Patria remembers being born with her arms outstretched, as though she were reaching up for something.
She was a perfect child, a real goody two-shoes. So good that the priest believes that she might be called to a religious life as a nun.
Patria digs the nun idea, until she hits puberty and realizes there might be other activities that capture her interest as much as religion.
Sor Asunción calls Patria into her office and tells her to be on the lookout for a sign from God about what she's supposed to do with her life.
Patria is tempted to touch herself at night in bed, but asks for a crucifix to keep her mind on higher things.
Suddenly her temptations are gone, but when she goes home for Easter and washes people's feet at church as part of the Holy Week ceremonies, she falls in love with a guy with hairy feet. Different strokes for different folks?
Back at school, Patria lies about her calling, until she gets a letter from her boyfriend and the nuns find it. She admits that she doesn't want to be a nun.
That fall she stays at home instead of going back to school, and sees Pedrito González, her boyfriend, every chance she gets.
At Christmas, on the way to church, Patria almost gives in and has sex with Pedrito, but she holds off.
She moves to his village, fifteen minutes away, and has two babies right in a row, Nelson and Noris.
Patria gets pregnant a third time, and in the meantime is really worried about her rebellious sister Minerva's big mouth. She's afraid she'll get into trouble.
Minerva's political and religious rebellion affects Patria, and she begins to lose her faith.
She loses the baby and feels empty inside.
Patria and Pedrito move back in with her parents while she recovers from the loss, and one day Minerva compares Jesus and Trujillo, and suddenly Patria is overcome by the tragedies and horrors of her country.
She moves back home and tries to help Pedrito with his grief. He slips away one night, though, and she follows him, thinking he is going to meet another woman.
Instead, she sees him bury a small box. She assumes it's their child's coffin. She goes to the cemetery the next day and insists that a couple of campesinos (peasants) help her dig up her baby's grave so that she can bury a medallion with the Virgin Mary on it inside. She really wants to find out whether Pedrito has moved the body.
She sees her decomposed baby, and from then on has lost her faith but continues to pretend to be a perfect Catholic wife and mother.
The girls' mother decides they should all go on a pilgrimage to Higüey, where the Virgin Mary has appeared. Everyone has something to worry about: Patria's loss of her baby and her faith; Minerva's rebellion; Mate (María Teresa) has asthma; and Dedé has some decisions to make.
Patria teases Pedrito that they're really going on a bachelorette-style sexytimes vacation but reassures him when he looks hurt.
The ladies set out in their car, and it becomes apparent that the mother has worries of her own. It seems father is stepping out, and she's very upset about it.
That night they stay with distant relatives in Higüey because the hotels are all full, and Patria shares a bed with her mother. They pray together, and Patria tries to comfort her poor mom.
In the morning the women eat breakfast and go to the chapel to see the picture of the Virgin Mary.
When Patria turns around and sees all of the people praying, she has a little epiphany. She realizes that all her life she's been looking up at God and heaven, when she really should have been looking behind her, at the people in the church.
She cries out to the Virgin and hears her answer that she is all around her.