Warning: This is a real story. It may contain content that is graphic and possibly triggering for some readers who’ve struggled with a disability, chronic disease, pregnancy complications, or miscarriage.
“Yes, the Lord will work wonders for me, which will infinitely surpass my immeasurable desires,” – St. Therese of Lisieux
The beginning of my faith journey was messy, to say the least.
I grew up a cradle Catholic, along the border of south Texas. I’ve seen the Virgin of Guadalupe and San Judas holding a coin about a million times in my lifetime. I’ve seen Sacred Images like the Divine Mercy Image and the Sacred Heart of Jesus on candles at Walmart. It seemed as if everyone’s Abuela kept a stockpile enough to supply throughout the apocalypse.
But what did it all mean, really? If you ask the average Abuela in my town she may conflate it with superstition. She’s at church every Sunday, sings her heart out during Mass, and participates in the bingo.
That’s where I began my faith journey. I just saw these images and attended Mass were the most monotone priests from foreign countries struggled to pronounce English or Spanish. Sometimes the Mass was bilingual so some readings were in English and the others in Spanish. It wasn’t the fault of the priest that I was bored. It was my fault for not knowing better and not participating with intention. One day, when I was eight years old, a deacon spoke in perfect English. Not only that but he explained the sermons in a way that was perfect for a child to understand. Deacon Ramirez, opened my ears so-to-speak, to the Mass. This changed how I approached Mass forever. If it wasn’t for Deacon Ramirez, I don’t know when or how I would’ve ever participated in Mass.
One Sunday morning, the cantor said, “today’s reading will be one page 132 to 134 and our music will be from Canto y Fe pages 434 and 454” Of course, I don’t recall the exact pages but now that my ears were opened and I knew what pages to follow along, I felt more complete and able to participate.
Honest, each Sunday Gospel felt catered to me. When I struggled with something in my life the Sunday readings spoke to my heart. I felt as if God was with me during the week and Sundays were the days I would be with Him to listen to His Word. I felt as if the reading were God’s response to my situations. Since the liturgy spoke directly to my heart it began to shape my worldview, even from such a young age. I knew that God was real because His words had implications on my life.
“Go in peace to glorify God by your life.”
This is the messy part of my story. I remember hearing that every Sunday and it rang in my ears echoing long after hearing it.
“Go in peace to glorify God by your life.”
It was a clear call to action, not by the priest but by God. That I should glorify God by what I did during the week between Sundays.
But… Truth is…
I was easily distracted and everything easily turned my senses away from loving and praising the Lord. I did not act like a Christian during my week. Not to say I was mean, arrogant, mean-spirited, or anything like that but I thought as long as I’m a “nice” person I’m doing what is good.
But I didn’t do what was good. I sought after boys. I dated too young and too many. I lived life like I was in a coming-of-age film like 16 Candles, Zoey 101, or Mean Girls. I bought into pop culture, MTV, Fuse, Teen magazine, novellas, movies, and explicit music. I found porn way too young at the age of 10 by accident. What was worse, is that it was a cartoon of two people doing something unnatural and that skewed my idea of sex for many years. Then a boy in seventh grade showed me another porn animation on his phone. Again, giving me a false idea of reality.
When my friends were exploring “who they were” and “their sexual preferences” I felt inclined to do the same. I was even encouraged by a teacher in high school to “find a preference”. This screwed my ideas of reality as well.
Yet, come Sunday, I felt like my creator was with me. The Sunday readings truly did speak to my heart. Not only did I come across pornography at the age of 10 but I also came across something else, The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson.
The Passion of Christ transformed my understanding of religion. I had a God that not only heard me during the week and spoke to me on Sundays but also a God that loved me so much as to give his life for me. I truly have an awesome God.
Now, I’ll be honest. I still wasn’t perfect. During the week I was still a confused child, lacking information and understanding of the faith. But God did not give up on me. Isn’t that amazing? I could end this testimony here and it would be sufficient. God did not quit on me, a sinner. But that’s not the whole story…
It was the end of Junior year in high school when something began to bother me. What was I going to do with my whole life? Senior year was approaching and I needed to think about things like college and my career. I wondered, was I to get married one day? Or become a nun?
I attended a retreat to discern religious life. I’m going to be honest, the whole time I was thinking “but I’m going to miss out…”
I wasn’t thinking about
* Material goods
I didn’t have much growing up poor. We always were well clothed, well-fed, and had a roof over our heads but we were always below middle class and needed assistance at times. I didn’t care about material possessions. Aside from musical instruments and books.
What I was worried about missing out on was… intimacy.
I remember starring at the sisters thinking to myself, “How do they do it? Don’t they miss out? Haven’t they seen movies or listened to pop music?”
I did leave that retreat loving the idea of the vocation. Despite my fear of missing out I knew what it was like to serve the church since I had been a Catechist for 3 years up to that point of the vocation retreat. I know that serving God would fill my heart. But I also knew that it would not be free from temptation. I felt like I was too flawed and in a sense, too broken to join the religious life.
I remember telling my parents and a friend about my want to become a sister and the invitation the sisters gave me to walk with them in further discernment. I was completely SHUT DOWN. Maybe I was too flawed? I thought and I ended my discernment for religious life there. In hindsight, I should’ve, could’ve, would’ve… but this is the truth and the truth isn’t always pretty. I gave up on discernment too early and without a fight.
I turned my attention towards marriage. I know I was only 17 but I wondered “how I can I have a career and have children too?”. I wondered this because I was not going to afford college without loans and I knew that after I would leave college I would have to pay those loans back. But if I’m tied down to a job, how can I raise kids? I saw how working a job affected my mom’s ability to look after me and my siblings.
I also wondered, how was I to meet a good Catholic man? I planned to go to a Catholic University with GPA and test score requirements. This way, I would find a Catholic guy that’s also smart. I applied to three Catholic Universities and got accepted to all three – Quincy University, Incarnate Word University, and Our Lady of the Lake University. Then I applied for scholarships so I could limit the number of loans I would need. Then I picked a major I showed promise in with a job lined up for me. Eventually, I got a role at Univision studio at Our Lady of the Lake University as a student journalist.
Check, check and check. My plan for going to college, getting a career, and hopefully meet a good Catholic man was going well. Until…
I met my would-be future husband.
Part of my plan was to become a journalist. So I used to compete in UIL journalism. There, I met my would-be husband. He was a persuasive speaker (he won me over), rank 5 of our class of over 700 students, and so handsome in his tailored suit. Did I mention he liked me? Oh no! This wasn’t a part of my plan!
He asked me out 3 times and I responded each time with a cold, “no”. Don’t get me wrong, he was charming and sweet and I was falling for him but I had plans. When I finally did say yes, a rumor spread throughout the library club that I was only interested in him as a prom date and that I planned to dump him afterward as I was leaving for college. To which he responded, “that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I love her and am willing to take that chance.” Now I was really falling in love. After graduation, he gave me a promise ring and I accepted with joy and so much love.
Oh no! What was I going to do? What about my plans?
I remember a conversation with my dad early on in my relationship. He said, “he’s the type of person I wanted you to meet, after college, not before.”
I didn’t disagree with my dad. He had a valid point. I was very young only 18 years old and still a senior in high school. We didn’t get married until I was 22 but I honestly did feel a calling to marriage very early on.
I decided to stay in my hometown, attend the local university and continue to date him. That’s when things started to change. In 2013, I started having problems with my vision. I had always been labeled “clumsy” by my family and my peers. Growing up, my optometrists have always said things like, “we’ve corrected her vision as best as we could…” But in 2013, my ophthalmologist turned to my parents and said, “her vision is declining, and we don’t understand why.”
This is when I began to fall away from my faith. I quit being a Catechist and I stopped serving the church. I still attended Sunday mass, but my prayer life was stale. In 2014, my now husband proposed to me and in 2015, we married at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church. After we married, we moved to San Antonio and attended the University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA). Since my vision was low, I wasn’t able to drive without difficulty. But that was never an issue, I felt as if God always kept me in mind. By coincidence, I always had a friend or coworker available to drive me where I needed to go. Also, by coincidence, my husband and I landed the same job with the same work schedule so we could commute together. I say, coincidence, by I don’t really believe it was by ‘chance’, what I believe is that God’s hand is what has always led me.
When I got pregnant for the first time, I had to quit my job and the university. I had a disease called, Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). I had a very severe form of the disease that did not allow me to eat or drink without an expensive medication that I could not afford. Again, I was more upset with God. I had spent many years advocating for Pro-Life causes. I did not understand why God allowed me to suffer so much.
The ending of my pregnancy was more climactic than the whole pregnancy. One morning at 2 am, I woke up with red, itchy hands. I felt so uneasy about this that I decided to google if this could possibly be a pregnancy complication -it was. I spoke to my OB about it immediately and he had me tested. The test came back negative. But I still continued to have symptoms. I went to YouTube to see if there was anyone who had experienced this and found a woman who also had negative tests but pressured her doctor to keep testing. Eventually, she got a positive result and the baby was saved on time. Her testimony of the symptoms was similar to mine so my next visit to the OB, I was ready to have a discussion with my doctor. That Wednesday morning my husband had already left for work. I had a strange feeling like I was not going to return home. I had left two hospital bags ready, one for my husband and one for me neatly placed on our dresser. Afterward, I headed out to wait for my uber driver so I could go to the clinic.
I had a very short discussion with my doctor. She saw my hands and had me check in to the hospital immediately. I was to be induced into labor. I was diagnosed, very late, that I had Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP). Most babies diagnosed after 36 weeks of pregnancy will be stillborn – I was almost 37 weeks. I had a 0% chance of giving birth to a live baby. My heart sank to my stomach. I walked over to the hospital by myself. It wasn’t a long walk at all. I check myself in and I felt so alone and afraid. I called my husband and family members. My brother rushed over to the hospital first to see if I was ok. My husband arrived shortly after.
I spent 28 and a half hours in labor.
I thanked God over and over for the precious miracle in my arms. I told everyone my daughter was a miracle because I was overwhelmed with joy.
However, the joy did not last too long since she started having some health issues. I was already emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. The first six weeks of my daughter’s life were extremely difficult due to health problems. My heart was so heavy with the grief of constant suffering. I was so afraid and I had no one to confide in. Yes, I had my husband but he was on the same boat. He worked two jobs at the university and went to school full-time. He was hard at work and suffering right alongside me. God bless his heart.
I began to fall away even more from my faith. What helped preserve my faith was my friend. She was a journalist for a local faith magazine. A relative had told her about my difficult pregnancy and my struggle with someone who was trying to convince me to get an abortion. She wrote about my story in, La Fe Magazine, and put my nine-month-old daughter on the cover of the magazine. I dearly treasure this magazine and keep a copy on display in my home.
During my second pregnancy, I had to get surgery. It was surgery to preserve my life but could’ve hurt and possibly killed my unborn child. I needed to make a difficult decision but before I could make the decision… I miscarried. God made that decision.
I still miss the baby I never held.
In 2018, I was pregnant again. This time with my second daughter. Early on in the pregnancy, I needed to be hospitalized for a placental hemorrhage which caused me to bleed and was a major risk for miscarriage. Alongside this issue, I still had severe HG again. Miraculously, I did not miscarry again. But my pregnancy went on with extreme difficulty and great suffering. I had Cholestasis of Pregnancy again so my second daughter was also born early.
In the hospital after giving birth, I had about 15 lbs. of fluids and antibiotics in me. My legs were of no use and I was afraid to remain disabled, but a merciful, good nurse entered the room to repeatedly change my bedpan. She was kind even though most people with the difficulty of her job would’ve been miserable and angry. She was gentle and attentive to my needs. She was an example of virtue. Maybe, she was a saint. Today, I think about how she taught me mercy. How we can be gentle to broken individuals through our kindness and demonstrate a tiny fraction of the infinite mercy our Lord has for us.
Thankfully, I was able to walk again. But my newborn daughter had health issues especially since she was born early. Most notably, they had gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). In many babies this is no big deal but, in my babies, it was a big deal. Imagine a jug of water. If you tip the jug all the water spills out. My daughters had an underdeveloped part of the intestinal tract at the very top. If they were to be laid down flat to sleep, the formula would spill out and they would suffocate. My first daughter did not have any major incidence after receiving medication, but my second daughter suffered terribly. Twice, her life was at risk. The first time we called the ambulance, and her oxygen levels were around 60%.
The second time, I cried out to God. I looked up at the apartment ceiling and really, truly, cried out to God. “I believe, there’s a God. But I don’t believe you’re merciful,” I cried out, begging for my daughter’s life.
Honestly, I thought what I had done was stupid. I mean, talking to a ceiling is pretty dumb right? I had really lost my faith by that point. I didn’t think God was listening. Slowly, my daughter’s condition improved that day and each day got a little better.
A month later…
I felt God’s response.
I couldn’t describe it even if I tried. But it’s like my eyes, my ears, my mind, my will, and my heart opened up to the faith.
God did not speak to me in a way I could hear with my ears. I’m not a seer or mystic or anything like that but I really did get a response. I just have no way of describing it. The best I can do is say that my heart and my will were oriented differently as if God had given me a map and compass. I was given a different perspective on life. I began to recognize God’s hand throughout my life. I could also see where I made poor choices and things I needed to mention in confession that I never noticed in the past. I had new hope and my faith began to grow. Now I feel an urgency to learn all I can about my faith so I can form my family and my parish ministries.
God was probably more hurt by my doubt in his mercy than any sins I had ever committed. I say this because, my life changed forever on September 24, 2019. I felt that God did respond to me that day. Each day since has been a course in learning about God’s mercy. Immediately, I threw out all my plans. I started learning all I possibly could about mercy. I have a great desire to teach everyone I can about God’s mercy.
I don’t know what the future has in store for me, but as long as I stay close to God I know that I will be more than ok, I’ll be whole.