By Kristin Schell

“We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbor.” – G. K. Chesterton

I always thought I’d go far and wide on mission. Never in a million years did I imagine God would send me to the most ordinary place of all—my front yard.

Several years ago, I was frustrated by failed attempts to create community, nurture friendships, and get to know my neighbors. Caught up in the frenzy and busyness of life, I struggled with finding time and felt overwhelmed by the idea of hosting people in our home. Especially with four young children and an introverted husband.

Living in survival mode, I was spinning my wheels just to get through the day. And yet the longing of my heart was to take Romans 12:13 seriously, to open my life and home to others.

But, how?

I needed an answer and it needed to be simple. Not another program, not more head knowledge—something practical and doable. I asked God to show me a way to live out my faith and invite others to do likewise, regardless of what that might look like.

And then… the craziest thing happened.

A friend asked me to help her host a party.  At the last minute we needed to move the casual backyard barbeque to our home. Easy enough, I thought, except we had no backyard furniture. I quickly moved into action and ordered an ordinary, wooden picnic table from Lowe’s.

When Lowe’s delivered the picnic table it was an a-ha moment. I knew the picnic table belonged in the front yard. I wondered – what if we were to take our everyday, ordinary activities and move them outside into the front yard? What would living in a more visible way look like?

What if instead of worrying about hosting a dinner party I spontaneously asked friends to pop by for a quick cup of coffee outside at the table? Or a quick drink on the way home from work? No need to clean the house, find a babysitter, or put on makeup. Just a chance to slow down and sit down and connect. Face to face.

As soon as the party was over, I moved the picnic table to the front yard, painted it my favorite color turquoise, and that’s when life changed.

The very day I put the Turquoise 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.

Turquoise Tables continue to pop up in communities across the country, nearly all fifty states and seven countries. 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, Melissa’s who hosts monthly front yard neighborhood gatherings.

God multiplied the hallelujahs of one Turquoise Table into a movement of Front Yard People — people just like you and me who want to create community where we live.

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.

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Kristin Schell is an established speaker, author, and blogger on the subjects of food, faith, and hospitality and will be leading a Breakout session at the February 2017 Neighborhood Collective gathering in San Antonio. Passionate about community, she has served at every level, from grassroots-level work in church and local nonprofits as well as national campaigns. As founder of the Turquoise Table and Front Yard People movement, Kristin travels the country speaking at conferences and events with an encouraging word on how to open our lives and homes to others. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Tony, and their four children. Kristin’s book The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard (Thomas Nelson, a part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing) releases in June 2017.