Light Stations and Harbor Lights: Guardians And Guides In Your Harbor Home




“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12 NIV

Lighthouses are fascinating to most people. There is something dependable and trustworthy about them. We think of them in remote seaside locations holding strong against fierce seas and ferocious winds. We are impressed at their ability to remain standing, some for centuries, through all types of weather.


Lighthouses seem romantic and mysterious and, somehow, wise. Their large,round towers or the great, square houses that stand on tall stilts above the water, rise over the land and shine out to the sea telling everyone, “Come this way! It’s safer over here!”


Some of my favorite stories from childhood have a lighthouse as the central element. One of my earliest memories was someone reading to me “The Little Red Lighthouse And The Great Gray Bridge” by Hildegard H. Swift, illustrated by Lynd Ward, published in 1942. If you have not read this book, get it immediately and snuggle up with your favorite young person and read it aloud. This book was especially fascinating to me because when I was a child. We lived in the suburbs of New York City and we often went over the George Washington Bridge (the great gray bridge of the story’s title) and Mother would encourage us to look for the little red lighthouse which is still there today on Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I was always so certain that I saw it, and I would spend the rest of the car ride wondering what living in a lighthouse would be like.


Even now, I am immediately drawn to historical mysteries which occurred at lighthouses, or novels set at lighthouses. Even the lighthouse scene in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling pricks my imagination more than the great castle of Hogwarts. Lighthouses draw me right in and I love them. Maybe you do too.


Thinking about lighthouses always starts my thoughts heading toward the keepers of the lighthouses. The men and women and their families who lived in typically isolated areas faithfully, constantly, carefully tending to the light day after lonely day, in freezing cold sleet, blazing hot humidity, hurricane force winds and rain, and all other forces of the weather. I can see myself bravely climbing a spiral staircase, a tool kit in my hand, going to trim the big wick and polish the lenses so that the light could shine to all those mariners that I will never meet. At the top of my tower I imagine breathing in the fresh salt air and gazing out at the vast ocean and wondering what was beyond the horizon. Isn’t it romantic? Ah well, it was not to be.


I have to confess to being a bit disappointed, but not really surprised, to learn that of all the approximately seven hundred working lighthouses in the United States only one has an actual keeper who turns the light on at dusk and off again at dawn. That one lighthouse is The Boston Lighthouse. Due to its significance as the oldest lighthouse in America, The United States Congress decreed that it should be always manned by a dedicated keeper. All the others, every single one, are automated.


At the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the only lighthouse keepers are volunteers who love the lighthouses and serve as docents on the properties, or National Park Service Rangers who share the history of these very special places with the tourists who, like me, can’t get enough. They don’t get to work the light, but they appreciate the importance and the courage of those who did it for centuries. I think they must be kindred spirits with me in their fascination with the great guardians of the sea.


Automated or not, lighthouses and light stations are still today part of a complex system of navigational aids and each has, within their region, a different nighttime flash and rotate pattern. Mariners at night know each lighthouse by how quickly the bright beacon flashes then turns. This gives them a visual reference for their global navigation. The lighthouses also have a distinctive paint scheme or structural element to be recognizable by day. These imposing towers can be seen fourteen miles off shore and they have kept an unknowable number of ships safe and on course as they travel. Commercial interests and passenger ships depend on them now as ever.


Along that section of the North Carolina coast known as The Outer Banks there are five working lighthouses that are the objects of much admiration. One of these is the famed Hatteras Lighthouse which is the tallest lighthouse in North America and has the signature black and white candy striped paint pattern. The smallest of these five lights, by far, is the Ocracoke Lighthouse, which proudly works diligently as the second oldest operating lighthouse in the United States. It has a light that is set slightly off center on the top of a seventy five foot tower. This light has not ever failed in its mission to guide ships through the Ocracoke Inlet, into the Pamlico Sound and then to the Ocracoke Harbor since 1823. It is painted a gleaming white and sits in the village with a wooden walkway beside it inviting visitors to approach and look.


At Ocracoke Island, NC the light in the lighthouse is special. It is different from the others in more than just its size and paint scheme. It is a harbor light. This light that denotes a harbor does not flash or rotate. It shines a steady, unblinking light into the darkness. So while the other lights are flashing and rotating, the Ocracoke light simply lights the way home to the harbor. Steady. Unblinking.


In your Harbor Home, a lighthouse is the guide or guardian that offers support and wise counsel when you need it. In our Harbor Home we have always wholeheartedly embraced the idea of having and being what we call “village elders”. These are the people who are either older or wiser, usually both, and they are the ones we turn to for perspective on a problem, advice in a predicament, a sounding board as we work through a decision, comfort when we mourn, cheering while we strive, and all manner of support. We are privileged to serve as village elders to many young friends as well as being blessed to have many on which we can call when necessary.

Make no mistake: everyone has a gift and a contribution to make, and in a Harbor Home those gifts are not overlooked due to the age of the individual. Everyone has something to offer. If they are two or ninety two, everyone can contribute to the collective wisdom of the harbor. No single, authoritarian individual is the possessor of all knowledge. Because of this truth, not every lighthouse in our family is older and wiser; the seven year old who reminds the four year old not to go outside until an adult is with them is acting as a lighthouse or village elder. The ten year old who can make the printer send a fax is a guide at that moment. It is important to praise these steps toward becoming a lighthouse. The importance of allowing a child to lead in their area of giftedness is hard to overstate. You are setting an example of working together and taking sound advice. Being able to receive good advice is a skill worth developing.


At the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to repeat myself. Learning to accept wise counsel is a life skill and an art that does not come naturally to most of us. As a rule, we like to think that we know everything we need to know, thank you very much. We don’t want advice, and we really don’t want to need advice. We especially don’t want to need advice when we really need advice. We even more especially think this when we need an outside perspective most of all. It is a cruel irony of the human spirit to feel compelled to turn away from advice when we need it the most. We need wisdom beyond our own at so many of life’s crucial junctures and without it we are prone to make errors that can cost us years of happiness. So, even if you don’t think you need a lighthouse, you do. So do I.


It is very common to turn away from advice, but take care: after we have made up our minds and made a decision we regret it is too late to ask for guidance. At that point you are only doing damage control. Turning away from advisors is the height of pride and arrogance. Proverbs 16:18 speaks to us across the centuries and reminds us that “Pride goes before destruction a haughty spirit before a fall” NIV


So, now that you know that you need a wise counselor in your life, let me add that it is a good idea to have some lighthouses identified in your community before a real need for them is upon you. In order to have a lighthouse that you can trust it is important to know what qualities and characteristics to look for. Mentoring and offering wise counsel is not a gift that everyone possesses. It takes maturity, which often requires aging. It also takes awareness and sensitivity. It requires the ability to think before speaking and a willingness to consider more than one side of any issue. Not everyone has these gifts.


Use the following guidelines for choosing a lighthouse for your Harbor Home:

1. A lighthouse is selfless

A lighthouse is able to walk in your shoes. A good lighthouse has a strong sense of what others are experiencing. They don’t make your issue about them. Your lighthouse should also listen well and attentively. This is possibly the most rare of the selfless acts. Most people listen just long enough to formulate a response or an argument rather than listening to understand Your lighthouse should hear you and your heart.

2. A lighthouse is mature

I like the five year+ guideline. In general, and for matters that are spiritual or deeply personal I seek someone that is at least five years older than me. This person will probably be enough ahead of me to have seen and experienced things that I haven’t. They have had the opportunity to grow and learn for five years longer than I have, and that often has some advantages. Their children may be five years older than mine, their marriage may be five years more mature than mine, they may have walked with the Lord five years longer than I. You can see the advantage of a bit more maturity and insight. However, the five year+ guideline is just that: a guideline. What you are really looking for is maturity. Unless it’s a technology question. Then find the nearest ten year old. Fast.

3. A lighthouse has been there and done that (successfully)

If you have been a stepmother for a short time and you are experiencing all the snags and hiccups that are part of that role, you need to find a stepmother who has not only been a stepmother longer than you have, but has successfully overcome some of the issues you are facing. In this example, a stepmother whose stepchildren are grown and have come to respect and love her as a friend is your best choice. A lighthouse is there to light your way not share your darkness. When you need encouragement or support or to know that your experiences are not unique in your circumstances, go talk to a friend who is on the same path at the same place as you are. Vent. Talk it out. Ask if they are okay. Be honest if you are not okay. Be vulnerable and open. But don’t ask for advice that they don’t have the insight to offer. And here’s another thing: don’t offer advice that you don’t have the insight to offer. You can share an example of what you did to get through a moment, but if you are still struggling in an area and you are just as lost as your friend, say that. Find a real lighthouse. Introduce them to your friend. And don’t offer your services as a lighthouse until you have been tested, tried, and can see with true clarity and discernment. Be careful with your advice. Someone might take it. Find a lighthouse that really knows the way home.


4. A Lighthouse is dependable

A lighthouse is one of those people who are “always there”. You know the ones I mean. They respond to your texts, answer their phones, reply to emails, meet you for coffee when they say they will and arrive on time. Lighthouses stay in the action when others go MIA. It is an eternal truth that you know who you can count on by what they do when you are a hot mess. Those who turn and run when you are going through a divorce, or your child has been diagnosed with leukemia, or the company you work for closes with no notice at all, or another friend has betrayed you are not true friends. Therefore, they have no way to function as a lighthouse in your life. Trust the ones who continue to walk the path with you when the path is rocky and narrow. Those may very well be your lighthouses. Cherish them. Ask them for a steady light for your path back to the harbor.


5. A Lighthouse is a bright light

When you are in darkness, you need a light. Lighthouses offer hope, and dispel the gloom. Lighthouses share light, not shadows. The lighthouses in your life should bring cheer and a ray of hope to you. They should remind you that even on the worst day of your life there will be a time when it will be a memory and a survival story. You will get through it. Whatever it is. A lighthouse carries the message that everything will be okay in the end, and if everything is not okay then we are not yet at the end. Keep going. Get with it. Find a way to make a way. If your advisor is dragging you into the darkness by pointing out how bad your circumstances are without offering suggestions for lighting a way through it, find another lighthouse. In true darkness, the human eye can see a single candle flame at least as far away as three miles, perhaps further according to some studies. In true darkness, a human heart can sense the light of love across all eternity. Be a light to others and if your light grows dim or goes out, find a lighthouse that will set you to glowing again. A true lighthouse will do this.


Who are the harbor lights in your life? Who guides you back to the harbor when you are lost at sea? Don't let pride stand in the way of seeking a guide that can help you create a Harbor Home. Overcoming the pride that keeps us from reaching out for the help that we need is as simple as saying, “I need advice.” Practice saying that right now. Aloud. Where you are. Just say it. If you say it once, you will see that it is not fatal, and you will be able to say it again and again. Your Harbor Home needs at least one steady light shining reliably through the foggy mornings and dark, moonless nights. Find your lighthouse and walk up the sidewalk to visit. We all love lighthouses, and you know what else? Lighthouses love us back.





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