Sarah's Table

Nancy Hoag

            We might never have met Sarah had she and her preschool children not come to our door with a dinner invitation. Within minutes of their arrival, we discovered not only does our young neighbor serve weekly meals at her table but she invites both friends and near-strangers from blocks around. At first, we thought we’d decline the invitation, but today we’re so glad we changed our minds. In Sarah’s home my husband and I were introduced to younger married couples, single folk, college students, pensioners, and preschoolers who greeted us with wide grins and happy hugs. We soon discovered that we would be invited to gather together weekly with Christ-followers, the un-churched, seekers, and retirees whose children lived on the other side of the country.

            When my husband and I were first invited, we did wonder if our hostess would be asking us to attend her church. In less than an hour, however, we discovered Sarah and her family were actually members of the same rapidly growing congregation we’d recently chosen to call home.

            Our town’s population is exploding; our neighborhood is almost entirely made up of families who, until recently, had never even heard of our micropolitan community on the edge of the Western frontier. Some have moved to our state for college; others have decided this may actually be the best place to raise their children; some find our rugged outdoors appealing. All realize, before long and often after experiencing only one very long, bitter winter, they’re feeling more disconnected than they had originally anticipated, but thanks to Sarah and her family, the weekly Neighbor Dinner has become a blessed connection.

            When we gather around Sarah’s table, though not every diner is a brother or sister in the faith, we’re all looking for a place to feel attached to a place and a people. Then the Lord God said, ‘It’s not good that the human is alone.’” (Genesis 2:18) With our national broadcasts and papers filled with unsettling news, frightening news, and often news we couldn’t have imagined, we need neighbors. We need to take walks in spring on pathways no longer covered with ice and discover there are faces we know and friends who will wave. When we go for an evening walk, it’s a comfort to know who lives in the house with the warm lights on in the kitchen. Because there is the Neighbor Dinner, we now know who belongs to the porch with the inviting rocker. It has become important to my husband and me that we have the names of those we might call if we discover we’re unable to shovel the heaviest snow from our driveway or mow our grass growing tall as we inch into summer.

            My husband and I have relocated more than a dozen times with his work, and though we’re currently living in the very city where he was born, we often feel disconnected. There are days when the longing to be near children and grandchildren fills me with a sadness that comes close to making me physically ill. I long to prepare a meal of roast and potatoes for my son; I daydream about sitting across the kitchen table from my daughter where we might share fresh-brewed coffee and muffins from my oven. But for health reasons and financial restraints, we are where we are. Without family and without even one of our oldest and dearest friends.

            But when I begin to feel sad and disconnected, I take note of the colored pictures and notes displayed on my refrigerator, gifts from Sarah’s children. I grab my kitchen calendar, circle the date, and make note of the fact that in just three days we will be off to the Neighbor Dinner. And though Sarah has insisted we don’t need to bring anything, I retrieve my well-worn recipe files and cookbooks from my pantry. I consider the house that will be cozy, and the air scented with the aroma of Sarah’s roasted chicken. There will be the inviting salad created with the greens from Sarah’s garden; Judy will bring one of her mouth-watering desserts; a transplanted teen will enthusiastically tell all of us about the classes she’s enjoying; a four-year-old will stand extra tall and show me his muscles; a six-year-old will twirl for us in her sparkly Cinderella skirt; and my husband will introduce our newest neighbor who relocated to our town without a single member of her family. Because one young ministerial student misses his Midwestern roots and his mother’s green bean casserole, I will have gathered the ingredients and created a special occasion for this new friend and neighbor. I recall the single mother who, upon discovering we were without family, delivered cookies to our door. I remember the smile on another young woman’s face when she delivered a thank-you gift to my husband for clearing the deepest snow from her walk.

            I recently read, “The focus of entertaining is impressing others; the focus of true hospitality is serving others” (Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus). Sarah’s Neighbor Dinners are teaching us how to show true hospitality.

            Today, I gratefully acknowledge that, without Sarah, my husband and I might never have felt blessed in our Montana neighborhood filled to overflowing with one-time strangers.

 

Nancy Hoag is the author of four nonfiction books, including Storms Pass! So Hang On! (Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City). In addition, she is learning to be grateful for fresh vegetables and remarkable neighbors.

 

 

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