“We make our friends; we make our enemies: but God makes our next door neighbor.”
~ G. K. Chesterton
Nearly a decade ago, I sat next to my husband in the conference room of a title company and signed a gazillion papers to purchase our home. The original homeowner sat across from us. Near the end of our document-signing marathon, she made a plea.
“We have a tradition in the neighborhood – an annual Memorial Day party,” she began sharing stories about the Party in the Cove named for the cul-de-sac where our new-to-us home sat. “Promise me you’ll keep the cove parties going for the neighborhood.”
“Of course,” I promised without much thought and kept signing papers. I did not know anyone on our new street.
God heard my half-promise and saw the underlining fear of not knowing a single neighbor. He planted a seed deep in the soil of my soul.
Luckily, there were plenty of original homeowners still living on our street to help us carry the Party in the Cove tradition forward. The block party, now in its fourth decade, is a highlight of the year. But, twelve months is a long stretch of time between neighborhood get-togethers.
Over the years, the seed God planted grew into a dream, a vision, of living in a community where neighbors knew and loved each other well. I felt a supernatural tug at my heart to open our doors wide and invite neighbors into our lives on a more regular basis. But, I didn’t know how.
A couple years ago, I was in a season of holy restlessness. Actually, I was wrestling with God. He was revealing his Word to me in new ways and a calling was being born, but I was frustrated by his mysterious ways. I like things — like holy callings — to be clear.
When I read these words in the book A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester, I knew God was speaking:
“Don’t start with a big program. Start personally and start in your home. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Begin by opening your home for community. . . All you have to do is open your home and begin.”
~ Francis Schaeffer, theologian and founder of L’Abri Community
At first I hesitated. I wondered if a dare in the name of Jesus might be sacrilegious. But, God knew my heart. I longed for more than an annual block party. I wanted real and meaningful relationships with my neighbors. I wanted to know their stories, hear their sorrows and troubles, and celebrate their joys.
So, I took the dare. By his grace, I remembered to pray. In a trembling moment of surrender I asked God for help:
“Here I am God, what do you want me to do? Lord, go before, behind, and beside me into the neighborhood.”
The Turquoise Table
God answers prayers in winsome ways. In October 2013, prompted by a last-minute party I was hosting, I ordered an unfinished picnic table from Lowe’s. I didn’t think much of the table when I ordered it online. It was just an ordinary picnic table.
Until I saw it. And, I knew.
The simple wooden picnic table was destined for our front yard. After the party, I painted the table bright turquoise (Sherwin-Williams Nifty Turquoise, if you’re wondering) and placed it under a magnolia tree, close to the edge of our lively street.
That’s when life changed. The very day I put the table out front, someone who needed to get out of the house – a neighbor I’d never met – walked past and stopped to talk. We sat at the table and started a friendship. Next, curious people from across the street stopped by and stayed for a cup of coffee. By week three, both spontaneous and planned gatherings were happening regularly at the turquoise table.
Now a familiar sight, the turquoise table has become a meeting place – like the old village well – for neighbors, friends, and even strangers to hang out and do life together. The table spurred a front yard revival in our neighborhood.
God had bigger plans. When neighbors from a few blocks over learned about the turquoise table, they wanted one, too. I remember thinking, “This is crazy, God! Am I really supposed to encourage people to put turquoise tables in their front yards?” But, he showed me a common thread in everyone I spoke to – a desire to connect on a deeper more meaningful level with people in their community, right where they live.
Tables continue to pop up in communities across the country, even as far away as Uganda. Meaningful relationships are happening at turquoise tables like Julie’s, where she hosts Parties with a Purpose. And, Heather’s, who has gotten to know a neighbor she never thought possible. And, Gindi’s, who hosts monthly front yard neighborhood gatherings.
God multiplied the hallelujahs of one turquoise table into a movement of Front Yard People all longing to live out the command to love our neighbors.
It’s not always easy. Love rarely is. Loving our neighbors requires getting close and personal with messy lives. Love requires being present, even when it’s inconvenient. Love asks us to be brave and move outside our comfort zone. Love invites us to move outside and into the neighborhood.
What about you? What does your neighborhood look like and are you up for taking the dare, too? Share your story below and we can encourage one another to be Front Yard People.