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We are attracted to certain people. And not because of their clothes or appearance, but because of their attitude, their manner, and the way they treat us.
Maybe they have a smile for us. Or a simple hello. Maybe they ask how we are doing and really mean it and take time to listen to our problems if we want to mention something besides what we think of our day or the weather.
Maybe they say hi to our children. Or comment on our pets. Maybe they remember our last conversation and then ask a follow-up question.
There is an old lady, Miss Mabel, who is about 94 and gets around with two walking sticks. She is hunched over and so petite she doesn’t even come up to my shoulder. You think she is carefully watching the ground, but then she looks up and sees you and she breaks into a smile that highlights all her wrinkles into beauty lines. She just radiates. And then she says hi. And good to see you, love.
You can’t leave her presence without smiling back and feeling like you are needed in this world. You leave feeling definitely more important than you first thought when you work up this morning, looked into the mirror, and wondered if you would ever look decent enough not to scare everyone you saw today.
Miss Mabel is a “place maker.” She makes you feel like you have a place in this world. Like you are necessary. Just by her smiling at you and gushing over you and telling you how pleased she is to see you.
Place makers are not only little old women. They come in all sizes and shapes. Personalities and attitudes. They can be old and young.
But the one think place makers have in common is that they welcome everyone into their circle. Their life. At their table. No matter their opinions, background, socioeconomic status, or the current mess they are struggling with.
Place makers value people. And treat all people as if they have value.
Jesus was a place maker. He made room at his table for all the sick, dejected, worried, un-popular people. No need to have it all together to get a little of his attention. Certain people were not preferred over other people.
We are called to be place makers. Treating others with dignity, honor, and love. Not considering our self-better than others. Or placing people on rungs of a ladder and then treating them accordingly.
We don’t need vibrant personalities, a ready wit, always know what to say or do, or be a people person to be a place maker. We can all be place makers in our own way. With the gifts and life and personality God has already blessed us with.
My dad was a quiet, humble, shy, and unassuming man. He had a ready smile when necessary, but he was also introspective. And yet he was a place maker and taught me about being a place maker.
Most every day he would leave his small apartment and walk a few miles around town. When he came upon another walker he would say hi. Someone working in their yard elicited a wave. No matter the part of town. Sometimes he would stop and shoot the breeze. Mostly he listened and asked questions. Usually he managed to encourage the person in some small way. And then when he was saying goodbye, he always worked in a thank you (which often surprised the person).
The thank you often had something to do with the conversation. Maybe the person said they were a teacher, then dad would thank them for teaching all the kids that passed through their room. Maybe they revealed how they used to be on drugs, then dad would thank them for getting off and straightening out their life. Or maybe the person said their neighbor was a bother and always waking them up at night. Then dad would thank them for being patient with their neighbor. Sometimes he just thanked them for talking with him.
“Everyone wants to be thanked and rarely are,” he told me one day when I asked him why he thanked everyone.
He rarely talked much about himself. Instead he would listen and ask the person questions. He told me once, “I can’t help others much, but everyone needs someone to listen to them, and that is something I can do. I listen, and people talk.”
All of us can be place makers. And we can improve our skills as a place maker.
Next time you are nervous and don’t know what to say to the person beside you or how to break the awkward silence that is making your ears ring . . .
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Think about the other person, instead of yourself. When we focus on the other person, we begin to lose our shyness, quit worrying about the clothes we are wearing, and stop thinking about how the paint is peeling on the ceiling of our house. Focusing on them makes them feel welcome, accepted, and valuable.
2. Quit thinking you have nothing to offer. We don’t need to have the gift of entertaining or be a people person to make people feel like they have a place with us. Each of us in our own ways can listen to someone. Encourage someone. Compliment someone. Thank someone. Provide hope to someone. Your unique personality and traits can bless others in ways you can’t even imagine.
3. Find the similarities you share and connect over them. Maybe you grew up in the same town. Like baseball. Are both tired of winter. Raise lamas. Think green is the new neutral. Like Okra as your favorite vegetable. Find something to agree on. Connecting with someone else makes people feel good about themselves.
4. Try and learn something from them. Make it a game to learn something new from your interaction with them. Maybe they know the secret to plowing a straight row. How to harvest seeds from tomatoes. The secret to crispy fried chicken.
5. Be brave. Take a chance. Start the conversation. Don’t know what to say? Ask questions. Most everyone likes to talk about their interests and themselves.
6. Put yourself in their place. Would they like to sit? Have a drink of water? Some food. A hug.
7. It doesn’t take a lot of time. Little things can make someone’s day. A smile. A cheerful comment. Just recognizing someone can change their day.
8. Reserve judgement. Turn that little voice off. Quit sizing them up and trying to place them in a box. No comparing. Just enjoy the interaction.
9. Ask God to show you opportunities for being a place maker. Don’t know where to start? Ask for help. Learn from the best place maker who makes room for all of us no matter our mess or day.
We can all learn to be better place makers. Welcome more people into our lives. Seat more people at our table.
Try with one person. Then another.
Don’t let a little unfriendliness detour you.
Opposition and setbacks are part of life.
Give them grace (maybe they were having a bad day; a horrible year).
Give yourself grace and don’t take it personally.
Keep inviting and setting a place for others.
Then when your table is full. Pull out another table.
Thanks for stopping by. Keep remembering what’s important.
Join the discussion: Do you know a place maker? What qualities do they have?