Why Trust God When Life Feels Like a Country Song? (feat. Randy Travis)
Inside This Episode
Randy Travis overcame all odds to become a country music legend, but few people know the whole story. After surviving an abusive childhood and struggling to stay sober and out of trouble as a young man, Randy's determined work ethic and signature baritone voice propelled his meteoric rise to superstardom. In the years that followed, however, his life slowly fell apart, and in 2013, he suffered a stroke that took away his ability to speak, sing, and walk. On this episode, we ask Randy and Mary Travis how it's possible to keep trusting God when your life feels like a country music song.
"I WAS STANDING BY HIS BED AND HELD HIS HAND. I JUST ASKED HIM IF HE WANTED TO KEEP FIGHTING, AND HE SQUEEZED MY HAND. I GOT UP AND I SAID, 'OKAY BABY, WE'RE GOING TO FIGHT.'"
ERIC HUFFMAN:England. 1736. Along the banks of the River Thames, an 11-year-old boy named John went to work on a cargo ship with his dad. It was a welcome departure from his otherwise grim childhood. After his mother died when he was only six, John was neglected for years by his step-mother and abused by the older boys at his boarding school. But that day, he felt free as he helped his dad untie the rigging and hoist the sails before walking the length of the ship taking inventory of the freight.
ERIC HUFFMAN:As with most of his father's shipments, the payload that day included newly purchased African slaves who were being shipped to plantations in the Caribbean. John continued working on slave ships throughout his adolescence. He renounced all belief in God at age 16, and two years later, during a trip across the Atlantic, John's ship was seized by the British Royal Navy, and he was forced into military service. He grew more rebellious and obstinate with each year of service in the Navy.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In his 20s, John hit rock bottom when he, himself, was sold into slavery in Sierra Leone. He was a slave for three years before some of his father's friends came to the rescue by smuggling him onto a ship bound for England. While at sea, a menacing squall engulfed their vessel in the dark of night.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The ship's captain was thrown overboard, never to be seen again. Hoping to avoid the same fate, John tied himself and a shipmate to a post in the hull saying, "If this will not work, then Lord have mercy on us."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Eleven hours later, the storm was over and John was still alive. His own words, "Lord have mercy on us," stuck with him forever. He continued shipping slaves for a few years after that, but by the time he turned 30, he could no longer stomach the slave trade. He became an influential voice in the abolitionist movement, and at the age of 41, he was ordained by the Anglican church.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Six years later, he sat in a prayer meeting still feeling burdened by the painful memories of his past: his dying mother, the neglect and abuse of his childhood, the faces of all those human beings he counted as inventory, and all the ways he'd been a disappointment to his fellow man, to his wife, to his father, and to God.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In spite of it all, in that moment, he was overcome by an unshakable sense of peace, and that night, John Newton wrote the words to the world's most famous hymn.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Today on Maybe God, our first ever interview with a music legend, a Hall of Famer whose unmatched success and unexpected survival could only have happened by grace, amazing grace.
[MAYBE GOD INTRO]
ERIC HUFFMAN:You're listening to Maybe God. I'm Eric Huffman. A few weeks ago, the Maybe God team, including my wife, Geovanna, and I, drove five hours north to a tiny town outside of Dallas to meet a man I've idolized since I was a kid.
ERIC HUFFMAN:When I was growing up in the backwoods of northeast Texas, country music was everything. Most of my friends fell into one of two camps, George Strait fans or Garth Brooks fans, but I was always a Randy Travis man.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I once took home the third place ribbon in a Texarkana talent show by singing his hit song, Forever and Ever, Amen. The man is a legend, a seven-time Grammy winner, and a Country Music Hall of Famer who has sold over 25 million records thanks to his iconic baritone voice.
ERIC HUFFMAN:My heart was racing and my stomach was in knots as we entered the gate and drove up the winding path through his 325-acre ranch toward the imposing two-story country house at the top of the hill.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy and his wife, Mary, have lived on this ranch for about a decade. They've only been married since 2015, but they've known each other for more than 20 years, and during that time, they've experienced a lifetime of joy and heartache together.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Oh, hello there. What an honor to meet you, Mr. Travis. Thank you.
MARY TRAVIS:I'm Mary.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Hi, Mary. I'm Eric.
GEOVANNA HUFFMAN:So nice to meet you.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Nice to meet you.
MARY TRAVIS:Thank you.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The inside of the Travis home feels like a country boy's fever dream. Everything inside is made of leather and wood. Antlers and cowboy hats, and antique guns decorate the walls. An old pool table and a life-size cardboard cutout of Randy Travis himself tie the room together. There's also a wet bar featuring an extensive collection of the finest whiskeys, but I noticed that all the bottles were completely empty.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The ranch was teeming with life. There were animals everywhere. And from the very beginning, it was clear who ran the show at the Travis residence.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Who are these three?
MARY TRAVIS:Oh, this is our son's dog.
MARY TRAVIS:And these two little scraggly-looking things, they need a grooming.
ERIC HUFFMAN:We all do at this time. You know, COVID-19.
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah. Those are Randy's lap sitters.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Man, that's good. That's good therapy.
MARY TRAVIS:When the big.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Even some of Randy's biggest fans are unaware that ever since he suffered a massive stroke in 2013, paralyzed the right side of his body, the country legend has been confined to a wheelchair and unable to sing or speak more than a word or two at a time.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I knew about his limitations before we met, but I admit it was still a shock to see the great Randy Travis in that condition. But Randy's got a smile that communicates more than words ever could. And every time his two Yorkies jumped up on his lap, his expression lit up the room.
ERIC HUFFMAN:A little later, we hopped inside an all-terrain vehicle for a quick tour of the ranch.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Away we go.
MARY TRAVIS:Away we go.
ERIC HUFFMAN:How many acres do you have here, Mary?
GEOVANNA HUFFMAN:Oh, wow.
ERIC HUFFMAN:After a 45-minute tour of the farm, we headed inside to the Randy Travis trophy room, and my head was spinning as I took my first ever look at an international superstar's collection of awards and accolades.
ERIC HUFFMAN:As the crew finished setting up for the interview, I read the inscriptions on Randy Travis's seven Grammys, as well as his personal notes that he'd received over the years from the likes of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Dolly Parton, and Carrie Underwood. And that's when it hit me. I was about to interview Randy Travis, and I wasn't planning on lobbing a bunch of softballs either. My plan was to ask him about all the toughest and most embarrassing moments of his life and career. I felt more than a little nervous as we sat down to get started.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy, I was telling Mary in the kitchen earlier just what a honor it is to be here with you. It's a little awkward even, to talk about growing up just idolizing you in East Texas listening to country music, and to you, in particular, and that low voice that's so distinctive. If you never heard a song before, you heard Randy singing, you knew it was Randy.
RANDY TRAVIS:Thank you.
ERIC HUFFMAN:It's a real honor. So I'd like to hear a little bit about how y'all met, a little bit about your love story.
MARY TRAVIS:In 1990, we first met.
MARY TRAVIS:I was working with my brother's shirt company called Stubbs Collection.
ERIC HUFFMAN:All right.
MARY TRAVIS:And Randy was wearing the shirts. He'd gotten them in Nashville.
MARY TRAVIS:So, when he would come through Dallas, they'd come by the office. That's where we first met. And so, in 2009, my home burned down where we were raising our kids-
ERIC HUFFMAN:Oh, no.
MARY TRAVIS:... from a lightning strike.
MARY TRAVIS:And all of the things that were wrong with my marriage at the time were starting to fester and come to light, and so we split up, and Randy was going through the same thing.
MARY TRAVIS:And we didn't know that about each other.
MARY TRAVIS:So, in March of 2010, then our paths crossed.
ERIC HUFFMAN:How did your paths cross again?
MARY TRAVIS:We ran into each other actually over at Billy Bob's, and he didn't go on until 10:00.
MARY TRAVIS:And he just didn't look the same as I'd seen him over the years.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What did you see that was different?
MARY TRAVIS:His stage presence, number one. He just wasn't the Randy Travis that I'd seen on the stage. There were not the jokes, the fun stuff. No life in his face.
MARY TRAVIS:And his wife wasn't with him, and that was really strange because we'd never seen him without her over the years.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah, sure.
MARY TRAVIS:So, the next day, I called out to their place in Santa Fe, and he answered the phone, which he never does.
MARY TRAVIS:And we just started talking and found out he was going through what he was, and I was going through what I was, and he said, "Well, I'm going through Shawnee, Oklahoma, on the 10th. You want to come up and we'll go to lunch?"
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah, it was a sweet day.
MARY TRAVIS:And thereafter.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah, yeah. So, Randy, you're from Marshville?
MARY TRAVIS:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
ERIC HUFFMAN:North Carolina.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The son of... Let's see, it's six kids in that house?
ERIC HUFFMAN:You were the second.
MARY TRAVIS:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
ERIC HUFFMAN:The son of a turkey farmer?
MARY TRAVIS:He was a rancher, home builder. He was multi-talented in that aspect. And he also was a horse trainer, so they always had horses.
MARY TRAVIS:And Randy would oft say that his daddy was the horse trainer he'd ever met. And, indeed, he was.
ERIC HUFFMAN:All six kids in Randy's family had their own horse by the time they turned five. Randy's dad, Harold, loved traditional country music, too, and so he always made sure that Randy had a horse under his butt and a guitar in his hand.
MARY TRAVIS:All six of them played an instrument.
MARY TRAVIS:And when he went to Miss Kate when he was nine and Ricky was 10, they were going to take guitar lessons, but his dad said, "Well, one of you has to sing." And Ricky said, "I'm not singing." And he was the oldest one so he got to pick, so then Miss Kate said, "Well, Randy, you've got to sing now."
ERIC HUFFMAN:And that was the start-
MARY TRAVIS:And he opened his mouth to start singing, she's, "I think we've got something here."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy and his older brother, Ricky, started touring by the time Randy was nine. They were called The Traywick Brothers. That was the family's last name. Ricky and Randy became regular performers playing at talent shows, school events, even local honkytonks and bars. Harold bought them matching outfits: white pants, a red shirt, and a red neckerchief.
ERIC HUFFMAN:So, coming from that world, did it ever cross your mind as a young man that you would become Randy Travis, the Country Music Hall of Famer, the seven-time Grammy winner?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did anybody see that coming?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Wow. Randy did you grow up going to church with your family?
ERIC HUFFMAN:A little bit?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Maybe Christmas and Easter?
MARY TRAVIS:Now, his momma was very-
RANDY TRAVIS:A lot.
MARY TRAVIS:... faithful.
MARY TRAVIS:She was a sweet, sweet lady.
MARY TRAVIS:Soft-mannered, soft-tempered, and Randy would tell me, he said, "Momma would get up and go to church, and it was usually by herself."
MARY TRAVIS:And he said, "And I was too much of a rebel and dad wasn't interested in it."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah. At that point-
MARY TRAVIS:It's like, pray for the fish when Harold went to church, right?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Pray for the fish.
MARY TRAVIS:Pray for the fish.
MARY TRAVIS:So, momma was the one, he goes, "I always watched her, and I always knew that's where I needed to be, but as the young rebel that I was, I didn't act on that." But I think just her living that life, she was that Bible that he was reading. It just hadn't sunk in yet.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The word is, from other interviews that you've done, the feeling is that the relationship with your father was a little complicated at times.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Is that fair to say?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Would you say that, when you were a kid, that he was abusive? Is that fair to say?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah. Later in life, I'm just curious, if he ever came back and apologized to you or said, "I'm sorry"?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did you ever forgive him?
ERIC HUFFMAN:You did?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Wow. That's wonderful.
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah, his dad had a alcohol problem, and Randy said some days they never knew when he was going to come home drunk. He says when he was nice, he was so sweet, so nice. And when he was drinking, he was terrible.
MARY TRAVIS:He did get violent. The only time he was getting violent with Randy's mom, and Randy, I think, was about nine, ten, eleven years old, and went and pulled him off his momma, which made his daddy mad. And so, Randy, he ran out of the house and down the road and into a corn patch, and he said he stayed there for three days to wait for his dad to cool off.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Three days? Scared to go home?
ERIC HUFFMAN:In Randy's 2019 memoir, Forever and Ever, Amen, he describes the abuse that he and Ricky suffered as children. They were often beaten with leather horse reins, and Harold screamed obscenities at them for the smallest things.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Their dad's behavior wasn't a family secret. He also had a reputation in town as a rebel, ready to fight at the drop of a hat, and he had a long rap sheet with the local police. Most of the time, the only thing Harold and Randy could agree on was their love for traditional country music.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did you ever doubt that your dad loved you?
ERIC HUFFMAN:You did?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah? That's normal in an abusive situation.
ERIC HUFFMAN:So, I can imagine that would shape you as a young man, growing up, even as a teenager. I've heard you had some struggles as a teenager.
RANDY TRAVIS:Yeah, a lot.
ERIC HUFFMAN:A lot?
RANDY TRAVIS:Oh, yeah.
ERIC HUFFMAN:So, in your teenage years, did you start drinking in that time?
RANDY TRAVIS:Yeah, yeah.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Would that become a problem for you pretty early in life? That get you in trouble?
ERIC HUFFMAN:No? You got in trouble sober back in those days.
MARY TRAVIS:No, I did it all by myself.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I like the honesty, Randy.
MARY TRAVIS:My friend, Jim, didn't have anything to do with it.
MARY TRAVIS:That's funny. Never been asked that.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's great.
ERIC HUFFMAN:At an early age, Randy started getting into a lot of trouble like his daddy, drinking and smoking cigarettes by the time he was 10. He skipped school a lot, too, and dropped out at the end of middle school. He and Ricky were considered juvenile delinquents by the local police. Randy was arrested for public drunkenness, DWI, and attempting to elude an officer.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In the mid-70s, Ricky and Randy were arrested for trying to steal a van. In the weeks prior to their scheduled court appearances, they entered a musical talent contest at Country City USA, a club owned and operated by husband and wife, Frank and Lib Hatcher.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The Traywick Brothers were up against more than 100 other musical acts.
MARY TRAVIS:And they won the first competition, and they were going to the next one, and Ricky dropped out, so Randy went solo, and he ended up winning that competition.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy was 16 years old when he won that competition, and Lib was so taken with his voice, she offered him a job as a dishwasher and a part-time cook with the added perk of being able to sing once in a while.
ERIC HUFFMAN:While Randy worked for Lib, he opened up to her about his up-coming court date, and the likelihood that he'd soon be leaving for prison. But Lib showed up in court and convinced the judge to give Randy one last chance. She promised that she'd keep him on the straight and narrow working at her club. The judge agreed to five years probation, and Lib kept her promise. She got Randy away from the bottle and his life of petty crime.
ERIC HUFFMAN:When Randy was 17, things started heating up with Lib. Eventually, she divorced her husband and brought Randy to Nashville to get his career off the ground. She was 18 years his senior.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did you take off right away in Nashville or did it take a while?
ERIC HUFFMAN:It was a struggle for a while?
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah. It didn't come easy. He worked for it. It was good 10 long years of, "No, you're too country," from all the labels. He paid his dues, but I think that that's healthy.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In Nashville, Randy was no stranger to rejection. He was turned away by every major label in town for being "too country."
ERIC HUFFMAN:A few years prior, country hits began to sound a lot like radio-friendly pop music, so for years, Randy worked as a fry cook at the Nashville Palace, another honkytonk where several country legends had gotten their start. And sometimes, he would even...
MARY TRAVIS:Throw his jacket on, and he'd get up there and sing a couple of songs.
MARY TRAVIS:And the Nashville Palace was right across the street from where The Grand Ole Opry was, and so they had a lot of residual visits from people that were at the Grand Ole Opry, including Little Jimmy Dickens.
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah, he came and heard him one night and he says, "Son, I want you to come over to the Opry with me tonight."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Are you kidding?
MARY TRAVIS:And then he did, and Randy thought he was just going to have him in the wings watching and just being at the Grand Ole Opry. But when they got there, Jimmy says, "No, you're going out there to sing in my place."
MARY TRAVIS:And Randy said, "I was so nervous."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did it go well?
MARY TRAVIS:I thought you were going to say no. He said, "I think it went pretty good."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Was that the next turning point in your career?
MARY TRAVIS:I think so.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You got some people's attention?
HOST:Isn't it wonderful to see a country boy do great doing something he does better than anybody else? And that's singing great country songs. Here's the greatest one of our time. Ladies and gentlemen, Randy Travis.
ERIC HUFFMAN:At just 27 years old, Randy was the youngest male artist to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. And on February 14th, 1985, he inked his first record deal with Warner Brothers Records. By the next year, he was celebrating his first number one hit single, On The Other Hand.
ERIC HUFFMAN:At 27, is God anywhere on your radar at that point?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Not really?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah. You didn't find yourself praying, or even when you were struggling, would you ask Him for help or anything like that?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Not so much? Yeah. You were doing your own thing.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Making your own way.
ERIC HUFFMAN:And you made it.
HOST:Hey, Randy. Do you think that you played a major part in bringing the old-school and the new breed of country music together?
RANDY TRAVIS:I guess I was part of it. I was just in the right place at the right time. I was in Nashville and working at a place, and I had been turned down by every label in Nashville, trying to get signed as an artist. The reason being, there wasn't a place for what I was doing, and being just traditional country music.
ERIC HUFFMAN:So, when you make it, as a 27-year-old hot shot from a small town in North Carolina, suddenly you've got fame. I don't know how the fortune part works, if that came right away or later, but you've definitely got some wind in your sails. How does that affect you?
MARY TRAVIS:He kept his...
MARY TRAVIS:I think Randy was known to be... He was full of humility.
MARY TRAVIS:Randy was never the hot shot. If you ever see any of his interviews, he was always the little shy kid that just scoots his feet around going, "I don't know what happened." He was always that.
RANDY TRAVIS:I don't know if you remember it. We were talking the other day with some people here about... Do you remember the first time that I met you?
RANDY TRAVIS:I did your morning show and I was probably 17 years old at the time, and I remember going in, and you came in, and I remember, when you came up to speak to me, but you didn't say hello. You came in, and you said, "You any good?" And that's quite an introduction because, like I said, I was 17 years old, and I just said, "Well, some good," and didn't really know what to say. Scared me.
MARY TRAVIS:He's never full of himself. He never forgot where he came from. He was always kind.
MARY TRAVIS:And with his fame, he never took it for granted. And he always said, "I don't know what I did to deserve this." So, I think that there was God hovering over him, and just waiting to pour it out some more abundantly.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's right. Waiting for him to see.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy released one hit after another for almost two decades. In 1990, he was declared the king of country music by major media outlets. With a pitch-perfect blend of classic country heartache and lyrics that were both wholesome and witty, Randy's songs provided more than mere entertainment. They spoke to the listener's soul.
MARY TRAVIS:We've had one of his fans, or became a fan, but this little kid, he was, I guess, down in the bottom and was going to commit suicide, and had the gun with him. He was heading down to the lake, dirt road, the whole nine yards, wrote a suicide letter. And one of Randy's songs came on, and he said, "I stopped the car, and I cried." He said, "And I listened to the song again," and he said, "and it spoke to me and everything I needed to hear. I went back and now I'm married and have three beautiful kids."
MARY TRAVIS:It's just in a song, in a moment, and that's-
ERIC HUFFMAN:That is powerful.
MARY TRAVIS:It is. It's wonderful. And we get to hear those stories, that's what's even more wonderful.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That is amaz- What an impact you've made, Randy.
RANDY TRAVIS:Thank you.
MARY TRAVIS:It's pretty special.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Are you proud of your legacy and the impact you've made in country music?
MARY TRAVIS:And he always said, "If I can change one heart, lighten one load, or take away one bad day for someone, I've done my job."
MARY TRAVIS:And I said, "Well, you've certainly done that a few times over."
ERIC HUFFMAN:More than a few.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In 1991, as his career continued to skyrocket, Randy decided to get baptized. Before that time, he had never really considered himself a Christian. But as he looked back on his life, he could no longer deny how God's grace had been there protecting him ever since he was a kid. From that time on, Randy started reading his Bible every day, learning more about this God who had never given up on him.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In 2003, Randy recorded a song about four very different people: a farmer, a teacher, a preacher, and a hooker who were riding in the same bus when it crashed and three of them were killed. Only the hooker survived. And just before the preacher took his final breath, he placed his Bible in her hands.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The person telling the story in Three Wooden Crosses is that woman's son who grew up to become a preacher, all because his mother became a believer on the night of that fiery crash. Three Wooden Crosses was the first Christian song ever to top the country music charts. In some ways, that song also reflects the total transformation that had taken place in Randy's heart.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In all, Randy released four gospel albums, each of which landed in Billboard's Top Ten country charts. His rendition of How Great Thou Art on the album called Worship and Faith is so beautiful, it's almost as if the 150-year-old hymn was written specifically for Randy's deep voice.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You were a grown man. That was a choice you made.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did you feel God calling you to do that?
ERIC HUFFMAN:You thought it was time?
MARY TRAVIS:Till the day he couldn't read anymore after the stroke, he would read the Bible every morning, usually over some fruit and his protein shake, and the Bible.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah. Being in ministry, you see people who make a decision like that get baptized. They decide to follow Jesus, and I think some of them feel like, "Well, now my life's going to get easier," and most often, it doesn't. And that can be really demoralizing for somebody to say, "I came to You, Jesus, and things just got worse."
ERIC HUFFMAN:And so, after 2001, I guess, you had some tough years down the road, right? After that. At any point along the way have you said, "Why God? Are you there?"
ERIC HUFFMAN:You have not. You've never doubted His presence with you?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Through it all. Have you struggled at all to make sense of the struggle?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Just the trying to figure out what God is doing here. So your doubts weren't, "Are you there, God?" You didn't doubt God's presence or His goodness, you just tried to figure out where His goodness was in the midst of all the pain.
RANDY TRAVIS:Yeah. Yep.
MARY TRAVIS:I think what you said earlier that people think, "Well, if I turn my life over to God, then everything's going to be perfect, and it's all just going to be a ribbon of highway." God never promised us that.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's right.
MARY TRAVIS:And He told us there'd be tough days.
MARY TRAVIS:And the closer we get to Him, the harder the devil has to work. And he shows up often.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The same year Randy was baptized, he married Lib Hatcher, the woman who'd started off as his legal guardian when he was 17, and who was largely responsible for getting his career off the ground in Nashville. Randy was 32 at the time. Lib was 50.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In his memoir, Randy describes Lib as a controlling force in his life. She managed everything, from his career to his social life. She wouldn't even let him have his own cellphone or make his own decisions. But she was also the one who kept Randy away from drugs and alcohol during the height of his career.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In 2009, the marriage took a turn when Lib apparently took an interest in another man, a young artist who moved in with the couple and then started touring with them, and eventually began singing with Randy at some of his concerts. It sent their marriage into turmoil, and as Lib turned her attention away from Randy, he turned his attention toward the bottle again after decades of sobriety. He was 51 years old.
ERIC HUFFMAN:How bad did your struggle with the bottle get?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah. So, that was a dark time of your life?
ERIC HUFFMAN:When you look back on that time now, do you see God's hand?
RANDY TRAVIS:Oh, yeah.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You do?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Even through the struggle?
ERIC HUFFMAN:I guess even in bringing y'all together?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Isn't that something how He works?
MARY TRAVIS:Sure. When we least expect it.
MARY TRAVIS:But He's there.
MARY TRAVIS:But that's just the way it is when we go through difficult times, and if you have a challenge or something, and you don't know what to do with it. Life is like a staircase. You've got to take the first step. You've got to keep taking steps.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's the hardest one to take.
MARY TRAVIS:Onward and upward, and eventually you'll get to the top and that's when you gain your understanding, and now I get it.That's by the grace of God.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Mary and Randy reconnected in 2010. That was the year that Randy's divorce to Lib was finally settled, but she continued to manage his career after that. Randy and Mary moved onto this ranch in Tioga, Texas, and Randy lived with more freedom than he'd had in 33 years. He had his own cellphone. He spent time with his friends. He even drank occasionally, although in moderation.
ERIC HUFFMAN:But Randy's working relationship with Lib continued to deteriorate, culminating in a messy legal fight in 2012. And that's the year the world witnessed Randy Travis at one of his darkest moments.
REPORTER:Randy Travis was arrested for DUI after he crashed his Trans Am near Tioga in August of 2012. Troopers say a blood alcohol sample showed he was twice the legal limit.
ERIC HUFFMAN:On August 6th, Randy and Mary had recently returned from Norway where Randy sang at a festival. After drinking two glasses of wine with some friends who'd come over for dinner, he headed to bed and took some Ambien to help him sleep.
ERIC HUFFMAN:At some point during the night, he woke up and went downstairs to pour himself a drink, and then he hopped into his car to go buy cigarettes at the local store. He was naked when he arrived at the store, and he asked the clerk for cigarettes.
ERIC HUFFMAN:On the way home, empty-handed since he didn't have his wallet, he lost control of the car and careened into a construction barricade. His head flew forward into the windshield. He crawled away from the crash onto the road where, completely naked and bleeding from his head, Randy lost consciousness.
ERIC HUFFMAN:When the Tioga Volunteer Fire Department arrived, they determined that Randy was dead on arrival until he got up and started walking down the road. That's when the police arrived and caught the most embarrassing moment of Randy's life on their dashboard cam.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy was arrested for DWI. Mary paid the $21,500 bail that was set by the judge, then she took Randy home. As they drove up to the ranch, the road was lined with dozens of media vans, and helicopters circled overhead.
ERIC HUFFMAN:So, 2012 was, obviously, a dark moment with the arrest and all that stuff. And I see people in ministry, both pastors and people I'm ministering to, dealing with the counter-culture we're in now, and the shaming that people do online, and how everybody's worst moment lives forever now.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did that make it harder to move on from that moment in your life knowing that people just won't let you forget it?
ERIC HUFFMAN:I'm sure you wish you could have that one back.
MARY TRAVIS:That's a good way to put it. Yeah.
ERIC HUFFMAN:And now it's out there and it can be such a graceless world sometimes.
MARY TRAVIS:Mm-hmm (affirmative). It's very unfortunate because I think that we are measured by the way we measure others. That's the part of Luke 6:38 that he loves so much. But I don't think people understand that that's really the way it is when we get to where we're hoping to go, and we're having to answer some questions. And why would we expect somebody else's perfection when we're so imperfect ourselves?
ERIC HUFFMAN:How did you react to the news of Randy's arrest, and then how did you love him through that?
MARY TRAVIS:There wasn't anything that's going to make me fall out of love with him, but they called about 4:00 in the morning from the Sheriff's Department, and they told me that they had him there, and it just broke my heart.
MARY TRAVIS:But, of course, you've got 1,000 things going through your mind. You're not sure how he got there, what happened, you don't know anything. There was a lot of stuff going on with his ex-wife who was also his manager, so there was just so much-
RANDY TRAVIS:A lot.
MARY TRAVIS:... woven together there that had to get unwound, and it was painful and very difficult. So the things that he was finding out were very painful. I got to see those, so there was a part of me that understood, or tried to understand, why he reacted the way he did.
ERIC HUFFMAN:All that pain was manifesting.
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah, and it was just bubbling. He's trying to deal with all that, and at the same time, trying to continue with his career, and there was such a clash.
ERIC HUFFMAN:In 2013, Randy's career was beginning to bounce back. He'd gotten himself into a much better state physically, mentally, and spiritually. He was exercising three to four hours a day, eating well, reading his Bible each morning. He and Mary were making plans to get married.
ERIC HUFFMAN:How serious did y'all get as a couple before the stroke? Where was the relationship at that point?
RANDY TRAVIS:Hot momma.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What'd he say? Hot momma?
RANDY TRAVIS:Hot momma. Yeah.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I love it. You were all in.
MARY TRAVIS:We were all in by then. There was no doubt.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Were y'all engaged?
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah, yeah. The good thing about it, though, when I guess we'd known each other, our families had known each other. We'd been in touch for 20 years, and so I'd already fallen in love with the man, the person, that I saw. His kindness, his humility. There was nothing showy about him. And he was always just a great person, just had such character.
MARY TRAVIS:And for three years, we would talk hours and hours and hours. And I look back on that, and I'm so glad that I did because I certainly didn't know that three years down the road, we'd never be able to talk again in full sentences. I wish there were more.
MARY TRAVIS:And there may be.
ERIC HUFFMAN:There might be. You never know.
MARY TRAVIS:We're not ever going to give up hope. No.
RANDY TRAVIS:No. Yeah.
ERIC HUFFMAN:So, talk about 2013 and the stroke and what exactly-
MARY TRAVIS:We were here at the house. We had a meeting here in the dining room, about eight people from Nashville, to figure out what our game plan was going forward, pulling out of those dark days. So, there was a lot of good things on the horizon. There was a lot of hope and reason now, so we need to follow that dream, follow that path.
MARY TRAVIS:And that night, he told me, he said, "I don't feel real good. My chest hurts and congestion," so I took him to the emergency room. And they checked his lungs and he had walking pneumonia, they said. So they gave us all the breathing treatment and antibiotics and sent us home.
MARY TRAVIS:The next morning he woke up and he didn't sleep a wink. He couldn't get air. He couldn't breathe. Took him there to the emergency room again, and they xrayed and both lungs were completely full.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Oh, my gosh.
MARY TRAVIS:Just overnight. And so they tried to insert... His heart was shutting down, and they tried to place an impella through his groin to assist the heart, and he flatlined.
MARY TRAVIS:So, once we got him back from flatlining, took them about two and a half, three minutes, and I said, "We've got to get him to the heart hospital," because the heart was just... It was so bad.
MARY TRAVIS:So, we took him to the heart hospital, and by this time, it was 5:30 in the morning, our third hospital. He said, "We've got to put him on ECMO immediately or we're going to lose him," which is life support.
MARY TRAVIS:And he was in a coma, and everything was happening so fast. After about 24, 48 hours, he said he had viral cardiomyopathy. It wasn't the lungs. It wasn't pneumonia. So, he had gotten a virus that hit the heart and shut the heart down.
MARY TRAVIS:Then 72 hours after we had gotten to the heart hospital, he was starting to come out of the coma, and they noticed he had had a massive stroke, probably threw a clot when they brought him back after he flatlined.
MARY TRAVIS:So, then we were dealing with that, and then it led to emergency brain surgery within the next four hours, so all that in two days.
ERIC HUFFMAN:And, Randy, you don't have any memory of any of those events, do you?
ERIC HUFFMAN:You remember going to the hospital.
ERIC HUFFMAN:And that's about it?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Wow. It must have been terrifying, Mary.
MARY TRAVIS:It was terrifying.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy's brain was swelling from the stroke, forcing doctors to remove a large portion of his cranium to relieve the pressure. Doctors stored that part of his skull inside of his abdomen for almost four months.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What were the doctors telling you at that point during the surgery, and what were they telling you about his chances, his future?
MARY TRAVIS:One to two percent chance of survival.
MARY TRAVIS:If we did the surgery, and zero if we didn't. This was about 2:00 in the afternoon, and he said, "By 6:00, we'll lose him if we don't-"
MARY TRAVIS:"... try to relieve some of the pressure."
ERIC HUFFMAN:And even if you do relieve it, one to two percent?
ERIC HUFFMAN:How did you react?
MARY TRAVIS:When they said he had one to two percent chance, all I could think was that's 100% over zero, so those were pretty good odds over... Anything over zero is good, at this point.
MARY TRAVIS:And I knew what a strong person he was. Mentally, physically, spiritually. Because by 2013, his heart belonged to God. His heart belonged to Jesus, and he studied his Bible every day and prayed. He was right in the right place, and I know that when he was laying there in the hospital rooms, even when he couldn't speak, I know that he was having his conversations with God. And I think they made a deal, right? And my prayer was just, "Please, God, let me have him back in any way, shape, or form."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did Randy wake up and everything was fine? Or was there more...
MARY TRAVIS:They left him in a semi-coma state for a while, and, I think, until the swelling went down, and I'm sure there was a lot of pain. And then pulled him out of the coma after about three or four more days, and, of course, he was wearing a helmet because it was exposed, and IVs everywhere.
MARY TRAVIS:It was a hard thing to go through and it's still painful to relive it when you think about the moments, and how the minutes seemed like years, and one day after another, just another thing kept going wrong. I didn't know how much Randy could handle or tolerate, but he did it.
ERIC HUFFMAN:At what point did you actually have to say, "Don't unplug my fiance"?
MARY TRAVIS:I did. I did. We were at Vanderbilt now. We were there about 11 days, and he ended up going back into the MICU. He'd contracted thoracia pseudomonas and a really bad staph. It was only getting worse, and his veins were collapsing, so they were having to get meds in a different way. And he'd had chest tubes.
MARY TRAVIS:It just went on and on, but after two weeks, they said, "Mary, we need to probably think about letting him go because there's too many things going wrong and not enough right." And I was, at that point, mad when they said that. I was angry.
MARY TRAVIS:At them.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
MARY TRAVIS:Because I didn't feel like they were trying or they were... I just didn't feel like they'd given it everything they had.
MARY TRAVIS:But he's the one that gave me the answer. I was standing by his bed on the side and held his hand, and I know that he heard me because he responded. I just asked him if he wanted to keep fighting, and he squeezed my hand. And, like I said, he was in a coma state, semi-coma, I think, and he had a little tear that fell down.
MARY TRAVIS:And then the second tear fell and I got up, and I said, "Okay, baby. We're going to fight. I love you. I'll be right back." And I went back in that room, and I said, "He is not ready to give up, and we're not giving up."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy spent a total of six weeks in a coma, and six months in the hospital. He'd endured life support, two brain surgeries, and five tracheostomies. He'd survived several serious infections.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Before he was discharged, doctors told Mary that Randy would be bed-ridden and in and out of hospitals for the rest of his life. That was seven years ago, and they haven't been back to the hospital once. As Mary likes to say, "God doesn't read medical files."
ERIC HUFFMAN:The couple spent two and a half years, every day, four hours a day, in physical therapy. It took three months of intensive speech therapy for Randy to learn how to say the word, "A". And it wasn't until 18 months later that he learned to say basic things, like "yep," "nope," and "bathroom."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy, was your mind functioning normally? You just couldn't say the words? Is that how it works?
MARY TRAVIS:Aphasia, where the brain and the mouth don't connect. It's called aphasia.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's got to be frustrating.
MARY TRAVIS:Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, he knows everything. He's very detail-oriented. Still.
RANDY TRAVIS:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
MARY TRAVIS:But he just can't express himself. He's done well with it. We've developed our own language.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah. On March 21, 2015, Randy and Mary became husband and wife in a secret wedding ceremony close to their ranch, far away from the cameras, with just the pastor and one witness, a long-time friend.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Today, the couple spends time raising awareness for viral cardiomyopathy, the condition that led to Randy's stroke, and providing arts and music enrichment for at-risk children through the Randy Travis Foundation.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy, did you ever have any doubts about Mary?
RANDY TRAVIS:Uh-uh (negative).
ERIC HUFFMAN:Should I ask her the same question about you?
MARY TRAVIS:No, no, no, no. No doubts.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Was there ever a moment where you just thought, "This is too much. This is too hard"?
MARY TRAVIS:No. Not before the stroke and certainly not after the stroke. That wasn't an option.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That is awesome.
MARY TRAVIS:As long as he was here, I was going to be there, so. Yeah, he was just going to have to put up with me some more.
ERIC HUFFMAN:For the first time in Randy's life, music took a backseat as he focused on taking one slow, painful baby step per day toward his recovery.
ERIC HUFFMAN:But in 2016, he and Mary were surprised to learn that he'd soon be taking one giant step that would cement his legacy in Nashville forever. Randy Travis was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
ERIC HUFFMAN:How'd y'all find out that that was going to happen?
MARY TRAVIS:Tony Conway had called us, who was his manager in Nashville. And he said, "When y'all are here, we need to go over to the CMA office because they're just going to do a little interview, and they'll ask you all yes and no answers."
MARY TRAVIS:So, we went over there with Tony, and the lady that was head of the CMAs, they had little chairs set up, so it looked like they were going to do that. And she walked out, and she said, "You're not really here for an interview. We just wanted to ask you if you would become our newest member of the Country Music Hall of Fame."
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did that feel good, Randy?
RANDY TRAVIS:A lot.
MARY TRAVIS:It was beautiful. It was amazing.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You didn't see it coming at all?
MARY TRAVIS:No, we had no idea. Mm-mm (negative). I cried.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did you?
MARY TRAVIS:He cried. So, yeah, that was pretty special.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That is awesome.
MARY TRAVIS:So, then on October was the induction. So.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah, yeah. And that's when I cried.
ERIC HUFFMAN:On October 17th, 2016, Randy was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame by none other than Garth Brooks.
GARTH BROOKS:Name me any artist from any genre in the history of all music that took a format, turned it 180 degrees back to where it came from, and made it bigger than it has ever been before.
ERIC HUFFMAN:And then, Randy accepts the award, and he breaks out in song.
MARY TRAVIS:I just started bawling. I looked over and Charlie Daniels, with that big old hat, pulled out a handkerchief that looked like a picnic tablecloth. And he said, "I looked down, and the Oak Ridge Boys are down there crying, and everybody's wiping tears." And it was, it was so magical.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Wow. Were you nervous, Randy?
MARY TRAVIS:It was interesting when you put that microphone in his hand, how it just becomes second nature.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah, it's like riding a bike.
MARY TRAVIS:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
ERIC HUFFMAN:Made grown men cry.
MARY TRAVIS:Oh, it did. It was pretty emotional, and we still talk to people that say, "Oh, I was there. It was the most magical, most touching event I've ever, ever seen." So, it was just beautiful.
ERIC HUFFMAN:It was amazing grace.
MARY TRAVIS:Mm-hmm (affirmative). It was amazing grace.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's what made it so emotional, is that it was more than just a song. It was your testimony.
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah. It was amazing grace.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You stood there because of God's amazing grace.
MARY TRAVIS:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Tender mercies and amazing grace.
RANDY TRAVIS:Yeah. (singing)
ERIC HUFFMAN:As we made the five hour drive back home to Houston, I reflected on Randy's story. The abuse he experienced as a child, the stubbornness of his youth, the slavery to addiction, the struggle to see anything good in himself.
ERIC HUFFMAN:And the more I thought about Randy, the more I kept coming back to John Newton, because rock bottom is where we all learn how grace works. John Newton learned that after working as a slave in Sierra Leone and nearly losing his life in a storm. And Randy Travis learned it after watching his worst moment go viral online, and then nearly losing his life in a different kind of storm.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Randy told me that since he became a believer, he's never once doubted the amazing grace of God. But how's that possible given all that he's been through? Because when you look back on your life, and you see all the ways you've been a disappointment to God, to the people you love, to your fellow man, and all the ways that you've failed in life, but you see that in spite of all that, God never once gave up on you. Your heart is never the same after that. And that's what grace is.
ERIC HUFFMAN:God's amazing grace comes as such a surprise that once you see it, you can't unsee it. You once were lost, but now you're found; blind, but now you see.
ERIC HUFFMAN:God had another big surprise in store for Randy and Mary. Earlier this year, Nashville icon, Charlie Monk, was rummaging through an old box when he found a forgotten multi-track recording of a demo that Randy sang back in 1984, before his rise to fame.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Fool's Love Affair was released in July of 2020. It's the first single of Randy's career since the stroke robbed the world of his distinctive voice. It's already surpassed one million streams online, and it's been one of the most requested songs on country radio stations across the nation.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I cannot get over what an awesome turn of events Fool's Love Affair is.
MARY TRAVIS:That wonderful?
ERIC HUFFMAN:Does that feel good to you, Randy?
RANDY TRAVIS:A lot.
ERIC HUFFMAN:People want to hear that voice.
MARY TRAVIS:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
ERIC HUFFMAN:People want to be reminded Randy's still around, singing these songs, and it's a good song.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I can't believe it stayed in the shadows for so long.
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah, on a shelf in a box.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What's that been like for you, Mary, to see this song?
MARY TRAVIS:Well, it tickles me to death just to hear his voice on the radio, and just to hear his voice again. The first time I heard it, I cried again because it's just-
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did you?
MARY TRAVIS:Yeah, even though it was recorded in '84, it was still new.
ERIC HUFFMAN:It's one of those things you can chalk up to just being a coincidence, but-
MARY TRAVIS:No, it's a God thing. It's a God thing.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I think y'all have experienced too many coincidences, quote, unquote, to think that they're accidental.
ERIC HUFFMAN:God showers us with little graces here and there.
ERIC HUFFMAN:And when we're faithful enough to have our eyes open, we'll see that it's Him.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's it's always been Him.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Thank y'all for the time today.
RANDY TRAVIS:Thank you.
MARY TRAVIS:Thank you.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Truly grateful.
MARY TRAVIS:Thank you for being here.
ERIC HUFFMAN:We'll be including y'all in our prayers.
RANDY TRAVIS:Yeah, thank you.
ERIC HUFFMAN:And for your continued recovery.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Who knows what God can do.
RANDY TRAVIS:Yep. (singing)
ERIC HUFFMAN:This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois, and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Kevin Chin was the sound engineer, and our amazing editors are Shannon Stephan and Justin Mayer. Maybe God's photographer and social media guru is Kat Brough, and I'd like to extend a very special thanks to Randy Travis's tremendous publicist and newest Maybe God fan, Zach Farnum. Thanks for listening, everybody.