A call to order

Originally Appeared in : 9905-2/28/19

The famous poet Robert Frost once wrote, “good fences make good neighbors,” but it could be said that “shirtless, wild boys sprinting through the yard with sticks make for no neighbors.” 


That’s what we’ve assumed as the house beside us has remained relatively empty for the past three years. I’ve also noticed that Magan has yet to discourage the practice of removing one’s shirt and running like mad men amongst the youngsters any time the realtor has the opportunity to showcase the house to a prospective buyer. (She claims it’s designed to avoid any “buyer’s remorse” once the U-Haul trucks have gone.)


Our unusually warm January afforded the boys one of those shirtless ventures into the wilds behind our house the other day, and it didn’t hurt that Magan had spied the Century 21 lady parked next door the day before.


Shirtless males ranging from age 2-11 were scattered across the back yard looking like a museum scene of life as it was 20,000 years ago, but the imagery was muddled by the scattered 21st Century plastic playthings laying here and there. 


While Magan has never had any issue with the world (particularly the patch holding the house to the left of ours) seeing our children in their full, wild glory, she will not, by any means, accept any part of the world assuming that her family is messy or sloppy.


“Jason, they’ve taken every toy they own and tossed them out in the yard like a bunch of idiots,” she told me as I drove home for lunch. “They’re not even playing with half of them. Don’t worry, I’m about to fix that.”


In the six minutes it took me to finish my drive from the office to the house, the scene had shifted from man’s early beginnings to a shirtless roadside prison work detail. (Eli the lone inmate in orange...gym shorts)


“They don’t want to play,” the warden continued upon my arrival, “that’s fine. I’m going to work them the rest of the day and then they’ll learn.”


I continued assembling my PB&J as I watched shirtless worker bees move plastic dump trucks and excavators, or giant soccer balls, from the grass by the trampoline back to their original dig site or corner on the other end of the yard. 


Simon made the mistake of not looking busy as the warden made rounds (a regular habit) which garnered an, “Okay, you need something to do? Go get the rake. I want all of those leaves (Magan’s finger pointing to every corner) out of my yard.”


When I returned home later that evening, I pulled into our garage to find it looking as organized as a mom-and-pop garden shop. Seeing such progress, I decided to peak over our fence into the back yard to discover a pristine landscape as close to what one might have seen when Ponce de Leon walked through these same woods 500 years ago save, of course, the wooden tree fort and plastic yellow slide.


“Doesn’t it look wonderful?” Magan asked like a proud child.


“It does,” I replied with a smirk.


Per state law, the entire cell block had received a bath and one square for their work, and Magan even threw in a few episodes of their favorite cat videos before bedtime (my, how prison life has changed).


The point Magan was trying to make to the boys wasn’t that they shouldn’t have fun, but that they should never take the blessings God puts in their lives for granted. (Just ask Moses about that golden calf in Exodus 32.)


Taking for granted any of God’s blessings, whether people or things, is a quick and easy way to fall into sin and that, ultimately, is something we as parents must train our children away from at every opportunity.


1 Timothy 3:4-5 makes that very call to parents saying, “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity. (But if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)


So the next time the realtor shows up next door with potential new neighbors, they may find a cadre of skin-clad kids running hither and yon outside, but hopefully they’ll remark at how well kept the backyard is as they suggest how easy it would be to add a privacy fence.


Jason Halcombe has five sons and two daughters. He and his wife, Magan, are members of Immaculate Conception Church, Dublin.

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