Saving Lives

Pete’s Dragon. You know, the movie, one of Disney’s most iconic films of the late 70s and mid 80s.  My sister hated it; I loved it.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want to have a dragon as their friend?  Move over Calvin and Hobbes, Pete and Elliot were the first dynamic duo and they could sing, too!  Although I have to admit I wasn’t, and am still not, a fan of Elliot’s pinkish-purple hair.  But the storyline is great, and I love Mickey Roonie’s role as Lampie.  Mom and Dad bought us the story book when we were little and I always giggled at the picture where Pete and Elliot are hiding out in the cave playing tic-tac-toe on Elliot’s stomach.

But this isn’t a post about magical dragons.  This post is much more substantial than that.  I mention Pete’s Dragon because that’s the first time that I recall being introduced to lighthouses and the important role they play in bringing sailors and boats safely to shore.  Remember the part when the lighthouse wick went out during that storm – which happened to be the exact moment when what’s-her-bucket’s boyfriend (or was he her husband?) was trying to sail into Passamaquoddy’s harbor?  And prior to the storm Pete and Elliot had had a falling-out so they weren’t talking to one another, but Pete had to convince Elliot to blow fire and re-light the wick?  And Elliot was too portly to fit in the tiny little doorway?  And he almost didn’t light it in time??  Talk about a nail-biter!!  If it weren’t for the lighthouse, what’s-his-bucket would have been smashed into smithereens on the rocks and then the movie wouldn’t have had a happy ending…

Ok, yes, I’m being overdramatic and a little sarcastic, but considering the fact that I still remember that scene after so many years tells you that it made an impression on me.  The light saved that guy’s life.  So thanks to one of my favorite movies from my childhood, I’ve always had a mild interest in lighthouses.  Well, I guess to be more accurate I should say that I always thought they were cool.

All of that changed one Sunday evening during my freshman year at BYU.  Every Sunday our ward would gather for ward prayer in the common area in Hinckley Hall (the best dorm in Helaman Halls, by the way).  Each week one person or a group of people gave a spiritual thought or performed a musical number, the bishopric shared announcements, someone prayed and then we went back to our rooms for the evening.  One Sunday four men sang a hymn – I’ve included the lyrics below – and then they talked about what the words meant.  Their rendition was very simple but thanks to their singing talent and execution, it was extremely powerful.  I’m completely serious when I say that I have never had such a touching and powerful experience while listening to a hymn as I did that night.  It was unbelievable.  Absolutely beautiful.  It touched me to the very center.  Unfortunately no one thought to record it; we should have because I am always disappointed when other individuals perform the same number.  The guys from my ward sang in such impeccable harmony, with such precision and with such feeling that I don’t think I’ll ever find a rendition that will match it.

Prior to that evening, I’d never heard the hymn.  But since then, thanks to the music and the lyrics, that hymn has been one of my top five favorites.  What is it, you ask?  It’s actually quite popular and the meaning is fairly well-known.  It’s the only hymn in the LDS hymnbook written in Barber Shop harmony: Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy.

Today I ran across a YouTube video of four men from Utah State singing the song.  While their recording does have some issues – their precision and diction is off in some places – their harmony is beautiful.  It’s the closest rendition I have found to what I heard that night at BYU.  My guys sang with much more passion and feeling, but I still like this one.  You’re welcome to listen to the mp3 as you read the lyrics below.

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From his lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

[Chorus]
Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Dark the night of sin has settled;
Loud the angry billows roar.
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

After the group finished singing, Scott, the one that put the group together, told us that he sang that with his companion and another set of missionaries at a zone conference.  After they sat down their mission president stood up to give his remarks, but instead of launching immediately into his topic he asked the missionaries if they knew what that song meant.  Evidently they didn’t, so he explained it to them.

Many people may not be aware that the lighthouse system – if we can call it that – doesn’t consist solely of a lighthouse on a craggy outcropping of rock.  In fact, by themselves, lighthouses don’t serve much of a purpose.  Lighthouses signal that dangerous rocks threaten the safety of the boats and the people that they carry.  But in the dark, a captain cannot see where those rocks are, nor does he know whether the rocks are all above water or if some are submerged.  In order to navigate the seen and unseen hazards that often create narrow, maze-like paths before they open up to a harbor, additional lights are spread out on the shore and in the water.  The lower lights designate safety whereas the main lighthouse stands as safety and the destination.

But there’s even more to it than that.  In order to prevent the ship from hitting rocks, the captain must align his vessel so that the lower lights line up with the lighthouse in a straight trajectory.  That may mean that he has to completely change his course, i.e. if he’s coming in from the west but the lights only line up from the southeast, he must to maneuver the ship to that bearing.  In other areas of the world, the lower lights act like the lines painted on either side of the interstate: they outline the route the ship is to take in order to reach land.  As the captain follows the lights, he will have to make constant corrections in his trajectory in order to stay within the boundaries set forth by the lights along the shore.

In the context of this hymn, Christ is the lighthouse and we are sailors.  Christ is the ultimate destination, He is the harbor.  The individual who seeks to be in His presence obviously sets his sights on Him.  The “sailor” may have to change the course of his life – or just make tiny course corrections – and sometimes that can be seen as a burden.  But if he doesn’t want to sink his ship, he has to do it.  And because ol’ Scratch likes to rear his ugly head at unforeseen moments, God places other people in the water and along the shore to act as guides and to be examples of good, wholesome and righteous living.  In essence, they help God pull the sailor into safety during the last leg of his journey.

We are the sailors.  The lower lights are the Prophets, Apostles and those chosen to stand in positions of leadership.

That analogy is beautiful by itself.  But the symbolism goes two ways.  Just as we are all certainly the sailors, God also works through us; we are our brother’s keeper and therefore, we are also “the lights along the shore.”  In order to be that guide, example and beacon in the immediate darkness, we have to not only align ourselves in places of safety, but we have to stay there!  We have get on the path and we can’t budge.  We have to shine in the thickest fog and in the blackest night.  We have to stay anchored during ferocious storms and we have to stay focused on the tempest-tossed boats that are beleaguered by time, the elements, and weaknesses.

It doesn’t matter if that vessel is the smallest and rustiest fishing boat or the largest and most impressive aircraft carrier.  Their human cargo is precious.

It doesn’t matter if we’re a tall, short, weather-beaten, or a sparkling new edifice.  We share the same light that glows from the Lighthouse.

To the “fainting, struggling seaman” whose eyes are “watching, longing” for us, our light is his hope.  Hope leads him to the Lighthouse and ultimately, the harbor.  Regardless of what we look like, how long we have been shining that light or how bright our beam is, to him we are beautiful and heaven-sent.

These images often work themselves into my thoughts, and I find myself pondering the various stormy waters or pitch-black nights that I’ve had to sail through.  I am grateful that the Lighthouse never stops sending His beam out across the waves.  I’m grateful for those individuals who are called to be the lights along the shore.  But most specifically, I’m in debt to loved ones who have set their sights on Christ and who have been and continue to be tremendous examples of obedient, faithful disciples of the Savior.

This concept of lighthouses and lower lights took on a new meaning for me when I was working in the French education system in Marseille, France.  My friend and former French 101/102 student, Helle Brimhall, stayed with me for a week during October 2008 and one day, we took a sightseeing boat around the coast of Marseille.  The guide pointed out the place where the oldest lighthouse had stood during the middle ages and into modern times; it was destroyed, but another more modern and smaller lighthouse took it’s place.  As we made our way out of the Vieux Port, toward le Château d’If, and then out into open water, I noticed that we passed several “miniature” lighthouses.  Some were located on the dykes and barriers that were scattered along the shore and in the water, some were on small outcroppings of rock protruding out of the sea, one was on the battlements of the l’Ile d’If, and a couple were anchored securely in the water and were floating out on their own.

The smaller lights guiding ships to the harbors of Marseille

When I returned home that night I looked at a satellite picture of the Marseillaise coast and sure enough, I saw that several lower lights lined up with various docks for cruise ships, cargo vessels, sailboats, etc.  Several more exist outside the confines of this photo.  I learned that certain lower lights flashed different colors or at different frequencies, and the ones that matched led to a specific dock.  A few months later I saw a detailed map of the city which included maritime routes and legends and I saw something that amazed me.

The lower lights have names.

Some are named after locations in France, objects, colors, etc.

But the majority of them have female names.

My favorite smaller light off the coast of Marseille: Sainte-Marie

When I saw that I almost cried.  Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not discrediting the good that men can do.  My life has been deeply blessed by the examples and service that honorable men have been and have done for me.  But as I have served in various capacities for academic and religious settings, I have witnessed the realization of many miracles that have come about by the selflessness of women.  When reflecting upon my own life I am cognizant of the many women who have sacrificed for my behalf or the behalf of their families.  In both situations I quietly observed them and saw them building foundations of faith.  Their diligence, whether performed specifically for me or not, has helped motivate me to strengthen my relationship with God.

I have also observed and counseled with women who feel that they or their efforts aren’t good enough, that they’re unworthy of blessings or God’s love, that what they do doesn’t matter or that no one notices their sacrifices.  And as I hear them express these feelings or as I see it in their behavior or body language, it saddens me.  Someone always notices their efforts.  They can be and are examples to others – the thing is that 99.9% of the time they’re not aware of the lives that they are touching.

So what have I learned throughout this 11 year journey?  Here’s a short list:

  • God does not leave us stranded.  He provides means by which we can return safely to Him.  We’re the ones that have to align ourselves with Him, but the pathway is clearly marked.
  • He places specific people in our lives who we can look to as examples and support in our journey, and
  • in turn, we become part of the lifeline for someone else.
  • Our efforts to follow the Master and to not give in when Scratch comes calling do not go unnoticed.
  • The lower lights have names and are identifiable.  We aren’t just numbers or unspecified objects – God knows who we are and knows our individual names.
  • The people who are looking to us for strength and as an example know exactly who we are and,
  • when asked who has impacted their life for good, they can and will name names.

But perhaps most importantly on a personal level, I learned that I need to express my gratitude to He who is the Lighthouse and to those lower lights who have joined in the effort to “rescue” and “save” me.  They come from all walks of life, from many different faiths, and are all very dear to my heart.

And to you, dear reader, keep shining.

**The photos in this post are all taken from the internet.  All of the lighthouses shown here are actually the “smaller lights” that guide the ships to the harbors of Marseille, France**

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One thought on “Saving Lives

  1. Oh, Lark. What a beautiful post. I feel as you do, that those “lower lights” in my life have names. They are precious. Thank you for giving me these thoughts. You are precious.

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