Knowing God

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“Growing up, my dad was never in the picture,” said Angelica Ortega. “My mom was a single parent with three daughters when I was born, and she was just trying to make ends meet. With financial struggles and a desire to provide for our family in the US, she sent me to live with my grandparents in Mexico for a year.

“Even though I was so young, I have vivid memories of feeling like I was left or abandoned by my parents. Even though I was back with my mom, this really took a toll on me as I got older. I thought that my parents didn’t love me because I didn’t have that early connection with them. I carried that with me for much of my life.

“I believed love was conditional, and as I grew older, I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t bother or upset anyone. I was fearful that my actions would cause someone to not love me. I put up an emotional barrier with people, even with my family and my mom, to protect myself from hurt and additional abandonment.

“In high school, I started dating a guy, and it felt like the first time someone wanted to be with me. My whole identity was wrapped up in our relationship, but that led to a lot of brokenness, hurt, and isolation down the road. It ended when he cheated on me, and that quickly reinforced the lies and feelings that I wasn’t good enough for anyone. It broke me to think that I wasn’t valuable or worthy of love.

“After my breakup, everyone told me, ‘Find yourself, be happy with you, and do what makes you happy.’ So, I started going out to clubs and drinking, trying to find what the world told me would make me happy. At the end of every night, I would just think, ‘This can’t be it.’ It wasn’t fulfilling or bringing me any peace. I wasn’t finding true healing. I was trying to find happiness for myself, but it felt like the lowest point of my life.

“I remember crying for days and asking God to take away my pain. I felt like my whole life I was carrying a big backpack of rocks that were just adding up. I was so used to that heaviness that I thought it was normal. Even at such a low point, I didn’t know how my life could be different. I kept going out with friends because that was really all I knew, but I desperately wanted a change.

“In my senior year of college, I was in a car accident. Driving in the rain, I lost control of my car and spun into a concrete wall. I was in a tiny, old car with very little protection, so it was a miracle that I didn’t have many injuries. I was so blessed that nothing happened to me, but I didn’t think that way at the time. I felt anger toward God. I had asked Him to take pain away, but this wreck just brought more pain and inconvenience into my life.

“Shortly after, I was working at a grocery store. A guy that was shopping one day struck up a conversation with me and ended up inviting me to The Porch. Our quick conversation about God was intriguing to me, so I went. At first, I was so overwhelmed. But the way the speaker talked so authentically about sin on stage really stood out to me. That was the same night I first heard the gospel – that Jesus died on the cross for my sins so that I would have eternal life with Him.

“I started attending Sunday services and continued to hear the gospel shared from the stage. One Sunday, someone talked about having faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20). And I thought, ‘Okay, a mustard seed is really little. I have at least that!’ Later that day, quietly in my room, I told God, ‘I have little faith, but I want to give it all to you.’

“I learned later it is not how much faith you have but who you put your faith in. Ultimately, I brought nothing to the table. I was broken and consumed with sin. But I quickly felt convicted to change my lifestyle and where I hung out. That did lead to separation from some friends, but I wanted to change to honor the Lord, and slowly God brought new people into my life as I started building relationships in my community group and at church.

“Now I can see every moment of my life has been laced with His grace. When I truly accepted God’s unconditional love, I was so overwhelmed with peace. I felt lighter. I remembered the prayer when I asked God to take away my pain and realized He had taken my pain away – well before I was even born – on the cross. He died on the cross for me. How could I not live my life for Him?

“Now, I know love abounds. Love is peace. God loves with no conditions. I am a sinner and I still make mistakes, but God waits for me with open arms, no matter what I do. He accepts me. Whenever I think of love, I think of God. I’ve learned that the only way to have peace and know love is to know God.”