This morning I attended a worship service at the church Emily grew up in. As soon as I entered the sanctuary, I thought about all the other times Emily and I had worshiped there together on weekends we came to visit her parents. It was bittersweet to say the least.
As I waited for the service to begin, I remembered the way people would flock to her both before and after worship just to say hello and give her a hug. As I opened my hymnal, I thought about how she’d randomly poke me or whisper a random comment in my ear just to make me smile. As I sat and listened, I remembered the way she’d jot down random notes throughout worship as thoughts came to her. And as the music started, I heard her next to me, singing so enthusiastically and sharing how much she loved each and every hymn.
I cried several times throughout the worship service because I just couldn’t stop thinking about how much that church, and faith in general, meant to Emily.
Emily Always Believed
If you spent any time around Emily, then you probably knew how much her beliefs meant to her. She was just one of those people who went to church every Sunday not because “it’s what you do,” but because she was deeply rooted in her faith. Sure, she cursed like a sailor and drank like a fish sometimes, but she was the embodiment of faithfulness.
Obviously, I didn’t meet Emily until after her heart transplant. However, the sheer fact that someone her age could experience such a traumatic life event and still maintain her faith really inspired me. I know that 2017 was hard on her and she sometimes struggled with the weight of life post-transplant, but I never once heard her say that the events that transpired changed her relationship with God.
She was thankful for everything she’d received in life, sometimes to the point that she questioned whether she deserved it. However, I don’t think she ever saw that as an opportunity to question God’s will, but rather a chance to look for understanding.
I also think for Emily, challenging times were an opportunity to lean into her faith, not run away from it. For her, believing was never hard. Her faith was strong, and she happily shared that with anyone who wanted to talk about it.
Religion Was Always A Welcome Topic
Emily and I had a lot of conversations about faith in the time I knew her. I always loved hearing her perspective on things, and it was fun to compare the similarities and differences in what we learned about God growing up. Oftentimes, I learned things during our discussions because she was just so knowledgeable, and I loved it. Looking back, I wish I had recorded some of our conversations about religion because they were just so interesting.
I remember one conversation that took place on our couch. I don’t remember why I was spiraling that night, but I do remember going on a tangent about how I felt disconnected from God and that I blamed myself for it. I explained how unworthy I felt, and she stopped me mid-sentence to reassure me and share her own perspective.
In her eyes, I was no less deserving of God’s love than she was. She tore down every argument I had and pointed out how many of the things I was using as a reason for God to have “turned His back on me” applied to her as well.
We had so many conversations about faith, and talked about everything from purgatory to whether or not being gay was a sin, and everything in between. Sometimes we’d laugh. Other times we’d Google things to try and prove a point. It made life interesting to say the least. She was one of the few people I felt like I could be completely candid with when it comes to religion, and she was always down to talk about it.
She Was My Guiding Light
As I mentioned, Emily grew up going to church. She had continued attending weekly services even after she moved to college. The pandemic and her weekend job as a caregiver made attending worship in person through 2020 difficult, but I know she watched weekly church services online as she cared for “little old lady.”
Even though online worship helps in a pinch, I know she was really missing attending in-person. This became even more apparent after we made a trip to Knoxville for July 4th weekend in 2021. Once we got home from that trip, I threw out the idea of us attending church together. She loved this idea, and immediately began comparing churches in Murfreesboro and Nashville so we could try some out. We decided to start with the church she’d been attending in-person before the pandemic, with the agreement that if the congregation or pastors didn’t seem accepting of our relationship, we’d try out some other options.
As we sat through the service that first Sunday, I experienced a strange combination of fear and comfort. However, it was clear that Emily felt right at home, and I loved the pure joy that I saw on her face during service and as she talked to people she knew as we walked out of the sanctuary — I knew we’d found our church.
Over the past 14 months since we started going to worship services together, I’ve become fairly involved in our church. I help with various aspects of worship. I play handbells. I volunteer my time on Wednesdays to help tear down beds after we host families who need a place to sleep.
I’ve also spent a lot of time reconnecting with my faith in general and thinking a lot about what I believe. I still have a lot of questions, but the fact that I’m even thinking about them is a step in the right direction.
Trying My Best To Remain Faithful
Emily was, without a doubt, my guiding light back to faith. Since her death, though, I’ve had a lot on my mind, and can’t seem to find any answers. But I am still going to church and trying my best to not lose my faith. Emily’s faith never waivered, and I know she wouldn’t want mine to either.