DALLAS – The holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be a period of gut wrenching loneliness and grieving for those who have lost a loved one that made their world a brighter place. Gone is the laughter, the smiles, and just knowing that someone you care for to the root of your being is not there.
Real-life country singer Granger Smith knows this all too well. He, with wife Amber Bartlett, tragically lost their youngest son in a drowning accident in 2019. Life would never be the same for them.
However, slowly but surely, they found healing through an almighty God who loved and cared for them, One who was there for them through every shed tear and moment of hopelessness.
In a new heartwarming Christmas movie currently available from Pure Flix called Moonrise, Smith makes his acting debut as a former country singer, Will Brown, who has pushed away his family, fame, and faith following his wife’s untimely death. Struggling mightily from his loss, Brown grieves alone in his own personal darkness until he finds strength, forgiveness, and the will to live again from his daughter and a horse trainer who befriends him.
I recently sat down with Smith to discuss the difficult path back following a tragedy, how our life’s journey is never complete, and why it is so vital not to go through the grieving process alone.
Moonrise seems to have an essential message that our culture really needs right now. That is … we can grow and heal from loss and trauma by relying on our faith and our family. Your thoughts?
What do you think?
Well, I’m thinking this doesn’t happen very often. The person I’m interviewing is turning the question back to me. Here’s my answer. I think any type of movie that has a message that’s going to ultimately help people heal and move forward in their lives, rather than being stuck in a moment, or even regressing to their past, is a movie worth making. This type of movie needs to be made because of the intrinsic value of its message. People can draw from it, they can move forward in their lives. And that’s what life is really like, right? We’re living in this post-COVID world right now. Because of this, you want to move forward, but people seem to be just wallowing and perpetuating this constant feeling of negativity. It’s sort of like the movie Groundhog Day. But as I have said, anytime you can present examples of people moving forward in their lives, that’s a movie with a great message. A message of hope.
I love it. What you’re describing is the difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy says you’re in this quicksand and I’m jumping in with you. Let’s just go in. So, we just hold each other and we’re both going to sink together. Sympathy says, I see you, right? I’m stepping one foot in, take my hand. I’ve got one foot on solid ground. I’m not going to get in there with you, but I feel you and I see you. And I’m offering a hand that’s sympathy. So, hopefully this movie could take the role of sympathy. It says, I see you, I hear you. Here’s an example for you and here’s a roadmap. Here’s a hand, take the hand. Let’s get out of this.
You said that so much more eloquently than I ever could. Moonrise serves as an inspirational reminder to use our talents for God’s purpose. Why is that message so important to anyone watching this movie?
If you don’t do that, if you don’t use your talents, which are all God-given, everything we have is God-given. Every purpose we have, everything is ordained under a big sovereign God for His glory. If we don’t do that and we go on our own path, we’re missing something. Something’s not right. There’s got to be more to it. I’m looking, I’m trying to find myself. How many times have we heard that? I’m just trying to find myself. I need some space. I need some time so I can find myself, or find my path, or find God’s will for me. People say that all the time, but until we align ourselves and use our talents for the Kingdom, not our kingdom, but for His Kingdom, that’s truly when we find peace, joy, hope, and rest.
Seems so simple the way that you put that. But so many people just don’t ever seem to be able to find their way. And this goes back to any sort of a message or a movie that can convey this and get people back up on that right track. It’s so, so essential.
To those people that say, I’m trying to grow my faith. I’m praying for God’s will. I don’t see it. I don’t hear what God needs me to do, and I’m searching. I don’t know where to go from here. 99.9% of the time, if you ask them, do you read your Bible? They say, “No.” When we pray, we’re speaking to God. But when He speaks back, He speaks in His living, breathing Word, the Bible.
So, we take that Word, get a cup of coffee in the morning before the family gets up and open the Bible. There, we have a good starting point. Matthew 1 is a good starting point. Genesis 1 is also a good starting point. But you could pick anything. Pick Luke, pick John. And you start and you open it. Show me the glory in this book. Speak to me like you did so many others before me in your living, breathing Word. Let me see Your glory in this. That’s the beginning of learning His will.
To follow up on that, it has often been said that our lives are simply journeys from beginning to end. How does Moonrise help remind us that our stories are never done, never completed?
You said something earlier so interesting about how so many people get stuck. People just get perpetually stuck and wallow in their own mud. Our call from Jesus is always, “Follow me.” He’s going to find us where we are. But it’s always a call forward. It’s always a call up. It’s always rising and moving forward. You don’t have to move on. You don’t have to forget. In fact, we use our past. It actually refines us, not defines us, which is a line from one of these songs in the movie. Our past refines us and we move forward. So, Moonrise is a movie of that journey where the man finally realizes he can’t fix it on his own. He can’t get himself out of the mud, he has to take the hand that’s calling him to move forward.
This movie obviously deals with the topic of grief, something that people really struggle with, especially during the holiday season. Why is it so important to not journey through grief alone?
You could say the same thing for many subjects like love. It’s not good to love alone. It’s not good to be joyful alone. As humans, we’re made for community, we’re made for each other. We are in need of each other constantly. And none of it should be shared alone, including grief. Grief needs to be traveled with someone, especially someone that’s grieving the same kind of loss along with you. That’s because we grieve in different stages. We’re never the exact same at the same time. Say two siblings are grieving the loss of a parent. One of them is going to have a good day, and the other one’s having a really bad day. And then the next week they switch places. There is sympathy again where they’re able to hold each other and say, ‘I got a foot on solid ground. So grab my hand.’ And we can walk through grief together in these different stages.
Sometimes, when people are going through the grieving process they have a tendency to push God away. But it is during these times that God is actually drawing you closer to Him. Could you comment on that concept a bit? I think this is well illustrated in Moonrise.
Good. I hope that people will see that because that’s a big premise of my character and what happens to him. God has to break us down to be able to start the rebuilding process. He’s got to get us back down to the foundation. And then we start building up from that. But He needs to tear down all of our self-reliance, all of our self-dependence, all of our self-love, all of our self-hope, and everything else that’s self-involved in a world that says self-help is the way. The world says the problem is outside, but the answer is within. And God says, the problem is within, the answer is outside of you. So, He breaks us down and breaks down all those social concepts that get us thinking that we can fix ourselves. And He takes us to a place where we know absolutely we can’t. And He goes, ‘Now you’re ready. Now you’re ready to rebuild.’
After people have seen Moonrise, what would you like to see audiences get out of the viewing experience? What is your greatest hope for the film?
My greatest hope is that people could see that there is a way forward ultimately, that we have a Creator that has a purpose for us, that has a plan, and that He works even in the bad things for good. He’s sovereign over all of it. It all matters. Nothing is meaningless. Paul says in Second Corinthians, this light, momentary affliction is preparing us for an internal weight of glory beyond all comparison. So preparing us means it’s not meaningless. This hard stuff we’re going through. We like to say, oh, it’s meaningless. It doesn’t matter. It’s pointless. It’s an accident. Even the accidents that appear to be accidents matter for something. And so instead of asking, why God, why am I going to this? Why did this happen? We say instead, what are you showing me in this God? What are you showing me to do in this? And when people walk away from Moonrise, I hope they realize there’s something different about that character. There was something that changed. There’s a way forward through whatever I’m going through.
WATCH A TRAILER FOR MOONRISE: