When we got married in 2002, Joey not only took on my name, but she also took on my two teenage daughters, Heidi and Hopie as her own.
At the altar, in front of God, the preacher, and the whole congregation, Joey and I exchanged rings. After I put a ring on her finger, she slipped one on mine. Then she called the girls up and gently slid a ring on their fingers too... a symbol of her commitment to them, like her commitment to me.
That was more than thirteen years ago.
I can’t say that it has always been easy for them. I’m sure they’d tell you there were trying times. Lots of them. Times when they didn’t know how to communicate when they were confused and frustrated at each other. But the girls never gave up on Joey, and she never gave up on them.
The dictionary says a ‘stepmother’ is... “the wife of one’s father by a later marriage.”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard the girls tell anyone that Joey is their stepmom. But I have heard them tell people numerous times that she is their mother.
They don’t actually call Joey ‘mom.’ They never have. I don’t know why. Maybe they’ve always been too afraid to completely trust... to completely give all of their hearts over – afraid that they’ll get left again by a woman that they love.
But if you look in their contacts on each of the girls’ phones, ‘Mom’ is how Joey’s number is listed.
We are still in Indiana with Joey’s family.
The girls drove up here from Nashville yesterday to see Joey and spend time with her, and to spend time with their baby sister Indiana. Joey is still sleeping a lot and she hasn’t been outside the house in over a week. Too weak and too tired to even try to get up and go out. But today she did.
The sun was shining and a slight breeze was blowing the golden leaves that were falling from nearby trees, as Joey got up from her bed and stepped through the back screen door and found a spot between the girls on her mama’s porch swing.
And she held their hands in hers and talked with them.
She told them how much she loved them, and how proud she is of them. And how proud she is to be their mother. And then she talked with them about the one thing that she didn’t think she would ever have to talk with them about:
And then she told them of the day when they’ll be together again in Heaven.
About that time, Joey’s mama and little sister Jessie and her kids came by pushing Indy in her stroller for a walk down the country lane in front of the house. They were singing and laughing and having a ball.
And the conversation on the swing turned from tears to joy.
From the porch, we all smiled because we knew in that instant, that no matter what happens, Joey will always be with us.
She’ll be in our little Indiana’s smile.. and in our hearts forever.
In the book of Matthew, it says “...for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.“
I have heard that here in Joey’s hometown, people are going to line the streets of downtown Alexandria with candles on Thursday night for Joey’s prayer. And back home in Nashville and in other places all across the country and world, many are gathering to pray. Some in-person, and most online. But all together... to lift up the mother of our three beautiful daughters.
Heidi, Hopie, and Indiana.