STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—“Death is not that big scary thing that we all think it is. And it’s natural that we think that because that’s all we know; we know the beginning and we know the end,” said Collin Raye at Franciscan University of Steubenville’s 2012 Defending the Faith Conference. “But we don’t know what’s going to happen at the end, at the ‘next beginning’… we still fear this. Because we don’t know what it’s like.”
Sharing his testimony at the July 27-29 conference to more than 1,200 participants, Raye explained that his granddaughter, Hayley, had suffered from a rare neurological disorder until her death in 2010 at age 9.
“The last five years of her life were not pleasant. You felt hopeless, you felt broken, you felt abandoned,” he said.
Raye, a Grammy award-winning artist holding 16 Number 1 country music hits, grew up in a family of musicians and had become successful through the secular music industry. Raised a Protestant, loving Scripture, and never doubting God’s existence, Raye nevertheless was always uncomfortable with the “once saved, always saved” Southern Baptist belief.
As a young adult, he was surprised to notice that the wife of a couple who frequented his concerts always wore a crucifix. He learned that they were Catholic and, out of curiosity, attended Mass with them. He was struck by the beauty of the church and the liturgy, and at age 23, he became Catholic.
“Cradle Catholics, people who’ve grown up in the Church, you can get used to holy things if you see them all the time,” he shared, expressing his first sentiments upon entering a Catholic church, and why so many Catholics take this beauty for granted.
Raye explained that his faith was tested many years later when his first granddaughter, Hayley, stopped developing properly and soon lost the ability to walk, sit up, eat on her own, or speak. Doctors were unable to diagnose the condition, and Hayley went steadily downhill. Raye explained he had always believed in the end that Hayley would be healed.
“We got seemingly nothing in response to our prayers,” he said. “I came from a Protestant world where you’re taught that Jesus Christ healed people while he was on earth, so he’s going to heal you, too.”
Additionally, he suffered personally when people told him he was not trusting God sufficiently: “I had so many people telling me during this time with Hayley that ‘she’s not being healed because your faith isn’t strong enough.’ I would say ‘the Lord knows best,’ but I still believed he would do it when he was ready.”
Hayley died unexpectedly, despite the prayers of Raye and his family. “We thought we were going to have her until she was 15 or 16 hopefully,” he said.
Raye said that through the process of healing from this loss, God has faithfully led him to see “things that God had envisioned for me now, that I did not see before.”
When he attempted to go back to his music, he felt a pull to go beyond songs with implicit messages or spiritual elements: “God had a larger purpose. It’s all about uniformity to God’s will; you praise him anyway whether he does what you wanted him to do or not. Rarely is he going to do what you want him to do—and thank God for that.”
This culminated in the creation of his newest album, His Love Remains, which draws from church hymns and other specifically religious songs. The album includes two songs written by Raye, “Undefeated” and “I Get What I Need,” as well as a remake of his older song “Love Remains.”
At an evening coffeehouse for conference participants, Raye performed songs from his albums and hymns, including a duet of “How Beautiful” with Franciscan University interim conference director Andrea Thomas.
“Primarily, we’re singing songs about the Lord tonight,” he told the crowd packing the Finnegan Fieldhouse courtyard.
From “Here I Am Lord” to “Undefeated” to “I Am the Bread of Life,” Raye sang from his heart, inviting the audience to join in. He closed with a song he wrote inspired by Hayley titled, “She’s With Me.”
“If my life has taught me anything that I want to share with you—and I hope it doesn’t take everyone as long as it took me—but the sooner you learn to be still and listen to God when you pray, just say, ‘Lord, just do whatever with me,’” he said. “Utilize whatever [of me] you can.”