I don’t know where Indy gets her personality from.
Joey says it’s from me. I’m not sure I believe her. But no matter… one thing is for sure, our little one has one of the most expressive little faces I’ve ever seen.
I took a trip to Kohls last week and was supposed to buy her a couple of new outfits. She has grown out of most of her clothes and since it’s getting colder here, she needed some warm things to wear. I was on a mission. And I did good until I got to the check-out and saw something on a nearby rack with the word ‘Indiana’ on it.
Somehow what caught my eyes made it’s way into our cart and home with us.
I’m so glad it did.
A day or so later, I sat Indy on Joey’s bed so she could spend a few minutes with her mama. Joey had had some tough days and the decline of her condition was weighing heavy on her and all of our minds.
But in a matter of minutes, Indy had her mama laughing out loud…
Like she did that day in August at the hospital in Atlanta when Joey was starting chemo, I think our baby is continuing to cheer her mama on in her fight – the best way she knows how…
By making her smile.
Joey and I have always tried to record songs that matter to us – songs that we can relate to in a personal way.
Some are songs we’ve written and some we’ve found. More times than not, they’re songs about us – about our lives. But from time to time, a song we record comes to life in a way we never imagined.
Years ago, our friend Sandy Lawrence wrote a song for her mother who she was caring for as she was passing away. It was something she said she wrote to help her through her feelings – to help her heal.
In 2012, Joey and I were in the studio recording a new album. This record was going to be called His and Hers and different than the ones we’d made before where Joey sang every song and I just sang harmony… on this record she wanted me to sing half of the songs. And so I did.
As we were looking for and choosing the 12 songs that would go on the new record, we both knew that we wanted one of them to be a Sandy Lawrence song. Sandy was a undiscovered songwriter who had moved to Nashville twenty-something years ago and knocked on a thousand un-opened doors on Music Row. In her late 50’s now, working at a library and helping her husband Cowboy Jack take care of the horses at their small ranch south of Franklin- we had come to know and love the songs that Sandy wrote. Different than most songwriters in Nashville where co-writing runs rampant, Sandy writes hers alone. And they’re brilliant.
And maybe by chance, by recording one of her songs… we could change Sandy’s life and the world could discover what a gift she has. That’s our favorite part of recording other people’s songs.
Sitting in the studio with my laptop, I went through a few of the songs that we liked and then came across a new one that Sandy had sent me. It was her work-tape of “When I’m Gone”. I played it for Joey.
She listened as her tears fell.
Ten minutes later, our producer Gary Paczosa, Joey and I were gathered around Gordon Mote and his piano – finding Joey’s key to record the song in. Gordon is blind and though he can’t see with his eyes… his gift of sight is much stronger than ours. It was as if he could see what this song would one day become and he laid his fingers on the keys and softly started playing the intro notes on the piano that you hear now.
We wept again.
Fast forward a few months and we were at our farm in the big barn making a music video for When I’m Gone. We knew the recording was special and our hope was that the song’s message might help someone who is in the midst of losing someone they love or who has already lost someone and are trying to make sense of it all.
Someone like me… and my girls. And Joey’s mama and daddy. And three sisters. And all our friends.
The day we made the video, our plans were to just have Joey and I sing the song in front of the cameras and Sandy play piano in the background. We lit candles and transformed our barn into a beautiful studio set. But an hour or two before shooting started, Gabe and Aaron and BA came to me and said we have an idea… they said, “what if you’re the one who has lost someone and Joey’s singing to you?”
I didn’t like it.
I told them so. It hit too close to home.
But as they continued to talk and I listened… I realized that “yes, of course. We have to make it that way. It’s the story in the song”.
It wasn’t what I wanted… but it’s what the song wanted. And though it scared me for us to be that vulnerable, it was also what our whole lives and music career was about – being real… being honest.
And so the cameras rolled and both Joey and I let us ourselves imagine what it would be like if she had to leave this world and I was left behind without her…
And now, here I sit beside my dying wife.
I don’t say those words lightly. As a matter-of-fact, I haven’t said them at all. But my beautiful bride has said them to me in these couple of days. Her pain and discomfort has continued to increase daily and so has the morphine to help her be comfortable. The dosage she’s needed to keep the pain away has quadrupled in the last four days.
I’d like to tell you that she’s doing great and is going to beat this thing. But I can’t.
Yesterday with tears in her eyes and mine, Joey held my hand and told me that she has been having serious talks with Jesus. She said she told him that if He’s ready to take her… she’s ready to come home.
Our ‘make-believe’ song and video seems to be coming true.
Some call it ‘life imitating art’. I don’t.
I call it God.
He knew I would need her to tell me goodbye… not just once, but a thousand times. And I’d need to know that no matter how much time passes, that she loves me still. And He made it so that if I needed to be reminded of her beautiful life and heart and voice… she would only be a ‘click’ away.
Am I angry at the irony of the song? No. How could I be?
How many men who are losing the woman they love get a gift like that? None that I know of.
Joey and I have asked to have “When I’m Gone” added to our new “Hymns That Are Important To Us” album that’s coming out in a couple of weeks in Cracker Barrel and most other places all around the country. It’s not a classic hymn, but to us it is.
It is a very special song, filled with hope and love. And in time, I believe it will have the power to help heal a million broken hearts…
The holidays have been a roller-coaster for my bride. She’s had some good days, some bad days – some wonderful moments, and some deep pain that the morphine just couldn’t seem to touch. How could it… it wasn’t that kind of pain.
They say that at Christmas time emotions run high, and you feel more than you do the rest of the year. I think that’s probably true. Though she managed a smile most of the time, Joey’s heart was heavy and she was feeling some things she hadn’t before…
A sadness. A fear of the unknown. And even some anger – not at God, just at her situation I suppose. It’s not easy for her to be as excited about what the new year holds in store as it was last year.
But she says she’s seen the light, and she’s over that now…
If you don’t know who Bill Gaither and his wife Gloria are, you should take a moment and look them up. They’re legendary songwriters and artists in the gospel music world. Bill’s song “He Touched Me” has been recorded by everyone and his brother, including Elvis. And the hymnals in most churches around the country are filled with pages and pages of their songs of faith, inspiration and hope. Songs like “Because He Lives”, “Something Beautiful” and “Jesus, There’s Just Something About That Name” to name a few.
But before Bill made the history books, he was an English teacher in the local high school here in Joey’s hometown, and Gloria taught French. Both Joey’s daddy and mama were students of theirs in the late 1960’s. And though in the past 50 years the Gaithers have grown a music empire and are known the world-over, they still live in the same small town and are a part of every day life here in Alexandria.
Especially ours lately…
Bill comes to see Joey just about every day, when he’s not on the road. We’ll get a knock on the door in the morning or early afternoon, and next thing you know Bill will be parked in a chair beside Joey’s bed, telling her jokes and stories about days long-past and he’ll have Joey and all of us laughing and smiling ’til our faces hurt.
I think he just wants to brighten Joey’s day and create as much joy for her as he can. We all do.
A week or so ago, just before Christmas – on the other side of the pond… we noticed a big fire burning by the gazebo.
From Joey’s bedroom window, we could see the beautiful flames dancing across the water.
It was magical.
As I sat beside my wife watching… my cell-phone rang. I picked it up.
“Can she see it?”, the deep voice said.
“Yes Bill, it’s beautiful”. I answered – knowing that he had built the fire, hoping she could see if from her window.
“Is she smiling?”, Mr Gaither asked.
I looked over at Joey watching the flames, beaming ear-to-ear… and found myself doing the same thing.
“We all are Bill”.
That’s the thing about someone burning with passion – the whole world can see their light. They have something that shines so bright inside them, others can’t help but notice it in their eyes and on their faces and in their actions. They use their lives to provide some light in a dark world that can be overwhelming and scary at times.
Bill has sure shined his light on us.
The last couple of albums and DVD’s we’ve made have been with Bill and the Gaither organization. Our new Hymns record coming out next month is with them too. For each project, Bill has personally sat down and interviewed us on-camera and asked us questions about the music we’ve made and about our lives.
But what he’s actually doing in those moments is wrapping his arms around us, and doing all he can to shine a light on us for the world to see.
He uses his light to start a flame for us…
With hopes that someday we might use our light to shine on others.
And he doesn’t just do that for us, he’s done it for dozens, if not hundreds of up-and-coming and past-their-prime artists throughout his career.
After all this time, Bill’s still a teacher at heart. Most conversations that we have with him, he’s sharing things he’s learned – mistakes he’s made and wisdom he’s gleamed from a life-time of making music that he loves and loving the ones he has been given the chance to make music with.
Gloria is the same way. She has a way with words that most of us will never have. In early November when this little town of Alexandria held a prayer vigil for my wife, Gloria and Bill were one of hundreds who stood out on the street in the rain and lifted Joey up to Lord in prayer.
With candles, they all gathered and lit a fire that I have a feeling will keep burning long after Joey’s gone. After I’m gone.
Thank you Bill. Thank you Gloria. Thank you everyone.
We are all seeing the light.
“A Gruffalo… what’s a Gruffalo?
A Gruffalo… why, didn’t you know?
There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo!”
Those are lines from Indiana’s favorite book and video called “The Gruffalo”.
In the story, a mouse goes for a stroll through the deep dark wood to find a nut, and he comes upon some difficult obstacles that stand in his way. In order to keep going, the mouse ‘makes up’ something called a Gruffalo.
The mouse knows it’s not true. But everyone else believes his story.
The best part of the book is that in the end, the very thing that he imagined in his head, turns out to be real. And the mouse found a way to be brave through something that should have been very scary.
That’s a little like our holidays here year.
In early November, Christmas seemed still so far away. And the prognosis was clear that there was a good chance Joey wasn’t going to be with us then and that this Christmas was going to be a difficult one to get through.
So like the mouse in Indy’s story, we all began to ‘make up’ our own Gruffalo. Ours was the belief that it was going to be a wonderful, magical Christmas. We didn’t really believe it – down deep inside we knew we knew better – but still we told ourselves and each other that it was going to be great.
And we trudged on through the deep dark wood.
And when we got to the other side, it turned out that our Gruffalo was real too. Christmas had come and Joey was not only here with us, but she was doing well and we all had an amazing day together.
There was a beautiful Christmas tree filled with wonder…
Christmas cookies that we made together…
New pajamas that we opened and put on the night before (it’s our yearly tradition)…
Lots of presents to open on Christmas morning…
And a big Christmas dinner in the evening and fun with all of Joey’s family…
It truly was an incredible Christmas!
Sometimes believing is seeing.
And so as the New Year approaches, we will continue to believe and trust that what is waiting on the other side of the deep, dark wood is something even better and more beautiful than our minds can even imagine.
And yes, our little Indiana had a wonderful Christmas this year. I think her favorite gift was getting her very own Gruffalo. Her expressions were priceless.
Like us, she almost couldn’t believe that her “Gruffalo” was really here. Really real.
But it was. It really was.
Santa Claus came to our house this evening. He was a week early, but right on time.
Some friends of ours from Arkansas, Dave and Nicole Trudo, called a few days ago and said that they were sending a box filled-with-goodies to us and that it was going to be delivered in a special way… and boy, they weren’t kidding.
The Kris Kringle that showed up at our door wasn’t your ordinary shopping-mall Santa. This one was the real deal… or as close to it as I’ve ever personally seen. He had the real beard, the real belly, and on top of that he had the kindest smile and a heart for special babies and mama’s with no hair… I loved him from the moment I met him.
Our little Indiana took a little longer to warm up to him…
When the presents were opened and his work was through, Santa found a spot next to Joey and made himself at home – just like an old friend. He said he knew our music (I had no idea Santa was a country music fan) and was a little nervous about coming to see us this evening – not knowing what to expect – or if Joey would be up for their visit. But I think once he saw my bride sitting on the couch and smiling when he came in, and enjoying the evening… he settled in and hopefully had as good a time as we did.
He and Joey and I talked together for a long, long time.
It turned out our Santa is retired military and used to be in law enforcement – apprehending bad guys. Then sometime after he retired, he found his true calling. Love.
He told us that “you haven’t lived ’til you’ve found a job that allows you to give something back”. He said he takes his job very seriously… he’s even been to Santa school – twice. And from Thanksgiving to January 1st each year, he spreads Christmas cheer and delivers presents all over Indiana to good little boys and girls – from pre-school age ones like Indy, to the elderly folks in retirement homes.
While Joey and I and Santa talked, Mrs Claus had a nice visit with Joey’s mama June.
I didn’t know until tonight that Santa’s a bit of a snowbird. When New Years is over, he said that he and his Mrs will head to Florida like they do each year to spend the winter on the beach in Clearwater. I can’t say I blame them – the icy wind was was mighty cold up here in Indiana today.
Before Santa headed out for more deliveries, we gathered together for a one last picture.
What a blessing this evening was. Indy’s first time to meet Santa Claus… and Joey and I’s first chance to get to know him a little better.
With all the wonderful gifts that Santa (and the Trudo’s) brought, our little baby really only cared about one… the big box the presents came in. She found a spot in the bubble wrap and paper and just read her books and played ’til she was worn out and ready for bed.
What a beautiful way to kick off the week leading up to Christmas.