It’s been just over a year since I last posted here. I’m very sad about that, because I do have lots of things to talk about. But there’s one thing in particular that I need to write about today. Because I don’t know how else to come to terms with this kind of loss.
Early this morning, one of my favourite people on the planet, Rachel Held Evans, died. She was in the hospital earlier in April, after complications while fighting the flu, and an allergic reaction to the antibiotics she was given to treat it. I, along with thousands of others, waited with baited breath for updates on Rachel’s condition, from her husband Dan, via her website. She then lapsed into continual seizures, and so the medical team induced a coma. When they tried to wean her off of the coma meds, there were more complications.
Even having not been an actively praying person in recent times (for many different reasons), I knew I had something to offer at the feet of God, on Rachel’s behalf. Her work has been irreplaceable both in my life, and in the world. She has been an advocate for the marginalized, and a voice for reform amongst Christians. She endured a ton of backlash for her stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion (she was fully affirming of all LGBTQ+ identities, and their right to serve within the church), and calling out white supremacy and being reflective of how her own whiteness affected her ministry and her interactions with people of colour, and her stance on women being in positions of leadership within the church. Rachel was instrumental in my deconstruction of toxic Christianity, and leading me to an affirming stance. She has been a force of nature, and champion of justice. Thousands joined under the tag #PrayForRHE, to implore on her behalf for healing. I thought she would get better. I thought she would wake, and ask what she had missed on Game of Thrones. It never occurred to me that she would die.
She was 37 years old, with a husband, and two very little children, her youngest only turning a year old later this month.
I never met Rachel, but she touched every single part of my life, since my Dad brought home a copy of A Year of Biblical Womanhood from work, years and years ago, while I was still a university student, studying religion. I didn’t know then how much Rachel would influence both my academic and personal life. I didn’t know that she would be part of the inspiration of a passion project, or that her work would change the course of my life and faith, the way that it did. I didn’t pick up YBW again (you know, because of sChOoL rEaDiNgS) until I had settled on a topic for my undergraduate thesis project: Purity Culture. Rachel’s exploration of what it means to be a woman, and how it related to her faith, and her understanding of scripture, was absolutely instrumental not only in the forming of my argument, but a little bit of my own recovery. My whole life, I’ve been loud. I’ve been a lot. I’ve been opinionated. I’ve never been able to shrink myself to fit into the mould of femininity prescribed by Christianity, and as a teenager, that caused me a great deal of pain. I’ve always felt simultaneously too much, and not enough. But Rachel helped me to see all of it differently. She helped me to grow.
Her understanding of scripture is unbelievable. Rachel’s work is articulate, and sensitive. There is love laced in every page. She set an immensely beautiful standard. And it’s one that I hope to emulate, at least a little.
I was at work, when I heard the news of her death. It was like a punch to the gut. She was supposed to get better. She was supposed to recover, and continue to grow and teach and learn and love. THIS WAS NOT HOW THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO END. My whole body felt hot with anger and loss. How could this be true? How the FUCK could this be reality? I hadn’t believed in the *~*~*Power of Prayer*~*~* in really a long time, but I was *SO SURE* that Rachel would be okay. How could she not be? With so many hearts crying out to God on her behalf, for the peace of her family and the healing of her body? In that moment, a lot of my hope was crushed beneath the heel of loss. As I watched the outpour of grief from my friends and followers on Twitter, sharing their stories and how Rachel influenced them and changed their lives, I just leaned closer and closer to the howling abyss. So many beautiful stories of Rachel encouraging and mentoring and supporting. How could this have happened? How could God let this happen? God, WHY? WERE YOU EVEN FUCKING LISTENING?
So many women saying “I’m in ministry because of Her,” or “the only reason I’m still writing is because She encouraged me,” or “Rachel was the first affirming Christian I ever heard of,” or “the only reason I found my way back to my faith is because She made me believe I could”. So many lives. So many hearts. So. Much. Grief. So much hurt, to match my own; to harmonize with it. A chorus of lament.
I mentioned to a friend, that the only instance I can compare this to, is the loss of Carrie Fisher. Someone I didn’t really “know”, but somehow did know them. Someone who lived in my heart and encouraged me to pursue my dreams, no matter how big they seemed, or how small I felt. Someone who changed me, without ever having shaken my hand or seen me cry.
God, it fucking hurts. And I’m so angry and sad. My chest is aching. I am devastated for Dan, who lost his life partner far sooner than he ever could have imagined. I am devastated for her son and her daughter, who deserved to know their Mum better than they got the chance to. I am devastated for the loss of Rachel’s wisdom, wit, and turn of phrase. I am devastated for the loss of her love, and her light, and her encouragement. I am devastated for the loss of all the change she was yet to make. I am devastated for the loss of this strong, courageous, intelligent, honest, woman. This woman who used her privilege and platform to elevate the voices of the marginalized. This woman who fearlessly took on the fucked up things about Christian culture, and sought to restore God’s people to glory. She could have taken the easy way out, and offered empty platitudes, but instead, SHE DID THE WORK. I am devastated. Absolutely wrecked. How do I mourn this? Writing is the only way I know how, which is I guess why I’m writing this now.
I know I will continue to learn from Rachel, even though she has gone to be in the wholeness of the presence of God. And in spite of everything else I’ve been going through with my faith, I truly believe that. I’m angry as fuck that she died. I’m angry as fuck that a person so on fire for justice, and to see the coming of God’s kingdom, has been taken from us far sooner than is fair. This really isn’t fair at all. And makes absolutely no sense. And yet somehow, I believe that she is now resting and rejoicing, in full view of God’s face, without pain. I don’t know how; I just feel it.
After work, I felt listless. That ache in my chest. My old friend, The Howling Void. I decided to make my way to my favourite book store. I wanted to see which of Rachel’s books they had in stock, because I really only own YBW. I couldn’t see anything on the shelf, so I checked the database. Then I asked for help. But then I spotted Inspired. It felt right to have it. Worth the $21. I don’t know when I’ll be able to open it, but still. Indigo is currently holding a promotion where if you buy a greeting card, you can win from 5-100% off of your purchase. I needed another Mother’s Day card. Obviously, the chances of winning something higher than 5% off are pretty slim. But when my cashier put my offer through, it was for 50% off. I know it sounds hokey, but it just felt like a sign or something. It’s something I need to read, and reflect with. Rachel has something for me in there. Maybe God does, too.
Someone shared a quote from Rachel, today on Twitter, that really hit my heart:
“Even here, in the dark, God is busy making all things new. So show up. Open every door.”
This is my prayer. God, this is all so fucking dark. Make me new. Make me new. Make me new. Here I am. Show me how to continue Rachel’s work, of making room at the table, and opening every goddamn door. Breaking them down. Rebuilding all of it. Help me to somehow be a part of whatever kind of good can possibly come from this searing loss. Make me new. Make me new. Make me new.