A few weeks ago we made a little side trip to the Biltmore Estate when we were in North Carolina. Because Eric is the one who 1) plans all details of our vacations and 2) has an actual understanding of geography, I announced blithely, “Hey, since we’re going to be so close, let’s go to the Biltmore while we’re in the South!”
And Eric, because he loves me and loves any excuse to go anywhere for any reason, said, “Sure. I’ll add it in to the plans.”
I spent two solid days in a freezing cold hotel for the conference while Eric and the kids cavorted around Charlotte. They were sweating while I was freezing, but Sunday was our day to enjoy North Carolina all at the same temperature. We jumped into the van, and an hour into the drive I started to get antsy. It turns out that Asheville isn’t actually that close to Charlotte. Good grief. So I whined a little like a child, but eventually we got there and it was totally worth it.
I’ve seen the Biltmore on TV more times than I can count. I’ve wanted to visit for ages. This was a long-held dream come to life, and I nearly whirled through the roped off hallways. I can’t remember all the details because I was too busy ogling the glory, but I think they have 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. They had a rotisserie kitchen, a pastry kitchen, the regular kitchen, walk in coolers, and at least three pantries each the size of my entire kitchen. Serious money, folks.
After we left the main house and spent $65 for hot dogs and ice cream for 4 people (I kid you not), we drove a few miles (still on the estate) to the farm area and museum.
I quickly moved from awed to inspired. The Vanderbilts had more money than they knew what to do with, and George’s brothers ran the family empire while he just puttered around, traveling and engaging in professional level hobbies. He wanted to turn his estate into a working, self-sufficient farm so he built little houses and his farmhands lived near the farms and barns.
And Edith Vanderbilt, the woman who entertained the highest levels of American society at her dining room table that could seat 35 guests, would often go to sit on the front stoops of these houses to hang out with the farmers’ wives.
Yes. Read that again.
She frequently left that huge, glorious house to go hang out with the farmers’ wives. She ate the cakes they baked for her. She brought them her daughter’s clothes when Cornelia outgrew them. She made sure they had a horse-drawn wagon to get the farm kids to school, she brought baskets of goodies to the mothers of newborns, and she started an after-work school program so the farmers could get good educations. She started a school for African-American servants so they could get certificates and higher placements in good houses.
But she did it at a level of one-to-one contact. She didn’t just send the wagon down to the poor area of the estate with the leftovers. She sat with them on their front porch steps.
This story is reminding me of something…a person who left a truly amazing life to come to the commoners. Someone who made sure the commoners had what they needed, but did it while living among them. Can you think of anyone like that?
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, NLT)