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Faith and Values: The family ties that bind us

Tracy Simmons (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Tracy Simmons (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Tracy Simmons For The Spokesman-Review

Many religions teach the importance of family.

The Bible is chock full of Scriptures about the responsibility of having a family and the blessings that come from it. Entire ministries are devoted to this.

The family institution is key in Islam, in Judaism, in Sikhism and so on.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom I look up to very much, even said, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you.”

As you know, if you read this column, family was a complicated thing for me as a child. I envied my friends who had two parents and who had brothers and sisters. I would daydream about having their life.

Then one day my fantasy came true, kind of.

My mom said we were moving in with her best friend, Cathy (my godmother), who was also a single mom. Cathy had two kids, Kelly and Laura.

So there we were, in a house, not an apartment. We had a yard, we had dogs, we had family dinners together. Each night we would take turns blessing the food.

“Dear God, thank you for the corn and tortillas and peanuts,” little Laura would pray with one eye open, confusing beans for nuts.

Kelly and I were the same age. We took baths together, like sisters. She kicked my front tooth out in that bathtub, as she spun around forgetting it was a tub, not a swimming pool.

We shared a room – a garage that had been converted into a bedroom and had a curtain for a door. She had the top bunk. One night she convinced me that we should sneak out of bed and moon our moms, who were watching TV in the next room. That was a bad idea, we realized later as we soothed our sore bottoms after our spankings.

At Christmas we had cookie decorating parties, and at Easter we hunted for eggs.

To me, this was family, and those years together are where my happiest childhood memories come from.

We were attending Calvary Chapel at the time, which is a megachurch in Albuquerque. I was happy, but my mom wasn’t. She was seeking something more, and I understand. Living with her best friend was OK, but she wanted a husband. She worked as the bookkeeper at a lumber yard, and that was OK, but it wasn’t what she dreamed of doing. We just scraped by financially, and that was stressful.

We ended up leaving Calvary for a house church. I hated it. There weren’t really other kids to play with, and there wasn’t a worship band. Instead we sat around in some guy’s living room and prayed for what seemed like hours. We would all sing together really badly, he would preach tedious, boring sermons and then we’d pray some more.

Each time we went, my mom liked it more and more, and I liked it less and less. And somewhere along the way my mom and Cathy grew apart. Cathy voiced her reservations about this new group, and I recall that it wasn’t long after that when we moved out.

The house church, for lack of a better term, is the faith community I ended spending most of my youth in. The leader of that group, Sam, says the people you’re related to by blood aren’t your family. Spiritual relations, he says, are a better, more peaceful arrangement.

I have a hard time buying that. The families we are born into aren’t perfect and, like any relationship, they take work. If we’re lucky, our tribes don’t get smaller because of difficulties, instead they expand when people like Cathy, Kelly and Laura come into our lives.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a journalism teacher and editor of Spokane FaVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.

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