In 1968 I was 9. It was a simpler time back then, at least for a 9-year-old. No stress from too much television, no internet or video games, just life on life’s terms. That year an amazing film came out that captured my heart and mind, Oliver. The movie was a musical story about a group of orphan boys who lived under the guidance of the old man Fagin. Fagin trained them to pick pockets and explained it to them in song. “Pick a pocket or two boys, you have to pick a pocket or two,” he sang.
There is a handful of movies that were influential in guiding my heart growing up, Oliver was one. Taxi Driver another, but that is a story for later. Oliver was a tender hearted orphan boy lead astray by a group of street boys when he arrive in the big city alone. Trying to fit in, find a place, looking to be accepted and loved everything they had seemed what he needed.
In the beginning of the movie Oliver meets Dodger. Dodger is the leader of the lost boys. He is a bright, street smart handsome young lad. He sees a chance to bring another boy in and he knows what Oliver needs to hear, He begins to sing. “Consider yourself at home, consider yourself part of the family. We’ve taken to you so strong, it’s clear we are going to get along.” I can see how my heart is drawn to that message then and now.
My criminal activities as a young man on the streets were almost always done with a hesitant heart. I remember walking the strip center (shopping area) with my best friend during the summers and our goal was to steal something from every shop. We would also follow behind the milk man and steal milk. Most of these antics were boy level poor choices. I don’t think I was looking for attention from my parents or in need of food or other elements of basic survival. We were just bored boys and that usually leads to trouble, at least it did for us.
As I got older trying to fill the holes in my heart through acceptance by others often included activities frowned upon by law enforcement. One night a group of guys in a new neighborhood I was living plotted to break into a liquor store. I went along. When the windows broke I ran. The two guys who were never afraid went in. I took off behind some houses and into a backyard under a broken down car. This was up north in the winter and there was snow on the ground. Sloppy wet snow. I laid in it for hours shaking cold as the police walked all around me with flashlights. Hours later, just before sunrise I slid out and ran home. I remember getting into dry clothes and curling up into bed. I can feel the emotion of that boy now. I was frightened, confused, worried but grateful to be in a safe, warm bed. I curled up in a fetal position and fell asleep.
My activities were never ones that would hurt anybody, not physically. The part that breaks my heart is the boy, the young guy who didn’t have a man there to share with him just how bad the things he was doing could turn out. Most kids inherently know things are not right or good. For most it is built into us from the very beginning. Of course there are some human creatures that do not develop the emotional and social elements of their brain that allows them to feel or understand right and wrong. For me I was taught right and wrong, I just chose wrong.
Criminal activity from our past does not have to define who we are today. Jesus showed us that so clearly as he hung on the cross in those last minutes. The thief cried out and He was there for him. I did a lot of things worse than stealing milk, but today the details don’t matter. I made amends where I could, I took my actions to Jesus and we have dealt with it all.
Matthew 6:12-15, And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
For me one place I began to find my heart was in a church. My church families have made a huge difference. I found acceptance, kind hearted direction, meaning. I began to “Consider myself at home, considered myself part of the family.” As the people of the church we are to be that place for lost boys, hurting families, tired men.
Dr. Seuss said, “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”
If I had written on a piece of paper my biggest dreams in those days on the street they would have fallen way short of where God has me today. He was my rescue. My heart is tender in this area because I know where a life without Jesus leads. A life lost in this world. Lord use me to be a voice for You. Lord use my life today. My challenge to everyone is to find an Oliver in your day, share a smile, a kind word or maybe even invite them to meet your church family. Invite them home.