Recently earth lost a beautiful woman. She was only 19 years old but had the wisdom and the heart of someone much older. My dear friend Emily was killed in a horrible car accident and her death has forced me to deal with death and what I truly believe about it. It’s easy to rattle off the comforting things that people say around death until it happens to someone dear to you, especially when it’s tragic and too soon.
When someone dies, especially tragically, we don’t usually know what to say. What is there to say? I had to call one of my best friends to tell her that Emily had died and it was probably the shortest conversation we have ever had. How do you deal with that? How do you process it? What do you say? Those not in relationship with the person who died usually resort to things like “She’s in a better place.” I found myself saying that pretty immediately after I found out she died as I tried to comfort those around me. Even as they were coming out of my mouth I found myself questioning if I truly believed them.
I found out about the car accident during the staff weekend for a camp I volunteer at every summer. It’s a week long camp focused on Jesus and Christian community and it’s also where I met sweet Emily. Jesus and I had a lot of words during that week, some of them I would not feel comfortable repeating especially in a public space. But during the week I found moments of comfort in memories of Emily or visions of her worshipping in heaven, perfectly happy and content. She was doing what her heart longed to do.
I’ve had to wrestle with the idea of death and cry about it. Do I truly believe that she’s in a better place? Why didn’t God spare her life too, the others in the car walked away from the accident? Does heaven exist or is it just some nice idea that makes death easier to deal with?
As a Christian it felt wrong to question, yet I was. It felt wrong to wonder about death and dying, but I was. In her death I discovered that crying out to God with my doubts and fears and questions about death was where I felt most comforted. I struggled with this for a while, but I can with confidence say now that yes, Emily is in a much better place. Part of my confidence comes from my time spent in prayer and with the Lord; part of my confidence comes from the wisdom of those around me who reminded me of God’s goodness and love even as I cried; and part of my confidence comes from Emily’s own testimony of coming to terms with death when a dear friend of hers lost her life to cystic fibrosis. The result of all my wrestling and questioning is this truth: I believe in heaven and I believe that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death is not the end of the story. She is now in a perfected state worshipping Jesus and one day I will join her.
Emily’s death has brought a lot of head knowledge into my heart. I know that she is with Jesus and with Melissa. In something she wrote about Melissa she said “Selfishly, I want her here. But I would never take her away from Jesus in a million years.” That’s how I feel. Selfishly, I want Emily here. But she is where her heart longed to be: worshipping Jesus with Melissa.
As I looked around the church at Emily’s funeral I was awed by the number of people in the sanctuary, but not surprised. Emily loved people. She loved people so well. She constantly pointed people to Jesus and was unafraid to be herself. That church was filled with people who had been touched by her and by her faith. It was a worshipful experience that honored Jesus and honored Emily. Emily, through her example, always pushed me to love people better and looking around the church was such a clear call. Emily loved because Jesus loved her and she wanted to share that joy. My prayer is that I would do the same.
I love you sweet girl. I miss you. But I know I will see you again. It was such an honor to be a part of your life and you taught me more than you’ll ever know. Your life was incredibly God honoring and so many people will be dancing with us in heaven because you had the boldness to follow Jesus where He led you.