I think I said this to him just about every time we talked, for years now, from the moment I met him.
To many people, Jim was known as The Honeyman, Santa, Brother Jim, Jimmy to his family..
To me, it was often times the use of his first name AT LEAST twice, sometimes more, with an affectionate shake of my head at his latest adventure.
Jim endured many hospital and VA trips and I believe the first time we met, I had signed up to take him a meal on a church mealtrain after
some trouble with sores from his first amputated leg.
My husband said to him, you look Like Uncle Jesse from the Dukes Of Hazzard and he said, "Maybe, but I'm actually Santa."
With a sparkle in his eye and a pretty serious look on his face.
Now, believe it or not, this was seriously before we knew he was always Santa.
And the first time I discovered he was a talker. And I'm a listener.
So it began.
He pointed at pictures, he sure loved his pictures.
Of his family, his mom and dad and told us a little about his boy Dakota and his girls Candace and Nicole. His grandkids.
Pretty sure honey and his warrior groups came up too.
It was a lot for a first meeting:)
We had to go and I think he ended up going out to Ellicot to recover a bit.
Often, after his stay in Ellicot, he would carry his camera with him, he loved taking pictures
in those years.
Telling me about his daughter's latest adventures, his son's graduation, just huge moments he was so proud of and always making sure they were covered in prayer.
One day, he appeared back in church and would have a friendly smile for me.
It started as a hi, as I'm a pretty introverted person,
or so I thought but I needed him more than he ever needed me.
He knew if I know you, I love you, but I couldn't get past myself and he saw way more in me than I ever did or probably will.
He saw what God put there.
A few weeks later ,he told me he heard I was a photographer, a defining moment in our friendship.
I said well I'm just getting started, blah, blah and he told me how he loved to take pictures but nothing fancy..
that he had a friend with 2 small kids in need and was having a rough Christmas and would I take their pictures if he dressed up as Santa?
From then on, we would dream of hitting it big, but most of all, of making kiddos happy. He loved the smiles and he loved being Santa!
I surprised him with a Santa ornament I think it was that Christmas but it may have been the next.
Over the years, he would never accept money for playing Santa and we honestly did a good bit of it without payment at all.
Whether a fundraiser or another family he wanted to bless.
So I'd buy honey that my family wouldn't eat or bring it to post for him for others because I wanted to compensate somehow.
I so loved to surprise him with Christmas cards or a print here and there. When he was in Denver recuperating from his 2nd amputation,
I had given him a Santa key I had got for our sessions we didn't get to do and his face lit up, "The kids will love it, I'll carry it in my pocket."
I found out after his passing he kept it. Something that seemed insignificant, but yet it wasn't.
I loved popping into the hospital in a new Santa shirt almost daily. One in particular says Santa's Favorite Photographer to which he chuckled "Well you're my only photographer."
He became more and more important in my life.
My own family is miles away and rarely seen.. church family...is family.
"Need anything Jim? I can drop anything you need off!" I asked him.
Oh did I ask him so often. Every time I saw him at church, when working the church coffee shop, out in town..
He always said I know but still wouldn't reach out.
I get it. He had a rough road that he probably didn't want me part of, which was perfectly understandable.
"No, Jason is taking me. "Or someone else" ..but he also knew he could call me if he needed me. I annoyingly made that clear I think:)
I asked him every holiday his plans to make sure he was either going somewhere or content with being home. I did not this Christmas and it broke my heart.
He taught me to give.
He was my first thought when we won a military contest here.. what can we give Jim?
It ended up being a lot of Chicfila over the years:)
I dropped off my first outside the family home cooked meal for Easter and I'll never regret it. He enjoyed it.
He had so little, but gave so much to so many.
And gave some more.
To give when you have nothing to give as Jesus has given to us, and in turn it blesses others.
He taught me to pick up a phone again.
And to learn about quite a bit of Santas when I tried to cover his gigs last year.
That quite a few don't have his heart or want to do it for free but there are also some pretty amazing Santas out there I wouldn't know otherwise.
They would say? "You're a photographer? That's unusual.. well yeah but he's my friend!"
He would often say when I said this is hard Jim...running a business is harder than I thought..
"You won't give it up, you love it like I love being Santa."
"Reg should quit and you guys just do it together. You can run the show."
The first time he said that's life Heidi to me I was taken back.
In the past few years, I developed chronic pain issues and when I would complain, he would say, "That's life Heidi."
Made me stop and think about what I was complaining about and to who.
He never complained, he always asked me to pray for people!
His Church Lifegroup!
His friends! And there were a lot.
Jason and Sherry who meant so much to him.
The church itself!
Random people he met out doing his honey!
Santas in his Santa groups.
For Beyond The Battlefield.
Anybody but himself.
I learned about so many people, but most importantly,
he taught me to pray for them and knew he could count on me to do it as our friendship grew.
Looking back now, it is kind of funny to think that so many opened up to him, and in turn, he shared that with me.
And no, I'll never tell:)
Many many weeks I was caught up in the busy of raising kiddos and my hubby being gone on and off for military assignments.
I am not going to lie, I would show up at church just to see him.
Worn out from the week, knowing his talks would make my week better. He may have been the only adult I talked to some weeks. he showed all my kids true, genuine kindness.
And in turn, HIS faith made MY faith grow.
He taught me to open up, reach out, be that person for another broken person.. you may never know in this life.
He is still teaching me.
During our most recent Bible Study together on the book of Revelation..in true Jim fashion, he would go to get back up out of his seat after getting settled..
he finally gave in and would actually ask me to go get him water from the coffee shop.
Which made my day honestly because I tried to help when he wouldn't let me.
When I told him I worried about him so much cause I cared like he was my dad during his December hospital stay last year, he said I'm too young.. how about uncle or brother?
Love you.. fine like an uncle!
So glad I told him that! What he meant to me!
He taught me to not fear.
He had no fear of ANYTHING and had made a bucket list that he worked so hard to fulfill. An amputee jumping out of a plane is all I need to say.
"So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows."(Matthew 10:31)
When I worried about him, he quite often say." Why worry? I know where I'm going."
With his little chuckle and smile.
It was part of our last conversation.
I do know where I'm going Jim and I cannot wait to see you!
Jim, Jim. The impact you have had on so many is enormous, but in my little corner.. you have given me the best gift of all Santa.
While I've been a believer for many many years, to learn to live it and walk it and overcome your own fears and past to build that relationship with Jesus,
it will then show outwardly.
And we all know Jim showed it.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:23-24).