It seems like just about everyone I know right now is either grieving, infertile, or both. As a country and a global community, we’ve also had a lot of bad news. Our hurricanes are getting worse. There’s abuse. Addiction. “Politics” (I’ll let you unpack that one, reader). There’s prejudice. International affairs. Extramarital affairs. A TV show called The Affair. (You get the picture.) Snow storms have become snowier, apparently roach insecticide is one of the “natural ingredients” in La Croix, Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson just split, and I have a blood blister on the side of my heel that will not go away.

Like you needed reminding, but in the language of House Stark: WINTER IS HERE Y’ALL; it has been for a while. And I think many lonely and terrified folks are begging the same question as those in Psalm 42: “Where is your God?”

While I was raised in the Bible Belt by a church-going family, I only truly became a Christian in college after a “winter” of my own. It was as real a season of death as the one our society is in right now. Terrorists had just flown planes into the World Trade Center, and then — in the bewildering weeks, months, and year afterwards — I suffered the deaths of loved ones three times over. I was severely depressed and lonely. I was far away from home. I thought grieving meant putting out of mind. I felt like a wide and tender target in open season; everything was coming at me, and it all hurt. I could neither see a larger narrative at play in my own life, nor in the chaotic world around me. What was my purpose? What was my value? What was the point of all this? In that winter, I couldn’t conceive that an all-powerful and all-loving God could allow things like mental disorders, terrorism, global warming, tragic death, sexual abuse, perpetual singleness, or even celebrity break-ups (RIP, Britney and JT). “Where is this God?

Instead of really asking the question in any meaningful way, I walked in the other direction like a wilted but animated corpse, dead and disfigured yet breathing and still eating things like pepperoni pizza. Sometimes that’s all you can do for a time — walk away. I couldn’t accept then that no matter which direction I walked, not the scale of a mountain nor depth of the sea could hinder the hound of heaven from walking by my side.

After a year or two of corpse life — avoiding and enjoying, something like Weekend at Bernie’s — I was exhausted. Running and escape had taken a toll. I looked to find rest and relief in all manner of perfectly fine (and not so fine) places, people, and things, but the sadness inside of me had grown from a drizzle to a tempest.

In the apex of this proverbial winter (which happened to be taking place in southern California), I insisted that my roommate let me cover our windows with fleece blankets so I could get a break from the sun “just for one day.” They remained covered for the better part of a year. The sunlight hurt. And the most curious thing of all is that God met me right in the cold earth of that grave, right in the despair of my cave-like dorm — not when I got my crap together, not when I became nicer or happier, not when I came bursting through the doors of a church to meet him. No, he met me right there in the darkness — in my darkness — where one afternoon I opened my computer long enough to fill out an application to study in Florence, Italy. That’s right. Italy. I should state here and now, I do not believe God always drags us to places like Europe to reveal himself, but that is part of his abundant grace in my particular story. Fancy, I know. What strange love.

My group arrived in Florence early in May when the sky wasn’t blazing like a villain, but more of a hazy glow seeming to gently welcome me back into the spring. Figuratively limping through ancient cobbled alleyways, past leather vendors, and mopeds, and soaring Italian cypresses, my weary eyes began to peel open. I could breathe. Florence was and is a city of brick reds, corals, rusts, soft yellows, and eggshells. It lies nested in a basin formed by a family of hills with names like Fiesole and Bellosguardo. In those first days there, I felt so blessedly small, cut wide open by everything around me. Florence was alive. And I was coming alive with it.

I traveled everywhere I could. I stayed up all hours of the night talking and sipping house wine with new friends. I fell in love, or what I thought was love, for a short bit. And with every sharp doubt folded back and back and back, I could no longer witness and engage with this beauty — my story unfolding in this place — without believing that beauty like all this required a Maker. My winter had only barely commenced its thaw and yet I started to believe in the very smallest of budding ways that, winter or spring, maybe God was with me all along. And I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Iranaeus once said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” The backwards thing of it all is that we are fully alive because of the death of Jesus. And sometimes a death of our own is what brings us eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand with this Jesus who brings us life.

Jesus is the Word of Life in a world amok with death and winter, like the one laid bare on our news stations 24-hours a day. He loves us so much that he came to Earth to be with us, to suffer as we suffer, to die as we die. It is a strange, incomprehensible sort of love that would lead a person to do such a thing. The Word of Life is that you and I, dear reader, were known before the dawn of time. We were crafted with the sure and steady hands of a Master Craftsman who makes no (and I mean no) mistakes. He knew from the beginning the cure to this death and darkness that shrouds and afflicts the world and our hearts. Jesus is the almighty virtuoso of corpses — both ours and his own.

Death could not conquer him, and because of that, it cannot conquer you or me. Whatever is overwhelming us, God has overwhelmed it in the person of Jesus. And He isn’t just in Italy. He’s in darkened dorm rooms and hospital ICUs and courtrooms and Instagram and locker-rooms and tombs. Even in our bleakest mid-winters — when the earth is hard as iron, and water like a stone — he is with us, and, in my limited experience, it is these seasons that are often the tough and contentious ushers to something soft and magnificent and true. This is my hope and assurance. That from our hearts to our blisters to our cancer to our ozone, he will one day make all things new.

Where is your God?” The answer to that painful and vulnerable question today and tomorrow and always is this: right here, everywhere, wherever you are. Our Emmanuel. Our God With Us.