Nick looked over at his grandfather sitting in his favorite chair watching TV. Ever since Nick could remember he had been coming here for dinner almost every Sunday. Even though Nick had been around his grandfather all his life, Gramps was still in some ways a mystery to Nick.
Nick studied the face of the man who had been the first in their family to come to the United States from Italy. Wrinkles had taken the place of the smooth handsome skin he saw in the pictures which hung on the walls of his grandparents' home. Gray had somehow overrun the wavy mass of dark brown hair. Gramps often wore a stern look, but Nick knew that inside was a heart of gold.
Nick also knew that years before, Gramps had built with his own hands the house in which he sat. It was a gift to Nick's Nana. Oh how Nana would go on and on when asked about the house! She would tell about how she had dreamed of it and how hard Gramps had worked to make her dream come true. His grandparents' home gave Nick a cozy feeling even if it was always just a bit too warm. But don't ever try to open a window!
Nick began to wonder about things he never heard Gramps talk about. One thing Gramps always said was tengo famiglia, which in Italian means "I have a family." For as long as Nick could remember he had heard Gramps say that. Now Nick began to wonder when and why Gramps had started saying it.
"Gramps?" Nick broke the silence between them. Gramps looked over at Nick and answered, "Yes, Nickie?"
"Gramps, why did you come to the United States?" Nick asked.
Gramp's look was one of surprise. "Nickie, why do you want to know?"
"Gramps, for as long as I can remember you have been telling us, tengo famiglia. If family is so important, why did you leave Italy and come to the United States?"
Gramps went silent for a moment and it seemed that sadness along with something very meaningful was on his mind. Then he spoke in a voice that seemed to ring with regret. "Nickie, when I was 13 years old my father took me down to the pier of the town where we lived and put me on a ship. I didn't know why, but I knew it was because he didn't love me."
"But Gramps, why would you think he didn't love you?" Nick queried.
Reading The Newspaper
"When I arrived in New York I had nothing but the clothes on my back and a small bag. On the trip I had to work on the ship as payment for my passage. Every night I cried in the dark for my mother. I couldn't understand how my father could hate me so much. My life was hard, but I worked and finally had my own lumber yard. I think part of the reason I worked so hard was to spite my father and be something he never was."
"Gramps, that is awful!" Nick sympathized, holding back tears.
"I remember when I was little and a few times my father would take me out into the market near our home. He would take me around to all the vendors and tell me I could pick out one thing. So I would look at all the colorful, wonderful things and toys. I would look at them and finally pick out the one that I wanted the most. Then my father would buy me some cheap crummy toy and give it to me and take me home. It seemed to be some sort of punishment to me," Gramps lamented.
"I don't understand Gramps. Why did he do that?"
"Well after I grew up and married your grandmother and your mother was born, I wanted to take them to Italy and show them where I had been born. I also wanted to see my mother, who I had not seen since the day my father put me on that boat. I had been in touch with my mother by letters for years. My father had died just before your mother was born and I felt I could now go back there. So we made the trip.
"It was strange and wonderful to see my old home town and my mother. Of course, she had aged a great deal and I felt very cheated to not have had all those years with her. But I had a family and a life and we were happy. One of the first things I did was take your mother out into the market. We went to many vendors and I bought her everything she wanted. Somehow it made me feel good and it gave me some sense of getting back at my father."
"I still don't understand why your father did those things to you," Nick said.
"Nickie, after I took your mother out into the market and we came back to my mother's house, I learned something. My mother took a look at your mother and me and how happy we were. Tears began to roll down her face. She told me that my father wanted to give me toys like that but we were so poor he could not afford to. She said that he had put me on that boat because he had heard about how great the United States was. He had heard that people could be rich in the United States very easily. He wanted me to have a better life and he did not know how to tell me he loved me.
"That was why he put me on that boat. In his way, he loved me enough to send me away. I don't understand it, but that is my life and why I came to the United States. If my father had not done what he did, you would probably not be here and neither would any of us. Now I am just grateful for that. Tengo famiglia!" Gramps said with a shaky, halting voice, holding back tears.
Thinking about God's family
This story is adapted from part of a play I saw recently when we had a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for my parents. The play is called Over the River and Through the Woods by Joe DiPietro.
It got me to thinking about our heavenly Father and His family. As part of His family we should remember tengo famiglia. Even though this world is often cruel to us and we are sometimes even rejected by family and friends because of the truth, God gives us awesome promises.
Jesus told us that no matter what happened to us in this life, we would become part of a family:
"But He answered them, saying, 'Who is My mother, or My brothers?' And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother" (Mark 3:33-35 Mark 3:33-35  And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brothers?
 And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brothers!
 For whoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
American King James Version×).
Jesus also said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30 Mark 10:29-30  And Jesus answered and said, Truly I say to you, There is no man that has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,
 But he shall receive an hundred times now in this time, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
American King James Version×).
Nick's grandfather knew what it was like to be a stranger in a foreign land. He knew how it felt to have no family, no country, no citizenship. That is why having a family had so much meaning for him.
"Now in this time" we are part of a family. The scriptures that refer to us as brethren and children and sons and daughters are numerous.
What holds a family together?
"Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:22-23 1 Peter 1:22-23  Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit to unfeigned love of the brothers, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently:
 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and stays for ever.
American King James Version×).
We see from society that families that do not know how to love each other fail. When families fail we see the pain and the hurt and lifelong effects it has on those who suffer from it. God is showing us many things by our physical families, but even more so by our spiritual family. Nick's grandfather learned to value family when it was taken away from him. He also learned how much he needed a family and how much the family needs each other. How much more should we learn from and value our spiritual family?
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about how every part of a human body is necessary. He shows that even though some parts may not be as pretty or nice to look at, they are necessary. He shows that we all need each other and the gifts we bring to the body, or the family.
The body cannot function the way it should unless every part—large or small, visible or not visible, pleasant to look at or not pleasant to look at—is working together. He also shows that we do not decide what parts are in the body, but God decides this. Our duty is to make the choice to work together.
"That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (1 Corinthians 12:25-27 1 Corinthians 12:25-27  That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.
 Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
American King James Version×).
"For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:29-30 Ephesians 5:29-30  For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church:
 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
American King James Version×).
We all know this is symbolic of God's family as well. We are all part of the same household. It is God's household. Perhaps we should think more about how we would behave if we actually lived in a house, all together, and God was the Father of the household. I wonder how differently we might behave as children in that household?
I like the way the Living Bible translates Ephesians 2:19-22 Ephesians 2:19-22  Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
 And are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
 In whom all the building fitly framed together grows to an holy temple in the Lord:
 In whom you also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
American King James Version×.
"Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God's very own family, citizens of God's country, and you belong in God's household with every other Christian. What a foundation you stand on now: the apostles and the prophets; and the cornerstone of the building is Jesus Christ himself! We who believe are carefully joined together with Christ as parts of a beautiful, constantly growing temple for God. And you also are joined with him and with each other by the Spirit and are part of this dwelling place of God."
Nick's grandfather knew what it was like to be a stranger in a foreign land. He knew how it felt to have no family, no country, no citizenship. That is why having a family had so much meaning for him. That is why he wanted to constantly remind Nick and the rest of the family how important it was.
Jesus did not give His life for each of us so we could remain individuals. Jesus gave His life for us so we could become part of something much bigger. We are each important. He gave His life for each individual. But, after that, we are to become part of a community. Part of a living, working, healthy body. We cannot say we do not need a family. We cannot say: "I'm out here and it's just me and Jesus! I don't need to be part of a congregation." This flies in the face of everything Jesus tried to teach us.
How important is family to you? How important is family to us all?