I almost ran into Rachel the first time I met her. Literally.
It was 2014, and she was speaking at my seminary, Eastern Mennonite University, about A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I was walking into the chapel a full 30 minutes early to the morning session, like the superfan I am, eager to secure my seat and (maybe) get a chance to greet her before she did her thing.
But I didn’t expect to literally run into her upon entering the building.
Thankfully, I didn’t actually hit her. I stopped myself short of tackling her and the woman guiding her around. But I did follow this stunt up with a short gasp, giant eyes, and a very shrill and fangirl-y “May I hug you?!”
She was very gracious and gave me a hug. It was one of the most wonderful hugs I’ve ever received in this lifetime.
I proceeded to follow her around for the rest of the day, because again, superfan. Throughout the morning chapel, afternoon coffeehouse, and public evening session, my fangirl flag was on full display, and she was so kind and attentive to me when I went to talk to her after each one.
In the morning, I waited in line to ask her the most important questions I could think of: “What did you think of the Breaking Bad series finale, and what non-theological book recommendations do you have?”
First answer: “I keep myself up at night worrying about Jesse and hoping he’s OK now.” (Same, girl. Same.)
Second answer: “Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed was really good. It’s also not as devastating as some of his other works.” (This was a lie. I cried myself to sleep when I finished that book.)
In the afternoon, I talked to her about being a woman in seminary and predestination and other theological stuff.
In the evening, I snapped a few pictures with her (one of my favorites is at the top of the page) and finally got her to sign my book. She called me a “kindred spirit.” She called a lot of us “kindred spirits.” We’re all pretty great like that.
It was, in all honesty, one of the best days of my life. I don’t remember everything she said during her sessions. But, like Maya Angelou said, I remember how she made me feel. Like a sister. Like a friend. Like a woman of valor.
A couple years later, she followed me on Twitter after sharing one of my Wednesday Wisdom blog posts inspired by one of her quotes. She always “liked” the photo of us I would share annually on the anniversary of the day we met. She even shared a chuckle with me over a photo depicting a snippet of a Proverbs 31 verse on display at my bridal shower 3 years later.
And now she’s gone.
Not her legacy, maybe not even her spirit, but her physical presence is gone. She won’t get to hug or kiss Dan or their kids, or binge-watch a new show, or write notes, or make plans for conferences or writing projects, or get indignant, or finish Game of Thrones, or be alive.
I’ll never get to tell her how hard I cried over And the Mountains Echoed. I’ll never get to read another funny Tweet from her about motherhood or marriage or theology or life. I’ll never get a chance to fangirl in her presence or tell her how much her words have meant to me, how I’m only a seminary graduate and pursuing a writing career because of her influence.
I just miss her so much. I miss her like a dear friend, like a beloved mentor, like a kindred spirit, like a sister in Christ.
I miss the woman of valor who helped me embrace my calling, as a writer, a theologian, and a follower of Jesus.
I miss the woman who gave me permission to doubt and question God when few others would. I miss the woman who, with Dan, modeled for me what a true marital partnership could look like, which aided me in my relationship with my own husband. I miss the woman who was just as passionate about discussing feminism and racism as she was about Breaking Bad and literature. I miss the woman who taught me how to love God outside of the institutional church, who helped me embrace my “None” and “millennial” statuses, whose words made me laugh, cheer, cry and rage. I miss the woman who read my words and saw my photos and found me worth following. I miss the woman who made a way for me and so many others with her work.
I miss her honesty, her humor, her love, her anger, her sass, her heart.
I know her torch is in our hands now, that I will continue to write because of and for her, that I owe so much to her. I know this. I accept this. I embrace this.
But I fucking miss her.
I miss her presence in this world already. I miss her on behalf of myself, on behalf of this community she helped nurture and form, on behalf of her husband and children and parents and sister and close friends. I miss Rachel Held Evans, who looked at me, a wild-eyed second-year seminary student who had almost run into her and ran after her for the rest of the day, and didn’t just see a fanatic or another student, but a kindred spirit.
I just miss her. So, so much.