A Special Note from Doug Phillips
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)
Shelby Kennedy (November 6, 1981 - May 31, 2005)
Every community has its bright shining star — a special person who radiates joy and life and hope to everyone they meet. In San Antonio, one of those people was a twenty-two year old young lady named Shelby Kennedy. Those who know her can report that they had rarely ever met a woman with as radiant a Christian testimony, who better honored her father and mother, or who better understood the meaning of Christian sacrifice. For most of her life, Shelby accompanied her father and mother to some of the roughest parts of Mexico, building homes for the indigent, helping local churches, and teaching the Gospel to young girls, many of whom were already mothers in their early teens. Those who meet her never forget her.
In October 2004, Shelby was diagnosed with a rare disease called leiomayosarcoma with a tumor approaching the size of a volleyball. The initial test revealed that the sarcoma had spread to her right shoulder and a few other spots in her pelvic area. The sarcoma had eaten away a good part of the bone in the pelvic area. Man’s statistical analysis indicated that only small percentage of people in her condition survive.
Shelby knew this too. At every step of the way, she rejoiced in the Lord. While those who loved her wept in her presence (including yours truly), Shelby spent her time comforting them with words of hope from Holy Scripture. She spoke with joy of the hundreds of e-mails she had received and kept for her scrapbook. She constantly praised God for His grace and mercy.
On May 31, 2005, Shelby was transported into the bosom of her savior Jesus Christ after a heart-wrenching, eight-month battle with a rare and unusually brutal from of cancer.
Shelby was known and loved by people in four nations. It was my great honor to serve as one of her church shepherds for a number of years, and to count her my friend. In the eight years that I have known Shelby, I never remember a time when she was not happy, radiant, grateful, and explicitly praising God. Many thousands of others would testify the same. This was a one-in-a-million Christian who had an unusual spiritual gift of faith.
She brought hope to thousands through her mission work with her family throughout the world in regions as diverse as Mexico and South Africa. But Shelby’s heart always pointed to Haiti where she worked alongside, and on behalf of, her mother and father by personally administering Christian schools, participating in discipleship evangelism, and managing significant food distribution efforts for the destitute and needy.
Shelby was a woman who passionately and desperately loved her two fathers. Her ferocious loyalty and honor to her earthly father was only exceeded by her absolute confidence, love, and devotion to her Heavenly Father. At a time when America’s Christian community is rife with self-serving sons, daughters, and men in the spirit of Adonijah, Shelby was known to all as an honoring daughter who modeled the Fifth Commandment. Her ferocious loyalty to her parents, to her convictions, and to her faith were among her defining character qualities. Shelby was one “daughter of Sarah” who would never exchange her rich spiritual inheritance for a mess of pottage. Because she honored her mother and father, because she remained loyal to her Heavenly Father — “it was well” with Shelby, even in the midst of great suffering.
Shelby’s one unfulfilled dream was to marry a godly man like her father. This was not God’s will for her. It was, however, God’s will to allow Shelby to accomplish more for the Kingdom of God in her twenty-three years than most men could hope to accomplish in two lifetimes. In fact, Shelby goes to be with the Lord with a unique testimony that is reserved for only the smallest handful of recorded Bible heroes and modern Christians — Shelby, a sinner saved by grace, lived a life without regret, and without known blemishes on her testimony. To put it another way, there are no “buts” after Shelby’s name. No one says, “Shelby was a Christian, but...”, or, “Shelby had a good witness, but...”, or, “It is just too bad that....:” Shelby Kennedy was the finest example of servanthood, faith, and devotion that most Christians will see in their lifetime.
Some might say: Mr. Phillips, this is just kind posthumous hyperbole. To that I respond: Speak to any in our community who knew this girl and discover that these sentiments are unanimously held by one and by all who knew her.
Shelby’s eight-month battle with cancer was unusually difficult. She was diagnosed with a very rare and unusual sarcoma about which little is known. Those around her described her suffering as simply excruciating. By the time of her death, much of her remaining 90 pounds was the weight of the tumors which relentlessly attacked her and had spread throughout her body. Despite this fact, Shelby remained hopeful, trusting in God and utterly without complaint until the moment of her homecoming to Glory.
Shelby’s passing into eternity will never be forgotten by those who stood beside her. During the final hour of her life, Shelby was at home surrounded by mother, father, brothers, and sisters. They sang hymns and praises, read Scriptures, and offered her words of comfort.
Her last spoken words were to her father: “I love you, Dad.”
Earlier this year, eighty-four-year-old Marine Silver Star Bob Boardman addressed a special memorial service at the Headwaters Ranch to the veterans of the Second World War. He made a stunning point, apropos for us to remember at the death of our sweet sister.
Boardman said this: “When it comes time for you to die, make sure all you have to do that day is to die.”
I will never forget May 31 as the day that Shelby was called to be with the Lord. I was celebrating my fortieth birthday with my family and friends in North Carolina when the news arrived. Though the Phillips family was separated from the Kennedys by more than a thousand miles, we were absolutely sure of one thing — Shelby Kennedy died with no loose ends, no regrets, no unfinished business, and no doubts. All she had to do on May 31, 2005 was to die.
We laid Shelby to rest on Saturday. Her spirit is now with the Lord, but her mortal body remains in Texas where it awaits the resurrection of the dead. During my comments at the memorial and gravesite, I shared the following Scriptures of comfort. They mean a great deal to me.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God and the dead in Christ shall rise first Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)