As the oak trees across Granger Smith’s central Texas farm burst with brilliant hues of yellow, orange and amber, the former country music artist no longer dreads winter’s looming death grip that will soon reduce the colorful fall foliage to dust.
Having endured his own season of loss and redemption, Granger has a deep appreciation for God’s pruning and sanctifying work in his life. “It’s literally like a scale falling off your skin, and it doesn’t always come in a warm, fuzzy, comforting way,” Granger told Decision. “Sanctification, sometimes it stings. It hurts.”
On June 4, 2019, Granger was savoring a moment at home outdoors with his three children before having to leave the next day to attend the CMT Music Awards Show in Nashville and from there embark on another concert tour.
While helping his 7-year-old daughter, London, with her gymnastics routine, Granger was startled by an eerie silence that had consumed the laughter of his two younger sons, Lincoln and River, who had also been playing outside with their water guns.
When Granger looked over at the family’s locked and gated pool, just 20 feet away, he saw his 3-year-old pajama-clad son, River, floating face-down in the water.
About 10 minutes later, EMTs restored River’s heartbeat. But Granger and his wife, Amber, made the gut-wrenching decision two days later to disconnect River from the life support machine as the loss of oxygen to his brain had proved fatal.
It’s been about three-and-a-half years since Jesus delivered Granger from the merciless throes of guilt and regret—a burden so intense that after returning to his bedroom on his tour bus following a night of binge drinking, he almost pressed the trigger on his loaded pistol as it rested inside his mouth.
In the August release of his memoir, Like A River—Finding the Faith and Strength to Move Forward after Loss and Heartache, the 44-year-old Texas native recounts his spiritual transformation and his family’s restoration in the wake of River’s drowning.
Granger writes: “Unconsciously, my hand ripped the pistol out of my mouth, and my voice cried out in desperation: ‘My God, my Jesus! Save me! Save me Jesus!’”
He had finally realized on that November night in 2019, after his concert in Boise, Idaho, that all the self-help audiobooks and podcasts, meditation, devotionals, journaling, diet, exercise, vaping marijuana oils and beer binges could not fill the God-shaped void in his life.
“I was a cultural Christian who only knew about Jesus,” Granger told Decision. But after Jesus delivered him from the darkest night of his life, Granger wanted to know Him personally. “I said, ‘I need a preacher,’ and the first name I thought of was Billy Graham.”
Over the next couple of months Granger listened to more than a hundred of Mr. Graham’s sermons on YouTube. “You can imagine how silly I must have looked, driving around in my pickup truck, windows down on a back road, headed to the farm listening to these Reverend Graham sermons that were older than I was,” Granger writes. “I didn’t care what anyone thought. I liked them. A new passion was growing within me that I didn’t quite understand yet. My eyes were slowly opening.”
Then on March 1, 2020, barely nine months after River’s drowning, Granger said he experienced his rebirth in Christ after listening to John Piper on YouTube preach from John 14 about the Holy Spirit. Granger prayed, committing his life to serve Christ.
“Right there in that truck on a small country road in Texas, the old me died,” he writes. “God had completely and irresistibly invaded my heart, and I was overflowing with gratitude. It was all His grace, which can be defined as unmerited favor. I suddenly hated living a life that wasn’t pleasing to Him, but that’s not what merited His love; instead that was my response to it.”
Granger and Amber, who had been a Christian before their family tragedy, began reading the Bible together, starting in the Book of Matthew. No longer would reading devotionals or simply listening to sermons suffice. “I was a starving man who had just found bread, and I feasted on that bread, the Word of God, as if my life depended on it—because it did,” Granger writes. “The more I ate at that table, the hungrier I grew. I combed over the words as if they were an instruction manual specifically written for my life. I didn’t want to miss a single word from the God who saved me.”
Over the next year-and-a half, Granger said, God continued rebuilding his and Amber’s life on the foundation of His Word. After selling their home to distance themselves from the pool that took River’s life, they bought a different farm and built their new home while living for a year in an RV parked in a barn on the property.
And despite Amber having her fallopian tubes tied after River’s birth, she and Granger both sensed God leading them to try in vitro fertilization. At 39, having had three cesarean section births, Amber’s odds to conceive again weren’t high.
Unaware of his parents’ plans, 6-year-old Lincoln told Amber one day in 2020 that he had a dream in which River told him that his mom was going to have another baby boy.
In August, Amber miscarried the first embryo, but the second and last surviving embryo was successfully implanted in December, and Maverick was born on Aug. 20, 2021.
“There is such healing in letting go,” Granger writes. “It breathes new life into every aspect of life. When I let go of River, God gave us Maverick. … When I let go of music, it stopped feeling like a job and started to feel like a ministry opportunity.”
After 24 years of touring as an award-winning, platinum-selling country music artist, the host of the nationally syndicated iHeartRadio show After MidNite with Granger Smith held his final concert on Aug. 26. He is pursuing a master’s degree online through Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to prepare for full-time ministry, and serving and worshipping with his family at a newly planted congregation in Georgetown, Texas.
Granger said that since he became a Christian, God has ignited a growing passion in him to know Him more and to help make Him known. Having amassed more than 12 million followers through multiple social media platforms, including the Granger Smith Podcast and two YouTube channels, Granger’s videos online have been viewed more than 1 billion times. And having recorded more than 10 albums and nearly a dozen chart-busting singles—including his No. 1 hit, “Backroad Song”—Granger said he no longer wants to exalt himself.
“I have to sacrifice this whole music thing, and I have to hand it up to the Lord with open palms,” he said. “If the Lord wants to redeem that music in some way, He certainly can. I’m not expecting it or even needing it, but this is what I’m handing over to Him. I’m handing all of the music back.”
At the conclusion of his book, Granger explains further why he is letting go of his life’s passion that began at age 14. “To put it plainly, there’s just not time for it anymore,” he writes. “There are too many hurting people, too many lost people, and too many people without a Savior in Jesus.” ©2023 BGEA
Photo: Courtesy of Granger Smith