So, Gabby and I have just returned from a belated Anniversary weekend. As of last week, we’ve been married eight years! Or, as Gabby would say, to her it only feels like five minutes… …in a microwave.
In truth, we’re very blessed. Best friends.
We shipped our kids off to “Nana Camp,” a no-holds-barred, fun-fest where my mom (who, incidentally, receives social security checks) out-plays, out-laughs, out-pretends, and out-kids our maniac children. It’s a sight to behold - equivalent to a monk showing up to a frat party and drinking the pledge class under the table. A wholly unexpected surreal display that leaves you in awe of her vitality. The kids beg for mercy naps when it’s all over.
Now kid-less, our weekend took us to Asheville, North Carolina, a lovely town tucked away in the Smoky Mountains where hippies thrive and shoes are optional. For a moment, we were transported back in time to our dating days when we lived in Austin and could have adult conversations and eat at restaurants that don’t have a picture of a clown on the menu. I didn’t see a chicken finger the entire weekend.
The “big event” of our weekend was touring the Biltmore Mansion. If you’ve never been, let me break it down for you.
Essentially, it’s a $55/ticket open house.
If you want the audio tour, that’s ten bucks extra.
Don’t get me wrong, Biltmore is as awe-inspiring as my mother’s energy level, if not more so. It’s the largest private dwelling ever built. The estate is 125,000 acres. The house alone, built in 1895, is four acres of floor space. The best part of all is that the place was built by George Vanderbilt, who was single at the time. Imagine sitting down to breakfast, having a bowl of Corn Flakes at a table that seats sixty people. Such loneliness might make you want to buy some friends, or at least a small army of mannequins to keep you company.
As we’re walking through this masterpiece of architecture, I can’t get over the absurdity of it all. Two-hundred-fifty rooms. Thirty-four bedrooms. Forty-three bathrooms! That’s right. One guy, with forty-three bathrooms. If he pooped an average of once per day, starting on Ash Wednesday, the guy could make it all the way to Easter without having to visit the same toilet. Pure craziness! And don’t even get me started on the sixty-five fireplaces. How many S’mores can one guy eat!?
Bottom line? The place is gorgeous, but incredibly wasteful. I can only think of the hundreds of people who could have been housed, the thousands of meals that could have been purchased, the untold sickness that could have been cured. Instead, he chose to put in a heated indoor swimming pool, complete with underwater lighting. In 1895!
I left the tour feeling overwhelmed.
Then I realized that Gabby and I had just spent $130 on tickets to an open house. Tack on the ice cream and bottle of Cabernet we bought at the Biltmore winery, and we’re nearing a buck-fifty.
I’m no George Vanderbilt, but it’s all relative, right? How many people could our admission have housed? How many meals purchased? How many vaccines given? What a schmo I can be.
As I reflect on it all now, I’m taken back to an interview I recently heard on NPR with Liz Murray, a girl who grew up homeless after her mother died of AIDS. Without a home and consistent support system, she was still able to graduate high school and get accepted to Harvard.
Her story was picked up by many newspapers. When people heard her story, they jumped in to help, buying her the essentials she needed. Liz, as you might imagine, was at once amazed and skeptical of the gifts. She wasn’t used to such generosity, and wondered what it was all for.
One day, a woman met her outside her dorm. She approached Liz and said, “I’m sorry it has taken me so long. I have been meaning to meet you.” Slightly confused, Liz just listened. The woman continued.
“I read your story in the paper, and wanted to help. But I thought, ‘I’m not wealthy. I don’t have money. I have nothing to give.’ So I did nothing. Then one day I was doing laundry for my family and realized, ‘Liz is a person. She must have laundry like the rest of us. I could probably help.’ So that’s why I’m here. I am here to do your laundry. Go get it for me.”
So Liz went and got a handful of laundry. The woman opened her station wagon, and there was a laundry bag. Liz filled it, and was on her way.
For one year, this woman came to Liz’s dorm and picked up her laundry. Every week. For one year. Doing laundry.
The message is this.
We may not think we have much, but we can always give something. Whether money or time. Our guilt in not giving is also not productive. It’s there to remind us that we do have something to offer. God doesn’t care about the size of the gift. He only cares about the heart that gives it.
So today, my prayer for myself is to let go of the guilt. Let go of the judgment. Don’t worry about those huge questions. Those huge homes. Those huge dollars I’ve wasted. It’s gone. Worry is waste. The idea today is simply to serve. Big or small. It doesn’t matter. Just do some laundry. Some way. Today.