Monday, July 20, 2015

Knowing Our Neighbors

We’ve lived in this one quiet sub-division for over twelve years now. Many of the neighbors have been here a long time as well. Mostly we all wave a small cordial wave.

We’ve gone a few times to the annual Homeowners Association meeting. Such as when the restaurant where the meeting was being held. Yet, if I were pressed to admit it, I don’t know many of my neighbors by name.

I’ve purchased cookies and popcorn from some of their kiddos. A few have brought me literature from their church. One put his presidential candidate sticker on my shirt without my consent. He has a spunky little wife who seems to know much that goes on in the neighborhood.

Does it count that I know the names of  some of my neighbors pets? Not sure why it’s easy to remember names like Reggie, Murphy & Missy. 

And there are even a few others, people who were regulars at the little coffee shop where I worked part time years ago. Folks who I still remember what they drank. Seriously, how can I know that they ordered a “large, skinny, sugar-free hazelnut latte with no foam and extra whip,” but I do not know their first name?

We all kind of keep to ourselves here, but would probably notice if strangers were backing up a U-Haul in someone’s absence. –Well, maybe.

A few years ago my one neighbor decided to begin hosting the annual meeting in her back yard. Bless her. She has a wonderful enclosed porch, with windows that can be opened to allow the evening breeze to drift through. Having a neighbor open their home for others really changed the tone of the annual meetings. I probably should have been the one to think of that.

Last year, at the annual Homeowners Association meeting, the Spunky Little Lady, wanted to discuss the old rough wood table that sits on an empty lot which is set aside to be a park in our neighborhood. 

Before all those in attendance even made their way through the buffet line for the first time, she made a case that the table was too heavy, too old and "….no one uses the table anyway."

My front picture window looks toward that little park, which is home to the old table and an aging cottonwood tree, but I had no real opinion about any of it. Others at the meeting surprisingly wanted to keep the picnic table and moved on to other important new business.

Truth? I've never seen anyone sit at the table either.

This spring I attended Jumping Tandem Retreat. One of the sessions I sat in on, was with Kristen Snell. She is so much of what I love. Her blog photo was taken in her fabulous kitchen. She is an author, a chef and a woman who exudes easy-going acceptance and hospitality. At the retreat, she made us feel like girl-friends and she shared how she had been sure life would have her living as a missionary in Africa. Instead she lived in a nice neighborhood in Austin Texas. She had a big dream of living in a community where neighbors knew and loved each other well, but it wasn’t happening.

One day she purchased a wood picnic table and painted it her favorite color and placed it in her front yard.  Just like God would do, her step of faith, her being available to her neighbors, has taken on a global community life of its own, called The Turquoise Table Community.

When I heard her talk about the friendships that were happening around that table, a few places came to mind, where I too could paint a table and of course one of them was in the little park across the street.

That was months ago.

I’ve continued to drive by my neighbors many times…. waving that safe little wave. 

And then I prayed a little breath prayer about, “...loving my neighbors and how in the world do I do that Lord?”

I remembered the Turquoise Table. 

I finally went and purchased some paint and last week after I was a mess from mowing our one acre lawn, in the 97 degrees heat, with earphones still pressed in, listening to music loud on my iPod, I grabbed the paint and a brush and walked over to the little park.

It felt like something holy and brave and a little weird and crazy.

Pouring paint in long thick lines to fill the weathered grooves, I prayed and made long sweeping strokes with the brush.

Painting was my tiny step of faith. 

Less than fifteen minutes into my little project, completely swept up in the rhythm of music, painting and the pressing heat, I was startled by a tap on my shoulder. It was the Spunky Little Neighbor who wanted to get rid of the table a year ago. She wasted no time getting to the point of her mission.  She began to list all the reasons she did not like the table and wanted to know why on earth I was bothering to paint it.

She was annoying me.

She was interrupting my little sweaty moment of self-focused happiness.

And then she looked me in the eyes and with age crackling in her voice she said, "What is your name?"

Suddenly I was flooded with the realization that she wasn’t an unwelcome interruption, she was the very reason I was painting the table in the first place.

I wanted this table to become a place where conversations could happen which would not normally happen. 

Conversations just like this one, where we exchanged names and earnest words and ideas.

Maybe even one-sided conversation, where we simply listen to the heart of other. When I had the presence of mind to ask her how she was doing, I found out that she had not been feeling well at all. And here I lived less than a block from her front door, but had no idea of her real needs.

I was overcome by God’s humor and God’s grace and God showing up in the first minutes of painting a table in hopes to get to know my neighbors better.

It was extremely interesting to me that this tightly wound little lady, the one who thought this old table served no purpose ––was the first one at the table.

Maybe, –just maybe, the Lord can use a table in an empty lot to be a standing invitation to come just as you are.

Perhaps this table, with an open-air ceiling will leave space to be present over perfect.

In all the rush-rush and go-go of life, what if sitting at a table like this, is a form of washing another person’s feet, because it delivers us from staring at ourselves.

Instead, I was gazing into the eyes of another person who needed to be seen and to be heard.

Coming to a table speaks the message, that for just a few minutes we are going to press the pause button and ask how another person is really doing.  

This table life is actually heart-felt hospitality in the most pure sense.

It's interesting that the Greek word for hospitality that is used in the New Testament is philoxenia which literally means “Love for Strangers“.

At the root of hospitality is love.

Love for others. 

Love for strangers.

Hospitality is not a meal served up with the perfect centerpiece and dessert.

Hospitality is an attitude.

Hospitality is an attitude that is available to others.

There is no doubt that my primary sphere of influence in my home.  So it would seem logical that the neighborhood my home is located is most likely a place that friendships could be forged and kindness could be extended. I cannot do that if  I don’t know my neighbors.

It means moving past mowing the yard and waving at others who are mowing their yard.

My prayer is for this turquoise table to serve as an altar for many conversations and much needed community. May it be a platform to practice hospitality.

A place where strangers can become friends.

How about you? Do you know your neighbors?

Interested in the Turquoise Table Community? (Click here.)

I would love to hear about your table stories.


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© Rhonda Quaney