There was some sweating going on. Some sunburns and more than a few bug bites. But it was fun.
I had spent most of the last two weeks in the studio here at our farm editing from morning til night. Getting Joey’s film ready to go to the sound-editing and coloring and the other gazillion things that have to be done before it comes out in theaters in a few weeks. Anyway, I was in need of a break. And our poor garden was in need of some love. Big time.
Fortunately, on Sunday evening, a bunch of love showed up.
It showed up in mini-vans with carseats and faded-levi’s with gardening gloves in the pockets and kids holding empty wicker baskets in their hands. Some very kind neighbors, family and friends came over to help harvest the garden.
Or at least to help us try to find the vegetables that were in there somewhere… hidden by weeds that had overtaken what were beautiful rows of corn, cabbage, okra and a dozen other things that we’d planted back in the spring.
I grilled out hamburgers and hotdogs and everyone else brought sides…
We all ate dinner together and then proceeded to go find our future dinners on the other side of the fence…
Young Sam found some beans that his mama and sister picked (while he played)…
And his older brother Asher wiped the tears out of his eyes from the hot pepper that he and his daddy had sampled…
Our neighbor Gabe found that cowboy hats and bibs go together pretty-darn well (I could’ve told him that)…
And Indy had a great ride around the garden with her friends Ezekiel and Caleb. Little Caleb is a year older than Indiana and has down syndrome too…
Caleb’s mama and Joey used to get together and talk about how Indiana and Caleb are going to get married someday and we’ll be in-laws, so I like to call Caleb “Indy’s betrothed”…
Somewhere in the mountains of weeds, we managed to find acorn and spaghetti squash and watermelon and cucumbers. And even some green beans, banana peppers and tomatoes too…
Back up on the porch, my two sisters Marcy and Candy did their best to get Indy to eat her dinner, but she kept signing “ice cream” instead. Ever since we made some homemade dairy-free ice cream for her a couple weeks ago, that’s all she wants to eat, all the time…
Back in late March, we had started planting the garden… me, Hopie and Indy and my sister Marcy, along with our good friends Cowboy Danny and Allison. Joey had left me detailed notes of when and how to prep the garden and what to plant. And so, between the information she gave me and some advice we got from friends, we got our seeds ready (along with a few of the plants that Joey had started in Indiana) and started digging in.
These are a few clips from that first day of tilling and planting… and some more I took through late June I would guess. The last ones are just before we left on our family vacation to Montana for two weeks and came back to find a chaotic rain forest where our organized garden had once been…
I can’t help but continue trying to capture moments as we live them with my camera. It’s become habit by now, after doing it for more than two years while Joey was still with us. I’ve spent most of the summer working on the film and watching Joey in the garden, planting and weeding and harvesting, year after year. You see her in her garden just weeks after she had the baby, and before and after every surgery she had. To say that she loved it is a understatement.
It’s been so beautiful to see again. I can’t wait to share the movie with everyone. In the meantime, this is from a blog post I made in June 2015, just after Joey had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. You can read the entire post here if you’d like. Like always, Joey not only found solace working in her garden, it’s where she talked with God and He reassured that everything was going to be okay…even when it wasn’t going to be okay.
As I write this, we just finished having dinner here at the house. Most of things on our plates were from the garden party… green beans, okra and onions that Hopie cooked to go along with the chicken that my sister Marcy made.
Although the garden this year isn’t even close to what it would be if Joey was still here, I think she would’ve been proud of it. Proud of us. And even more so, proud that that little patch of land that she loved so much is still bringing friends and family together, and feeding her loved ones.
Over the last six months or so, I have been asked many times (and encouraged many more times) to write a book. To turn the stories in this blog I write into a book of some sort. I have never really responded to any of the questions before, but the truth is… I am writing a book. It is almost finished actually. But it isn’t filled with blogs that I have written about my wife’s last few months or the posts I wrote about our life for the two years before that, it is a book that covers a life time.
I had always wanted to write a book. I had even taken a couple meetings with an agent at one of the big publishing houses a few years ago, but in the end… Joey and I weren’t famous enough. Our “Q” score was too low, they said. I had to go home and google that phrase to find out what it meant. (…it is a measurement of the familiarity and appeal of a brand, celebrity, company, or entertainment product used in the United States…the higher the Q Score, the more highly regarded the item or person is among the group familiar with them).
I was disappointed that that was how things worked, but in another way… I understood it. Business is business. Though the experience left me a bit frustrated, Joey just smiled. She believed – no, she knew – that that door would open some day. She, even more than me, believed that I had something to say. That if I was ever given a chance to write… that my own unique storytelling ‘voice’ would reveal itself… and I think that maybe it has. But not like I thought it would though. When I launched this blog back at the beginning of 2014, I thought I was going to be writing about Joey and me simplifying our lives. About the joy of having and raising a new baby together. About getting rooted deeper in the land we lived on. And I did write about those things. But a few months into the blog, the story took a turn and my wife was diagnosed with cancer. And then the story turned again. And again. And again.
But through it all, I kept writing. And Joey kept smiling and believing. Even when it hurt.
The calls started coming in around December I think. From publishers and agents who were aware of my blog and the story I was telling, and my wife was living, They saw something I guess: the prayers on Joey’s behalf, the Facebook numbers, the national press. A perfect storm. A husband with a voice, a wife with a story, and an audience who cared about them. Sadly, our Q score and fame had finally risen to a place that made publishers interested.
So yes, I am writing a book. And part of me is thrilled. And another part of me is embarrassed. Because of what it took for the opportunity to come around. Because the one person that made this possible, isn’t here to share it with me.
It was early February when I first started talking to Matt Baugher and his team at Thomas Nelson, an imprint of Harper Collins based here in Nashville. It was a conference call about me possibly writing a book for them. One of many that we had during that time with potential publishers. But as I listened to Matt and his team speak, I could tell that these guys were different than some of the other folks we’d talked to. They didn’t want to rush to put a book out right away… or just focus on the sad story at the end of Joey’s life… or the many other agendas that other companies had been interested in. Instead, they wanted me to write what was on my heart. To tell the story that has to be told. The one that I feel the need to share. And so I have. Or at least, I’m in the process of telling it.
After that phone call ended, I sat beside Joey and told her all about it. About the book offer they had made and how much I liked Matt and the things he and his team had said. As I spoke, she was smiling again. Beaming actually. “…see, I told you so”, she said as she held my hand, “you were born to do this”. My eyes began to well up with tears. She knew what I was thinking… “I may have been born to do this… but why do you have to die to make it happen”? She just kept holding tight to my hand and smiling and saying, “His will honey, not ours”.
And so it is. I don’t understand it. But it is.
Hemingway once said, “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And I believe that he was right. Except, for this book to happen… I did the first part, and Joey did the last.
In mid-April, when the dust-to-dust had finally begun to settle, and Indy was sleeping well though the night in her own bed here at the farmhouse, I stayed up late and began to write. I put my fingers on the keys and I started at the beginning. My beginning. And just like I have with every blog post or song I write… I just let the story unfold. Night after night, I sat up in our big brown recliner and typed as the words poured from my heart to the page – the same recliner that Joey slept in for the last few uncomfortable weeks of her pregnancy – and the same one that she rocked our baby in and again slept in when she was too weak to make the long walk from our bedroom to the bathroom. And I told my story. At least I told a lot of it.
It is a book about a man so lost, it’s a miracle that he was ever found. About doing unforgivable things, and still being forgiven. About the grace of God and the girl He used to change me and everyone around me forever.
I was walking through the garden section of Home Depot yesterday morning and a woman called out from behind some potted plants. “You have inspired me…”, she said. I turned around and she smiled and added, “…you and your wife have”. I thanked her and paid for my flowers and headed home. But the whole drive I kept thinking, “she has no idea…”. She, and no-one can understand what it means to me to be part of such a beautiful love story, unless they have had the chance to hear what a corrupt person I was before Joey came along. How far God has brought me in the last fifteen years. If you had met me in the late-90’s or before… I was probably the least-likely guy that you would have ever thought would go on to be part of inspiring others by how I love and have been loved. That story is important to share, to give context to the story that I am part of now. To see the selfishness and emptiness inside me before… makes it easier to understand the gratefulness and hope that I am filled with today… in spite of the circumstances.
After a rough start for the first thirty-five years or so (about half-way through the book)… Joey shows up in my life. Right after God does (it turns out that He was always there…I just didn’t recognize Him until I was hitting rock bottom, at the top of my songwriting game). Mine is a story about going from being a nobody, to being somebody’s… Joey’s. And how she changed everything in my life, and how she’s still doing it, even now.
We’re in the editing phase of the book now. The Thomas Nelson folks are probably pulling their hair out, wondering why I use so many “dot, dot, dots” and the dozen other quirky things I do when I’m writing… (see, I told you), because I don’t really know what’s correct. I only know what feels right. And what looks right to me. It’ll be another month or so before my part is completely done and they start the process of turning my manuscript into the book that they say is going to come out this coming February… on Valentines Day to be exact.
In the meantime, I will continue working on Joey’s film. That’s what I’m doing right now… or at least what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s not easy for me to edit our lives down into an hour-and-a-half story. I mostly want to just sit and watch Joey. Watch her love the baby. Watch her live life to it’s fullest. As I go through all this footage that I filmed over the past couple years, I can see now why she had no regrets in the end. How could she? She was fully present. Fully in the moment. With Indy. With me. With everyone.
These are some clips I found from early in the morning on Mother’s Day in 2014…
My wife is so beautiful. And there are hours and hours of clips like this one of her talking about taking Indy to Montana someday… something that she would never get the chance to do. Something that Joey’s sisters, and my girls and I, just came back from doing without her, a week or so ago.
Being fully present is something I’m still learning how to do. And as I watch Joey on the screen, she is still teaching me. Showing me how to be a better person. A better parent, a better friend. It’s one of the many wonderful gifts that my wife has left me. Gifts, like the chance to be part of an incredible story.
And there is so much more to it than just the last five months of Joey’s cancer battle that I shared on this blog, or even the two-and-a-half years of our lives that the film is going to cover. I am so humbled and honored to get to share more of Joey’s story in a book. More of my story. Our story.
On Monday, we got home from spending some time out west in Wyoming and Montana. It was a trip that has been planned since last winter. But I didn’t plan it… my wife did.
This past February, with snow on the ground outside her window at the little house by the Gaither pond in Indiana, Joey looked at the beautiful view from her bedside, and remembered another view that she loved. And then with her three sisters gathered around her, Joey told stories about our trips out west to the Big Sky Country. She showed them pictures we had taken during some of the adventures our family has had out there over the years. And then she asked me to find a way to take her three sisters and their families out west for the first time this summer.
Most of them had never been farther west than Illinois and Joey wanted them to experience some of the breathtaking beauty that she and I have been blessed to experience many times over the years. For their eyes to see the beautiful things that her eyes had seen.
Joey and I spent our honeymoon in Montana in 2002 and fell in love with the mountains and the old-west history that runs deep through the land and streams out there. We’ve made many family trips there since and our middle daughter Hopie even spent three summers working on a ranch in Dubois.
Fortunately, we have some wonderful friends who own a big cabin in Red Lodge, Montana and when I told them about Joey’s wish, they generously offered to let us all come stay at their place…
So two weeks ago, my three sister-in-laws – Jody, Julie and Jessie – loaded up their minivans and trucks and headed west, and the girls and I hopped on an airplane and met up with them in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to spend a few days together before we all drove on to Red Lodge. Jackson’s such a beautiful western town and there’s so many things to do and see. We walked through the “antler arches” in the town square and ate wonderful meals and saw the western play “Cat Ballou” at the Jackson Hole Playhouse and went to a chuckwagon dinner and show that our friends the Bar J Wranglers host nightly at their ranch just outside of town…
The girls and I and Heidi’s boyfriend Dillon all stayed at Spring Creek Ranch.
It was always one of Joey’s favorite places in Jackson. High on a hilltop, with a stunning view overlooking a beautiful valley below…
On Saturday, we all took our time driving north through Yellowstone…
And finally settled into the cabin in Red Lodge. Joey’s sisters soon saw that the view from the back deck was just as beautiful as Joey had described it…
And while all the grown-ups put all the bags away, a few of the little ones jumped in the hot tub…
And I took Indy outside to see the wildflowers growing all around the cabin…
On Monday… Red Lodge had the neatest 4th of July parade right down the middle of main street. And over the next few days, we went to the rodeo, the Buffalo Bill Cody museum, on long walks, fly fishing and horseback riding… and on the last night, we even went to a pasture party where a wonderful all-brother western band called the ‘High Country Cowboys’ performed. It was just like a scene out of a movie. Luckily, I took my camera along and put together a few highlights from the trip (along with Joey singing one of my favorite songs that we recorded together), so we could always have a way to remember these moments…
For all the fun we had… the trip was hard on me. Hard on us all actually. We all wished that Joey was there with us. At the cabin, I would watch Joey’s sisters all playing with their kids and I it broke my heart to know that Joey couldn’t be there to play with Indiana too. And I know that it hurt her sisters too. But still, we all carried Joey’s memory with us on every mountain we drove up and every trail we walked down.
Our dear friends Larry and Luann Black, who own the cabin, have a big round table in the main dining room that seats about twelve people… and they have the neatest tradition of having folks who’ve stayed at the cabin, carve their names into the table before they leave. There must be hundreds of names etched in that wood…
I added Indiana’s name to where Joey and I and our older girls had signed the table the first time in 2011, and all three of Joey’s sisters and their families carved their names before they packed up their things and headed back to Indiana…
Like the names and dates that are etched in that table, this trip will be forever etched in each of our hearts. It had been a week to remember – to remember Joey, and smile – because we all knew that somewhere up there, my sweet wife was smiling too…
Watching her wish for her sisters come true.
I’d like to thank Larry and Luann for opening their beautiful home to us and helping to make this trip happen. Larry has been a wonderful friend and mentor to me over the years and it was at that very cabin that Joey and I, along with Larry and Luann, made plans to make our first television program from our farm, back in 2011. Something that has gone on to change our lives, many times over. But my favorite thing about Larry and his sweet bride are their generous hearts. They believe that the blessings they receive from God are a gift, and they use those blessings to bless others every chance they get.
From Joey’s family and ours… thank you Larry. You’re an inspiration to me and so many others. We love you and your beautiful family so much.
Some opportunities in life are just too good to be true… and some, you can’t help but keep pinching yourself at how very lucky you are to be a small part of them.
No, unfortunately I didn’t actually get to meet Forrest Gump, but I did get to be on his movie set for a few minutes (otherwise known as the National Mall) during this past week. I was blessed with the opportunity to be part of two very special events that were for causes that are near-and-dear to my heart, and Joey’s. The first one took place in Washington, DC.
I had been invited to DC by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization to take part in a Congressional briefing on hospice and end-of-life issues. I am not a political person in any way, but I am passionate, like my wife was, about people having the right to choose a better way to spend their final days, weeks and months. So early last week, our manager Aaron and I flew to our nation’s capitol to be part of a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill in front of some members of the House, the Senate and many other nice folks that were there.
One of the speakers, a wonderful doctor and author named Atul Gawande, showed his powerful PBS documentary “Being Mortal” and he and others spoke about important legislation for hospice initiatives. Then the moderator showed the trailer for Joey’s documentary and asked me to share some of our story and what a difference hospice made in our lives during that difficult time.
I’ve been amazed to learn how many people are scared of the word ‘hospice’, and end up spending most of their remaining days fighting, struggling to find a cure that never comes…and miss precious time with their family and friends that they could be spending while they’re still here and healthy enough to enjoy it. I am so proud and in awe of Joey and the wonderful gift of time and memories that she gave all of us during the final months of her life. Hospice and their doctors and nurses are part of how that happened for us.
We were only there for one day, but I had the chance to walk around a bit and see a few a few of the memorials and even a white house with columns in front like ours… only lots bigger.
I barely got home and was off again the next day to Baltimore, Maryland. This time with Indiana and our oldest daughter Heidi. Indy’s best friend Scout and her family were going to be there for the Loeys-Dietz Syndrome Foundation‘s annual conference and we decided to tag along to learn more about Scout’s illness and meet other kids and adults who have the same diagnosis.
It was Indiana’s first flight as a toddler and I was worried about how she would handle it. She did so well. She watched her “Signing Time” sign-language videos and spent lots of time coloring and reading books with Heidi and me.
When we got to the conference, there were dozens of families there from all over the world. We loved getting to meet most of them and spending a little time visiting with them and hearing some of their stories. About their struggles and also their victories.
While Indy played in the child-care rooms with the other kids, I sat in on some of the lectures with the parents and learned as much as I could. The foundation has come along way in the short time since the syndrome was discovered, but it’s clear that they still have a long way to go. The past president of the foundation’s fourteen-year-old daughter passed away a few weeks ago from the disease and so the importance of learning more and finding ways to help and treat LDS was on everyone’s hearts and minds, now more than ever.
Scout and her brother Ash and their parents Gabe and Mandy McCauley are our neighbors and our family spends a lot of time with theirs. Scout is seven now and doing pretty well, but her parents worry a lot about her and that makes us worry for them too. So back in November, Joey and I made the Loeys-Dietz Syndrome Foundation the charity that we selected to benefit from our Hymns album that came out this past Valentines Day. Cracker Barrel offered to donate a dollar for every album sold in their stores, and so I think it’s been a very helpful thing for the organization. At least I hope so. I know Joey was so happy that we were going to be able to help them in some small way. And Joey would’ve been so proud to be there for the conference with me this past weekend if she could’ve been.
Scout’s dad asked me to speak at the event and on Saturday, just before he called me up to the podium, Gabe said some very sweet things about Joey and me. It was so, so special…
The foundation gave us a special “Loey’s-Dietz Foundation Heart of Gold” trophy that one of the board members had hand-made for us and also a Heart Of Gold teddy-bear gift for Indy.
Joey and I have been blessed to win a number of awards over the last ten years during our music career, but none mean more to us than the ones we received that day.
Later that evening, Heidi and I took Indy for a walk around the Baltimore harbor. It was so beautiful there and the weather was perfect. Just before sunset, we found a carousel near the water and took Indy for a ‘horsey’ ride. She loved it so much…
By the time we headed back to the airport to fly home on Sunday morning, our little Indiana was all tuckered out. It had been a wonderful trip and an even more special week.
Once back home, we only had about twenty-four hours to get over our jet-lag and get back on another plane headed out west to Wyoming and Montana to spend two weeks on vacation with Joey’s three sisters and their families…
But I’ll save that for another story, another day.
Like most men, when Valentines day or a birthday rolls around, I would scramble to find ‘just the right gift’ at 5 pm on my way home from work, or walking through Walmart or Target the night before. It’s embarrassing actually. For me, and for a lot of guys I think.
But sometimes, I did pretty well. Like on Joey’s and my fifth wedding anniversary. I bought her a beautiful antique ring from Walton’s, on the square in Franklin (her favorite jewelry store, it’s where her engagement ring came from too). Joey treasured that ring and how it symbolized our first five years of commitment to each other. But in the end, she gave it away. One evening this past fall, she just quietly slipped it on our oldest daughter Heidi’s hand and said, ‘this is yours now… I want you to have it’.
I’ve had a few good moments through the years, but overall, I was never really very good at giving gifts. Thankfully, Joey never really wanted them either. That wasn’t who she was. Joey’s love language was service. That is how she gave and received love. In the book “The Five Love Languages” that we both read early in our marriage, we came to understand that different people speak different love languages… and my love language was ‘physical touch’, and Joey’s was ‘acts of service’. She showed you how much she loved you by serving you. And she was brilliant at it. Whether cooking a meal for you at the farmhouse, or serving you coffee at Marcy Jo’s or helping you plant flowers by your mailbox, it’s how she expressed her love for you. And if you wanted to tell her that you loved her… she didn’t want to hear you say those three magic words – she needed to see it in action. So I learned to show her that I loved her by fixing door hinges, or keeping the yard mowed, or making it so she could stay home and still have a music career. It is how she knew – how she really knew – that I loved her.
Yesterday, June 15th, was our anniversary. In the early morning, I carried a thermos and our two favorite mugs across the back field and shared a cup of coffee with my bride as the sun came up over the wooden cross with her name on it. I talked and she listened. Or at least, I hoped that somewhere, somehow, she could hear me. And I felt her presence the way I do most days since she’s been gone…in my heart, and in my soul. And I pulled out my iPhone and pushed play… and we watched a movie trailer together as my tears fell.
This was my gift to her.
Fourteen years ago, Joey and I said our vows in the little town of Mt Pleasant. A half-hour or so from the farmhouse we live in. We had our wedding reception in the same place where Joey and I first met.
At the top of some stairs that Joey had bounded up in September of 2001 and landed right in front of me. And with just a smile and a “hi, I’m Joey”… she proceeded to change my and everyone’s life around me forever.
The restaurant was called Lumpy’s back then and upstairs was Pearl’s Palace, a big room where I had hosted a songwriter’s night that Joey came to. That building holds a lot of special memories for us, so yesterday our daughter Hopie went back there with me, to have lunch together and retrace the steps that led my wife to me. After lunch, we walked up those stairs…and stood in that big room and let the memories come flooding back.
We talked about the spot by the window where our wedding cake had been. And where the bridal party sat. And the spot where Joey and I had our first dance…
And I couldn’t help but remember another dance we shared this past November. Our last dance.
In Indiana at Joey’s mama’s house. Me holding my bride up and singing a George Strait song in her ear as we softly swayed back and forth. It was only for a few moments, but thankfully like most of the big and small events that have happened the last couple of years, I captured that dance on film… to keep forever and also to share with others.
I have had lots of time these last few months to think about what anniversary gift I wanted to give to my wife this year – what act of service I could do, that would matter to her – if she were here. So with the help of some friends, I am going to try to give her a gift that is pretty much impossible…
To live on, even after she’s gone.
Joey and I have a friend named Ben that runs Provident Films here in Nashville and like many others, he has been following our story and hurting and praying for us for the last year or so. When I shared some of the hundreds-of-hours of footage with Ben that I had been putting together the last couple months, he and his team offered to help turn that footage in to something greater than just a few small videos on the blog that I write. To turn it into a film.
A full-length documentary film that begins the day I got out my camera a few weeks before Indiana was born in February of 2014 and runs up until this past spring. A film about our lives during that two-and-a-half years. Our love. Our struggles. And even more so, about our faith in God and our hope in a plan… bigger than the one we can see with our own eyes.
I have not cried beside Joey’s grave. I have talked and prayed and sat still beside her cross for hours, but not really cried. Not until yesterday when I shared this trailer with her, or at least tried to. For our anniversary. And I wept like a baby.
I also shared it with Joey’s family when I was home last weekend. With her mama and daddy and her sisters. And like me, they cried and felt the power of watching her come to life again. Most people know Joey and I for the five months we spent in Indiana – the beautiful, terrible days and weeks last fall and winter that we intimately shared through my blog posts. They got to see Joey die. To see her face death bravely and pass to the other side with honor. But I’d like for people to have the chance to see my wife live. To see the incredible woman that she was before the doctors said there was nothing more they could do… so they can better understand the amazing impact she’s had on me and everyone around her after she learned that the end was coming.
As I’ve written before, Joey and I didn’t know why we were taking a year off and simplifying our lives. Or why we had felt like it was important to capture that part of our life on film. We just did it. And now all this time later… to go back through and look at the footage and see that the first day I set my camera on a tripod and Joey and I walked into our back field… we walked to the cemetery. The same cemetery where we would lay Joey to rest two short years later. How can that be? Why? I don’t even know how to process that. And so I don’t. I just continue to do my best to trust Him. And to thank Him for the still, small voice that said ‘record this’ at a time that we didn’t have to…
Joey didn’t live to see her 41st birthday, but this September, just a week or so after her birthday on the 9th… my wife will get the chance to live again. On a movie screen, her heart will start beating and her story will come to life once more and it will be my gift to her. And to our girls. And to our friends and family and all who loved her.
Ben and his team have put together a website, tojoeywithlove.com with info all about the film and how to get tickets. And how it will be in theaters all across the country… just for one, special night. And hopefully, after that, the film will have a life of it’s own, and be something that people can see for years to come. And maybe, just maybe…someone might find some encouragement in it. In their marriage, or in their suffering, or in their faith, or something else…
I just want to lift my bride up… and continue to tell her beautiful story, while Indy and I live out the new one that God is now writing. I am looking forward to spending the rest of this summer working on the film here at home (with Daniel and Aaron and Gabe and some other friends who are working on it with me)… and watching this story unfold. Again.
This past weekend, Indy and I went home to Indiana…without Joey.
It was the first time that we’d been back there, since my wife’s passing in early March. I was excited and nervous about the trip at the same time. Part of me wasn’t ready to go back. Not yet. But another part of me knew it was the right thing, and believed that it would be healing for us. And it was.
Joey’s sister Jody’s son Cody was graduating high school and we surprised everyone by showing up at the open house his Mom had put on for him. I know it’s a moment that Joey wouldn’t have missed, so I didn’t want to miss it either.
When I pulled in and parked by the other cars and Jody saw me get out of my truck, she came running across the yard. Her eyes filled with tears. She hugged me and cried and cried. It was a beautiful homecoming. Then as quickly as we got there… Indiana was whisked away into her aunt’s arms and she stole the show from there on out.
She was so excited to see her Grandma, and I know Joey’s mama was so glad to see her too.
We all spent the evening celebrating Cody’s big accomplishment. It felt good to be home.
On Saturday afternoon, Joey’s daddy and I went over and spent some time at Bill Gaither’s house. Bill told lots of great stories and Jack and I just sat on his porch and listened and laughed.
Bill talked of the impact that Joey’s life has made on the community there and around the world. And I got the chance to thank him again for all of of the love and support that he and Gloria have shown us through what had turned out to be a beautiful, difficult time.
Then we all went across the pond and Bill opened up the house for us that we had stayed in while we were there those last few months in Indiana. Joey’s daddy had come to that house often he said. Most days he stops by and just sits outside. “This is where I feel Joey the most”, he told us, ‘…where she lived last”. But he’d not been inside since that day in March when his daughter left us, exactly three months before.
As I walked through the house and let the memories come flooding back, Bill and Jack stood on the porch and visited… to give me some time. Time that I desperately needed. To remember all that we went through. All the she went through.
The place was different. And strangely the same. It was all put back exactly the way it was before we moved in. Before we laughed and loved and cried and said goodbye in those rooms.
Then Bill came inside and did for me, what he always used to do for my sweet wife. He sat down at the piano and played a song. And not just any song. Our song. The one that Joey sang to me when I had asked God for a sign that ‘she was the one’. The one that was played at my father’s funeral. And the one that Joey’s mama and daddy played at our wedding. “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” was a song originally recorded by Jim Reeves in the 1950’s. And it was instrumental in our lives coming together. It’s a long story…one that I hope to share in length another time.
Bill played our song. For me. For Joey’s daddy. And for Joey.
And later that evening, Joey’s mama made a nice dinner for us at the farmhouse that my sweet bride had grown up in. We all had a wonderful time. Especially Indy. She loved being with all of her cousins again. And I loved being with Joey’s sisters… who have now become like sisters to me… and their husbands and babies.
It had been strange to be there again. In Indiana. With Indiana. Without Joey. To sleep upstairs in the bedroom that my wife had spent her childhood sleeping in and know that she’ll never lay beside me there again and tell me stories of her childhood. To be in her home, with her family, without her. It was hard. And good. And wrong. And also right. So, so right.
It wasn’t easy to say goodbye the next morning. Hard for me, but harder for June I think. I get to go home and still be near Joey. But for Joey’s mama, I was once again, taking Joey home with me. Little Joey. And she so loves her.
But we will be come back. Many many times. It’s where Indiana’s mama was raised. Home to her. And now it’s home to us.
We didn’t make the trip back home alone. Our sweet friend and neighbor from home, cowboy Danny Smith rode along. To help with the baby. To be there for us, in case we needed him.
It was a quick trip. Not near long enough. It almost felt like a dream to be there again.
As I drove down I-65 south, back to Tennessee, I replayed the last two days over and over in my mind. And just smiled and listened to Indy as she talked to her hands in the backseat.
And Danny? Well, it was all like a sweet dream to him too I guess…
The last thing on the the list Joey gave me, of what she wanted at her funeral service… when the time came. And we both knew that time was coming soon.
“I’d like for someone to sing the hymn Leave It There at my graveside”, Joey said. And then she stopped and added, “no… not someone”, and she looked at me and smiled, “I want Bradley Walker to sing it for me”.
There were other things that she’d requested too…”a simple service in our concert hall” so her hometown pastor could share the gospel… ‘a plain wooden box’ that our friend Thomas would build for her by hand, …’lined with a quilt’ made by her seventy-five year old friend, Ms. Joan. Just those few things… and a song. Sung to her by one of the sweetest men, and voices she’d ever known.
A week-and-a-half later, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in March, we all gathered together around the simple wooden box, lined with a quilt, and we said goodbye to my beautiful wife… with a song.
“When you’re body suffers pain, and your health you can’t regain. When your soul is slowly sinking in despair. Jesus knows the pain you feel. He can save and He can heal. Take your burden to the Lord, and leave it there”.
The first time that Joey and I ever heard that song was on our honeymoon in Darby, Montana. It was being sung by a mother and daughter in a little church at the base of the Bitterroot mountains. Something inside told us, “those words are gonna matter”. When hard times come and you don’t know what to do with your pain… just lay it down at the foot of the cross, and leave it there.
And so I do. Or at least I try to.
Tomorrow, it will be three months since Joey passed away, and most days, I do pretty well. But some. The harder ones. I find myself reaching down and picking up that hurt – the pain of knowing that she is really gone – and trying to carry it on my shoulders. But I can’t. I have something else on my shoulders now. Someone else…
And our little two-year old desperately needs her Papa here. Not there. In the present. Not the past. So again, I lay my burden down and let Him have it. And I trust that His plan is better than mine. And I know it is. Because I can see it unfolding right in front of me.
When Bradley sang ‘Leave It There’ at Joey’s service that day, there were a lot of friends at her graveside. One of those, was Bill Gaither. And somewhere in the service I’m told… while Bradley’s deep baritone voice was singing my bride to heaven… Bill leaned over and asked someone, “who’s that?”
And just like that… Bradley’s life changed. Or at least, I think it’s about to.
Barry and Paul, the guys that run the Gaither record label, were also at the service and they too believed that they heard something special. Something the rest of the world needs to hear. So, in the past three months since then, I’ve had the privilege of helping Bradley record a whole album full of songs about his faith, and a few weeks ago, he even taped a television special on a specially-built riser at the front of the stage in our barn. The stage that Joey and I sang on.
They tell me that the album is gonna come out this fall. And our friend Bradley, who works at a power-plant in Athens, Alabama is gonna be all over his Mama’s television, and everyone else’s. All because he sang one song. All because of my wife’s last request.
I could tell you that it’s just coincidence or happenstance, but I’d be lying. I believe these things have come to be for a reason. That Joey somehow knew what was going to happen. Or at the very least, wanted to use her moment of being lifted up, to lift up someone else. I also think that maybe she’s up there somewhere, whispering in God’s ear…”I know you’re busy Sir… but you might want to hear this one”.
However it has happened, it’s pretty magical for Bradley. He can’t stop pinching himself. It’s the same kind of magic that Joey and my life has been filled with since the day we met. And just as I know she would be, I am so honored to be a small part of the big things that are coming together for Bradley. He so, so deserves it. Bradley has a story to tell. A unique story that God is telling with his life…and with his voice and his wheelchair and his muscular dystrophy and especially… his wonderful heart.
Early in the afternoon, on the day that he filmed his TV special in our concert hall – the same one that had stood empty since Joey’s funeral service – Bradley rolled out to the cemetery one more time. And there at foot of her cross, he and Carl Jackson and Val Storey sang to my wife.
He sang it once more for her. And for me. And for Indy. And everyone who wasn’t there to hear it at the funeral service.
This past weekend, Indiana and Hopie and I drove to Gatlinburg. We had a little mini-vacation together for a couple of days, but that’s not why we were there. I was there to introduce Bradley. The Gaither’s were having their annual Family Fest gathering at the convention center and they’d asked Bradley to come sing a song.
So in front of six-thousand people, I told the story of the song and Joey’s request and then I watched as our friend sang Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord”… to a sold-out auditorium full of complete strangers who listened and then did the one thing that Bradley couldn’t. They all stood… and gave him a standing ovation when the song was finished.
It was beautiful to see. To see that big smile on Bradley’s face up there on the stage. Still, I know he would trade it all in a heartbeat to have Joey still here with us. We all would. But if this had to be the next best choice… Joey would be so proud of him.
It’s been so good for me to get to be creative these last couple of months. To stay busy doing what I love to do. Telling stories. Especially other people’s stories. I look forward to helping Bradley get his album finished and being able to listen to and share more of his gift. And seeing the tv special when it’s all done. But mostly, I look forward to seeing where this all might lead for him in the future.
I think it’s gonna to be very special year for Bradley.
I filmed our lives for two-and-a-half years. I don’t know why, I just did.
Like writing this blog, something told me that I needed to capture that time of our lives on film. To have it forever. To be able to remember it and share it with others. I had no idea how important it would be.
Especially to me.
When we got home from Indiana in early March, after Joey had passed away, the girls and I resumed the life we had before. The life that we had lived before the cancer grew larger and my wife grew smaller. Before the words chemotherapy and radiation were written in ink on our calendar. When Joey was alive and in full bloom, like the knock-out roses that she planted beside her garden shed are.
I thought I would be able to remember the good times we had and the love we shared here at our farm… the amazing thirteen years of life we had together. But I couldn’t. It was gone. All I could remember of her was the end. The five months of dying. The Joey that had no hair and couldn’t get out of bed. The mother that could barely hold the baby she loved. And the life we held together by a song, in the brick house by the Gaither’s pond.
I guess the intensity of that time overtook everything else and wiped it from my memory. I can see how it could. Living out of a suitcase with Indiana’s crib beside my bed, Joey in the next room sleeping. Hurting. Vanishing right before our eyes. But she was also living. Living in such a strong and brave way, that it’s the image of her that remained in my mind. Even when we came home. That is the only ‘her’ I could see. I couldn’t remember Joey before that time. I could not remember her alive. All of the pictures on our mantle and music videos online seemed like something from a photo album. Ours I guess. But long ago.
For a month it was that way. I was scared that’s how it might always be. That the Joey I met and married and fell in love with – the one that I had a beautiful baby with – was gone from my memory forever.
But late one evening, in a metal box on the desk in our bedroom…
I found her.
In January of 2014, when Joey and I decided to take a year off, I not only started writing this blog… I started filming our life. Pushing record on my Canon 70D and capturing the smallest and biggest moments as they happened. Every day. Week after week and month after month. And I kept doing it for two-and-a-half years. What I filmed wasn’t important at the time. It was just daily life. Intimate moments shared with the woman I love and the baby that came a month later.
But it turns out that it was important. It is important.
Joey and I believed that God was going to give us a great story, and we wanted to film it, so we could look back and remember that year. We thought the story was going to be about taking time off from our music careers. About homesteading and growing a community garden with our neighbors. And about having a new baby and raising her. Yes, those things are part of the story, but there was so much more that happened. So, so much more.
As I set at my desk in mid-April, and plugged in the hard drive that held 6 terabytes of our lives – hundreds of hours of footage, I wasn’t sure I could watch it. That I could bare looking at our lives before. I thought it would be too painful. Too hard. But the moment I pushed play, something happened…
My wife came to life.
In full-color on the big screen of my iMac, Joey became alive again… filled with love and joy and hope and passion for me and for the life God had given us.
And I remembered how incredibly beautiful she was. How kind and how special of a person she was. For days, I watched and I watched. And pretty soon… I could not remember the Joey that was on hospice in Indiana. The one that was frail and dying. ‘That’ Joey had been replaced by one that is alive and well. One that was excited about our newborn that lay in her arms and the future that lay in store. We both were.
I have only watched a few months of what I filmed so far, but it is truly amazing. And it’s been so very healing for me. To see my wife come to life again. To see the love in her eyes. This footage is only a week or two after the baby was born. It’s an afternoon in our life in late winter of 2014. A regular day, when Joey was giving me a haircut (she is the only who ever gave me a haircut in the 14 years of our marriage), and holding and singing to Indiana. I cry every time I watch it. And I laugh so hard.
It is so special…
Life was perfect that day. So was Joey. Completely unaware of the difficult news that was in store for her in just a few weeks, and the beautiful, tragic end that would come 18 months later. And unaware also that her story would be shared and followed by millions of people who would love and pray for her and for us.
It’s a moment in time, that stands still. A moment that remains, even though time has moved on. I love that. There are hundreds of these moments that I captured. Maybe more. And they all add up to a bigger story that God was telling with our lives. A story that I hope to have the chance to share later this summer or fall. I know how special and how healing it has already been for me. Maybe it can be that way for others.
As our life was unfolding and I continued to film, right up til the end… Joey and I often talked about what the footage would one day become. Why and what was it that we were filming? Was it a story about down-syndrome… about our little girl? Or a story about cancer and learning to really live, even while you’re life is slipping away? Or a story about love and how hope never really dies? We never answered that question while Joey was alive and now that I’ve had a little time to look at it… to wrap my head around some of the footage… I think that maybe it’s a story about all those things.
Whatever it is. It’s a gift from heaven for me these days. To see my beautiful bride once more… alive and well.
I still have much, much more of our lives to look through. A thousand little clips to watch and try to piece together. And I will get to see Joey live through it all. And I will not see her fight and lose her battle with cancer until I get to that part… and then, maybe then… after watching it unfold on film in front of me… I will better understand how we got there. How we got here. And maybe even why.
I keep my guitar pics on my desk in a little bowl that our oldest daughter made and gave me one Sunday in May when she was probably five or six years old. It’s pink and handmade of pottery, and in big grey letters on the outside it says “Happy Mother’s Day Dad”.
It’s one of my most prized possessions.
For more than ten years I was a single father of two young daughters…Heidi and Hopie.
I can’t tell you I was a great father. I tried. I think was a good father, but the truth is I was still a young man struggling to find myself, while the girls were growing and finding out who they were. I made so many mistakes and was so selfish. At times I was more concerned about being a great songwriter than being a great father. In a lot of ways, I think the girls raised me while I was raising them. But they were so forgiving and loved me unconditionally. They still do.
Heidi and Hopie are 29 and 27 now, and beautiful, loving, intelligent women. Thankfully, they are more mature and secure than I was in my twenties. I have often wished I could go back to when they were young girls and give them more love and more time and more attention. I guess it’s natural to always want a ‘do-over’. But everyone knows those never happen. You can’t go back. You can only go forward. So I have been trying to be more ‘present’ in their lives. To be less selfish. And the past couple of years, I think I’ve made a little headway. At least I hope I have.
I love being a father. I always have. Joey always said that that’s part of what attracted her to me when we first met. But neither she, nor I, had any idea how important that would be to us years later.
For years after Joey and I got married, I dreamed that God might bless her and me with a baby. A baby that we could love and cherish and raise together. A child that was part her, part me, and all Him. And part of that dream was that I might be given a second chance at being a father.
So when Indiana came along, it was a dream come true in more ways than most people know.
But then life happened.
And last fall, when Joey and I found out that the treatments weren’t working and that more-than-likely, she wasn’t going to live to see another Spring… Joey sat beside me on a glider on our back deck and cried and cried. But not because of the news that the cancer had spread and there was nothing more the doctors could do. She cried because Indy was going to lose her mama, and I was going to be a single father again. Joey knew how hard it had been for us for all those years before she came along and she was upset that she was going to leave me in the same situation. I remember her tears falling and her saying, ‘I don’t want you to have to raise a child again by yourself… it’s not fair’. Though I was worried about the reality of what was probably in our future, I tried to smile as I wiped Joey’s tears and said, “it’s okay honey… now we know why God chose me to be with you”. I realized then that God knew what was in store and all those years by myself with the girls was Him preparing me for the job of caring for Indiana”.
Still, Joey was angry and disappointed. The truth is, we both were. But we just did what we always did when we were confused and hurt and scared… we got on our knees, held hands and we prayed. Soon, our tears were replaced by hope and trust that God’s plan was perfect and that somehow, someway… everything would be okay. We never cried over that again. We just celebrated everyday that we were given together, and tried our best to prepare for the day when those days together would be no more.
Though my beautiful wife sleeps in a bed of clover behind our farmhouse, we still celebrate her on this special day and lift her up and give her flowers. This is not my day. It is hers. Joey loved being a mother more than anything else in the world. And she is still Indy’s mama. And Heidi’s and Hopie’s.
And she is part of them.
Sometimes when I’m driving somewhere and Indiana falls asleep in her carseat, I pull over to the side of the road and I just sit there and stare at her. At her long eyelashes and her little fingers and tennis shoes.
And I still see Joey beside her. With us. Everywhere we go.
And all the pain and fear that I feel melts away… and it’s replaced by the feeling of how lucky I am…that we are. Indy’s so beautiful.. When I look into her little eyes… all I see is love. And her mama, and her sisters, and that little pink bowl… and the incredible second chance I’ve been given to be a father.
We spent this past weekend in Kentucky at a camp called ‘The Center for Courageous Kids‘. Indiana’s best friend Scout has been coming there with her little brother Ash and her Mom and Dad for the last couple of years… so this year Indy and I came along. I’d been hearing about the camp for awhile – not just from Scout’s family – but also from people at Indiana’s school and many others. It’s primarily a camp for children with special needs and their families, but once we arrived, it was easy to see that this place was that and much more.
The camp had lots of activities for the kids and grownups to do together, so Indy got to do lots of fun things, like working with wood…
Boating with her counselor Gabby and Scout’s grandma…
Swimming in their big indoor pool…
And though we now have horses at home, Indy wasn’t too sure about getting on a horse at the camp, so we just looked at them…
One of her favorite parts was getting to meet and spend time with the ‘camp dog’ Ollie…
But mostly, she loved being with Scout and Ash for the weekend…
Three times a day, everyone gathered in the big cafeteria and shared meals together. Afterwards, the counselors would put on music and the kids would have a ‘dance party’ and all of a sudden, dozens of wheel-chairs would spring into life and and parents and siblings would hold a child up and start helping them move their bodies to the music… so the child could get to experience something that most of the rest of us take for granted. The kids loved it. So did the parents.
My favorite part of the weekend was getting to meet some of the other parents and kids and hearing their stories. Some stories were heartbreaking and left a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes… but they were all inspiring and had a way of putting Indy and my’s life in a little better perspective.
One moment that I’ll never forget was meeting a twelve-year-old little girl named Adeline, who was blind… but has recently has been given the chance to see because of some new ‘magic goggles’ that she wears. On Saturday evening Ed Collins, the man who manages the camp, invited us to come up with Adeline and her mama and ‘watch’ the sunset over the pond.
I’ve seen thousands of sunsets in my lifetime, but not like this one. When you’re with someone who is getting to see everything with brand new eyes… it changes how you look at the sun setting behind a tree.
It changes how you look at everything.
We all set together for a long time and listened as Adeline explained how her ‘magic’ goggles work to Scout. But pretty soon, Indy crawled off and found a spot of her own to watch the sun setting…
As I watched her, I felt like I had new ‘magic goggles’ on and could see Indiana a little clearer.
I could see the wonder in her eyes. How in her eyes, everything is new. And perfect. And good.
And I found myself realizing that no matter how hard life seems sometimes, or how much pain and hurt we feel like we’re carrying around with us… God gives us ‘new eyes’ each day, and the opportunity to see the good in the life – to experience all the joy that He is trying to show us.
I want to have the faith of a child and feel that kind of joy.
And I want to be courageous like all the special little ones and parents at this camp… who take the difficult hand that God has dealt them and find every opportunity they can to turn it into something beautiful.
Like Scout and her mom and dad…
And I want to be brave like Roger and Stormi Murtie, who followed God’s nudging to move to Scottsville, Kentucky twenty years ago and turn 168 acres of farmland into a peace of heaven-on-earth for a thousand little angels who desperately need to spread their unique wings and fly.
One morning a week I meet a few of my buddies on our neighbor Gabe’s porch for coffee.
Gabe is Indy’s best-friend Scout’s daddy. He’s also a close friend and has worked with Joey and I for years on all of our music videos, tv specials and film projects. He was also the “old-school” host of our weekly television show.
While his wife and babies sleep inside, a bunch of us guys take over the porch of their little farmhouse and drink coffee and do man stuff – whatever that is. Mostly talk and share stories and laugh.
It feels good to laugh.
There’s no agenda. No plan to get to the bottom of anything… except our coffee cups.
Some are doctors and some are musicians that travel the world and perform. Two of the guys, Chris and Matt, own a little coffee shop nearby in Columbia called Muletown Coffee and they supply the inspiration. Both of them have little ones like I do and their wives used midwives when they had their babies, so we have a lot in common.
Some men are Catholic, some attend a Church of Christ or Baptist church or somewhere else, but they all share something in common… they all love God. And they love their wives and want to be better fathers and men.
So together, we greet each other and the day… as the sun comes up over Mr Ring’s barn and cows.
And we laugh.
And we heal.
And we ponder what’s next in our lives. What story God is using us to tell.
It might be something heavy and profound – like what Joey and I’ve been through the last year or two – where you feel His presence and you know you can not get through a single day without Him. Or it might be something much smaller. A moment that seems insignificant, but most-likely it’s not.
Like having coffee with friends. This is where lives change. Where something is said and a path changes. In my life, it’s never been the big events that change everything… it’s always been the small ones. The ones that you don’t think matter. But they do.
And so I will celebrate and capture the big stories and the small ones in my life. Because they are all part of a much larger story that someone else is telling. A story about healing a heart that is broken. Too broken to talk about, so we don’t. We just drink coffee. And we laugh.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a month already since Joey left this world and made her journey to the next. In some ways it feels like only yesterday, and in others… it feels like forever.
Little Indiana is adjusting to being back home. Spring is here and with it the chance for Indy and I to spend lots of time outside in the grass and on the little wooden swing I hung from a tree for her. Like her mama, she likes being outside. She loves pointing out the horses to me or making sounds like she’s telling me all about the flowers or the windmill that turns up on the hill. She’s glad to see Ranger again and has learned to drop some of her food on the floor from her high-chair so her puppy can come be next to her.
She’s also loving her new school more everyday. She started therapy sessions there at High Hopes that she goes to a few times a week… learning to talk and even more so, learning how to use her legs. She has never liked using her legs (she pretty much pretends that she doesn’t have legs at all), but that’s pretty normal for kids with down syndrome. Their low muscle-tone causes them to not want to use certain muscles and a lot of times that turns into delays in crawling and walking and other things.
When I dropped Indy off at school on Thursday last week, I stayed and watched her for little while in her classroom as she did some fun ‘playtime with foam’ at the little table and then I went with her to her physical therapy session. Indy liked some of the exercises Miss Kristen had her do, but some of them she wasn’t so thrilled about. I had my iPhone with me and captured a few moments to remember this time. My favorite part is near the end when Indy gets frustrated in the little walker… and signs “papa” for me to come and get her!
A lot of people ask me how I’m doing. I usually try to smile and say, “I’m doing okay”. And I am… okay.
I feel so many emotions all at the same time. Blessed. Lost. Proud. Scared. Encouraged. Tired. Thankful. I have a lot of good people around me and they pour love all over Indy and I. It’s hard to be in this old house without Joey, but I know she wants us here. And I know it’s where we need to be. I moved our bed to a different part of the room, against a different wall… because I needed it to be different. I sleep on her side of the bed now. I can’t sleep on mine. And when people come to dinner and they sit in Joey’s chair, I want to tell them not to sit there, but I don’t. But I want to.
I miss my wife… I miss my best friend. I miss her voice and her laugh and her eyes and her smile. It’s still hard for me to imagine that she’s not here, and she’s not ever coming back. But I know that time will make it easier. Because that’s what time does. It heals what is broken. There will still be scars, but I know there will come a day when I won’t miss her this much, when I won’t wonder where she is… and what she is doing right now in heaven.
I make the walk out to the cemetery behind the house everyday and stand over the loose dirt and I talk to her. Like Forrest Gump talked to Jenny under the big tree that they played in as children.
Forrest loved Jenny like I love Joey. Simply. Deeply.
I am a big fan of the movie Forrest Gump. Everyone who knows me knows that. People laugh when I say that Forrest is one of my biggest influences. But honestly he is. Joey knew it too. For our wedding, we had “Forrest & Jenny” printed on the back of our napkins at the reception.
And when we drove away from the church in my old 1956 Chevy, we had fifteen Dr Pepper cans tied to back of the bumper, because Forrest drank “fifteen Dr Peppers” in one scene of the movie.
I don’t know if Joey loved that movie like I did. She never said. But she knew I loved it, and she proudly let me call her ‘my Jenny’ and quote lines from the film to her endlessly over the last 14 years. She thought it was sweet. And it was I guess. But the truth is, it was more than that for me. We all need people to look up to… people who can inspire us to be better people. And since I didn’t have a grandfather or father or anyone else to watch and listen to for some of those things… Forrest taught me. Yes, I know he’s not real, but in another way, he is as real as anyone I’ve ever known. When you watch a movie and you leave the theater, all you take with you is the memory of what you saw and what you heard. And in life, when someone special impacts you… all you are really left with is the memory of what you saw them do and what you heard them say. So for me, Forrest showed me how to keep a sense of innocence and light in a world that just grows darker and more cynical every day. And he seemed to only see the good in people… especially in Jenny. Though I saw Forrest Gump in a movie theater in Texas eight years before I ever met Joey… I wanted to love someone like that.
And so God sent me my own Jenny. And we got married and it was beautiful, just like the movie.
But then Jenny got sick.
And Forrest didn’t understand why.
And Jenny helped him through it as he stayed by her bedside.
And the Jenny left him little Forrest so he wouldn’t have to be alone.
And he stood alone beside a stone beneath a tree and he talked to Jenny.
And he told her all about little Forrest and his school and how smart he is and how she would be so proud of him.
And then the movie ended so I don’t know what happened after that. But I believe that Forrest was okay. And though his love for Jenny never faded, the pain of losing her lessoned.
In Time. All in God’s time.
…I miss you Joey. You would be so proud of our little Indiana.
It always has been. Not because of Easter baskets or bunnies or candy or eggs, but because today celebrates the day that Christ has risen from the dead. Joey loved sunrise services, and the Lords’ supper and the newness of life that Easter brought to the world. She would get so excited about the day coming and would talk about it for weeks, months sometimes. I’m embarrassed to say that my favorite holiday is still Christmas. Partly because of Jesus’ birth, but also for a million sentimental reasons and trees and carols and the ‘feeling’ that’s in the air that time of year. I still have a lot of growing in my faith to do I guess.
I can’t help but think of my bride today. To remember all the Easter’s we’ve spent together over the years and what this morning would be like if she were still here with us. What it would mean to her to share Easter this year with our two-year-old. It would be so, so special.
There’s a Bible verse that I have been thinking a lot about lately… John 3:30. It says, “He must become greater; I must become less.” I know that the context of the verse is John the baptist talking about Jesus’ ministry growing as his will become less. But I think of that verse today because of Indiana. And because of Joey.
Indy has not asked for her mama. Not one single time since Joey’s been gone. It’s almost as if she hasn’t noticed that she’s not here. And that is so sad… and oh, so wonderful – all at the same time.
When we first got to Indiana in late October, Joey was Indy’s whole world. Everyone else was… well, just everyone else. Including me. She loved her mama so much and all she wanted was to be with her, beside her or in-sight of her. But in early November, when Joey started to realize that there was a good chance that she might not beat her battle with cancer, she made a decision…”he must become greater and I must become less.”
And she started going against everything in her being that told her “time was short” so hold her baby even tighter… and longer… and more… and instead – she handed the baby to me, and sat alone in a bed and watched and listened as my relationship with Indy grew…and hers lessoned.
I still remember the day a few weeks later when I was sitting on the couch near Joey’s bed and Indy was playing on the floor at my feet and Joey looked over at me and said, “she needs you now… “. I looked at Joey and saw the look on her face and knew what she meant, and I wanted to cry. But she just smiled and said, “…it’s best this way honey”.
Who does that? Who has that kind of strength and character? Not me, that’s for sure. I would’ve taken the low, easy road… the one that served me more. I would’ve tried to make the ties with our baby stronger and her love for me deeper so that she wouldn’t forget me… and in the end, probably left our baby wrecked with grief over the loss of the one person she loved and needed most. But not Joey. She let Indy fall more in love with me…and less in love with her. She carried the pain on her own shoulders, to try to keep it off of mine. And even more so, off of Indy’s.
Don’t get me wrong, there were still lots of times in those last few months that I put Indy in her mama’s lap and they spent time together, loving and enjoying each other. But it was never the same. Indiana loved her mama… but she wanted me. She needed me.
Thank you Joey.
No, Indy doesn’t quite understand what has happened. Why her papa is sad. Why friends hug us so tightly, and why tears fall from strangers’ eyes when they say hello to us. But she will. She may not realize right now how incredible her mama is, but she will. I have made a career out of documenting our lives, and her mother… with songs and video and pictures and they are everywhere. I will play them for her. And tucked away in her little heart will be all of the beautiful memories of these first two years that she has shared with her mama and when the time is right, she will find them and they will make her smile. Yes she will remember. I believe that.
Indy and I go and visit ‘mama’ every day.
We make the walk or ride into the backfield, to the spot where Joey rests and we sit down beside her temporary wooden cross. I talk with my bride about what has happened that day, and what I’m worried or excited about… and I share the latest thing that Indiana is doing.
And our little one plays in the grass beside the flowers. Listening. ‘Talking’ with her hands.
And for a little bit, we’re a family again. Indy is on Joey’s lap and the world is right.
Joey had every intention of home-schooling Indy as she grew up. For many reasons. But life has changed that plan.
I have written before about our desire to live our lives with “high hopes and low expectations”… but during the month of January, when Joey and I decided we needed to start researching what and where the next-best option for school for Indy might be…we had no idea that God would lead us to a place called, of all things… ‘High Hopes’.
It’s a Developmental Center and preschool in Franklin, TN about 25 minutes north of our farm. We had heard about it from our sweet banker friend Lisa Harless and were soon reading all about it online and speaking with the director Gail on the phone. Half of the Center is a preschool and the other half is a state-of-the-art therapy center for children with special needs. When I showed this video about their program to Joey, she wiped the tears from her eyes and with a beautiful smile said, “that’s the one honey… that’s the one”.
About forty percent of the kids in the school have special needs and after walking through and touring the facility the first time we visited High Hopes, it was easy to see that the other parents, the teachers and the staff there all have special hearts too. Joey was so excited about Indy getting the chance to come to High Hopes and I was so thankful that she felt great about it. Somehow she managed to transform her disappointment of not getting to raise and teach Indy into a real hope of something even better. I don’t know how, but she did. And she never cried another tear over it.
Indy has been in the preschool a couple days a week for the last week and a half now and is loving every minute of it.
She is making lots of new friends and loves being around all the other kids…
She likes recess and playing outside…
And getting to ride on fun toys…
and learning lots of new things…
She even likes her new nap time…
Indy has already started physical therapy classes to help her learn to walk and speech therapy to start turning all the words that she can say with her hands into sentences she can say with her mouth. I can hardly imagine how special it will be when the time finally comes that she can walk beside me and talk with me.
I believe that God gives us just what we need, when we need it. Sometimes it’s not what we had planned or what we thought we wanted, but if we keep an open mind… it just might even be better than what we originally hoped for.
When I came to pick her up at the end of her first day of preschool, Indiana’s teacher Miss Susan told me that Indy had found a little plastic figure in one of the toy boxes and was holding it up and signing “Papa”!
Though it’s hard for me to be away from Indiana at all, I also know that it’s a wonderful opportunity for her. And after her living with me in one small bedroom of a house for the last 5 months and not having much to do, she is ready for more stimulation and learning, and her new preschool is truly a blessing from heaven.
Indy and I are trying to adjust to our new life at home. To the empty chair at our table and pillow on the other side of my bed. Desperately missing Joey and carrying her in our hearts with us everywhere we go. Knowing, believing… that she’s looking down each morning as I take Indy into High Hopes, still smiling saying, “that’s the one honey…that’s the one”.