I only wrote a couple of songs on the new album. Two actually.
And as strange as it might seem, I'm really proud of that. Because it means that I—that we, picked the best songs. Not just the best of my songs. But the best, right songs for the record.
One that I wrote was "Me & the Blues" that I shared on Valentine's Day a few weeks ago, and the other is "Met Him In A Motel Room." I wrote this one with my friend Jamie Teachenor about twenty years old. Like a fine wine, it’s been sitting in a drawer somewhere, waiting for someone to open it up at just the right moment and share it with the world. Trisha Yearwood sang with me on this one. Which is special for me for a couple of reasons. First off, she recorded it herself on her album Prizefighter a few years ago. So she already blessed me once by doing that. And now, she's singing with me on my recording of the song, which is extra-special for a songwriter to have happen.
The song is about a woman of the night... sort of. It’s actually about the emptiness inside us that we try and try to fill, with money and things, with work or with alcohol. With drugs and sex and whatever else we can, only to find that that empty spot inside of us, that all that stuff is supposed to fill… doesn’t. And often, we find ourselves in a free fall, at the end, of the end, of our rope.
I know that feeling well. Do you? Have you tried and tried to find joy and happiness in 'stuff'? Or in someone? And it’s left you empty. Still.
We all have to find our 'bottom.' The point where we've done all that we can personally do to get our lives and our hearts on track and realize that we're still making a mess of it. A moment of complete surrender. When we finally give God the reigns and let him start guiding our steps and Him be the light we walk towards.
Hers was in a motel room...
I know that feeling she felt. That emptiness, and the surrender that followed.
My moment of surrender was on a bus going nowhere. During a time when I was doing well on the outside, but on the inside, I was drowning. I had been looking for God, hoping he would hit me over the head and take my life and fix it. He never did. Instead, he just waited for me to hand the reins over to Him. And using my legs and my hands and my heart, He rebuilt the mess that was my life... into something so beautiful, that I can’t believe I get to be part of it.
I shared that story in my book This Life I Live but I thought this might be a good time to copy and paste and share it here. It's not a story I'm proud of, but it was important for me to go through. To get where I am. To get to where I'm going...
a chapter from This Life I Live
I have said many times that I think I spent too much of my life trying to write great songs and not enough time trying to be a great man.
That is so true. I thought that success would bring happiness, but it’s the other way around. True joy and happiness have a way of attracting good things to happen in your life. And if you find success and aren’t already happy, it will only make you more unhappy. It’ll amplify what’s already there. It did for me anyway.
I had been going to church on and off for years. And I’d joined and attended singles groups and I’d even walked forward and given my life to Christ and been baptized. But nothing had happened. I had thought that a brick would hit me in the head and all of sudden everything would be so much clearer, and I’d be a different man. A better one. But it never happened. I didn’t understand why. I had started going to a Bible study on 16th Avenue on Music Row a couple years before this, but had mostly sat in the back, listening, reading, wondering if all this was really true. I wanted my life to change, but I didn’t want to be turned into one of those boring, good-two-shoe Christian guys that I’d met by the dozens. The ones that spoke of ‘being in the blood’ and looked like they’d never done anything wrong in their lives. I couldn’t relate to them. Not in the least. My world and my people were welfare and food-stamps and cars that don’t run and ex-wives and pain and sorrow. I felt like if I became a real Christian, I would be neutered. That all the real fun in life would go away. Yes, I would be more honest and a better man, but I’d be vanilla and plain and nobody. I didn’t want to be that. I might have looked like someone who was successful to others, but inside I was still nobody, and that scared me.
And so I kept doing things my way. Learning the hard way. Opening my hand a little at a time, and trusting God with my life and my fears a little more and a little more, until one day I found myself at a crossroads.
The money from my first hit song had bought the farmhouse we live in and royalties from the second had started fixing it up some. I was becoming a better man, little by little, and was feeling inspired by making some fairly good choices. But I was still struggling with giving absolute control of my life over to someone besides me… to Him. My mom was living in an RV across our driveway at the time (this was before it wouldn’t run and would be permanently parked at a lot by the interstate a few miles from here) and the girls were enjoying having her in our lives. Getting off the bus and sitting with her in lawn chairs while she smoked and told stories of the good old days when their old man was young and the only cereal we had to eat was crumbled bread in a bowl with milk on it. And God was working on me. I was dangerously close to turning it all over to Him, to surrendering everything once and for all. And I think the devil knew it too. I don’t know if the devil is real or not, but I know the Bible talks about him being tossed out of heaven and having a pull on us, making us want to put ourselves first do sinful things and that was something I could relate to. I could feel a fight going on inside of me. Between good and evil. The promise of hope was battling with the truth of who I was inside… the me that no-one really knew. And they were fighting it out and it was killing me.
Late one night, I got in my car and headed up the interstate. Tears were falling down my cheeks and I was crying out to God. To the devil. Part of me wanted to leave the old me behind and start walking a new path, no matter how scary it was. And another part of me was saying, “let's just get out of here… you’re just gonna screw those kids up… you’re worthless… let’s get out of here.”
I drove to a big park and I walked around. For hours and hours. It was late at night and I hadn’t told the kids or anyone that I was leaving or when I would be back. I just kept walking. And crying. And then I drove into downtown Nashville and walked those streets. I walked by the bus station that I had been in the first trip I took to Nashville and I went in and sat down. Then I went to the counter and asked for a bus ticket. The lady at the counter said, “where to?” I said, “anywhere but here lady.” And I boarded a greyhound bus and as it drove off into the night, I stared out into the night. Imagining that I would end up at the ocean somewhere and would get a job on a boat, giving people there a different name. Keeping who I was a secret and starting a new life. One that didn’t have the responsibilities I had. Didn’t have the history or the emptiness. I could just be free. Invent a new identity and make a new life, leaving the old one behind. But then I thought of my girls. What would happen to them? When they wake up and realize that I’m gone, and I’m not coming back. Would my mother raise them? Would they hate me? Or be better off without me. And I thought about God. This God that was supposed to come inside us if we ask for Him and fill us up so we wouldn’t feel alone or so empty anymore. Where was this God? A million things went through my mind that night.
When I came to, the bus was in Louisville, Kentucky. Dropping off and picking up some more passengers. I got off and walked to the bathroom. Numb. Dead inside. I splashed some water on my face in a dirty sink and looked up. And then it happened. I saw him. Me. Him. God. Him in me. In the mirror. As I stood in the bathroom of that Greyhound station, I saw myself and it suddenly occurred to me, for the first time… that maybe He’s already here. Already in me. And all I have to do, is believe it. I dried my hands and went to the counter and bought another ticket home. Then boarded a bus headed south for Nashville.
It was morning by the time I got to my truck and started heading home. I was driving up I-65 and the sun was rising over the buildings and the houses to the left of the interstate. And I could feel something rising inside me too. I wasn’t what it was, but it felt like hope. Real hope. In something greater. In something and someone bigger than me. I knew that I still had a lot to learn and would probably never completely figure out how this religion thing works exactly, but I would just choose to believe, and maybe that would be enough. Maybe. Just maybe.
And it was.
It still is. I can’t say I understand much more about God’s plan and how it all works today than I did that morning driving home from the bus station. I’ve never told this story before. Not to my kids or mother or anyone. I’ve always been embarrassed by it. But I’ve learned now that most of the times those things that you think you’re most ashamed of and don’t want to tell anyone… they become a new beginning for you. And in time, God has a way of making those the first thing that you want to talk about, because it’s from there that He was able to work in life. To really change you. From the inside out.
And so, though I didn’t understand it, I started just believing. And if I really believed, wouldn’t I act differently? And so I would. And from acting differently, an amazing thing happened. Real change. Transformation. First in myself and then in everyone and everything around me. Nothing is the same. It is, but it isn’t. And after a while, I didn’t have to remind myself to make the good and right choices, I just started doing it naturally. Because it felt so good.
Something happened to me. No, a brick didn’t fall down from heaven and change me, but it might as well have. I guess you could say I was saved. Or forgiven. Or born-again. Whatever it was, it was powerful and it was real. And it’s made all the difference in my life.