Big Changes, New Dreams: Kathie Lee Gifford and Jim & Jill Kelly
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Kathie Lee: Where your joy is, is where your bliss will be. And where your dreams are discovered and where your dreams are brought to life is where life will bloom and blossom within you.
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. The one constant in our lives is change. As we grow, we watch our lives take on new challenges, gather new people in our circles—and even invite in new dreams. Our guests today remind us that no matter what season we are in, God can use our new dreams for His glory: legendary entertainer Kathie Lee Gifford, and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and his wife, philanthropist Jill Kelly.
Kathie Lee Gifford was a born entertainer. From the time she was a little girl, she was putting on plays for classmates, singing onstage, and writing her own performances—as her parents cheered her on along the way. In her new season of life, Kathie Lee is reflecting on what—and who—has helped her create her fifty-year career in entertainment, and she wants to help kids recognize the dreams God has put in their own hearts, which she talks about in her new children’s book Hello, Little Dreamer.
The Path to a 50-Year Career
Kathie Lee: My very first memory of being a little girl was putting on shows. It has always been my dream to be an actress and a singer—and never to be a talk show host because there was no such thing as talk show hosts when I was growing up. First television show I ever saw was The Flintstones in black and white. So I just knew that naturally, I was born—I would say I came out of the womb—with a pratfall and a rimshot—ba-dum-bum.
And I just took off from there, putting on a show anytime I could, writing, directing. I remember being in the first grade, six years old. I went to my teacher, and I showed her my favorite little book. And I said, “Can I write this and direct it and act in it for the whole show, for everybody in my class?”
She goes, “You want to do that?”
I said, “Yes, please!”
I was always like that. And I look at my little birth announcement that my parents put out, and it’s the Eiffel Tower, where I was born in Paris, and a big spotlight. And it says, “A star is born.” [laughs] Everybody think their child is born [a star], as you know. And they called me Sarah Heartburn instead of Sarah Bernhardt when I was a little girl, Sarah Bernhardt was the most famous actress in the world [at the time].
They were the kind of parents that went to every performance, but they were also the kind of parents that went to every rehearsal for every performance. They loved it. My sister was by far the better singer between the two of us. And I’ll never forget, I went to her voice teacher once, because all I wanted to do was sing like Barbra Streisand. And I remember I went to her teacher and I sang a few—I don’t remember—I think it was just scales or something. I don’t know what I sang, but it wasn’t very much. And she looked at me, she said, “Oh, Kathie, stick to harmony.” That was probably the best thing I could hear, because it made me mad. I said, “I’ll show her I can sing.” And I started singing every chance I could. I would put on my Barbra Streisand records and for hours and hours and hours, try to hit those notes, try to hold a note out as long as she could try to phrase it just as she did. And I literally spent my whole childhood teaching myself how to sing. I don’t know why, but it was such an innate desire in me to sing. And I never dreamed that I would actually make a living at it. I thought, Gee, if I could just be in the chorus, boy, if I could just be somebody’s understudy.
I never had the dreams to be famous. Ever. That’s sort of the irony of my life. Never. It never occurred to me that I would be talented enough or blessed enough to be a star. I just wanted to make my living doing it. I knew that because my dad said to me when I was a little girl, “Honey, find something you love to do and then find a way to get paid for it.” And so I was very, very blessed to start singing professionally when I was ten years old. My sister was eight, and we were paid five dollars each to sing at my grandmother’s birthday party. My dad used to tell me, “If you get paid for something, that makes you a professional.”
I was Maryland’s Junior Miss. And that was not a dream of mine at all, a beauty pageant. It was a talent and scholarship program. But that led to me moving ultimately to Hollywood to pursue my dreams. And I was sitting in the set of a soap opera called Days of Our Lives. And I was what they called an atmosphere person. You weren’t allowed to say a word, and, boy, did I milk that. You’re not supposed to be so overt that you take away from the principals. They had to call me down a few times. “Don’t move around so much!”
And then ultimately, the producer came up to me, said, “Can you act?” And you learn everything you’re supposed to say, whatever somebody asks you, you’re supposed to give them back the same question. “Can I act?” Don’t don’t say yes or no. Just ask the question.
So I remember I would be the voice of Flight 202 leaving for Portland, you know, those kinds of things. And my voice was always an asset. I didn’t realize, I thought I had to sing to have it be an asset. But it wasn’t that. It’s something that people recognize many times even now, long before they look at me and go, “Oh, it’s you!” They’ll go, “I turned because I know your voice.”
So I don’t even know then that I was developing all the different skills. But the point being that, yes, the dreams were in me, built into me as I was being built as a human being as well.
Helping Little Dreamers Find Their God-Given Passion
I truly do believe that we ask the wrong question, basically, of children. And people asked me this my whole life: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I think that’s the wrong question to ask children. I think it’s not what they want to be so much as what does God want you to be? What dreams did He put inside of you that He will use for His glory to make your life rich and abundant and joyful and blessed?
“People asked me this my whole life: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I think that’s the wrong question to ask children. I think it’s not what they want to be so much as what does God want you to be?” – Kathie Lee Gifford
That’s what I’m really trying to share with little children in my new book, Hello, Little Dreamer, that God doesn’t make mistakes with us. And you are perfect in His sight.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” I’m remembering now, that was in Jesus Calling this morning. And I have not just Sarah Young to thank, because she always puts in everything—Jesus Calling, Jesus Lives, Jesus Today—all of her books are just chock full of scripture. And you can read a scripture a thousand times and it won’t have the impact. It sometimes will have that one day for you.
And the thing that I love so much about Sarah and the books that she’s written and the messages that she has passed on for years now, in spite of great pain and suffering in her own life, is that even my hairdresser today was saying, “Oh, I read her books every morning and they give me just what I need for today. Just what I need right now.” And this is what everybody says: “I feel like she’s written it and God has given her that message just for me today.” That’s the miracle of what God has done in her life.
I was meant to be an entertainer. He made me an entertainer. I’ve been doing it professionally for over fifty years. God has blessed me in so many ways. And that’s been a tremendous, tremendous blessing. Has it been a challenge? Yeah. Have I felt alone at times? Oh, yeah. But I always knew that that was God’s special place for me.
“I can’t tell you how many people I was honored and privileged to lead to the Lord because I happened to be on a movie set, on a TV set, or in a recording studio or on location.” – Kathie Lee Gifford
And I am the same human being when I’m on a movie set as I am when I’m singing in a church. And God used that. I can’t tell you how many people I was honored and privileged to lead to the Lord because I happened to be on a movie set, on a TV set, or in a recording studio or on location someplace. And people that would never read the Bible, people that would just turn off a television show that was talking about Jesus or God or anything else, they’d watch me. They’d watch it the way I lived my life, the way I treated people. Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words. Love people. When you love people, that’s when they sense Jesus.
“Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words. Love people. When you love people, that’s when they sense Jesus.” – Kathie Lee Gifford
When you love people—and that’s what Jesus called us to do. Love one another as I have loved you. They will know you are Christians by your love for one another. It didn’t say, “Hit that note great.” Didn’t say, “Show up on time.” All those things are wonderful. All those things you have to do. But He said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul.”
New Seasons, New Dreams
When anybody says to me, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I want to be. I like certain things.” And I go, “What do you like the most? What makes you happy every time you do it? When you were a child and you were growing up, what was the one thing your mother couldn’t get you to stop doing? Your father couldn’t make you come in to go to dinner because you were having so much fun?” And they’ll say, “Oh, I was flying a kite. I’d like to put kites together and fly them.” That’s what you’re supposed to do. I really believe that. You’re supposed to build things and watch them soar. That’s what I love, too. I love to sing. Then you’re supposed to sing.
The Bible talks about how, you know, our body may be wasting away, but we are being renewed in our hearts and in our spirits every day. And that’s that’s what gives me the energy I’ve got. I’m six-sixty years old and I feel like three twenty-two year olds, you know. That’s about to change in a month. I don’t want to talk about it, but you know what? Thank God I’m moving on to the next season, the next year.
And when you embrace that, as opposed to fearing it, again, we’re not to fear anything. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and someone said to me the other day that one translation of that that they had read was, “I can do all seasons of my life through Christ, who strengthens me.” That’s true.
I’m in a brand-new season, I’m a widow now, my empty nest, my kids are off. One of them’s married. The other’s about to get married. I’ve moved away from the home I had for forty years, in the Connecticut and New York area. And I’m down here in beautiful Tennessee, a whole new life, new world, new challenges, new friends. And that’s just the goodness of God to give me that.
I couldn’t wait. I was ready, ready for the next season with the Lord. I didn’t come here alone. He opened the way for me to be here. He’s brought everything I need, everything I could want. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in in a very long career. More balls in the air. And I don’t juggle very well, but I’ve got more balls in the air right now, more projects that I’m working on. And I’m excited about them. And they’re fresh and new.
“I’ve never been confused at all about what I’m supposed to do. And I think that’s because I was pursuing my dreams. I can’t even imagine what God’s got for me next.” – Kathie Lee Gifford
We were born to co-create with our creator. That’s just as true as it can be. And so I’ve never been confused at all about what I’m supposed to do. And I think that’s because I was pursuing my dreams. I can’t even imagine what God’s got for me next.
Narrator: Kathie Lee’s new children’s book, Hello, Little Dreamer, is available from your favorite book retailer today!
Stay tuned to Jim & Jill Kelly’s story after a brief message about a brand-new edition of Jesus Calling that’s perfect for note-takers.
Many Jesus Calling readers have expressed that they have written notes in the margins of their own Jesus Calling, remembering important life moments and prayer requests. Now, there’s a new note-taking edition of Jesus Calling! It has the same great 365 devotions with full written-out scripture verses, and a new layout that leaves space for journaling and recording those inspirational thoughts and memories.
Click here to get a free sample of the note-takers edition of Jesus Calling.
Narrator: Our next guest is NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and his wife, New York Times bestselling author Jill Kelly. After a career guiding the Buffalo Bills to a record four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, Jim retired and looked forward to spending more time with his family, including his newborn son Hunter. But a few months into Hunter’s life, the Kellys began to notice their son wasn’t developing like their other children—and received a devastating diagnosis that he wouldn’t live to see his second birthday. After losing their son, the Kellys channeled their grief into an organization called Hunter’s Hope, which helps other families who are dealing with the same disorder in their own children. They share how they’ve learned to weather the uncertainty of wading through suffering—even as Jim himself has battled with three rounds of cancer—and how they continue to place their faith in God to help them survive as they’ve looked to become “difference makers” in the lives of others.
Jim Kelly: I’m Jim Kelly, former Buffalo Bills quarterback and pro football Hall of Famer, and I’m married to this beautiful girl right here.
Jill Kelly: I’m Jill Kelly. I’m Jim Kelly’s wife, the mother of three children: Aaron, Hunter, and Cameron. Hunter’s in heaven. And I am the president of the Hunter’s Hope Foundation and a New York Times bestselling author.
Jim: I have five brothers. Our whole goal and dream of all of our lives was to be able to take care of our mother and father, because having six boys, we put my parents through a lot, a few fights here and there.
But I was the blessed, fortunate one to make it a little way in the National Football League. I went to University of Miami to play my college career. And we wound up being drafted by the Buffalo Bills, where I decided that I did not want to play there. So I went to Houston and played in the upstart league called the USFL, played for two years. Then finally, one of the best decisions I made in my life would be becoming a Buffalo Bill in 1986. And I played there for eleven years, went to four Super Bowls, and then retired. And I was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Pretty much my whole career in a nutshell.
Meeting Each Other & Starting a Family
Jill: Jim was playing in the Super Bowls at that time, and I had just graduated from college. And a friend of mine who knew someone who knew Jim invited us to go to a party at his house. And my friend and I went, and that’s where we met. It’s obviously one of the funny stories that we share whenever we get to share together, because at this point in time, there’s no social media. I did not have a cell phone, you know, that was just the way life was. I lived at home with my parents.
And the night that I met Jim, at the end of the night, my friend and I went up and I said to him, “Thank you so much for having us. Great party.”
And he said to me, “Well, how do I get a hold of you?”
And I said, “Well, you don’t. But thank you so much for the invite. Nice to meet you.”
And I left. I did not give Jim my phone number, nor did I have a cell phone, and there wasn’t a way for him to find me.
Jim: But I did! And here we are, twenty-three years later.
A Special Son
Jill: When Hunter was four months old—when we brought him home from the hospital, he was perfect. It was an easy pregnancy. He had passed all of his newborn screening tests. He was healthy. It was almost a perfect scenario, really, because we had a daughter, Jim had just retired, and now we have our son.
And so we took Hunter home. We noticed early on that there were things that didn’t seem right. He was irritable all the time. So we thought maybe it was colic. We were talking to the pediatrician often, getting insight from him. I stopped nursing. We started putting him on different formulas, all those sorts of things. And we continued to ask the pediatrician what could possibly be wrong.
And so on his three-month well visit, the doctor was checking Hunter out and she said, “He’s showing signs of cerebral palsy.” And so we were devastated, but we knew just through Jim doing a ton of charity work and interacting with children with cerebral palsy, we knew that they could have a really amazing quality of life. And so we were hopeful.
However, Hunter continued to get worse. And so we continued to talk to the pediatrician and say, “Things are not right.” He wasn’t even able to drink formula anymore. And so we continued to ask questions. And eventually he was checked out by a neurologist and she did a battery of tests and blood work. And at four months of age, Hunter was diagnosed with Krabbe leukodystrophy.
Jim: What that is is it affects white matter in your brain, pretty much everything we take for granted every day: the movement over your arms, your legs, hearing, your sight, your swallowing, all those motor skills.
Jill: And I remember it as clear as yesterday, or this moment, when she said, “There is nothing you can do, there is no cure, and there is no treatment. And your son probably will not live to see his second birthday.” I just remember sitting in her office, and everything up to that moment—I put my hope in all the worldly things, you know, Jim’s I guess celebrity status, Jim’s ability to make things happen. You know, we have money. We have all of these worldly things. And none of those things were going to save Hunter, not one of them. So for me, in that moment of just tremendous fear and anguish and devastation, I knew that I was going to have to seek beyond what this world has to offer.
“In that moment of just tremendous fear and anguish and devastation, I knew that I was going to have to seek beyond what this world has to offer.” – Jill Kelly, on her son Hunter’s Krabbe leukodystrophy diagnosis
We were going to do anything possible for Hunter, but there wasn’t anything. And so the blessing in that is that because there wasn’t anything to save Hunter, we had to look beyond this world to the God who can save all of us. And so ultimately, it wasn’t so much, you know, this death diagnosis that we received. We realized—at least for me, because I came to faith before Jim—that it was God using the suffering of our one and only son to point us to the suffering of His one and only Son, Jesus.
“We realized . . . that it was God using the suffering of our one and only son to point us to the suffering of His one and only Son, Jesus.” – Jill Kelly
We wanted hope. We wanted joy. We wanted Jesus. We didn’t even know that we needed Jesus. We wanted Him because we wanted help for Hunter. So I just started seeking after God. And it was about a year and a half after Hunter’s diagnosis that I surrendered my life to the Lord.
Jim: And of course, there’s so many more things about this whole story, and it would take days to tell it all. But Jill and I, of course, every morning we’d wake up, we thought, Is this the day that the Lord’s going to take our son? And it was tough on us.
It really wasn’t until Jill’s mother said, “You guys, quit treating him like he’s dying. Start treating him like he’s alive.” And she was right. So we started doing things with him that when you never thought we would do: take him snowmobiling, and put him on the back of ponies and horses, and take him for walks around, just the things that we would do that we never would have done before.
And yet I reflect back on Hunter and all the things that he went through in his life and how he pulled through everything and how tough he was and how focused he was on making the next day, and he was a trooper. I mean, the little boy was my hero, of course, by far. He is the reason, without doubt, that I’ve seeked the Lord and that I am where I am now in my walk with my faith.
“He is the reason, without doubt, that I’ve seeked the Lord and that I am where I am now in my walk with my faith.” – Jim Kelly, on his son Hunter
Jill: But ultimately, you know, the doctors did tell us that he would not live to see his second birthday, but he did live to be eight and a half. And the amazing thing about that is that the suffering did not stop, but the way we looked at Hunter’s life after God intervened in our lives changed completely.
Jill: After Hunter was diagnosed and we were told that no one was doing anything for this disease or the children suffering from this disease and the families, we both knew that with the platform that God had given Jim, that we had to do something. We could not just sit back and know that there were other families out there that were going through what we were going through, and children going through what Hunter was going through. So we started Hunter’s Hope.
Ultimately, what God has done, over the past twenty years that the foundation has been in existence, is immeasurably more than anything we would have ever set out to do. But we are so thankful and so blessed to have been able to impact the lives of countless people, especially through newborn screening, because what we learned in the process of having the foundation and starting to do research is that had Hunter had a specific newborn screen to test for his disease at the time that he was born, he had an opportunity. He could have gotten a cord blood transplant and could very well be twenty-three years old right now.
And ultimately, though, our hope is that we provide a greater hope through the foundation. Yes, we want to provide opportunity for an earthly hope and earthly cure or treatment, whatever. But also God, through Hunter, taught us the greater hope. And that’s eternal life. So that’s our greater hope for the foundation as well.
“God, through Hunter, taught us the greater hope. And that’s eternal life. So that’s our greater hope for the foundation as well.” – Jill Kelly
Be a Difference Maker
Jim: When I speak to people, it’s not just with one thought in my mind. It’s more of, How do I make a difference for somebody out there listening? Whether it’s through the struggles they’re having with their marriage, whether it is with their health or somebody in their family’s health, or whether it’s a friend, whether it’s why they’re blaming God for all of the mistakes they made in your life or all of the struggles that they’re having.
You try to make sure they understand from your mindset the things that I’ve been through, and realize that we all go through tough times in our life. But I always try to make people understand it’s about your attitude—your attitude to be a difference-maker, not only in your own life, but people around you’s life, to surround yourself with good quality people. Because a lot of times, you know, people look down on others that are struggling. “Aww, come on, let’s go.” Yeah, you want to make sure they’re tough in the same sense. It’s not always what you say to somebody. It’s how you say it to them to make sure they know where you’re coming from, know that you want to be a difference in their lives.
And as long as what I’m doing today is making somebody want to seek tomorrow, make them want to thank the good Lord for that tomorrow, that’s what it’s about.
“As long as what I’m doing today is making somebody want to seek tomorrow, make them want to thank the good Lord for that tomorrow, that’s what it’s about. “ – Jim Kelly
Narrator: Time and again, Jim and Jill have seen God’s unwavering love present in their lives no matter what was happening. Jill reads a passage from Jesus Always that reflects this truth.
Jill: Jesus Always, February 14th.
Jim: Ooh, what a day.
LET MY UNFAILING LOVE be your comfort. One definition of “comfort” is a person or thing that makes you feel less upset or frightened during a time of trouble. Because you live in such a broken world, trouble is never far away. There are many sources of comfort in the world, yet only one of them is unfailing: My Love! Other sources will help you some of the time, but My tender Presence is with you all of the time. My perfect, inexhaustible Love is not just a thing that makes you feel less upset; it’s also a Person. Nothing in all creation can separate you from Me. And I am inseparable from My Love. As My cherished follower, you can turn to Me for comfort at all times. Since you have this boundless Source of blessing—Me—I want you to be a blessing in the lives of other people. You can comfort those in trouble with the comfort you have received from Me.
I love that verse—with the comfort that we have been given from God, we are to comfort others. And I really feel like that is our story. That is our story. And I love this so much. And, you know, the love of God is immeasurable. It’s beyond our understanding. And to know that His love through us, that we are able to love other people, forgive, comfort, you know, it’s not in and of ourselves that we can do any of these things. It’s all Him at work through us. And what an honor it is and so humbling to be a conduit of God and to be His ambassador and to allow Him to work through us. It’s just overwhelming.
“What an honor it is and so humbling to be a conduit of God and to be His ambassador and to allow Him to work through us.” – Jill Kelly
Narrator: To learn more about Hunter’s Hope and the work that the Kellys are doing, visit huntershope.org.
If you’d like to hear more stories about reaching for our dreams, check out our interviews with pastor Matthew Barnett and children’s book illustrator Richard Cowdrey.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with author and Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae Moore. Lecrae has spent the last few years reaching for healing after living through years of trauma in his past. And after finding restoration, he realized that taking those first steps toward healing is not an easy task—but the end result is worth it.
Lecrae: You’ve got to accept and acknowledge the trauma that you’ve endured, or are currently experiencing. And acceptance is always painful. But denial is deadly. To accept it or acknowledge it could mean a lifetime of difficulties and treatment. But you’re on a journey now of healing and health and hope, because if you can hope, you can heal. I think people avoid acknowledgment because they’re afraid of losing a sense of hope. I’m a firm believer that God is very adamant about making sure we know we have a future and a hope.
Narrator: Want to hear more inspirational stories of people who have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then subscribe today to the Jesus Calling Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And please be sure to leave a review, which helps us reach and inspire others with these stories. Plus, if you like seeing our guests as well as hearing them, you can find video interviews available on our Youtube channel at youtube.com/jesuscallingbook, on Facebook, and on the Jesus Calling Instagram page.