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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.)

*affiliate links

The Mysterious Letter In My Purse

Quick link: Letter from a Stranger

I have an essay at Brain Child today that feels important in this global moment. The essay is about a letter in my purse, about the love people feel for family and about why, on earth, do I keep this letter? But as I consider the relationship between the girl who wrote it and the sister she wrote it to, I’m reminded that, of course and it feels so ridiculous to even have to say it, but of course, these Muslim girls are just like non-Muslim sisters. Loving, teasing, gentle, hoping for the best for each other. Go figure. Humans being humans.

I have a letter in my purse written by a stranger, to her sister, also a stranger. It is written in blue ink on lined notebook paper, folded over several times and crinkling around the edges. It is written in broken English with a line of Arabic, a few hashtags, and a scribbled local telephone number.

I found the letter when we moved into our current house. The house was furnished but we weren’t keeping most the furnishings. The landlord asked us to move out what we didn’t want and keep what we did want. The things we removed would be tossed away.

I’ve always been fascinated by what goes on inside other homes. After dark, warm light spills out of living rooms and kitchens onto snowy Minnesota winter streets. I jog past and glance in. People’s mouths move but I hear nothing, they eat dinner but I can’t smell it. They watch television, the green glow reflects off glasses, but I don’t know what show they’ve chosen.

In Djibouti, where I live now, homes are often surrounded by high walls. Homes that don’t have walls often don’t have windows either, or have barred windows and curtains pulled tightly closed. This is to keep out mosquitoes, dust, heat, thieves, and prying eyes. Like mine. Much of life here is lived outside, sometimes kitchens are pots and pans placed over charcoal fires outside the home. People nap in the shade of trucks parked on the side of the road. Men play pétanque or drink tea while sitting on overturned tin cans arranged in circles. People eat spaghetti from aluminum plates, wrapping the noodles around their fingers while watching football at neighborhood restaurants. Women breastfeed on street corners, kids brawl in the middle of pot-holed avenues.

I enjoy people watching in these countries for opposing reasons. In Minnesota I am merely an observer. The image of life moving on without me, completely unrelated to me is comforting. The people inside could be fighting, grieving, celebrating. No matter what their specific circumstances, they are alive, they are pressing on.

In Djibouti, I enter it. I smell the fried onions, hear the religious debates, interact with the pudgy babies, or join someone for tea. But at the same time, I miss the separation between insider and outsider, like in Minnesota. I miss the mystery and the speculation. I miss the curiosity, the idea that courageous people leave their lights on and their curtains open after dark and that courageous people are what the world needs. And I miss the sense that this glance is a gift, that the people inside could pull the curtains shut at any moment…

Click here to read the rest of Letter from a Stranger

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