Bart was a gentle, music-loving child and like most children, prone to dream and imagine, but in his father’s eyes he was a failure. His father had been a Southern Methodist University all-American football player and Bart said, "I tried to get good at the only thing my dad cared about", but Bart wasn’t so gifted. When he broke both ankles in a sporting accident and it was evident that he would never play sport again, his father walked away in disgust.
But those broken ankles opened the door for Bart to find his true self. When he got back to school the only elective still available was choir. Despite his fierce protestations, his teacher’s ultimatum left him little choice, “You have a gift Bart and in my class you will use it or fail”. Bart discovered his outstanding voice.
The rest of the story is painful and raw, his father’s words casting long shadows across his path many times, but it's a story of redemption and hard won triumph. Bart had encountered Jesus at a summer camp when he was a child and the seed had been sown. He went on to become lead singer in a band called Mercy Me.
I can only imagine what it will be like
When I walk by Your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When Your face is before me, I can only imagine
Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you Jesus?
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence?
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing Hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine
It reached double Platinum, being the only Christian single to sell 2 million copies. Bart’s story has been made into a movie of the same name and opened in cinemas last week. I found it hard to watch but I’m so glad I did.
No one is beyond redemption, no one, that’s the power of grace. Bart believed that if God could change his father from a monster to a saint, He could do anything — even heal the wounds that had so deeply scared his life — “I saw God take him from the man I hated to the man I wanted to become.”
In forgiving his father, Bart could begin to live beyond the prison of his father’s cruel words, words that had crippled and defined him. Proverbs 18:21 reminds me that “The tongue has the power of life and death.” For Bart that was a living death, but it doesn’t take a cruel, abusive person to damage another human being, we are all capable of that. And we've all experienced the life-giving energy of words of encouragement and appreciation. Every day we have that power within us — that choice to make. As parents, the way we speak to children becomes their inner voice.
"Music gave me hope when I felt hopeless. Love when I felt unloved. A reason to embrace life when I was dying inside. If a song moved me, then I felt I was alive for a reason. Later I came to the truth of knowing these blessings were all gifts from the Lord. Music was simply the conduit for them to reach my heart.” Bart Millard.
Bart had always loved music but had no idea of the enormous gif that lay within him. It lay dormant and could have stayed that way if it hadn't been for a teacher who discovered his talent quite by accident. Through her encouragement - read demandingness - she forced him to use the gift and the highlight of the movie for me was the realisation that dawned on him as he faced a standing ovation - I am valued, I do have something to offer.
How many people die with the gift within them, unrecognised or unshared? I don't want to die with untapped potential or not having used the gifts I've been given for the purpose they were intended.
"The best music can come from the worst experiences" Christian Toto.
Postcript: Dennis Quade played Bart's father, Arthur Wesley Millard. Dennis had given his life to Christ as a boy but he had lost his faith somewhere amidst the the glamour and darkness of Hollywood. Playing Arthur revived his faith and enabled him to finish a song he'd begun writing for his mother 20 years before, a song about grace. His mother was a woman of faith and he gave it to her on her 91st birthday.