Singer-songwriter Jimmy Wayne discusses his passion for helping kids in the foster care system and encourages listeners to consider how they can make a positive difference in the lives of these children. (Part 1 of 2)
Mr. Jimmy Wayne: I didn't want to be around anyone that would even bring the word "Jesus" up or "Let's go to church." And over a period of time growin' up in the system and the neglect and the abuse that we would get or I would get from people who claimed, you know, to be Christians. Andthat was very hard.
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John Fuller: Country musician Jimmy Wayne reflects on a troubling childhood, but God intervened and Jimmy will tell us more on today's "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I'm so excited to introduce our listeners to Jimmy today. He has an amazing story of how God redeemed a challenging childhood into something redemptive and his heart for children in the foster-care system is what catches my attention. I was one of those kids. He was one of those kids. We've got some similarities in our stories, but his story is a powerful story of how God works in the lives of children particularly. And we're going to, I think, through Jimmy's testimony, inspire you today to think about these children who have nobody in most cases and we'll have an idea of what you could do to help Focus help these children.
John: And Jimmy's book is called Walk to Beautiful. The subtitle really says it all, The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way. And we've got details about that book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: All right, Jimmy, so welcome to "Focus on the Family."
Jimmy: Thank you so much for havin' me.
Jim: Now you toured. You're playin' in big venues with your country music. You toured with Brad Paisley. That's a big name.
Jim: What is that like to have 18, 20,000 fans screamin' at you 'cause they like what you're doin'?
Jimmy: It's amazing. You know, when I was a kid, I dreamt many times of makin' it and gettin' in front of a crowd and playin' music and it's a rush. It's almost like a drug honestly. And it's real easy to get caught up in that.
Jim: Well, now speaking about your dreams as a child, it was hard to imagine that you could have dreams in the environment you were in. When did you start thinkin' maybe music is something I would do?
Jimmy: When I was about 14 I was, you know, I would lay in bed at the group home and I'd listen to music and I'd always pretend; it was my escape from reality. I would just listen to music and think about whoever that person was I was listening to was me. And then I guess later on, you know, when I was around 17, I started pursuing it.
Jim: In a more serious way.
Jim: You know, so often the best music comes from pain and from experiences in life, so as a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old, I could only imagine you had a number of songs in your heart. Let's go back and talk about how God began to put you through some difficulty so He could make you the man He wanted you to be. Describe your early childhood and what was goin' on for you.
Jimmy: Well, when I was a kid, you know, I grew up in foster care and in and out of foster care.
Jim: Right from the beginning or—
Jimmy: Very beg--
Jimmy: --very beginning. My mom being bipolar, you know, a single parent most of the time, my sister and I would live with her and then, you know, it could be in the middle of the night where she'd wake us up and we'd leave our stepdad and never go back. Or she may leave the house and not come home for weeks and then the neighbor would have to take care of us.
Jim: You're just two kids, you—
Jimmy: Just kids—
Jim: --and your sister--
Jimmy: --just tryin' to survive and--
Jim: --and amazing.
Jimmy: --and you know, during this time it was very dysfunctional, 'cause we did go to church, but then when my mom would get off of that soapbox, if you will, she'd start drinking again. So, it was very dysfunctional.
Jim: So, she vacillated between taking you to church and then being even abusive.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah.
Jim: And share a couple of stories in that [period]. I know them, but you know, it really took my breath away to understand that abuse. A lot of people don't understand it, 'cause they didn't live in it. What was it like to be in a home where you didn't know which mom was gonna wake up today?
Jimmy: Oh, it's very, very tough. You know, my mom would, you know, she'd make my sister and I read Scripture to her and you know, even when I was 9-years-old, I wasn't the greatest reader in the world and especially tryin' to pronounce those hard words in the Bible. It was almost impossible.
So, when we would mispronounce those words, of course, we'd get a whippin', 'cause my mom perceived that as, you know, you must be demon- possessed since you can't pronounce the words and so, it really turned us off. It turned me off and I didn't want to be around anyone that would even bring the word "Jesus" up or "Let's go to church." And over a period of time growin' up in the system and the neglect and the abuse that we would get or I would get from people who claimed, you know, to be Christians. And it was very hard. And so, by the time I was, you know, 16, I was an angry 16-year-old young man that didn't want to have anything to do with it.
Jim: We're gonna build on that, because I really want that picture to be filled in, because people won't quite understand you until they hear more about your childhood.
Jim: And I know it's painful, Jimmy, but I appreciate your vulnerability in that. You know, I always like to start my own testimony by saying that we don't own these. God owns them--
Jimmy: That's right.
Jim: 'cause He bought 'em with a price that—
Jim: --which was His blood on the cross. So, we have to just live 'em out, right?
Jim: He's saying will you do this for Me? And you and I got short straws and we had messed up family life and those kinds of things. I would say yours was more difficult than mine because of the brutality that you faced. I didn't get a whoopin'. I didn't get physical abuse the way you did. Going back to that, in fact, you had an experience. I don't know your age at this time, but you wanted to figure out what Jesus must have felt like to be on a cross, so you tied yourself into a homemade—
Jim: --cross and your mom kinda flipped out with that.
Jimmy: Yeah and it was again, it was one of those times when my mom was goin' to church and there was a recruiter goin' around the neighborhood recruiting kids for vacation Bible school and I didn't want to go. I didn't want to go where they'd beat up kids, so I tried to hide from the recruiter and my mom says, "You need to go to this vacation Bible school class." And I went and I tried to get kicked out. And I would make noises and try to disrupt the [group].
John: 'Cause you didn't want to be there.
Jimmy: I didn't want to be there. And just didn't know when the ball was gonna drop and this teacher, it was a lady, she had this wire and these beads and she was talkin' about this man that loved us so much and it was a completely different story than what I had been taught. You know, I'd been taught fear and she was teachin' love, you know. You know, fear being if you don't do this you're gonna go to hell. And this lady was like, if you do this, you're gonna be forgiven, you know and it was this completely different approach.
And I stopped acting up and I started listening to her and I got so excited about this man that she was talkin' about and when she finished weavin' those beads and the wire together, she had kind of made this little cross and all of us kids in the classroom had made a cross. And I might've even left the cross in the classroom, I was so excited. I ran all the way home. It was two blocks away. Ran all the way home and I built this cross in the backyard and I was like, I'm gonna hang myself on this cross, 'cause I really wanted to know how He felt.
And I wasn't makin' fun of Him, of Christ, but I wanted to know like man, wonder what that was like. And I put these ropes around the part where His hands would've been nailed to the cross, but I stuck my hands in the rope and I kinda backed the cross up into a hole in the ground and I was just tiptoein'. Looked through the kitchen window and saw my mom lookin' at me and she just disappeared.
And then she ran out the front door with a belt and I knew what she was thinkin'. She thought I was makin' fun of Christ. And I pulled the cross up out of the ground and I took off runnin' with this cross on my back and I'm runnin' around the house and it kinds looks like [a] wooden airplane and she's chasing me and she is whipping me.
And finally I stopped and turned around and she's still whippin' me, like in the face, in the legs and everything. And I fell backwards on the steps of the house, so I'm kinda side-saddling this cross. My legs are hanging over, but I can't get my hands out of the rope.
And the traffic has already stopped. They're watching my mom do this. And these people could not figure out what in the world is goin' on here? And there was a lady lookin' through her window of the car and she was crying. I remember looking right at her and my mom just stopped and went in the house and came back outside a few minutes later and yanked my arms out and went back in.
But that was my first experience of, you know, what it felt like. You know, I kinda got an idea of, you know, man, even that experience obviously was not near as hard as what He went through.
Jim: Well, but that whole—
Jimmy: But that was my experience.
Jim: --yeah, that whole thing gave you even more of an impression—
Jim: --of what Jesus encountered with that kind of heart and spirit. I think it's important because some people might feel like you're bein' tough on your mom. I mean, obviously she had some mental difficulties and some emotional imbalances. How do you process that today?
Jimmy: Well, it took me a while over the years where I was sleepin' in abandoned trailers and sleepin' on the ground, you know, walkin' up to complete strangers and askin' for food and those years were extremely hard and the abuse and everything that I'd gone through, I was very angry at her.
But it wasn't until I did this walk across America. I was in the middle of a desert in New Mexico and I was complaining. I was like, you know, and I said, "Why couldn't my mom be like Your mom? Your mom was there, you know, when You were [on the cross]."
Jim: You're sayin' this to Jesus?
Jimmy: Yeah,I'm like, "Why couldn't my mom be like Your mom? She was there for You and even there hanging on the cross, she was there." And I heard Him say, "I'm not tryin' to get your mom to be like My mom. I'm tryin' to get you to be like Me." And that moment, it just changed everything. And I realized that, you know, a mom's instinct is to nurture a kid and if she's not doin' that, there's gotta be somethin' else wrong. And it really helped me understand—
Jimmy: --that there was some stuff goin' on mentally with her and so, today I mean, I go home and I get her and take her to get ice cream and we've spent a lot of quality time with her. I don't bring up the past and quite frankly, she doesn't even remember a lot of it.
Jim: Yeah, I'm sure.
Jim: But again, to paint that picture, you had a number of stepdads. You had some that were kind toward you and others that were abusive. Again, in foster care that's quite common. Describe that for the listeners, you know, just in terms of what you encountered as a child. One, you're tryin' to survive your mom's wrath.
Jim: And at the same time, probably tryin' to figure out who this guy is. He's a new guy.
Jim: And how does he fit into my life? Describe it.
Jimmy: Well, one particular stepdad that I wrote about in the book is, he was a wonderful stepdad at first. We had five total, but this one particular stepdad was a wonderful guy at first and one night he just changed. He told me to get in a car and we went for a long ride and we headed down this country road in North Carolina. It was dark and we pulled into a driveway and he handed me a gun and he said, "Load this gun." And I didn't know what we were gonna do. I mean, I'd grown up in this environment and it was not a big deal, crime. I was not new to that.
Jim: Crime was all around you.
Jimmy: Always, it was just somethin' I grew up in and I'm, you know, 13-years-old and I loaded the gun and I handed it to him and then he backed [up and] he hit me with his hand in my nose and so, now I'm bleeding all over my shirt and I'm crying. I don't know what's gonna happen.
And then he took the gun and he stuck it to the side of my head and he mumbled somethin'. I don't know what he said and that's when I heard a very familiar voice that I'd been hearin' my whole life. [It] just said, "Move; move; do this." And I moved his hand and that's when he pulled the trigger and blew a hole in the windshield.
Well, I dove on his arm and I like worked my hands down to the gun and he let go of the gun and it's now layin' on the front seat and I'm thinkin, should I pick it up? And what should I do? And I just got out of the car and I ran. And I ran that entire night and the following night he ended up shooting someone and came by the trailer park and told my mom and me and my mom to get in the car and let's go.
And so, you know, despite what had just happened the night before, I got in this car and all my clothes are in the backseat with my mom and his and there was a cooler on the floorboard and we headed out of North Carolina and we're drivin' from state to state and mom's puttin' clothes under shirt, pretendin' she's pregnant and then collecting money at rest areas and we'd pull into a gas station and fill up the gas tank and just drive off.
And it was like Bonnie and Clyde with a kid and we'd pull into rest areas at night and that's where we would sleep. I'd sleep in the hood of the car or I'd sleep on the ground or I'd sleep in that little cubby in the backseat. And then the next morning, it was the same thing every day till we reached Oklahoma City and then we went to Waco, Texas and we headed back to Pensacola, Florida.
So, I'm in my cubby asleep in the middle of the night and I hear my stepdad say, "Get out of the car." And I opened my eyes and I'm like, "Where's mom?" He said, "Get out of the car now," with cussing goin' on. And I got out and I saw my mom (Clearing throat) leaning against the trunk of the car and you know, she was crying and she leaned over and she didn't say anything. She just kissed me on the face and she got back in the car and they drove off.
So, now I'm 13 and I'm standing in a parking lot in the middle of the night. I've got my clothes and I've got, you know, a couple boxes of clothes, little boxes and a bag. And I'm waitin' on 'em to come back and I'm waiting and they don't come back. And so, I just had to figure it out.
Jim: They never came back.
Jimmy: They never come back. They never turned around. And so, I saw a light on in a bus station and I went toward the light, you know. not a pun, it's just a perfect analogy. I was like—
Jim: A child looking for help.
Jimmy: --yeah and I walked toward this light on inside a bus station and asked this man for help and he helped me get a bus ticket and I was a worker since real young age, so I had saved up some money. And I had saved up $79 and he said, "How much money you got?" And I said, "Seventy-nine dollars." He said, "Well, the ticket's $79." (Laughing) And--
Jimmy: --just happened to be perfect, $79.
Jim: He might've helped a little bit there?
Jimmy: Yeah, and I didn't have any money, you know, so now I'm a 13-year-old kid tryin' to figure out how to get back to North Carolina. And I just got lost. I stayed lost for a couple of days and there was, you know, I didn't have a phone, food, money and I'm just sittin' on this bus and I'm dirty, hadn't taken a bath and you know, it's pretty disgusting when you're livin' out there like that and people don't want to sit beside you, 'cause you're dirty.
And I remember lookin' out the window and we pulled into a restaurant parking lot and the bus driver said, "We're 30 minutes early. If you're hungry, get off the bus, but don't go far." And everybody got off and got food and I was so hungry. I remember sittin' there lookin' out the window and these people are laughin' and it was almost like it was slow motion.
Jimmy: And they were eating and no one would offer anything. And I was the only one sittin' on that bus. We drove to another bus stop and there was this guy that stepped on the bus with this big red Afro. And he walked all the way back and sat beside me. And I thought, this guy's a pedophile. Why is he [here when] there's all these empty seats. Why is he sittin' beside me?
Jim: Yeah, you're 13. You already got that—
Jim: --figured out.
Jimmy: --oh, yeah, those experiences you don't forget when you're a kid, when that stuff happens to you. So, when he sat beside me, he had this little briefcase and he had a sports jacket on. And he said, "You hungry?" And I felt how does he know this? And he hit these two buttons and opened up and there [were] all these crackers and snacks and everything. He said, "Get whatever you want." So, I reached in and I got a pack of crackers and he said, "I'll be right back. I'm gonna sit this right here and if you need anything else, just take whatever you need."
And he pulled this marijuana cigarette out of inside of the briefcase and went back to the back of the bus and smoked it, smoked up the bus and he come [sic] back out and he said, "Man, all I do is eat, smoke and ride." And I thought, wow, here's a guy that's smokin' pot, ridin' around, eatin' snacks, helpin' me. He's the only one that helped me.
Jimmy: And it was the guy you don't assume that's gonna be the one that's gonna help, that's the one that helped me. I got off the bus and I tried to sleep that night behind the bus station in my hometown and was picked up by the police and spent the next three years in custody and moved around from home to home, group homes, foster homes, receivin' home, outside.
Jim: Jimmy, I want to talk about Vance Street, because that's where a lot of the difficulty happened. Vance Street in I think it was Gastonia, North Carolina. I don't know that area, so paint the picture. I spent a couple of years in Compton, so I know that really well.
Jim: But I don't know Gastonia. Was it a hard place?
Jimmy: Well, Gastonia, North Carolina, is was west of Charlotte and so kind of an industrial town. And there was a mill, a textile mill there. It was the largest textile mill in the world and cotton mill and it was very blue collar, just really hard-working blue-collar people, very tough, but man, the crime was horrible.
Jim: Just a lot of desperate people.
Jimmy: Just a lot of crime, yeah. And so, we lived on Vance Street, not knowing. Well, my mom was looking for a home, the cheap rent—
Jimmy: --because it was on a street that was the—
Jimmy: --you know, the armpit of Gastonia.
Jimmy: And it was like, if you live on Vance Street, I mean, we didn't know. We moved in this home and my mom is a wonderful woman and she was tryin' to help a boy and a girl who was homeless. And she invited them into our home. We were getting off the church bus and my mom was tryin' to unlock the front door of the house and she saw this kid, he and his sister and they were shaking. It was cold outside and she said, "Well, come on in and get some food and get some heat." And they come in our home and they didn't leave.
Jim: Now how old are you at that time?
Jimmy: I was 7.
Jimmy: And that led to, "Well, can we invite some friends to come over?" And then those friends brought friends and the next thing you know, our house was like a refugee camp for everything you could imagine. There was gun violence. There was knife violence. There was fist fighting. There was so much stuff going on. I mean, I remember at one point, you know, there was a gun fight that broke out in the middle of the day and the police never showed up.
Jim: I can't imagine being a child and seeing all that and trying to process all this. I mean, being beat up, being hit by your mom, the boyfriends, even with the sprinkling of maybe some good guys—
Jim: --that had your interests in mind, but they didn't hang for very long.
Jimmy: Well, that's what makes the family that helped me that much more amazing.
Jim: Well, before we get to that, let's talk about Miss Friday, your teacher (Laughter), sixth-grade teacher, right?
Jim: She seemed to be—
Jim: --(Laughter) you don't need to confess that, but (Laughter) sixth-grade twice may not have been the worst thing for you. But she was a ray of hope for you.
Jim: What did she do? What qualities did she possess that really drew you in?
Jimmy: Well, Miss Friday was one of the first African Americans to teach in the Gastonia area. She grew up with a lot of siblings. Her dad was a devout man. I mean, this guy was a walker and he walked the walk, very disciplined dad. And it was in a very racially divided area of town and it still is unfortunately. And she'd already experienced racism as a kid.
Jimmy: They had dealt with it. Their family had dealt with, you know, the Klan throwin' things on the front porch and her dad havin' to go out there and stomp it out and the fire and just those things. And so, by the time I in her classroom, you know, I was 12-years-old, grew up in the same communities, except I'm the kid who has the brother who was claiming to be in the Klan. Shen he would come around, which I didn't know him very well, but when he would come around us, he would always bring that with him.
Jim: How much older was he than you?
Jimmy: You know, honestly I don't know, but it has to be, you know—
Jim: Ten years?
Jimmy: --yeah, definitely 10 years older. And I'm 12, so he's in his 20's by now.
Jim: Right, okay.
Jimmy: So, he's bringin' these little cards that has things about the Klan on it and you know, he knows that Miss Friday is a[n] African American. He'd [say, "Take this and show it to her" and I didn't know what it was.
Jim: And you would.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah and I would, 'cause anything to make her mad I'd do it. And I didn't know why at the time and I asked her last probably a year ago, I said, "I wonder why I did that." She said, "I was the only person in your life listening to you and talking to you--
Jim: You were testing her.
Jimmy:--and helping you. You were crying out. You were—
Jimmy: --just crying out to me and you were doin' it through just yelling and cuttin' up in the classroom.
Jim: But she stuck with you—
Jim: --even though you had to go through sixth grade twice.
Jimmy: Yeah and the things that I would do and say to her, it would provoke her. You know, she would always say, "You need to write. Just write your thoughts on paper. Write a journal. Write a journal." And I didn't want to write, but she encouraged me to write and she also disciplined me, back when they did discipline you with a leather strap, so she disciplined me once a week in the hallway with a good old-fashioned barber strap—
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Jimmy: --I mean, "Touch your toes," and it was a serious, I mean, she was doing yoga before it was popular.
Jim: And she taught you though. She taught you some incredible things and she—
Jim: --believed in you and that's what changed your path, right?
Jim: I mean, she was like one of the pivot points--
Jimmy: Absolutely, she—
Jim: --in your life.
Jimmy: --truly, truly turned my life around and over the years, you know, through the group homes and everything, I just started writing and it started with her and years down the road when I had my first record deal and released my first record, I'm standing in a Walmart doin' a release signing and it's a four-hour line. It's wrapped around Walmart and about two hours and a half into this signing, I saw these hands slide a CD toward me and I looked up and it was Miss Friday. She'd stood in line—
Jim: She stood in that line.
Jimmy:--two hours and a half to get her CD. And I just hugged her and the first thing I said to her is, I said, "Miss Friday, I'm sorry. I'm very sorry for the things I said to you." She said, "You were a kid." "I know, but it's been with me all these years."
Jim: So, that was your first chance at reconciliation.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah. Twenty-something years, we never saw each other.
Jim: Wow. What a good thing that she stood in that line.
Jimmy: And we still talk. I called her this morning.
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Jimmy: Sure did.
Jim: That is really something and she had a deep faith, right?
Jimmy: Oh, absolutely, yeah, she and her whole family.
Jim: Well, Jimmy what's so amazing and we are, you know, not all the way through the story, I do want to come back next time, because there's other touch points that continue to accelerate you in the right direction.
Jim: Miss Friday was just the first.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah.
Jim: And what a wonderful thing. I remember that in my own life, certain schoolteachers, football coaches that connected with me spiritually and told me about Christ. You wouldn't necessarily draw into that, but they were tryin' to help.
Jim: And sometimes you embraced it and sometimes you didn't. I know exactly—
Jim: --where you were living. (Laughter) And I want to come back next time and talk about a couple of other people that came across your path that really made a huge difference. You have heard an incredible story from Jimmy Wayne, a country singer, songwriter. His New York Times best-seller, Walk to Beautiful is an incredible story about a broken child and how God can glue those pieces back together if the right people are there and if that person, that child will open his heart to God—his or her heart and it is a beautiful story.
If you're in that spot, if you're anywhere in this story that you've heard so far, you might be the mom that doesn't know what to do or you might be struggling as a child who doesn't feel loved. Focus is here and we want to be there for you.
And I want to say thanks to those people that helped fund the ministry, that allow our counselors to handle tens of thousands of calls a year from people who are hurting. This to me, is the intersection of faith and culture. [We] human beings, we're messed up. We live in a sinful fallen world, but we can stand as believers in Christ to deliver the Good News that Christ has died for us sinners and that there is a better way.
John: And you can reach one of those counseling staff members and request Jimmy's book when you call us. Also get the CD or download of our conversation and we'll include tomorrow's part of the discussion, as well. All of that at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor when you call 800, the letter A-and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459. And today when you make a generous donation of any amount to support the work of Focus on the Family, we'll send a copy of Jimmy's book, Walk to Beautiful as our way of saying thank you for your partnership.
Jim: Jimmy, as we close, there was that portion there where I saw that emotion in you when you described the story of your mom and that crazy man who was with her driving away. That is still painful to you, isn't it?
Jimmy: Oh, yeah.
Jim: You felt abandoned.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah, very painful and I mean, that was one of many times that she had done that, but that one really was the worst because we were in another another state.
Jim: All alone.
Jimmy: Yeah, it was just so scary.
Jim: Let's come back next time. We've hit enough of the negative stuff I think.
Jim: But let's come back and talk about the hope in Christ tomorrow. Can we do it?
John: Well, be sure to join us next time, as we continue our conversation with Jimmy Wayne and once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Jimmy WayneView Bio
Jimmy Wayne is a country music singer/songwriter whose songs highlight his mission to increase awareness about kids who age out of the foster care system and become homeless. Following hits such as "Stay Gone," "I Love You This Much" and "Paper Angels," he released "Do You Believe Me Now," his biggest hit to date, for which he earned the prestigious Million-AIR Award for receiving one million radio plays in America. Jimmy has toured with pop country star Brad Paisley, and he recorded "Sara Smile" with Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame duo Daryl Hall and John Oates. Jimmy is author of the novel Paper Angels, which became a made-for-TV movie by the same title, and Walk to Beautiful, his memoir which has become a New York Times best-seller. Learn more about Jimmy by visiting his website, www.jimmywayne.com.