How a Lifelong Atheist Led Me Closer to God

In the spring of 2010, I worked as an Army public affairs intern on Fort Hood, Texas, a 24-hour drive from my Michigan home. I used my new government salary to rent a one-bedroom apartment in nearby Copperas Cove.

Above my Texas apartment lived a young man named Charles*. On his right arm, he had the loveliest tattoo I’ve ever seen—a white snow leopard crossing over a rock-strewn waterfall. On his left was a tattoo of an ugly, demonic skull.

I loved the snow leopard side of Charles—calm, kind, peaceful, interested in every beautiful thing. I ignored his other side, his vices and secrecy, the empty look that sometimes entered his pale blue eyes.

During my Texas year, I committed to a Thursday morning Holy Hour at our local parish. The grace of gazing at the beautiful but hidden face of Our Lord would stay with me all day. His Love seemed to spill out into all my endeavors: my morning run on base, my encounters in the office, and lastly, in my evenings with Charles.

Most Thursday nights that spring and summer, I’d climb up the stairs to Charles’ apartment for an evening of fun. He’d make us a special meal: spinach feta pie, or grilled salmon with yogurt, dill and cucumbers.

We’d watch movies, too. The sci-fi classic, Dune, where the young hero dreams, “The Sleeper must Awaken.” I couldn't get that line out of my head.

Another time, we watched Return to Neverland.

“Do you believe in fairies?” a character in the movie asks.

Charles shifted beside me on the sofa. He was tall and fair-haired, and a native Michigander, like me.

“If you believe in fairies, clap your hands.”

We both clapped!

It was a silly moment, but believing in faeries was at least believing in something. Charles had been raised an atheist. His maxim for life was, “if it feels good, it is good.”

Still, those Thursday evenings gave me hope that I could share my Catholic faith with him. I longed to help Charles see the world as I saw it: full of beauty, meaning, and hope. When I gazed up at the cerulean sky, at aspen leaves shimmering in a soft spring breeze, I thought of God. Charles thought only of the beauty of nature. If I could just show him more about my faith, maybe he would believe, too.

I guess that’s why I liked meeting him on Thursdays. I hoped some of that Holy Hour grace would rub off on him, too.

And so that summer, I let Charles share all his favorite things with me: fresh foods, country line dancing, live music on Austin’s Sixth Street. Nighttime heat like dragon’s breath. A slow smile, and my first kiss.

We were dating now, weren’t we?

It’s a date, I decided, fiddling with my pearl necklace during a drive downtown. I glanced at Charles. Of course it is. Right?

For a string of Thursdays, things went well between us. But soon after my family came to visit, we got into an argument: pro-life vs. pro-choice. Neither of us backed down.

Our relationship wasn’t quite as amiable after that. Still, when my 24th birthday arrived in mid-July, I invited Charles to celebrate with me and my other Texas friends.

After Mass on my birthday, I raided my closet for party clothes. Through the crack in my blinds, I noticed Charles walking out to his car. A young woman followed him. I’d seen her before, sure—his friend from Vietnam.

They’re just friends.

But that Sunday morning she was walking out with him, from his apartment. She carried a backpack, with a pillow propped under her elbow.

She spent the night with him.

I stared at him and the woman, my heart frozen, numb. Horrified.

Charles and I weren’t dating officially. But he had kissed me. He’d taken me on trips that were exactly like dates. We’d spent loads of time alone together.

It must be a mistake.

I didn’t confront him about it on my birthday. We celebrated with my friends as if nothing was wrong.

But the next week, Charles invited me to help him work on his car, then share a sandwich from Subway. As he pulled open the sub wrapper, I worked up my courage and asked him about what I’d seen the week before.

Charles paused, sandwich in hand.

“I like variety,” he said finally.

“Oh.”

So what I’d seen hadn’t been a mistake. Charles liked me, and the other woman—although he hadn’t admitted it to me until now.

Why didn’t he just tell me?

Later, I told my good friend about what had happened. She was furious and outraged on my behalf. Charles had intentionally misled me about the nature of our relationship, she said.

Charles had misled me. But I wasn’t angry; I was in love. My naïve 24-year-old self had even fantasized about marrying him.

But know I knew he didn’t want me.

Living in my first-floor apartment became unbearable. I couldn’t stand to hear Charles moving about upstairs. I didn’t want to know who came and went from his house.

So at night, I fled to the Texas countryside. A little green valley welcomed me on the outskirts of town, with only a few street lights. I entered a wide open field, covered with prairie grass and wildflowers. The night air hummed with crickets.

"Wow," I sighed.

I placed a picnic blanket on the grass and played soothing music on my laptop. Silent night, holy night. Then I laid on my back to gaze above.

Stars, stars, stars. Glistening in night splendor. Pinpoints of light in a grand expanse. I was tiny beneath them, and completely alone.

But God was there. Right there, in that miserable moment, holding me, His Mary, so broken from Charles’ betrayal. Crushed by wounds too deep for me to feel.

I breathed the sweet summer air, swallowed up that big Texas sky. Only in that park did I find any peace.


To be continued...


Thank you for reading! Join me next week to hear more of my Texas tale, and how it led me to deep conversion of heart.


*Note: In this post, I used the name Charles in place of the gentleman's real name.





About the Author:

From Army public affairs to convent life to marriage and motherhood, Mary Rose Kreger’s journey has been filled with twists and turns. Wherever she’s journeyed, she’s always been writing stories. She lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she writes fantasy tales for teens, and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during, and after the convent.


Mary also shares faith-based poems and fantasy quotes on her Instagram account, @faithandfantasy1.




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