When It’s Dark on the Beach
Returning from a walk in Fort Myers Beach this week, I approached my family standing in the last light of day. They were standing around a woman I had never met before, and Sharon was holding a baby girl in her arms as she sang “I Gave My Love a Cherry.” As I stopped a few feet away from the woman I said, “Hi.” She hesitated and looked uneasy. Did I look that threatening?
He’s with you?
Sounding rather uneasy, the woman looked at my family and said, “He’s with you?” When they claimed me, she relaxed. I wondered what was going on. Sharon was holding a baby I had never seen before. The woman was holding something that looked like a yellow laundry bag. A young guy, who I had earlier seen down the beach, was helping the woman try to light the bag (which was really a Chinese lantern). What was going on?
What do you do with your sadness?
It turns out the woman’s name is Laurie. She is 46 years old. Her Grandma died the year before on April 11th. Seven years earlier, her husband of 28 years had died on April 11th after a long battle with cancer. So she had come to the beach to light this lantern, sending it up into the sky with her prayers.
This wasn’t the first time she had come to the beach to send up a Chinese lantern. “The pain is still here, but somehow this helps,” she told us. She remembers. She grieves. She sees that she has made it another year. And she hopes that as the lantern rises in the sky, so the ones she has lost somehow live on.
Noticing her infant daughter, I wondered what the story was there.
Love refused to walk away from a dream
Laurie and her husband long dreamed of having a child. The cancer made that impossible. After her husband died, Laurie decided to pursue the dream of being a parent…raising a child…investing her love in a new life. So she conceived her baby with the help of medical science. In some deep way Laurie believed that her late husband was her partner in this new adventure.
Her daughter, who had been restless and tearful, had fallen asleep in Sharon’s arms. The lullaby had done its work. The lighting of the lantern, though, wasn’t going so well.
Laurie was trying to light the Chinese lantern, but it kept folding over on itself. She was in danger of setting the whole thing on fire. How in the world was she going to get this into the air?
More than one set of hands
Laurie held one part of the lantern. The young mechanic from the beach was lighting the wick (his t-shirt announced “I’M A MECHANIC AND FIX CARS – WHILE YOUR ENGINEERING SCHOOL GRADUATE HAS NO CLUE”). Our son, Bryan, was steadying the balloon. And then it began to lift. Slowly. They held the lantern as it filled with hot air, and then it began to rise into the perfect, deep-blue sky.
The lack of a strong wind meant that the Chinese lantern rose almost straight up above our heads, towards a thin layer of gray clouds that left a clear view of the stars and crescent moon.
As the lantern approached the clouds, it finally went out. Laurie said, “Did it go out? Or did it go past the clouds so we can’t see it?” I quietly said, “I think it burned out.”
We all stood there in quiet gladness. A kind of awe. There were some tears. Laurie’s baby was now restless again.
That moment in the darkness on the beach reminded us that God shows up in holy moments when we least expect it. God reached out in that moment and said something to each of us.
I said, “Love wins.” Laurie didn’t hear what I had said clearly, and she looked puzzled. “Love winds?” she asked. “No,” Sharon said, “love wins.” There was other truth for us in that moment.
Love wins… and we need each other.
In Romans 8, Paul says nothing can separate us from the love of God. We’re told that after his crucifixion, Jesus is raised to glory (Philippians 2). It’s one way our faith has of saying, “Love wins!”
The other lesson for me in the darkness is that we all need one another. Laurie drove down to the beach that night with her baby daughter and a lantern that was too big for her to handle alone. And, I think, a grief that was too big for her to handle alone.
Other hands steadied the lantern. Other hands lit the lantern. Other hands held her baby and rocked her baby to sleep. Instead of being alone, Laurie was surrounded by people. Instead of our just watching a sunset on the beach, we were allowed into the sanctuary of her heart. She shared the stained glass of her sadness and love with us. Some of us were reminded of our own losses, and as we marveled at the beauty of the lantern we were a community linked together by our common experience of love and loss. Could it be that this is what God had in mind when God created the Church?
Sending light up into the darkness… together
There are all sorts of images of what God calls us to be. Standing on that beach, in the darkness, watching that lantern rise into the deep blue sky towards the stars, all gathered around Laurie, I thought, “This has got to be—at least, in part—what the Church looks like. Together…sending light up into the darkness.”
I’m thankful we can do that this week. I’m thankful we can do that every week. Every time we gather for worship, every time we pray for the world, every time we speak up for justice, every time we stand with someone when they thought they were alone, every time we tell the Jesus story to a new generation, every time we work for peace in a world that is tempted to live by the sword, we are sending God’s light up into the darkness.
No matter how dark the skies may be or how alone we may feel. Together, let’s send light up to shine in the darkness.
Who knows, maybe you are the light God will send up this week in someone’s night sky.
See you Sunday as we gather for worship. I’ll be preaching, and we’ll hear from the Jubilee Mission Team!
Grace and peace,