READ THIS BOOK!! I found it through my library’s Wowbrary newsletter. I was attracted to the inspiring story by its summary and the title, reproduced above. It was lying on my dining room table, so I decided it should be my next read. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down! Jimmy Wayne’s life story shows us that anyone can get through anything–surviving no matter what your challenges are.
Working with a co-writer, Wayne looks back unflinchingly on his difficult childhood, which was often spent moving around a lot. That kind of life was more than a little unstable–even dangerous–for him and his sister, Patricia, as their mom tried to build a life that she’d be happy with. Many times, they were hungry, and he’s never forgotten the feeling of an empty stomach for days on end. It took him years to fully realize that his mom had been hurt a lot, and that she had bipolar disorder, which played a significant role in a lot of her bad choices. Forgiving her and letting go of pain took a long time, too. But she never lost the title of “Mama.”
By the time he was 14, his mom and stepfather left him at a bus station to fend for himself. On his fifteenth birthday–which he almost forgot about–he spent the night in jail. When he couldn’t find his way to friends and relatives, he spent time in various foster homes. Eventually he told his caseworker he wasn’t going back. So he became homeless.
Many times when telling his story, Wayne talks about an inner voice guiding him. Early on, he learned to always trust that voice. One of those times was during his wanderings. He came upon an elderly couple who operated a woodworking shop. The voice told him to ask if they had any work to do. He offered to cut their grass. They accepted his offer and gave him something to eat. Over several weeks, they formed a friendship. Eventually, the couple felt comfortable enough to invite him to live with them. He stayed for six years. Bea and Russell Costner became the parents he never had. With their expectations–that he would go to church, school, and cut his hair–their love and support, he completed high school and college, eventually earning an associates degree in criminal justice, and a job in his field.
Jimmy Wayne’s other love is music. For many years he played the guitar and sang. Bea encouraged these gifts as well, with her love of gospel music. He found a professional voice teacher, and Bea attended all of his gigs. Sadly, she didn’t live to see his country music success, both in songwriting and performing.
And there were other “angels unawares” in his life–a sixth grade teacher who taught him for two years. Even though she was a strict disciplinarian, she was firmly in his corner. She encouraged his writing ability and taught him the habit of daily journaling, which he still does. And they are friends to this day. The parents of some of his friends were supportive. An art teacher praised his painting and drawing. A guidance counselor never gave up on him. Even the police officer who took him to the jail that night tried to help him. They too have remained friends. The police officer is now a professional counselor and pastor.
I didn’t know who Jimmy Wayne was before this book. I enjoyed learning about his career and his songs. I’m not sure if he records much these days, but he’s probably still writing songs. He has become an advocate and speaker for foster kids who automatically age out of the system at age 18–often with no place to go and no resources. He has pushed for legislation to help them in Tennessee and elsewhere. He also felt like he wasn’t giving back in the way that he wanted–one reason for the walk he completed to raise awareness about foster kids and how to help. Here is a TED Talk he gave on the subject:
Here are two songs he recorded. Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile” earned him a record deal.
The song “Paper Angels” (now a book and TV movie) was inspired by the Salvation Army Angel Tree.
I hope this book inspires and moves you.