I’m cautious about what I share here about my work. I never want to give you the impression that I need you to know who knows my name. Out of respect for those who worked hard to gain a name for themselves, I don’t feel good about trying to borrow someone else’s name so you’ll think more of me. That said, there are a few people who have made an eternal impact on me, and one of them went to heaven today.
I’m hoping you understand that I’m not trying to name-drop, I simply want to honor a lady who is one of the best people I’ve had the joy of knowing. Her name is Joey. We weren’t close friends, but she is the kind of person who inspires the people in her path to be the best we can be.
I first met her at the Indiana church my family attended for a few years. She grew up in that church and often sang for us when she came back from Nashville to visit her family. She was so, so beautiful. When she sang, there was a purity about her voice that wasn’t like any country singer I had heard before. I hoped Nashville wouldn’t taint her.
For the next few years I watched from afar as she diligently kept doing the work artists do. She kept writing, kept singing, kept her dreams alive, and remained true to her country and gospel music roots.
She met a songwriter named Rory and married him. I hoped he would be good to her, because I knew then she was good people. Then, I lost track of Joey and Rory for a while. I still loved hearing them whenever they made their way back to Indiana. I once emailed their office to let them know how much I enjoyed Joey’s music. I said something about how I loved the way she could deliver a song powerfully and authentically, yet she never put on an act or tried to blow the roof off the place. She just did what she did with class and grace. Rory emailed me back promptly and was so incredibly kind. He gave me some good songwriting advice, which I valued (and needed). They didn’t get quite as much email back then, I’m guessing.
During the years that followed, their careers took off. I was hearing exciting reports of their rise to stardom, television programs and commercials. I was so happy because it couldn’t have happened to nicer people.
Then a few years ago, they came to Gaither Studios to record a video with Bill [Gaither]. I was involved in that video (called Inspired) as a scriptwriter, so I enjoyed the privilege of sitting in on the interview. As I saw how Joey and Rory interacted with one another, telling the story of their life, their music and their faith, it was clear that the fame they had earned since I last saw them had not changed them one bit. There was a depth about them you just can’t fake. I went home and told my husband that day, “They are our kind of people.”
After that video, we learned that Joey was expecting a baby. Everyone who knew them was overjoyed. Joey and Rory sang at our company Christmas party that year and she was radiant with her beautiful round belly. That will go down as my favorite Christmas party of all time.
Our hearts melted as we got to know baby Indiana through Rory’s eyes via his blog. And for the first time, we saw the dignity with which they handled the unexpected news that their baby had Downs Syndrome. Then the months that followed brought more and more unexpected turns in their otherwise storybook life. Joey fought cancer hard. Yet they kept singing.
And at every turn, we saw more character… more love grow…more resolve to openly accept God’s plan as their own. It rocked me, and it rocked the now-millions of people who caught wind of their story.
You may have seen them recently on television, on social media, in Country Weekly Magazine, at the top of Billboard charts, on the shelves of Cracker Barrel, or any number of places. And you need to know that they got there by simply being the very best version of themselves they could be; not by name-dropping, or putting on an act, or schmoozing. They never manipulated people to try to get noticed. They just played to their strengths. And something about that was irresistible to the world.
I SO love that their newest recording and DVD wowed the music industry the week it released (and each week since). Our company employees of every rank quit whatever we were doing to help pack orders… that has never happened. Because their success came as a result of their faithfulness, we were all so happy for them!
Yet we were also sad for them. We knew Joey’s cancer was taking its toll. Rory would have traded every one of those albums sold for his wife to be healed. But she was ready to stop hurting and be with her Savior.
Today, she left this world for her Eternal Home. I’m so sad. Yet what a privilege it was to know this woman who loved so many of the things I love – gardening, music, family, and Jesus. Just by living her life and singing her songs, Joey challenged me to stay true to the things that are important to me… no short cuts.
Joey, you made my life better. Your voice will always remind me to be myself and nothing less. And I hope we can garden together in heaven. You could teach me a thing or two. But this year’s tomato seedlings are dedicated to you.