When I was a teenager, Ann Kiemel was one of my heroes. I read all her books. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to "change the world for Jesus." It was especially her simplicity of faith and personal warmth that drew me in. I was used to a cold, prohibitive religious and moral environment—one where being Catholic was mainly about knowing the teachings and following rules rather than love and mercy. Evangelicals—Ann Kiemel first among them—showed me something different. Christianity is first and foremost a personal relationship of love with Jesus.
Later, I found her work too superficial to satisfy. It didn't feel fully real. It sounded forced and fake. It sounded like it was more about Ann and how amazing and successful she is than about Jesus and how good and merciful He is.
But she had done me a crucial service in making me want to live for God, and I kept a soft spot in my heart for her. She mostly stopped writing while she was raising her family of four adopted sons. I lost track of her.
Then, a year or two ago, I found she had written a new book about her unhappy childhood, her difficult marriage, and her addiction to pain pills. She wrote about the bitter tensions and screaming fights between her controlling pastor father and her rebellious older brother, and the sense of fear and insecurity it gave her. She wrote about losing her virginity to a married man at the height of her writing career. She wrote about the miseries of miscarriages and fertility treatments, and her unhappiness with her too-controlling and insenstivie husband. She coped with opiates. All those years she was raising four boys, she was popping pills to keep up the front of happy, smiling Christian mother and evangelist.
I understood better why her later work had sounded fake.
But, through it all, her faith was still alive. So was her intention to love and serve God with her whole being, every hour of every day. And now she was writing from a new depth of honesty and pain. She had rid herself of a lot of denial and illusion. She was ready to be real.
She didn't have the sacraments or a theology of suffering, but she was able to say and believe and witness to the world, "Jesus, no matter what. And love, no matter what."
From affection and nostalgia and curiosity, I started to follow her blog sometimes. I knew that in late December, she had checked herself into rehab again. Botched foot surgery had led to a renewed addiction to pain pills. She was taking it on, and promising to blog daily through the process. But that didn't last. The pain was too severe. She only begged for prayers through surrogates, saying they had found blood clots on her lungs, and she had never been so ill.
After a couple of weeks away, I checked in yesterday to find she died last Saturday. Besides the bloodclots, there was liver cancer. (Her twin sister, Jan, also has cancer.)
Her dream of changing the world didn't pan out. In some ways, she was a flop and failure. But, in deeper ways, she stayed true and won great victories—by remaining faithful and believing in God's love, despite great set backs and sufferings and humiliations.
It's good to think of her free of all that now, safe in the arms of Mercy. RIP.