Chapter 4 - Family of Faith (A Coming Home)
Chapter 4 - Family of Faith
This was the question asked at the end of Chapter 3.
“So John! ... Do you believe in God? You know the God of the Bible?”, trying to ask him in a non threatening way. John paused, and fixed his gaze on the road ahead. His eyes betraying a sense of fearful discovery, pausing, he drew a long breath.
Chapter 4 - Family of Faith
John held his breath, as if to pounce on the question with the ferocity of a hungry lion; but suddenly expelled his breath, and instead sighed with resigned frustration.
John had kept his silence on the drive with indifference as he had the casual understanding that he was there only for a free ride and a homemade Thanksgivings meal; and one that got him out of working on the holiday and provided him an opportunity to see and enjoy 1,800 miles of the countryside at Thanksgiving. He had never traveled much growing up, so this was a treat. It would be a relaxing getaway and a way to see this heralded land of New Mexico that TJ so vehemently bragged about. And for toppers, all of this experience surrounded by the warmth of, what sounded like, a perfect family. Something he had only seen on TV.
But what he never thought, or intended, was this twenty question inquisition on his beliefS. Partly angered by the question, John resigned himself to the notion he always knew, and that was, in this world, “there is no free ride,... nothing is free!”
However, one thing was sure, over the miles, John felt that TJ’s story was becoming more and more, not a story at all, but an initiation into the Torres family. John knew that TJ would not shut-up about his story, and started to feel trapped by this secret evangelist.
But even so, John knew TJ cares for him. Ever since he arrived at Quantico, Corporal Torres had befriended him. Seemingly, for no particular reason. John knew TJ’s fervor about his family of faith, was just his excitement. An excitement he had to allow, and so, he could not ignore this question, any more than any one of his siblings could dismiss it.
It was too late, he was stuck. But he was also beginning to realize that he was being shaken to the core with each passing mile of TJ’s story. It was turning out that it was going to be his soft underbelly that would be exposed. Exposed, both to himself, TJ, and worse yet, the Torres family. An exposure that was very likely going to be both as personal, as it was intimate.
John, rising up in his seat drew back a second breath, and said, “Yes,” with a stark and irritated tone. Drawing yet another deep breath, as if reloading a single bolt rifle, John, in a studied and profound manner, fired back, “God was always a God of everything, ... but a god of nothing to me. ... All I knew was, He wasn’t there for me, ... not when I needed Him! ... He didn’t care about me, or anything about me and my life. There was nothing in my life that sounded like, “John, my son, I love you!” ... No, in fact, if anything, He just let me struggle in pain. Just like my real father did. He left me, and so did God!”
Sitting quiet, John finally relaxed in his seat and sliding down with a resolve, he breathed a sigh of relief and set his eyes back on the road in front of him. Happy that he answered the way he did.
Knowing that John was not ready for another question of equal grade, I relented. It was enough that he engaged me and himself with honesty. And I also didn’t want to, “damage the tender reed”, as my Mom used to say. The holidays were not here, and we were only a little more than half way home, and I could tell by his response he was damaged goods. It was not going to be as easy as I thought it was going to be; that is his reception into my world.
Continuing on, I acknowledged his honesty and candor saying, “Well, that was the way we saw it too, when we were growing up, except now I have known God to be there for me. I guess if you have been blest that way, it is a lot easier to believe that God will be there for you in the future. But I’ve only known that feeling once, ... once when I was with my sister after her son died. I was holding her hand and we were both crying. Crying?! ... and yet we both felt a strange presence among us, an empowering acceptance of his death. Inexplicable! A hushed presence that both soothed and wrenched our broken hearts with the violent strains of the grief and tears. The kind that comes only with the death of the dearly loved. Strangely, it was as if God was suffering with us. God too was grieving. But who for? Us, Alex, Himself? Everything? Or ... maybe, I thought, maybe for everyon, for the cost we all have to bear for the Fall. It would take me months to understand those feelings. But I finally did!“
I was hoping that my comment would draw John into my world. But like a stone statue, John was fixed on holding off his curiosity. Not willing to be drawn into my “religious trap”, I thought sarcastically to myself. And yes, it was a trap. Like a child who you have to trick into eating their food. Dishonest? Perhaps. Justified, I think so. In any event, I continued on with my “spider web” of evangelistic deception, I said laughing to myself, telling John that, ”Even if we seemed to have been a religious family, we were not living as if God was walking with us; you know, like He was right next to us. But rather, He was just a spectator up in Heaven, just watching us. We did not necessarily look morally different as Christians are supposed to look. We sinned with the best of the unsaved. And we knew it. Sometimes, it was just so we could have some friends. Let’s face it John, siblings aren’t enough. Especially if you want a girlfriend. You know what I mean. Yet God had already begun setting the stage for our family’s conversion, for even before Alex’s death, our parents had already started teaching us those critical lessons in life. Lessons about what it meant to be a family and a Christian, if not in heart, at least then on the outside. At the same time, looking back, I could see God growing in us a thankful heart. As we would move from one place to another, our family would become, The Family, one for who was truly thankful, and one who tried to follow the Will of God.
This was taught us through examples of our parents, the discipline we received and an understanding and slowing of prayers that we would contemplate.
“So prayer! That was another big lesson. Don’t laugh!” Every time I mentioned this practice, people get all uncomfortable on me. As Christians we are called to both prayer and to be a light to the world. Praying, or giving thanks for our meals, even if in public, was expected. Not to be seen and praised for being religious as Jesus condemned, but to be a witness for Him, and to thank Him for His Graces in our lives.”
“To have a prayer closet was a sign of a true fanatic, and even speaking on prayer to the secular seemed a lot like speaking on something of a taboo. My Mom always had a prayer closet in our home. If there wasn’t one, she would contrive one from things. She would tell us that when we pray, we should be alone with God. That was best way to pray, unless in corporate prayer, of course. Kneeling and lights off Preferabl. Kneeling for humility before God, and so you didn’t nod off as it is uncomfortable. Lights off, so your mind had no distractions. Even so, Mom would have the closet fitted with a light, if it didn’t have one. She did that since a Bible was in there too. Mom would encourage us use the closet all the time; sometimes even after a spanking, or instead of a spanking.“
“It was the most embarrassing thing I had to explain to my friends, next to the paddle hanging on the kitchen wall. Between the two, I am surprised I had any friends. Oh, John, if you don’t know what a prayer closet is, it literally is a closet, usually with a kneeling stand inside. The idea is, that you are supposed to go in, with or without light, close the door and pray to God.”
Looking over to John, to see his expression, I smiled. Yep, I thought to myself, “That’s the look everyone gives, ... uh huh! Nose shriveled-up, eyes squinty and mouth half open.” I told John, “And while this was a strange and embarrassing thing, our family came to know the closet as a sanctuary from many things. A place where we could hide from the world, where we had permissio to escape. Even from our parents. My Dad gave us that shelter. We could seek refuge from them, as long as it was to God alone. Truly, it became a we could cry ‘sanctuary‘. It would become that place where we sought shelter and where we could direct our thoughts and petitions to God. A place where we might even hear an answer, if we listen.”
“Between ‘the closet’, as we fondly would call it, and praying, before our meals, openly, we were routinely branded as fanatical Christians at school, and be immediately slighted. So friends were hard to come by. And yet, while these practices were mostly driven by our parents, and not by us as kids, we came to understand that these were practices that God instilled in our lives, in our Family and so we became them. It was what God used to bring us closer to Him and in so doing, closer to each other as a family. Now, we didn’t always act the right way, as when we weren’t around our parents, we did not openly say Grace at lunch over our meal, though we did silently in our hearts. As I said, we were the saints that sinned. To the world, hypocrites; to us, we thought it was survival. But all that would change.”
”And that was not all (on prayer). We were also taught to pray every morning when we woke for the day, and every night for our forgiveness and repentance. And ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ was to be always be prayed. I am sure you’ve heard parts of it ... it is often quoted in movies,” asking, John acknowledges me with a nod, as his eyes stayed focused on the road ahead, but saying, “Everybody knows that prayer, ... not that I can repeat it now!”
“John? You never met my Dad, but you heard of him, right? ... Well, Prayer wasn’t just my Mom’s thing. No! My Dad has seen a lot things and has had to do a lot of things that have challenged his salvation, and that those things he can’t, or won’t, talk about, he can with God. My Dad is probably the most pentent of the family. He is always the longest in the prayer closet. We all know there is a God, because of my Dad and the seriousness by which he prays. There have been times when I have walked by and heard him crying. My father?! ... Can you imagine that? When he comes out of prayer, you can see it in his face. He had spoken to God.“
Recognizing I still had a green light to continue my story, I decided I would let him get closer to the Torres family. But before that, passing Memphis, we stopped for gas, food and to pee.
Fully rested and stretched, I immediately launched into the deeper waters of my family, details I felt were important in understanding us individually and as the Torres family; but more profoundly the meaning of Family and Home.”
After we hit the freeway, I continued, “As I mentioned before John, since all of us were not perfect, our parents taught us that we needed to forgive others and follow the old saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you“. If we made a mistake or sinned, and wanted to be forgiven, then we too must be harmed and forgive the offender.”
“Now, while we failed or disappointed each other on many occasions, my Dad used to say, “When we sin, we must try to learn how to grow in our faith”, saying that “when the imperfect meets us, let us meet imperfection with our gift of the perfection of forgiveness”. I learned that my failures and sins were just part my testing of faith; that is, how did I respond and what did I learn about my motives. Was it one of remorse and repentance, or one of anger and denial; was it one of forgiveness and reconciliation, or whether I held my grudge and sought revenge, and so learn nothing. Perfection is not found in perfect acts in this world, for there are no perfect acts.”
“My Mom would tell us that when she had to referee our fights, she would tell us that we had to forgive our brother or sister; and to remember, that “Perfection is found in our imperfect acts, given in His perfect will”, pointing up. And that that is the best we can do, and the most we can hope for, at least this side of eternity.”
“I only say this, so you understand when I talk about all their screw-ups. So, with that disclaimer, let dive a little deeper into my family.”
“We are not a small family, at least in the sense of having an extended family, nor are we a large family. We are a family of few relatives. But certainly large enough to create both havoc and party.”
“My Dad, is X-Major James Torres, a Marine as I have told you before, and of steep respect among peers and keen reputation at Quantico. You have heard his name on base, you have seen his work in hand to hand combat training. At home, he was just Dad. A title and role he cherishes. You will be one of the lucky ones to meet him. My Dad was first born in Phoenix, Arizona. Raised Catholic and was an only boy among three sisters, all younger. His upbringing was lived out working next to his Dad, as a son of a migrant worker.”
“His father knew the hard toils of migrant life. His father didn’t come to the US to work in the fields. So, my Dad was made to go to school and he had to have good grades if he wanted privileges. And to discourage poor grades, he was whipped hard with a belt for any grade lower than a B. His father hated to do that, but life was hard as a migrant, and he knew the whipping was a better pain to learn from and leave behind, than a life as a migrant hand.”
“My Dad never had an ill word to say about his Dad or the discipline he got. Instead, he had nothing but respect for his father. I never met my Grandpa, my Dad’s father, as he died from lung cancer when I was young. They say it was something in the sprays he had to use. We never found out. We were just poor Mexican farm workers. Disposable. That was the way it was. After High School, my Dad proposed to Mom and they got married, and Dad went off to join the Marines and went to Nam.”
“Now my Mom, Silvia Hargrove (Hargrove is my mom’s maiden name), and she lived in Phoenix too, but on the other side of the tracks. She came from a well-to-do family; or at least above middle class. My Mom met my Dad in High School. Now, if you ever saw my Dad he is a big man, even in retirement, he is 6’1”. My Dad was handsome by any measure, and he has dimples. So you’ll see where I got mine from. He was a natural athlete but could not play sports. He chose to work for income for his family. By then, his father had died from the cancer.”
“As I said, my Mom’s family did not like my father for my Mom. He was not good enough for their daughter. I don’t know whether it was because of his name, his economic, or religious beliefs. Probably all of them. Silvia was an only child and was spoiled, but they had fallen in love, and that was that. The more they tried to stop her, the more she strained away until they eloped before my Dad joined the Marines. My Mom is a strong woman, but has a softness for our weaknesses, and allowed a tolerant attitude toward school failures or averages. Dad would get so upset, but could never pushed Mom to hold us kids accountable.”
“As far as my siblings go, I have mentioned them briefly. So, I have two sisters, one older (Sarah), and one younger (Rebecca); and I also have a little brother (Richard). He was a surprise baby. I will tell you more about them later, but it is important to know that. We are a close family, as we had to be traveling around the world. We learned very quickly that we had to be both family and friends to each other. And while each us are very different, we all are loners, except with each other. Over the years, we have been blest in a mighty way. Each year more than the others. That is why we are truly a family of thanksgiving.”
“For us, Thanksgivings Day is the National Family holiday. It provides us with that special day we can deliberately come together for two reasons of the same virtue. First, to celebrate and give thanks for us as a family of individuals to God, and for all His provisions and blessings throughout the year. Both, those that are pleasing to our lives, and those that are not, for some blessings come under a disguise of suffering. And second, for us to give thanks to all of those who have been part of lives and who have given us something of themselves to us. And through our thankfulnes, find that we are more giving to others in the future.”
“Oh, I almost forgot! As you know me, my name is Timothy James Torres; or rather to you, Corporal Torres, Private! ... Yes! I like the sound of that, ... Private Doe! It has a certain ironic ring to it, don’t you think?”
“What you don’t know about me John, is that even though I am the middle child, first born male, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and blest to be so. For God’s Fortune has showered me with blessings all my life. Great parents and siblings, easy personality as well as, good health, mind, protection and a girl back home. Julie Chavez! She was my girlfriend in High School, in Los Alamos and now living in Albuquerque.”
“We kept in touch over the years, and the last two years have taken on a more serious tone of discussions. This weekend, I am hoping we can really be together more as a couple, than as pin pals.”
“Now, as with any good story John, join me in my world, and walk with me through the doorway of my family’s house, and into the Home of my heart. There you will meet the lives of my family, and share with me the joys of our Home. You will share with me in the subtle, small and contrary treasures that we will reflect on with each other, and hopefully you’ll see why we give Thanks. It is in these images, both great and small that I hope you will find solace and warmth, not for my life and family, but for yours.”