An Atheist Once Set Me On Fire

Before I start his story, a little context on what to see when I speak of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and conversations with Him. You need to know that when I speak about the Spirit of God, I use a masculine pronoun because that what He is to me. I have an actual picture of this being in my head – with a personality and a specific voice. He is small and unassuming, has brown skin, speaks quietly but sometimes He shouts if it’s important enough and his voice sounds a lot like Osby Berry’s (go listen to his version of So Will I, it’s beautiful and I almost fell out when I heard the Lord’s voice come out of his mouth).  He is effortlessly petty and frequently skewers me with plain truths.  I hear Him most clearly in the shower and in the car. I love Him dearly.  I say this because this image is very personal to me. I believe the Lord gave it to me because He knows how visual I am. But I also know this image is MINE. If you haven’t assigned or imagined a person and personality to the Spirit of God within you, I strongly encourage you to sit and let your mind land upon who God is – to you.  Keeping in mind that God is neither all female or all male (says it in the very first passages of the Bible) and so the image can be literally whomever speaks to you and makes you feel the most loved. I don’t know why my Jesus is a petty little brown dude who sucks His teeth at me and sometimes knows how to maneuver a baby out of a womb, but He is.   

So. Keeping that picture in your head whenever I speak of Him, let’s continue with my story of the time an atheist set me on fire.

I recently finished a master’s degree in midwifery.  All I’ve wanted to be since I was 12, is a midwife.  While other girls daydreamed about getting married, I daydreamed about catching babies.  I used to sit up at night with a small flashlight and my mom’s midwifery texts – pouring over the pictures of babies emerging all squishy and new into the world.  But you know how life is, it takes you through all kinds of twists and turns and so I was 38 before I finally embarked on the last bit of becoming a midwife.  By then, I knew it was a calling as it had been confirmed over and over by the Lord – I have highlighted bits in my Bible and memories of Him coming through my husband’s mouth all “you can keep talking about it, or you can just go do it.” (How DARE you, sir?!) I had also come to think of it as a mission field.  And because at the time, we were at a church that focused on missions, I had an idea in my head of what that would look like. Grossly romanticized, much the way I felt when I first became a doula. I would go on the mission field, wipe sweaty foreheads, hold hands and pray over people thereby exploding the Kingdom of God by preaching the gospel of repentance and acceptance of Jesus as our Savior. Sounds great, right?

After a lovely first day with a long-time mentor and sister-in-Christ, I arrived to my second day still full of sunshine and unicorns. And then I met my next preceptor, a rather vocal atheist (I think I found this out as we discussed a patient who’d come in post-abortion).  For 12 hours we managed the ED (please read “we managed” as “she made me do things while I tried to hide in the bathroom”).  We did so squished together in a tiny office – me the secretly terrified, idealistic new midwife finally on the mission field, and she, the so intensely chill experienced midwife who I was convinced DID NOT like me. Let me enlighten you on what walks into a maternity emergency room as it’s not just people in labor. It’s people who THINK they’re in labor, people hemorrhaging or not hemorrhaging but are convinced they might at any moment, people in various stages of abortion processes, people with all manner of fluids leaking out of various orifices, etc.  And may I remind you, it was my 2nd day and all I did was go inform people of their accidental pregnancies, STIs, and successful abortions they’d tried fruitlessly to stop. Oh and try to keep sad preggos from puking on my shiny new Danskos.  By the time I got in the car, I was utterly convinced I’d made a horrible mistake and so as soon as my door shut, I burst into tears and figuratively threw myself on the ground in a pouty, crying heap.

As He is now used to doing, Jesus plopped down next to me and waited until I finished crying and listened to my complaints.  “But YOU said this is my mission field, and every time anyone at church told me to go overseas, YOU told me it was here! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WORK UNDER THESE CONDITIONS? I don’t know how to preach about You to these people, and wtf am I supposed to do with an atheist as a preceptor???”

“Friend. Did I tell you to preach? I said this is your mission field and then I sent you to midwifery school.”


“How about, instead of trying to find words to say, you just focus on letting Me love them through you. You asked to be my hands and feet, right? Or was ‘here I am Lord’ just an empty statement?”

*sharply inhales and makes attacked face*

On my next shift, it was me and atheist midwife again, only this time we were on labor coverage. It was on this day in the year of our Lord 2019, that I fell absolutely in utter awe and love with her for a couple of reasons.

  1. Her badassery:  we had a minor issue with one of the deliveries, and as terror filled my SOUL, she says quietly “shit. Now I have to gown up.”  She put on the gown and a pair of longer gloves and swiftly dealt with the issue making it look like a minor occurrence (which it really was, but hello. New midwife. Constant terror.)
  2. Her ultra chill = a front:  inside she’s a lot like me. Always thinking, sometimes raging at the patriarchy, thinking up ways to tear it down so everyone has a chance to make a life for themselves, always finding ways to make other people feel loved unless they really need a punch in the face.
  3. She’s actually really good at loving humans. She has a well of compassion that it pours out in the battles she picks– for bus routes not to be taken away, for Black lives that matter, for LGBTQ+ equality, for her children, for literally anyone that walks into her path.

 As we walked to our cars after that second day together, she told me how she came to be so vocal about her atheism.  We live in the Bible belt, and without just addressing it head on, she wastes a lot of energy turning down repetitive church invites and condescending (but polite and smiley) offerings to pray for her. “You can be one of two nice Christians I know” she said, grinning at me.  I swear I thought she was kidding, because dude. TWO? Keep in mind, I grew up with adorable Catholic grandparents, plus we’ve always been amongst the token Black folk in our church spaces so for the most part, Christians have always been SUPER nice. I’ll give you a moment to giggle at my naivete. It’s fine. Everything is fine.  At any rate, she wasn’t kidding. She has so many examples of people being just downright awful to her, that yes, I’m one of two.

We’d stood there talking for awhile and my disbelief had only morphed into deep unsettling upset by the time I got in the car – because this person is amazing. Not just “good” in the superficial shit way we say “it’s not enough to be a good person.” But like…in the way that SCREAMS “I have the Spirit of God within me and here’s some fruit to prove it, bitches!”

I pouted thinking about how these things just do NOT add up. Specifically, I pouted at Jesus, “Um, she’s amazing and I adore her.”

“Well. Duh. So do I.”

“…even though she doesn’t acknowledge You exist?”

“Did you hear her? It’s not her fault the only people she’s met, who claim to be mine, have been assholes.”

If being born again is an inner change caused by the Spirit of God that makes us want to pour out love and spread the good gospel that Jesus came to save us ALL? Then while I “accepted Jesus” when I was 11, I’ve only been born again since October 2019. OR maybe this is the moment I experienced true baptism of the Holy Spirit…whatever Christianese we want to assign it, something in me ignited in that moment.

Have you ever been badly sunburnt? Where you’re covered in dead skin that’s peeling off, leaving tender new skin in its place? That’s how I felt: so raw, so uncomfortable, on fire but also covered in salve.  In utter discomfort but filled with peace.

And listen. LISTEN. I am fully aware that this can all be easily explained away – I am rather imaginative, perhaps this is just a way that my brain needed to make it ok for my friend to be an atheist AND for me to love Jesus.  That could be true.

I call absolute bullshit on that sentiment. I KNOW what God’s voice sounds like. I have been studying the Word of God almost as long as I’ve been daydreaming about being a midwife. I realize this isn’t in keeping with what most of Christianity teaches but understand, there are some things that make me unique.  I had the great benefit of traveling around the world with my Black-biracial military family -which only means I don’t have as much of the dominant white culture conditioning to inform my expression of faith. Yes, people in our churches have been super nice, but I have also always felt out of place in the very small space American evangelical culture says I should fit in. The concept of sharing about a God that loves us so much He’ll let us burn in hell for all eternity has always made me squirm (perhaps because I was not conditioned to accept abuse and call it love). Seeing entire groups of people excluded (or only superficially accepted) from church because of their supposed sin makes me ANGRY.

That evening and the next several months sent me down a spiral that has only recently begun to rest on a few certain things: there really IS a way to understand that God so loved the WORLD without all the exclusion we throw in there, that God’s grace really IS sufficient, that ALL tongues will confess and knees will bow – not because one day we’ll be threatened with either love or eternal torment, but because one day (either in this life or upon our death) we’ll be confronted with the pure, unadulterated, TRUTH that God exists and loves us perfectly.  God will never take away our choice, but neither will our GOOD Creator allow ANYONE to perish.

I’ll let you rest on that awhile.