Rachel Held Grace (Grieving the Loss of Rachel Held Evans)

It’s been quite a while since I’ve sat down to write—6 months actually. A lot has happened in the last couple of years that makes writing difficult; makes it something easier to put off for another time.

Most of the time it just doesn’t feel like it’s worth it. But tonight, I feel like writing. I want to honor a person I did not know. I didn’t read all of her books or blog articles, though I did read enough to see Rachel’s missional and redemptive heart. I was not in her inner circle. There are people grieving her life who knew her, who loved her differently than I did. My thoughts are with them.

To sit down and try to find the words for someone after they’ve passed is senseless. It rivals that feeling of standing in Target, watching people dig through the dollar spot when they have absolutely no idea that something devastating has happened in Tennessee. That a person who changed the world floated off to God and left a gaping hole in all our faith.

It seems they should know. Stop digging for a sale. Pay attention for a minute. It seems the whole store, town, city, should be shut down, because something has happened—something terrible—and we should all be afraid to make a sound.

I spend most of my time writing about pain and healing. I don’t mean to be a sad writer; it just comes out like that. I bounce around fairly happy most of the time. But when I sit down to write, all the bad I’ve ignored in the world, asks me to take a look. And I can’t help myself. I have to bear witness.

Yesterday, I was on my way to the gym when I opened my Instagram and saw a post by an acquaintance. It said, “My dear friend Rachel Held Evans has died.” Even though I knew she had been sick, I swerved into the nearest driveway muttering, “No, no, no!”

I pored through articles and posts on social media to find news of her condition. I read how it had worsened and ultimately claimed her physical life. And then I called two people. I needed to hear someone validate this loss.

As I said, I haven’t read everything of Rachel’s, and I’ve never met her…but I followed her from a distance. I watched her live in a way that made sense to me. That made sense for me. I also knew that she had 2 small children and a husband. That part did me in. I lost my sister to breast cancer just 2 years prior…and these days, death always hits a little too close to home.

Sitting in my car, I had the instinct to continue my route to the gym. To run it out. To move past it. I arrived, shifted my car into park, and stared at the door. I couldn’t go in. The gym, the city…they needed to be shut down. They needed to be quiet. I needed to be quiet.

I pulled out my phone and wrote out to God exactly what I felt. I wouldn’t dare post it in that moment…but I don’t care about any of that now. It’s a feeling I had. And I believe our angry/honest prayers might just be collected and kept under God’s pillow. Like baby teeth. So precious. A sign of growth. A sign that we are crossing a threshold, spiritual or other.

“So many people died today,” I wrote. “And so did Rachel Held Evans. And why aren’t we all spared? I am tired of death. Tired of suffering. Confused by it…confused by God. God is a nightmare and it seems we are all alone before we die. We slip away, and that is our ending.

“Tomorrow I’ll try to find my faith. Today, I’m just sad and angry. And God is God. Sometimes I wish he wasn’t. This…is grief.”

I sent these words to Laura. I needed to be seen. Laura was angry too. And all over the internet, we all are. Because sometimes suffering has no identifiable purpose…unless we impose our will to it. Build a sand castle out of clichés and random scriptures that promise all will be well.

I am so perplexed by God. He is so alien to me. Do I not know him/her/it? Is the spirit not hovering over me? I wonder if God is as incredulous as we are in these moments. Maybe God is wondering what the hell happened too. Perhaps I’ve over-humanized him. But he must be terribly sad. He must be wondering if he made the right decision after all.

I sat for an hour and a half outside that gym before turning around and going home. With tears coming down my face, I wrapped presents for a 5-year-old’s unicorn birthday party. I had bought a mermaid tail blanket. Once you crawl inside it, the bottom half of your body is covered in sequins and a beautiful fin; the kind of fin a 5-year-old would believe could make her swim.

And this is life. Death, tragedy, and a room full of people singing happy birthday to the sweetest little girl you’ve ever seen. It is just too much for me. Too much life.

He gives and takes away. He makes all things new. Which is it?

God, who are you?

Sometimes I fear that if I don’t stop trying to figure it out, I’ll lose him. This feels like a very real possibility. Because I don’t always believe…and then I’m so sure…and then I’m not.

Rachel said, “We live inside an unfinished story.” With great compassion and the utmost respect for her life and words; God…I hope Rachel is right. I hope God is at the end of us.

Has this gotten a bit hopeless? Have I gone down the wrong path? I’m only writing what I feel. I’m testifying to the state and well-being of my heart tonight. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us all? What’s wrong with God? Am I the only one?

My two little girls, now 18 and 20 were once 1 and 3…like Dan and Rachel’s children. I want to go get their little boy and girl. I want to watch them laugh and play with their toys. I want to watch them eat chicken nuggets…to walk around in bright pink plastic high heels.

I’m having a little trouble with God right now. Rachel told us all that if we didn’t have trouble with the bible, we probably hadn’t read it. She had a way of saying things that made everyone feel included. Not alone. Represented. Wasn’t that her biggest gift to the world?

Rachel Grace Held. That was her name, ya know. The day she was born. I didn’t know that until today.

Yesterday, I held fear. I held doubt. I held anger.

And Rachel Held Grace.

Rachel, this is the best I can do for you. I wish you love in eternity. I wish you God.

Rest in peace.

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