In the eyes of the casual observer and nearest neighbor, chaos and disorder seem to reign supreme. After all, there are way too many children for any family to manage and the house is just too small. The yard is messy, the grass is desperately in need of mowing and the weeds have begun to fill in all the edges and empty spaces. In the center of the yard is a large sandbox, unused, the remnants of a few broken toys remain nestled between the dandelions and the ant hill.

The large garden plot is the one glory of the property, surrounded by walls of corn…it is lush and verdant as a tropical rainforest, giving up its harvest in grateful appreciation for the care and nurturance it has received throughout the season. But…the flowers that surround the porch, so very beautiful in the early part of spring, are looking worse for wear; coleus and begonias have been trampled by the many barn cats that prowl the property.

On the front porch, there is a can filled with cigarette butts and the smell of tobacco hangs heavy in the air while the porch light still burns from the night before. In the past few weeks there have three police cars and an ambulance…surely that means something? Then there are the cars, two of them in varying states of disrepair, one missing its battery, the other an old Mercedes wagon, many years past its prime.

“Ah,” opines the observer/neighbor, “this family is a scandal. There is something seriously amiss here…just look at the state of things! I think perhaps I’ll leave a Christian tract in the mail to gently show them the error of their ways. After all, it is the charitable thing to do…”

Yet…if the neighbor were to look a little more closely, or perhaps gently inquire, the picture might alter considerably…

The neighbor would realize that the reason the yard is so unkempt is that the large commercial mower that the father of the family has used for many years to keep the yard so beautifully trimmed, is broken, the repairs so expensive that the he simply can’t justify denying the family its needs for his vanity regarding the yard. He’s a former landscape business owner and the state of the yard is an exercise in complete humility for him. The barn cats that trample the flowers are an inheritance from every cruel soul that has felt they were doing the creatures a kindness by depositing them in the country. This family, that strives so hard to provide for its own necessities, has found it difficult to get rid of them…they prowl about the property, ridding it of outdoor pests…there are no rabbits eating the produce…and they only beg an occasional bowl of food and scratch behind the ears…

And the sandbox…the empty sandbox. It is a source of sorrow, as mother and father watch the “too many children” grow up and away from such simple joys. There is always hope that a grandchild or two might one day make use of it, so it stands waiting for little children and their shovels…

And were the neighbor so bold to ask, he might discover that those cigarettes, the ambulance and police cars…were all evidence of the crisis that is currently being lived by another family…a family that is under the care and protection of these “chaotic” neighbors…a temporary charge, solemnly undertaken under the direction and request of a priest…and undertaken as an act of charity: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto Me also…”

The old cars are a testimony of another sort. The battery of one, sacrificed to help these friends in need. And the poor, old Mercedes? Like the battery-less car, it was a donation from a friend and one that served the family for many years, and it still has many years left in it…yet the family never seems to have the funds to complete the necessary repairs…

But if the neighbor looks more closely and listens intently, he will hear the sounds of laughter and joy that emanate from the family. He will see that the family, despite its sorrows and trials, is close and loving…that the children are courteous, kind and obedient…the husband and wife work together, despite weariness, to imbue an appreciation for the simple joys of life. And were he to be invited in, he might notice that the house isn’t as cramped as he imagined…that the interior is cozy and cheerful, and the family itself is grateful for the comfort of their humble home. He might even notice that the children are clean and neatly attired, and that small niches of beauty are scattered about the dwelling.

Perhaps the neighbor would realize that his judgment was made based upon a surface evaluation and that his assumption that the family “just needs to be saved” is uncharitable to the extreme. Perhaps the neighbor might even pray for the family and acknowledge that the way of the cross isn’t pretty…the path is messy and even bloody. But it is the way of salvation and one that every true Christian is asked to travel.

Blessings,