I grew up in a world where spiritual things had no place in my life. It wasn’t necessarily on purpose, as though I knew enough to reject anything that had to do with religion or faith. The reality was I simply had no category for it. I’ve recently learned there is a name for this: apatheism.
The name of God was nothing more than a concept to me, a name I took in vain, and a name I knew people used in shouts of triumph or defeat. It was irrelevant to me that the name belonged to a living God—I didn’t have any concept of a God who was real.
I lived this way, believing the only real things were things I could see—until the most real thing I knew was taken from me. When I was 25 years old, my husband, Tell, was killed in Iraq. I was a brand-new mother to our 5-month-old daughter, Ava, and the news catapulted me into a darkness I couldn’t find my way out of. The numbness began even as I slid to the floor with the men in uniform standing inside my front door. The only words I heard were mine, pleading for it not to be true.
Sympathy Cards and Psalms
Nothing felt real from that time, until one day I found myself hastily flipping through the pages of a Bible. I wasn’t even sure how it got into my home. I fumbled around trying to figure out how to find the Bible verses that filled the insides of sympathy cards I had received.
I believed the only real things were things I could see—until the most real thing I knew was taken from me.
I landed on Psalm 139; not a chapter that was in any of the cards, but one I couldn’t look away from: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (vv. 7–8, NIV).
I admit, I did not respond to these words by immediately repenting of my sin and trusting in Jesus. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Instead, I willed the words to be about my beloved Tell—I wanted to believe he was there, I wanted to know I wasn’t alone.
I felt like the pain was swallowing me whole, and those verses, foreign to my heart, cast a light into the well of grief in the only way I could make sense of it according to my unbelief, my apatheism.
I came back to the psalms every day, trying to find other places that might bring me closer to Tell. I didn’t know what I was looking for, only that I was compelled to read until my eyes hurt.
I was struck by the words from Psalms 40, 18, 30, and 27. They validated my reality of crying out in grief; I wasn’t the only one. But there was a difference I began to see: the writer of these chapters didn’t think his cries were going unheard; his weeping wasn’t lost in the wind. He knew that when his trials overwhelmed to the point of distress, he could cry out to someone who was listening.
I didn’t expect to see in Scripture that God didn’t reject those that felt the powerful emotions associated with grief; instead, these verses were showing me a God who moved toward the afflicted. I saw a God who carried hope to the hopeless.
Who was this God?
God Showed Up
I could see in the pages of the psalms that he was real, a massive God whom the writers of the psalms cried out to in their despair. And I could see that he responded. Slowly, I began to look less for Tell in the verses and more for the One I felt was holding me in my grief.
I saw a God who carried hope to the hopeless. Who was this God?
This is what I love about our God. He knows how to meet us exactly where he knows we will have eyes to see him. In those early days of grief, he continued to lead me into the psalms until I couldn’t ignore him or hide from him. I began to believe God was showing up in my despair and breathing life into me when all I wanted was to die.
But what I didn’t know at the time was this: I was already dead (Eph. 2:1).
My sins held me captive. But I wasn’t aware of this. I hadn’t heard much about Jesus before. I didn’t know he died a death I deserved to die because of my sin—and this was because of the great love of God (Rom. 3:21–26; 8:32; John 3:16).
What I did know was my grief over losing Tell wasn’t swallowing me whole as often. I knew the ache of hopelessness—dreams we had for our young family had been crushed, the belief that no one would ever love me the way Tell had, the fear of being alone—was fading.
I was hungry to know what it meant to live with a new hope but couldn’t understand what that looked like.
And yet the Lord knew exactly where I was, and how he was going to orchestrate the goal of the faith he had given me: the salvation of my soul (1 Pet. 1:9). He brought a man named Rhodes into my life by way of a group dinner with the rest of the guys from Tell’s unit once they returned from Iraq. Rhodes knew Tell, and Rhodes knew Jesus.
I was drawn immediately to his humility and gentleness. He was not unlike Tell in many ways, but there was a light about him that reflected something new to me. I pursued a friendship with him with a boldness unfamiliar to my character, but he had something I wanted: peace.
And by the grace of God, Rhodes accepted my friendship as well as my thousands of questions. He was gentle in allowing me to wrestle with learning I was a sinner and taught me what Christ accomplished on the cross. He rejoiced with me as I fell in love with Jesus. He was there with me when I was baptized. He grieved the loss of my Tell with me, and he loved Ava from the start, never missing a beat to stand in the gap for her in the loss of her daddy. I’ve been his wife now for 12 years.
God continues to write his story through us, and his grace abounds. The One I didn’t have a category for shows himself as the great I Am, and now shows me daily he can’t be confined to a category. The One I was apathetic toward is now my everything, and I am grateful.