Remembering Rachel Held Evans

My friend Rachel Held Evans has passed away. The only way that I know how to process this shock and sorrow is to write about her and what she meant to me and to so many others. Rachel was one of the kindest, most creative, and funniest people I’ve ever met.

I can’t remember who first told me about this new blogger named Rachel Held Evans around 2009 before her memoir Evolving in Monkey Town released.

In fact, the only thing I remember is dropping by her blog, skimming a few of her posts, and seeing that goofy monkey picture from her book cover.

The blog was fine, but something about that goofy monkey picture lodged itself in my mind. This wasn’t a “serious theologian.” I clicked away not in disagreement but out of a sense that I was looking for folks who did more “serious theology” writing.

I found out a year later that I couldn’t have been more incorrect in my assessment.

Someone shared a video of Rachel giving a talk at a Baylor University chapel, and in a matter of ten minutes, I got what made her such a gift to the church.

Through weaving her personal story and theology together, she shared a compelling narrative of her evolving faith and beliefs. While my book, published a few years earlier, covered many of the same themes and ideas and struggled to meet its sales goals, she captivated people with her creativity, vulnerability, and command of theology. She wrote for the whole church, but her thinking was deep and substantial. On that day I became a fan of her writing.

Over the the years Rachel firmly established her gift for research and study, digging into one deep topic after another. However, I don’t think we can ever give her enough credit for her creativity.

In my interactions with her, online and in person, she could land the perfect joke. She could make a difficult concept stick because she invested time in presenting it well. She was a kind and compassionate person who cared about people, and she showed it in her writing.

When I look at how I approached the writing of my latest book, there are many lessons from Rachel that I applied to it. She showed so many of us that we could do the heavy lifting of theology and still share compelling stories and narratives.

I don’t think her critics will ever fully appreciate how disarming her A Year of Biblical Womanhood book was. Sure, the one year project book concept was going around, but she used a familiar form to ask deeper questions.

One pastor noted that she had created a work of pastoral performance art that resembled the prophetic tradition. Even if you disagreed with her ideas or disliked the “one year” format, she literally developed a way to interact with the Bible based on what’s written in its pages.

She never lost herself in an idea. She always sought the creative angle, the way to bring it home to her readers. That relentless creativity is what made her such a successful author for one book after another.

When I went to see her speak in Columbus and to go out for Jeni’s ice cream afterwards, Rachel stayed to speak with everyone who lined up to meet with her. She didn’t just sign a book and send folks away. She listened, and listened, and listened. She was a writer, but she had a truly pastoral heart as well. We almost didn’t make it to Jeni’s before closing! (The picture at the top is evidence that  our group managed to make it.)

During her talk that night she frequently mentioned her husband Dan. They were a true team, and her admiration for Dan came through when she spoke. Her ideas benefitted through his thoughtfulness and support, and she wanted the world to know it.

Rachel didn’t just share a message, she also modeled a way of sharing it in her blogs and books that impacted a generation of Christian writers.

When Rachel arrived at a bloggers meetup at the 2011 STORY conference in Chicago (give or take a year), our room of 30 bloggers stopped talking and burst into applause. It was a heartfelt moment of appreciation for someone who helped us find our way forward as writers in a shifting publishing world.

Rachel elevated so many writers by sharing their work on her blog and social media account. She endorsed books, wrote Forewords, and worked behind the scenes to support up and coming writers. I saw just a small slice of this, and many others have shared the same.

I didn’t know Rachel as well as some, but each time we crossed paths she was warm, cheerful, and attentive. It’s easy to think you know someone based on what you’ve seen of them online. Rachel always exceeded my expectations or what I thought I knew of her.

I have nothing but fond memories of her. She set a path of kindness, generosity, and a dogged, honest search for God that is worth imitating.

The loss of Rachel Held Evans is devastating for so many. I cannot fathom the scope of this tragedy for her family at this time. Everything about this feels wrong and unfair for her children and husband.

Rachel left the world a better place because she gave people the words they needed for their faith and she gave writers an example to follow.

May we walk in love with each other as we trust that today Rachel is walking in loving union with her Savior.

You can donate to her family’s Go Fund Me to support them at this time of loss and mourning.

Why Hurting Honestly Will Save Them

earth and sky

Author Guy Delcambre writes about grief in his new memoir with this powerful reflection: “If you never fully hurt, you never fully heal.” Delcambre lost his wife suddenly in the course of five days, and was left to raise three daughters on his own. He’s sharing a guest post today based on his book about that experience: Earth and Sky.

 

“Do you get sad still?”

She sat quiet, half leaned into my ribs, lost in four-year-old thoughts, which roam and meander in a world too big. Her sisters cried through stories recalling time with their mom. She cried, too, nearly every night in the year after their mother’s unexpected death. But me, I exerted much of my energies moving beyond her death and growing strong again as fast as I could. This was my duty as their remaining parent: to pick up all the broken pieces and rebuild life. I am a 33-year-old widower, father to three little girls all under the age of eight. I am clueless as to what to do. That was over four years ago.

In the four years since my first wife’s death, I have learned much more about parenting than ever before. More so, I’ve learned myself in ways truer. On mountainous trails teaching them hiking basics and good enough fishing spots where patience delivered their first catch, I discovered how to recognize my daughters’ wanting hearts. My daughters taught me the art of the quick, perfect ponytail. For hours, I practiced on them as they modeled how to gather all the hair together in just the right spot. We celebrated with joyous dance when I finally got the hair band twisted tight enough to hold the ponytail in place. They, too, wanted the future and the warmth of hope that I often told them about, but they needed the past to get there. The past hurt. It reminded me of failure, of God not there where I needed him. Returning to the past scratched counter intuitively across my heart. When I left, I never wanted to return.

Back on the couch, my youngest tucked into my side, contemplating the world her dad knows free of apparent sadness, she taught me one of the most formative lessons to shape my parenting.

“Yes, sweetie, I get sad at times.”

“Well, you hide it really good, Dad.”

As a result of me always being okay and in the busyness of me liberating myself from the hurt of her death, my daughters grew more isolated in their own bewildering grief. Those simple little words of my littlest daughter found me moving ahead alone, leading no one, just in time.

To hurt honestly is to hurt wholly, to admit wrong and to welcome the future through the past. This is what my daughters were missing. Rather than me leading them, they only heard me talk about a foreign place of hope disconnected from the reality of death they knew all too well. Grief piled atop their grief. I was leaving them as well.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” At first glance, blessing coupled with mourning is a bad matched marriage. No one sinking in grief recognizes any sort of benefit in his or her tears, other than the momentary release that serves as a reminder that life has indeed twisted askew. However, the more I mourned, the more frequent the release of emotion proved to be blessing. Mourning guided me through grief. Sharing my hurts and fears and frustrations with my daughters served as guide for them.

Grief is a life-long journey that when committed to can bloom the deepest blessing in the darkest of life. The third Thursday of every November is Children’s Grief Awareness day, an opportunity to raise awareness and affirm healthy grief for children who have experience loss in their little lives. Death can be such a scary life event – in a moment a loved one can disappear into forever without understanding and so much as a proper good bye. Take time to consider those little ones who may be struggling through the lost of a loved one. If not your own, those little ones could be your child’s classmate, neighbor or friend. Revealing your own held fears and hurts about death could very well be their way out.

(*Matt 5:4 ESV)

 

Pick up a copy of Earth and Sky on sale today.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Guy Delcambre Headshot1Guy Martin Delcambre is an author and public speaker based in Dallas, Texas, who writes about faith in thin moments, strength found in weakness, and God’s grace immeasurable. Guy was once a pastor, a church planter, and a widower, in that order. From the darkest night in life— the death of a spouse— to learning to live life as a single father to three young daughters, Guy has traveled the greatest distance of the heart to find home in God’s faithful goodness.

He lives with his wife, Marissa, and three daughters, Elizabeth, Emily, and Chloe.

Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyDelcambre.
Visit Guy’s Blog here.