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Frank's Story

Frank Kelly

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I was born in 1965 into a pretty typical 1970's american family, with the exception of some family alcoholism which did have some detremental effects. After high school and welding school, at age 21, I joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Engineering Department on a Guided Missle Cruiser based in Norfolk, Virginia. There had been ups and downs, but I liked my life at that point. I did what I wanted, lived an adventure traveling the world and thought I was basically a good person. 

So one night, on May 19th, 1988 at 3 am, when I was working a midnight watch on board ship with another guy and he asked me if he could talk to me about Jesus, I was polite but direct. “NO THANKS!” I just didn’t see a need. Why would I give up control of a life that I liked to some mystic God. It made absolutely no sense.

Days later, on the evening of May 22, It was time to work another late shift. I was riding to the ship from an apartment on the back of a motorcycle. 

As we were traveling down a neighborhood street, something happened. I don't remember what. What I do know is the motorcycle all of a sudden took off and as we approached an intersection, we were traveling at approximately 90 mph (144 kmph) according to the police report.. The intersection was a “T” so we shot across the intersection and hit the curb on the other side. We were both thrown into the air. The driver was thrown about 45 feet (14 meters) and bounced off of a car. The motorcycle wrapped around a telephone pole about 2 ½ meters (8 ft.) off of the ground close to the point of impact from what I was told. I was thrown about 70 feet (22 meters) and impacted a car with my head and chest hard enough to move the car about 4 feet (1 1/2 meters)

As emergency personel showed up, I was uncounscious and without a pulse or breathing. 

They began emergency treatment and had revived my heart and breathing  by the time we arrived at Virginia Beach General Hospital, the closest. At the emergency room, according to medical records, they assessed my condition. They determined I had a concussion (wearing a good helmet prevented instant death) 2 shattered vertebrae in my neck (C-4 and C-5), leaving me paralyzed from the neck down. I also had a lacerated heart, crushed organs including my lungs, spleen, kidneys, liver and pancreas. Other broken bones included a broken pelvis, ribs, shoulder blade  and numerous other smaller fractures and laserations, according to the medical records.

They rushed me into surgery and 3 surgeons worked to try and stabilize my condition and make repairs.

Over the next couple of days, infection and pneumonia set in. Swelling left my lungs uncapable of functioning and I went back to surgery to have a tracheostomy performed and I was put on a ventilator. I had 12 drainage tubes in my body; 3 in my lungs and 9 in various other places to try and minimize swelling. I had an incision from my chest to my groin which was left partially open to do more repairs to blood leaks that kept popping up. My head was secured to the bed with weights to secure my neck and the bed rotated to help prevent my lungs from filling with fluid. My brain was a fog; I had no idea where I was or what happened and now I was unable to speak. 

Over the next week, things continued to get worse. My lungs were continually filling with fluid and whenever the doctor would drain them my heart would stop and I would have to be resussitated. Fortunately, I only have one memory of that. 

At the end of the week, the cardiac event happened twice in an evening and showed no signs of stopping. The Doctor prepared my family, who were now there, for the obvious; that I probably would not survive much longer.

As they waited, something else was happening. A small prayer group was meeting at a Methodist church in my hometown of Shawnee, Oklahoma. I was on their list. I know this because I recieved a "prayer gram" in the mail stating the date and time they prayed for me. I found it months later in a box of cards I was given and I still have it. The date and time corresponded with the excact time that my family was waiting for me to die.

My medical records indicate that about 10 minutes after the doctors gave my family the news and that prayer group prayed for me, I went from being unconcsious to being awake, stable and trying to speak.  And after that moment, I began to improve, though slowly.

But even with this improvement in my condition I still had big hurdles in front of me. I was paralyzed from the neck down and doctors told my family I would be that way for the rest of my life. But during the next several months, as my condition began to improve, I began to move one finger, just a little. 

As soon as my condition stabilized enough I was transferred, first to a Naval Hospital and eventually, a VA Hospital to begin physical rehabilitation. They determined that  I was always going to always be paralyzed from the neck down, so I should focus on accepting my condition and learning to live whatever life I had left. By that time, I had also acquired an addiction to morphine and valium which I had been given in heavy doses for quite some time to deal with my injury. I was scared and my brain was still a constant fog. I wanted to walk again. It seemed like an attainable goal (which I'm sure it does when you are taking heavy narcotics) and anything else was a waste of time as far as I was concerned.

I became a horrible patient there. I began to refuse my medicine and started trying to weed myself off of the narcotics. I refused to do their "community readjustment" classes until they started giving me the rehab to walk again, They wouldn’t do that because my neck was too unstable to try. You couldn’t blame them for their position. I’m sure every person that came in to that hospital had those hopes. As far as the medical staff was concerned I was probably just another person who wouldn’t accept the obvious. I felt like I was alone against the world and in many ways, I was. So I made them my enemy and we battled for weeks. Weeks turned into months. Finally, they labled me an uncooperative patient and discharged me.

I got the last laugh though.  Upon leaving the hospital, I stopped in front of the nurses desk, got up and pushed my wheelchair out of the hospital, which revealed what I was up to the last few months. In the rehab hospital, movement began to slowly return, and I would excersise, on my own, whatever I could. The feeling in my limbs never returned. But slowly, the movement did. Since they wouldn't let me do physical therapy with my legs, when the staff put everyone to bed, I would wedge my chair between the wall and the bed and try to pull myself up and practice standing, and eventually stepping, which led up to that discharge day. 

At this point I had absolutely no feeling from the knees down, but the muscles worked enough that I could work out and get stronger as time went by. During the quiet moments I would think, in general terms, about God, that 3am conversation on the ship and I even looked at a Bible a couple of times. Deep down I wondered what God had to do with all of this, but I didn't know what. I just didn't understand much more at that point. I also thought it was my efforts that got me where I was.

After my discharge, I went back to Oklahoma on an emotional high, ready to conquer the world. I was working out on my own and was actually walking pretty well for just being 3 years or so since my accidnt.  I enrolled in college and got married to my wife Jamie in 1991. Over time, I would be healthy, then sick and eventually I developed a wound on the bottom of my foot that, in 1992, had put me back in a wheelchair. After about 8 months of struggling to fix it, they finally performed surgery that would repair the problem by removing the bone in one toe and replacing it with a metal rod. After waiting about 2 weeks, the day had finally arrived to remove the  stitches and get out of my wheelchair, again. But on the way to the doctors office, a truck hit the car I was riding in. Upon impact, my feet went into the floorboard and the rod came out of my foot and also refractured my shoulder blade.

After a short time, I recovered physically, but something changed in me, mentally. I started to fail. I became bitter and isolated. I began to wonder about this God issue and why he would lead me so far, only to abandon me now. Hadn’t I been good enough? Eventually, things got somewhat better, but I was left with a void. This God issue kept bugging me.

My wife, who was raised a Baptist but had not been involved much since our wedding, suggested maybe church had the answer. We looked around and finally attended a small country church in Shawnee, Oklahoma called Aydelotte Baptist Church. The friendly people were annoying (I had become quite the antisocial person) but I promised Jamie that I would, at least, listen to the sermon. I still remember it to this day. it was on Romans, Chapter 5.

Romans 5:1-11 (ESV)
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

As I thought about this, I realized God wanted a relationship and I had ignored Him. He is Holy, I am not. Since the two cannot mix, my sin must be accounted for. Jesus paid the price for that so the relationship could be restored. It wasn’t about how good I was, I couldn’t be good enough. When left to fend for myself in life, I literally died.  I didn’t deserve the chance. There was nothing I could do.  I thought of my 3 am encounter where I denied Christ. 

But I realized, that was the definition of grace. There was absolutely no way I deserved for Jesus to pay my penalty on the cross, yet he did it anyway out of love for me and the restoration of that relationship.

Jesus had saved my life, both in this life and for all of eternity. I realized He had been with me, longingly watching and helping me despite my rejection. I had recieved physical healings, from God. But the most important healing that I needed I was to recieve at that moment. It was time to heal my heart. It was time to let go of self pride and accept the gift that only He could offer.

 I dedicated my life to Christ and was baptized in 1993.

My life continued to grow after that, at times the easy way and at times, the hard way. I wish our walk as Christians could be all fun and happiness but as we read in verse 3, though we may be able to rejoice in our sufferings now, we still have them.

And around 2002 I was to endure more. My neck vertebrae had deteriated to the point that it was affecting my nervous system again. I had to have a surgery where they removed 2 of my vertebrae out of the front of my neck, then took some of my hip bone and made new ones and put them back in, and then used a piece of titanium to stabilize it. The surgery was a success, but it left me in bad shape physically and I had to go back to a rehabilitation hospital.

I’d like to say I was excited to suffer for the God, but it was hard, again. I wondered what the purpose was and at times, it was a bit depressing. I was feeling like I had to start all over again.

But I persisted and soon after I was discharged and I began to resume my life. That is when I was told about an advertisement for a national ministry who was selecting a certain number of cyclists for a 3 day cross state bicycle ride that would raise money for their national effort.

I was not a cyclist and the last thing I should have ever considered doing was ride a bike over 180 miles. I could barely walk, let alone take on a project like that. But I felt a call to do it. So I bought a bike and trained as best I could.

On april 5th, 2002 I lined up with the other riders selected and I rode.That first day I rode around 60 miles and as I rode up to the finish line in Oklahoma City I found out the local television and print media had picked up my story and wanted to speak. I spoke with them about my story, the national ministry and why I supported it. They filmed while I sat on my bike, and then I was helped to my room because my legs were exhausted. I wondered how I would go on.

The next morning I was still tired but felt like it was in my power to continue. So we took off and did around 70 miles and by the time we reached the finish halfway to Tulsa, I was done. I couldn’t move. My body had literally locked up that night. I was scared, defeated and knew I could not go on, on my own. That night, my wife and I prayed knowing God would have to carry me on but figuring in reality I was done.

That last day, we were scheduled to do the last 65 mles. I woke up the same. I didn't want to say I quit, so I figured I would get on my bike and the officials would see how bad I was and make me stop. But, as the other riders and I approached the start zone a sort of peace came over me. I still felt bad but then I realized that at least I had showed up that last day. I didn't quit. I felt like I had won. So anything else was extra. I could just peddle at my own pace and when I was done that was it. There was no longer any fear or pressure. I thanked God for lifting that burden.

As we took off, over the first couple of miles I began to loosen up. It was a cooler, cloudy day. Clouds turned to rain, which turned into storms, but I didn’t want to quit. I was no longer worried about a hill or a finish. I would just pedal and commune with God and think about what He was doing at that moment and how much I appreciated it and just ride some more. So I rode at I guess a pretty fast pace. I didn’t know it, but the organizers had pulled people off the road til the storm let up and loaded them in a van. But I had got far enough ahead that they couldn’t find me until much later. This is a pic my wife Jamie took, 

At the end, we regrouped and finished together. As the Tulsa media interviewed me at the finish, I was able to give glory to the God, as well as those Christian people who had supported and mentored me since my conversion. As I thought about the events later on, I realized that I had begun, in some small way, to develop God's purpose for me instead of my own and with that, hope and with hope, faith in God. Christ was with me. True change was happening.

Christ was with me when I was laying on the pavement after smashing my body into the car when I had my accident. Christ was with me when I was in the emergency room and the intensive care in the hospital and the doctors told my parents I wouldn’t make it through the night. He was there during my rehabilitation when everyone told me to just quit and accept my injuries. And He was there in 1993 when he turned on that light and I saw the need to follow Him. He was there during my second surgery and lifted me up and then helped me through a bike ride that seemed impossible. And I’ve done many other rides since. I’ve even competed 3 times in a 100 mile endurance race in 100 degree temps. When I stumble and repent, His free grace restores me.

He healed my heart and gave me peace. I still have the consequences of my inuries to deal with. Infections, joint failures, etc. I'm in and out of a wheelchair sometimes. But he has also given me purpose and that keeps me going. I'm in my fifties now.

God has used me during these times for many kinds of service all over the United States. Sometimes church construction, sometimes evengelism ministry, I've traveled to South America to do the same and serve alongside people there. I've played in my church praise band. My wife and I being foster parents for years and eventually adopted our daughter, Courtney in 2008. I became an ordained deacon in 2013.

In 2019, My church asked me to head up an effort to start a free medical clinic and free pharmacy. It was a huge experience for someone with no experience. But, with a lot of research and work as well as help from God and others, it is open and I have become the director. Covid-19 in 2020 was a trial by fire. But we have done well. My weaknesses and inexperience just lifts up God as the true creator of it.

Too many times, because we are alone and scared we are afraid to seek our purpose. Maybe we think God will not restore us or maybe He has overlooked us, so we hold onto our victmnhood, like a worn out security blanket. It is akward to come to God in our current state.

It is interesting, that, Jesus was on the Earth for around 40 days after his ressurection. The Disciple Peter had to feel awkward also. He had bragged that he would never abandon Jesus no matter what happened. Yet, within days he had denied knowing Jesus three times publically during the crucifiction, fullfiling what Jesus said would happen. During the 40 days post-ressurection, when we arrive at John Chapter 21, Jesus appeared again to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, and had a charcoal fire and a meal already prepared for them, Peter had to wonder. The only other time that kind of fire was mentioned in the Bible was the fire Peter was around when he screamed "If I know that man Jesus may my soul be damned to hell," on thr 3rd denial, the night of Jesus' crucifiction.

Up until that time, and according to Scripture it was the third time they had spent time together since the resurection and they had never talked about the denial, even though they both knew it had happened. How Peter must have felt while they were eating around that fire. In verse 15, after the meal, when Jesus asked Peter directly, "Do you love me more than these?" a slight dig reminding him of Peter's assertion in Mathew that even if everyone else abandonded Jesus, Peter NEVER would, Peter knew the moment had come. He had failed Jesus in the worst way and it was time to answer for it. "Yes Lord, you know that I do," was his response, probably anticpating the horrible conversation that was about to happen.

Yet Jesus responded, "Tend my lambs." Two more times Jesus asked. Two more times Peter grievingly responded yes, excactly as many times as he had denied Jesus before during His crucifiction and two more times Jesus said "Feed my sheep." Jesus demonstrated forgiveness to a broken and repenting Peter. He restored him and gave him the responsiblity of leading the church on earth. The essence of grace...

Jesus offers us that also. Romans 5:8 tells us that Jesus died for our sins while we were still sinners. He wants us restored. He wants us to have peace. He wants to give us a purpose.

Questions? Email me at JamesFranklinKelly

 

Pictures (L-R) Frank 1n 1988, months ofter his accident, 2003 in a 100 mile endurance race, preaching on a mission trip in Brazil, and, playing bass in his own church's praise band. continuing to serve even when he is forced back into a wheelchair in 2015.

 

 

Our potential is another of God’s gifts to us!

 
  May 2021  
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Frank Kelly

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    Shawnee, Oklahoma 74801
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