Leticia Ochoa Adams’ life has not been an easy road. She endured repeated sexual abuse when she was a child – and, as an adult, she lost her son Anthony to suicide. It took a long time for Leticia to acknowledge the traumas she had endured and the poor life choices she made as a result. But after becoming Catholic and slowly forging a more healthy relationship with God, she has been able to move toward healing.
Leticia shares her story in her raw, honest, sometimes funny memoir, “Our Lady of Hot Messes: Getting Real with God in Dive Bars and Confessionals.” We discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below).
Though the designation “Our Lady of Hot Messes” may seem an unusual one for Mary, the mother of Jesus, it is grounded in the lifelong reverence Leticia holds for her and the belief that Mary was always loving and guiding her, even when her life was a hot mess.
Growing up, Leticia’s tias (aunts) all had giant pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their homes. In addition, continued Leticia, “When I was in my teenage years and I began running away and acting out, my mom found this little altar. It was a statue of Mary, and it had all these little candle holders on the feet of Mary. [My mother] would pray for me and light these candles.”
Following Anthony’s suicide in 2017, when Leticia was filled with anger at God, she still attended Mass and always found herself sitting next to a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
She recalled, “At some point, I realized there was a shift in my idea of Mary, that I didn’t have to be perfect to come to her – and I never was. She’s always seen me exactly for who I was in whatever stage of life I was in…So even in those moments where I’m the messiest, she’s there and patiently, lovingly, kindly praying for me. That’s where the title came from. [I’m] trying to convey the message that just because Mary was sinless doesn’t mean she expects us to be perfect. She knows we’re not perfect. So when we come to her in this idealistic version of ourselves that we [think we] need to present to her, we’re kind of lying, and we’re not trusting that she loves us as we are. We’re faking it, and she knows. Even in that, she sits there and waits patiently for us to show ourselves to her because she already knows. She’s our mother…She can’t help you if you’re not giving her reality.”
In order to be honest with Mary, Leticia first had to learn to be honest with herself. The rape and sexual abuse she suffered from the ages of five to nine left her feeling “angry at the world,” yet wanting to be liked by everyone. As a protective mechanism, she rejected people before they could reject her, even when they showed no signs that they would reject her. In other words, she projected her own low self-esteem onto others’ views of her – and even onto God’s view of her.
Leticia started attending a Baptist church when she was eight years old and interpreted all the sermons herself. “As a kid, all I heard was, if you’re not good enough, then God won’t live in your heart and your life won’t [have]…manifestations of material goodness, wealth, happiness, all these things,” she recalled. It wasn’t until she began converting to Catholicism that she came to see God in a different light – though even that took time, as well as therapy.
The healing effects of therapy can’t be overstated, and Leticia admits that facing her own demons involved hard work, as well as God duping her. She explains, “I actually started therapy to get my therapist to convince my husband [Stacey] that everything that was wrong [with our marriage] was his fault. God gave me that idea.”
The therapist, however, suggested that she and Stacey each do separate sessions for six months, after which the therapist told Leticia that she was likely the problem, not Stacey. Leticia got that same message from other people, and she was humble enough to take it seriously.
“I converted in 2010,” Leticia said, “and then I started therapy shortly after. At that time, I had this rosy, good-vibes-only view of God in my suffering as a child where it’s like, ‘Oh, all that suffering made me who I am today,’ and this victorious view of suffering, like, ‘Those were just the things that I had to go through in order to be this awesome Catholic.’ So prideful. But then I lost Anthony and none of that made sense.”
“I think Catholics can tell the Protestant prosperity gospel,” Leticia continued, “but sometimes we have a hard time seeing the Catholic prosperity gospel, where it’s like if you just pray the rosary, you don’t have to go to therapy…I think sometimes we forget that healing also comes from doing the hard work of looking at ourselves, which is why Confession is a healing sacrament. But if you just go in there and list your sins without truly looking at yourself and why you’re making these choices to fail to love, which is what sin is, then we’re not getting the healing. We’re getting the absolution, but God can only give us what we ask for.”
It was during the sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation that Leticia experienced a healing encounter with Jesus. Filled with anger at God for months after Anthony’s suicide in March 2017, she decided to go to Confession that Advent to Father Jonathan, the parish priest who had been a supportive friend to her family throughout their ordeal. Aware that the priest in that moment is standing “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ), she unloaded her fury and pain and “let him have it.” At the end, Father Jonathan simply responded, “It broke my heart, too.”
Leticia observed, “In that moment, everything I believed was real because that wasn’t Father Jonathan talking to me. I already knew Father Jonathan’s heart was broken, losing Anthony. So the only reason he would say those words to me is because it was Christ talking to me, and it broke His heart, too. And I believed it. I believe it still to this day that God didn’t stand there [when Anthony hung himself], like, ‘Well, what are you going to do?’ He stood there crying and grieving for the loss of my son, too, and He witnessed it. Of all the heartbreak I have, I don’t love my son the way God loves him because God made him. And I don’t grieve my son the way God grieves him because God was there and witnessed it from beginning to end and couldn’t stop it. So that changed everything for me…I went on a mission to grow my relationship with [God], and not with this idea of Him that has to do with politics or has to do with this lifestyle or that lifestyle or this Mass or that Mass. It had everything to do with the God who made the heavens and earth.”
Leticia’s walk through suffering, therapy, and spiritual growth has changed her – and will continue to change her. She admits the mistakes she made raising her own children, accepts responsibility for the harm some of her choices caused them, and is working toward repairing those things.
She also realizes that just because you have faith in God doesn’t mean your heart will never be broken. Noting that Jesus Himself experienced grief and wept, she says, “We don’t have to mask these hard feelings by spiritually bypassing the suffering.”
As readers of “Our Lady of Hot Messes” will discover, Leticia’s view of God has also been changed by selling the house she and Stacey used to live in and moving to the great outdoors. She says, “We moved to raw land about 17 months ago, which means there’s no electricity, no water. We’ve had to build from scratch, and my current understanding of God is so much bigger than a fairy in the sky who just makes your wishes come true. There’s no lights on our street, there’s no light pollution out here. So when I look up at the sky and see the stars, I’m in awe. The sunset, the sunrise, the weather patterns. It’s so much different than living in a city…I can see the allness of God and how much everything He creates is beautiful and how much He delights in that beauty. And that includes us. So the person I can’t stand, God finds delightful and gorgeous and beautiful. That’s really changed how I see Him now.”
(To listen to my full interview with Leticia Ochoa Adams, click the podcast link):
RELATED: For more of Leticia Ochoa Adams’ backstory, read our 2018 interview below:
“A wasted drunk girl in a bar in Amarillo, Texas, sleeping with different guys who didn’t care about her, and wasting her life away.”
That’s how Leticia Ochoa Adams describes her life 11 years ago, a life she might still be living today if not for two things: 1) responding to the promptings of God in her life, and 2) the mercy-over-judgment approach of the priests and parishioners at the local church that now serves as her spiritual home. And while her faith helped guide her out of the dead end path she was following, it became even more important in 2017 when Leticia endured every parent’s worst nightmare.
During an interview with me on “Christopher Closeup,” Leticia revealed that her troubled young adulthood stemmed from her troubled childhood. She never knew her father, so she suffered “a wound of abandonment.” She was also sexually abused from age five to nine and had never dealt with the trauma. “What I’ve come to understand,” she said, “is that all of the things I was doing [were done] in search of love. That’s all I wanted my whole life: to be loved.”
That quest led her to drinking too much and sleeping around, hanging with a dangerous crowd, and even several stints in jail. And while she believed in God, “I doubted that I was worth Him loving. I doubted my own self-worth, and I still do quite a bit. But it’s easier now.”
In 2007, Leticia’s best friend Homer was killed in a car accident. His funeral Mass was held in a Catholic church, and she instinctively knew when to kneel and sit and so on. The reason? Her babysitter, from the time she was born until age three, had taken her to Mass every day.
Though Leticia didn’t remember much about this, her knowledge of the rituals was instinctive, like muscle memory. “I was so restless in my life, in my emotional being, in my spiritual being…Mass felt like home to me. I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t know why. It kind of turned me towards the direction of Catholicism, but I wasn’t anywhere near saying, ‘I want to be Catholic now.’”
When Leticia’s childhood boyfriend, Stacey, came back into her life in 2008, they moved in together and moved to the suburbs. This was a big change for Leticia who had grown up “dirt poor in at-risk neighborhoods,” so her new situation gave her a taste of “the American dream.”
The couple started attending Mass for Christmas and Easter because Stacey was Catholic. And when Leticia brought up the topic of marriage, he insisted it would have to happen in a Catholic church. She didn’t look too fondly on the topic of conversion because she tried to do it when her son was born in 1994 and it didn’t work out. But she admitted she was stubborn, so, “I went to RCIA with no intention of changing my life, encountering God, or becoming really Catholic. I just wanted my sacraments, get married, move on with my life.”
Things didn’t work out the way Leticia had planned.
She said, “Noe Rocha is the RCIA Director at Saint William Parish in the suburb of Austin, and his very first class was about God’s love. He looked right at me when he said the words, ‘God loves you more than you think He does. No matter how far you’ve gone, no matter what you’ve done, He loves you exactly how you are.’ It hit a place in my heart that I had not opened up to anyone in so long. By this point, I had closed myself off from anything that resembled real and true love. Even being with Stacey was not about love. It was about safety.”
“From that point on,” continued Leticia, “I struggled, and I wrestled, and I stalked the priest, and I stalked Noe. I argued, and argued, and I was very angry. So they did love me exactly where I was. They loved me in my anger, when I would say, ‘This is stupid,’ or, ‘This is bad.’ I cussed a lot and I had no sense to not be cussing when talking to a priest in his office inside a parish. And Father never took me out. He never said, ‘Watch your mouth and if you can’t…’ He answered my questions patiently. He loved me where I was. And I found the safety that I was looking for in that parish.”
Leticia admits that if she had been met with judgment instead of mercy, she wouldn’t have followed through on her inclinations to join the church. And she offers her own life as a lesson for those involved with evangelization: “When we’re evangelizing people, we have to understand that the reason those people are asking questions – or why they’re showing up to Mass when you can’t really figure out why because they don’t do anything else Catholic – the reason is God. That’s God’s voice calling them to Him. And we have a choice. We can either cooperate with the voice of God that’s calling those people to Him, or we can cooperate with the Evil One who’s telling them they don’t belong here. That really is our choice as Catholics, every single day, in little things and big things, in little interactions and big interactions.”
Leticia did get married and finally found the love and acceptance she had been yearning for all her life. But as John Mellencamp pointed out in a song years ago, we live life “between a laugh and a tear.” And the tears for Leticia in 2017 were heartbreaking.
Her son Anthony, from a previous relationship, committed suicide in the family garage. He left behind a fiance, two children, and a grief-stricken family.
“The minute that I saw my child dead in my garage,” recalled Leticia, “something that never happened to me before happened: I doubted, to the core of my being, that God existed. The one thing that probably saved my faith at that point was hearing this voice that I know didn’t come from God. It said, ‘If you would just shut up, I will leave you alone. But if you don’t, I’m taking the rest of your kids.’ And I know that’s not God. So it’s weird to me that at the same time that I had this absolute convincing feeling that God didn’t exist, it was the voice of the Evil One threatening the rest of my children that snapped me out of it.”
“I’ve had moments of severe doubt,” continued Leticia, “but at the end of it, my faith is the only thing that makes sense. Catholicism, specifically, is the only place where I am safe to suffer, where I am safe to grieve, and where I am safe to hope in my son’s salvation. Not presume it, but to hope in it…Looking back at the most horrible year of my entire life, I will say that Catholics showed up. The Church showed up. God showed up. Grace showed up. And that’s why I can even talk to you, or to anyone else about it.”
That doesn’t mean that Leticia’s pain is now gone. But she’s come to see that “grief is just another phase of love.”
She also finds hope in the Christopher ideal of lighting candles in the darkness, relating it to the Easter Vigil. Leticia concludes, “We start off in the dark, and then we light candles one by one. And then boom, all the lights are on and Jesus has defeated death. I feel like my life is a representation of that, and the little candles are my children and my grandchildren. Seeing them be happy, seeing them slowly walking back toward the Church and God, makes me happy and that’s why I do it. And also, Anthony. If there’s a chance that I can see Anthony again, it’s going to be through holiness. So for me, it’s keeping my eyes on Christ all the time because my end goal is to see Anthony again. So whatever I have to do, I will do to get there.”