Nathalie Murillo: A Story of Resilience
By John-Mark Mills
There’s an old, well-known adage that says “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In recent years, life hasn’t given Nathalie Murillo lemons; life’s given her a hand grenade with the pin pulled.
Yet in the face of immense adversity, Nathalie has demonstrated tremendous resilience, optimism, and wisdom. Her story is truly one of exemplary strength: the strength of her faith, her God, and her love and appreciation for her family.
Family and Faith
Born in Chicago to a family of Nicaraguan immigrants, Nathalie spent the majority of her childhood 40 minutes outside the city in the large and affluent suburb of Naperville. Despite the largely suburban backdrop of her early years, Nathalie never quite lost touch with the city. She remembers accompanying her parents on many work-related trips downtown when she was young.
These experiences with her parents provide us with an early glimpse of the role that family plays in Nathalie’s life. “My family is really really close. I feel like that’s just the latina side of us, we’re just really family oriented” she explains. Beatrice, one of Nathalie’s closest friends, echoed this sentiment by declaring that she’s “never seen a family that’s so affectionate towards each other, so loving.”
Indeed, with her two older siblings up and out of the house by the time she was in 6th grade, and as a self-described social “floater” during her middle and high school years, Nathalie found her deepest relationships at home with her parents. It was through sharing time with them that she learned about her Nicaraguan heritage and the Christian faith, two key aspects of her identity to this day.
A particularly impactful experience for Nathalie in regard to her identity as a Latina came when she was 16. Having grown up listening to her parent’s stories about their home country, when it came time to celebrate her quinceañera–a traditional Spanish celebration that inaugurates a girl’s passage into young womanhood when she turns 15–Nathalie instead chose to, in her own words, “go against tradition” by taking a solo plane flight to visit family in Nicaragua the following year.
What this trip illustrates about Nathalie is the thankfulness that she has for both where she comes from and for the distinct blessings that she enjoys by living in America. “She knows the struggles her parents have faced and witnessed, and just to compare her experience and how safe she is and how much opportunity she has over here in America as opposed to Nicaragua is just really amazing” Beatrice told me.
With her parents and family providing a picture of what it means to overcome adversity, it should come as no surprise that when asked to describe Nathalie’s best quality, Beatrice barely paused to think. “The best thing about Nathalie is her resilience. She’s very strong. No matter what happens to her, she’ll always find a way to bounce back. It might take a little bit of time but she’ll always find a way.”
Nathalie has needed every bit of that resilience lately.
The first in her family to go to college, she immediately struggled to acclimate to college life. Without someone to guide her through, she quickly found herself on the wrong path. “Since my siblings went to the military after high school, I didn’t really know what college was like which is why I kind of got lost,” she admits.
Adding to her struggles was what she describes as the Wheaton college “culture shock.” On a primarily white campus, Nathalie had a difficult time finding friends that shared her background. She also mentions experiencing a number of what she describes as “mean moments” in regard to her ethnicity during her freshman year at Wheaton.
Resilience Amidst Suffering
Yet a rough first year of finding her way at college was the only the beginning of the trials that Nathalie would have to face.
In March of 2020, she became a survivor of rape.
Though there’s no good way to say those words, Nathalie handled telling me of her experience with remarkable composure. Her voice was clear and unshaken even as she mentioned how the trauma of the event followed her in her dreams and robbed her of rest. She matter-of-factly recounted the mechanisms that she used to cope with the pain, which included busying herself with two jobs and taking up running as a hobby.
While these mechanisms helped keep her busy, it was Nathalie’s return to her firm foundation in God that pulled her through. As she had mentioned to me earlier, her transition to college life left her feeling disconnected from the faith of her childhood. It was only through her experience of trauma that she, in her own words, “found God again.”
“I’m so in love” she told me about her relationship to her faith. She went on to add that she wouldn’t give up her experience for the world because of the closeness that it has brought her to God.
Nathalie’s reinvigorated relationship with God is now the motivation for her life. She has never been more aware of God’s goodness in her life. That knowledge of his love and care has made him the focal point of everything that she does. By relying on God to alleviate her burdens, Nathalie found priceless value in even the most horrific of circumstances.
As she looks toward the future, Nathalie hopes that she can define herself as more than what she’s endured. “I don’t want [people] to think of me like ‘oh that’s the girl that went through that.’ Like no, there’s more to me than that, you know?” she told me near the end of the interview.
And indeed there is a lot more to Nathalie Murillo. She plans to use her college degree to go into journalism, and eventually wants to work in urban broadcasting journalism in the city. She has loyal friends, deep devotion to her God and family, and a true spirit of resilience that few can match.
Whatever life may throw at her next, Nathalie has her roots set deep in a firm foundation that is sure to carry her throw whatever storms may come.
Bring on the lemons.