Words are powerful. Fifteen years ago, a grand lady who sits among ancient bearded live oaks taught me a lesson about words. I brought that lesson home to Camellia’s Cottage. Over and over, words have proven to be a powerfully quiet presence here and there. Often I am reluctant to share these things in a print, for some reason I feel compelled to share the lesson of words with you now. Built at Point Clear, Alabama in the 1840’s, the Grand Hotel has been a beloved place almost all of my life- it sprawls across an area of astonishing beauty, among trees that must be over a hundred years old- live oaks with gray Spanish moss; to go there is to experience the finest Mobile’s Eastern Shore has to offer to visitors. The Grand Hotel has known her share of hardships; she has been battered by war, hurricanes and upheavals. Yet she was always beautiful. As she gracefully aged along those shores inevitably the historic hotel needed repairs and upgrades, not unlike Camellia’s Cottage. Added in 2002, the Spa at the Grand Hotel has consistently been one of the highest ranked Spas by Conde Nast and other travel guides. I am not surprised by these rankings – I was there the very first year-when the paint was barely dry, when those who had helped build and staff the Spa were still around to tell about it. I recall exclaiming to the Spa Manager- ‘This is the most peaceful place I have ever been.’ Now, that’s sayin’ something- Point Clear is one of the most peaceful places on earth; yet every time I have been at the Grand Hotel- with it’s wonderful food, bonafide botanical gardens, sitting regally on Mobile Bay…why is it that windowless inner Spa seems so incredibly filled with embracing warmth, pervading peace, quiet hospitality and a spiritual ethereal atmosphere? The Manager told me that before the floors were laid, before the walls were installed and while the rafters of the Spa were still exposed, she asked her team to write their best words, quotes and phrases on the raw wood.
She strongly believed words are so powerful that even if those written words are covered with tile, carpet, sheetrock, paint and plaster- the unseen words would radiate through the interior of the windowless Spa. I believed her. I kept those words in my heart for five years before I acted on them. Ancient Scripture attests to the power of Words, we know the written word is especially powerful, think of a Handwritten Note as opposed to a quickly muttered ‘Thank you’– which is more powerful? I wanted hidden handwritten words to be part of my home. Let me be clear, this cottage is not historical, it is not sprawling across acres of bay front property, but it was aging and needed to be renovated. Oddly enough, in the same year the Grand Hotel Spa manager had shared her wisdom of powerful words, I had already started an assessment at home by going into each room, writing down what I liked about each room and how each room made me feel. Here is what I wrote about the Front Entry:
- The front door faces harsh western heat and light
- The foyer is cramped, dreary and dark
- It isn’t a welcoming entrance-
- No matter what I’ve done to improve it, all of these years the front entrance is the space I most dislike.
I made furious notes about the problem of the Front Entrance and decided the Renovations would begin in there. Five years later, according to my notes,
- we would remove the foyer wall to install a wide opening into the living room,
- we would grab a mere 18 inches from an old laundry/storage room behind the foyer wall-
- we would add additional lighting
On and on…until truly the Entry was stripped down to gaping holes, studs, subflooring and rafters. Recently, I found the journal account of those notes- I had written a prayer before renovation began-
‘Oh Lord, You have said, ‘Do all that is in your heart to do’ and ‘Do not neglect the gift that is in you’. Let me get this renovation right! Call forth the gifts! As I recall in Your Word, when the Tabernacle was being built, artisans, craftsmen and carpenters were called in. The workmen have been called in here- bring forth the plan, bring forth their gifts!. Let me get this right! Guide my thoughts, ‘gift’ me. Help me write the vision for this space, for You have said- ‘Write the vision and make it plain…’ Bring forth the gifts of light, wisdom and hospitality for this place. Amen.
The next page in the journal has the detailed vision and drawings. The work began. Walking through the rubble- bare rafters and all, I recalled the wisdom of the Grand Hotel Spa. Over a 3 day weekend while the workmen were gone- I wrote words, phrases, quotes, scriptures on every bare surface- on the ceiling rafters, the wall studs, even a section of subflooring beneath the front door!
My notes say- ‘Write words where they will not be seen- words of peace, love, joy, hospitality, friendship, safety, shelter, compassion, mercy, welcome, come back soon.’ Some of my favorite passages of Scripture were included-
- ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord lift His Face to shine upon you and grant you peace.’
- ‘I am come that they might have life and have it in abundance.’
- ‘I, the Lord God, have loved you with an everlasting love.’
- ‘Welcome strangers into your midst, for some in so doing have entertained angels unaware.’
- ‘Beloved if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’
Now, I’m sure the workmen thought they were working for an eccentric at the very least. The words are now covered up, unseen. I kept a sample of words I wrote on a board that was removed from the old foyer, but if you come to Camellia’s Cottage, I can’t show you anything more than a bare ceiling, walls and floors. The results of the powerful words are known.
The Entry feels larger and more open than it actually is, there is an abundance of natural light. My assessment now would be that the Entry is one of my favorite spaces in the whole Cottage. The total renovation of the cottage lasted close to five years. When the Entry was finished enough to welcome folks, regularly I would hear, ‘This house is so peaceful.’ The choice of words are almost the same ones I used so long ago at the Grand Hotel Spa. Personally when I come in the front door or just walk through the Entry- unseen words continue to set the tone and inspire me. The cottage is not grand, it is home. Words are powerful, even unseen, unspoken. Words do make a difference.
Love y’all, Camellia
For more information about the Grand Hotel – go to https://www.marriott.com/spas/ptlal-grand-hotel or in your search engine put Marriott Grand Hotel in Point Clear Alabama- Marriott manages this historic hotel property which is owned by Retirement Systems of Alabama and is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail the Spa at the Grand Hotel was ranking #1 for 2009,2010, 2011 in the Marriott Guest Satisfaction and in the top 100 spas by Conde Nast
Opening photograph of the grounds of the Grand Hotel are mine- as are the others