The country legend stood and waved to the crowd at the awards show

Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty

Nearly two years after suffering a debilitating stroke, country music legend Randy Travis made a surprise appearance at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday, quietly standing as he acknowledged the thunderous applause from the audience.

Country star Lee Brice paid homage to the North Carolina native, 55, early in the show when he played a verse of Travis’s hit “Forever and Ever, Amen,” then shocked the audience when he introduced the recovering legend.

“That classic tune won song of the year in 1985 and the man who sang it has made an amazing comeback to be with us tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen, the great Randy Travis,” Brice announced as the crowd broke out in prolonged applause.

Travis, who was seated in the audience, stood up and acknowledged the crowd with a little wave and several head nods.

“Randy’s history with the ACM awards goes back over two decades,” Mary Davis, Travis’s wife said in a statement to PEOPLE. “With the awards in Dallas and celebrating 50 years, it’s something Randy and I would not miss.”

“Great to have you with us, Randy!” Brice added before presenting the song of the year award to Miranda Lambert for “Automatic.”

Sunday’s appearance was a rare one for the country legend, who suffered a stroke in 2013 following complications from viral cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure.

He underwent brain surgery and spent time in a physical therapy facility as part of his recovery.

Travis posted a letter to his fans late Sunday after his awards show appearance, thanking fans for their support and offering an update on his condition.

“It was an amazing gift to feel all of the love from you tonight,” he wrote. “It has been a hard fought and miraculous journey since my stroke two years ago, and I have gained a greater understanding of God’s grace and how quickly events can change us.”

“Words can never express my gratitude to those who continue to believe in me, pray for me, and keep me lifted up in thought and deed,” he continued.

“The power of music remains a source of inspiration and healing for me,” he also wrote. “It is my prayer that, with continued healing, one day soon, I will be back on that stage exchanging music with my fans…my friends, who with God’s amazing grace, have brought me this far.”

Last year, Travis made another rare public appearance, this time at a Dolly Parton concert in Oklahoma, looking upbeat as he posed for a photo with the fellow country star.

Reporting by CYNTHIA SANZ