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Ricky Van Shelton
Singer, Songwriter, Author & Artist

Ricky Shelton tells his fans "don't overlook salvation" like he almost did.

by Jessie Schut

    Growing up in a strict but loving Pentecostal family in Grit, Virginia, country recording star Ricky Van Shelton knew all about Jesus and the story of salvation.

    One of the songs he heard often in his music-loving family and at his church was titled, "Don't Overlook Salvation."

    It's an important message, yet one that he chose to forget in his rapid rise to fame in the recording world.

    It almost cost him his marriage and his life.

    Shelton, in town this summer to perform as part of an Edmonton Trappers promotion, is well known to country music fans for his deep baritone voice, his good looks, and his numerous platinum and gold albums.

    He went from an unknown singer in bars and clubs in 1985, to winning CMA's Entertainer and Male Artist of the Year Awards in 1991.

    Ironically, 1991 was also the year that his life fell apart.

    Shelton had been known to his fans and to the press as a person-able, humble, "back-to-the basics" kind of guy who honored his parents, loved his wife, and had a healthy respect for his co-workers and fans.

    But another person was hidden behind the mask.

    As his fame grew, so did his drinking.

    "It's something that had been growing since my teens," he told journalist Michael McCall of Country Music magazine.

    "It was just partying, you know. Cutting loose and having fun. But partying can turn into a dangerous thing late in life. It puts you on a dangerous road. You go along and think you're just partying a little bit, then one day it's got you and you won't admit it to yourself. Drinking about put me under the table."

    Late in 1991, in spite of the fame and fortune he'd acquired, Shelton was at the end of his rope, contemplating suicide.

    That's when the Jesus of his childhood came back into his life. "It was remembering what he learned growing up in church that saved his life," said his wife, Betty, in an interview with People magazine last fall.

    Shelton stopped drinking and rededicated his life to Jesus. In 1992, Shelton released "Don't Overlook Salvation," an album of gospel tunes that he remembered from his childhood. The inner liner, one of his own paintings, shows the Good Shepherd reaching down to rescue the lost lamb.

    He also wrote a book for children, Tales of a Duck Named Quacker. Both projects were dedicated to God, and to the people in his life who have helped him come this far. Shelton doesn't overlook salvation anymore.

    That doesn't mean that living a Christian life is easy. He still deals with boredom of travel -- of days and weeks on the road when he'd rather be on his farm in Tennessee. He's still surrounded by people almost all of the time, when he'd rather be alone.

    When his Christian commitment became known, he also received letters from people chastising his music and telling him that he needs to become part of the Christian music industry.

    "I love gospel music, I love to sing it, and I'll be doing another gospel album, that's for sure, cause I love it. And if God tells me to go into the field of Christian music, then I'll do it. But He hasn't told me that yet, as far as I know. Maybe there's going to be one person that I meet this way, that I talk to , whose life I touch, and I won't know if I'm not here. I know that I've done that already by the mail that I get."

    And then there's that restless, creative inquisitiveness that has always been part of him.

    "I'm not one of those people that's satisfied to just brush things aside and push them into a corner, to just be satisfied with the pat answer. I don't think God is either.

    "He's the one that said, 'Study to show yourself approved' I think God's been drawing me to him for a long, long time, even when I was rebelling. And I've heard his voice.

    "But I've missed God a few times, times when I thought I was hearing him and I was wrong, and I think you can miss God real easy, that's why I want to be sure about things.

    "I don't want to walk around as a Christian missing God."

    Shelton and his wife Betty try to study scripture together every day, even if it's over the phone. Generally he talks to her several times a day when he's on the road.

    But even she can't answer all his questions.

    "I know one thing, when we get to heaven, I've got a whole lot of questions I'm going to ask God. There's lot of things that God does that I don't understand. It's hard."

    He pauses for a moment, then his face brightens. "But it's easy too."

    "That's the paradox, it's hard, and it's easy if you're walking in God's grace."

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