The Lighthouse...


The glow of the laptop cast an eerie pall on Jeremy Armetta’s face. He peered at the screen and shook his head, tears streaming down his cheeks. Ironic that illumination gained such a painful meaning, but ultimately was to his benefit. He looked down at the book he had open in front of him next to his laptop and shrugged his shoulders. Whoever said that always being in the ‘right’ was a good thing didn’t know what they were talking about. He closed the book and shut the laptop before turning back toward the bed where his wife slept. What she had told him wasn’t the right thing to do as far as he knew but what she said to him still felt right…. ”Call our Son.”

Philadelphia Church, Akron, Ohio.... 
Two women sat in the front row of the small church. The older of the two seemed only a bit nervous. She had promised herself to accept the moment, and only looked around at the congregation once before gazing up slightly at the man behind the podium. The younger woman looked very nervous, continually scanning the church as her eyes gazed upon odd stares and quizzical looks back at her. She resembled the woman next to her; probably even more now than at any time in her life. She frowned and went to crane her neck at the small group of people standing in the back of the church, waiting to be seated. The woman next to her placed her hand on her shoulder and leaned closer.

“It’s going to be okay….I promise.” She smiled and the girl smiled back at her and shrugged her shoulders slightly in resignation and almost an embarrassment.

“They hate me already, Mom, and they don’t even know me.” She sighed.

“No, they don’t, but they will, and they’ll find out just how much they’re missing for not knowing you, okay?” The girl nodded slightly, her reluctance duplicated in the sad frown that crossed her face.

“What’s he going to say? Love the sinner? Hate the sin?” She looked down at herself and began to shake. Sitting back in the pew, she put her head down. A hand touched her shoulder softly, and a man’s voice came from behind.

“It’s okay, Miss. If you’re hurting, this is the best place to be.” She smiled politely, but her eyes began to fill with tears, so she turned her head slightly away from the voice and nodded in agreement, hoping her gesture would placate the old man.

Several minutes of hymns and announcements came in rapid succession until the man stepped to the podium.

“Good Morning, Saints.” The man said his favorite greeting, but the words seemed almost lifeless. The mother pressed a Kleenex into her daughter’s hand before nodding at her husband and he continued.

“I want to say a few personal words, but before I do, I would like to tell you a story if I may?” While that might be rhetorical in some circles, the man always sought permission. He might be wrong on so many things, but at least he was willing to listen and accept advice….finally.

“There was a man who had a son. He valued the boy above everything other than his wife; almost possessive, his friends had noted. But he meant well, as I’m sure we all do?” Some of the congregation nodded along with a yes or two.

“His son didn’t seem to want to follow his father, and decided instead he wanted to set out in the world over the big ocean just beyond the cove by the city where he and his father and mother lived. His father was dismayed. From the time he was little; even as a baby, his father had planned for him to become a great man, and his decision to sail the sea was seen as folly. A man of great resource but with little influence over his son, he had a long wide and deep wall built across the mouth of the cove, barring any departure.” The man looked down at the woman in the front and breathed a sigh before continuing.

“His son rather than growing angry or resentful, just departed by another route and still ended up setting out across the ocean. His father grew angry at the boy for defying him. After all, he knew better than his son what was right for him.” The statement was met by more nods.

“He only wanted to keep the boy from being taken by pirates or lost in a storm. The rocks along the shores of any place where he might set ground were so perilous as to threaten his very life. Never mind that the boy had done all he could to learn about the sea and the arduous journey set before him. His father felt that if he never left the cove, he’d be safe. But he wouldn’t be ….what God had made him to be. His father was who he was, and that was all well and good. But his father had chosen to believe that he knew more than the creator of his child about what was good and right and true for the boy. The boy went away and he didn’t hear from his son for a very long time.”

Frowns and ‘no’s came from the people. The man continued.

“One day the man’s wife came to him and spoke softly. He was always in the habit of listening to his wife, but without heeding much of what she had said. She returned his ignorance with kindness and patience; extending grace where grace was not merited. But then you all know that grace is never merited, but given, right?” More nods.

“’Have your men take the stones from the wall across the cove and build a tall tower. Place a light on the very top to light the cove, so that if our child chooses to return, he will find his way lit to return, aye?’ She spoke in a way she always had, but finally, after years, he listed to his wife and had the work done. Soon a tall lighthouse stood at the head of the cove. Its light illuminated the cove itself and the sea beyond. And they waited.” The man bowed his head; looking as if he was deep in thought, but he was really trying to compose himself to staunch the shame and guilt that rose in his throat like so much bile and blood.

“The child came home changed from the world beyond the cove, and the man was afraid, but his wife reminded him that their child was home, and that was all that mattered after so many years of worry and needless regret.

“How did you find us when the cove was covered in fog? When the storms swept over the sea? “The man asked his child.

“I saw the lighthouse brightly lit and from time to time as I approached, the beam of light would fall upon our house, and I knew I could make it home safely as long as I kept the two in sight.”

“Some of you folks who sail know what triangulation is? Where you take your position and gauge it by two other positions on shore?” A few nods.

“The child was able to find a way home by keeping both the light and home in sight. The man failed to realize that the light wasn’t just to illuminate the sea, but to illuminate their home. He never realized until the lighthouse was built how much in the dark he was.” The woman’s daughter lifted her head and set her eyes on the man behind the podium. Her father nodded with tear stained eyes and continued.

“We often err on the side of caution, or so we tell ourselves when it comes to raising our children. My wife will tell you I’m a cautious man, but that’s just her way of being kind. I can be stubborn and obstinate, and many of you folks have met that side of me regrettably, and way too often.” His wife gripped their daughter’s hand and smiled through her own tears.

“For years I wanted to protect our son, and in doing so, I placed a wall in front of him; denying him his own life and destiny to satisfy my need for control. I knew he was the way I felt he should be and he disagreed. God had made him a certain way, from where he stood, and he begged me to understand, but I chose to see him through the lens of my own ignorance, and the wall grew to block his way out. He chose a path around the wall and in a way set sail beyond our safe cove here.” A few scattered gasps indicated some comprehension as well as several pairs of eyes squinting in realization; many to glad approval but a few to doubt.

“Melanie is a patient woman, but you can only live so long with someone like me. What is it that scripture says about living in a house with a contentious…” He emphasized the change in pronoun as he deliberately misquoted. One ‘what?’ but quite a few claps were heard, and not just from the women of the congregation. Even if he hadn’t taught himself to be open-minded, at least he imparted that to the church.

“’Let him know he’s welcome, Jeremy,’ she said to me. I didn’t have a phone number or an address. Only an email account that had been closed. But I did have one thing…I had changed. Melanie helped me take down that stupid wall, and together we built a lighthouse of sorts by working with the elders here to change how we do things. The result is that we’re more welcoming and truly reflect the open doors, open hearts, open minds credo that you read on the sign out front. And our child learned of the change, and called me.” Jeremy’s voice broke as the said the word child, and he barely got through the rest of the sentence. After a moment, he continued.

“We sometimes don’t know how precious our children are until we lose them. I lost my son years ago through ignorance and arrogance. But God in his mercy has extended to me a second chance. My son may have departed, but my child….my daughter has been restored to me and Melanie and this church. I am sorry for the lost years and the foolish loss of her company, but I am glad she has chosen to return to us and forgive me. “ Jeremy looked at his daughter and wife and smiled through a cascade of joyous tears; no longer ashamed or fearful, but filled with hope and bright blessing.

“Please join me in welcoming my daughter. Many of you may remember her as my son Aaron, but please greet her as Stephy Armetta.” He used his arm to point to Melanie and Stephy, and his gesture was met with applause. As things began to quiet Jeremy spoke once again.

“And I have an announcement, if I may?” Everyone turned their attention to the front of the church.

“The church leadership has decided that in order to better reflect the kind of people we have become, our name has changed. Please join me in celebration of the first meeting of Lighthouse Fellowship?” The congregation rose once again to applaud as Jeremy stepped out from behind the podium and walked quickly to his family.

“Welcome home,” he said softly as he held his daughter in his arms for the very first time.

“Welcome home.”

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