Last week I promised a post that I’ve decided to delay till next week. After I wrote those words, life was interrupted by the sudden, shocking, unexpected death of someone dear to our church, and I want to tell you about her today.

Emilee Joyner left this earth last Wednesday after only 34 years with us. In the last several years, she had a deep impact on everyone who worshipped at Christ’s church. And since Wednesday we’ve seen how her influence was even wider, based on a faith that was deeper than some know.

Her memorial service is happening as you might be reading this, and I want to tell you three things about Emilee I’m sharing at the service.

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Emilee made a huge contribution by challenging us to authentic worship. She resonated with King David dancing in the street as the Ark of the Covenant entered Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). He wasn’t worried about being dignified; his praise to God was unrestrained and seen in his whole body.

That’s how it was with Emilee. If she was excited, she danced. If she was intense, she fell to her knees. As she sought God’s presence and felt it, she gazed toward Heaven. She worshipped with every part of herself, as if to say, “I’ll be as undignified as I need to be to show my love for Jesus.” She made some uncomfortable, but in the process, many became more comfortable with God.

This all came from deep inside her. It wasn’t a show. You’d be blown away to see her Bible with all the notes and prayers and praises written in the margins. Her worship was genuine, and her worship leading challenged us to worship authentically too. She worked hard, trudging to church to fulfill her commitments even when she was weak and sick, and she never complained. She contributed the time and energy of a paid staff member, even though she served faithfully week after week as a volunteer.

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Emilee went over the top to love people. She gave them more than some thought they deserved, because she knew that’s how Jesus loved her.

She brightened young moms with an unexpected call or an invitation to coffee.

A friend who taught with her told me, “Emilee introduced me to worship music, and ever since then I’ve been listening to it.” This was several years ago. She embodied the words of Paul, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Christ in her showed the glory of God to people she knew.

And her impact will continue to grow, even after her death. Just one example: a visitor who worshipped with us online Sunday told me how our tribute to her in our worship time (SEE VIDEO HERE) challenged and encouraged him. I expect the same to happen today as many share her memorial service online.

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She absolutely had no fear of death. She told me a few month ago, “I don’t want to leave my son or my husband,” she said. “But I know where I’m going.” The clip we included Sunday (“This is my confidence. You’ve never failed me yet.”) was filmed the week she learned her second kidney was failing. She was waiting for a third but died before it could be found.

But death is not the end for her; it was simply the doorway to the fullness of her calling from Jesus. The body we knew has been replaced with one without kidney  problems, dialysis, exhaustion, or pain. Last week I told her husband, Donovan, “Your wife just entered a worship party greater than we can imagine. She’s dancing. She’s leaping for joy. She’s not watching us; she’s gazing into the eyes of Jesus.” I think of how she looked toward Heaven when she was leading worship, and I know now she’s seeing Jesus face-to-face.

I really don’t have words to pay tribute to someone who leaves such a void. So many of us are feeling an Emilee-sized hole in our hearts. I think it’s OK not to expect that hole to be filled. It’s like a dozen holes that have pierced or will invade every heart, each one a reminder that we experience this life of pain and disappointment in a place that’s not our home. It is the reminder that this is not the end, but there is more to come.

Today we rejoice that Emilee is in the place we can only long for. Her faith in Jesus and faithfulness to God show us how to join her there. And, oh, how we’re looking forward to the day that happens!