Place – Part 2: Beacon, Altar, Hospital

It had been a summer of meandering in and out of certainty, of feeling purposeful and completely lost. I was nineteen and tidal shifts were appearing in my life that brought spinning and spiralling, a jumble of thoughts and fears, and all of it needed to be sorted through and forced into some ordered perspective that would bring a measure of emotional calm. I ached for solitude and time – both of which were in short supply that summer.

So it was that a partially cloudy, somewhat breezy afternoon found me driving to the southern tip of an island. It may be that I envisioned it as a perfect place for a lighthouse, and the romantic symbolism of that enticed me. I needed light in a swirl of grey and black; I needed direction.

There was no lighthouse.

But between a cluster of ocean-view cottages, a small path led to a narrow strip of uneven beach, more rock than sand. At the edge of the ‘beach’ on a rocky knoll sparsely dressed in hardy sea grasses stood a light beacon. No great historic edifice, just a simple, very modern aluminum structure twenty or thirty feet high. A short span of ladder-steps for maintenance access led to a dome-shaped light protruding from the top. Non-aesthetic, but functional.

I sat at the base of that beacon and gave space for my soul to breathe. I prayed for clarity and direction, for the calming of the stormy roiling that had been tossing me about for several weeks. Waves from afar stretched their fingers into nooks and crannies near my feet; the pungent smell of salt and seaweed rode a brisk breeze that skimmed across the water to tease the stalwart trees standing guard around the cottages.

It took some time before the exposure to the open water and the rhythm of the waves began to bring a sense of settledness and a line of thought that didn’t run in impossible circles. But I needed more than calmness; I needed clear direction, an affirmation of which decision to make. I got neither. There was only wind and waves and rocks and grass and a beacon. 

But then I thought about Jesus on that stormy night with His disciples and how He spoke and the winds and waves grew calm. I thought about His statement that He is the light of the world, and following Him means freedom from darkness. As I reflected more, I realized that I didn’t need answers. I didn’t need to do anything other than trust that God had the answers, and as I followed Him, the way would become clear.

Thoughtfully, I tore a small piece of paper from my journal, wrote “I am Your servant” on it, rolled it tightly, and tucked into a small opening on the end of one of the ladder rungs on the light beacon. Somehow writing it on something tangible made my commitment more than just an emotional whim. 

I’ve never physically returned to that place but mentally I’ve made uncountable journeys back to that little stretch of coastline and a nondescript beacon that unknowingly cradled a slip of paper where I affirmed that whatever the cost, whatever the circumstance, I would choose to follow the One who promised to be my light.

A tidal shifting in my life confirmed a life-long commitment that day, but the reverse has often been true since then: I have made commitments which have led to tidal shifts in my life story

Each of those had a place of beginning, too.  

One nippy spring day, I stood in a church and spoke words of commitment to love, honour, and cherish the man who that day became my husband. Our lives changed forever with a simple but profound, “I do.” Like my commitment at the light beacon, there is a piece of paper, fancy and official. It sits in a file somewhere – far less important to our commitment than the daily actions that affirm it over and over and over again. We have chosen the path of commitment even though commitment has become a rather itchy-scratchy word in our world. It makes us uncomfortable at times. It stretches us. But it also strengthens and grows and enables and frees us. Thirty-six years later, we are still ‘I do-ing’ even though there have been storms from without and within that could have dissolved everything into a washed out ‘I did.’ 

Life shifted again on a sunny summer day when I woke up in a hospital room with big windows and looked into a plastic institutional bassinet where the morning sun lay warm and gentle and radiant on a tiny, beautiful baby girl. Over the next few years, two blue-eyed baby boys would fill out my motherhood. There are some official-necessary pieces of paper confirming these births, but my commitment to motherhood was indelibly etched on my heart from the moment I first found out I was to be a mother. The excruciating pain of childbirth is its own ceremony of commitment.

Loving my children is easy on the crazy fun days, in the delightful, melt-my-heart moments, through the tender growing times. It is a love that doesn’t even seem to need commitment – it just happens. 

Until it doesn’t.

Sometimes mother-love is a choice that requires the fiercest of commitments with absolutely no guarantee of a positive outcome. It is a love that hurts. Like childbirth. It is a love that gives and gives and gives, even when it isn’t enough to protect or save or generate happy-ever-after endings.  It loves even in the midst of monumental tidal shifts. 

So of all the places I have been, these three places serve as anchors of remembrance and commitment – to God, to my husband, to my children – and I need those reminders because I live so imperfectly. I waver and wander. My ‘I do’ sometimes sounds more like ‘As if!’ I am more selfish than sacrificial. I have fears and griefs and disappointments and scars that sometimes whisper (or shout) that commitment doesn’t necessarily deliver what I need, I want, I deserve.

And so I’m grateful for the tangible reminders that living a life of commitment is not about self-gratification or adulation; it is about a ‘long obedience in the same direction’ before an Audience of One. For life. Sola Gratia.

Photo credit: Gulf Island Tourism

1 thought on “Place – Part 2: Beacon, Altar, Hospital”

  1. Oh dear Charis, how I miss you when I read your thoughts and am reminded of how special indeed you are. “Commitment” has become a “for now” word to many, instead of a “forever” word where it counts. In a world of disposability, this is such a refreshing piece and peace. Thank you dear one…


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