Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For He spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven (Psalm 107: 23-30 NIV).
The keeper of the light, officially, that cold January night in 1856 was Samuel Burgess. But lighthouse keepers in the early days of the American republic often held two jobs, and Keeper Burgess found it necessary to chase lobsters to feed his family. This meant the keeper of the light, in fact, that cold January night was 17-year-old Abbie Burgess, the keeper's oldest daughter.
Midday, mid-January, midwinter, Keeper Samuel slid his dory in the water and headed off to Rockland, Maine, in search of groceries and much-needed supplies. The lighthouse cutter (ship) that usually delivered supplies to Matinicus Rock in those pre-Civil War days hadn't made it out, and so young Abbie was left to tend two lighthouses on the tiny island twenty-two miles out from the nearest shore. She also watched over her invalid mother and three young sisters.
As if God were writing a Hollywood script, less than four hours after the dory disappeared from sight, the winds shifted, and a nor' east winter storm bore down on the tiny isle.
Lighthouse tending wasn't push buttons and electric generators in those days, especially in the winter, when the oil was likely to grow thick from the cold. Even on good nights Abbie would often have to stay up all night nursing oil into stubborn lamp-wicks. It was the only way ships at sea could be warned of the dangerous ledges waiting to claim lives and cargo.
This was a storm of storms, making Abbie's work not only more important, but more difficult.
Day after day, night after night, winds battered the island in one of the worst storms of the nineteenth century. Massive waves crashed against the buildings and towers. The old keeper's dwelling, a wooden structure, yielded first, its splintered bits whipped to sea and scattered miles away along the beaches in Penobscot Bay. Next, the sea crashed into the newer, stronger keeper's home, flooding it and forcing Abbie to move her mother and sisters to the higher of the two towers. Again and again, she sprinted back and forth the sixty yards between the north and south lighthouse towers, each time making the exhausting climb up the flights of stairs to the lamps.
On the seas around her, captains and crews fought their own battles against the sea and the storm, unaware of the drama playing out on Matinicus Rock. All they knew was that two lights shone uninterrupted for four nights, beckoning them to safe harbor even as they warned them what dangers lay between them and their desired haven.
In the logbook Abbie would later write: "Though at times greatly exhausted with my labors, not once did the lights fail. Under God I was able to perform all my accustomed duties as well as my father's."
It was many days before the sea would let Abbie's father return to the island. From a distance, how he must have marveled at the unwavering appearance of those twin beacons so far offshore, knowing in his heart of hearts who was truly tending. How much more must Abbie's heavenly Father have marveled at the majesty, tenacity, and courage of one of His own.
In God's economy, all of us who know His Son as Savior are keepers of the light. While God loves His physical church-those structures and places where we gather to worship and equip ourselves-He does not hide Himself inside those walls. Nor does He want the light we guard to be hidden there either. Like Abbie, we are to be about the Father's business, in brokerages on Wall Street, cubicles in Malaysia, cornfields in Nebraska, or any other job that honors Him.
Like Abbie, that means keeping the light, even when the storms of life threaten to sweep away the things we hold most dear, and even when it seems no one else sees or knows what we're doing. Those who live around us are always watching the light we carry. They may poke fun at it in lighter moments, but when the storms of life hit-them or us-their attention turns acutely to the keepers, waiting to see if we're faithful in the storm.
We know intuitively that people pay closer attention to our lives outside the safe harbor of the church. For them, the efficacy of the light of Christ in our lives rests firmly on the stones of competence, integrity, diligence, and compassion. May that light shine through His keepers each workday.
Let the storms of life be our finest hours!
Reprinted from Made to Matter: Devotions for Working Christians, Discovery House Publishers, 2008.