Joey + Rory are a GRAMMY nominated country music duo whose music weaves beautiful stories that are important to them. Life drastically changed for the couple when Joey was diagnosed with cancer, but they continued to share their painful and beautiful journey with the world. Rory Feek gives us a glimpse into his new book about his life with Joey and the greatest love story he would ever know.
Rays of Hope: The Love Story of Joey + Rory – Jesus Calling Podcast Episode 30
Rory Feek: Our story is complicated and simple all at the same time. It’s complicated because it takes all these twists and turns like a great movie does. It starts in one place and it just takes you on a ride. And wherever you join our story, I think, at least I hope, that you’ll see a part of yourself; in your life, or your marriage or your relationships, or your faith, or your struggles.
Narrator: Welcome to the Experience Jesus Calling Podcast. Today, we catch up by phone with songwriter (filmmaker, blogger and author) Rory Feek, husband to Joey Feek and father to three daughters. Joey + Rory are a GRAMMY nominated country music duo whose music weaves beautiful stories that are important to them. Life drastically changed for the couple when Joey was diagnosed with cancer, but they continued to pour into each other, their family and the world by sharing their joys and struggles during this time. Rory gives us a glimpse into his background and what led up to the greatest love story he would ever experience.
Rory: I’m from Atchison, Kansas. I was born there and then I lived for a little while in Highland Kansas, but I actually grew up all around the country. My parents were divorced, so we just really spent most of our time surviving and living in different towns all around the country and my mom trying to make a living.
I grew up listening to country music. That’s what my father played and what he listened to, and so that’s what I listened to. That’s really how I discovered music and why I love storytelling in general.
Country music is about stories, so I grew up listening to a million of those stories from artists that he grew up with. He would share songs with me or artists on the radio like Merle Haggard and Don Williams and folks like that who were singing songs and telling stories. They were all masters at it. It wasn’t until years and years later that I realized that a lot of time, behind the scenes, there were actual songwriters writing and crafting those songs. It wasn’t the artist. I didn’t learn that until I was in my 30s. And then once I did, I realized that that’s actually what I wanted to do.
Growing Up in Music
My father played guitar and sang all of my life. He was a really wonderful singer and dreamed of coming to Nashville and playing on the Grand Ole Opry; he was really good enough to do that. He just never had the opportunity. He worked for the railroad in Kansas and lived there his whole life. And so that dream of his passed on to me at an early age and I kind of took it and kept trying to run with it on my own.
That’s really how I discovered music and why I love storytelling in general.
It’s how I kind of started making it my own, was learning songs off the radio and trying to figure out how to write my own.
I was always telling stories. That was clear. I wanted to tell a story about some character that was unfolding in front of me just like it would unfold in front of the listener. Early on, I realized that my favorite part of writing songs was that I was telling a story, and I wasn’t just telling a story that I made up. The story was sort of making itself up, and I was the first listener. So I loved that process and I still do that to this day. So early on it could be really about anything; it could be love stories or someone being lost in a blizzard or someone struggling with some health issue; family stories; whatever it happened to be.
In the end I always wanted the same thing; I always wanted to end up here in Nashville doing something in music. So, when I got out of the service in 1990 I found my way to Texas and played music full time there for about four years with my two daughters. I was a single parent by then and my daughters Heidi and Hopie and I moved to Tennessee and we actually moved the first time in the fall of 1994. And then, just really didn’t make it, so we moved back to Texas.
I played music at night and then we moved to Nashville full time to stay in the fall in 1995. We’ve been here ever since.
One Night at the Bluebird Cafe: Joey Meets Rory
I started having some success as a songwriter. I got a publishing deal with Harlan Howard who’s a legendary songwriter in Nashville. He wrote “I Fall To Pieces” for Patsy Cline and “Tiger By The Tail” for Buck Owens; dozens and dozens and probably hundreds and hundreds of songs that you’ve heard on the radio. He took me under his wing, him and his wife, and they mentored me. So I started writing songs and learning how to write commercial songs and within about three years, started having success. That’s when I bought this old farmhouse that I’m in right now about an hour south of Nashville. My daughters and I moved in here and about two and a half years later is when I met Joey. I was playing a writer’s night at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, a real famous place where songwriters perform, and she was in the audience and she saw me perform. I didn’t actually get to meet or talk to her that night. She’s told the story many times, that she was in the audience and watched me and listened to me and the others perform. And something inside her just told her that I was the one.
But somewhere in the show I introduced my daughters Heidi and Hopie, who were there. And so Joey just immediately thought, “well, darn all the good ones are gone.” So, I didn’t hear from her and she didn’t show up in my life for two years. Then through another series of events she came to another songwriter’s night. She had since heard that I wasn’t married that I’d been a single father for 12 years.
So when she heard that, she showed up to see if those feelings that she had were still there. Turns out they were. So that’s where we met. It wasn’t long after that that we started dating; we dated really, just for two months and got engaged and got married two months later. That was in 2002.
The Great Love Story: Songs and Stories About Faith
Narrator: The great love story of Joey and Rory began at that songwriter’s night and continues today, even through Joey’s cancer diagnosis, treatment and her ultimate goodbye in March of 2016. On his blog, Rory described a typical morning as he and Joey faced her final days. He would awake each morning, check on his wife, and then “sit at the table with a daily devotional called Jesus Calling and the Bible. I listen to our little one playing and talking to herself in her crib as I listen to what God has to say through the words on the page and silently talk to Him.” Once again, here’s Rory.
Rory: My wife had an amazing gift of living her life very purposefully but also, she had an amazing voice that she used in a wonderful way. Together we were able to tell stories, that weren’t just songs meant to make us famous or to get our names on the charts somewhere. It was really about sharing our story and things that were important to us, and my wife was brilliant at it. So we always tried to include a song that had faith in it, at least one in every album we did.
By the time last year came along, we had a chance to do one more record, even though we weren’t really sure at the time that it was going to be one more record. We went in the studio and Joey really wanted to record an album of hymns and songs that she grew up with. They meant so much to her as a child and ultimately she thought would mean a lot to our children. So we went in the summer of 2015, and recorded some of Joey’s favorite songs.
It was really about sharing our story and things that were important to us, and my wife was brilliant at it.
It was not long after Joey had her second surgery from cancer that we went in and recorded the project. We were still very, very hopeful that everything was going to work out.
One Last Song: Seeing God’s Wisdom
So Joey kept singing. We would be in hotel rooms and she would be recording her vocals; I would record them for her and just continued working on the album all the way through. Somewhere in the midst of that, we did find out that the cancer had continued spreading, in spite of everything they had done. We realized that this is the last record that she’s going to make; that we’re going to make together. That made it even more important to us. It made those songs even more important. The messages that she was sharing even more important. She poured everything she had into it, and I tried to do the same.
We didn’t have a specific plan on how we were going to spend these last few months. We didn’t know how long. We didn’t know if we had days, or weeks or months. We just wanted to do it well. So daily, we’d just wake up and do our best to keep living a great life and telling a great story; loving each other and sharing it.
Joey wanted to go up and see her family in Indiana and spend a few days there. Really just seeing the farm she grew up in; the farmhouse, and being around the little community and the people up there. That three or four days turned into weeks and then months. We were there for five months and we ended up experiencing all of the end of my wife’s story there.
That’s one of the wonderful things that happened; somehow in God’s wisdom, He had made it so that we started writing a blog a couple of years before that. We had been very honestly and authentically telling our story; the good and bad, the struggles and the great joys that we’ve had.
So when this came around, it was just another part of our story and my wife bravely wanted to share all of it with everyone. So I was given the chance and the responsibility to share her story and our story and it’s been amazing to see where that’s led. I think she loved knowing that maybe some of what she went through would be encouraging for others.
To Joey With Love
So today, though it’s been 10 months since my wife has passed away and I’m here with my baby who’s about to turn three in a few weeks, it’s easy again still to see the hope that’s in the situation. I’m reminded of my wife.
We had been very honestly and authentically telling our story; the good and bad, the struggles and the great joys that we’ve had.
Or even now, the book that’s coming out, half of that is really about my story before I ever met Joey. It gives some perspective to her and I and our marriage. I think it’s important and I hope that people will get something from it; mostly because it’s an amazing love story that I’ve been part of, but it’s even more amazing if you can see how far God has brought me in order to have the chance to be with her and how much He’s still working on me. I think all that stuff is really important.
So whether it’s the five months while we were in Indiana last year and that story that we were writing on the blog and we were sharing and Joey was living; which is someone extraordinarily going through their last few months. Whether it’s that story or the film that we got to share; the documentary that really covered two and a half years of our lives called “To Joey With Love.” That’s a little bit of a different story; a little bit more of a story. You can really see her and watch her rather than just read about her. You can see it and you can understand who she is, why she made the decisions she did and what an amazing woman she is.
I don’t want to try and share some rosy perfect version of our life, because it isn’t; it wasn’t always that way. The truth is, there were a lot of struggles to get to where we were. That’s for her and I together, and even more so for myself. I think that’s the part people can relate to.
Seeing the Rays of Hope
Joey and I, all through even the difficult times, we never stopped seeing the rays of hope. The rays of hope were always there. My wife and I are big fans of Jesus Calling for a lot of reasons mostly because it meant so much to her. We always believed that at any moment God could heal her and change how this story ends. He didn’t choose to do that, but we believe that He could and we knew He could. And so that always kept us hopeful and we’re hopeful that tomorrow would be good. Whatever that meant it would be good. Even when things weren’t OK we knew they would be OK.
If anything, I hope people will see themselves in our weakness more than even in our strength that we’ve had.
I take Indiana, our little girl back and forth to school; she doesn’t talk well yet, but she signs and she’ll say “mama” and she’ll sign “sing” and I know she wants to hear Joey sing. So I put on hymns album and we drive.
We drive to school and listen to her mama sing and it’s not just singing. She’s singing songs that matter. It’s the greatest; it’s the most beautiful, heart-wrenching thing in the world.
Everywhere I go, everything I do, this house is filled with her love and her presence and it’s beautiful. She didn’t just make a life here. She made a life that’s going to continue long after she was here. I feel it.
Narration: Find out more about Rory’s new book, This Life I Live; One Man’s Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever at www.thislifeilivebook.com.
Narrator: Today’s featured passage comes the January 8th entry of the Jesus Calling audiobook:
Softly I announce My Presence. Shimmering hues of radiance tap gently at your consciousness, seeking entrance. Though I have all Power in heaven and on earth, I am infinitely tender with you. The weaker you are, the more gently I approach you. Let your weakness be a door to My Presence. Whenever you feel inadequate, remember that I am your ever-present Help.
Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression and self-pity. Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to heaven. The more you cling to this cord, the more I bear the weight of your burdens; thus, you are lightened. Heaviness is not of My kingdom. Cling to hope, and My rays of Light will reach you through the darkness.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.