Editor’s note: Jesus told us to love one another. But, in this day with busy schedules and busier families in every home on our block, just meeting the neighbors can be a challenge. Kristin Schell decided to take Him seriously in a very unique way. She painted a picnic table turquoise and put it in her front yard… a brave step to get to know, serve, and love those around her as Jesus did.
I started using the phrase “gather small and love deep” long before I fully realized what it meant. Intuitively I knew the Turquoise Table was perfectly designed for four to six people — small gatherings. And being at a table, facing each other and sitting side by side, would allow an intimacy to listen and have real conversations. What I didn’t anticipate was the importance of these small and ordinary moments.
At first I would ask myself, doubting, “Is it enough?” Is it enough to know my neighbors by name? To spend an hour simply having coffee with only a handful of people? Does it matter if all I do is nod my head with pursed lips and a wrinkled brow while a friend shares her heart? Is it enough to wave at the jogger? Does inviting half a dozen people for donuts in the front yard matter? With the magnitude of problems in the world, do these small gatherings at the table matter?
It took a while for my heart to catch up to my head. My impulsive side — you know, the one that painted the picnic table turquoise and plopped it in the front yard — believed without a shred of doubt that being present in the front yard matters. I recognize it now as faith — not something I control or do on my own, but God’s gift to me — to keep going, to keep sitting at the table, to keep loving my neighbors as He intends for us all to do. I was hearing faint whispers of encouragement as I realized God was saying, “It matters to Me. When you show up, I’m at work.”
Hospitality always feels small when you hold it in your hands.
It’s not until you let it go, released like an offering, that you see how extravagant and hallowed it is. Sometimes I don’t “feel” anything happening, which, in our instant gratification and quick-fix society, feels like failure. Building community, investing in the lives right in front of us, requires us to take the long view. Eugene Peterson refers to this type of relationship building as “a long obedience in the same direction.”
One day, inspired by dog walkers, I filled two dog bowls with water and set them next to the Turquoise Table. I pointed out the water bowls to Elizabeth the next time she and Clyde walked by. She sat down at the table with me while Clyde lapped up the water. She said Clyde had been sick and was recovering from surgery. The veterinarian gave him a good prognosis, but he got tired more quickly on their walks. Elizabeth shared how grateful she was for a place to sit in the shade and rest with Clyde.
After three years of talking to Elizabeth on her walks with Clyde, I realize how much we’ve come to know about each other. We share stories and prayers for health and family members. And we keep a good eye out for one another. If I don’t see her out walking Clyde, I know to go ring the doorbell and just say, “I’m checking on you.” When we are out of town, I ask another neighbor to put out water for Clyde and the other dogs. It’s simple. And it started with the small act of noticing and being present.
God is teaching me the ministry of presence.
I didn’t make any drastic changes to my schedule — I’m still the Queen of Crazy. But I’ve come to savor these moments of being outside and available at the Turquoise Table. By being at the table, I’m saying to anyone who passes by, and to God too, “I’m available.” It’s a promise. It’s an extension of the “yes” I said when I put out the table.
Front Yard People Pups
Dogs are a great way to meet new neighbors. It’s so much easier to say, “What a cute dog!” than “Hi, my name is Kristin!” If it hadn’t been for Clyde, I might not have the friendship I do with Elizabeth. Try these tips to invite dogs to your table, too!
- Put a water bowl outside near your Turquoise Table.
- Set a small jar of dog treats on the table.
- Make a small sign to let walkers know water and treats are available for their dogs.
- Attach a leash hook to the table so owners can sit and visit while keeping their dogs safe.
Thursdays at the Table
I wasn’t the only one doing the noticing. Neighbors noticed I was outside too. I decided to dedicate Thursday mornings to making my time at the table more intentional. I’m out there most Thursdays, hanging out during what neighbors call my “table hours.” Some mornings are planned and I invite friends to join me in advance. Other mornings I leave open to see who might show up. If no one stops by, I enjoy the gift of time to do things like write, read a book, or work on a Bible study. Some mornings I sit still and pray, knowing it might be the only quiet time during my day. I trust the time will be filled however it needs to be that morning.
Learning to Listen
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, the way to a friend’s heart is through your ears. The most important lesson in being present is listening. And this much I know is true — whether people are invited or spontaneously show up to the Turquoise Table, they arrive ready to sit and talk. Real conversation is an invitation. It’s the most authentic way we can say, “You matter.”
I have to be honest, listening isn’t a skill that comes easy for me. I’m a notorious interrupter. Sometimes instead of focusing on what the other person is saying, I’m planning what I’m going to say next. How awful is that? My poor listening skills affect my ability to remember. I’m always worried my memory’s going because I can’t remember a darned thing. The cure, for me, is learning to listen.
The Turquoise Table is a visible reminder of God’s love. An invitation to welcome others into the mundane, everyday moments of our lives. The beauty of the table lies in its simplicity, making an easy way to be present and available to listen. People want to be heard. You will connect if you open your ears and your heart. Being present and listening is the foundation to hospitality. I had it backward for so long. I thought I had to master the art of fancy French cooking to make people feel welcome. I thought hospitality was about entertaining and preparing a fine feast. Don’t get me wrong, delicious food will always be my love language, but learning to listen and be present is paramount if we are to take every opportunity to open our lives and homes to others.
Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you. ~ Henri Nouwen
Quiet Time at the Turquoise Table
I learned that mornings alone at the table are special gifts. In order to be present for our family, friends, and neighbors we must not ignore the importance of making room for quiet time with God. Take time to rest and be still at the table:
- Pray for your family.
- As you step out to nurture relationships in your community, ask for patience, protection, and provision.
- Pray for balance and boundaries with your time.
- Pray for your neighbors.
Excerpted with permission from The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell, copyright Kristin Schell.
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Watch the Trailer: The Turquoise Table
Do you know your neighbors? Have you sat down and talked with them? Gotten to know their stories and their needs? Our neighborhoods are the perfect place to start sharing the love of Jesus! Come share your thoughts on hospitality on our blog. We want to hear your thoughts! ~ Devotionals Daily