My wife Joey still has a song to sing.
In fact, she has lots of songs that she wants to sing in the future. It’s part of what gives her the strength to push on through all the nausea and pain that she’s been experiencing as she goes through cancer treatment.
That, and a sweet little one that makes even her toughest day, oh so much easier…
Less than a week before we came here to Atlanta, Joey and I went into a studio in Nashville and recorded twelve tracks for a brand new album. It’s a record that Joey has always wanted to do… an album of nothing but old traditional hymns. Since this is a project that has been a dream of hers to do since she was very young, I let her choose all the songs. Most of the ones she chose I knew fairly well, and some I’m still getting familiar with. Songs like… “It Is Well With My Soul”, “Old Rugged Cross”, “I Surrender All”, “How Great Thou Art”, “He Touched Me” and a many others.
I didn’t grow up with hymns or gospel music in my life. I was sorta raised Catholic (mostly because my Mom had been raised Catholic I think) and the few times that we went to church, they didn’t play those kinds of songs there. Much later in life, when I was in the service, I started going to non-denominational churches and slowly became acquainted with these old songs. Now I can’t get enough of them.
Joey was raised singing hymns in the little church in Indiana that her and her family went to growing up. She has always loved them.. and because of her, and because of what God has done in my life, I have learned to love them deeply too. As a songwriter, I’ve also fallen in love with how simple, yet brilliant, the lyrics and melodies to these songs are. They say so much, with so little.
We will travel back home this coming weekend to play sold-out concerts at our farm on Friday and Saturday nights, and then on Sunday evening, we’re going to do a special tv taping at our concert hall for the new hymns album. It’s a lot for us to do, especially since Joey’s in the middle of chemo and radiation right now, and she doesn’t feel well… but this record is important to her, and she wants to do the taping before the next round of chemo takes her hair and most of her energy away.
We’ve been staying in a hotel a block or so from Cancer Treatment Center, and when Joey finishes her chemo and radiation treatments each day at the hospital, she’s been coming back to the room and recording her vocals for this new album. Since we aren’t home and won’t be home much in the next month or so, we set up a small microphone here in the hotel room and in between treatments and taking care of little Indy, Joey’s been singing the songs that mean the most to her. Songs like this one…
And while she sings, Indiana plays at her feet – or sits in a chair nearby, as the chemo courses through her veins – innocently unaware of what her mama is going through. Filled with nothing but love and life, and a light so bright… you can’t help but smile when you’re near her.
Yes, my bride has a beautiful song in her heart… and I believe, the world needs to hear it.
On Sunday we made the drive down to the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Newnan, GA – just outside of Atlanta. We have been looking so forward to this trip, not because it’s going to be easy… but because it’s the next important step in Joey’s treatment to get her body rid of all the cancer that might still be lingering in her body after the surgery.
We’re going to be here in Georgia for awhile, so we loaded what seemed like half the house into our Suburban and headed south.
On our trip down, we made a couple of pit-stops for gas and lunch, and of course… bathroom breaks. But not your normal, every day bathroom breaks. These are Indiana potty-training breaks…
Believe it or not, Joey has had Indiana ‘going’ in her little wooden potty chair since she was about 11 months old (a fan of our tv show made the chair for her and brought to one of our concerts last year). Joey always sits her down on her chair and starts reading to her…and next thing you know, well… mission accomplished. So when you’re on a long drive, and Indy starts showing signs of needing to go on the road… Joey has me pull over and get the potty chair out, so they can do their little routine. It’s the funniest, strangest, sweetest thing. Especially when this time, it’s in the middle of nowhere and starting to rain, so I had to get out the umbrella for them.
Before long we were back on the road and Indy and Joey were happy as can be. We got to Atlanta and checked into the hotel where we’ll be staying for the next four or five weeks. They have a swimming pool, so Indy and I will be spending some time there while Mama does her treatments. Indy loves to play in the water, and I love to play with her in the water, so it works out perfect.
The hospital facility here is beautiful. And like everyone at CTCA in Chicago, the people who work here are amazing. They have welcomed us with open arms, and though we’ve only been here a couple of days…we already feel at home.
Indiana and I’ve had breakfast with Joey each morning at the hospital, then we walk her to her first appointment. Afterwards Indy and I head out on our own adventures. Yesterday I think we walked a hundred miles around the hotel and nearby places here in this sweet little town.
Today my bride has a long day of meetings and tests to get ready for chemo and radiation, so Indy and I will explore some more and be ready when she calls and says it’s time for us to come get her.
And she’ll be there in lobby watching for us. We’re kinda easy to spot. I’ll be the guy in bib overalls with the cute baby on my shoulders.
It’s been over three weeks since my last blog post and update on my bride. Not because anything is wrong – honestly, it’s just because we’ve just been enjoying being together at home, and every day of every week since Joey got out of the hospital has had some ups and downs. But as of about a week ago, things have started leveling out and it’s now easier to see where we are, and where we’re headed from here.
A few days ago, on Monday, Joey had a post-op checkup with her surgeon and some other care-team members in Chicago. It was a quick overnight trip back up to the hospital, so Heidi went with her while I stayed here at home with Indiana. Heidi did all the bag carrying and note taking for her Mom and though it was a long flight and trip for Joey, they both had a wonderful time together.
After a day of blood work and many meetings, the doctors there said that they feel like Joey is doing wonderful. And she really is.
But it was a very rough start for her…
For almost two weeks after her surgery, Joey could barely eat anything. Between the medicine she was on and the nausea it caused, she had very little strength and her weight was dropping daily. After finally bottoming out at a frail 108 pounds, her appetite and her energy level finally started coming back. And though she still has a long road ahead of her, she’s gained a few pounds back, feeling so much better, and it shows.
On the 16th of this month, we will travel to the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Atlanta for 4 to 6 weeks of chemo and radiation. The folks in Chicago graciously arranged it for us to do this portion of her care closer to home. We will move and stay there (it’s actually in Newnan, GA) together as a family pretty much the whole time, other than a weekend or two in September that we plan to come back home for. Joey will be receiving radiation every day, and chemo once a week.
One of the things that has helped I think is being back at our farmhouse. The hospital and their staff at CTCA have been incredible, but there’s nothing more healing than being at home in your own bed, surrounded by the things and the people you love. Although it has been hot and muggy during the days here, we’ve spent lots of evenings on our back deck watching the sun go down over Joey’s garden, talking about the future and thanking God for all the ways that we are blessed.
Here are a couple recent blessings…
– Friends, neighbors and family have kept up the garden for Joey while we we’ve been away. They came in the evenings by the ones, twos, threes and even by the dozens – to till, weed, water, pick and some have even canned and froze vegetables from her garden.
– Countless homemade meals have been brought to us from friends and neighbors. Joey might have been losing weight for awhile… but I was gaining it!
– Letters, boxes, flowers and more continue to arrive in the mail. Last week our friend Julie and some other folks spent days and days helping Joey and us go through all that has come in. Some of the cards and letters made us smile, and some moved us to tears. But they all touched us deeply, just knowing that so many people took time from their busy lives to write and encourage Joey on this journey.
Joey hasn’t felt up for many visitors since she’s been home, but both her Mama and her Daddy have been down here to spend time with us. Her dad was able to stay for a weekend and her mom is here staying with us for a couple of weeks – helping with Indy and things around the house as Joey gets stronger and we get ready to start the next phase of treatment.
Our little Indy is doing wonderful as well. She’s just as happy and sweet as ever and though Joey still can’t pick her for a couple more weeks… she can hold her in her lap and they read books and Indy gives her mama lots of kisses. It’s so so sweet to watch.
We have sold-out concerts scheduled this weekend at our concert hall here at home and Joey is excited to walk across our driveway and see everyone and do some singing. She’s not sure yet how much energy she’ll have or how many songs she’ll be able to do… but even if it’s just a couple of songs, it’s going to be special to see her sweet smile and hear her beautiful voice again after all she’s been through.
…and standing right next to her, I’ll have the best seat in the house to watch it all.
PS …here’s a couple more pics of Indy from after dinner this evening. She was playing/laying on the floor before bed time, hamming it up for her papa.
Did I mention our many blessings?
This morning Indiana and I walked from the hotel to the hospital to have breakfast with Joey in her room. Afterwards, when Indy started getting fussy and Joey needed to get some rest, I took Indy outside to walk around the park that’s across from the hospital. I pushed her in her stroller and we walked and walked as I sang “I Surrender All” to her while she enjoyed the morning breeze and talked to her hands. It was still early in the morning so it was just us, no one else was around.
As we rounded the far side of the park, we passed a small wooden building on our left, and I heard a voice say “hello there”. I turned to the right and saw an older black man getting out a car that was parked on the street. He walked a little closer and stuck out his hand as he asked “are you from out of town?”, and I said “sorta… my wife is in the hospit…”, but before I could get the rest of the line out, he took my hand and said “I’m gonna pray for you”.
And there on the sidewalk, this old man bowed his head and held my hands and prayed the sweetest, kindest prayer of healing for Joey and I. His beautiful prayer went on for about a minute or so, and I know I should have had my eyes closed, but I found myself staring at him as he prayed, wondering why he was here, and why I was here, and what kind of guy this was that would stop a stranger and pray for him without even knowing his story.
Then I noticed his eyes tearing up as he continued praying for “complete and total healing for this man’s wife, and peace for him and his child”. When he finished and we both said “Amen”, I think I was still staring at him. He smiled as he looked up at me. I thanked him for the prayer and asked him his name. He pointed to the little concession stand building and said “I’m Willie, and this is my place”. Then he leaned in a little and said, “wanna know a secret?” and I said “sure”. Then Willie said, “it might look like I sell snowcones, but that’s just a cover… this is what I really do. I encourage people. That’s what God has me here for”.
I couldn’t help but smile back as I said “are you here getting ready to open?”. He shook his head and said, “that’s the funny thing… I don’t open for a couple hours. God told me to get in my car and drive here early this morning, and now I know why. I’m here to pray for you and your wife”. Then, with big tears in his eyes, he put his arms around me and gave me a huge hug.
I thanked him again and as he walked away, he kept encouraging me that ‘God has this’ and ‘where two or more are gathered, He is there too’… and he even let out a big “wahoo!”. He was so excited, he was almost dancing as he walked. Excited about getting to work early today, excited about getting the chance to pray with me, and even more excited about his ‘real’ job of loving unsuspecting customers.
Did I mention that this place is special?
And that’s just across the pond in the park.
…Wait til you stroll down the hallways of the hospital. The people that work there might have surgical robes and scrubs on, but I’m pretty sure, like Willie, they’re all actually undercover angels.
I woke up today thinking about where we were and what we were doing a year ago today. So I opened up the calendar on my laptop and saw where right about this time last year we were about to board a flight to take us to Seattle, to board a ship that would take us to Alaska.
We were part of a music cruise with some other country artists (a lot of them are heroes of ours) and we all spent seven days traveling by ship up the Western coastline, playing concerts, and stopping in ports in Alaska and Canada… and then working our way back down to the harbor in Seattle. Joey and I and our three girls made the trip together when Indy was only about 5 months old, and Joey was less than a month out of her first Cancer surgery. Joey’s mama even got to come with us to help take care of Indy while we were performing. It was a wonderful family adventure that none of us will ever forget. This is a video I made from clips I took on our trip last year.
Needless to say, our July this year looks a little different than last. And though Joey’s mama is again with us helping take care of Indy… it’s for different reasons.
But this time here is also an adventure that none of our family will ever forget.
Joey got up and walked again today. She made 4 laps around the ICU on her walker and she celebrated by getting to have her first cup of ice water (they removed her NG tube today… so she hasn’t been able to have anything to eat or drink since last Tuesday night), so she was so excited! Next up… vegetable broth, and jello… and then hopefully soon she’ll get to eat some real food in the next day or two. Her strength is coming back and though it hurt her to… she even laughed a couple times today. It was so beautiful to see her smile again. I love her so much and am so proud of her.
She’s recovering well and who knows, maybe we’ll get to go home a day or two early (no one has said that… it’s just me wishful thinking).
God willing, we’re going to be part of another “Country’s Family Reunion” music cruise to the Caribbean in late January of 2016. I sure hope Joey is fully recovered by then and we’re all able to again as a family. It will be not long after all of Joey’s chemo’s and radiation finishes up and I’m pretty sure some time on a beach chair in the sun will be a dream come true for her, and all of us.