Hello Jimmy Wayne.
It’s time to write to beautiful. Recently I had a reminder and a reality check that pain is not always a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying pain and heartache and being hurt is good, but a recent experience at this year’s Author U conference reminded me that good things can come out of our deepest wounds. Our mess can be our message if we let it.
As the official photographer of the Author U Extravaganza conference that gathers together publishing prodigies and brilliant authors for a three-day whirlwind exchange of expertise, one of the highlights of the evening was a private performance in the hotel ballroom from chart topping country singer, Jimmy Wayne. Magic happened between this singer-turned-author and the other authors in the room. This wasn’t a highlight because he’s a big country star who’s filled Madison Square Garden, was labeled People’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” or topped the Billboard charts with multiple number one hits over the years. The evening was special because of what he shared and the way he shared it. He didn’t just sing songs. He didn’t just tell stories. This man used his stage to connect with his audience by telling his painful backstory leaving everyone speechless.
A true master of his craft, this musician and storyteller intertwined songs he had written while sharing his story of unbelievable abuse and neglect making the atmosphere in the room palpable. Instead of my usual “photog” duties of bouncing around for all the different shots, I couldn’t help but set my camera down taking a front row seat, not daring to move and disturb anyone from listening to what he had to say.
He had plenty to say.
Singer and songwriter Jimmy Wayne has a heart for foster kids…because he was one. Recalling how his mother and one of her many stellar boyfriends kicked him out of the car and left him in the parking lot of a bus station at nine years old. Standing in the dark he watched them drive off. Another painful story told the tale of how one of his many step dads took him for a ride in the truck one night, had little Jimmy load the gun for him, and then his step dad proceeded to empty it into the trailer they had parked in front of, turning the gun on the boy. His story of abuse and neglect continued as his mother waived her parental rights and sold his fourteen-year-old sister and married her off to a forty-something man in the trailer park.
Rags to riches. Bouncing between foster homes and finding himself homeless at sixteen years old living out of a garbage bag, Jimmy mowed lawns until one of the elderly couples over a can of Coke invited him to live with them. It was this kindness that changed his life and shifted this wayward broken boy from a life on the streets to speaking out for those that can’t speak for themselves.
Years later standing in the kitchen of his cush Nashville home, Jimmy was overcome by guilt as he remembered his promise to help struggling foster kids. Getting swept away with stardom, up until that moment he had done nothing for those he left behind. With over 30,000 kids aging out of the foster system every year and his new influential status, it was a promise he could no longer ignore. Jimmy Wayne decided to take a walk.
Within one month this moment in the kitchen led to his “Meet Me Halfway” campaign where big shot Jimmy Wayne set down his Nashville stardom and hit the streets to walk 1,700 miles halfway across the country to raise awareness for the homeless children who age out of the foster care system and are turned out to the streets. Walking until he was literally broken, Jimmy Wayne crossed the finish line in a walking cast to greet the children at one of the foster homes in Arizona after seven months solo on the roads of America.
Funny how people work. Fans are fickle. A lot of authors know this all too well. He recounted the humbling experience of one day being a rock star with thousands of fans screaming at him to days later being utterly alone and forgotten in the desert with no one wanting to even talk to him or look him in the eye because they thought he was homeless.
Why do I take the time to recount his story of his Walk to Beautiful? Because Jimmy Wayne has chosen not to waste his pain.
It was sitting in that little hotel ballroom and then later talking to him in the hospitality suite listening to more of his story and his message that made me realize that we’ve all been dealt a bad hand in some way somewhere along the way. Most of us are walking wounded. For some it’s a product of poor decisions, for others its to no fault of our own. We’ve all been wounded and hurt in ways that will shape us forever–and if we let it, it’ll bury us. It’s what we do with those wounds that make a difference. Sometimes it’s the stories we want to forget the most that need to be unburied and brought to life through our words and our message.
Jimmy Wayne could’ve been another statistic. Before making it big in Nashville, he worked as a prison guard, daily pointing his gun at some of the kids he grew up with. Instead, he is standing on stage with his guitar in hand with a message of hope to anyone who will listen. The Author U Extravaganza was a room full of published authors and writers who were listening.
We have been given talents and gifts and we can use those talents to tell the tale that needs to be told. Don’t waste your pain. Don’t bury your message. What is it that you have that you’re not using? It may not be a guitar. Perhaps it’s your blog, your next novel, or your untapped connections. What talent or ability or resource could you be using to help someone else in some small way? If it’s your words, use them! You may not have a stage or national following (yet), but you have been given something. Begin to use it. Your pain doesn’t have to stay painful and your message doesn’t have to stay hidden. Allow your mess to become your message and your miracle.
Start somewhere. Do something. Don’t waste your pain. In your own way, walk to beautiful. Go ahead, write to beautiful.
Need to hear more dirty details of Jimmy Wayne’s foster roots? Check out his book, Walk To Beautiful.
Ashlee Bratton – author of the book “Life Before The Lottery: Living Beyond The Bucket” is a professional photographer, freelance writer, and inspirational speaker with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and master’s degree in business administration.
Along with completing 29 of the 30 things on her 30×30 list, her writing contributions include numerous publications such as Vail’s EAT magazine, creating a 56 page Visitor Guide for a mountain ski town, blogging and guest blogging, being featured in multiple newspapers and e-zines, and various other projects.
Currently, she keeps her camera in hand in Southern Colorado, is a complete and total foodie, and takes plane rides for fun. She likes things that go.