When I first converted to Catholicism in 2010, I came from a very crazy life. I was promiscuous and on any given night it was possible for you to walk into a bar and find me dancing on a speaker. It was my signature move. It was also common for me to be involved in drama that involved police, someone being injured and me being totally wasted.
I encountered God for the first time in my life when I was 8 years old at the First Baptist Church in my small rural Texas town. But the moment when God really came right up to my face and said “follow Me” was the Christmas Eve when my live-in boyfriend and I decided to spend Jesus’ birthday in a swingers club with porn on huge big screens all around and beds for people to have sex on placed in spots where tables go in normal bars.
I started going to Mass here and there until the time came for my live-in boyfriend to leave overseas. I had been begging him to marry me which he said he would be happy to do but we would have to get married in the Catholic Church and I did not have my Sacraments to do that.
I showed up to RCIA with no real intention of believing anything that Catholics believed. I just wanted the Catholic card so Stacey would marry me, and I could go on with my life. The very first class was about God’s love. The little Hispanic man who taught the class was on fire with the Holy Spirit. I knew everything he was saying like the back of my hand from all my time in the First Baptist Church. I had never heard a Catholic speak about God that way. The moment Noe looked in my direction and said, “God loves you more than you think He does,” I knew that it was God’s voice in that swinger’s club. I sat in my car after class and cried for awhile before I got myself together to drive off.
In that car God loved me and told me that He had great plans for me. More than that, He sat with me even as I poured my heart out to Him about how tired I was of all the crap I had been through up to that point. He promised me if I followed Him that He would redeem it all. I believed Him.
I decided that I obviously had no clue about morals and so I needed to just follow along with what everyone else did. In other words, I had to push myself down and mimic what everyone around me in my conservative parish was doing because they knew right from wrong and I did not.
It turns out this was also not the answer.
I became a very repressed version of myself. It took a toll on me because I was not being my full self. Just like the fact that God spoke to me in a swingers club is surprising to a lot of people, it is just as surprising — and maybe even scandalous — that it was in watching Cardi B come into her own that I began to realize just how much more I had to offer the world as my true self.
Cardi B is not the model of sainthood or anything, but the thing she does have is authenticity that connected her people. Still, the music and public presence are her job, not her identity. While it is impossible to show all aspects of our lives on social media, it is also very easy to become a brand. Even for Catholics.
I suppose everyone who has a life that is in any wise public has a brand, and I suppose everyone with any social media footprint has a life that is in some wise public. I have to remember that I am not a brand. I am a human being in the world who is Catholic. I struggle, I doubt, I cuss, I listen to rap music and I suck at praying in a structured way. I just talk to Jesus all day long and if I go too long without checking in with Him, then He wakes me up at 3am for a chat.
I’m no expert in any of this — exactly nobody’s spiritual teacher — but I am beginning to have an idea of my worth.
At any rate, I know that I do not have to tolerate anyone disrespecting my dignity the way that I did before. That dignity is rooted in being made in the Image of God, not in passing some litmus test of being worthy of respect. It is knowing who I am that allows me to know God: to know that I owe God my life. He already has it.
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