Most everyone knows I’m from Upstate NY. Although my hometown is Corning, I received my BA from the State University of New York at Geneseo. It was 1990-92 when I was there.
The school for the most part was divided into two categories: Upstate NY and NYC/Long Island. Now remember the time frame. Come Superbowl time, it was the Buffalo Bills and NY Giants. Talk about a battle. No, not the football teams. My friends.
When it came down to that one kick that unfortunately didn’t give the Bills a win, my dorm shook. No lie. The uproar between upstate and downstate probably scored on the Reichter scale.
Those were the Jim Kelly years and Geneseo was close enough to Buffalo somehow as an Upstate-er I felt a connection. There were times we heard the players used our track or were on their way to party at the exact places we were at. We had friends of friends of friends who had been to parties. He was part of my college scene by association and again, with that Superbowl moment, embedded into my college memories for life.
It seemed fitting as I graduated and moved on, the Bills kind of faded as well, at least as far Superbowl invitations and national fanfare. I’d hear Jim Kelly news here and there but I was busy carving out my place in Upstate NY.
The next phase where I felt a connection was after college, after marriage, after children. I was evolving as a woman of faith—not as tied to approval as I once was, but still not where I am today. It was the darkest time of my life. My dad was dying. My husband was on the precipice of moving to Ohio for a new job. Our baby was still sick with multiple breathing issues that often had her hospitalized. I wasn’t healed from her near death and how it came at a doctor’s hand. I heard about a women’s luncheon at our local radio station where Jill Kelly would be sharing. I knew Jill was married to Jim and that they had the little boy, Hunter. I thought it would be a nice break to see what she had to say.
Jill’s testimony remains a spiritual marker in my life. As she shared life with Hunter she talked about how each ER visit to them could mean his last. Our situations were different yet I knew that fear she spoke of. How many ER trips we’d endured. Our pede even gave me his personal cell in case I needed it. He had to convince me she was going to live to see her first birthday. When Jill spoke, the grief imploded and I sobbed as she spoke. She was so honest about her past and where her faith was at that moment. Where Jim was at spiritually. Then she shared a verse that was helping her through it all—the therapies, the ER visits, caring for her daughters, encouraging Jim.
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8
I grabbed that verse and held on for dear life as we navigated more grief, sickness and change. I followed the headlines as Hunter left this world. I never forgot that verse. As our daughter stabilized I prayed for the Kelly family. I couldn’t even fathom the depth of their grief.
Fast forward and I then read about Jim’s cancer. I lifted up prayers and continued to follow headlines. When I read the cancer came back, I felt my gut drop. I wanted to do something for them, still remembering how Jill’s talk gave me the courage to move forward in faith. How so many great college memories were intertwined with Jim and the Bills. The only thing I could think of was to pray. I wrote one out on the Facebook page, returning that same verse to them in their great time of need.
During this time I saw Erin’s posts on social media. As difficult as her situation was, a young woman already fluent in grief, sharing their journey to encourage others. I saw such a gift in her writing and a maturity in her faith.
And here we are. Kelly Tough is Erin’s account of her life and faith and I want to say more than that, but I’ll wait for my review tomorrow. But for a family I’ve never met, somehow when I read the Kelly name, I always perked up.
And I think I always will.