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On Higher Ground

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By Bill Horner

Unexpected Praise from unexpected quarters for this father

 

 “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

We had just entered the nice, locally-owned pizza restaurant.  Looking around I saw that this quiet establishment was almost totally unoccupied.  The elderly couple sitting at the table in the corner eyed us as we took our seats.  I inwardly groaned.  Would they think their near privacy was being invaded by Marcia and me and our three children, ranging in age from six down to two months?

Hollywood, Florida, was not the most child-friendly city in the mid-1980’s.  Fresh out of seminary, Marcia and I were living in that area with the hopes of starting a new church.  We discovered very quickly that nearly everything was geared toward adults; the majority of them retired senior citizens.  Whole apartment complexes, even whole neighborhoods had no-child policies in place.  Up until two years before we moved into our little rental house, our neighborhood had had such a policy.

In the 1960’s real estate was a booming enterprise in South Florida, and many retirees from all over the northeast had moved to the Hollywood area.  Still relatively active and now free from many responsibilities, they did not want noisy, pesky children around.  However, twenty years later as they were transitioning to retirement centers or nursing homes, they were eager to sell their property.  Often it was young families that wanted to buy.  So the no-child policies began to collapse.

The Mahaffeys two doors up from us had broken the child barrier in our neighborhood.  A few of the other residents were quick to criticize when one of the two small Mahaffey kids made too much noise or traipsed across someone else’s lawn.  But, by the time we moved into the rental house with our family, attitudes had mellowed.  Lonely widows or widowers were beginning to enjoy the company of young children.

Miss Alice, who lived behind us, was one such widow.  She took an immediate liking to our two preschoolers Josh and Susanna and would talk to them frequently over the back fence.  One day she asked Marcia and me if she could take them to see a movie.  I was a little hesitant because we hardly knew this lady.  Nevertheless, I relented.  Alice seemed genuine and the kids just loved her.  It was the first of many times she would take them on an outing.  She told us once that she and Josh just laughed and laughed while watching this one funny movie.  “Josh was laughing at the movie, and I was laughing at Josh laughing at the movie!” she confessed.

But there was still some leftover impatience with young children in that region.  Older people did not want a screaming child or crying baby to spoil their evening out.  So I prayed our three would be on their best behavior in the pizza restaurant that night.  We had tried to raise them right.  We taught them Bible stories, took them to worship with us every Sunday, sought to model Christian values and convictions for them even at their young age, and when necessary, administered discipline, up to and including an occasional paddling.  This particular night was the payoff.  They sat quietly and enjoyed our dinner out (a rare treat for us all back then).  They happily ate their pizza, smiling through the tomato sauce smeared all aroung their little mouths.  My back was to the elderly couple, but I could almost feel them staring at us.

After a while I heard them rise to leave.  Suddenly I felt two surprisingly strong hands on shoulders.  A face bent down close to mine, and an elderly voice whispered in my ear.  “You’ve done a good job, Dad!” he said.  My feet didn’t touch the ground the rest of

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, and the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them” (Psalm 127:3-5).