What Do You Believe?

All of His stories welling up in a person are ones to handle with care, but there are some that feel especially sacred. This story today is one of those. Katye Riselli lets us, many of whom are strangers, in to a kind of darkness which few have known. I felt a reverent caution in asking her to share it and that same caution as it’s now here, out there, for others to read.

There is life and death and death and life behind these words of hers. They are weighty and so is her story.

She takes us to and through the moment many of us have fought against fearing and shows us that, yes, He is there too. The darkness cannot overcome Him.

I read and I pray: let me know you in all shades of darkness that might come my way Lord, just like she did.

(For the month of May and two weeks into June, I will be pressing pause on my online writing and this space will become a series of testimonies of what He births in the midst of delay, perplexity and pain. Author friends from around the country, who love words on a page and Him even more, will share, here, how they have seen Him make the bitter, sweet.)

Light flooded the kitchen as I sat down at the table and opened my journal.  It was pitch black outside but every light in the house was on.  I squinted as my eyes adjusted to the brightness.

Two hours before, the phone was ringing.  I remember hearing Dad answer, and then Mom’s voice laced with pain.  I stepped into the hallway as they walked toward me, reaching to hug me even as they said, “Katye, there’s been an accident….”

Years later my memories of that night are contrasts of darkness and light:  Waking up in my dark bedroom, staring at the glow of the digital clock – 1:00 AM.  Bright light pouring into the hallway.  Shadows dancing on the walls as I stared into my parents’ faces, searching for some sign that this was a horrible dream.  If I waited, I’d wake up any minute.  The wedding was six weeks away.  My dress had just arrived.  My first fitting was supposed to be next week – not the funeral for my fiancé.

My world shattered.

Even now, I shake my head in disbelief when I think back on that night.  When I opened my journal, my emotions were so raw and the pain so fresh that I’m not sure my tears had even really started.

The first two hours after hearing the news had been instinct, faith breathing for me as my lungs threatened to collapse with the weight of my agony.  But the moment I picked up my pen I declared war on the darkness.  I stared at the blank lines with hesitation – not really knowing how to capture the moment, simply knowing I must.

“For yet I will praise Him, my Savior, my God.” 

Psalm 42 had flooded my heart as my cries echoed thru the house, and now with the pen hovering over the page, the words of the psalmist resonated in my heart.  I knew what to write.  I inked myself a memorial stone – something to reread any time I looked back to that dark night.

“Tonight I received the news of the unspeakable.  Regardless of what I think in the next few days, I believe that my God is faithful.  I believe that the Lord is good.  I believe that the Lord gives us the strength to meet the pain in our lives.  He is sufficient.  He will comfort us and heal us.”

Those precious words scrawled in my journal were my decision to live… to fight emotion with truth… and to confront fear with love.

I chose God.  I chose to believe.

I re-read that journal entry often.

I read it as I attended my best friends’ weddings – standing up as a bridesmaid, still single and longing to wear the white gown.

I read it as friends had their first babies – becoming “Aunt Katye,” and eventually explaining to their inquisitive toddlers that I was still waiting for my knight in shining armor.

I read it as my parents moved to Texas and my brother left for Australia – treading water in Virginia, trying to figure out what life completely on my own looked like.

And I read it countless times when the reality of my daily life at work or with friends overwhelmed me – making me want to crawl into bed and stay there.

On days when grief, loneliness, despair, or fear threatened to overwhelm me, it was as if there was a loudspeaker in my head challenging me, “What do you believe?!?  What about NOW?!”

Reading the words in my journal reminded me to lift my chin and profess the truths that I couldn’t see, didn’t feel, and (if I’m honest) sometimes feared might fail me.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25)

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning, great is his faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23)

I can’t count the number of times tears streamed down my face as I whispered to myself, “I still believe.  I still believe.  He is good.  He is faithful.  He is sufficient.” 

I didn’t feel it, but I believed it.  And eventually my feelings would catch up.  Truth trumped emotions.

And as God’s truth healed my broken heart, His love began showing me that my heart was bigger than I realized…  Just in time to see how “[God] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Mark picked me up for our first date on the night before Easter 2007.  For me the timing of the weekend was a stark reminder about what I believed: Jesus came to bring us life.  He defeated death and rose again.  He makes all things new.

We’d been set up by mutual friends, introduced over the phone and email since he lived in Idaho… only a few dozen states away from Virginia!  He was a Virginia native, an Air Force Officer, and he’d come home for Easter, to see family who lived less than two miles from my apartment in Arlington.  Small world?  Big God.

Nothing about this long-distance relationship looked likely, but I could see God’s hand all over it.  And it reminded me how to confront my fears.

“I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14)

Mark proposed a few weeks before Easter 2008, just days after returning from a military deployment to the other side of the world, literally.  Four months later we were married.  One of my great joys that day was to see so many people who had grieved with me years earlier now see the goodness of the Lord.  He is so faithful.

Marrying into the military wasn’t a cakewalk.  I traded in a White House Staff ID badge for a military ID card that said “spouse.”  I left all my friends in Virginia and had to find new ones in Missouri.  And after 16 months of dating and engagement, Mark and I finally lived in the same place – in the same space, actually – and we had a bit to learn about how to do that well.

More than once my emotions have threatened to get the better of me… loneliness, fear, insecurities… and more than once I have found myself once again saying, “I still believe.”

This year, on the Saturday before Easter, our daughter Amelia was baptized – five years to the day from our first date.  Just in case I need a new memorial stone to remember God’s faithfulness.

Katye Riselli is a Virginia girl currently living in Shreveport, Louisiana with her husband Lt Col Mark Riselli and their daughter Amelia Mae.  She previously worked in Washington, D.C. and now works at home, full-time as an Air Force spouse and mother, and part-time as a writer.