The Preacher brought the latest Joey and Rory DVD home the other day. Their final concert.
October, 2015. The windows of the concert hall barn glow. Music seeps out, the kind you’d expect to hear on a quiet Tennessee country evening. Strung up between guitar and banjo, carried on voices smoky and sweet. Happy and sad together. Classic country.
Joey Martin Feek stands onstage, thin and swaying, making music with her overall-clad husband, Rory. In the last seven or eight years the pair from Tennessee have won the hearts of North Americans. Anyone who appreciates a guitar-playin’ singer fellow who wears a uniform of overalls and button-up shirts. He’s clearly crazy about his wife, a dark-haired beauty who raises chickens, grows a garden, cooks and sings like an angel, and acts like a saint (according to Rory).
The pair has their own wildly popular country music TV show and a love story so beautiful it makes your heart hurt. But they’re singing hymns tonight, old tunes Joey learned from her Mama, and later introduced to Rory. He came to love them late, after learning to love Jesus. The Old Rugged Cross. Jesus Paid it All. How Great Thou Art. Amazing Grace.…
Joey’s notes bend and swoop, finally landing on the sharp edge of perfect pitch. Mostly. She’s tired. Full of cancer, stage IV cervical, but fighting it with all the grit and gusto God stuffed inside her. A lot.
“I hear my Saviour say, ‘Thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in me, your all in all.’ Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; he washed it white as snow.”
In conversation with legendary gospel song-writer and family friend, Bill Gaither, Joey talks of waking up after major cancer surgery with her hands raised, singing. “I need thee, oh, I need thee, every hour I need thee, oh, bless me now my Saviour, I come to Thee.”
“Why do we sing hymns?” Bill asks the pair, then answers it himself. “Because they’re there for us in the hard times.”
Joey and Rory sang many more hymns that October evening, one while holding their eighteen month old Down Syndrome daughter, Indiana. ”Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so…”
They sang hymns all down the cancer road. ”When peace like a river attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, “’It is well, it is well with my soul.’”
Another woman stopped Joey in the hall of the cancer facility one day. “How can you be so certain of tomorrow…so sure of having the peace you have?”
“Don’t you get it?” Joey answered. “If you believe, you win if you stay, and you win if you go! Either way, you’re a winner. Only if you believe, though.”
The DVD ends there. Joey lost her battle on March 4, 2016. Rory laid her to rest in the small family cemetery behind that concert barn. Among the sassafras trees, where yellow daffodils bloomed in the fencerow. Beloved family and friends sang hymns of faith. Hymns that speak of victory in Jesus. Of meeting again in heaven.
They believe what Joey believed: Because Jesus lives, she won. And her song lives on.
Filmed live at their final concert…
Find more at Rory’s blog