For the last two and a half years, I’ve been living in a reality that doesn’t feel quite…real. I remember when it started. I had gone to bed the night of November 8, 2016, before the presidential election results were in, too exhausted to wait out the final returns. It was a close race, but surely…surely!…things would turn out alright. So when I rolled over in bed the next morning and asked who won, the answer left me feeling like I had landed in the twilight zone.
That feeling intensified the next year when I packed a suitcase and left my marital home, officially separating from my husband. On at least one occasion, I cried so hard that I collapsed in the floor. For the first couple of weeks, I had to have my GPS on in the car everywhere I went; otherwise, I would zone out and drive in a straight line until I didn’t recognize my surroundings anymore.
The medical tests started the following year. Needles in my arms and legs to check for neuropathy. Two MRIs. And finally, a diagnosis I wasn’t expecting: degeneration of the spine (osteoarthritis) with a tiny cyst pressing on my sciatic nerve…with possible fibromyalgia aggravating the pain. I’ve gone from juggling two jobs and a full course load (in my 20s) to strategizing how to do laundry and shopping (in my 30s). The change has been quite surreal.
The recent death of Rachel Held Evans has only added to the surrealness. She was only a year older than I am…perfectly healthy up until two weeks ago. For many former evangelicals (like myself), she was a voice crying hope in the wilderness…her words a balm for those of us who had been terribly wounded by our faith communities but couldn’t quite let go of Jesus. I never got the chance to meet her in real life, but we interacted a couple of times on Twitter, and I admired her deeply. She was the real deal, as much a saint as any of us could hope to be.
To lose her…and still have among us Donald Trump and all of the compassion-less evangelical leaders who clog the airways with their hate and fear…makes me recall the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
You are always righteous, Lord,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease? (12:1)
Why take Rachel, Lord? Why now, when her words seem most needed?
Sunday was Rachel’s favorite day (according to her books), so I’ve spent the whole day contemplating what she might say in response to this question. And I think it would go something like this:
You ask God, why me? Well…why not me? I’m not more valuable than any of you. No, really. We are all God’s children, loved equally. We all have loved ones, present and future, depending on us. And none of us, as human beings, are spared the pain of living. Didn’t you read what I wrote for Lent? “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From dust we are made, and to dust we shall return.” It just seems I’m returning there a bit sooner than planned.
Truth be told, I got off rather easy. The toil, the doubt, the wrestling, the darkness…all of that is done, finished. I have a peace I have never known in life, forever connected to the Source of infinite love. If anyone should be weeping for anyone, it should be me for you…knowing that you have a race to run when you’re already so very, very tired. But the only reason I do not weep is that I know firsthand the joy that awaits you at the finish line.
You ask, who will speak for us now? It’s you, my friends. You have the gift. The torch is yours to carry. No one person was meant to carry it. That’s why I encouraged so many of you to keep writing and speaking out. We don’t need one voice crying in the wilderness. We need ten thousand. A million. As many as will draw breath. That’s the only way anything will change.
Stay strong, friends. The night is long, but daybreak is coming. It’s coming! Prepare to be resurrected.
Dear God, make it so.