NEW YORK, N.Y. (Christian Examiner) - In a poignant moment for daytime television, Kathie Lee Gifford thanked her Today Show family and viewers for their support following the unexpected death of her husband, Frank Gifford, earlier this month and shared several stories, not about the Hall of Famer Gifford's football achievements, but about his faith.
"As a young child, Frank asked Jesus into his heart and that remained with him the rest of his life," Gifford said. "He strayed from his faith on occasion, but his faith never left him."
She said that after the couple met and began sharing their faith together, "it became more and more important."
"[Frank would] want you to know that he died with complete peace, he knew every sin he'd ever committed was forgiven, he had the hope that he would be with the Lord and we would someday be with him as well," Gifford said, as she sat with her co-host of eight years, Hoda Kotb. "That is the foundation of the Christian faith - forgiveness, grace and hope - and those of you who are hurting today or feel hopeless, it might be the answer for you. In fact, I know it's the answer for you."
Gifford told how her husband's childhood, growing up in a poor family during the Depression where sometimes the only food they had to eat was dog food, greatly influenced the gratitude he showed throughout his life, and that, despite the family's severe circumstances, his parents always made sure their family attended church wherever they were.
"They'd go to church, every week as a family, [and] that kept them together as a family through the darkest, darkest times," Gifford said.
"That shaped the man Frank became very, very much. He knew what it was like to be hungry, he knew what it was like to literally have no clothes on his back," Gifford recalled. "So people who think he was born with this silver spoon in his mouth, he [would always say] 'we didn't have spoons!' It made him so grateful - honestly, he's the most grateful human being I've ever known and it colored everything he did."
"His world got smaller as his God got bigger," Gifford shared, her voice cracking, as she held back tears.
Picking up stones like David
Gifford, who turned 62, August 16 - a birthday she shared with her husband who would have been 85 - described a life-changing moment for her husband that happened on a trip the family took to the Holy Land a couple of years ago.
"We went to a place called the Brook Elah where a shepherd boy fought a different kind of giant, named Goliath," Gifford said. "Our friend Ray took us down there, he said to pick up a stone 'cause that's what David did.
"As Ray pointed out to us, the miracle wasn't that the shepherd boy was able to kill the giant, the miracle was that the shepherd boy who already had all the skills he needed in life trusted in a living God - not a religion - but a living God. Frank came back with a completely new perspective," Gifford said, adding that guests to their home who wanted Frank to show them his trophy room were always taken past the trophies and Hall of Fame achievements and directly to the stone he'd brought back from the Brook Elah.
Shortly after their trip, Frank Gifford gave a stone to the couple's daughter, Cassidy, in honor of her high school graduation and to their son, Cody, after his college graduation, asking them both, "Where are you going to throw your stone for the Kingdom of God? What is your stone, and where are you going to throw it?
"If you ever leave a legacy for your children, let it be that you taught them friendship with God and you taught them to find their stone, and show it, throw it hard and well and transform this hurting world that needs God's love so much," Gifford said. "Frank would want you to do this today, if you see a stone somewhere, pick it up and ask yourself that question, what is my stone, what is the gift that only I can do in this world to make it a better place?"
Co-hosts impacted by Gifford's example of faith
During Gifford's absence from her show with Hoda Kotb, Jenna Bush Hager filled in as co-host. As Kotb and Hager remembered special moments with Gifford, they talked about their friend Gifford's obvious faith. Sharing how she'd visited Gifford at her home in Connecticut just hours after Frank had died, Kotb said, in tears, she "was in awe of that whole family.
"You know how [Kathie Lee] talks about her faith," Kotb said to Hager, "and I know she lives her faith, and I believe it, but I gotta tell you, I didn't believe it more than when I saw her after [the death of Gifford's husband]. Because Frank had passed away hours before and she said she was rejoicing in his life, and when she said it, you felt it."
Hager added that Gifford had also personally taught her "a lot about faith. It's one thing to talk about it, and it's another to live your faith."
The Giffords were married in 1986 and Frank Gifford was a familiar face to Kathie Lee and Hoda viewers, frequently stopping by the show for various occasions, in addition to being the subject of many of Kathie Lee Gifford's stories on the show. He was known for his achievements in football, as a television sports commentator, and one of the founders of the Special Olympics. He died at his home Sunday morning, August 9, of natural causes. He was 84.
Clip goes viral
Gifford's open and honest time of sharing with her viewers struck a chord with others, and the clip of what she said has been shared more than 19 million times on social media in the first 24 hours since the show aired. On Tuesday's show, Gifford expressed her surprise and appreciation, telling her fans she was "so glad it resonated with so many of you out there."