I try to go for a walk every morning when I wake up. Not only does it help me with losing some unwanted stress weight, but it gives me an opportunity to get outside, catch some sunshine, listen to a podcast and just give myself a little “me” time before devoting the rest of the day to everyone else.
Just a few blocks from my house, in the subdivision next to mine, is a house that I walk by every day. I live in the middle of the Midwest, and most of the houses in my area are pretty conservative in style, color, and décor. This house doesn’t fit in with the typical earth-toned, Pottery-Barn outdoor style of the homes in my area. It has handmade signs that point out the distance to what I can only assume are the family’s favorite places: Grandma’s House, Clearwater, FL, Chicago, Lake Michigan, Newton, IA. The wooden arrows are painted beachy colors, and there are signs in the front and back of the yard.
By the front and back doors there are chalkboards, and the message changes frequently on each. The front sign usually has something warm and welcoming, the sign in the back typically has a quote that encourages relaxation. The house has a deck on the back with a concrete patio underneath, and the deck and patio are just a stone’s throw from the sidewalk, offering no privacy whatsoever.
If this were my home, I think I would have long ago put up some kind of fencing that would keep unwanted eyes from peering into any parties or relaxation that was taking place on my deck or patio. Instead, these homeowners have created a mini-oasis, with a bubbling pond, chandelier, hammock, and chairs with comfortable cushions.
Every day I walk by this space and marvel at how comfortable and welcoming it looks. There’s even been times when I’ve wondered what would happen if I just threw myself into the hammock for a couple of minutes. It is a space all on its own, and yet completely drawing you in at the same time.
Messages written in chalk on the back patio board always seem to speak to me directly, like the owner knew exactly what I would need to be reading on that day. When I was caught in a season of overthinking, “You Can Pick What You Ponder” leapt right from the chalkboard into my life. “Chin up, it’ll all be okay,” was another one I needed to read on a certain day. This little hamlet has become a treasured touchpoint on my walk each day.
I didn’t think I could possibly love this space any more, and then I noticed new furniture at the home a few days ago. Right next to the sidewalk, on the side of the house, the owner had placed two turquoise Adirondack chairs, cute pillows, and a sign that simply said “Rest for a bit.”
This little seating space had been perfectly placed, not for the owners’ enjoyment, but for any traveler that might venture by their home. A piece of prime real estate that could have been fenced, or landscaped, or gardened had instead been donated specifically for the use of their neighbors. Neighbors they knew, and neighbors that they might have never met.
I heard of the Turquoise Table movement a few years ago and was fascinated by it. A mom in Austin, Kristin Schell, realized one summer that she didn’t know her neighbors very well. Determined to bring more, well, community to her community, she bought a wooden picnic table, painted it a cheery shade of turquoise, and planted in squarely in her front yard. It led to a national revolution. In Kristin’s words:
“Caught up in a world of over-scheduled calendars and a frenzied on-the-go lifestyle, I was desperate for more intentional ways to connect with the people in my life. One afternoon, I put a bright turquoise picnic table in my front yard, hoping to create a simple place to gather without the pressures of entertaining. It worked!
“A new concept of hospitality unfolded in my neighborhood. The Turquoise Table has become a meeting place—kind of like the old village well—for neighbors, friends, and even strangers, to hang out and do life together. The table has spurred a front yard revival in our neighborhood and had become a welcome place to gather and love. Before long the Turquoise Table led to a movement of Front Yard People—people just like you and me who want to create community right where we live.
“All across America, neighbors are getting to know one another at turquoise picnic tables in the most simple place of all — their front yards. From California to Maine, the Turquoise Table has become a symbol of hospitality and a welcome place to slow down and connect with friends and neighbors.”
Now, I’ve been to Austin many times, and let’s just say that it’s a little easier to be eclectic in Austin than it is in my conservative upscale Kansas City suburb full of subdivisions and homeowner’s associations. I’ve never seen a turquoise table in a front yard in my town, and to be honest, I don’t think it would go over well in my neighborhood.
I have no idea if the homeowner down the street from me knows of the Turquoise Table project or not. Maybe that color just went with her outdoor decor. But the idea that she took something that is standard for our area—an outdoor seating space—and adapted it in way that was both sensitive to the aesthetics of the subdivision while being openly welcome to those outside of it is truly a beautiful thing.
I had the opportunity to watch “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” the Fred Rogers documentary, a few weeks ago with my husband. It was an incredibly moving film, spanning almost 7 decades. From the 1950’s through today, we are still dealing with issues like racism, hatred, oppression, and an overall feeling of “us versus them,” particularly in the past few years.
I read a statistic the other day that said that hate crimes in America have skyrocketed in the past 4 years, with a sharp increase since the beginning of 2017 and the numbers are greater than they were a decade ago, despite a steady decline since the 1990’s. We see it on the news every day, Americans acting out against one another because they don’t agree. The leader of our nation uses inflammatory language against those he does not agree with, and our government follows suit.
Words that never before would have been used in a professional setting are typed up and spit out at the speed of a tweet. It’s not going to start from the top and work its way down. Turning around the statistics of hate is something that is going to need to start in our own homes, our own communities, our own neighborhoods.
I used to think that the Bible was full of mysterious references. I’d wonder what Moses or Jesus or Paul meant by a certain verse, what was implied by the imagery that was used. The older I get, especially in the last year as I delve deeper into my faith, I’m realizing that Jesus was pretty blunt (yay for saying what you mean). When He said “love your neighbors,” I no longer believe He was referring to some mission trip in other state or country, or going door-to-door handing out tracts, or hosting a shoe drive. Those things can be awesome and meaningful if done the right way, but I’m more convinced every day that Jesus actually was telling us to love our–you know–neighbors. The people in our community. Those that we come into contact with each day, whether it’s the couple with the young kids next door, the older gentleman that walks his dog by your house each day, or the lady at the CVS down the street (like Patricia, who never gives me the eye roll when I use 8 thousand coupons–bless you, Patricia).
Bring joy and comfort. Love your neighbor.
I don’t know what that looks like for you, I don’t know the next right step is for each of us. Maybe it’s becoming more vulnerable and less defensive. Maybe it’s asking someone who has a different belief than you out for a cup of coffee and really listening to what they have to say. Maybe it’s speaking up for those that are being bullied or oppressed, or have lost the ability to defend themselves. For me, it looked like setting up a little greeting table outside my front door, right below the bell, to let everyone who comes to visit know they are welcome and loved.
Whatever way you choose to spread love in your neighborhood, the most important thing is to DO SOMETHING. What is one thing you can do today to diffuse hate and spread joy and love in your community?
I’m going to mull that one over, sitting right here…
What have you done to show love to your neighbors? I’d love to get ideas! Reply in the comments!