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 lifetime.
I had always wanted to write a book. I had even taken a couple of 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's the 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 someday. 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 HarperCollins 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 through 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...” 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 Valentine's 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 its 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.
And ultimately, more of His story.