Thursday, February 12, 2009

Beautiful but Empty

(This post is a follow-up to what I wrote yesterday on "Stuff".)

Prior to the American Civil War (aka "the late great unpleasantness") there were more millionaires in Natchez, MS than in New York City. Natchez still has more antebellum mansions in good condition than anywhere else in the south, and many are open for tours or used as a Bed-n-Breakfast. We staid in one back in 1997 and had a great time.

One of the most beautiful, and haunting, of these old homes is called Longwood.

A wealthy planter and physician named Haller Nutt began construction of this beautiful home just before the war. It was designed on an octagonal plan with an onion dome on top. As the war clouds gathered in 1861, all the workers and builders left to return to the north. Dr. Nutt hastily finished the basement so his family could have a place to live, and hoped to finish the house once the war was over.

He never got his wish. Dr. Nutt died during the war after loosing most of his wealth. The workers never returned; the home was never completed. Today, visitors can drive down a path covered in moss draped oaks to see the beautiful exterior of this one-of-a -kind structure. Inside there is nothing but wooden beams and the "temporary" floor and basement originally built in 1861. So much for temporary. You can stand on the "temporary" ground floor and gaze at he hand made rafters and interior brickwork all the way up to the dome. There is nothing there but empty space.

Whenever I think of Longwood, I remember that what I build on the inside of my life is more lasting and important than what I build on the outside. We spend so much time and effort on the exteriors of our lives - appearance, careers, image, status - while relatively ignoring our interior selves- our spirits and character. Heart and spirit endure; stuff wears out, fails and dies. I do not want to die with a polished exterior hiding an empty shell within.

Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain to build it.