Shared faith helps with life's struggles
Jossie Nunez and Gina Warden have different backgrounds when it comes to their faith, yet they both agree faith in God is foundational in their relationship today. When asked why faith plays a role in their five-year (and counting) relationship, Jossie is quick to respond. “Without faith, I am just half a person. Faith in God makes me a better person, and I am a better spouse because of it.”
Nunez grew up in Puerto Rico, in a family who expressed their faith in a variety of ways. Her immediate family attended an Episcopal church but she never realized she was attracted to women until she was a teenager. “I realized I liked girls when I was around 15,” she said. “I thought they were more attractive, but never acted on it until I reached my 20s.”
Unlike many whom grow up in the church, her same-sex attraction did not create any internal conflict with her faith. From the onset, Nunez realized God made her this way. Even her family, though they would have a period of struggle, had few difficulties supporting their gay daughter. While they never vocalized any condemnation, they often said she needed to follow the Bible, no matter what.
Her family had their first contact with the gay community when a cousin came to family events. “He always came with his ‘friend’ and I loved being around them,” Nunez said. But again, no one ever talked about it.
However, one night, one of her nephews had enough courage to ask about her sexuality. “I told him not to ask a question unless he was ready for the answer.” He then asked if she was gay. When she replied “yes,” his simple, but loving, reply was, “OK, I love you anyway.”
In 2000, Nunez moved to the United States to work as a registered nurse. First was Memphis, and eventually Miami, and she has called Nashville home for 5 years now and says, “This truly feels like home.”
Cookeville native Gina Warden grew up faithfully attending a Church of Christ. “We went every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night,” Warden said. This well-established routine gave her a solid foundation for her faith.
Growing up, she too felt there was something different about her. She knew she was attracted to other girls, but hoped every girl had similar thoughts.
“I was a late bloomer and didn’t have my first crush until I was 21,” Warden said. “I fell in love with a woman who worked at the SuperX Drug Store. She never knew anything other than the fact that we were friends. She eventually married and I remember crying the entire time at the ceremony.”
Gina’s broken heart sent her into a long period of trying to understand why she felt this way. Where were these feelings coming from? What would she do to manage them? This struggle to reconcile her feelings led Gina into a dark and lonely place.
“I laid awake many nights with so much going through my head. And the nights I managed to get to sleep, I usually woke up with nightmares. I was worried I was going to hell. I was worried I would lose my family and friends,” she recalled.
This struggle led her to a variety of physical and emotional problems. Life as a young adult is difficult enough, but when you add the complication of trying to reconcile your faith with your sexuality, you double, even triple, the frustrations.
During this dark period, she stopped attending church. “I didn’t resent the church, but I stopped praying. I didn’t even feel worthy of praying,” she said.
When Warden was 33, her life took an even more dramatic turn. Having been curious about her daughter’s sexuality, Gina’s mother asked, “Are you gay?”
Gina’s simple response was, “Since you asked, yes I am.”
And without another word, her mother hung up the phone.
Warden tried to call her mother back, but she wouldn’t answer. So shortly thereafter, she turned in her key to the family home. “I felt like my family didn’t trust me, so I basically had to say goodbye to them,” she explained.
The frustration Warden’s family was expressing was rooted in the idea that their daughter was choosing this lifestyle. They felt she was turning her back on God, on her faith, on all the family values she had grown up with. But this was no overnight decision; it never is.
After a few years, Warden’s mother softened to the point she would at least speak with her daughter over the phone. So Gina took this opportunity to ask her mother what turned out to be a life-changing question:
“Mom, why would I choose to go through this kind of anguish?”
According to Warden, this question finally clicked with her mother. The seed of insight needed to begin a full understanding was planted, and relationships began to heal.
In 2005 Warden moved to Nashville and met Nunez on line. They both say they weren’t looking for a relationship at the time, and that is evidenced by the fact that they didn’t start dating until six months later.
“We asked each other a lot of questions during that time,” Nunez said. “Our lives became an open book for each other. And one of the most important factors was that we knew we wanted to find a church where we could openly worship together.”
That search led them to Holy Trinity Community Church in Nashville, led by Rev. Cindy Andrews-Looper. “We knew we had found a church home from the first moment we were there,” Warden said. They loved it so much that in 2006, just after Holy Trinity moved into their current location, they were the first couple to exchange wedding vows in the new church building.
Sadly, this happy occasion was not shared by any member of Warden’s family. While her mother would have liked to attend, in order to keep peace at home with her husband she respected his wishes and remained at home. With tears in her eyes, Gina commented, “I pray for my dad every day. I have finally realized that his lack of acceptance isn't my problem,;it is his. But Pastor Cindy helped me understand that I need to continue to pray for him. I hate I have disappointed him, but if I am asking him to accept me as I am, then I must be willing to do the same of him.”
Fortunately, Nunez’s family has embraced Warden as their own. According to Nunez, “They absolutely love Gina! She quickly became family. If I am talking to my mother, she is always asking, ‘Where is Gina?’”
Warden closes by saying despite the frustrations with her father, if she had to come out again, she would.
“When I came out, it removed this tremendous weight off of me. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I know that God loves me, He created me as I am, and I am standing firm on the fact that I am a child of God.”