I have never been a great gift-giver.
Like most men, when Valentine's Day or a birthday rolls around, I would scramble to find ‘just the right gift’ at 5 p.m. 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 over 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 of couple months, he and his team offered to help turn that footage into 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 those 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 me 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 its 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, Aaron, Gabe, and some other friends who are working on it with me)... and watching this story unfold. Again.
Happy Anniversary my love.