Because of RHE

Dear Rachel Held Evans,

You don’t know me and, to be honest, I don’t know you well either. I followed you on Twitter and read some of the blogs you posted, but I’ve never even seen one of yours books, let alone read one. I learned about you from my sister, although I had heard about you before, and after going through some of your tweets, I decided to follow you. That decision opened up a whole world of people whom I didn’t know existed, and through some of your conversations and retweets, I’ve started following many others who have challenged me to growth in my faith.

It’s been a week since you passed away. It still leaves me in shock thinking about it. I mean, I shouldn’t be upset right? I hardly knew you, never read any of your books, don’t know any details about your theology, and I never had the chance to speak with you. Others have died in the past year whom I actually had regular acquaintance with - people I had known for my entire life. I didn’t cry when I heard of their passing or even when I went to their funerals.

But I cried when I heard of yours.

Well, more specifically, I cried when I went on Twitter Sunday morning to find the hashtag #BecauseOfRHE and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people tweeting about what your life meant to them. I read tweets from many pastors and bloggers who said it was you who gave them the inspiration to speak up. I read tweets from authors who said that it was your words of encouragement that pushed them to keep writing. My sister told me that it was your book, Faith Unraveled, which helped her realize that she was not the only one with questions and doubts in Christianity and it gave her comfort and hope knowing that someone else was willing to talk about it. It is because of you that these women and men have found peace, courage, life, joy, and power. They have found themselves.

I sit back in awe looking at the life you led. You inspired so many to action - you inspired them to speak their minds. You showed them that there is room at the table for all, and you even pushed some naysayers aside to open a space for those who believed that they were too far outside to have a place. I watched you argue on Twitter, sometimes in defense of yourself but mostly in defense of others - often the most vulnerable. You appeared unafraid to let the world know where you stood, and I admired that. Personally, I’ve struggled to even know where I’m standing, never mind speak adamantly about the truthfulness of that place. You have given me a model of how it looks to stand tall in your beliefs, and it’s one I strive to follow.

At church on Sunday, we played two songs that still ring in my memory. The first was Reckless Love, a song that I could hear you singing as I remembered all the stories that I read about you: “Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. It chases me down, fights til I’m found, leaves the 99.” You embodied that love for others in your words and actions.

The second was “Come Lord Jesus,” and although it is not a song of lament, I heard the chorus as that; “Every heart longing for our king, we sing. Even so, come. Lord Jesus come.” This world is less full than it was last week. It is less bright. I can only imagine what your family is going through - the pain and anger at a world that is far from perfect. Despite the thousands of Christians vigilantly praying for your health, you were taken away from us. We long for a world when all is right again, when the Lord Jesus will come and renew all things. We long for the resurrection of the dead and the hope of a new life with Christ. We long for a world where death does not have the last say.

I wait for the day when I get the chance to meet you and tell you that it is because of you that my life now makes more sense. It is because of you that my sight is now focused and my purpose has never been clearer. I am inspired by people who tell their stories - those whose voices I would not have heard if it was not for you.

Thank you Rachel Held Evans for the life you modeled for us. You have given us the courage to live our own.

Shane O’Leary