I love fall, and that includes the guilty pleasure of Halloween.
When I was a kid, Halloween was a great community event. I have fond memories of trick-or-treating on crisp, windy nights in a town where every home was filled with light and candy, ready to greet small visitors whose costumes were mostly covered by winter coats to block the Montana chill. The coats weren’t in character, but then again, neither were shivering zombies.
So, a few years ago, I decided to get in the spirit: I turned our house into a “monster house,” with two angry eyes to watch over the neighborhood at night.
Our house has two upstairs dormer windows, so I illuminate each one with an orange outline, a red iris, and a scowling purple eyebrow. This year I also outlined the garage door below them in a clumsy attempt to make a mouth. Then I replaced our two white porch lights with red ones, right about where the dimples should be. (Do monsters have dimples?) The resulting monster face is crude and unrefined, but I enjoy it and so do the trick-or-treaters.
However, this year the project turned into a headache. I was swamped by other household chores and business matters, and frustrated because my well of possible blog topics had run dry. The last thing I wanted to do was to feel the October sun beating down on the rapidly-expanding bald spot on the back of my head as I crawled around on my roof with cords and tools, wrangling strings of lights and screwing them into place.
And on top of that, this year the process did not go well. I had forgotten the cardinal rule of plugging in and checking the lights before attaching them to the roof. After I got them all up and plugged in, I saw that one eyebrow and half of one iris wouldn’t light. So I took them down again, only discover the problem: I had not plugged them in correctly. After fixing that problem, I put them up for a second time and everything was fine – until I learned we had to caulk all of the windows and doors before winter. Once again, the lights had to be taken down and then put up for a third time.
I really was not thrilled about my Halloween decorations this year. And every time I had to crawl out onto the roof yet again, my grumbling about it became more and more pronounced.
So why do it? What’s the point? Aren’t there better things I could be doing?
I never asked that question until this year. And this year I asked it many, many times – each time with more, shall we say, gusto than the last.
I didn’t have an answer until I finished the job for the third time, all sweaty and cranky and sore.
I called my wife outside to look.
As we stood in the dark, looking up at that silly, cartoonish monster face, she commended me for choosing to put it up three times and then said, “You’ve brought a gift to the neighborhood.”
That’s when it suddenly made sense why I went through all the trouble.
You see, we live in one of the many neighborhoods, more and more common these days, which has earned the nickname “Felony Flats.”
Far from the hip, trendy parts of Portland, this neighborhood is dotted with junk cars, drug houses, shouting matches, and occasional police raids. In fact, shortly after we moved in, just after Halloween and before we got an alarm system, our own house was robbed of whatever the robbers could carry, including that year’s leftover Halloween candy. Ironically, though, I don’t feel unsafe here – partly because the drug dealers (whom we greet by name as we get the mail or take out the trash, and who may or may not know that we have observed their drug dealing) try to keep the neighborhood crime and disturbances to a minimum since they don’t want the cops coming around.
So Halloween is different here than it was where I grew up. Here, most houses remain dark and unwelcoming, with the occupants turning in early or going elsewhere to avoid the constant doorknocks. Yet despite my dream of living someplace less crowded, noisy, and stressful, I am coming to the conclusion that—at least for now—this is where God wants me. And when I get beyond my own selfishness, it is not hard to understand why: Jesus loves the people here. He died for them. He is the light in their dark world.
And that is why I climb up on the roof every year to hang the lights. Despite my constant complaining, even in past blogs, about living in this neighborhood, I choose—in a moment of spiritual enlightenment—to be a gift to our neighborhood. The local kids don’t have much, but our house is one of the few which deliberately invites them in. Families escort their children from blocks away to trick-or-treat here. Under the glow of the eyes, they waddle up our driveway in a long, comical parade. The rule is, no candy until after they show us their costumes, so we can “ooh” and “ahh” over them, and ask them to tell us their names and where they live. After many smiles and much laughter, they and their parents grab handfuls of chocolate eyeballs and other body parts from our big candy bowl, and go happily on their way.
We’ve been told that visiting the “monster house” is an eagerly anticipated event, for kids and parents alike.
In the entire scheme of things, decorating my house doesn’t seem like much. Some people do much greater things to serve others. However, in God’s kingdom, any gift to others – no matter how small – can be used.
When my wife reminded me that this effort is a gift to the neighborhood, I realized that it is an act of love. Jesus wants us to be a gift to our neighbors