“I am all the family you need.”
I was seventeen when I heard that phrase for the first time. It was like St. Teresa of Avila speaks of God whispering to you heart– the words “are more distinct and clear than those which men hear with their bodily ears.” I had been crying. To make a complicated story less so, I was on retreat with my diocesan youth program and we were in adoration. I was having a huge personal and spiritual crisis and just was pouring it all out. I asked God why He would ask me to go against my family in such a big way. What was so important about me doing this seemingly small thing, serving on the retreat team, that is would be worth practically giving up my family. I felt orphaned and I told Him so. In this midst of this, I looked up at the Blessed Sacrament through my tears and that’s when I heard, more surely than I’ve ever heard a word spoken to me before, “I am all the family you need.” It was Him, it was God assuring me that He was my family and that with Him I would never lack nor be alone.
My family was still upset with my after I returned from the retreat. They still didn’t understand and I still couldn’t communicate it to them. My senior year of high school ended up being one mostly of passive tolerance of the other– I continued to go on retreats and do “Jesus stuff” and my parents let me, even though they didn’t understand why these things necessarily meant me going against them sometimes. We never talked about it, never discussed it, just let it be. We were all Catholic, my entire family is made up of cradle Catholics, but they didn’t understand a faith that tested the boundaries and that called out into the deep. I didn’t understand it, either, but I was willing to follow no matter the cost.
It’s easy to say, “I’ll follow,” when you’re young and haven’t experienced much loss or hardship.
My senior year of high school was the first time I experienced any sort of higher stakes loss. I put my relationship with my family on the line to follow God how I thought He was asking me. And it hurt. It wasn’t like when I was four and a half and my Grandpap died. It wasn’t like when I was fourteen and suddenly had to leave the only school and friends I had known for the past nine years. Those things happened with me as a passive participant, I had no choice. This time I did and was being asked to choose.
My home diocese’s youth program had a saying, practically our motto: “The journey is for eternity.” I never felt that more strongly than I did that day in adoration when Christ spoke to my heart. We are not living for this earthly life, but spending this earthly life to live for eternity. The year prior to this revelation, I had been confirmed and took as my confirmation name “Zoe” which is the Greek for “spiritual life”. In my letter to my bishop about why I wished to be confirmed, I told him that spiritual life, God’s life, is what I so desperately wanted to be filled with, and now God was asking me how committed to that I was.
It has become my personal memento mori.
“I am all the family you need”– it’s both an assurance of God’s presence with and within me but also a calling out and beyond. Everything of this life passes. All of my relationships here will pass, even those that bring me closer to Christ. Of course, those will be renewed in heaven, but they mean nothing if they do not get me there. Again, as St. Teresa of Avila says, “God alone suffices.”
A little over five years after first hearing that, I was having another spiritual crisis. In spiritual direction, my director got a Scripture verse for me and asked me to meditate on it: John 14:18, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” Happy tears burst from my eyes as she recited the verse; immediately, “I am all the family you need” came to mind and I told her of it. It was one of those moment when the picture, once obscured, becomes clearer. At that point, neither of us thought this orphaning business was meant to be literal, although I expressed my fear that it was, but just about a month later, my mom died suddenly. The first thing my spiritual director said when I called to tell her was that I was right. But it didn’t change the meaning of the words in my spiritual life, it actually further reinforced them.
“I am all the family you need”– rely on God for everything, for you will die. My own memento mori.
Last year was the tenth anniversary of my mom’s death and it fell on Good Friday.
Originally, my intention was to get a tattoo of “I am all the family you need” in Latin on that day, but something felt like it was missing. I had even asked a friend who is well-versed in Latin to help me translate the phrase and we came up with “Nullam praeter me requiris familiam”; literally “nothing except me you require for family.” But still, the idea wasn’t complete and so I didn’t go through with it.
About two weeks ago, I had a breakthrough. What was missing was Christ (as is so often the case in this life). The phrase itself wasn’t enough because I wasn’t recognizing the very specific time and place Christ had spoken to me– when He was adored in the Blessed Sacrament. With this new understanding and on a whim, I drove to the tattoo shop I had been researching, walked in, and pitched my idea to an artist. Last week, James tattooed a monstrance and “Nullam praeter me requiris familiam” on my left forearm.
Next month will be eleven years since my mom entered into Paradise and sixteen and a half, almost half my life, since God spoke to me. This new tattoo reminds me of where I’ve been, where I come from, where I’ve gone, and where I am to go.
Photo courtesy of me!