Emily Jones came to Berean Christian High School as a freshman in 2007. She remembers being timid and a little bit awkward around so many potential new friends. After her Freshman year at BCHS, Emily did what a lot of students do to get ahead on their classes; she enrolled in summer biology with Dr. Comfort.
“Dr. Comfort was a little scary,” Emily remembers. “But mostly just because his class was scary.”
That summer in biology class is where she met Justin. Of course she didn’t know it, but over the next fourteen years, Emily would share some of her life’s greatest joys and one incredibly painful loss.
“He was a smarty,” says Emily when she describes her first impression of Justin.
Justin had gelled hair that looked like it took some time to sculpt each day. By chance, or good fortune, or maybe God’s divine will, Justin became Emily’s lab partner. They got to know each other and struck up a friendship.
Emily was dating another guy at the time. She dated him for two years while she and Justin remained friends. In her junior year, Emily and her boyfriend broke up. Justin, who had stayed close all this time saw his opportunity and… he stalled.
In the fall of their senior year, Justin made a long-range plan to ask Emily to the spring dance – several months away. This was not good enough for their friends. Thankfully, Taylor Shafer convinced Justin that his plan had some weaknesses. She persuaded him to ask Emily to Homecoming on a much more aggressive timeline instead.
Today, Justin and Emily have a beautiful two-year-old daughter named Story and another baby on the way. They had only been dating for a few months in high school when Justin went into the Coast Guard. They graduated from BCHS in 2011 and Justin immediately headed off to basic training and then to the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
According to Emily they had been friends for so long that when they started dating they both knew they were taking the long-term possibilities of the relationship pretty seriously, even if it meant living 3,000 miles apart from each other.
For four years, Emily and Justin lived on opposite coasts. Emily went to school at Diablo Valley College and then transferred to Cal Poly Pomona where she graduated with a degree in hospitality. They saw each other about six times a year for the four years they were in school. Justin graduated from the Academy in 2015. He and Emily were married the following week.
These two BCHS alumni have a great love story to tell their kids – meeting in biology class, becoming lab partners, finding out that their friends knew they would be great together long before they realized it themselves. Their story is joyful, fun, full of travel and adventure. But Justin and Emily have also felt loss, pain, and grief. Their first daughter, Audrey died in 2018 when she was just two days old.
The two days that Audrey struggled in this world were traumatic. She was born without a heartbeat and without a breath in her lungs. Doctors and nurses worked quickly to revive her. From that point on, Audrey was connected to monitors and breathing machines. She was covered in tubes, wires, and medical tape. But that little girl was also covered in prayer from her new parents, grandparents, aunts, and dozens of others. There were moments when she showed signs of stabilizing.
Clarified Purpose and a New Ministry
In their hearts Emily and Justin knew that Audrey was not meant to stay with them. Emily writes, “Audrey fulfilled her purpose here on Earth in just 47 hours and then God took her to spend eternity worshiping him, singing praises and dancing in Heaven.”
After Audrey died, Emily and Justin started to write about their experience. They launched a blog and then built a website as a way to process their grief and reach out to others who were hurting from losing someone they loved.
Losing Audrey made an impact on this young couple. It changed them. It changed the way they thought about God and eternity. They have given a lot of thought and spent many hours in prayer reflecting on why this happened. They feel that God gave them Audrey, and the heartbreaking experience of seeing her die, so that they could help others whose hearts are broken.
Justin and Emily are headed back to Alaska. They lived in Homer, Alaska just after they were married. They loved it. Justin worked as a deck watch officer on a Coast Guard cutter, and Emily worked in the town’s chamber of commerce office. After spending several years away from Alaska, Justin has been reassigned to the very same cutter he left with one major difference. When he returns, he will not be an ensign, he will be the ship’s executive officer.
A few years ago, one of the crew members from Justin’s ship died. The crew continues to mourn the loss. Justin feels like losing Audrey gives him an opening to step into people’s grief, which gives him an avenue to share his faith in Jesus. The pain and grief that Emily and Justin felt when they lost Audrey has become their ministry to love others and tell the story of God’s grace.
“God was there for us,” says Emily when she thinks about the darkest hours of their pain. She felt his presence. Now she and Justin feel equipped to encourage others in their pain with the truth of God’s love through his word:
So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy (John 16:22).