Narrator: In today’s unsettling times, it’s good to know that Jesus is walking with us in the present, and that there’s hope for our future. Jesus Today is a devotional from Sarah Young that will inspire and encourage you—with assurances from Scripture that God is still in control. You can get Jesus Today at JesusCalling.com or your favorite bookseller.
Faith on the Front Lines: Craig Morgan & First Lady of Louisiana Donna Edwards – Episode #200
Narrator: In observance of Memorial Day, veteran and country music artist Craig Morgan and the First Lady of Louisiana, Donna Edwards, join the Jesus Calling Podcast to share how their faith, families, and a dedication to public service have shaped their lives in incredible ways. Craig Morgan served in the Army for 17 years before pursuing a country music career, which now allows him to serve military members via USO shows and special tours. After losing his 19-year-old son Jerry in a tragic accident, Craig felt moved by God to share his pain through a song called “The Father, My Son, and the Holy Ghost,” which has touched countless lives. First Lady Edwards shares why she and her husband, Governor John Bel Edwards, were inspired to dedicate their lives to serving the public. As part of that service and in devotion to God, First Lady Edwards felt led to share Jesus Calling with women offenders in her state, and visited them in person to deliver the books, which had an enormous impact on her and women in the facility.
Narrator: When he was growing up, Craig Morgan would never have guessed that one day he would be a member of the Grand Ole Opry—he felt a calling to join the Army, where he served for nearly two decades. But during his travels in the Army, Craig began to miss the home he left behind and began to write songs that captured the place and people he held dear—and his career in country music was born. Craig’s Star rose steadily, held up by his faith and family. It was this foundation that carried Craig after he learned his nineteen year old son Jerry had died in a boating accident. In the days that followed, Craig turned to music again to capture the pain that he felt, this time writing a song called “The Father, My Son, and the Holy Ghost,” which would touch countless lives across the globe.
Craig Morgan: I’m Craig Morgan. I’m a country singer, Grand Ole Opry member, father, husband, an entrepreneur, philanthropist. I’m a country singer by trade.
I’m the country singer who was born in Nashville, Tennessee. I grew up in and around this business my whole life. My dad was a bass player, he played on some old shows called the Ralph Emery Show, Pop Goes the Country, Young Country. But the whole time all this was going on, I didn’t have any aspirations of becoming a singer/songwriter or anything. And I think that was a tribute to the fact that it was part of my life all the time because my dad did it.
Faith has always been a big part of my life. I grew up in a church-going, faithful Christian family. Not to say that we were perfect by any means, we were far from it. But I’ve always had that to follow, and have always had that basis, that foundation, the cornerstone of faith in Christ in our life.
Heeding the Call to Serve
The military was a big part, and it still is today, a big part of my life. I joined the military, ironically enough, to get away from home, not to leave the family. I had a great family life and all of those things, I just wanted to do something different.
I’ve always had a different sense of respect for four soldiers. You see them, and as a kid growing up, I always thought they were better people. I just had this feeling that they were heroic, and I wanted to be that guy.
I tell people all the time, “I don’t want to be a hero, but I did want to do heroic things.” I always wanted to do the right thing. I always had this drive. Looking back, I know that it was God leading me, but that’s what really pushed me into the military.
And I got in, I enjoyed it so much. I always felt like I was doing something good. I ended up joining in some conflicts, doing different things throughout my military career, almost seventeen years total time in service. So in that time, I got to travel around the world and experience other cultures, and it just really gave me a deep appreciation for those who serve, their families, and our country, and a love for the privilege that we have in the United States of America.
There’s a term that a lot of military personnel use, “Once a soldier, always a soldier.” And I truly believe that once that’s a part of your life, it’s always a part of your life, whether you do three years or thirty years. There’s things that are learned in the military that carry forward in your life for the rest of your life. And I think one of those is gratitude, especially for those military personnel who experience other cultures. And then you come back to the United States of America and you go, “Goodness gracious, man, how great do we have it? How special is this country that we get to do the things that we do?”
I definitely stay in touch with the military people, because even though I’m a musician now, an entertainer, I get to utilize that aspect of my life to serve those men and women in there that are serving. So that’s why I still do a lot of the things that I do, the USO shows and the tours and the things for our military.
Writing Music to Heal
It was when I left home and joined the military, I think that’s when I developed the aspirations for writing. Being away from home, creating a sense of appreciation for all the things that I had left and got away from. So I started writing about it and writing songs, and I think that’s when it really began. I began as a songwriter and that turned into an artist career.
“It was when I left home and joined the military, I think that’s when I developed the aspirations for writing. Being away from home, creating a sense of appreciation for all the things that I had left and got away from.” – Craig Morgan
You know, for me, the progression of my career in the music—when I first started, it didn’t just blow up like some artists do. It was a lot different when I started twenty years ago. We didn’t have American Idol, The Voice, and all of these things that we have now that actually catapult careers. It was a slow build. We had country radio. That was it. And that’s where you were made and that’s where careers were made and broke.
I was very fortunate that my success was gradual. I’m grateful for the way my career went. I really am, because I never fell off, but we never exploded. It’s just been a slow crawl. You know, here we are now at eighteen top tens, and multiple number ones, a member of the Grand Ole Opry, but my career just kind of did this the whole time. It’s always been like that. And I’m grateful for that.
I attribute a lot of that—the fight to continue going forward—to the military and to my faith, because I always felt confident in that no matter what happened in my career, whether it blew up or fell completely off, that my life was okay. My life did not depend on the success of my music. It just didn’t do it. And it’s still to this day does not. I’m grateful for every second of it, to the fans, the industry. And I love it. I love this industry. I love the music. I love being able to create for a living. But my life is not dependent on that. My life is dedicated to something different.
Faith Is Our Foundation, Especially in Tragedy
I attribute the balance of family to the family, not really me. I think it’s a lot harder on the family than it is me personally. I’m living my life. I’m working. For them, you know, they’re not out doing what I’m doing. And I maintain this mental psyche that I stay busy, where they’re there, they’re missing dad, and I’m not there. And they have to hold up the household.
So I attribute the balance really to, more than anybody, my wife. My wife is the real rock of the family. It’s not really me. And again, our faith, our faith in God. You know, we count on that, too. We depend and lean on that for everything that we do in our life, and so that always came first, even throughout my career. God was always first and our family was second. Everything else after that is residual.
Jerry is our third child in order, actually, the one, two, three, fourth child of five in the order of age. Jerry died in 2016 in a boating incident. [It was the] most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve lost family members, my mother had died a couple of years before that, I had a lot of things happen in my life. But that was the one thing that really shook me up and brought me down more than anything that’s ever happened to me in my life.
When you lose someone that you love so much—my whole life revolved around my family and my God, you know. So when you lose a part of that, there’s a space in you that’s really hard to fill.
I thought I was exempt from something like that [when my son died], because our faith was so strong. We were a good Christian family, and I thought that something like this would never happen to us. But it did. and we were just sad. There is no shame in being sad and hurt. You know, blessed are the mournful. So we cry, we hurt, and we pray and we’re healed at that moment. And then we’ll do it. We’ll go through that process over and over. I think we’ll do that for the rest of our lives.
“I thought I was exempt from something like that [when my son died], because our faith was so strong. We were a good Christian family, and I thought that something like this would never happen to us.” – Craig Morgan
Holding on to “The Father, My Son, and the Holy Ghost”
You know, we all walk through different phases in our life in our relationship with God. So I’ve gone through this relationship with God. And at this point, when I lost Jerry, I felt like I didn’t know enough about God because I needed to know more to understand what was going on.
“When I lost Jerry, I felt like I didn’t know enough about God because I needed to know more to understand what was going on.” – Craig Morgan
I started educating myself a lot and started really, really digging in and studying our Christian faith. And in just one night, about 3:30 in the morning, the combination of, I guess, all of these studies and the loss, God laid it on me. And I tell people all the time, “God wrote this song. I did not write this song.” I am not nearly as talented as what God would have this song be—and what it’s done for the healing of people. I mean, I get messages every day about this song and what it’s done, and that’s a God thing. That’s not me.
“God wrote this song. I did not write this song.” – Craig Morgan, on his song “The Father, My Son, and the Holy Ghost”
I have the Father, and I also have my son still in my life, and that’s what this song is about. That’s what God told me, and that’s what He’s given me. And that’s what He’s allowed me to use, not only for other people, but for me. It helps me, I think.
The second time I sang the song ever in the presence of people, I’d sing it with the band—I say in the presence of people—publicly, I’ve done it with my daughter. I let her hear, and I played it for a few people here and now, but never really in a public forum. So I did it at a writers’ thing in Colorado, I was literally reading the lyrics off of my phone, and I couldn’t finish the song. I did the first verse and the chorus. I couldn’t even finish it.
So the second time and the only other time that I’d done it was here at the Grand Ole Opry, and I performed it on stage and I got through the song and walked off stage. Ricky Skaggs was standing there, and I was emotional—again, not ashamed of that because it was such a personal thing for me. And Ricky Skaggs was standing there and he had tears on his face. And I walked over to him and he grabbed me and he said, “Man, it’s such a beautiful song.”
And I said to Ricky, “Yes, I’m glad you got to hear it, because I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. It’s just too much.”
And he grabbed me and said, “You have to.” And Ricky is another very spiritual man, very in tune with God. And he grabbed me and he said, “You have to sing that song. It’s what you have to do.”
But I’m really grateful for that moment. I’m really grateful that moment that God used him and allowed him to be a part of this, because I don’t know if Ricky had said, “No, you’re right. You don’t have to put yourself through that,” I might not ever have. But a lot of little things, stones that God put in the way for us to step on, it allows me to keep moving forward and doing the song.
I hurt right now thinking about it, and talking about this song, and talking about what I have to go through. I feel what I feel when I sing that song, just discussing the fact that I have to sing it. It isn’t something that’s joyful for me to do, but I know that God expects me to do it and so I must do it. It’s just that simple.
There’s no doubt that this song has had an impact beyond anything I’ve ever done musically. And I know this, not just with families that have lost children or lost loved ones, but people that haven’t experienced that at all. I get messages on all my social media platforms every day. I got a Facebook message from a guy who said, “Not a big believer. Haven’t lost anyone. Dropped my daughter off at school today. Heard this song, pulled off the side of the road, cried, and prayed for the first time in my life.” That’s God.
Recognizing God Moments
Jerry, my son, is not physically here, but his presence is still very much felt. That’s that heartache we feel. That the presence of him, the memory in our heads and in our hearts—that’s what’s amazing.
So even though his physical presence is not here, which is weird because we still feel his physical presence, it’s just like Christ in our lives. I can’t tangibly touch Him the way that I can hug you or anyone else in our lives. I can’t hug people that aren’t standing before me, but I still very much feel their presence. Everybody talks about these God moments, you know, where you feel something and you feel the presence of God. That’s what that is. I still feel that I have those moments with my son. And I can honestly say of all the people that have ever been in my life that have passed on, Jerry is the only other person who’s not there that I still feel that physical presence in my life. And I just think it’s because of that father/son. And when you think about that, the father/son and the Father/son, you know how that presence is still there, that’s the Christ presence I feel in my life all the time.
“I can’t hug people that aren’t standing before me, but I still very much feel their presence. Everybody talks about these God moments, you know, where you feel something and you feel the presence of God. That’s what that is. I still feel that I have those moments with my son.” – Craig Morgan
God takes care of us all. I believe that wholeheartedly. The difference is what we ask for and how what we accept from Christ, we have a choice. That’s what separates us. When we make the choice to accept God’s healing, it opens us up for that eternal salvation. I believe that wholeheartedly, 100 percent. There’s no question in my mind whatsoever. I have felt God’s presence in the darkest of my life and in the highest of my life. I know that He’s always been there.
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NARRATION: Our next guest is Donna Edwards, the First Lady of the state of Louisiana. Donna shares a little about her life and background, including partnering with her husband, Governor John Bel Edwards, in a life dedicated to public service. As part of that service and in devotion to God, Donna felt led to share Jesus Calling with women inmates in her state, and visited them in person to deliver the books. She talks about that experience and the effect that gesture had on her personally, and then on the women she connected with that day.
Donna Edwards: My name is Donna Edwards, I’m the first lady of Louisiana. I was born in Mississippi. My mom, we always laugh and say she was a “domestic engineer.” She is one of those women who can put out a spread of food and have it cleaned up before you go back into the kitchen. She is like the “hostess with the mostess.” She was always there when I came home, and literally, I remember her having a Tupperware bowl of cookie dough. And it was pecan cookies, and she would scoop out everyday and have fresh cookies–I mean literally something out of a book.
My dad worked for International Paper Company. I was the youngest of two brothers, so I was the baby girl, and I was tough. He would take me out in the woods, taught me how to hunt, show me how to use a compass. He showed me how to hand shake really firm because he’d gone to one of those Dale Carnegie courses. So, he just taught me to be strong and who I am, and so together, I think, produced a pretty strong woman
I can remember on Sunday afternoons after church we’d go walking in the woods, especially in the fall, and swing on vines, and it’s just a lot of fun growing up in the neighborhood and hanging out with kids and running the roads on bicycles. And then we moved to Amite, Louisiana when I was in fifth grade, and that’s when I met my husband.
We started dating in high school, and then he went on to — he was a year older than I was — so he went on to West Point military academy. I went to school in Mississippi. And then we got back together, and after he graduated — well, he went to Ranger School — and then we got married. Our first tour of duty was in Hawaii… Schofield Barracks.
Then, we came back to the States after a couple of years and did some training and ended up at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. So we served a total of a little over eight years in the military. We decided come back after having two children. We came back to our hometown Amite, and that’s when he went to law school and got a law degree. We came back and opened up a little practice in our small town. We both were involved in our community for the next eight years, being involved in the church group and youth group and PTO and all that great stuff.
A Legacy of Public Service
My husband’s family is from a line of public servants. His dad was the sheriff of our parish. His brother is currently the sheriff. His dad, his grandfather, his great grandfather, and his mom was an emergency room nurse for a charity hospital for 25-30 years. So, you know, he was brought up around that… that public service and giving of yourself and helping people. It was just almost a natural thing for him to be involved in it.
He was asked to run for state representative because the seat was open, and so he did. I, at the time, was raising three children and had gone back to school to get a certificate in teaching. I was teaching in school. So we were very busy, like many families. He served at the district level as a state representative for eight years, and he just saw a lot of things that he just felt like he couldn’t change. He was either going to really go for it or just get out and do something different.
He decided just to run for governor, and to be honest with you, nobody really believed it. In fact, he got very little support from his party, very little support from a lot of the people around him. Of course, he had some support or he obviously wouldn’t be governor, but he really worked hard. He knew this was something that he was called to do. And we decided to do it together, and here we are, a year and a half into the governor’s mansion.
The one thing that that really came out of this campaign stronger than anything in regards to my faith and my marriage is that we were together as a team. John Bel and I would pray every morning, and we would find that strength together. We still do that. And, you know, that didn’t start until then. Not that we weren’t prayerful, but we didn’t start every morning together holding hands and praying. It forced us to do that because we were both in this together, and we knew we were up against a lot.
I’ve seen us grow spiritually. I’ve seen us both really become planted, if you will, and firm. We’ve always been firm in our direction and what we felt were our morals and values. We have always been firm and set in that, but it’s really just cemented. It’s just like… this is who we are and this is how we believe and this is what we trust.
“We’ve always been firm in our direction and what we felt were our morals and values.” – Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards
I’ve said this during the campaign: the second greatest commandment that Jesus said was to love your neighbor as yourself. And he never said who your neighbor was or is. He didn’t say they’re black or white. I feel like, as Christians, we haven’t done a very good job in loving our neighbor.
Being Called to Love Others With the Love of Christ
To love your neighbor as yourself, what does that mean? That means I am not called to judge my neighbor. I’m not called to judge you. I may not agree with you. I may not agree with what you think. I may not agree with your political position. There’s lots of things that we can disagree about — and we don’t necessarily have to agree — but I’m called to love you regardless. I think that’s where we’re missing the boat as Christians. It’s not for us to put our finger in people’s face and judge. It is for us to love them. And I know that if we did more of that, we’d have more people coming to Christ.
“…we don’t necessarily have to agree — but I’m called to love you regardless.” – Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards
When I went to the NGA, which is the National Governors Association, we always get with the ladies, the First Ladies, and exchange ideas. It’s really a wonderful opportunity to find out what other states are doing. So one of the other First Ladies from Tennessee had given us a flyer about sharing Jesus Calling with those imprisoned and women. I thought, “Oh, absolutely, I’ll do this without a doubt.”
So I came back and said, “Look, I want to do this. I want to do these books,” and told them exactly how to do it. They said, “Well, we’re going to be distributing, do you want to be a part of this?” I said, “Absolutely, I want to be there. I want them to know who cares about them and who’s behind it.” But just as God always is with me, He doesn’t always show me everything.
I had this impression in my mind that I was going to walk into this room and talk to these few women and hand them a book and just spend some time with them. When I opened that door to the cafeteria and I stepped inside and 150 women who were imprisoned stood up and applauded the fact that I stepped into their life that day, it was the most humbling experience. I can’t even explain it… that they were so impressed with the fact that I came.
“150 women who were imprisoned stood up and applauded the fact that I stepped into their life that day.” – Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards
You know, it still sometimes shocks me because I’m just an ordinary person just like you and anybody else that’s listening. It just goes to prove that those who are the least among us — those who are in prisons or in hospitals — are are so looking for somebody to look up to for hope… somebody to give them a little bit of attention and tell them they’re worthy of who they are. So it was a very humbling experience that they stood up and applauded. I still wonder, “What is that about? What was that about?” I know, after visiting with them, we were a sign of hope for them.
When I say hope, I mean hope that someone cared about them… that they weren’t just thrown away. You know, we brought, through Jesus Calling, an opportunity for them to have hope. That was a very humbling experience.
Thoughts on Forgiveness
One particular lady had been incarcerated for 20 plus years. And to hear her story of how she came to know Jesus and how He had really taken over her life, that’s humbling. That’s humbling how God can change a person.
These ladies are incarcerated for a reason. They’re serving their punishment. I don’t know what they’ve done. I’d rather not know. There is a victim. There’s a victim’s family, and I can’t even imagine what that must feel like to step into the shoes of a victim or victim’s family. That would be the hardest thing, and I pray for those families that have been affected or have their lives turned upside down and possibly ruined by what another person incarcerated may have done.
And I’m so sorry for that, but we still have to love them, and we still have to forgive them because even Jesus himself, when they asked, “Jesus, give us a prayer.” He says, “Our Father,” which means He’s the father of all of us. So those are our sisters in Christ. And He goes on for us to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” We ask God to forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us. That’s difficult. It’s difficult.
So, you know, I think it’s like many things, we just say the words, and we don’t really think about them. And we have to think about those words. And I think forgiveness is a really strong and hard thing to do in a lot of instances. It truly is only with God’s help and praying and asking for God to help you, can one truly forgive.
“…only with God’s help and praying and asking for God to help you, can one truly forgive.” – Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards
Narrator: The First Lady was able to bring hope to the women in the Louisiana Correctional Institute by answering God’s call to walk among them and through the gift of Jesus Calling. She goes on to talk about how she makes Jesus Calling a part of her everyday life:
Donna Edwards: I feel like this is kind of like a little letter from God every morning in the mailbox. You know how you used to run to the mailbox as a kid to see what was there, and you were so excited. You don’t get that so much anymore because you’re just you’re flooded with emails, but I feel like this is like a little note from God every day. I just can’t even hardly leave without looking to see what it says. It’s like I can’t get up from my chair until I’ve made sure I’ve read Jesus Calling.
I do have one that I had just written about and talked about in my journal. It’s August 10.
It says “Relax in My healing, holy presence and allow Me to transform you through this time alone with Me. As your thoughts center more and more on Me, trust despite this fear and worry. Your mind is somewhat like a seesaw. As your trust in Me goes up, fear and worry automatically go down. Time spent with Me not only increases your trust, it also helps you discern what is important and what is not. Energy and time are precious, limited entities; therefore, you need to use them wisely focusing on what is truly important. As you walk close to Me, saturating your mind with Scripture, I will show you how to spend your time and energy. My word is a lamp to your feet. My presence is a light for your path.”
We never know the plans that God has for us. And, you know, that’s what’s so neat when you trust in God. You get on the path, and you trust in that path, and you walk that path with Him. And you don’t know where it leads, and that’s why everyday is a new day. And that’s why every day is a gift.
Narrator: To find out more about how you can share Jesus Calling with someone who is incarcerated, visit TheNextDoor.org/Jesus-Calling. Also, to see the wonderful work Donna Edwards is doing for the state of Louisiana, visit GovernorsMansion.org.
If you’d like to hear more stories about becoming an everyday hero, check out our episode featuring Army vet and Chick-fil-A Foundation executive director Rodney D. Bullard and country music artist Neal McCoy.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with author and speaker Dawn Barton. Throughout her life, Dawn has walked through more heartache than most can imagine. But through it all, Dawn’s found the secret to getting back up over and over again.
Dawn Barton: I am somebody who has lost a child, a sweet precious daughter. I have been raped, and the assailant was caught, and we went through a full jury trial. I have had Stage Three breast cancer and survived. My mother had a brain aneurysm. I lost my sister to cancer. My husband battled with alcoholism, he’s been four and a half years sober. I’ve had so much that I think gives me every excuse in the world to be not joyful. But I really want to scream from the mountaintops why we should be joyful and why it’s a choice.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on jesuscalling.com/video.