dear jimmy,

It’s been one year since the hardest night of my life. It’s been one year since the greatest night of your life.
This is Shelby, and I staffed Survival with you last year. I only knew you for that one week, and I’m sure you had no idea how much you would change my life. Let me share with you the things God has done in me because of knowing you.
One year ago, I was such a different person. I knew Jesus, and I loved the things about Him, but you were literally in love with your Savior. I loved singing His praises in worship times, but you never seemed to leave His presence. I knew life was short, but you lived life with the greatest eternal perspective I’d had seen in anyone.
One year ago today was beautiful. Singing and playing “How He Loves” on the piano, while you accompanied on the guitar. Worshipping all together on the mountaintop. Standing in awe of God’s creation in the Montana landscape. Laughing at the silly things you did for the camera. But one year ago today was life-changing. Waiting for you to come back from upriver. Praying harder than I ever had before. Falling speechless to the ground. Grabbing your Bible and trying to trust the God that you adored.  I’ve never experienced anything harder in my life. But beauty truly does come from ashes, and my life is just a small testimony of it.
Because of that day, I live differently.
Because of you, I trust God more than ever before, and He is leading me into beautiful places.
Because of you, I worship God in a whole new way: in adoration, in reverence, in fear, and in love beyond understanding.
Because of you, my perspective on life turned upside down. I don’t take my days for granted anymore, and I surrender my “plans” to Him before they’re even formed.
Because of you, I love differently. “It takes a lot of love to live,” you said, and you were so right. But from what I saw in you, to what I’ve learned of you, the Source of Love was clearly evident in your actions. And that’s what I want too.
Because of you, I had to do a lot of questioning. There were those days and months of wondering, am I really ready? If that day were to come for me, would I be prepared?  As you know, God is faithful. And now I have full confidence that if that day were today, I would eagerly join my Savior.
Because of you, I see people in a new way. Each one is an eternal being who is hungry for God, and I don’t know how much longer I have with them.
Because of you, I went to China. I saw the incredible impact you made on so many lives across the world. I was inspired and challenged to love, even though it takes a lot of love to live. You knew it was worth it.
Because of you, I take “make the most of every opportunity” much more seriously. On the way to your funeral, I shared the hope of salvation with my fellow airplane passengers. In so many blog posts, your life inspired an imperative message. I’ve used your story countless times to take a conversation from the temporary to the eternal. At the hair salon, they know the story behind my feather. With a young man on an airplane, I told of you as a way to help him understand how urgent it is that he make a decision to follow you. With another airplane passenger, your story helped me explain why a loving God could allow suffering. I used all I’ve learned from losing you to comfort a woman I met for just five minutes who was coming home from her mother’s funeral. In my TeenPact devotionals, your life made an impact. In my testimony, you are a central part of my journey and relationship with Jesus. In Mexico, the children heard of you and your love for your Savior. Last week, the man working in the produce section of the grocery store heard of how you changed my life.
Every time I say “no regrets,” I think of you.
Each time I fold a t-shirt, I remember how you made even that small thing so much fun.
Every sunset reminds me of the brilliant red of the sunset that blazed in the sky one year ago tonight. I’ve never seen another like it.
I wrote a letter to you which God used to introduce me to a love for writing poetry. Maybe I’ll use it to write children’s stories, like we talked about doing.
I sing some of your worship songs, and they hold so much meaning. Could this be the last song we sing?
Eating trail mix and dried fruit, I remember laughing at the silly things you said.
The song “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” always reminds me of when we all sang it together on top of Steamboat mountain one year ago today.
Every single day, I consider that it may be my last. That doesn’t scare me anymore, it simply causes me to live purposefully.
Whenever I sit down at the piano, I remember playing together.
When I read John 14, I remember reading from your Bible as I tried to grasp what was happening on year ago tonight.
In this busy and materialistic culture, I miss your fresh and eternal perspective. Thank you for writing down so much so that even though you’re gone, I can glean from your joy and wisdom.
When I sing harmonies, I remember the moment you became the first person to tell me that you enjoyed singing with me.
Reading Scripture, I remember how you would take a passage that had grown old to me, and you would read it with a fervor that sent chills down my spine and filled my heart with passion.
The word “heaven” is so much deeper now because of your eagerness to see it, and now my eagerness to be there too. I still come to tears at the line of Beautiful, “Soon we will be coming home.”
When I think of love, I think of you.
So Jimmy, I guess what I want to say is, “Thank you.” From one week, I am so changed. The cost has been so high - higher than I would ever have asked.  There have been so many tears. But even the grief has taught me much. Thank you for being the kind of person who changes lives.
One year. The hardest year of my life. The most beautiful year of my life.
We miss you, friend.


  1. Shelly,
    I never actually got a chance to meet you, but this is such a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. It brought back memories of Jimmy and encouraged me today. :)
    Adam Newborn

  2. Thanks, Shelby, for saying this much better than I could have. Jimmy had an influence on everyone he came in contact with, and though his heading home causes us pain, its taught me so much about how joy results from that.And then I realize, that that is exactly what Jimmy wanted with his life. I never met a person more in love with Jesus and overwhelmed by Jesus' love than Jimmy. Thank you.

  3. This was beautiful. Shelby, thank you.


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