Ten more days, it wasn’t really that much longer, but the two small words they added on to their request revealed the true intent of their hearts.  ‘Or so.’ That was the clincher.  If those around her could get Rebekah to settle back into where she had always been, where she was comfortable, where she knew the people and life was predictable, if they could just get her to delay just ten more days…or so…, then maybe she would never leave at all.

Rebekah was called into the conversation.   Her family asked her if she was willing to go with the servant into the great unknown.   She confidently declared three words that changed the course of her life forever.  In the face of all that was trying to hold her back, without regard to another ten days or any further delay, Rebekah took a stand and boldly declared,

‘I will go.’  Genesis 24:58b

Only three words.  Ten more days or so was not part of the plan for this woman set on a course by God Himself. With those three words she put to rest any doubt that she lacked the determination to do what God had called her to do.   These three words set the course for her purpose, put her in position for a great move of God and started her path forward.  She spoke it, believed God, and the journey began!

What a price we pay when we delay!   Remember what the master told the servant prior to his journey?  When you identify the woman, if she will not come with you, then you are to come back alone.  If the woman that I have called for this position chooses to stay back, to remain where she is, even if she delays for just ten more days or so, then she has made her choice.  Leave her behind and come back to me.

Rebekah chose to go.  It was time go forward.  Remaining there any longer would have been completely against what God had for her. Staying where she had always been would have prevented her from going on.

Has God told you to go?  Has He called you to do something that you have never done before?   What is holding you back?  What is telling you to remain, tempting you to delay?  It could be the voices of well-intentioned people in your life, it could be the voice of fear, insecurity or the voice of doubt.  It could be memories of past failures or the uncertainty of the great unknown.  If Rebekah had said I will stay just a few more days, the opportunity would have passed her by.  Rebekah chose to go.  Going immediately put her in position for her breakthrough.

This story is not so much the story of a woman finding her husband as it the story of a woman finding her purpose.  Once Rebekah heard the call, she went after it with all she had.   Believing that God could and would do what He said and acting on it in faith placed her in the greatest story of all time.

There is a place in this story for you and me, too.  God continues to call us from where we have always been into our next.  God calls us to GO!  Will we go? Will we follow Him?  Bold decisions of faith followed by intentional steps of obedience put us in position for the great beyond!   When God says go, there is no time to delay!  Let’s boldly say, just like Rebekah, ‘I will go!’ following Jesus without delay, not even ten days or so!

‘…they left everything and followed Jesus.’  Luke 5:11

Warning: Monkeys Ahead

monkeys ahead-3Ever had a run in with a monkey?

Not too long ago, my husband and I traveled with friends to Bali, Indonesia to escape the cold and enjoy the sun!  After a few days of rest and relaxation, we decided it was time to see the sites so we hired a guide to take us to one of Bali’s most historic spots.

As we neared our destination, our guide shared with us some of what we could expect.  He said there would be a very long walk, about a half hour uphill and then a half hour down.  He told us that the view of the Indian Ocean was amazing on the path and he shared with us the cultural events that are held at this place.  He went on and on, speaking about the history and the beauty, but as we neared the path, his tone changed.  He held up his finger as if pointing out a warning.

Our guide began to speak in a more serious tone, and looking at us, he said, ‘There are monkeys ahead. Watch out for the monkeys.  Continue reading “Warning: Monkeys Ahead”

Seen and Loved

I tell this story often.  It’s a love story.  It may be a different kind of love story than what you might think when you hear that phrase, but I think you will understand.

For years, my husband, Dan and I struggled to have a family.  If you have lived through the valley of infertility, you know the pain, the loss, the emptiness that road can take, the stress it can put on a marriage. It was a valley, a very long, empty valley.  After several years of trying to make it happen on our own, we did what we so often do when we can do nothing else.  Continue reading “Seen and Loved”

Do it Different

Dunkin Donuts was always our destination on Sunday evenings when I was a young girl visiting my grandfather.  After evening church service, we would excitedly pile into the car on our way to what I had anticipated all day!

I remember so clearly the many times my grandfather and I stood in line as I tried to decide which donut would be mine!  Waiting patiently for our turn to order, my eyes were fixed ahead, taking in the colorful sprinkles and icings in front of me.   My grandfather, however, wasn’t looking ahead at the selection of sweets.  He was looking behind.  Continue reading “Do it Different”

The Ugly Christmas Sweater

Ugly Christmas SweaterIt was a Christmas morning in the early 80’s.  Together as a family, we were sitting around the tree as my mom opened a gift from my dad that he had wrapped himself.   She pulled away the tissue paper and pulled out a sweater.  It was the most beautiful sweater I had ever seen!

This sweater was unlike any sweater before it.  This sweater was a Christmas sweater.  Covered with red dots and Christmas wreaths, it gathered at the waist and had the puffiest sleeves available at that time.   Around the neckline was a red and white checkered bandana with a cream colored lace border that tied in a bow at the front.  All I could think was, ‘Someday, I hope that I will wear that beautiful sweater!’

A few years later, my mom was going through her clothes, cleaning out her closet, and I saw the beautiful Christmas sweater in the give-away pile. My mom and I had both worn the sweater several times and she was now ready to pass it on.  I didn’t want to let it go, so I took sweater from the pile and stored it in my closet.  As the years passed, folks were not wearing beautiful Christmas sweaters anymore, so eventually it was pushed out of the way, out of sight, to the back of my closet.

Fast forward 30 years later.  My teenage daughter’s school was having a Christmas party and they were all told to wear ugly Christmas sweaters.   Continue reading “The Ugly Christmas Sweater”