Originally featured on IF:Table (May 2015), modified for Neighbor's Table.
For the past five years, I've been doing most of my gathering tucked away under trees in my backyard. Vines creep haphazardly over the chain-link fence and weeds grow up wildly through the grass. There is never quite enough time or talent to perfectly manicure the flowerbeds and the yard itself is far more concrete driveway and carport than it is lawn and garden. But, there in the midst of my backyard sits a long hand-crafted farmhouse table made by my dad. It's here that we gather for Sunday night dinners, celebrations of new babies and birthdays, awards luncheons and bridal brunches, and maybe just because it’s Tuesday.
All kinds of people have gathered here for all kinds of occasions. All kinds! Strangers who quickly become friends have walked up my driveaway to gather at the table countless times. Every experience is unique – yet one thing remains the same for me – my neighbors. The neighbors on each side of me and behind me are probably most aware each time I have people around my table. They probably know by now when they see the chandeliers in the gnarly oak trees light up and hear the music playing underneath the carport that my Neighbor’s Table is alive and well, again. The street fills with cars, and new faces smile back on sidewalks, and then it happens. There’s a murmur, or what I love to call a “holy roar.” It’s the sound of new people meeting and connecting, of people becoming strangers no more. And it’s all mortared together by love.
I have a neighbor that lives two doors down, and he confessed recently to opening his upstairs window on these nights. He said he loves the sound of people talking, laughing, of the plates and glasses clanking and the muted sounds of songs in the background. I do think it’s music to my ears too. I love the thrill of meeting new friends and celebrating new moments. But there’s something special about my neighbors, and I want them to know there’s always a place for them at my table. I want Michelle, Anita, Raj, Stephanie, Paul, and Will to know that, if they ever look through the fence on a night we are at the table and there's an open seat, it’s for them. They are always, always, always welcomed.
I’ve never held a private party or had a closed table. I want to be a person of the open table. I want this space to be where everyone’s welcome and they certainly can “come as you are” – even if they happened to be walking their dog in the back alley in their house slippers. Here’s a confession – I sometimes wear my house slippers at the table. And that’s how I want everyone – including my sweet neighbors - to feel. No one sees those slippers when they have a seat at an open table. They become like everyone else – someone of value, someone with a story and someone who God so very much loves. There’s certainly a lot of joy in that super rich, deep community that we find with our closest friends. But I've been surprised again and again, on the joy of inviting someone in from the other side of the fence. The same God meets us there – He doesn’t forget the conversations and people gathered there. I actually think He’s quite fond of it.