The House on the Hill
Detours in Life
Mega Post 15
In Anytown, Somewhere Country, there sits a big house on a hill. We’ve all seen it – columns that support multiple floors with large windows boasting of opulence and grandeur. And at this time of the year, such a house is usually blinged out with twinkling holiday lights that beckon us to dream and drool. For many, the house on the hill represents their fondest dreams.
In a season that has brought about many detours and even the passing of a loved one, I should not have been surprised to have one last detour. I postponed this posting out of respect for those 200+ killed in an earthquake and then, apparently lost it in cyberspace for two weeks. A computer that seemingly reads my mind to suggest corrections had lost its ability to retrieve saved data. In my moments of frustration and refusal to just give up and write a new post, I realized something important. Life’s illusions often are just a detour that leads us to new realizations.
It was about twenty years ago that I came across a detour one night going home from a meeting. My children had been great through their meeting but then the parents’ meeting ran long and well, even McDonald’s French fries were not keeping peace in the backseats of my van. Everyone was tired and cranking and the beginnings of winter colds were evident. Amid the sniffles and bickering, I subconsciously cried out for some quiet and peace. Every house we passed seemed to be perfect while the environment in my car was anything but. It was then that I came upon a road crew and the detour sign. There had not really been a great deal of traffic and yet, soon I was stuck in a line of cars, all following the sparsely labeled detour.
It was still three weeks until Christmas and Hanukah, both occurring within a couple of days of each other and many houses did not yet have holiday displays. My kids noticed we had taken a different road and were not interested in the detour. “When are we gonna get home?” “Did you get us lost?” Suddenly the arguing in the back had stopped. My kids had joined together in thinking I had gotten them lost and I confess, I was beginning to wonder myself. My only comfort was that we had plenty of company because the line of cars continued both in front of me and behind me. We had just slowly driven up a rather steep hill and then around a curvy, slight descent when we saw the house on the hill and suddenly I understood why traffic was going so slowly.
The sign was simple with its white paint and black lettering. “Welcome to Green Acres and Tall Trees” is read. What lay beyond was two acres of festive holiday lights, celebrating the Christmas season, Hanukah lights, and even a peace tree with yin-yang and peace symbols. Clement Moore’s holiday poem about Santa Clause was displayed in a series of vignettes, all brightly light and some with animation. There were boxes where people could donate canned goods for the local food giveaway pantry as well as the familiar kettle for loose change of the Salvation Army. At the end of the drive, visitors were offered cups of hot cocoa and a candy cane.
A decades-old tradition in this small community, the detour had opened it up to all who normally would just pass it by, hidden amongst the hills and trees of the area. Normally, there was an admittance fee but with the detour, the owners had decided to forego the charge. The fee of $4 per car was given to the local ministry council for use in helping the less fortunate. At the beginning of the drive, visitors were advised of this and many insisted on paying for the drive even though it was free. As a result, that year the display brought in ten times its normal contributions. This was one detour that literally paid off!
The following year my children eagerly waited for the holiday season and going back to our “Detour House” as they called it. I spent several days driving around trying to find it during daylight hours to no avail. Trying to retrace the detour was difficult and finally I shared my frustration with a friend who had grown up in the area. “Get your car keys” my elderly friend requested. We got in the car and she proceeded to tell me how to find this house on a hill that had brought my children and myself such delight.
We drove around and my friend suddenly pointed out a rather plain looking house set back from the road. “This is your holiday detour house” she said. I looked at a two story house that seemed rather drab and plain. The barn behind the house was a need of a good painting. In fact, the house looked empty and I remarked about that. I tried to explain to my friend and neighbor how the house had looked but she just smiled, positive this was our house.
I asked a friend who worked at the newspaper about the house. Surely, I thought, someone had written a story on it. She sent me a link to a story written ten years earlier. It was an obituary about a woman who had escaped Nazi Germany as a child. She had been sent to distant family in America. The only surviving member of her family, the child spent her teen years depressed. She worked for a farmer and lived in a small cabin on the farm, seldom speaking, mourning her lost childhood and family. One night the farmer’s child became lost in the woods amid a snow storm but when daybreak arrived, the child was found at the woman’s cabin. She had always lit a candle in the window at night for her family in heaven and the child had followed the light in the window of her cabin.
The farmer tried to pay the woman for saving his child but she refused everything. When the child grew up, he inherited the farm. The woman was very old by this time but each night he helped her light a candle in the window. One Christmas, as she lay near death, he put up a display for her outside her bedroom window since she no longer could go into the front room and light her candle in the window. The woman’s health improved and the next year the display grew. The woman died three years later but the family continued to grow their holiday lights.
The young man had tried to move the woman who had saved his life into a batter cabin but she refused. In her mind, her little three room cabin was a mansion. The last holiday season of her life, the man and his sons had built a false front for their house, decorating it as if it was a huge mansion. The woman smiled and said love made any house a mansion. Her cabin provided for her and gave her peace and security as well as love. It was enough.
When they were older, I drove my children pass the holiday house in the summer and, like me, they did not recognize it. We had been making the holiday tour for several years at that point so they knew I had taken the right road. The magic of the season – love – became very real at that moment, all because of a detour and a young child’s wish to leave a light burning so her family would know where she was.
Sometimes detours show us what had been there all along. The trappings of success are not what make us success. It is what we carry deep inside that truly counts. Pretty twinkling lights attract and are beautiful but real beauty lies deep inside the soul. Sometimes a detour leads us just to where we need to be in order to learn. We need to learn to recognize the love that is around us and do what we can to create more. We might always wish for more but usually what we have is enough for us to spread some love and peace, making our own world a little brighter and helping us all find our way home.
This ends a most unexpected “ordinary time” of Pentecost. In Advent we will wrap up this calendar year but combining all of our topics this year, starting on Wednesday December 6th. Until then, may the light of your life shine brightly and be a beacon of hope for others. We all can be a house on the hill for someone.