Joe sits outside on the steps of Taylor Home and looks out beyond the circle drive to 23rd street. It’s the first spring Sunday of 1951 where sitting on the steps without a jacket was even possible. His seven brothers were either playing catch or running throughout the large living room area, playing some game that Joe couldn’t acknowledge, but could hear through the screen door. The past 7 of his 12 years of life are only known here at Taylor Home. It’s practically all he knows, outside of the somewhat regular Sunday afternoon visits, after church. A clean and, somewhat quiet, 1949 Buick turns off 23rd street and rolls up the circle drive. Joe stoically gazes as the car stops and his mother gets out of the passenger side with a smile and a toy more appropriate for a boy of age 5. A second Buick pulls in behind. Joe’s oldest brother gets out of the car, hair slicked straight back, wearing pleated pin striped pants, white cotton shirt and suspenders. The step dad, dawning a brown fedora, gets out last with a noticeable reluctance.
The meal downstairs in the over-sized basement/kitchen is almost ready. The smell of yeast rolls makes his eyes burn. Mr. and Mrs. Cruz have made another incredible meal for the boys, plus Joe’s Sunday guests. The Cruz’s have volunteered to manage Taylor Home for several years. The Lyon’s Club has helped raise funds to meet the Cruz’s, and the boys’, needs. There are also fees paid by family members to help offset the costs. But the fees are far from meeting the monthly budget. The home is a sturdy 3 story brick structure, including the basement. William Taylor, a county judge, always had a heart for wayward boys and convinced the Oklahoma legislature to fund the construction and first few year’s budget for the home he envisioned. It opened in 1924, a year after Taylor died. Since then the home has seen boys come and go. Most of them aren’t technically orphans. They are abandoned. The reasons are somewhat similar. But most of the boys who live at Taylor with the Cruz’s have family somewhere. Joe’s mother remarried a few years earlier. Joe’s father had passed away prematurely, leaving his mother with Joe and his eight brothers. She broke down and sent Joe and every brother but the oldest to Taylor Home. The man she married was considered somewhat well to do. But there was an unspoken understanding that the arrangement would remain as is for Joe and his brothers. The Sunday afternoon visits after church will be as close to going home as possible for Joe and his brothers. Taylor Home is now home. And the boys at Taylor are all his brothers.
Across the street, on the west side of the property, was Crutcho Public School. All the boys walked across the street to attend each weekday. It was there that my father met most of the Taylor Home boys, and became very close friends with them. Joe and his brothers were no exception. But there was also Willy K., who had the voice of a song bird. Joe’s well-to-do stepdad, Charlie, was a singer and talent promoter. When Willy was in high school, my Dad went with him and a few others to a local dance hall in Oklahoma City. Local talent would provide the music. I think even Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys entertained crowds there once. Charlie, as well as my Dad and the other boys with them, encouraged Willy to get up and sing with the band. Charlie saw great potential and profit with Willy. As it turned out, Willy created a wild stir with his singing talent that evening. It pissed off the band members, especially their lead singer. But it wouldn’t lead to anything. Willy wouldn’t become a famous recording artist, nor would Charlie make a mint from Willy’s voice.
Richard K., my Dad’s age, was a gifted athlete and played for Crutcho Bulldog’s basketball and baseball teams. However, Richard K. had suffered with a bout of polio as a younger boy, which prevented him from doing much more with those talents beyond Crutcho. My Dad played alongside Richard during both basketball and baseball seasons at Crutcho for many years. Richard B. was another who ran with the same crowd. He spent a great many days at my Dad’s house, after school. In fact, most of the boys from Taylor Home would spend time at my Dad’s house. My Grandfather, an adventurist who experienced life during the depression in train cars and WPA projects, never met a stranger. The boys loved him and he always had energy to entertain my Dad’s visitors when they stopped by. Likewise, my Dad would spend many a day at Taylor Home, and would also be able to testify to the wonderful meals the Cruz's provided.
The boys were abandoned. But, somehow, they were not really abandoned. They had their own families, even if it was ad hoc and forged through unfortunate circumstances. They were loved. And, because of this love, they grew up and became good influences of their own. Not all of them. Of course, several succumbed to addictions and other maladies that would forever cobble their lives. But doesn’t that happen with kids with traditional families too? It would always infuriate my father to watch Joe’s mother drive up on those Sundays. Why wouldn’t they take Joe and his brothers’ home with them? Why leave them at Taylor Home every Sunday? It was a subtle, yet life forming rejection that was beyond comprehension. But, despite blood relatives, the Cruz’s, the other boys, my Dad and other friends at Crutcho School, were the circle of sufficiency for those boys. And although it wasn’t ideal, it probably was better than what most of those boys wished it could be for them, which was to be with their Mom or Dad or Stepdad. Even in the midst of unfortunate circumstances and staggering core rejection, they were provided what they needed. They were never really left orphans.
A few weeks ago, my Dad told me about a dream he had. He was asking me if I could figure it out. In the dream he was directed to help clear out an old building that looked just like Taylor Home, so it could be demolished. He was driving a wagon pulled by a team of horses. As he approached the site, he would go inside and gather up young boys and put them in the back of the wagon. As he drove the wagon with the boys in tow, he would pass by several holes filled with bones. Following instructions, he would take each boy and place him in a hole with the bones. The last boy he placed in the hole started to cry. My Dad asked him what was wrong. The boy in the dream replied, "I'd rather die than live like this." Upon hearing this, my Dad was moved to tears, picked up the boy, hugged him tightly, went back and gathered up all the other boys and took them home to live with him. He asked me what the dream meant. I am not sure I know exactly the meaning. But I think I understand where it comes from.
I think it was the boys from Taylor Home that most impacted my father. My Dad wasn’t in a rich family, by any stretch. His Dad always told him that he should aspire to be an engineer. He took it to heart, working his way through college at Safeway and earning a physics and math degree. Unfortunately, his Dad died during the Christmas season in 1958, right after a petty argument. It wasn’t over anything serious. They never got to reconcile. But he succeeded with his father's vision for him. He was offered an engineering job at Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and another with the FBI. He took the Southwestern Bell job simply because the FBI required another boot camp in Quantico. Having joined the Marines in 1963, he was done with boot camps.
He became a member of Big Brothers and adopted a wayward boy named Steven S. Steven’s home was severely busted. He had little or no chance. My Dad would have him visit on a regular basis, help him with homework, teach him basic skills, like working on cars. Eventually, Dad would help support Steven achieve what he achieved, a bachelor of science. Steven ended up becoming a successful engineer. When my Dad started a business, he would always hire and train young people in college. They would end up going elsewhere for careers. Were you to ask them, they owed a great deal to my Dad’s opportunity to learn a trade and get on their feet. I think all of this stems from his days in Crutcho, running close with the boys of Taylor Home.
I can still remember a very cold December night as a small boy, riding with my Dad deep into Oklahoma City and stopping by a dilapidated two story frame house. There was a long flight of tiled steps up to a door. I stayed mid-way up the steps as I watched him carry a large cardboard box full of gifts up the stairs. He opened the door. Almost immediately in front of the door was a bed with a sick woman lying in it. Small children gathered around his legs, anticipating what he had brought them. He never talked about what he had done. For years it was a memory I had to piece together because he never made it a ‘teachable moment’ for me. He had adopted this family that Christmas. And, never telling me what he was doing, he just told me to stay mid-way up the stairs and wait for him.
My Dad is now in his mid-70’s. I don’t think he realizes his life’s impact. Maybe he does. He was always the consummate entrepreneur. It was always about progress, building things, opportunity, making a materially better life. But, while all of that activity was going on, the real impact going on under his nose was on the young people he mentored, employed, trained, and counseled. I don’t think he did that for brownie points. Not at all. If that was the case, would have took advantage of photo opportunities and local newspaper reports to snag every public opportunity to show it off. No, what he thought he was doing was creating jobs and building wealth. All the while, he was forming lives fueled by the desire to love others and help those who needed some help. And I think it was a broken heart from experiencing life with the boys of Taylor Home that started that deep, gnawing desire.
Rejection is worse than death. Acceptance is more valuable than wealth. Nothing will malform a young and impressionable personality more than to be utterly rejected by a mother or father or family. Nothing will heal those wounds more than unconditional acceptance. In fact, acceptance has the duel ability to heal and to change. But those are just words. They are, however, a tangible reality when experienced in the lives of people placed in your path. You don’t have it all planned out. But the love for those placed in your path can spawn a desire for their good. And it is selfless. You may not really understand this is taking place. I am not sure my Dad did. But it was. After all, that’s what love is: desiring the very best for another, without personally benefiting from it, other than seeing their happiness.
For years I knew the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. I knew about the arrangement Jesus made in the past, on the cross. But I always had a hard time connecting the dots between the doctrine and real life. There was doctrine and church and Bible study. Then there was real life. And the two never seemed to touch, although I wouldn't admit it. Even after I dedicated my life to Jesus Christ as an adult, for years the connection was still a puzzle left unresolved. I always thought the entire message of Christianity was that I sin, my sins are forgiven if I repent, and I will go to heaven when I die. But what do I do with all this in between now and my death? How does that apply to my pain now and the pain of the people placed in my path? I’ve since discovered the Gospel Jesus preached: The Gospel of the Kingdom of the Heavens. And it connects the dots. Doctrine didn’t become unimportant. It just began to touch and color all of life…because the Gospel is about real life. The Kingdom of God is about redeeming a people, and through them, redeeming the created order. It’s about devotion to a King, of which all the promises given to Israel throughout the Old Testament had been fulfilled, and benefiting from all of it now and forever simply by placing my confidence in Him. But Jesus reflects this sort of life He offers. It is about forgiveness of sins. But it's also about a life of love and restoration. It’s about loving the unlovable. I wasn’t lovable, yet I was loved into realness by a Realm that no longer remains distant and detached, but engulfs my world. It’s about loving the unwanted, the cast away, the outcast. It’s about taking in the rejection of a young boy by his parents is wrong, and being inspired to love them as best you can to help them live.
I’m not sure if my Dad realizes it, but there was reason and purpose in his living in Crutcho, as well as there was in those boys ending up in Taylor Home. There was real intention in his feelings toward those boys and their plight, as well as those he would meet and help throughout his entire life. This was a desire placed in his heart by the King and the desire reflects His Kingdom…His Realm. There is no way I can express my appreciation for what my Dad has done for me in providing, teaching, encouraging. But, it is the Kingdom of God, coming through him, as I watched him help others, not from some stoic imperative or a well-managed reputation, but from an outpouring of compassion, that I can point to as help in connecting these dots. This is his greatest gift to me, above all else. He has shown me the love and acceptance of my heavenly Father, without planning it that way, which is the best way it’s done. I keep thinking my life is far too filled with work, budgets, obligations to be able to have a real impact with the life I have been given. I think if I am making an impact, I probably won't realize it. I can definitely tell my Dad, if he thinks he hasn't made a real Kingdom impact with the life he has been given, read this and remember. He showed me what this looks like and it has helped me make that connection between red letters and real life in a profound way. It points beyond my Dad, to a Realm and a King that works throughout this dark world like an unstoppable secret. And it always encourages me. And it always helps me feel again.