There’s a captivating dichotomy that exists in our world, whereby something or someone can and often does enhance the qualities of its opposite.
Black makes white seem even whiter.
Salt makes sugar taste even sweeter.
And the trials we face make the joys we experience that much more beautiful.
As Author and Creator of all things, it stands to reason that this trend isn’t lost on God. More often than not, He seems to stand at the door to our heart, palms open, ready to give that which we so desperately need.
To those in distress, He offers peace.
For those who are ill, He offers healing.
And to all of us who deserve justice, He offers grace.
In the midst of a life filled with trial and strife, marred by the consequence of sin, those who know Him can say without reservation that life…with Him…is beautiful.
For The Afters, that statement is much more than their latest album title. In fact, since the movie of that title came out (in the late 90s), the notion of a Life is Beautiful project has been circling around in their minds.
“The title resonated with me and has stuck around ever since,” says vocalist/guitarist Josh Havens.
It’s a fitting inspiration given that the film portrays the immense love of a father in the midst of the horrors of the Holocaust. Over the past few years, Josh’s life has mirrored that story — a father carrying his family through a desperate time—all too closely.
A few years ago, Josh and his wife and children were involved in a near fatal car accident, which eventually served as inspiration for their song, “Lift Me Up.”
One might assume that one such harrowing experience is more than enough for one family; but as so often happens, the lessons learned and faith fortified following the accident served as a foundation for the trial that was to come.
“Our youngest had unexpected complications at birth,” Josh shares. “He was rushed away to the NICU. It was such a lonely place to be. There were lots of ups and downs and tears and sleepless nights. We prayed that God would turn these trials into an amazing testimony. He’s now one with way more energy than any one year old should have!”
That answered prayer is the beautiful stuff life lived with Christ is made of, which resonates not only sonically throughout the record, but visually. The album artwork is a mosaic of images sent in by fans of those special moments. Those times that Josh calls, “little vignettes from life…the pain, the struggle, beautiful things. God is in all those places in our lives.”
One such song, “This Life” shares the stories of a father coming home off the road, just in time for bedtime. Through his fatigue he chooses to let the beauty of that moment carry him. The next verse shares Josh’s story of saying goodbye to his father who was in the hospital with cancer.
“That was a very bittersweet time,” Josh shares. “It ended up being a very special time. He was thinking about his after life and about to step over to Jesus. As hard as that was, it’s the bittersweet. God teaches us through the pain sometimes. “
Teachable, open and seeking, Josh and the rest of the band committed themselves to honesty within each song on the record…just like they always have.
“There are definitely signature elements [on the record],” Josh says. “We hope it’s a continuation and departure. We always try to challenge ourselves to do something different and keep it fresh. Our hope is to grow…all the while still maintaining the vision of The Afters.”
Since 1999, they’ve done just that. Their faith and transparency have been unwavering through great times and through really difficult circumstances. And much of that is credited to their wives and families.
“We have amazing wives,” Josh affirms. “It’s not always easy. God called them to this life just like He called us. If God calls you, He has to call your wife too. You both have to be on the same page.”
From single guys to dads with houses full of kids, toys and life’s sometimes sporadic, sometimes unpredictable rhythms, thanks in part to technology, the guys have intentionally pursued Godly homes as much or more than they ever pursued a career.
“We have it so much easier than people who toured even a decade ago,” Josh says. “We’ve got iPhones, Face Time, Skype…it’s easier to stay connected. And we’re very intentional in how we tour. We won’t go out for terribly long. We try to be really faithful to not be away from our families too much.”
No doubt that commitment has been fortified by the dramatic events they’ve walked through over the years.
“When you have a brush with death, it brings things to perspective in your life,” he concludes. “I’m content to be wherever God wants us. I just want to be faithful to the call on my life. In the hospital, we gave it to the Lord even though we didn’t know how it was going to end. We hope this record is a reminder to people of all the ways God is present.”
And so the pattern continues…
Where there was fear, God provided peace.
Where there was illness, God gave healing.
And where there was uncertainty, God affirmed.
Josh and The Afters know better than most that life is inherently difficult. It can be ugly. It can leave scars. But, as they’ve discovered along the way, where we see scars, God sees the redemptive blood of His son.
When we see our life as unfair, unfulfilled, marred…God sees His glory. Hand in hand, God joins our journey and makes life beautiful.