God is such a God of irony.
Jill Kelly was the beautiful girl from little Attica, NY, just trying to find her way in life. Our paths crossed some years ago while she was dating my step-brother. I taught her a golf swing and how to hit a whiffle ball, typical stuff of idle summer days as restless youths. Life was waiting for us and we were in no hurry to live it.
Jim Kelly wanted to win a Super Bowl more than anything else in this world. Known as a tough competitor who was so intense about competing he would throw up before games; Jim was about finishing first, he was about winning it all. But it was never meant to be; it was all just a bit too far wide right to ever come true.
A short time after Jill and my step-brother broke up; she was introduced to Jim. Being married to a all-pro quarterback was not on Jill’s life to-do-list. “Small Town Girl Marries the Big Time Quarterback” is the stuff movies are made of but not necessarily one Jill wanted to star in. But God….He knew what would lie ahead. They had to get married, it was in His script.
So was heart-ache. The marriage was rocky and their son was born with a disease that would take his life by age 9. For Jim and Jill life could not get any harder. Super Bowl glory and lazy summer afternoons swinging at whiffle balls were a distant past now. Eternity was the present. What was the point in all this pain and loss? Why? Why us?
God’s kingdom is upside down. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Sometimes God has to turn our lives upside down to get our souls right side up. Jim chased after football glory with all his might and never found what he was looking for. His one and only son was never able to call out any signals or even take one snap. But God…He was working in Jill’s life. He was about to turn their lives right-side up.
The loss of her son led Jill to discover her need to embrace another son who died; the Son of God. Emptiness is a place where we find God. Loss is primer for victory. You see, only the blind rejoice at being able to see. Only the broken know they have been made whole. Jill saw her sinfulness and her need for a Savior. She trusted in Christ and was born again. Life was waiting for her again, this time she couldn’t wait to live it.
Jim saw his wife’s faith and as the Apostle Peter counseled; Jill’s conduct and faith would be used by God to help bring Jim to saving faith. Together they began to heal and pick up the pieces of their lives together. They were going to live happily ever-after. But God…was merely preparing them for another heartache. This time though, they would have God to go through the trial with.
Jim was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. He had surgeries and treatments and it looked as if he was finally about to beat his biggest opponent. But that is not how it goes when you are Jim Kelly. Cancer has come back after halftime with all the tenacity of a much hated rival. The game is back in doubt.
Here is the irony; Jim has already won. He is a champion because Jesus is his champion. The man who has endured so much loss and heartache is, in reality, the biggest winner in this thing called life. Super Bowl rings are of no help in the fight for life, but faith guarantees the victory. The last will finish in first.
Pray for Jim, Jill and their girls. Pray that God would be their hope and strength in the coming days and weeks. Pray that the God of irony would use the Kelly’s to show that real meaning and victory in life comes not from gain but loss. Jesus said; “For what does it profit for a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his own soul?” Ironic indeed.