Because of RHE

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.

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To myself.

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Dear me,

I see you there. Tired eyes, dirty hair. There’s spit up next to you on the sheets and spit up on your pajamas and spit up on every last unseen surfaces as well come to think of it. You’re trying so hard. You worry so much.

I see you holding that tiny 8 pound frame, wondering how on earth you got here and who exactly decided you could manage another life other than your own. I hear your thoughts, cloudy from the alarmingly low amount of sleep you’re operating on, while this new life life still requiring the most thoughtful and attentive decisions you’ve ever had to make. Each moment a battle between fear and hope. Between adoration and resentment. Between what your gut says and what the everyone else may say. How do you raise a baby? You didn’t think you had a clue.

The transition to motherhood feels like your house burned down with all your belongings inside, but no one notices. They talk about your new house, how perfect you must feel in it. They gush at beautiful this space is, and yes it is so very beautiful. You will settle in. But right now, though, you feel deeply displaced and forgotten and have no earthly clue where the light switches are or how to work the new appliances. You wonder, “where am I?” and “does anyone see what’s been lost?”

You’re going to look for answers. Like to why he cries from 5-8 every night. When should you start solids? What bottle is best? What kind of formula makes his brain develop? Are we doing enough tummy time? Is he happy? Is he healthy? Is he okay? Are we okay?

You ask and ask. You click around parenting sites and turn each page with desperation, trusting anyone or everyone else to have the key to unlock the secrets to mastery over this great new challenge and allow you to shine as a perfect mother. You convince yourself the answer exists everywhere except for inside yourself. You are not to be trusted. You’re just a freshman. A rookie. Learning the ropes that seasoned mothers and fathers are obviously navigating with ease. The difficulty you feel is nothing more than a sign that something is off. Something must be wrong. You feel like you need all the information in the world, but know deep down it won’t be enough to settle the deep pangs of self-doubt.

But dear self, things are as they should be. It’s meant to be hard and feel awkward. These moments of pain mixed with joy are but bricks laid in your beautiful path you’re carving for you and your son. The people who told you Motherhood changes you in an instant were wrong. It changes you over moments and hours spent gazing into the eyes of a baby you’re learning to adore and finding your new identity amidst a chaotic shift in your foundation. It changes you as you approach hurdle after hurdle, sleep-regression after effing sleep-regression, and come out the other side still alive somehow. You feel powerless, and you are supposed to be powerless. There is a slow death of self, and a rising of new self happening. It is powerful, and empowering if you allow it to be.

Maybe hearing parenthood is an endless struggle doesn’t help much right now. But I want so badly to be able to tell you, in your weariest state, to find what you need within yourself. You will be tempted day in and day out to look elsewhere for every answer. Trust me when I say that many of them don’t exist outside of you. No one else will offer you the level of reassurance you crave that you and Ezra are securely attached. No one will understand why or how his witching hour happens. No one will know better than you when Ezra needs to see a doctor, when he needs to switch formulas, or when his bed time should be. Practice listening to your inner voice. She has a lot to say.

Trusting yourself has always been a struggle, but now is the time to practice. Hone it. Listen to yourself. Believe you are equipped. Dare to exercise your intuition, allowing your gut to guide you. The decisions you will make based on someone else’s advice will leave you so anxious so often. They mean well, and advice can sometimes be so useful. But they never know the whole picture of your family. How can they? But you do.

It’s a cruel joke that the world plays on women. We are conditioned to believe our intuition is toxic and then left to navigate parenthood without such a powerful tool at our disposal.

That feeling of mastery, at least over the next 2 years, won’t come. The learning and unlearning never ends, and with each new week comes new challenges. The constant, though, is you. Your ability to rise to the occasion, to bring your strength and knowledge to the table, to show up with love and dignity and belief in yourself. You are cut out for this. Believe this now, and save yourself months of anxious toiling. Stop asking of others what they will never be able to do: to validate your ability to be a mother to that baby. That is your work to do, not theirs. And the validation does not come through perfection, but through acknowledging and accepting your deep imperfection.

I am proud of the work you are doing. My eyes fill with tears when I imagine the vulnerability you live in right now. It is so painfully beautiful. I don’t miss it, but I am so grateful for that time of having my entire heart ripped open and life turned sideways as we made room for our Ezra. He is doing fine. You are doing fine. You will all be fine. Trust me.