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Jo Dee Messina Lost Her Mom in 2020 — Faith, Friends, and Her Dogs Helped Her Grieve (Exclusive Interview)

"I'm swimming in a sea of gratitude."

An ACM Award winner and two-time Grammy Award-nominated country music singer, Jo Dee Messina, 52, is known for her big onstage energy and feisty empowerment anthems. But when her mother, Mary, passed away in 2020, life as she knew it changed forever. In an exclusive interview with Woman’s World, Messina reveals how finding faith helped her weather the storm, and rediscover her peace and joy.

Messina’s Journey Toward a Life of Faith

Having moved to Nashville, Tennessee, at just 19 years old, Messina found decades of success in the country music industry with career-defining hits like “Heads Carolina, Tails California” and “I’m Alright.” But when her mother, Mary, got sick, she felt helpless and adrift.

Jo Dee Messina with her mother, Mary, in 1999
Jo Dee Messina with her mother, Mary, in 1999Getty

“I tried everything to keep her alive,” Messina, now 52, shares. “When I realized I couldn’t save her, I was at the end of myself. I was on my porch in the dark when, suddenly, I had the sense of knowing in my spirit the words, ‘She’s Mine.’ I lived next door to Steve Green, a Christian singer, so I knocked on his door and said, ‘Tell me about Jesus — He just showed up on my porch!’” Then, when Mary passed in 2020, God further helped her feel peace. “I was able to see the beauty in it, as opposed to anger and feeling cheated,” she says.

Armed with her faith, Messina entered a new and thrilling phase of life. After country singer Cole Swindell enjoyed a number one hit with “She Had Me At Heads Carolina,” which paid homage to Messina’s signature song, she joined him in a duet at the Country Music Association Awards last November. Now, the 52-year-old Georgia denizen is working on a new album, is set to tour soon, and “is swimming in a sea of gratitude.” Below, Messina shares her tips for staying afloat in life’s stormiest seas and learning how to swim with grit, grace, and gratitude.

1: Fill your own cup.

“Peace and quiet is where I find my joy,” Messina says. “If you look at my life, when I’m working, I’m pouring out; when I’m home with my children, I’m pouring out. So, I love to have that moment of peace to simply sit. My quiet time every day is joyful. It’s before the whole world wakes up. It’s still dark when I get out of bed, and it’s me watching the sunrise and saying, ‘God, here I am today. Dear Lord, thank You for today.’ Give me my porch swing and a cup of coffee, and I’m happy!”

2: Lean on friends.

During Messina’s battle with cancer in 2017, her friends rallied around her in a way that changed her life. “People came out of the woodwork to help with the kids, with food, and to help take care of me,” she recalls. “My boys were 5 and 8 years old and I was trying to see that their life was not disrupted. So people started to say, ‘Hey, we’ll take the boys home from school or to a playdate.’ I didn’t have to ask. Friends like that bring so much light.”

3: Let faith see you through loss.

“The loss of my mother was really difficult,” Messina reveals. “She was my foundation, my career was my identity, and my marriage completed the picture. But then, one by one, those things started to fall away. And then I met Jesus. He is the hero of my story. He gives us peace in the storm, and joy in the hurting. It was heartbreaking to lose her, but He took her home in the most gentle way. That gives me peace.”

4: Discover true joy with furry friends.

“Pets always make you feel at home — you know you are loved,” Messina shares. “I have two dogs: One is named King, and then we have a mix pup named Tuffnut. The cat’s name changes. At first, my boys called her Purry, and now they call her Mittens. They always make us smile!”

5: Find beauty in little acts of kindness.

“I believe in giving back, but it doesn’t have to be in a massive way,” Messina explains. “Taking time to hold the door for someone, or something small, is great too. A woman was going through Target the other day and she knocked over a LEGO set. My son helped pick it up. If everyone could do one small act of kindness each day, what would the world look like? It would be beautiful.”

6: Allow your light to shine bright.

“When I look out at a crowd of people singing and holding up their cellphone lights, I wonder if that’s how God sees us,” Messina reflects. “Not as a face or a body, but the person inside that shines. Every light has its own brightness and beauty. That’s what you are: a unique light that shines and is treasured.”

Messina’s Latest Music Will Lift You Up

This year is shaping up to be the best one yet for Messina! Fans will get to enjoy her hits all over again with the release of The Best of Jo Dee Messina: Heads Carolina, Tails California on March 10 (available for pre-order at JoDeeMessina.com), and she’s currently in the studio working on a new album. Says Messina, “It’s geared toward the country audience, but also reflects my love for Jesus.”

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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