Learning at the Ocean

I had many religion professors when I was at BYU, and they all taught me many wonderful things.  However, one of the teachings that has stuck with me the most was the advice that Randy L. Bott gave us during our Missionary Preparation class.  He suggested that no matter where we found ourselves in this big, wide world, whether it be on a university campus, in a bustling city, or a sleepy little town, that we find a “personal Sacred Grove” where we could go when we needed to ponder, meditate, and find answers to life’s many questions.  I’d already found such a place on campus, but I decided to make that a life-long practice.  Since then I have found and created some very special places in Madison, France, and now Senegal where I can go when I need to clear my head and get away from life in Dakar.

La Place du Souvenir is about a 10-15 minute walk from my apartment in Mermoz.  Like many public areas, it’s a now-abandoned square.  It has a couple of non-functioning fountains, two big empty buildings, and a large brass-colored sculpture of the African continent in the middle of what I imagine is supposed to be a reflecting pool.  Small tower-like things in the shape of stars come up out of the pool and surround the base of the sculpture of the African continent.  The sculpture and pool is located right on the edge of a small cliff that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s quite beautiful there.  Deep red and black rocks jut out into the ocean, and the water is a deep turquoise.  When the water swells, it transforms into the most gorgeous emerald green water I have ever seen, and it continues to fade out into a calming sea-green before it foams into white breakers.  Oftentimes white spray floats up from the rocks, and it always sounds so comforting to hear the water crash up on the cliffs.

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I found this place a couple of days after I arrived in Dakar – I’m so glad that I did.  Not many people go there, so it’s really quiet.  The first time I went, I was still kind of reeling from culture shock and second thoughts about staying in Senegal invaded my mind at every turn.  To get away from the uneasiness I felt, I climbed up on the edges of the pool and walked out on the very edges that reach out over the cliff and the ocean.  I stood there for a long time, letting the wind blow through my hair, and I just watched the waves and listened to the water.  My eyes wandered the vast expanse of blue ocean that sprawled out in front of me, and I allowed the winking sunlight that danced on the water to mesmerize me and carry my thoughts away to another place.  At first, nothing coherent passed through my mind.  It was like I was numb.  To tell you the truth, I don’t know how long I stood there like that – but I was there for a long time.  Eventually my mind returned to the water: how deep it was, how incredibly huge the ocean actually was, and finally, it dawned on me that the water had always been there.  The waves have always crashed up on those rocks.  Day after day, year after year, the water kept coming in, marking time with constant, soothing rumbling and hissing sounds as it splashed against the land.  I stayed on that thought more what seemed like forever.  I kept going back to it again and again.  The vast expanse of the ocean, it’s seemingly eternal consistency.  No matter what happens in the world, the water keeps coming in and spraying up on those cliffs.  The cycle never changes, the water never goes away.  Constant, eternal.  Those two words resounded in my mind with every wave that rolled in.  Constant (rumble), eternal (splash).

Then another thought crossed my mind.  Since Dakar is built on the western-most point of the entire African landmass, la Place du Souvenir is quite literally at the end of the world.  It was the farthest point of Africa, but it was also the closest point to home.  Thousands upon thousands of miles of water separated me from everything that was familiar to me: my home, my family, my country, my friends.  I was stuck in a blindingly unfamiliar world, about to launch myself into studying and viewing firsthand one of the most atrocious vices of mankind.  That was kind of a depressing thought – but then the mantra of the waves broke through: constant, eternal.  Constant, eternal.  And then, almost out of no where, the most beautiful thought settled over me.  It comes from the Apostle Paul’s writings in the Bible:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.              Romans 8:35-39

There I was, staring at one of the most immense bodies of water on the planet, one of the biggest things on this earth that can separate one object from another.  And yet, it wasn’t big enough to separate me from the love of my Father in Heaven.  Tears came to my eyes as I realized, in a more profound way than I’ve ever experienced before, that God was aware of me and that He will not leave me comfortless.  Not now while I’m completely alone in Senegal, not ever.

I held on to that thought, took a deep breath of air and then felt all of the tension leave me.  It was amazing.  I returned to my apartment feeling much calmer, and since then I’ve been able to view every day as a blessing.

One can translate la place du souvenir in two ways.  First, it can mean “the place of the memory,” and second, it means “the place of remembering.”  I like both translations.  For those who are aware of African history, the significance of the name cannot be missed.  In reality, it’s a sad place.  But thanks to the experience I had there, it’s a place of comfort, a place where I can go to remember who I am and how much I am loved.  And when my 10 months in Dakar metamorphose from present-day reality to far-off memories, la Place du Souvenir will always retain its hallowed-ness.

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Bucket List or List of Buckets?

The best piece of architecture in the whole movie!

The first time that I’d ever head of a “bucket list” was when the movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out in 2007.  I was kind of hesitant to see the movie (usually I really like Jack Nicholson, but sometimes he can be kind of crass), but I ended up giving in and rented it.  So glad I did.  The movie had a really great message, and I really liked the ending where Nicholson’s character kisses his little granddaughter, who he has never seen before, and was finally able to check off the “kiss the most beautiful girl in the world” item.  I think what really touched me about that scene was how his perspective had changed from the time that he first found out that he didn’t have much longer to live.  That “beautiful” girl no longer had to be an actress or a Playboy centerfold model.  He recognized that life wasn’t always about the glitz, glamour, and fame.  Additionally, it showed that some of life’s most precious and most important things are right in front of us, and because we’re always setting our sights on something bigger, grander or more exotic, we miss what counts the most.

Now, back to the whole premise of the movie.  The bucket list.  While I’d never heard of the term, I was familiar with what it stood for.  I’ve always had my mental “bucket list,” but I never called it that.  The items on it are/were simply my goals in life.  Now I refer to it as my bucket list – simply because that’s currently the buzz phrase – but I think that that title is actually a misnomer.  Why?  Because it focuses on what we should or want to do before the end of our lives, aka “kick the bucket” – hence the presence of the word “bucket.”  But when you think about it, isn’t that kind of sad and morbid?  Seriously.  Think of the image.  When you literally kick a bucket, it’s contents spill out and you make a mess.  Or, if it’s empty it makes a pitiful, hollow clank as it bounces on the ground after your foot connects with it.

Isn’t one of the whole purposes of life to have a fulfilled and happy one?  So transferring the literal imagery I just used to the metaphorical naming of one’s list of life’s goals, why in the world would you want to kick the bucket at the very end?  Because then all of what you worked for spills all over, makes a mess, and if what it contains happens to be a “liquid,” then it’s completely irretrievable.  Conversely, if we only focus on the “things” of life, we’re really missing out on the whole reason we’re here.  Pretty soon the things aren’t enough, and we become dissatisfied of the wonderful people, events, times that we’ve been blessed with, because we think they don’t match up to what someone else has accomplished in their life.  If we get caught in that trap we perpetually look at our bucket as empty and make ourselves miserable trying to “fill” it up.

Some of you are saying, “Yeah, but Lark, that’s the whole point.  You fill the bucket [life] up.”

And I’d reply, “Yeah, I know.  But the phrase under fire here is stupid.  It’s connotation in this whole “bucket list” craze is completely messed up.  We all know that the original figure of speech destines the bucket to be kicked over and EMPTY in the end.  A tipped-over bucket cannot be full.  It’s physically impossible for it to be otherwise.  And we need stop thinking that we (or our lives) aren’t as good as someone else’s.”

What’s my point?  My point is 1) we should get out of the habit of calling our list of goals by that name, 2) that death isn’t the end of life so 3) if we “miss” an item, we shouldn’t feel that our life isn’t as meaningful as it *could* be, 4) why are we only focusing on one bucket filled with “things” anyway?

I think it would be much more accurate to look at each of our goals as individual buckets that are filled with life-giving water.  That means that we turn today’s catch-phrase on it’s ear: the bucket is not the object of focus, nor the destination, nor or the final recipient.  Rather, the bucket/goal is a tool which transports the lesson and experience [the water] from its source and enables us to more easily internalize it.  Because truly, life is a gift from our Father in Heaven and is made possible by Jesus Christ.  So the water comes from Him and – I’m fully convinced of this – He inspires us to choose certain goals.  And hopefully as we live, we become a little better, more kind, more gentle, more loving, generous, understanding, a more Christ-like person.  Therefore when we internalize the water – which we drew with the buckets – we fill and change ourselves.  More simply, we – our characters – are the object of focus.

So, when we view our list of goals in this light, do we see some specific items that need to be modified?  I know I do.  That’s not to say that our goals should only be religiously based.  That would be silly, and I don’t think God would want it that way.  But the question remains: do our goals really make us more like our Savior?  Are those top 5 (or 10 or 20) items really that important, or are they only there because lots of other people have that on their list?  Will the goals really bring our families lasting happiness?  Chances are that they’re worthy goals, but are we “looking beyond the mark”?  By that I mean can we accomplish the main objective of a particular goal in another – and maybe better – way than what we have listed?  When truly evaluated, are they distracting us from what God really wants us to to do?  Are we missing the wonderful things that are right in front of us?

We should – by all means – dream, plan, work, and accomplish wonderful things.  We’ve been destined to do so.  But let us make sure that we’re doing it in the right way, in the right time, and with approval of Him who knows what’s best for our well-being.  Let us not focus on the buckets, but what they contain – and let’s make sure they contain what’s most important.

Do I have a bucket list?  Yep, I do.  But I’d rather have a list of buckets that reminds me of what I want to become and not solely of what I want to do.  Guess I better get crackin’!

Incomplete

Incomplete: not having all the necessary or appropriate parts; not full or finished.

Yep, Merriam-Webster’s definition aptly describes this past year.  Fall 2011 I took an incomplete for my 19th century poetry class, and Spring 2012 I had to take another incomplete for my African 901 course.  That time it was due to missing a month of school during the time I had mono.  All things come in threes, right?  Well, it’s true in this case.  My third incomplete came when I returned to Wisconsin early from Florida to attend Grandpa’s funeral.

Thankfully, incompletes are not final grades and they don’t stay on your transcript forever.  An incomplete, when given in the academic world, is a very tangible expression of a professor’s humanity and shows that s/he has a heart.  When s/he extends this lifeline of mercy, the student has extra time to complete missed coursework, exams and/or final papers.  And I must admit that I have great professors who have been more than willing to work with me.  They’ve been quite sympathetic to the varying situations that have prevented me from completing my work by the end of the semester.  I will always be grateful for their kindness.

The other good news is that I finished the work for African 901 and my Wolof course at the University of Florida last week.  And guess what?  I earned the grades that I wanted.  It took me longer than I originally planned – and it hung over my head during Christmas break and my whole summer – but in the end, it worked out fine.  The end result was the same or even better than it would have been if I’d finished everything by the dates set arbitrarily by the University.

Why is this such a big deal?  Well, up until this year I’d always seen incompletes as taboo or as a red flag that signaled to my professors that I wasn’t a very good graduate student.  Thankfully I’ve learned that incompletes aren’t necessarily bad things.  In fact, they’re a way of granting extra time to learn, accomplish or finish something that is important.

I have to admit, though, that while I was working through this series of incompletes I  became frustrated with the situation and myself.  I just wanted to be done and move on to the next part of life or my next project, not having to divide my attention between too many things.  However now that the whole ordeal is over, I have seen parallels between this academic experience and regular life.  For example, when I set goals it doesn’t take my brain very long to go through a myriad of situations that relate to how I’m going to accomplish the goal, how much time I need to spend doing certain things, people I need to talk to, individuals that I need to read into my project, the cons of said goal or project, etc etc. And then, once I’ve decided that it’s really worth my time and effort, I really zero-in on the end result and I make it happen.  Of course I’m not alone in my efforts, and I’m grateful to those who open up doors in my behalf and who support me in my endeavors.

Having said that, I  must also say that I’m quite linear in my process of getting from Point A to Point B.  I’m driven, almost to a fault.  Usually hiccups and detours don’t bother me very much, and I feel that I’m pretty good at adapting to changes in my plans.  But sometimes when life takes a different turn than I have anticipated, it can be hard to “take an incomplete” and wait or continue working until the timing is more auspicious for the realization of what I had envisioned.

I think we all go through things like that.  Wanting and working to make a career change or earning a degree; dating, finding a good spouse and creating a meaningful marriage; having and raising children; moving to the house or city of your dreams; taking that trip around the world; overcoming a bad habit, etc, etc.  At times we set arbitrary deadlines for these goals and when that deadline rolls around, we’re disappointed in ourselves for not having accomplished our goal.

Why do we do that?  I have no idea.  But we do.  We forget to find joy in the journey and we lose our perspective.  This whole discussion fits right in with one of my previous blog posts, especially since the same conclusion that I made there applies here.  Thankfully it’s been reaffirmed to my mind and heart this past week…

We have to remember that Heavenly Father is in charge and that He has our best interests in mind.  He’s the Master Planner.  He sees the end from the beginning, and He knows what needs to happen in our lives in order for us to find lasting happiness.  He wants us to plan, set goals, and work to see their fruition.  He also wants us to include Him in our plans.  There will be moments when He says, “Slow down, take an incomplete for a little while.  There’s something else that you need to learn and experience before you can fully appreciate the first goal you have.  This time will give you an opportunity to see other alternatives that lead to better results than what you’ve already planned.  Yes, it will take you longer than you previously thought, but that’s ok.  Doubt not, fear not.  You’ll be happy with the end result.”

In the grand scheme of things, incompletes aren’t something to be ashamed of or something to despise.  They’re blessings, something that I call tender mercies, sent from a loving Father in Heaven who knows and loves us.  If we choose to remain happy and full of faith, incompletes turn out to make life more complete.

Thanks, Monica

I have a confession to make…

Sometimes I have a tendency to neglect important people in my life.  I don’t call or write as many people as I should.  Yes, I’ve been aware of this bad habit for a number of years – I think I first noticed it when I went off to college.  But amazingly enough, I haven’t done much to change, especially in regards to one particular person.  And now I have a major regret.

My grandpa passed away last week, and his death has been quite hard on me.  The concept of death doesn’t scare me because fortunately, I have a strong belief that death is not the end of someone’s life.  Rather it is the mark of progression from one stage of life to another.  I also believe that the relationships that we have with our loved ones continue beyond the grave.  So Grandpa’s passing isn’t difficult in that respect.  It’s difficult because I know that I could have shown my love for him much more often and in ways that were meaningful to him.

You see, he’s one of those people that I rarely call/ed.

I fell into the trap that most of us can’t avoid: the business of life.  Grad school, work, traveling, dating, illness, hanging out with friends, etc, etc.  You all know what I’m talking about.  I rarely visited for the same reasons, but my ability to see him was compounded by the fact that I don’t have a car and I can’t just hop in and take a weekend to see him or other family members who live fairly close by.  Other factors complicated the situation, as well, but overall, I’m the one to blame for my lack of communication.  In the end there’s no excuse for my behavior.  And I have to live with the fact that I didn’t listen to that little voice in the back of my head that would tell me to pick up the phone and call.  Believe me when I tell you that it sucks.

The one thing that brings me comfort is the knowledge I have deep down that he loved me and was proud of me.  And I know that he had that same feeling tucked away in his heart. I just wish I had done a better job showing that to him.

I know that I’ll be grieving for a while – I don’t expect to rebound very quickly from losing Grandpa.  He and Grandma were the only grandparents I knew and they were a huge part of my life.  I have thousands of precious memories of him and Grandma – I had an idyllic childhood, and they were major contributors to that.  So it’s normal that it will take me a while to fully grieve.  Just as a forewarning to those of you who read this regularly: plan on seeing a few more posts about him.  They’ll be quite personal and probably a little long.  If you don’t like long posts, either kindly get over it or don’t read them.  They’ll be my way of sorting through the waves of thoughts and emotions that I have as I go through this process.  So they’ll be here as soon as I’m ready to write them.

My good friend, Monica, wrote something several months ago on her blog that helped me out a lot.  The funny thing is that I never knew she had a blog.  In fact I stumbled upon for the first time only today.  Finding it and reading several of her posts was like opening tiny presents from a kind and loving Heavenly Father who knows how much my heart hurts.  She wrote one particular post during a time that her heart was hurting and broken.  Even though the context of our pain is different, what she said felt like a breath of fresh air and it gave me hope that not only will I get through this, but one day, I’ll be able to tell Grandpa that I’m sorry.  So thanks, Monica, for reminding me to not focus on the ground and look up instead.  Thanks to you, today my heart already feels a little bit lighter…

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**