Change is hard, especially when you’re not expecting it.
Our bus driver Russell has a saying that I hear him repeat often, “we Brisby’s fear change.” And I guess in some ways we all do. It’s not that we don’t want things to change, it’s usually that the way things are is familiar and most of us have a bit of a fear of the unknown. But whether we like it or not, in time, things always change.
Indy and I made a trip home to Indiana earlier this month to visit Joey’s mom and sisters and to be there to remember her… that particular Saturday, March 4th was seven years to the day since Joey had passed away. So I wanted to spend it there, in the place where she last was. Where we were last all together.
We got there on Friday afternoon and while Indy spent the evening with her Grandma and cousins, I went with two of Joey’s sisters and their families to dinner at Lahode’s… a wonderful steakhouse we all love, where we got to have a nice meal together and catch up on life over the last six months or so.
When we’re in Indiana, I always stay at Joey’s mama June’s farmhouse, a place that holds many many wonderful memories for us. It’s not just the home where Joey was raised, over the last twenty years, it’s become my home too. In a lot of ways, it’s where I’m from too. It’s the home that I never had to come home to.
Indy loves being there too. And getting to spend time with her aunts and cousins and of course, her Grandma.
That Saturday morning, Indy, June, and I drove to town to have coffee and a donut at the local bakery. On the way though, I noticed that Justin’s cross was missing from the side of the road. At first, I thought I must’ve been mistaken and just missed it, but when I asked Joey’s mama about it, she said that the farmer there had on occasion bumped it, and so she took it down. This caught me off guard because I know Joey’s dad Jack would never have let that happen. He checked on and painted it yearly, and made sure it was always there to remember the spot where they lost their only son. It’s a big part of the history of Joey’s family. It was the spot that Joey and I walked to that night in April 2002 where I proposed to her. I knew that spot meant that much to her.
So to see it missing was strange. Something that I could hardly wrap my head around. It’s always been there. But Joey's daddy passed away about two years ago, and I guess with him, the need to keep it up anymore.
When we were at the bakery, Bill Gaither called and came down and spent some time visiting with us. It’s always so so good to see Bill and listen to the stories he tells. He’s about 87 now and is so filled with light and life, you would think he’s in his 30s.
While we were there, I asked if it’d be okay if we went and spent some time in the house they owned by the pond. The place where Joey and we had stayed and where she passed away. He said, unfortunately, they’d sold it to some family (or let some family move there), but he offered to call them and see if I could stop by.
In the end, I decided to just go stop by the pond instead. I had stopped and spent time in the Gaither pond house many times over the past seven years, but since it was someone else’s place now, I didn’t want to bother them. Besides, it would be different now. And though that was okay, it too caught me off guard. Just a change I guess that I didn’t see coming.
And then, while I was standing at the pond, looking at the house and the window where Joey used to look out at the deer and the swans… one of the black swans came from the other side of the pond, up the bank, charging at me. At first I thought it was funny and walked away slowly til he settled down and went back in the water.
But then a few minutes later, I walked back up to a different area of the pond (in case there were eggs or newly hatched babies somewhere in that area) and he swam to that spot and charged me again. I did this 4 or 5 times, and each time, he charged, trying to push me further away from the pond... his red eyes flashing, upset that I was there.
Needless to say, in all the times I’ve been at the Gaither pond, and seen the white and black swans, nothing remotely like that has ever happened. I finally took the hint and made my way back to the car and headed out.
As I drove away, I kept thinking about all that had transpired in the last three hours, and how none of the things had turned out the way I had in mind: Justin’s cross being taken down… someone else living in the Gaither house… and the black swan. It was as if the swan, life, God, was telling me, “you don’t have to (and you can’t) come here for those reasons anymore. Move forward. It’s time.”
And so perhaps, maybe it is. In February, as Indiana turned nine… it also meant that it was seven years since Joey’s been gone. And seven years is a long time. A part of me still can’t believe that it’s been that long.
A friend of ours strangely called me that day—the day of the missing cross, the Gaither house changing hands, and the upset swan—and told me that seven is a magical number. It means “fullness and completeness.” In the Bible it’s used lots, symbolically meaning change...
As the great philosopher Forrest Gump once said, “I may not be a smart man, but I can take a hint." And so, I’ll take my plans coming unraveled as a gift. An answer to a prayer I hadn’t prayed yet.
Indy and I spent the evening at Grandma’s house. Indy having fun playing with all the old toys and books June has saved from her children’s childhoods, while I talked with June in the kitchen... another place where more change is happening. Joey’s mama is getting older too and having trouble remembering things... and that’s scary for her, and for those around her. But she’s strong as an ox and still never stops working. Besides, I never get tired of hearing the stories she tells me.
The next morning, we went to church with Joey’s sisters and their children. And afterward before we headed out, we stopped to see Cody and Syndee’s house. The last time we made the trip home (although we tried to go at Christmas time) was last April, when Joey’s nephew Cody and his fiancee Sydnee got married. I was blessed to get to do their ceremony.
And though we’d all been together last summer when they joined us in Montana, we hadn’t seen each other in a while. And now Syndee was not only pregnant (look back at the first picture of us at the restaurant above), she was due any day. Our hopes were that maybe the baby would come when we were there. But alas, we hugged them all goodbye and headed south towards Tennessee, with no sign of the new baby.
Somewhere around Louisville we got a call that Sydnee had gone into labor and by the next morning, Cody’s mom Jody had called and told us they had a little girl and they named her…
I’m not sure if her name partly came from her great Aunt Joey, but she sure is beautiful and Indy and I can’t wait to meet her when she and all the family make the trip down here in June to join us for The Homestead Festival here at our farm.
And so, it was a weekend of much change. Of much beautiful, important change.
I’ll still make trips back to Indiana. Joey’s home, I hope, will always be my home. And her family, my family. I love them all so much. But maybe, in the future when I go home, it won’t be so much to look for her there. To hold on to memories from the past. Maybe instead, it will be to make new memories for the future that’s ahead of us.