Because Her Grace Was Abounding

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but Emily and I signed up for Disciple Bible study back in the fall. I remember that first week, as we debated between going to Disciple class or another option, Emily looked at me and said, “I’ve heard that Disciple classes are pretty intense… Are you sure you’re okay with this?” I nodded, and in we went with no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

As someone who grew up in the Catholic church, I’ve always considered myself to be fairly well versed in scripture. After all, the Lectionary is set up so that you read the entire Bible every three years (assuming you go to Mass every Sunday). I’ll be honest, though, this class has really made me look at everything in a very different way. And, in many ways, it’s made me question a lot of the beliefs I’ve held onto about Christianity and, even more so, myself.

This week, we discussed the Epistle to the Romans. Although I definitely had many thoughts and questions about the book as a whole, I really went down a rabbit hole in my mind when someone in class brought up the topic of grace. It’s a subject that, honestly, I’ve always struggled with, largely because much of modern Christian teachings specifically condemn multiple aspects of my identity as undeserving of God’s grace. And yet, as I drove home tonight and fought back tears, I could hear Emily’s voice clear as day, telling me to stop being so mean to myself… just like she did nearly every single day from 2018 to 2022.

She Showed Me Grace

Emily was one of the most kindhearted, giving people I’ve ever met. In fact, I often think of her when people ask for a definition or example of terms like abounding grace or altruism. She shared her gifts, her presence, and her love with others without hesitation and, oftentimes, without any consideration as to how it might affect her.

It always surprised me when I’d do something that I considered inconsiderate or harsh, and she’d still be there, ready to forgive me and accept me still. And, as I often told her, I didn’t understand how she did it because I felt so undeserving.

The Puppy Debate

There was that ridiculous puppy, Nova, that she fostered for a few days then decided to adopt. She was not only living in an apartment that didn’t allow pets, but she was working two jobs and enrolled in grad school. I watched this puppy for her a couple times, and I spent several nights talking to her on the phone or texting her as she struggled to deal with the dog because it was so young, untrained, and quite the handful.

Finally, I told her, “Emily, just take the damn dog back to the humane society and tell them that you just don’t have the time or space to deal with a puppy right now. It’s not that big of a deal.” She asked if I’d take the dog back for her, and I said, “No. I’ll drive you there, I’ll stand by you the whole time, but I will not do it for you. You are the one who adopted the dog, so you need to be the one to take it back. You’re an adult, and sometimes that means you have to do hard things.”

I know I was harsh. I know I made her cry. And, honestly, I spent the entire rest of that day feeling guilty about it and worrying if she was going to stop being my friend because of it. But, the next day, she reached out and thanked me for what I said and told me she didn’t think any less of me because of it. She never once yelled at me, told me I was a bad friend, or treated my any differently after that. (Oh, and she did take the dog back, too.)

Jealousy Over The Ex

Emily and I started dating about two weeks after she broke up with her ex. We didn’t plan it, and I definitely didn’t see it coming, but I definitely found myself floating on air that entire first week after that night at Hooters.

Then, on Friday night, she started texting me. She’d agreed to hang out with her ex and some mutual connections that evening. However, when she went to pick him up (he doesn’t drive), he had an entire suitcase with him because he decided they needed a “romantic weekend together.” And, because Emily hates confrontation even more than I do (and that’s saying something), she didn’t say no.

She was texting me to try to figure out what to do, but my emotions were all over the place. I stopped replying to her texts because I knew I was going to say something I’d regret, but then she started blowing up my phone because she interpreted my sudden silence as anger. I tried my best to explain to her that I was feeling jealous, hurt, and confused, but I wasn’t doing it well.

At one point, I told her I felt stupid for thinking that she’d actually be into me, and I’d rather her be honest than pretend to be into me. Of course, she responded by telling me that she definitely wanted to date me, but she was afraid of confrontation (which I already knew) and she didn’t want to hurt Julian’s feelings or give him a reason to lash out at her.

The entire time, she kept telling me that my feelings about the situation were valid and the last thing she wanted to do was hurt me. Looking back, I definitely didn’t handle the situation in a mature way, but she was still willing to love me anyway. And, ultimately, she did start setting some harsher boundaries with the ex — it just took a lot of time and effort.

Her Grace Knew No Limits

Obviously, those are very specific examples of me and Emily. However, I watched her show grace to countless other people, too.

She had this friend that, honestly, said some really harsh things to Emily at times. I remember multiple conversations with Emily crying over the things this friend had said about how Emily was “getting fat” and how she “wasn’t a good friend” because she was trying to get the friend to make recovery oriented decisions. And yet, it didn’t matter what Emily had going on in her life, anytime that friend needed help, Emily would drop everything and go. We once even had to turn our date night into sharing a fast food burger and fries outside the emergency room because the friend called her when she was on her way to meet me and needed medical attention.

The same ex I mentioned before? We once picked him up at 11:00pm and took him to the ER as well because his blood sugar was all sorts of out of whack and he called Emily because he didn’t have anyone else. After everything he had done to her (I’m eventually going to talk more about that), she looked at me that night and said, “I know he is a huge jerk, but he needs help and we can help him. Doesn’t everyone deserve that?”

Trying to Find My Emily-Like Grace

As I told people in my Disciple class tonight, I really feel like my job at this point is continuing Emily’s legacy. She never said that, but I feel like she made the world a better place, and I still want that for everyone.

But, like I said tonight: How do you show others grace when you yourself don’t feel deserving? And, even more so, are we supposed to offer abounding grace if we’re truly leaning into our call to be Christ-like?

I am going to talk to Emily about these things this weekend. And, even if I don’t get an answer, I know she’ll at least be willing to listen because she’s always been willing to do anything for me.


Because She Heard The Call

Back in the fall, Emily and I decided to sign up for the Disciple Bible Study one of the pastors was offering on Wednesday evenings. I’ve continued going without her, even though it’s been hard.

Tonight, we got on the topic of “listening to God’s call” and all that jazz. I didn’t say much (or really anything). But, as I listened to others share and discuss, my mind thought of so many things — one of which was Emily.

Helping Hands and a Loving Heart

I’ll admit, getting to know Emily often took people a while because she could be very quiet and almost guarded. However, it didn’t take long for me to see how much she loved helping others.

She was always giving people advice, checking in with those who were struggling, and talking to friends who were in crisis. She helped friends and family, but she also helped people she barely even knew (or didn’t know at all). It didn’t matter how tired she was or whether she had an entire paper to write that day for school — if you needed her, Emily was there, no questions asked.

I have always considered myself to be a helpful person, but even I couldn’t keep up with Emily sometimes. It was always very clear to me that, for better or worse, she was called to help others. And, unlike many young adults, Emily knew that about herself, too.

So Many Ways to Help

As Emily finished her bachelor’s degree at MTSU less than 6 months after we met, I stood out in the parking lot after group one day and asked her what I thought was a simple question: What’s next for you after graduation?

Much to my surprise, she didn’t have an answer, or at least not a simple one.

Emily explained that, before the last half of 2017 turned her life upside down, she’d considered going into ministry. However, she also shared that she had some concerns (one of them being her sexuality). She worried that she wouldn’t be able to explore that part of herself if she made the choice to go through the candidacy process.

She also wanted to get her master’s degree in social work. She said, “I either want to work with people recovering from eating disorders or be a transplant social worker, but I’m not sure which.” Of course, I knew even back then that she’d be good at either one because her lived experience would give her empathy and knowledge far beyond most others.

Eventually, she made the decision to pursue her MSW at the University of Kentucky, although the process to get there took a while.

A Calling I Thought We’d Share

The entire time Emily was in grad school, we talked about the future. We created an entire plan about opening a treatment center together someday. We had so many plans for it that I’ll eventually share in another post, but the general idea was we wanted a place specifically geared towards helping people between 25-40 (maybe a bit more expanded) who lived with an eating disorder. However, we didn’t want to be like most of the facilities we knew: we wanted to treat all bodies, offer a safe space for all people, and provide trauma-informed care.

We knew this would take time and money, but I know the idea of helping others motivated Emily. She was so determined to finish grad school (which she did) and take her licensing exam (which she missed doing by less than a week).

Every time we discussed it, she lit up. I even asked her on several occasions if she ever regretted choosing me over going into ministry, and she said no. She always claimed that she could help people just as much (if not more).

So, I held onto that idea of us opening a treatment center together one day. In fact, I still held onto that idea, even after her death.

Because of Emily, I had big dreams of helping others. And because I want her legacy to live on, I might still do that… Although it will be strange to do so without my better half.

Because I Loved Her Hugs

Last night I had an incredibly vivid dream. It started out like many of my dreams have since October 19: I need Emily, but I can’t find her. In last night’s variation, I was in some sort of garden or greenhouse (there were plants everywhere), and I had something I needed to show her. I kept calling her name as I weaved in and out of plants and grasses.

Every other time I’ve had a variation of this dream, I never find her. But, last night, I did. As I called her name for what felt like the millionth time, I saw her at the opposite end of a row. We ran towards each other, and I scooped her up into my arms.

As we hugged, I could feel her arms around me. I pulled her in as close as I could, as if we had been separated for months instead of what was likely minutes in the dream. I kissed the top of her head. I could smell her hair. It was one of the most incredible hugs I’d ever shared with her… and then it was gone. I woke up.

Of course, that dream has been on my mind the entire morning, because I can’t help but miss her hugs.

The First Real Hug

Emily’s love language was definitely not physical touch. During the first year and a half of our friendship, I think we exchanged a few awkward side hugs and high fives, but that was it. I just assumed she had reservations about hugs because of her past, and I didn’t mind.

But one day, something changed.

I can still remember the first time Emily gave me a “real” hug. I literally remember every detail, from where we were to how it made me feel. Part of that could be because it seemed so out of character for her and caught me off guard, but the other part of it was definitely because I knew how I felt about her at that point despite not having said it out loud to anyone.

Emily was in the process of moving into a new apartment in Antioch. She’d moved out of an apartment in Smyrna a few weeks prior, and I’d helped her move things out and stored several things in my garage. Moving day had finally come, and she spent the day moving all the large items in with her parents. So that evening, I loaded everything up into my minivan and made my way to her new apartment.

When I arrived, the four of us (me, Emily, and her parents) unloaded the minivan and hauled the remaining items up to her third floor unit. Once we were done, we stood in the parking lot and talked for a few minutes. Then, as we said goodbye, Emily wrapped her arms around me and gave me this incredible, albeit brief, hug.

It was one of those moments where the world stood still. My brain was perplexed, yet my heart was beating so fast that I could barely breathe. I smiled the entire drive back to Murfreesboro.

Hugs for Hard Days

After that first “real” hug, embraces did become a more regular part of our relationship. They still weren’t an everyday type thing, but I didn’t expect them to be. However, there was one time hugs were always offered and accepted — when one of us had a hard day.

We both dealt with our fair share of hardships in 2020. For the first half of the year, I was the one who often needed hugs as I dealt with loneliness when my kids spent time with their dad. In the second half of the year, Emily was the one dealing with hard times as she started grad school and went back into eating disorder treatment. But, anytime one of us needed a hug, the other one was there to offer it.

As we entered 2021 and our friendship evolved into a romantic relationship, hugs became far more frequent. Yet, the offer always stood for those special embraces on the hard days.

When Emily had her end-of-semester meltdown, I held her. When I hit a particularly rough couple of weeks during trauma processing with my therapist, Emily wrapped her arms around me and helped me ground myself. No matter what happened, hugs were always there.

All Hugs Are Good Hugs

Of course, not all of the hugs Emily and I shared were tied to hard moments. In fact, many of them were quite the opposite.

I have many pictures of hugs where I’d stand behind Emily and wrap my arms around her. We did this on the beach, we did it as we watched karaoke performances at Lipstick Lounge, and we did it as we stood in line at places like the grocery store.

There were also times when we’d hug after being separated for several hours. Nearly every time Emily returned home from work, we hugged and kissed. When Emily left to take her friend to inpatient treatment in Denver, we shared a long embrace (both times). Even when Emily would leave the house to run an errand, I’d sneak a quick hug and tell her how much I loved her. Every reason was a good enough reason to hug her.

Will We Hug Again?

When I woke up from that incredible dream last night, the first question that popped into my head was: Will I ever get to hug Emily again?

I’m sure many of you think that question sounds silly, given my beliefs. In fact, many Christians would say, “If you believe in Heaven, then, of course, you’ll get to hug her again!” But to me, the answer to that question isn’t so simple.

I’ve done a lot of reading and research, and I’ve learned that there aren’t any scripture passages that outline what Heaven is like. There aren’t any mentions that I’ve found of being reunited with loved ones or living out a life anything like what we do here on Earth. There are no promises as to what’s on the other side, and that’s a hard pill to swallow… At least for me.

But, even if we are reunited with our loved ones, the other burning question has plagued me for over two decades: Am I worthy of Heaven at all?

Again, some would say that the fact that I believe in God is enough to save me. But, I grew up Catholic, so it’s not that simple. There are also a lot of aspects of my past and present life that make me question my worth every single day and make me feel more like Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter or Angel from Redeeming Love. I see myself as a sinner, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be pure and good enough for eternal life.

And yes, I know that Emily would be arguing with all of these things I’m saying about myself right now. I know it because we had nearly this same conversation just a few months ago when I had a meltdown in the middle of a sermon about Hell at her home church in Knoxville.

For now, though, I do know that my hope for a future where I get to hug Emily again is a major motivator for me. And, because of that, I’m trying to live the best possible life and do what I can to become a better person. I just hope that, someday, it’s good enough for God and good enough for Emily.

Because I’m Out Of Hope

As I told the sweet person who called me this afternoon, this week has been tough. On Monday night, I left a friend’s house and drove to the spot I used to visit a lot in 2017 and 2018. On Wednesday, I passed out on the couch after I got the kids to bed because I was so befuddled. I’ve cried at least a dozen times each day, and nothing seems to make the tears stop.

Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I ended up on someone’s social media page who had caused me so much pain in the past. Yet there they are, happy and living a joyous life while I’m mourning the loss of the one person who made me feel complete.

To say I feel lost is an understatement. At this point, I feel hopeless and uncertain if there’s even a point in continuing my life.

What Is Hope, Anyway?

This week isn’t the first time I’ve completely fallen apart since Emily died. In fact, I broke down during the Disciple Bible study group a few weeks ago.

After the group had a whole discussion on hope and trusting God, I went home and cried myself to sleep because I felt so hopeless. Despite the pastor’s attempt to encourage hope and express her understanding of such things, I kept coming back to something one of the other class members had shared. They read a quote from Seneca: “Cease to hope, and you will cease to fear.”

The point of the quote, obviously, is that hope and fear often go hand in hand. We hope and wish for things, yet we fear what will happen when they inevitably don’t come to fruition. The longer we hold onto our hopes and dreams, the more that fear of failure crushes us… Or at least that’s the idea (I think).

Yet, in stark contrast of this quote, the Bible is filled with verses that encourage hope. In fact, Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

So what happens when something you didn’t even think to fear brings you to your knees? What happens when those hopes you’d shared with the Lord and placed upon him are completely shattered?

I had many hopes and dreams for my future with Emily, yet I never once thought that she’d die before we could live out any of them. I just assumed she’d get her dream wedding, we’d bring another child into this world and raise him alongside the girls, and I’d blissfully watch Emily’s career blossom as we grew old together. And, in my opinion, all the signs were there that my life with Emily was exactly how it should be. Even in those final moments when the doctor told me they put Emily on ECMO, I went and placed my hope in God as I desperately prayed for him to let her live.

Yet, clearly I was wrong or my hope was misplaced. But why are those hopes different, lesser, and undeserving of becoming reality?

I would love to know what I did wrong or what about me is so undeserving of happiness and peace. I’m fully willing to accept my faults and take whatever steps are necessary to rectify them, but it’s impossible to do that when you don’t even know what you’ve done wrong. There’s only so much introspective work I can do without someone else’s input, and I’ve spent countless hours over the past five years becoming the best possible version of myself. At this point, I feel like it was all for naught.

Which brings me back to the original question: What is hope anyway? And what does it look like to place your hope in the Lord if the way I tried to do it was so incorrect?

I Don’t Think I Can Let Go

I’ve received so much advice from well-meaning people over the past month and a half. Many people have told me to just hold on because it will get better and my heartache will subside. Others have suggested that I simply turn my pain over to God, because only He can comfort me. Yet, to me, both of those suggestions sound completely ridiculous.

Emily was an incredible person. She was so selfless, so kind, and so easy to love. I can’t imagine there being a reason for her death that makes any sense. And I’m not sure that it would help even if I could.

I’m willing to accept that she’s in Heaven and not suffering. I’m even willing to accept that maybe whatever was happening with her earthly body was going to be so troublesome to come back from that maybe for her, death was actually better. But I can’t accept the fact that I have to go on without her, nor can I fathom a day where I don’t feel like someone ripped out my entire heart the moment the doctor said he couldn’t find a pulse.

Emily was the one who made life make sense. She gave me countless reasons to work on myself and keep going. She’s the one who helped me restore my faith. She’s the one who helped me learn to love myself. She’s the one who believed in me when no one else did. She’s the one who talked me off of the ledge. She’s the one who made life worth living even on the darkest days.

Because of Emily, I had hope. And now? I’m running on empty. All I have left are a few ideas on how to make the pain go away — so I guess we’ll see what happens when Monday rolls around?

Because She’ll Never Really Die

Last Friday, I had the chance to spend a few hours with one of Emily’s best friends from high school. I’d heard so many stories about this particular friend, but we’d only talked once over speakerphone before Emily passed. However, I saw this as an opportunity to connect with yet another person who loved Emily, and I was excited about it.

We enjoyed coffee, wandered around Target, and spent some time at Emily’s gravesite. Since I didn’t meet Emily until she was finishing up her bachelor’s degree at MTSU, I loved hearing stories about things Emily and her friend did in high school and how they kept in touch even after Emily moved away to college. I honestly felt like I got a front-row seat into a different time in Emily’s life, and I loved filling in more pieces of her past from a different perspective.

Bigger Than The Whole Sky

As Emily’s friend and I sat on either side of her grave and talked, she asked me what song I loved the most from Taylor Swift’s new album. Of course, I answered without hesitation because I’ve been playing Bigger Than The Whole Sky on repeat since another one of Emily’s friends reminded me about the album release.

The more I listen to the song, the more it makes me think of Emily. Obviously, the song explains what the devastating loss of someone important to you feels like. This is exactly what I’m dealing with right now. However, there’s more to it than that.

To me, the idea of being “bigger than the whole sky” really sums up Emily. Despite her small size, Emily really was (and still is) much more than the space her body takes up.

Emily touched so many lives during her time here, and I’m not sure she even realized the extent of her reach. I’ve heard from her co-workers, friends, and acquaintances, all of whom shared stories about how Emily touched their lives in some way. That held true as I heard stories from her high school friend.

I’ve seen people donate to causes Emily would support. I’ve heard about people volunteering their time to help others. I’ve watched people continue to care for themselves and support their recovery or challenge themselves to do things in their lives that they know Emily would have encouraged them to do. It’s powerful stuff.

It’s also much simpler than that too. I’ve noticed that several of her friends and I have all been sharing pictures of gorgeous sunsets since Emily passed. And maybe it’s just coincidence, but I have decided that I don’t think it is. I think it’s a small way for us to experience her presence, and it’s a fitting tribute.

It has also happened in my own home. The kids bring up Emily in some way nearly every day. Sometimes it’s a simple request to “listen to that glue song Emily likes.” Other days it comes out as a child’s request that we donate to the homeless or help someone who is having car trouble. She touched our lives and influenced the three of us in ways I never even imagined a single person could.

It’s Not All Over, Though

I’ve struggled a lot lately with the idea of mortality and death. I think we often forget how quickly people can leave this life, and we often take our limited time here for granted.

I know I was guilty of this. I never imagined Emily’s life would end in a matter of hours, and now that it has, I’m questioning everything. However, people keep reminding me of a simple truth: Emily will never really die.

Yes, her soul left us. Yes, her body is buried underground. But Emily isn’t gone because she will continue to live on forever, both in Heaven and in each of us here on Earth.

I started this blog to keep Emily alive. I am sharing her story and volunteering my time to pay it forward. I am committed to checking items off her bucket list and sharing anything I can about her with anyone who will listen.

I feel Emily’s presence in little things that happen throughout the day. I see her in my own children and her nieces. I learn even more about her in the stories others share with me. It all keeps her alive, and I can’t imagine a more impactful tribute to someone who dedicated her life to loving everyone who crossed her path.

Even in death, I am holding onto the idea that Emily’s legacy will live on in all the hearts she touched during her time here on Earth. And every time I see her in the sunset, I know she’s still here in a different way.

Because I Have Questions

Last night was the closest I’ve come to going over the edge since Emily’s death. So close, in fact, that just about a dozen steps stood between us.

I knew Monday would be hard. I just felt it the moment I woke up — that darkness that has consumed me every day since the moment the doctor walked into the waiting room with a final blow. Every Monday has been hard because Mondays were our day. But it got even worse as I drove home from Knoxville. Every mile of the stretch between Cookeville and Lebanon was filled with tears and panic that I couldn’t seem to turn off.

I did some things that I’m ashamed of, but I’m not sure that those feelings are justified. It’s sometimes tricky business to distinguish between your head and your heart, and these times are no exception.

I feel overwhelmed by fear and the countless questions that keep lingering deep inside my head. But they’re questions I’m not sure I can ever ask anyone, and even if I did, I’m not sure it would provide an answer.

My Many, Many Questions for Emily

When I sat with Emily on Monday morning before I drove home from Knoxville, I finally threw out one of the many question I’ve been dying to ask her since she died (pun intended).

“If you could have made the choice, would you have stayed here on Earth with me?”

I keep thinking to myself, “This isn’t fair!” Not just because I’m stuck here without her (which sucks big time), but also because she still had so many things she wanted to do. She had a licensing exam to take. She had just started planning our wedding. She wanted to have a child. She planned to travel to all 50 states… the list goes on and on. Why wasn’t any of that allowed to come to fruition? It just makes no sense.

But, asking her if she would have chosen to stay isn’t the only thing I wish I could ask her. I have a whole list of things that, if I had the chance, I’d sit and ask her.

  1. Did you know how much I loved you?
  2. Were you happy with me?
  3. Did you feel satisfied with your life?
  4. Is there anything you regret about our relationship?
  5. Were you scared in those final moments?
  6. Did you know I was right there until the end?
  7. Could I have done anything to make those final few hours better?
  8. Did you get to see your funeral?
  9. Is there anything you never told me that you wish you had?
  10. What’s one thing you’d want me to do with my life?

My Questions for God and Others

As I played a game with some friends yesterday in hopes of distracting myself from my intrusive thoughts, one of my friends started shuffling cards since the draw pile was almost empty. Typically, I’ve always shuffled the discarded cards and placed them under the draw pile that still exists. However, my friend took the draw pile as well and shuffled everything.

The other friend and I questioned her about this method and explained the way we’ve always done it. As we debated it, I said something about needing to go through the cards. My friend replied with a very deep, thought-provoking question:

“Would that really change anything?”

It made me think about all the other questions that have been on my mind since October 19, because many of them hit on a similar thought. Nonetheless, they keep eating away at me, so maybe throwing them here into the depths of the internet will remove them from my brain. (Just don’t judge me, because some of them sound incredibly selfish.)

  1. Why did Emily have to die at that specific time?
  2. Why couldn’t I have died instead so she could have done more with her life?
  3. Was this some sort of punishment?
  4. What did I do wrong in all of this?
  5. Would it have mattered if I had taken Emily to the hospital sooner?
  6. Could I have done anything to prevent her death?
  7. Should I have done more to make sure she was caring for herself?
  8. Is there anything I should have done differently during the time I had with her?
  9. Will I ever get to see Emily again?
  10. If I decide to end my life now, will it change my ability to see her?
  11. Is there a reason why people who hurt me get to be happy but I don’t?
  12. Am I cursed in some way?
  13. Do people who die by suicide automatically go to Hell?
  14. Does Hell even exist? Am I already going there?

There Are No Answers

I think the most frustrating thing about all of this is that I have so many questions, yet none of them have answers. The guilt, the regrets, and the what ifs are eating me alive. I wish I could turn them off, but no amount of distraction seems to help. The questions just eat their way into my mind and ring like bells and over and over again.

Really, it’s not the answers I want. I want Emily back. And that can never happen. To quote Taylor Swift, “I’m never gonna meet what could’ve been, would’ve been, what should’ve been you.” And I have to live with that.

Because Her Faith Never Waivered

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.

Because I Never Want To Say Goodbye

I’ve been looking back at old text messages Emily and I sent each other over the years. Some of them are quite hilarious and speak to the dark and often snarky sense of humor we shared. Many others have reminded me of just how much Emily and I cared for each other and what we had planned for our lives together. (Hint: It was a lot!)

However, one thing that kept standing out to me was the number of times one of us mentioned the word “forever.” We had no intention of ever leaving each other, and we both firmly believed our relationship was the real deal, worthy of a lifetime of love and laughter together. I never wanted to say goodbye to her, yet here I am, doing it nearly every single day (sometimes multiple times per day).

Our Relationship Was My “Happily Ever After”

Before Emily, my track record with dating was pretty terrible. My low self-esteem and the notion that I wasn’t “good enough” to deserve love often led me to less-than-healthy relationships. Now, that’s not to say there weren’t moments of happiness in those previous relationships or my marriage. Still, those flashes of joy were small and only lightly sprinkled into days mostly filled with fear, sadness, and verbal abuse.

When my now ex-husband served me with divorce papers in January 2020, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to date again. It was clear to me that I just didn’t deserve love and happiness, and I was tired to dealing with trying to be perfect for someone else, only to have them constantly point out every single one of my flaws.

But with Emily, everything was different.

From that evening at Hooters to those last few hours we had together on Tuesday, October 18, she was a picture-perfect partner. Instead of yelling at me for everything I was doing wrong, she constantly pointed out the things I was doing right. Instead of telling me my dreams and ideas were stupid, she encouraged me to pursue them as much as I wanted. Instead of making fun of my appearance, she complimented me. And the list goes on and on.

I often told Emily (and other people who asked) that she was my “happily ever after.” Because, in many ways, I felt like she was my redemption. She was my prize at the end of a marathon filled with several horrible obstacles along the way. For the first time in my life, I was in a healthy, supportive relationship filled with mutual respect, adoration, and unconditional love.

Because of Emily, I was willing to risk my heart again and pledge to spend my life with someone. I felt safe, I felt loved, and I felt like I was at home. And, until last month, I thought that I would get to spend every day for the rest of my life enjoying this “happily ever after.”

Every Step Forward Is a Goodbye

For the past four weeks, I’ve felt like I am living in a nightmare. Every morning I wake up and remind myself that she’s no longer here. Every night, I cry. It’s become so hard to be awake and present that I am spending a lot of my time self-medicating just so I can make it through the day.

It’s hard because every step I take feels like I’m saying goodbye all over again. I spent several hours in that hospital room saying goodbye, yet when it was time to leave, I just wanted to curl up next to her and let them take me with her. During her funeral, I cried constantly because I knew this was another goodbye. At the graveside service, I lingered near her casket, wishing I could just get in the ground with her.

Every single day, I am forced to do another thing that feels like it’s saying goodbye all over again. I have canceled a few of her subscriptions. On All Saint’s Sunday, I rang a bell as her name was read during our church service. Last week, I finally went to the leasing office to remove her from the lease. Sunday afternoon, I drove her car to Cookeville and met her parents so they could figure out what they need to do to get rid of it.

Each of these tasks should be simple. But they’re not. They’re each a painful reminder that she’s gone… the love of my life is gone. It’s all so painful, so physically draining that I have little energy left to do much else. Joining her in death feels much easier than living life without her, and I can’t seem to shake that feeling.

I’d Rather Say “Hello”

Obviously, one of the hardest things about this loss has been saying goodbye. Emily was just 26 — it wasn’t time for her to go yet. And, given that I’m 9 years older than her, I always just assumed I’d be the one to go first. (Clearly, I shouldn’t have relied on my age and health to do me first.) So, instead of goodbye, I’d rather be saying, “Hello.”

I did get to experience this for a short amount of time two weekends ago when I went to visit her grave at the cemetery for a bit. In a way, I felt connected with her again, even if I was laying above the ground while her body is buried deep down there. Regardless, I talked to her, I watched television with her, and I just laid there silently, soaking in as much of her presence as I could.

I also keep wondering if I will ever get to say “hello” to her again. Is that something that is actually promised to us? Will I even be worthy of a place in Heaven? And even if I am, will Emily even want to see me? Is that something that is allowed? Will it feel the same?

I may never have the answers. I may never know the truth. So I guess I’m left to decide if I want to continue down the path I’m on and hope for the best, or if I should simply change course. Either way, the fact remains that I’m still here, I’m still alone, and I’m still missing my better half.

Because She Was Selfless

Yesterday I completed the required training to become a volunteer with Donate Life Tennessee. As I talked to the woman leading the training, she said, “I know that you understand the importance of organ donation because of your connection with Emily, but I’m curious what made you decide to reach out about volunteering with us?” I probably rambled a bit, but essentially I told her that I just felt called to do it. I know it’s 100% something Emily would support, and it’s something I can do to give back.

More importantly, though, I feel like this is just one way for me to ensure that Emily’s spirit lives on. She was an incredibly selfless woman. Even on her hardest days, she was more than willing to help someone else or sacrifice her own needs for anyone if she thought it would help them.

Emily’s Heart of Gold

I think Emily is one of those people who was born to help others. She just had this natural instinct and internal drive that pushed her to offer anything she could to a person in need. I always found it incredible to see someone who was so willing to pay it forward, especially given all that she faced in her own life.

Even before we started dating, I knew all about Emily’s selflessness. She’d text me from the emergency room while she sat with another friend, or she’d answer messages and calls while we hung out together from people who needed a listening ear. I knew she was very active in the recovery community as well.

After we started dating, I learned the full extent of my love’s willingness to give. She’d often apologize for it, but I didn’t mind because I felt privileged to see her heart of gold in action.

Early on in our relationship, the romantic date night I had planned turned into me meeting her outside the emergency room at Centennial because a friend was having chest pain and other issues related to her underlying eating disorder. So, we improvised so we could still see each other: we sat outside the building and shared a cheeseburger and some fries while she waited for the hospital to admit her friend. She told me, “I don’t know why you put up with me — I probably help people too much.” I simply kissed her and told her I loved how much she cared about the world.

Another time, her ex-boyfriend called just as we walked out of our favorite Nashville bar (Lipstick Lounge) because his blood sugar was dangerously high and he couldn’t get anyone to answer their phones and drive him to the hospital. All she had to do was look at me, and I knew we were about to drive and pick him up.

Sometimes, she did things that put herself in danger, like the time she performed CPR on someone who was ejected from their car on I-440. Other times, she sacrificed sleep or time for her grad school assignments just because she felt compelled to travel halfway across the country with a friend so she could get the medical care she needed (twice).

Yet, regardless of what was required of her or the toll these selfless acts had, Emily was more than willing to do them. She just loved helping people and seeing them reach their full potential.

Continuing Her Legacy in My Own Way

During Emily’s funeral service, I made several promises to her directly. I also told everyone gathered there that they could use the pieces of Emily they have to keep her spirit alive even though her time here on this earth has ended. Personally, I think I can at least partially do this through performing my own selfless acts — like volunteering with Donate Life.

However, I don’t plan to just stop there. I am already a registered organ and tissue donor, but I think I would also like to start donating blood (it’ll be a good exposure). I also want to renew my CPR training so I can help people when needed, just like Emily did.

I’ll also continue doing things I’ve already been doing, too. I help with several ministries at our church that benefit the homeless in our community, and I will not be giving that up. I’ll also continue writing about topics that break down stigmas and help others along their journey.

Finally, I hope I can reach a place where I simply hear God’s call and feel in my heart when I should be helping someone out. It was a gift Emily absolutely had, and I’d love to continue that incredible legacy if I can. It may come in time.

Emily, thank you for always helping me and everyone else who crossed your path. Because of your selflessness, the world is already a better place.

Because I Didn’t Pray

Taylor Swift’s Midnights album dropped just two days after Emily died, which means I’ve spent a lot of time listening to it. The one song I keep coming back to is Bigger Than The Whole Sky. As soon as I played it for the first time, I wept because it so perfectly encapsulated everything I have felt in the face of this tragedy.

Emily was, and always will be, bigger than the whole sky to me — she was my entire world. From the beginning, our relationship felt like it was meant to be. After a month, it felt like we’d been together for much longer. It just seemed like we were literally made for each other. I can’t even explain it in words because I had never experienced that connection with anyone else.

Over the past week, I keep focusing on a line in the second verse: “Did some force take you because I didn’t pray?”

I keep replaying those final few hours in my head over and over again, especially that final bit of time where I sat alone in the ICU waiting area. I remember how I paced the room, my entire body filled with panic and fear. I needed to be doing something to save you, but I couldn’t. Your life was no longer in my hands, but rather an entire team of doctors and nurses. I couldn’t control anything but what I did with my time as I waited for someone to update me.

As the panic gave way to sadness, I decided to the only thing I could think of in that moment — I prayed. The same lines repeated from my lips as the tears streamed down my face:

“Please, please, please, God…
Don’t take her yet. Don’t take Emily…
Please save her. Please let her live.”

In the end, my prayers didn’t matter. You were gone.

My Complicated History With Prayer

Emily was one of the few people who knew the full extent of my “complicated” relationship with God and, even more so, my struggles with prayer. As I told her, I fully support prayer and wholeheartedly believe in the power of prayer just as much if not more as the power of positive thinking. I am willing to pray for other people, especially those I care about and love. Despite all of this, I went nearly two decades without saying a single prayer for myself.

I endured a lot through middle school (which could be its own entire story). By the time I reached high school, the toll of it all had completely destroyed my mental health. I just wanted the fear, the pain, and the shame I felt to disappear. So, I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, praying for my death.

Obviously, that prayer was never answered. I understand that It was a ridiculous thing to pray for, and I also understand that it went unanswered because there’s still more for me to do here on Earth. However, the shame and selfishness I feel for those absurd prayer requests, along with a general feeling of unworthiness of God’s love, pushed me to stop praying for myself for any reason… until that night.

Did My Prayers Take Her Away?

When I listened to Bigger Than The Whole Sky for the first time, I pulled up the lyrics so I could fully process the song. I noticed that line (“Did some force take you because I didn’t pray?”), but I didn’t give it too much thought. However, it keeps sticking out to me each time I listen to the song.

I realize that I did, in fact, pray that night. I chanted, I begged. I practically screamed it at one point. I probably even tried bargaining, I’m not sure. The point is, I prayed so hard for Emily to be saved. And yet, nothing.

I keep asking myself, “Was it a selfish prayer? Did you focus too much on yourself and not enough on Emily? Were you simply too late? Would the outcome be different if I had prayed more fervently before that final bit of time?”

The fact is, I don’t have the answers to any of those questions. Really, I don’t have answers to anything right now. Yet, I am completely convinced that my own wickedness, my flaws, and my inability to lead the life I should are to blame here. I failed everyone, especially Emily.

Just like in those days and months when my prayers for death went unanswered, I feel the urge to once again pull away. I feel unworthy, unclean, and unable of ever walk the right path. Instead of feeling the warmth of God’s love like sunshine on my skin, I fear I will spend the rest of my days in those shadows once again, feeling just like Hester Prynee, yet with countless scarlet letters instead of just one.

But, because of Emily, I need to handle this battle inside of myself differently than I would in the past. I need to figure this out, somehow. If nothing else, I need to do as much as I can with the rest of my time here if I’m even going to have a slim chance of seeing her again.