What is the most important date in your life?
Daniel Kelly explains what is his most important date.
Those are the numbers tattooed going down the front of my left leg. It is the day my life took a sudden and very unexpected turn.
Back during that time period in my life, I had my dream job as an NFL scout for the New York Jets. It was a really rough time too, personally.
My two year old daughter, Bailey Hope was going through stage four cancer and my whole world had been absolutely turned upside down watching her go through all that pain and suffering.
I was doing as much scouting as I could, in between spending as much time as I could at the hospital with Bailey Hope, who was not quite two years old.
My now ex-wife Ruth, myself and Bailey had just moved in with Pastor John Gravagna and his family in East Meadow, NY, not far from the Jets’ facility at the time at Weeb Ewbank Hall on the campus of Hofstra University. They had a small basement apartment we rented in the beginning of August, 2001.
I’ll never forget the day we moved in during a driving rainstorm. Pastor John, a big classic New York guy, offered to help me carry our sofa down the stairs into our new apartment. Bailey had just completed her second round of chemo. I was trying to hold on to the wet sofa going down the stairs when Pastor John looked up at me and said in his booming New York Italian sounding voice, “Hey Dan, there are two kinds of people who live here, those who are saved and those who are gonna be, which one are you?”
I had no idea what he meant by that, but figured maybe it had something to do with God, so I just chuckled uncomfortably, feeling kind of awkward about his question.
At the time I was anything but a church-goer. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with God. I was on my way to becoming an NFL general manager, I thought.
Despite working for the Jets, I was also still a closet Washington Redskins fanatic. This is another story for another day, but I had enough Redskins memorabilia to fill the walls ten times over. So, I asked Pastor John’s wife, Debbie, if it was okay if “I put a few things up on the walls?”
A few days later, Pastor John and his wife Debbie knocked at our door. I I opened it and you should have seen the looks on their faces! There were Redskins posters, pennants, autographed 8×10’s, letters from Joe Gibbs, you name it – – covering every inch of the walls. You really could not even see the color of the paint anymore! Pastor John said, “What are we going to do with all these holes in the walls when you guys move out!!!?” His wife Debbie just looked around with this look of amazement on her face for a few moments before saying with a slight chuckle, “Imagine if you had this sort of passion for Jesus Christ, you could move mountains for God’s Kingdom!”
After the initial shock wore off and a few minutes of general conversation Pastor John asked me boldly, “Dan, have you ever prayed to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” I fired back, “No, but I’ve been baptized and confirmed.” He replied, “Nah…nah…nah…I am not talking about that, I am talking about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ!”
I was caught off guard by this sudden change of subject and honestly by his tone and aggression. I remember this thought going through my mind, “How is it possible to have a personal relationship with someone who walked the earth some 2,000 years ago?” So, I said that out loud to him.
He said, “Give me your hand and repeat after me.” So, I did what he was asking me to do and I repeated what he said was “The sinner’s prayer.”
The next morning Ruth even asked me “If I felt any different?”
“No, not really,” I replied.
Well, that all changed a couple weeks later on the morning of August 31, 2001. I was getting ready to go to the hospital to be with Bailey for the day. Either Ruth or I needed to be with her around the clock, because at her age she was a handful with all the cords, and monitors and everything else that was in her room. Even with us there with her she still managed to pull out her Broviac (chest port used to administer chemo) five times and it had to be surgically reinstalled each and every time.
I walked into the bathroom around 6 a.m. and I looked into the mirror and suddenly noticed my pupils starting to dilate big, small, big small, big small. I suddenly heard this loud voice internally that said, “Drop to your knees and close your eyes,” so I did. Suddenly waves of energy started going through my body, the floor felt like it was moving like I was on a boat on the water. It felt like the floor was rocking up and down like I was on the waves. Chills were going up and down my spine and these non-emotional tears were falling from my eyes, which were still closed. I raised my hands and all I could say was, “I love you God, I love you Jesus, I love you God, I love you Jesus, I love you God, I love you Jesus, I love you God, I love you Jesus, I love you God. I love you Jesus, I love you God, I love you Jesus, I love you God, I love you Jesus, I love you God, I love you Jesus, I love you God, I love you Jesus…” I could literally feel this strong presence like a person standing next to me, but nobody was actually in the apartment at the time with me. The floor literally felt like it was moving to the point I thought Pastor John and his whole family would be woken up – – and then everything just stopped.
I slowly opened my eyes…
The first thought I had was to go and get this Bible my grandma had given me years prior when I was confirmed. I had never opened the white front cover before. It had been in a box. The leather still smelled new. Inside the stiff front cover she wrote, “To my very special boy, Psalm 91:11.”
I turned the crinkly pages for a while before I finally found it, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” Then it really hit me a couple verses later, “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.”
Because he loves me?! Because he loves me?!! That is all I could say over and over just a few minutes before! I never even knew that was in there! Suddenly everything changed. The passion of my heart completely shifted from football to Jesus overnight. Many of the guys I worked with went to New England and my life went a whole other direction. People who had known me for years could not believe what was happening with me and how all I wanted to talk about was Jesus.
Bailey Hope went to be with Jesus a little under four months later on Christmas Day 2001.
Her little life had literally led me to making the most important decision of my life and ever since that day, “083101,” my life has had meaning and purpose unlike anything I could have ever imagined.
Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.