We’ve all read the heartwarming stories in Christian pamphlets, right? Somebody was just going along happily, living their life, until one day, tragedy struck. They found God, and now just look at how happy they are! It’s proof that God exists, isn’t it? He must be real, since a real person’s life has been changed for the better. Right?
Well… maybe not. It might be that sometimes tragedy strikes, and people make it without god, but we never hear their stories for comparison. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with one atheist whose non-belief has strengthened as a result of overcoming personal struggles.
Devidyal Givens has been an atheist for most of her adult life. Now thirty-three, she has been quietly living her life without gods since she was in her early twenties. She owned and operated a small cafe in New Mexico, was active in the arts, and by all accounts, was having a fine life. Though people did go to church where she lived, she didn’t feel like she was an outcast. “In New Mexico, I guess people go to church but it’s not a major part of their lives,” says Devidyal. “The entire time I lived there I can’t remember one person asking me what religion I was and the rare occasion it came up and I said oh, I’m an atheist they’d say okay and conversation would continue.”
In 2005, Givens moved to Atlanta, where she worked as a manager at the Flying Biscuit. Here, too, her non-belief was no big deal. “When I was in Atlanta, I was heavily involved in the art scene. I don’t think I know anyone there that goes to church on a regular basis and if I do they certainly don’t talk about it. No one ever asked me about my religious beliefs and if they did it was no big deal or they’d be curious and want me to tell them about atheism.”
Three years ago, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Though it is normally one of the easiest forms of cancer to treat, it was not so for Devidyal. “I had all kinds of complications with mine. I was in the hospital for 8 days and then in and out of the hospital for the next year and a half on a weekly basis. My medical bills were running me $50,000-$60,000 a month and I soon found myself homeless.”
From small business owner to homeless in five years, Givens’ story is no less compelling than any Christian’s. One could certainly forgive her if she had felt like she needed supernatural assistance after such a terrifying brush with death. But that’s not how she felt at all. Instead, she relied on real help from real people. A friend in Decatur took her in until she could get back on her feet — both literally and metaphorically.
Devidyal found hope in Decatur, and then she found love in Gainesville. She moved to be with the man who would become her husband, and started her life over yet again. Ironically, one of the most difficult challenges for her was living with all the Christians around her…