Holy Hot Mess: Finding God in the Details of this Weird and Wonderful Life
Mary Katherine (M.K.) Backstrom is a well-known blogger and has almost a million followers on social media. She is known for her funny viral videos, including one where she hugged a man for washing her car windows only to find out that he was washing his own car’s windows. M.K. has recently written a book called Holy Hot Mess, which will be released August 3, 2021. It’s a humorous look at life’s messes and how God uses them for good. The Stream’s Nancy Flory recently spoke with M.K. about her book and what it means to be a holy hot mess.
Candor, Messiness and Authenticity
Nancy: Have you always been a happy, joking person?
M.K.: Oh yeah. I don’t take life very seriously. I kind of learned really early on that you’re either going to laugh a lot or you’re going to cry a lot and I prefer laughter.
Nancy: Why did you write Holy Hot Mess?
M.K.: As a blogger, what I discovered was the more ridiculous, messy stories that I share with my audience, the more they felt connected to me. And I think that people see themselves reflected back in those candid, ridiculous stories. So when I got the opportunity to write a book, I knew that I wanted to pull in that candor and messiness and authenticity. But also let people know that there’s God in it. That just because we’re rough around the edges and our stories don’t have a straight line does not mean that there’s not a holy undercurrent and a purpose at play. And so that was kind of the idea that kept stirring in my heart. And when I started writing, it just kind of poured out.
A Diverse Group
Nancy: Who is your audience?
M.K.: I have a really cool and diverse group of listeners and readers. But they are mostly women. So, on social media, the largest presence that I have is on Facebook. And so I’m sneaking up on about a million followers … but they’re mostly women. They’re across the board with different ages from 18 to 65. I have some college students. I have some grandmothers. I have, you know, folks that are in my generation. And I think a lot of them come to my page limping a little bit. I talk a lot about mental illness and recovery, and I talk about how messy life is and how it can be a struggle at times. And so the people who have found my message and have found that it resonates with them are similar people who also have mess and mental illness and struggles that they want to talk about.
God is in the Mess
Nancy: What is the takeaway from your book? What do you want people to be talking about after they read it?
M.K.: If I had one takeaway, I just want people to know that there’s God in the mess, you know, that he’s in the details of the weird and the wonderful and that, like I said, just because they’re rough around the edges and their life’s not taking a straight path does not mean that there’s not purpose in it. So I just want people to read and feel assured that even though it’s messy it’s okay.
Nancy: Now, you had breast cancer at 34.
Nancy: And that’s a difficult thing to walk through. How did you get through that?
M.K.: A lot of dark humor! A lot of crying, a lot of laughing until I cry. That one really took me aback. It was kind of a gut punch the way that I discovered it, which I do write about in the book. But, just to give you a little bit of insight into that story, I have always wanted it for medical reasons, a breast reduction. And so I was able to do that after weaning both of my children to help with my back pain and like help my ability to exercise. And so I’d waited a long, long time for that surgery. And I was about five days post op from finally having the reduction. I remember waking up and being like, oh my gosh, my belly button. Oh my gosh, it doesn’t hurt. Like all of these exciting things.
And five days later when I went to my recovery appointment, they told me they had found breast cancer in the tissue. And so, it was really like a double gut punch. It wasn’t just that I had breast cancer. It was that I was starting all over. I was going to have another surgery. And then it was going to be, you know, what happens from there? But I had the benefit of catching mine early. And so I had to find some gratitude in that, because I quickly learned that in the sisterhood of breast cancer survivors, not all of us are lucky enough to find it early. So I was able to get a pretty heavy dose of perspective early on that if I hadn’t had this surgery, I wouldn’t have found it. And so, even though it felt very much like a shot to the heart, it was more like a dodged bullet.
Bring Your Mess to the Table
Nancy: Why is it important not to shy away from imperfection and chaos, and what should our response be?
M.K.: Oh, why is it important? Because I believe that the communities that we are creating when we’re pretending to be perfect or only putting our best foot forward, they’re not authentic. And you can’t truly be loved well unless you’re known well. And so it’s important to bring your mess to the table. Now, you’d have to use wisdom obviously, and not put it all out there first. There’s some trust that has to be earned in relationships, but, you know, if you show your rough edges, what’s going to happen is the other person’s going to see themselves reflected in your life. And they’re going to feel closer to you. The more honest you are about your mess, the more connected you become with your friends. It’s just a deeper type of relationship.
Trusting God in the Process
Nancy: How do we find God in our messiness, in the messy details?
M.K.: I think that it takes time. There’s a reason that most of the stories in my book are from childhood. That’s because when you’re in the middle of your mess, it’s very hard to see what God’s doing in it. So time allows us a little bit of a bird’s-eye view of what was happening. The example I like to use is when you’re 16 years old and you have that high school heartbreak. It’s very hard while you’re sitting on your bed crying to see where God is in all of that. But when you’re 35 and you have two healthy children and a wonderful marriage, it’s a lot easier to look back on that and say, 'Okay, I see what God is doing.' And so it’s not as easy as saying, ‘Oh, this is what’s God’s doing in the middle of my mess.’ It’s more looking at the evidence that He’s done it every time and then trusting along in the process.
Nancy: You talk about mental health issues and that sort of thing. What do you say about people who struggle with depression or other issues like that? What kind of advice would you give them?
M.K.: As a person of faith, I have found that sometimes the church community and the Christian community can shy away from clinical treatment of depression, that we feel like we have to pray away this problem. But I want people to really see that mental illness is very much a physiological disease that you would not ask somebody to pray away a broken leg. You would rely on healers that God has put in this world. I want people to start trusting that God works through practitioners, through therapists, through psychiatrists, through counselors and that there is no shame in having mental illness as there’s no shame in having cancer. To me, they’re one in the same, there’s something that you cannot control without help. And so to be honest about it and to seek help and not think that it’s a result of a lack of faith.
Purpose Out of Mess
Nancy: Your book comes out on August 3rd. I’m just wondering if there’s anything I haven’t asked you about that you think our readers need to know?
M.K.: What’s interesting is, the question that I get a lot is ‘Just how religious is this book?’ because the Christian community is excited to see Holy Hot Mess and like, ‘Oh, yes, I want to dig into this.’ But I also have a lot of listeners who are maybe skeptical or have church hurt in their past and they want to read it, but they’re not really sure what they’re going to get. And to answer that question, what I would say is ‘You’re going to get a lot of encouragement, a lot of humor, a lot of, oh my goodness, I’ve been there. That makes sense to me.’
And then you’re going to get the spiritual inspiration and the perspective I have as a person of faith. And so I think that it is a gentle introduction to what God does and the messiness of the world without being patronizing or dismissive of real hurt. I want anybody that is curious about what it would look like for God to make purpose out of mess to pick up this book and feel like it would be a safe read.
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