In this book, Mary Katherine Backstrom shares hilariously relatable stories about faith, friendship, motherhood, marriage, and living with bipolar disorder.
She shares simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious stories of how God uses each “mess” in our lives to bring us closer to Him. Mary Katherine invites us into her life as a friend by saying, “pull up a virtual chair and let’s talk.” Her superpower seems to be encouraging each of us to see, acknowledge, and then embrace the hot messes in our lives. She shows us that it’s okay to celebrate precisely where we are right now—holy, hot mess and all. This book offers raw, honest truth with a side of laughter that feels like a 1:1 conversation with that friend who ALWAYS tells you the truth.
With refreshing honesty and a wicked-smart sense of humor, she covers the topics on our hearts every day.
Holy Hot Mess is about embracing your everyday life─even those moments when things don’t go according to plan or when it feels like everything is falling apart. It’s about knowing in your heart how God wants His people set free from fear so they can enjoy their lives right now amid an often chaotic world.
This book is perfect for any person struggling with self-doubt, impostor syndrome, or just trying to keep their head above water while living life.
Mary Katherine does a beautiful job of letting us see behind the curtain. In fact, I think this is why she has such an engaged social media following. We love seeing the realness of people who make mistakes and share embarrassing stories about themselves when it’s genuine.
If there’s anything I’m sure of about MKB,
it’s that she is genuine.
She is one of the few online influencers who is genuine in the good stuff, the bad stuff, and everything in between. “Two Truths and A Lie” is a really powerful chapter and a MUST READ for anyone who has felt like an outsider. As the kid who attended seven schools in 7 different cities in grades K-12, I felt totally naked reading this passage. I was ALWAYS the outsider. Maybe it was because of my insecurities, perhaps I was just socially awkward. Combined with being the new kid, this created the perfect storm of feeling like I never fit in with my peers. Check it out and see if it connects with your story.
Her openness about her bipolar diagnosis and the roller coaster of living with a mental health condition is so empowering for those (like me) who are managing
mental health diagnoses.
By the way—this is what true advocacy looks like, not just sharing memes or hashtags on awareness days but also letting people see the highs and lows of real life with the diagnosis. Living in the public eye is one of the ways we normalize something that is 100% normal.
But I digress. Back to the book review:
I always promise to be 100% honest with you on the books I review. If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know that sometimes I disagree with an author, even when I adore that person. That happened for me near the end of Chapter 14 when MKB said “history has shown our hearts to be liars.” I know where this sentiment comes from (usually Jeremiah 17:9), but this is one of those passages that gets twisted to support the patriarchal distrust of women’s emotions, intuition, and opinions that runs rampant in toxic religious culture. So yes, sometimes a heart can lead us astray, but our heart can also lead us towards things that are holy and sacred.
For example, my heart led me into some really unhealthy spaces, especially when she was wounded and didn’t have the coping skills to move through the pain that was overwhelming us. I longed to be loved and to feel safe but was not able to discern which relationships would allow both to happen.
But my heart also led me out of those unhealthy relationships, into a deep season of trauma recovery, and into the deeply holy work I’m doing today. My very smart, logical brain objected to all of those things, but my heart and intuition coaxed me to move forward.
If I hadn’t learned to listen to and trust my heart and intuition, you would not be reading these words today.
I believe MKB’s motives for this section are sincere, so this passage is not a deal-breaker for me. Just please be very careful about what you pick up in this section! There are really, really helpful things here but the moral of the story shouldn’t be that God wants us to distrust our hearts. Discounting our hearts’ longings can make us vulnerable to the people who want to keep us small. People who are skilled at eroding our boundaries by teaching that they are more trustworthy than our bodies, minds, or intuition will ever be.
Instead, we need to learn to listen to our hearts and intuition and discern the costs of following their lead.
All that to say, she presents a different perspective on our heart than I teach, but I also understand that what’s presented is a pretty common belief. So I still 100% recommend this book and that you follow her on social media if you don’t already!
(FYI-I am NOT about the middle school mean girls thing so I reached out to MKB and let her read all of this in advance so it didn’t feel icky.)
❤️Mary Katherine Backstrom is a HOOT and refreshingly honest❤️
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from this book:
- “There is something deeply connective about the fact that we are just a little bit messy.”
- “As long as we are living, there’s going to be a mess. We might as well get honest about it.”
- “Authenticity is going to get messy, but that’s where the good stuff is.”
- “She made the absolute most out of the least.” (MKB said this about her momma, and it made me tear up a little. I hope that my babies say this about me when they’re grown.)
- “You are more than loveable—you are already loved. By a God who made you by hand.”
- My friend, don’t give up on church because it’s weird. Remember, family is weird. But it’s no less precious or necessary.
- “Therapists seem so harmless before peeling your brain like an onion, leaving you feeling naked and exposed.” (YUP—but in a good way. I HIGHLY recommend finding a GOOD onion peeler, I mean therapist.)
- “We can be tempted to believe we are just ‘too much’ for some people.”
- “When you pull back, you rob other people of knowing the fullness of your heart.”
- “The work of God is intentional. Don’t you think that includes your quirks?”
- “God created you in His image. There’s a place for you at His table, in all your quirky glory.”
- “Faith is a lifelong trudge toward holiness that has humbled the proudest of hearts.”
- “One of the hardest things a mother must do is reach the language of pain.” (This one made me cry, too.)
So if you’re feeling like a bit of a mess as you journey through deconstructing your faith, perhaps you’ll find solidarity in Mary Katherine’s Holy Hot Mess.
We are talking about this book now over in the Faith Deconstruction Cafe, a free community where a group of women is gathering to navigate both our individual and collective messes as we dismantle toxic religion. You’re welcome to pull up a chair and join the conversation!
Angela is a Faith Deconstruction Coach and host of The Deconstructing Faith Summit who helps people break free from toxic religious culture & empowers them to recover from #churchhurt. She has led online ministries for a decade, enjoys working with clients 1:1, in groups, and is a dynamic conference speaker. She’s a Lark’s Song Certified Life Coach who reaches thousands of people in 40+ countries each month on Facebook, IG, Twitter, Pinterest, and her blog.
She’s a firstborn, Enneagram 8, Gen Xer who loves to question everything. She holds a BA from Indiana Wesleyan and a Masters in Leadership from Wesley Seminary. Her graduate research project focused on leadership development and opportunities for Gen X women in the US church.
Angela and her unique online ministry are featured in Lyz Lenz’s 2019 book God Land: Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America. She has published articles in Hope for Women and HOPE is Now magazines. She has been featured in The New Republic, Publisher’s Today, and Religion News Service.
Her first book, Deconstructing Your Faith Without Losing Yourself, Will be published by Eerdmans in February 2023.
Angela is also a wife, mom to 5, and a proud resident of Marion, Indiana with her family when they’re not traveling the US in their RV.