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Three Sisters Respond to Losing Rachel Held Evans

I attended the 2018 Evolving Faith conference with my two sisters. I posted this photo of us while there.

I brought with me a recent cancer diagnosis. We laughed about the Enneagram. We cried the way only sisters can, when facing fear and grief and brokenness, and also love.

I ran into, unexpectedly, one of my dearest college friends (shout out to Jessica Jones, designer of the Djibouti Jones logo and no relation except being soul-friends for life) and her husband. I met writing friends for the first time in person: Sarah Quezada, Tara Livesay, Sarah Bessey, Idelette McVicker, Tina Francis, Rachel Held Evans.

Living and writing from the Horn of Africa has meant most of my writing connections are virtual. It means I miss all the conferences and gatherings. It means my stories, though full of similar questions, doubts, joys, and hopes, sound foreign and strange. It means the chance to hug, shake hands with, and share actual voice exchanges with women I have long admired and interacted with, was intensely unique and precious for me.

Plus, I was there with my sisters. Which was awesome.

***

I woke one morning in late April, 2019, with a short WhatsApp message from one of those sisters.

“Did you see the news about Rachel Held Evans?”

We started to pray.

I woke a week later to another message from my sister.

“Did you see the news about Rachel Held Evans? So tragic.”

I started to cry.

(in case you missed it, Rachel passed away on the morning of May 4, 2019, you can read a tribute to her by her friends Sarah and Jeff in the Washington Post here.)

As so many of us have cried. And prayed, for her husband and children, her sister and parents, her friends, her people – us – the ones on the outer edges, the ones she challenged and who challenged her back in the push and pull of spiritually wrestling, and who always felt heard and like more than “just” internet friends.

It is just so, so sad.

I got another message from both sisters, two days later.

One wrote, “I’m so sad about RHE and I don’t even really know her stuff or her at all. Just so sad for her family and for all the people who have been impacted by her.”

I wrote back, “Me too. It is unreal. Death sucks.”

Then my other sister wrote, “I’m not sure why, but her death is really impacting me. I’m struck by the words of those she left behind: women, and especially women of color, LGBTQ folks, outsiders. It feels like a motley crew – like the kind of crew that gathered around Jesus. I didn’t follow her closely so don’t have a personal feeling of loss. But I’m deeply struck by how influential she was in her pursuit of truth, and her courage in doing so. I want to be that way. I want to stand up for women and the oppressed. Is that not what we are called to do?!

She went on, and I’ll quote her entirely because, dang, my sisters are awesome.

“I find myself being angry at ‘the church.’ It doesn’t make sense to me anymore that women can’t lead or that we wouldn’t accept gay people. I’m tired of old white male leadership. I’m not angry (ok, that’s not quite true) but I feel so disappointed. Somehow (thank you, mom and dad!) I still feel this deep love for Jesus, for God. I feel so deeply that he loves us and knows us, created and calls us. But I have no more patience for arguing about who is in the tent. Or who can lead or be at our table. We just don’t have the time for that. We are called to Love. We are called to give and forgive. That is hard and enough. We are called to go to the hard places. That is hard enough. Let us go to the hard places.”

The only words I could find in response were, “Amen and amen.”

I love my sisters. I am grateful to the point of tears for our relationship (and also our brother – shout out to you, bro!).

Which makes me think of Rachel’s sister, Amanda Opelt. I know that Rachel’s sister loved her, too. The hole must be immense. May she feel love. May she be able to laugh at memories, even while she weeps. May she feel held.

May Amanda somehow feel my sisters and I, gathering up her tears and sending tender sister blessings to her soul.

Rachel will be missed. The words my sisters expressed are part of her legacy.

A call to go to the hard places. A call to love. A call to courage. A call to cling to Jesus.

***

The next WhatsApp message we exchanged among sisters was a Mother’s Day image saying, “She pees her pants every time she coughs because of you. Send the woman flowers.”

Because that’s the kind of range sisters can cover in a matter of hours.

***

Here are Rachel’s books.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

Searching for Sunday: Loving, leaving, and finding the church (I was part of voting for this one when it won a Christianity Today award)

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on the roof, covering her head, and calling her husband “Master.”

Faith Unraveled: How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask questions  (this one is on sale as of this posting, a Kindle deal. And a really good book.)

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The Bookshelf, June 2018

Summer reading seems to be a popular blog or podcast topic. For me, summer reading is no different than winter, fall, or spring reading. I read a lot and don’t make changes based on seasons. I read based on what books come up in my library queue.

Here’s what has been in my head lately:

This is Where You Belong by Melody Warn This is a wonderful book for anyone moving, graduating, starting over in a new city. Where you live and how feel about it, how you interact with it, how you find meaning in your place, matters. Warn offers practical tips for forming a connection with where you live. Even though I’ve lived for fifteen years in the same city and even though I have to modify some of her suggestions based on my specific location, I found it encouraging and challenging.

Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. Put simply, LOVE.

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans I actually purchased this book as a preorder and I became the publisher’s biggest pain in the ass. I couldn’t download the bonus content. So I wrote to the publisher and asked for a different format. It took almost aw eek and about six different attempts before I was able to finally access the materials. I have no idea why. But I was incredibly impressed with this woman’s patience and willingness to keep trying. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book, just sayin’. The subtitle, “xxx and loving the Bible again,” fits me pretty well right now, so I was excited to dive into this. Plus, she has a few paragraphs about what it means to us evangelical children to be named Rachel. For her, she was upset to hear it meant, “Ewe,” which she first took as “eeewwww,” and thought she had perhaps been an ugly newborn. For me, the name Rachel made me horribly embarrassed every time the story of Jacob and Rachel and Leah came up. There was a Jacob in my grade at school and on my bus and people teased me. I didn’t even like that Rachel was the ‘beautiful’ one. She was also nasty.

The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright. Don’t read it if you can’t handle her language. I was hoping for a little more insight into the issues she takes and didn’t really care about her pets, but that’s just me. I’ve read her blog for a long time, so I was able to fill in a lot of the blanks and I appreciated hearing her personal journey of discovering the God who is always, ever, Immanuel, God with us. Her voice is an important one in helping the North American church examine, critically, its actions in the world and she has very valid concerns and issues.

What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney. Modern life protects the body from our physical, natural environment, maintaining a constant temperature, pursuing comfort, etc. Unless you live in Djibouti, where things like dust and heat force the natural surroundings on us…This book talks about why putting our body into contact with our environment can make us stronger and healthier. If you’re the type inclined to take ice cold showers, you’ll enjoy this book. If you aren’t that type, you’ll enjoy reading about other people doing that.

The Dream of You, by Jo Saxton. “Let go of broken identities and live the live you were made for.”

Scary Close, dropping the act and finding true intimacy, by Donald Miller Ever since Blue Like Jazz, I’ve read Donald Miller. I have a bit more trouble getting into his newer books but I appreciate watching him grow and change and adapt as a writer. It encourages me, to realize I don’t have to only write about one thing.

Scream, chilling adventures in the science of fear by Margee Kerr Why do we like (or if you are like me, hate) scary movies? Why do we choose to do something we know will terrify us?

Deep Survival, who lives, who dies, and why, by Laurence Gonzales

Educated by Tara Westover

Longing for Home by Frederick Buechner

What are you reading?

The Bookshelf: Rachel Held Evans

The Bookshelf Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans just released her third book. I haven’t read it yet but it is on my list.

I encountered Evans through her blog, then her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, now called Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions.

 

Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions

I read this on an airplane ride between Djibouti and Minnesota. Her youth group childhood could practically have been my own, which I think is one of the reasons this resonated so powerfully with people of my generation. Here was our story! What I appreciated most about this book was her honest struggle, her willingness to ask questions and her openness about being on a journey that wasn’t over yet. My own faith has been challenged and sharpened since those youth group days and I sometimes feel I could write a book, “Evolving in Djibouti Town, how an American Christian relearned faith while living in a Muslim country.”

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master’

I read this a while ago. Some parts were great, some parts were a challenge for me to relate to. For example, because I am lazy and ultra-casual when it comes to hair and clothes, I struggled to connect with her trauma over not being able to cut her hair for a year. Plus, once you’ve lived under a headscarf in Somalia for almost a year, clothing and hair becomes an entirely different thing than it is for most American Christian women. But I willingly and quickly acknowledge that this is a silly thing to take issue with, the book is still worth a read.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

The new one!

I haven’t read it yet so I can’t say anything about it. I’ve read about it, does that count? Not really. I’m confident this book is full of challenge and grace and humor and honesty. Whether or not a reader agrees with Evans theologically, her words hold powerful sway among American Christians. I appreciate how she leaves room for dissent while standing firm on her own convictions, not an easy thing to do.

 

 

 What I’m Reading This Week

Home Leave: A Novel by Brittani Sonnenberg. Actually I am listening to this one and I’m almost finished. I really enjoyed it. The author uses unique voices (like the voice of a a house and you’ll have to make it all the way to the end to understand the significance of this) and shifts in time, place, and perspective to keep the storyline fresh. It is a cuttingly insightful look into the life of an expatriate family who is dealing with both the unique challenges of living abroad but also deep family grief and secrets. I especially enjoyed the chapters about one of the daughters, when she tries to transition as a TCK into adult life, both in the US and abroad.

 

The Turtle of Oman: A Novel, by Naomi Shihab Nye, a book for ages 9-12 or so. We are reading this one out loud together and so far I am really enjoying it. It reads smoothly and is about places familiar in our region of the world. Oman, Dubai, people speaking Arabic. Really a fun world to enter through fiction for this age. I’d like to read more like this.

Still reading this one, it is really fun to stop and hear my kids say, “Hey, we’ve been on Turkish Airways.” Or, “That is what it felt like to move.”

 

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, by Lynnsey Addario. Am further into this book now and am thoroughly enjoying it. She is honest about the challenges personally and interpersonally, about feeling conflicted regarding when to photograph and when not to, about the impact of war on who she is. The photos are hard to see in the Kindle version, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it just for the pictures, but for the story and the perspective, I totally recommend. Anyone remember D.L. Mayfield’s series: War Photographers? Here is the real deal.

 

What are you reading this week?

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