There’s nothing like a death to shake you out of comfort and into the world of existentialism.
Last month I went on a trip to Europe with a friend. I was standing on the Millennium Bridge in London taking a photo when my phone notified me of the death of Rachel Held Evans. She meant so much to me and so many other women I know, and this loss was shocking beyond belief. I spent this past Saturday afternoon at home live-streaming her funeral (what a weird world we live in) and sobbing into my coffee in bed while my son napped. Being overseas was a weird time to be processing the grief of her death, but I was so grateful to have the mental space at the time to consider what it all means. Each new tribute that flashed across my phone screen throughout the trip restored my hope in the idea that the loudest voices aren’t always the ones that have the biggest impact. Hers was one of the softer voices, somehow always loving, but unwavering in conviction.
I had the privilege of meeting Rachel once at the Evolving Faith conference last Fall that she organized with a fellow author. I got to sit at her feet and listen to the teaching of a woman who had done exactly what I hope to do in life: Tell the truth, practice radical inclusion, and paint a picture of womanhood that I always hoped existed but never could quite find. I felt, as many have, seen and loved by her, even from the pulpit. She held her baby between sessions, then handed her kids off to her husband who stood proudly in the wings. In awe, like I was, of a woman humbly and confidently doing what she was made to do.
The silent subtle exchanges between her and her husband Dan reminded me so much of the role Josh loves to play in my life. He’s championed each endeavor I’ve ever taken on. He always believes I can do more than I think I can. And Rachel’s willingness to embrace her own leadership and preach as she was created to preach told such a powerful story that challenged and moved me.
Her death hit me so much harder than I could have imagined. I mean, she was literally a stranger to me. And yet, not at all. The mother in me can’t imagine my son losing me. I can’t imagine Josh having to navigate the grief of losing his partner while parenting our 2 year old. But mostly I am just sad for the loss of her voice in the world. Her influence helped me be brave in exploring my faith with honesty and integrity. Her books helped inspire me to wrestle with scripture like I had always been afraid to before. The relationships she modeled showed me how critical it is to show up to hard conversations with grace and empathy and bring the voices from the margins up to the microphone where they belong.
Her funeral left me wondering, as funerals do, what my legacy will be. It left me wondering what role I have to play in this story God was writing with Rachel’s life. I wonder how I can build on what her and others modeled to me: A new image of godly womanhood. Unapologetic in her demands for a Christianity that acts like Christ, fierce, and bravely unearthing all the toxic stuff beneath the surface that tends to stay hidden.
Her friend Jeff published a beautiful prayer following her passing that I can’t shake. It has become my prayer, and will be for years to come.
God who calls us to witness through and to the bread of life and the cup of blessing: Embolden your church to testify to love, not fear, and to grace, not judgment. Stir in us repentance for proclaiming bad news. Remind us how to declare the good. Give us holy imagination and divine insight, that we may tend to the human needs that feed negativity and lashing-out. Create in us the courage to open our arms wide in sacred embrace and the humility to be recklessly generous, as our sister Rachel was. Transform us into balm for the wounds we’ve inflicted on others, in the true and right spirit of biblical personhood.
Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayers.
As I think back to that day on the bridge when I heard the news, I’m convinced that she is part of why I found myself in London at all. Her willingness to believe in her own worth was a call to action in my life. I said yes to that trip because I can now see my own humanity and value. The journey I’ve been on to learning self-love and care didn’t start or end with Rachel, but she certainly left her mark on me.
So thank you, Rachel. And thank you to all the women cleaning the path ahead of me to allow my dreams to be bigger and my marriage to be healthier and for the lives of the marginalized to be honored and seen. Let’s keep writing this beautiful story together. Let’s keep telling the truth.