Home Spirituality Life on Purpose The house that love built: a long-ago Christmas wish, fulfilled

The house that love built: a long-ago Christmas wish, fulfilled

I had a few Christmas wishes in 1998, as my four children, my husband and I cuddled on the couch admiring the newly lit Christmas tree which overwhelmed the living room in our tiny house. Most of my wishes were hopes for my children’s health and welfare and peace in our family and in our world.

But one wish was very different, though not unlike Susan Walker’s — the young main character in “Miracle on 34th Street” — who asked Santa Claus to prove he was real by giving her a house. The kids prodded me to share the one wish I was hiding.

With child-like faith borrowed from my children, I mustered up the courage and said aloud, “Dear Santa (with the help of God), please bring us a house from the North Fork and put it under our Christmas tree.”

Laughter erupted on the couch from the children and a chuckle from the husband, not at the ridiculousness of my request for a house (they were used to my ridiculous prayer requests), but rather from the space limitations before their eyes. “How can Santa fit our new house under the tree?” the kids quipped as they supposed it might happen like it happened for little Susan Walker.

The kids knew well that we were looking for a house on the North Fork. We picked pumpkins in the fall and traveled to the North Fork to cut down our Christmas tree. We were regular tourists 20 years ago, one reason I have great patience for our tourism traffic during the fall. We are just pumpkin pickers who stayed.

Looking for a house on top of hospitalizations with our youngest and homeschooling the three older kids kept us very busy. Traditions were some of the glue that held us together, so despite the fatigue we loaded the kids into the minivan and headed east to find a tree. After the annual quest was satisfied with a lovely tangerine-smelling tree, we ventured into the gift shop to pay for it and look around.

In the middle of the store’s Christmas village collection, there was a ceramic house being raffled. The house was yellow and green, with the banner on the front gable which read “The House Love Built.” The banner caught my attention as I recognized it as the slogan for Ronald McDonald House Charities. We had just spent almost a month in the the Ronald McDonald House in NYC while Johanna was having surgeries to stop the hemorrhages and stabilize the flow of fluid in her brain.

The raffle was a way for us to give back to Ronald McDonald House Charities, so we bought a ticket. The day after Christmas, we received a call from the farm, where we purchased our tree. We had won the raffle for the ceramic house!

We headed out to the North Fork once again. When we arrived at the Christmas tree place, my three older kids bolted out of the car into the store. The woman behind the counter smiled as she took out the the little Christmas house.

The woman looked at me as I held my youngest daughter Johanna in my arms. Johanna babbled like a toddler, but sat in my arms like a baby, due to low muscle tone which had resulted from multiple hemorrhages and surgeries in her brain. The woman noticed Jo and the shiny tiara of staples which encircled her nearly bald head. We were less than a month out of the last brain surgery — the one which had caused us to stay at the Ronald McDonald House.

Our eyes met as I explained to the woman how we purchased the raffle for the ceramic house to benefit RMH because we had just finished a long hospital stay in NYC and we wanted to find a small way to give back some of the blessings the charity had given to us. With all adults in tears, she packed up our ceramic house, wished us a Merry Christmas and sent us back home to Selden. We loved the North Fork now more than ever.

When we arrived home, I placed the ceramic Christmas tree beneath our real Christmas tree. The glow from the windows in the tiny house completed our Christmas decorations. My husband and I ran in different directions to get the kids settled. Then my husband called me to come back into our living room. He directed my eyes to look again at our Christmas tree.

With a fresh look at the decorations, I realized what my husband saw and I gasped. By this time, the children had gathered too as my husband exclaimed, “It’s your Christmas wish! You got a house from the North Fork under our Christmas tree!” The kids squealed with delight and claimed Santa found the way to answer my wish!

We recognized the fulfillment of my Christmas wish as a promise from God that we would indeed find our house on the North Fork. The tiny house remained lit in our living room as a sign of hope and encouragement to persevere in our plans to move out east.

Courtesy photo: David Benthal

Early in 1999, we went to contract with a builder who owned a beautiful piece of property on Herricks Lane in Jamesport. The house was built on open farmland with gorgeous views of sunrise and sunset in the vast North Fork sky. Our little ceramic house became the template for the real house and we even painted it in the same colors of yellow, green and red.

We closed and moved into our new home the day before Thanksgiving in 1999. Nearly a year from winning that raffle, we celebrated our first Thanksgiving in “The House Love Built” with the little ceramic house proudly adorned as the centerpiece of our table.

The ceramic house never collected dust in a Christmas decoration box. We gave it a permanent place of honor where it reminded us for 18 years that it takes a lot of faith, hope and love to build our house and our family.

The house love built witnessed countless joys of raising four children and weathered many storms of recurring brain surgeries, family struggles, deaths and the financial collapse of 2008, which gravely affected the country and our home. When our home was threatened with foreclosure, the little ceramic house served as a reminder that our house was literally built by love and on love it would remain.

This Thanksgiving, the ceramic house love built was once again the centerpiece on our table. I set it up the night before, as an acknowledgement of the traditions we have held dear all these years. But this year, we celebrated in a little beach house cottage a few miles east of our years-long home on Herricks Lane.

This year, on the day before Thanksgiving, 18 years to the day from when we purchased our home, we sold it to a young, local couple who will now begin their own life and history of watching sunrises and sunsets in the house love built.

The date of the closing on our home — planned by lawyers, bankers and realtors — was really planned by God to remind us that love built the house, sustained the house and in love we all would remain. It also was my husband’s birthday — I believe that served as another missive from our heavenly Father to His son to honor my husband’s diligence and creativity for providing for our family all these years.

The beach cottage on the water is a welcome, though temporary, refuge from the hustle of moving as we wait to close on a new house, still in Jamesport, but just a mile from the beach. My morning rosary walk with the dogs to the farm fields on Herricks Lane is now replaced with a walk on the beach as the sun rises on Peconic Bay.

The view of water from my bedroom in this lovely beach cottage is itself another sign of a promise and a call to believe that God’s love endures and sustains us, especially when He asks us to get out of the boat, leave our home and take a walk of faith on the water.

We are the house love built, with faith and hope. And in love we remain.

Eileen is hosting an Advent day of prayer and reflection, “Breathe and Believe” on Saturday, Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Villa Immaculata, a beautiful retreat house on the Long Island Sound in Riverhead. Tickets are $35 per person and include a catered lunch by Lombardi’s Love Lane Market and a signed copy of Eileen’s book, ““Breathing Underwater-A Journey of Hope.” For more information, contact Eileen by email or call 631-833-1897. Register online here.

Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen