by Giselle Nunez with Dave Franco | September 1, 2019

Stepping onto the UCSD campus was a huge deal for me. It wasn’t just about going to a new school; it was about having a new life. No longer under my parents’ rule, I was about to do what I wanted and make new friends and not come home if I didn’t feel like it and reinvent myself. Best of all, there would be boys to pursue and be pursued by, which was going to work in my favor for two reasons. First, it would be fun. And second, I had a pain in my heart I was trying to kill. An abusive relationship from my high school years left a bitter memory that I needed to extinguish as soon as possible.

And so I ventured out, moving free of “supposed to,” free of parents and free of my Catholic upbringing that seemed to do nothing more than fill me with outdated rules and guilt. Boys were everywhere, it seemed, and excitement was in the air. I showed interest in them, and they showed interest in me. What was not to like about that?

The timing was tough. Getting together with the right boy among so many boys when they were having the same difficulties from their end made it seemingly impossible to understand how anybody did it successfully. Months passed without establishing a significant other, and I could feel the pressure. Suddenly the end of the year was in view, and I still wasn’t with anybody in particular; I was as alone as I was the first day. It was starting to eat at me, and panic was starting to set in. My abusive boyfriend was still in my mind telling me I was no good.

My abusive boyfriend was still in my mind telling me I was no good.

As time rolled on, my interest in finding love pushed me toward dropping my guard more than I had planned, and I allowed things to happen that shouldn’t have. The end of the year was approaching, and now I was doubly nowhere—without a boyfriend and without being able to say that I had conducted myself in a manner I could be proud of. It was rejection laced with guilt. I was miserable.

I felt a dark cloud coming over me. It drove me to my dorm room bed where I lay and cried and felt like I didn’t have enough strength ever to get out.  Soon, thoughts crept in that told me there really wasn’t anything to live for. “Nobody wants you for just being you,” said the voices. “You’re not good enough.” The image of my old boyfriend flashed to mind. The pain rolled over me like a wave. 

My depression and despair lasted well into the summer, and I searched my mind for somewhere to turn. I was coming up empty until the face of my suitemate from the first year sprang into my memory. Lighthearted and content, Monica seemed to have something that I didn’t. And it wasn’t just a case of a kind, sweet girl—they were everywhere. Monica was different. And I had to have what she had.

I remembered that she would often talk about going to church with great joy and excitement. So I called her up and simply asked her, “Would you mind if I went to church with you?”

Arriving at her church the first day, everything was completely unfamiliar to a life-long Catholic girl—the music, the enthusiasm, the demeanor. But of all the different things that took me aback, the pastor’s sense of relationship with God struck me the most. He talked like God was there, with him and all of us. God was a friend, not an authoritarian. My priest seemed to know about God. The pastor seemed to know God. 

I couldn’t get that out of my mind.

I began to go back every Sunday and started meeting other college-age kids. Between the sermons and the conversations with my new friends, I began to notice a reoccurring theme—God, through His Son, Jesus, forgives completely and endlessly. No matter what I’ve done, God is not mad at me. In fact, He is the opposite of mad. He called me the beloved of His soul—me, a sinner!

No matter what I’ve done, God is not mad at me.

This was not the God I knew. This was a God that was trying to bring me into His embrace and he was doing it with unconditional love. He wanted to be with me in heaven. I even said to my friends, “This couldn’t possibly be true!” 

They showed me Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

There it was again: With! God wants to be with me.

One day I asked one of the young women from the church who worked with the college-age kids, “How do I know when to say yes to this Jesus?” 

To which she answered. “When He calls you, you will know it.” That seemed a little dramatic for me. You mean like a bolt of lightning?

That night I had nothing on my plate, and I was excited to just sit and relax. I put on my pajamas and sat on the couch and clicked on the TV. A movie entitled, Same Kind of Different as Me, came on.

It was entirely about forgiveness.

I broke out in tears. It was just light from my TV, but to me, it was the lightning bolt that I was waiting for. God was calling to my heart. I told God that I wanted a relationship with Him right then and there; for Him to be mine and for me to be His. 

When I was done with my prayer, a joy like I have never known came over me—I couldn’t believe my God was not mad at me, not now, not ever. It’s still hard to believe.

In the years since, I have found myself loving to spend time with Him. Sure, I still struggle, even with some depression that I have since been able to control much better. But I finally have what I’ve always wanted. This from a God who always wanted me.

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