*TobyMac song “Faithfully” playing*
John Fuller: That’s TobyMac, and he’s our guest today on Focus on the Family, sharing how he’s experienced the hope and goodness of Christ, even through tragedy. Thanks for joining us today. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller. What you’re about to hear was recorded before a live audience, a group of men in Florida, and our special guest was TobyMac. Let’s go ahead and join Jim Daly with that conversation.
Jim Daly: John, God doesn’t promise us an easy road in this life. I mean, many people know my story. All of us have some pain at some level. And, uh, you know, we go through sorrow. We go through loss. And he does provide comfort and peace. Sometimes you don’t see it. I love that great verse in Romans 8:28, “that all things work for good to those who love the Lord and are called by his name.” But sometimes it’s so cloudy you can’t feel that. Even as a believer, you can’t feel that. I think David, King David, like, uh, maybe TobyMac here, our guest, has poured his heart out to God in his music after the loss of his eldest son.
Jim: And today we’re gonna talk to Toby about that experience ’cause he, too, lost his eldest son, and I want people to lean into this because, although it’s painful, it does have such redemption to trust the Lord, love the Lord, and move forward.
John: Mm-hmm. Yeah. TobyMac is a Contemporary Christian artist. He’s a singer, a rapper, a songwriter, former member of the hit band DC Talk. Uh, my goodness. He’s won seven Grammy Awards. Uh, he’s produced six gold records. Um, he was twice named Artist of the Year at the Dove Awards, and we could go on with his list of accomplishments. Uh, his new album, uh, which does reveal his great loss, but also his hope in Christ, is called Life After Death. And we’re, uh, looking forward to hearing more in this conversation.
Jim: Uh, Toby, welcome to Focus.
Jim: Um, let’s get to the core of it. Um, you’re of Christian faith. I mean, in the music industry, it’s so hard to maintain that. Speak to becoming a Christian, and then how did you keep your focus on the right things when you were a superstar?
TobyMac:Well, I don’t know about a superstar, but I know that I fell in love with Jesus at 13 years old, at a small camp, uh, that, and a youth pastor sha-, sat on the floor after everything went on in this little cabin and opened up God’s word, and then for the first time, it spoke to me. And, and I just remember we got up off the floor that night, and I got in my, in my bunk, and I zipped my sleeping bag to the top, and my heart was racing ’cause I knew I needed to do something about what I felt. Um, I laid there for probably 15 or 20 minutes before I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I unzipped the bag, walked in the other room, and asked that youth pastor if he would introduce me to the king, Jesus. And that’s where it happened. And, and from then, you know, lots of things happened. And, and, I, I do think music was something that came late for me. I played college golf for four years. I met a guy named Michael Tait-
TobyMac:… who I did DC Talk with and is now the singer of the Newsboys. He was doing music, and he was singing these like really like conservative songs. And I’m like, “Wait. That’s not what you listen to. Why don’t you sing what we listen to?” And he’s like, “Oh, we can’t do that.” And I’m like, “Yes, we can.” Like … (laughs)
TobyMac:So I started writing these songs where I rapped the verses, and he sang the choruses, which for most people that was a mind twist because the white guy was rapping, and the Black guy was singing. But I’m not stereotyping here. I’m just saying most people say that.
TobyMac:But yeah. I mean, for me, it, it hasn’t been a struggle. I never wanted to be on stage. It’s nothing I longed for. I wasn’t the six-year-old that I wanna do that one day. I would think, for that person, it would be harder because it’s their dream coming true. But for me, honestly, um, I’ve always relied on this simple fact: I’m a servant. I’m a servant of the king, and as a servant, my job is to wait. I wait on the request of my Lord, and then I move.
Jim: Man, that’s something, huh? Uh, let’s turn to your family. Describe your family. Uh, we were talking about our wives, your wife Amanda, my wife Jean.
Jim: It sounds like they may have come from, uh, you know, daughters of a different mother.
TobyMac:Yeah. It does.
Jim: Very similar-
Jim: … women. But-
Jim: … describe Amanda.
TobyMac:Amanda is born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. A tough woman. Not easy to slide one past. Like, it, she-
TobyMac:It’s just not. It’s not. That’s … We’re blessed because-
Jim: That’s the similar part (laughs).
TobyMac:… anybody, anybody with a little bit of platform or success, we need, we need somebody to tell us the truth about ourselves. Um, and Amanda is really good at that. (laughs) Like-
TobyMac:She lets me know, um, when I’m making a mistake, uh, or when I’m, you know, when, when I didn’t give my best effort, or-
TobyMac:… I, I short-changed a song that could’ve been deeper or more poignant.
Jim: So let’s move with the family. Uh, describe your family, you and Amanda. Uh, you’re, you’re a family of five kids, right?
Jim: So get to it. What-
Jim: … what are the kids?
TobyMac:… uh, Truett, um, who passed three years ago, uh, at 21 years old, was our firstborn. And, uh, we prayed and prayed and prayed for him, and I couldn’t believe it when I had a baby boy, you know? It was just really amazing. Really special. And we had Moses and Marlee, boy, girl, and they’re now 20. Moses has muscular dystrophy. Uh, we didn’t know it when we adopted them. I’m not that much of a saint. But-
TobyMac:… for the people that are, thank you. Uh, Moses hasn’t walked since he was seven years old. Uh, he’s been in a wheelchair. Uh, he’s an amazing kid. Um, Marlee is doing well. She’s in Asheville, North Carolina. She’s, uh, living a life there, doing what she does. And then, as in most cases, right after we adopt these twins, we get pregnant with two boys in a row. Boom. Boom. One of them is named Leo. He’s sitting in front of you. He’s 18 years old now. Uh, and then we had Judah a year and a half after Leo.
Jim: And then, uh, going back to Truett, let’s set that up in terms of where things are at and what he was doing, how proud you were of him. And he was trying to follow in your footsteps, right?
TobyMac:Yeah. I mean, Truett is, uh, is electric, you know? He’s, he’s a young man that lights up a room, um, makes everybody feel alive. Uh, he always, always was. Loves to walk in and, and make you feel … And, and he also makes you feel loved. Um, he loved music. He started maybe at, at 11 or 12. Set up a little studio for him in the basement and was getting better and better and better at it. Uh, you know, a special young man through and through, and, uh, loved Jesus, loved his word. Truett’s last text to me, I was in Canada on tour, and I went to his … He did his first concert. Uh, I pushed back a Canadian flight ’cause I was going to do a tour in Canada to make the concert, um, and I was so grateful that I did. It’s the last time I saw my son at that show, and I gave him a hug and I said, “I’m proud of you, boy.” Um, Truett was the opening act of that show. After the show, I said goodbye to him, and him and all his friends were all out in front of the theater. The closing act was just going on, and pretty much the whole theater emptied, so the headline band, there was no one in there. And I said, “Truett, remember, he’s playing.” And Truett’s like, “Everybody back inside. We’re gonna support this guy. Let’s go.” So I, I, I’d sent him a text the next day. I said, “I’m so proud of you for how well the show went, but I’m more proud of you for how you loved someone well, the closing act, how you went out of your way to go support him.” And he, and his last text to me was, “Dad, thank you. I love you. You, you’ve always made me feel like a superhero.”
Jim: Oh, wow.
TobyMac:That’s the last text he, my son sent to me.
TobyMac:… let me tell you about my wife’s last text.
TobyMac:This one will tell you exactly who … Between these two things, you’ll know him. His last text to my wife was a, a verse in Psalms, and he said, he sent my wife the verse, and he said, “Mom, is God tickling me? And I just thought, “That is Truett.” He, Truett’s intimate.
TobyMac:He’s intimate with me, and he’s intimate with God. For him to think … You think he didn’t have a relationship with the king if he thought he was tickling him?
TobyMac:He knew he had a relationship with the king.
Jim: Yeah. Yet, I mean, in terms of the circumstance, uh, you know, there are things that happened there. Accidental overdose, um, speak to that whole situation. What happened? The call that you got, how, how did that news come to you? What took place? And-
TobyMac:The news came to me in Canada. My wife was in, uh, the Nashville women’s jail ministering, that she did it four days a week at that time. And, uh, and it’s just heartbreaking, man. And, uh, my, one of my best friends, Gabe, was on the road with me, and he said, “I need to talk to you.” And he walked me into the back lounge of the bus and told me. And I just fell and just kept saying, “Are you sure? Are you sure? Are you sure?” Um, yeah, you know, Truett, um, I’m not trying to, to give anything a bad rep here at all. But Truett really started with, um, taking some attention prescription drugs for his attention disorder. And then he, uh, he found out that really worked in the studio really well, so he, he started kind of taking, uh, this attention prescribed drug for the … when he was working on songs, and he found out he could like rapidly move songs along. His focus intensified. But he was struggling to fall asleep, and he started with, you know, just borrowing some friends’ Xanax that have prescriptions. And he really, he told me a few times that he was borrowing Xanax from friends, but I didn’t know it had gotten to the point where it was, where he actually bought, um, what he thought was an OxyContin off the streets, and he met somebody, actually, at a Topgolf in the parking lot, and he bought them, and it took him out immediately. 10 times the lethal dose of, uh, fentanyl.
TobyMac:So Truett had never been to rehab or detox. It, it wasn’t that far along. This was like the first time he had bought something on the … I have his phone. I’ve looked at his texts. It’s the first time he had bought something non-prescribed. So, you know, it, it’s hard, man.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
TobyMac:It’s hard to imagine how many times people have gone to rehab. 10 times. Eight times. Six times. And my son makes a mistake once, and he’s gone. It’s, it’s hard. It’s really hard. And, and I have to really stay tight with God to not, uh, to not build on things I shouldn’t be building on.
Jim: Well, and Toby, first of all, it’s just thank you for sharing something that’s so devastating, obviously. And yet, at the same time, when you’re in that spot, how did you and Amanda and the rest of the family, how did you start to process this? I mean, is God a good God? All those questions that are, you know-
Jim: … hard to ask, but people in that situation, they do shake a fist at God and say, “Why did you let this happen?”
TobyMac:Yeah. Absolutely. I had moments of that, for sure. Amanda probably had more than me. I, I’ve always been a guy that I just like … You know, “I trust you, King. I trust you.” I had to walk through some of that, you know, some of the things where I was like, “I’m, I’m upset. Like, I’m really angry right now.” And Amanda definitely had … Here’s the beautiful thing about having community. And we all need community. We have an extraordinary community in Franklin, Tennessee. People that love us. Diverse, different races. Different denominations. People that just love us. I walked into a house full of people. At first, it’s the last thing I wanted to see. I wanted them to all leave my house. But I walked into a house full of people. Some people were playing piano, just playing worship songs and letting them echo through the halls of our home. Other people were just sitting with my wife. Other people, Leo and some friends, were over. We didn’t have much of a choice but to be confronted with the love of people and the love of community and the love of a community that loves the king.
TobyMac:I’m not saying we haven’t had our hard moments. But uh, just that, that worship music being played, and it just, it was confronted. You know, it just confronted us.
TobyMac:And we were either gonna fall at the feet of the king or run a million miles away from him. And thank God, he was kind enough. I know my personal story is I had decided a year and a half before Truett passed that I was gonna read the Bible in a year. And I don’t know if you guys have ever tried that, but I didn’t make it. It was … I setting a … That’s why I said … So I finished. Believe it or not, I’m in Revelation 21. I have one chapter left.
TobyMac:But a year and a half before Truett passed, I sort of said, “We’re talking about two and half years for me to get through, through the Bible.” I will tell you this. God is very precise with what he does. I started reading the Bible, and I looked. I opened up my Bible a few days after Truett passed, and I’m like, “I just can’t. I just can’t continue on with this.” But something just moved me, and I’m like, “I’m gonna try.” And I kinda looked at God, and I said, “I’m gonna give you a chance. I’m gonna give you a chance to make this okay. It’ll never be really okay, but I’m gonna give you a chance.” And I just continued reading the Bible, and I can just tell you this, man. Reading the Bible cover to cover has changed my life. I’ve gotten to know God in ways that I never knew him before, and I’ve been a Christian since I was 13. He’s just shown me different facets of him. And he’s taught me to … that he’s, he’s really showed me that he’s kind. He’s kind if you give him a chance.
Jim: Well, I love the verse, and I, I say it often, that he’s close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. And I, I appreciate that. When you look at the, um, journey that you’ve been on for the last three years, do you feel like you and Amanda are closer to God, even going through tragedy? It sounds like you are. Like-
TobyMac:I don’t know. I can’t speak for Amanda ’cause, I mean, she was already so close (laughs).
TobyMac:Um, I know I am. I know for a fact I know God like I’ve never known him before. And, I mean, you have to remember. When, when Truett first passed, I was like, “I’ll never, I’ll never write another song. I mean, why would I?” That’s how I felt. But then, um, I wanted to honor him, so I went back in the studio maybe a week later, and I wrote a song called “21 Years” to honor his life and to thank God for the 21 years he gave me with my son.
TobyMac:And then I thought, “Well, surely, that’s it. I’m done.” And then one of the guys that was playing piano at my house, every day for a week, letting it wash over my family, I was talking to my daughter, Marlee, and I said … I mean, I thought, “How can I connect with her? How can I help her through this grief?” I’d try to do it differently with each child. And I thought, “Marlee always sits at the piano and sings. She’s never done anything. What if we wrote a song together? Would you like to write a song together about what we’re going through, about the pain that we’re experiencing, the grief?” And she said, “Yeah, I would, Dad.” So one of those guys that was playing piano came over, John Reddick is his name, and played, and we wrote this song about Truett called “Everything About You.” So it, it really began as like, “I’m not gonna be a professional artist anymore when I’m gonna honor my son and, and walk with my daughter through this.” Uh, and it, it turned into a whole record of songs that’s called Life After Death. One of the songs is, uh, I looked at my family during this service, and I said, “Listen, we have to rebuild.” I didn’t mean to say this. It wasn’t part of the plan. But I said, “We have to rebuild. And, you know, we’re not gonna build on what we built on before ’cause sometimes you, you’re trying to walk with the king, but you start building on things that aren’t right.” You know, there’s a lot of successful men in this room, and listening. We start building on these things. And I said, “This is a chance for us to rebuild. We’re not gonna build on being victims. We’re not gonna build on prescription drugs, surely. We’re not gonna build on alcohol. We’re not gonna build on financial success. We’re gonna build on the rock.” And we got that chance to rebuild.
Jim: The one thing, Toby, that we don’t often grasp, you know, in those middle years particularly, whether you’re 21, 41, 61, or 81, you, you’re moving to that day. We’re all gonna get there. Truett got there early, but we’re all gonna get there. And that’s something that’s hard to even capture. So then, when you look at it in that context of what tomorrow is on the other side, the next life with God, maybe some of that sting is gone to understand he’s with the Lord, experiencing the fullness of God now.
TobyMac:Absolutely. It’s all that-
Jim: I mean, he, he beat you there.
TobyMac:It’s all that I count on. It’s all that I count on. And the only dream I keep having in and, and thought that rushes to my mind is, is Truett, in his excited nature, going, “Dad!”
TobyMac:He … If you only could see what I see. If you could only know what I know now. For me, was Truett made for 21 years? Was he made for that from the beginning of time, and is that maybe something that God has asked of me? That’s how I see it now, and Amanda might see it a little differently than that. But that’s how I see it.
Jim: Well, and there’s so many parallels in life to what the Lord is showing us and w-, how we experience him, think of him as a father. Jesus was his son who died at 33. How that must’ve-
TobyMac:He, he … Yes. Yeah.
Jim: … crushed his heart-
Jim: … that that had to happen. I just, you know-
TobyMac:He asked it of himself.
Jim: He took it.
TobyMac:Our father asked it of himself.
Jim: Yeah. So with the kids now, are the other side of this is how do you manage keeping the family moving in a good direction, Truett’s brothers and sisters and-
Jim: … trusting God? Um, are those discussions difficult to say, “You gotta keep trusting God”?
TobyMac:Um, we’re so grateful. I mean, Leo’s sitting here, so it’s a little awkward. But I’ve just watched. You know, at first, it was tough. And there was definitely some … where they lashed out a little bit and got in trouble. But-
Jim: They were crying out for help, too.
TobyMac:Yeah. And they, but, but it’s … I could not be more proud of the way that their hearts have turned to God, and their reaction. I mean, I mean that. I … Leo’s not even looking up right now ’cause he doesn’t wanna look up. But I’m so proud of you, son, for the way you’ve reacted and the, um, the way your heart has stayed soft toward the king.
Jim: That’s good. It’s good. I hope you can take that, Leo, seriously. That’s a father’s heart for you. Let me, um, move this a little bit broader for the closing time and that we have together. Um, I mean, there’s gonna be situations in this room. This is a room of about 60-70 dads, most of them, and we don’t know all their stories. It’ll be different. Maybe similar to your story, where they lost a son. Or it’s a prodigal son or daughter. Maybe someone who’s drug addicted, you know, and all those things are going on in a lot of different ways. What advice going through this, and I know you’re uncomfortable even giving it, but what would you say to someone who’s thinking every night, “I don’t know where my son or my daughter, I don’t know where they are at, where they’re at”?
TobyMac:Yeah. I think, well, first of all, I would, I would s- … My heart breaks for them. It’s the hardest thing you could ever go through. Your kids. We all know it, watching them. Um, I don’t, I don’t really know. I don’t, I’m not like that. I don’t think I have the answers. But I, I do know the king does. I do know our king offers his wisdom. He offers his advice and his comfort. Um, he’s listening to your prayers, and he’ll never leave you.
TobyMac:A friend of mine told me on a golf course. He said, uh, “Toby,” and he lost his son, and he told me this before I had lost Truett. He said, “Toby, first of all, me and my wife, we grieve differently. Um, and then I … He’s the first person I called when I lost Truett, and he said, “Just know you and your wife are gonna grieve differently.” And he said, “Second of all, you know, you’ve lost your boy, and you’re gonna start to reach up to hang … If, if you will trust God, you’re gonna start to reach up and just try to grab onto some promise of God, and just hold it near you ’cause that’s all you can do.” He said, “But a lot of times, we reach up and we grab onto something that we thought God promised us, but maybe never promised us at all. He didn’t promise us we wouldn’t face loss or go through really painful things or hard things with our kids being away from us.” He said, “When you reach up and grab onto that promise, make sure it’s something that he really promised, and that is that he will never leave us or forsake us. That’s his promise.” So, no matter what anybody’s facing, that is what you can count on.
Jim: That is the promise, and we’re so grateful. Toby, thanks for talking with us tonight. Thanks for pouring out your heart and letting us really look at a very tender area of your life and Amanda’s life, your family’s life. I so appreciate it. And as John said and prayed before we started, just that the Lord would use this to touch a dad, to touch a mom, maybe to touch a prodigal child and have them reconcile. I just-
Jim: … really appreciate your heart.
TobyMac:Well, thank you for having me. And I do, I do pray that, that God uses this moment to interact with someone in a, in a beautiful way-
TobyMac:… and just reach into somebody’s life.
Jim: TobyMac, I mean this so sincerely. With all the Grammys and everything else, but the key thing, uh, follower of Jesus, thanks for modeling that and living it well. Thank you.
TobyMac:Thank you, man. Thank you. Thank you, guys.
John: Oh, what a great heart-to-heart conversation with TobyMac on today’s episode of Focus on the Family, recorded, uh, in front of a group of men who were gathered in Florida. And Jim, that was really inspiring.
Jim: Yeah, John. I so appreciate Toby’s heart, and I love his many references to serving the king. Building a closer relationship to the savior is the key, both through the good and the tough times. And Toby’s given us some great reminders about what matters most in life. And I wanna encourage you to get Toby’s new album, uh, from us on CD. It’s called Life After Death, music that was borne out of his suffering and searching, but also which reveals his hope in Christ. I also wanna ask you for your help. Focus is looking for a thousand people to help save and strengthen families as part of our friends of Focus on the Family program. By making a monthly pledge of any amount, uh, you’re helping to minister to and strengthen families in their time of need, just as Toby’s family needed help. When you contact us, let us know you’d like to join the friends of Focus on the Family program, and let me say thank you so much for pouring back into other people.
John: Call to donate and request that TobyMac album from us here at Focus. And if you need counseling, we have caring Christian counselors here. Reach out to schedule an appointment when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or when you’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.