From HOW eNews Issue 10, Volume 1|
Because the image of a lighthouse has become such a prevalent icon in our ministry literature, and because the story behind it has blessed God’s people, we have decided to reprint an abridged copy of the original article. We pray that it will encourage you to trust in the Lord, your tower of strength.
© Marcelo A. Tolopilo
The beacon of God’s revelation
This life is fraught with dangers for the Christian pilgrim. Yet God has provided a beacon by which we can avoid the hidden shoals of danger and safely navigate our way home. This beacon is the light of His revelation to us, the Scriptures. A lighthouse is a wonderful old world analogy that illustrates this principle.
Historically, lighthouses have pierced the dangerous darkness of the ocean’s night to safely guide mariners on their voyage. They stand immovable, faithfully shining their resplendent light, identifying treacherous coastlands, unforeseen shoals, and securely leading trusting vessels to the protection of their appointed harbor.
Like a lighthouse, God’s Word warns us of the dangers we face on our pilgrimage. It protects us against error, the schemes of the devil, and the devastating allurements of this passing age. Its light is also a source of comfort and encouragement on our pilgrimage. The Bible is the unchanging beacon in this life and will guide us until we arrive safely in heaven’s harbor.
It is the aim of our ministry in general to shine the light of God’s word on our journey, so that we may sail with certainty through the voyage of this life and navigate safely home to the eternal day of Christ Jesus our Lord. But there is also a personal story behind “The Lighthouse.”
Sailing into an unforeseen and raging squall
In February 2005, God lead our family through some extremely turbulent waters. Valorie, my beloved wife of then 23 years was diagnosed with breast cancer just as my mother - whom we cared for at home - began to succumb to the final ravages of Alzheimers, and as we also entered a particularly difficult season of ministry.
We went from the calm and joyous peace of the holiday season in 2004 to the tumultuous series of events that rattled us to our core in the first six months of 2005. This was the most trying time our family has ever faced. On the homeschooling front, this was our eldest son’s first year of college (he was living at home while attending classes), our only daughter’s 9th grade year, our second son’s 7th grade year and our youngest son’s 2nd grade year.
Navigating in the dark
The first month and a half of Valorie’s medical journey was particularly difficult, not simply because we had never faced such challenges, but because the news spiraled from bad to worse with every passing week. At first the lump my wife discovered was deemed, “Probably no big deal” which became, “Well, it’s cancer, but it’s the most curable cancer you can have…” to, “No, there is more at play here than meets the eye …” to, “What in the world is this lump in your lymph nodes?” to, “We’re going to schedule an immediate double mastectomy and radical chemotherapy.”
As Val’s prognosis grew worse by the week, my mother’s dementia and physical deterioration spiraled dramatically, and her care escalated to a 24/7 intensity we had not known before. It broke our hearts to see the woman who had given me life die such a shocking death.
There were other variables at play during this time that made life exceedingly difficult, and I remember reaching a point of near despair; I had never felt so scared, so alone, and so much in a dark place. I felt hopeless and Psalm 69 became my lament, prayer, and comfort.
A guiding light pierces through the darkness
Yet it was in this black period of grief when a distant light broke through the darkness of our experience and beckoned us to follow its beam. I’ll never forget pouring out my troubled thoughts to God when the Lord providentially brought to mind a picture we had hanging in one of the rooms of our home. It was a picture I had never paid particular attention to, but it suddenly, inexorably drew my attention. I got up from my office desk and proceeded to the room where the picture hung.
It was a sequential photograph of a lighthouse being overwhelmed by a massive wave. In the first frame, the threatening sea loomed as it gathered its strength to strike the lighthouse. In the second frame, the wave crashed into the stalwart pillar with all its might. And in the third frame, the wave overwhelmed and nearly eclipsed the entire tower of the lighthouse as it exploded over the structure. I could almost hear the roar of the fierce collision. I stood there contemplating the scene, my eyes still burning from the tears I had wept.
The raging storm depicted in the simple black and white photos certainly fit the feeling of tumult in my life at that time. But then as I considered this image, I suddenly realized that though the storm raged in its anger against the lighthouse, the tower itself did not budge an inch. It stood perfectly erect, impervious to the violence it faced. The lighthouse was strong, immovable, indeed indestructible. That seemed strangely comforting to me.
God’s resplendent light guides to safety
No sooner had that thought occupied my mind, when a verse of scripture I had sung untold times flashed across my reason. The Scripture was Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the LORD (Yahweh) is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe.” I don’t think I have to work too hard to help you connect the dots on this one.
My head collapsed into my open hands in a new wave of tears, tears of utter joy and gratitude. The lesson was simple but life changing for me and in the moments that followed for my wife. Though the storm rages furiously, as the Scripture says, those who seek their shelter in the Name of the Lord are safe! (“Name” is all that God is, the sum of His glorious attributes!) Safe! It was then and there that I understood as never before that nothing, not death itself, could shake my stronghold, my God in whom I take refuge. Come life or death, we were safe in the hollow of God’s hands. What a simple and yet splendid truth that is!
I eagerly sought my wife to explain to her the object lesson God’s Spirit had taught me. Having done so, I turned to her and said, “Honey, I don’t know what part of the wave sequence represents our lives at the moment, but I know this, we are safe in that strong tower. We are perfectly, peacefully safe in the Lord, our refuge. Though the sea of life roar all around us, our God is immovable and we are secure in Him.”
A reminder of God’s faithfulness
We shared that story with no one else but our children. It was a treasured lesson for my family. Two weeks after that incident, an anonymous Christian family gave us an original, beautiful Thomas Kinkade painting. I was told that this painting had been a constant encouragement to this family during a time of great distress.
It was a rendering of a lighthouse standing tall on a precipice overlooking the ocean in the midst of a surging squall. In the distance, clear skies could be seen and would in time dominate the coastland, but whether under fair and sunny skies or in the throws of a howling storm, the lighthouse stood immovable, unchanged and certainly those in it kept safe.
Extremely difficult days were yet to come in the months that followed. We walked through the valley of the shadow of death together as a family and witnessed the Lord’s faithfulness in bringing Valorie up out of that valley, even as we saw His faithfulness in taking my beloved mother home to heaven from our earthly home. Because we were homeschooling, life became school and we were able to experience together, in the midst of it all, God our refuge surrounding us with His protection and His supernatural peace (Psalm 3:3; 18:2 and Philippians 4:6-7).
Since those early days of our trial, the lighthouse has become a treasured symbol to us. It is a reminder of God’s guiding light to us in the Scriptures through this voyage of life and of the strength that is found in His unchanging character. When you see the image of a lighthouse may you be reminded of these truths and encouraged by the same.
“Hear my cry, O God; give heed to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy. Let me dwell in Your tent forever; let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings.” Psalm 61:1-4