Thanking Rachel

As she wrote in the foreword to Faithful Families, Rachel Held Evans and I met when we were at a Christian Women’s Retreat in Mo Ranch, Texas. She was the keynote speaker and I was one of many workshop leaders. Together we were the leadership team, and because of this, we had a number of pre-conference events to attend together. I hoped for the chance to meet her, to thank her for her work and, if it came up, to talk to her about my work trying to help parents develop authentic faith practices with their children.

I felt lucky when we sat near each other for a dinner, and we had the opportunity to talk about all of these things. When the conversation shifted to my work (because Rachel asked about it), I told her about the first version of my book Seamless Faith, and showed it to her. She flipped through it and was genuinely excited. A new mother herself, she nodded and said “This is really remarkable, Traci, so many of my readers ask me for resources like this.” We talked about the publishing process, and I told her how excited I was to have the opportunity to re-publish it with different branding and, maybe, a new foreword. I don’t remember the words I used to ask her if she would consider writing it, but I’m sure they were awkward and something weird like “I don’t suppose you would consider writing the foreword to it…” I was speechless and thrilled when she said she would be happy to. Happy to.

After that dinner was over and we were dismissed for the evening, I texted Chalice Press publisher Brad Lyons with the good news. I don’t know what I said, but I remember there being multiple exclamation points from both him and me. We both knew what this endorsement meant for Faithful Families.

The next day at breakfast, Rachel said, “Hey, by the way, do you know Jerusalem Greer? I think you two would really get along.” Jerusalem led me to Wendy, Wendy led me to Charlotte, and so on and so forth until all of a sudden there was a network of people to chat faith and family with, anytime I wanted.

This is the story I’ve heard time and time since Rachel’s death: she gave us each other.

I never got to hug Rachel goodbye from that conference for the very dramatic reason that I left MoRanch in an ambulance with my dear friend Kelly who had suffered a brain hemorrhage. Kelly died that very same weekend and I’m still grieving that loss, years later.

When Rachel and I reconnected a few weeks after the conference was over, I was sick with morning sickness and grief and could hardly think about book production and deadlines. It felt so awkward to say “Remember when we talked about you writing the foreword for my book? Remember my friend Kelly? She died, which is why I didn’t say goodbye to you.”

I’m sure it will surprise exactly nobody that Rachel responded with love and compassion and sincere condolences on the loss of Kelly. She sent the foreword a few weeks later. It was so gracious I can now barely stand to read it. In it Rachel compliments me when it should be the other way around.

I never publicly thanked Rachel for the gift she gave me, both of connections and of promoting my work, and I deeply regret it. I sent her a note, and a gift, and private thanks, but I never publicly acknowledged her generosity. That feels like an unforgivable mistake now.

I discovered this week that I didn’t amend the acknowledgements in Faithful Families to include her either. How could I have missed that?  

So, I guess this post is just another version of that thing we all do when we’re grieving:

Why didn’t I?

I should have…

I wish I had…

Why didn’t I write a public thank you post to Rachel and shout it from the rooftops?

I should have made more of an effort to have told her what her gift meant to my book and my career while she was here to hear it.

I wish I had called her and said “You did this incredible thing for me, and I promise to pay it forward.”

A few weeks ago when I accepted the invitation to present at Evolving Faith 2019, one of the first things I thought was “Oh, good! I’ll see Rachel again and show her the difference her support has made.”

Why didn’t I do it before it was too late?

I didn’t have the excuse that I didn’t realize people can leave us in an instant. Kelly taught me that.

When I left my congregation in San Antonio to be nearer to family, I went about the terrible and heart wrenching process of saying goodbye to people in that congregation who meant a lot to me, and I them. I remember one Elder giving me a hug and said, “I could never pay you back, so I’ll pay it forward.”

Rachel, I could never pay you back, but I will pay it forward, if I ever become so fortunate as to have the chance.

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