Saturday, December 17, 2005

Open House

I’ve spent a great deal of my life wandering around, visiting fascinating places and meeting amazing people. In my travels I’ve gathered up a treasure trove of beautiful experiences, but have never paused long enough anywhere to allow roots to find their way into the earth I’ve stood on.

I have been in Seattle now for exactly two years, during which time I married Pat, we bought a house, and we adopted two cats. Wow! I think I’ve sprung a root or two!!

Although I’ve always loved the idea of “community”, until now it has only been a theory I’ve longed to explore. After being in a small town in Zimbabwe last summer and witnessing the interconnectedness of neighbors, family, and friends, I came home inspired to find ways to reach out in my neighborhood. In the small African village there is a natural dependence on one another that supports strong community bonds. Here we prize our independence to the point of isolation. We have so much and are so busy, we don’t have the time or the apparent need for one another. My Zimbabwean friends find it hard to believe that many Americans don’t even know the names of their neighbors across the street.

Pat and I have made it a point to introduce ourselves to the neighbors on our street and have gotten to know one or two of them fairly well. But, I thought it was time we made more of an effort to develop bonds in our little “village”. So last week I handed out invitations around our block: A Holiday Open House—An opportunity to get to know your neighbors. I baked up a bunch of goodies and mulled some spiced cider, cleaned up the house and lit the candles. Then we sat on our couch and waited...

Suddenly I realized that no one was going to come. What was I thinking? Who would want to go to a complete strangers home during the middle of the busiest season of the year? My heart began to sink as the minutes passed. Just because I was gung-ho about “building community” in our neighborhood, why should I assume anyone else was interested?

But then there was a knock. An older couple that lives two houses down tentatively made their way into our living room. As I poured some cider for them, another knock. Then another. Soon our small home was overflowing with neighbors, drinking cider, eating goodies, meeting, and greeting.

There were rumors of an Olympic rower that lived somewhere in our neighborhood. There were hushed stories of the alleged murder that occurred in the house on the corner over a decade ago. There was debate about bio-diesel cars, and whether or not a tow truck was the best way to pull down the laurel bushes that grow incessantly on our streets. Favorite artists were discussed. Golf tournaments were planned. My Africa photo album made the rounds, while two little boys almost pulled our Christmas tree down.

We soon discovered that we were in the midst of a beautifully diverse community…there is the retired carpenter, the zoologist, the Pearl Harbor survivor, the gardener, the new mom, the grandmother. There are Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Buddhists, Catholics, Atheists, Democrats, Republicans, and Green-Party Hippies. You name it, our little neighborhood has got it! It’s fabulous!!!

Earlier, before everyone had arrived I had nailed a “hamsa” symbol by our door. It is an ancient figure of a hand with an “eye” in the middle of it, once used to ward off the “evil eye”. As I hung it in our entry, I prayed that it would symbolize a hand of blessing on all who entered and exited our home. And as each of our neighbors made their way out, thanking us for giving them the opportunity to gather together and get acquainted, I felt that hand of blessing on each of them, and especially on Pat and I. What a gift it had been for us to see our home full of new faces eager to “build community” with one another. I could practically feel my newly sprouted roots working their way into the earth I stood on.

For the first time in a long time, I have found home.

I pray our home will become known as The Open House to our friends and neighbors. A welcoming place of refuge, peace, comfort, laughter, healing…A place that those who enter and depart from feel blessed.


Blogger bobbie said...

oh tonya, this is so beautiful. i have tears in my eyes as this is what i long for too. we were so BUSY being 'christians' at our last church that we never got to really know our neighbors here, and i grieve that greatly as we depart. what change did we make? what lives did we impact?

i want this 'next' to be an open door, a place of welcome and roots.

sink those roots deep tonya - the soil sounds very rich and full of nutrients there!

3:44 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

That is so awesome - I'm so glad it turned into a wonderful time of togetherness! And I hope it's the beginning of something marvellous and unique to your neighbourhood, a reconnecting of lives across the fences and roads.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Hope said...

Wow - this sounds wonderful - this sounds what bringing the good news to the world looks like. God bless you for your open heart and open home. When I was a kid stuff like this was a given, it isn't anymore. Building bridges is a wonderful vocation.

4:35 PM  
Blogger steph said...

I love this Tonya! Someone else I know is making her neighbourhood her community. The hamsa is a beautiful symbol and reminder of what your heart is longing for and bringing to the place you are. How exciting to see what will happen next.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Kelli B said...

Wow. I stumbled upon your blog, and Im deeply touched. Thank you for being an example, for stepping out of the norm of our days, and for teaching me what hospitality looks like. I am sad thinking that you and your husband might not have ever known the diversity and abundance of people in your "village". So I am glad you now know.

Your blog is deep and inspiring. Thanks for sharing your life.

10:35 AM  
Blogger learner said...

Thanks Tonya & Pat for the openness of your hearts and home. I am reminded of a book written several years ago titled: "Open Heart..Open Home" by Karen Mainse. We are learning more about being "open" as the years pass, and have been often blessed with the treasures that people leave behind in our lives, after passing through our open door. Your mother and I are proud of you and value your example!

1:36 PM  
Blogger Tonya said...

Hi Tonya! I linked to you through Hope...via my dear friend Eija...I'm from the Minnesota bunch she refers to.

My heart so resonated with this post. At our last house (12 years) we were the glue that connected the neighborhood and we clearly knew that was God's calling for us there. It was a diverse, inner city neighborhood which brought challenges but it was good. We've been in this house (on a busy street no less) for 9 months and God has refocused our energies...building community in a coming church plant. But I still look around me for ways to build bridges on a busy street!

May your efforts be blessed by our God who sees your hearts! You are good.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

What a wonderful event!! I hope your roots deepen as your community grows.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous eija said...

This is so great!

My family recently moved out of "the sticks". One of my wishes regarding the new home is, that my kids' friends would always feel welcome there. That our house could be a kind of safe, warm place to come to, like a second home.

We're not there, at least not yet. But maybe some day...

12:59 AM  
Anonymous Idelette said...

Hi Tonya

I love that they came ... For a moment I really thought they might not come! I guess it's something we all yearn for: community. And if it's not that, I guess curiosity will get us to the party too!

12:02 AM  
Blogger tess said...

This is so inspiring, Tonya! I live in a neighborhood where there's not a great deal of interaction--and unfortunately I am probably the worst one of the lot. I started visiting a 95-year-old woman a bit this summer. She'd lived across the street for years, and I'd always meant to spend time with her.

I only had a handful of visits, but in that short time she made me a beautiful afghan, which I use as a prayer rug.

But shortly after I got that beautiful blanket, I got anxious and caught up in my "life" and stopped seeing her for a while. I meant to go back, but time went on, and now she's moved away to nursing home.

I kneel on that rug and wonder sometimes about how I live my life and how it seems my religious quest can often be more about reading 100,000 books and gazing at my navel instead of walking a few steps outside my little box and spending ten minutes with actual human being.

Your story is planting a seed in me--thank you for out to your neighborhood and reaching out again to share the experience in the blogosphere.

10:27 PM  

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