Our Lady of Hot Messes Excerpt
Life is so crazy. I used to think that I was doing it all wrong, that because I hadn’t figured out the secret code that every one else seemed to know, God was not interested in helping me with my life. I grew up going to a First Baptist Church in a small, rural south Texas town. I was a good little Baptist girl until I met a boy who looked just like Donnie Wahlberg, who French-kissed me on the steps of that same First Baptist Church. At that point I left behind both my King James Bible that I received when I was eight years old and the idea that if I answered enough altar calls I would be normal.
God went his way, and I went mine.
Starting about then, my life took a lot of twists and turns. I acted out in reaction to the trauma of being sexually abused as a child. I met my first husband (not the boy on the church steps) and married him two weeks after our first date. He instantly became a father to the three-year-old son I already had. We had a late-term miscarriage a few months later and then three kids back-to-back right away. He began struggling with drug addiction, which led to us getting a divorce eight years after our whirlwind marriage.
No matter what, I seemed to never be able to unlock the life code, so I turned to the person that every American woman turns to when looking for a way to make a better life for herself: Oprah.
My whole life I knew what I wanted. I wanted a family. I wanted a husband, kids, a nice house, and a good life where I didn’t have to buy groceries with food stamps or worry about how to pay the light bill. I wanted a car that I could afford and that would not leave me stranded on the highway. I wanted to feel safe and provide that feeling of safety for others. But how? Now that I was divorced, I had no clue, but I figured that Oprah might help.
And in a way, she did. I learned about child sex abuse and the language that allowed me to finally explain what had happened to me without blaming anyone but the person who hurt me. It would be years before I walked into a therapist’s office to do the hard work of processing the trauma that had been a part of my life since age five, when a man molested and raped me for the first time, but learning these words from Oprah helped me to express my pain and my hurt.
I eventually began therapy because the same boy who French-kissed me at the First Baptist Church in Kenedy, Texas, ended up marrying me in 2010 after my conversion to Catholicism. I had actually been Catholic all my life, despite attending the First Baptist Church, because I had been baptized Catholic as a baby. I also checked the “Catholic” box every time I was arrested, but that was it. In every other respect, I thought Catholics were nuts, and I wanted nothing to do with being Catholic. But in a Hail Mary effort to get Stacey to marry me when we were living together, I began the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). My only goal was for him to marry me. God had other plans.
During a trip to Rome, God wooed me. Or duped me, depending on how you look at it. I came into the Church during the Easter Vigil of 2010. My four children were baptized, confirmed, and received their First Holy Communion as well. The following October, Stacey and I were married in the Catholic Church. The next year my three stepchildren also received the rest of their sacraments.
We lived happily ever after.
Ha! No, we didn’t. The years to come were full of mistakes, tears, and so many fights. Once again, I felt as if I was failing somehow. Failing to be a good Christian. Somewhere in my mind, I felt that if God loved me, then we would not be suffering the things we were suffering. But the truth is that suffering is a part of the human condition. Trauma does not go away when you are confirmed. What God does promise us is that he will be with us through all of it. Despite all the work I had done in starting therapy, attending RCIA, and more, I did not believe that truth for a very long time, and then the worst happened.
In March of 2017, my oldest son, Anthony, died by suicide. This was the first time in my life that I questioned whether God existed. The next few years were hard, and I struggled with my faith. I was wrestling with God every moment of the day. I was angry, hurt, and heartbroken. Through all that, God and I grew closer than ever. Not because he made it all better. This will never be better. Anthony is dead, but God is still God. Learning to trust God with the soul of my child taught me how to trust him with everything. Including my grief. Including my past. I did not have to be OK; I just had to be me.
I began looking back at all the lessons I had learned and the experiences I had had that were signs of God’s love for me, and they looked different than anything I had read any Christian talk about. Like sitting on a barstool for years playing Peter Gabriel’s song “In Your Eyes” as a prayer. Or using the quiet time in the mornings when I worked at Hooters to talk to God about the dreams I had for my children as I sliced lemons.
I have spent the last four years learning who God is rather than who I have always thought he was. I have learned that he has always been with me, even when I was dancing on speakers at a club. I want to pass on some of those lessons to anyone who thinks, like I used to, that they are beyond the reach of God’s love. The second time I sat in RCIA, a man named Noe Rocha told me that God loves me more than I think he does. That changed the direction of my life. So here I am, telling you the same thing.
God loves you more than you think he does. No matter what you have done or how far you have gone, he is waiting for you to come back to him.
After all, he did the same for me.
Excerpt from Our Lady of Hot Messes: Getting Real With God in Dive Bars and Confessionals by Leticia Ochoa Adams.
Copyright © 2022. Used with author’s permission.
Leticia Ochoa Adams, award-nominated author of Our Lady of Hot Messes: Getting Real with God in Dive Bars and Confessionals, is a woman who knows what it feels like to be burned out, destroyed, completely emptied; full of nothing but loss. After her son’s death by suicide, she found her way back to hope while still honoring her grief, attending to the business of living on and finding joy even in the midst of immense loss and ceaseless tragedy, both personal and global. Through pain, we can feel our way to a sacred space, an honesty, where God can meet us, and from there to a place of healing and compassion, both for ourselves and for the larger world.
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