Amy Grant’s generous gesture to return “I Can Only Imagine” to Bart Millard and his Christian rock band MercyMe definitely took their career into an unexpected turn. The song written by Millard himself for his father after he died from cancer became the band’s breakthrough and best-selling hit, achieving what back then seemed to be unreachable heights of success for them. And this instrumental role that Grant played was portrayed in the box office hit of the same title.
“I Can Only Imagine” told the true-to-life story of Millard, starting from his childhood to how his life was suddenly turned upside down after his father’s accident. It unfolded the harsh pain of abuse that Bart suffered from the hands of his father’s raging fits. And it also revealed how cancer transformed his father and restored his faith. After his father’s death, Millard took comfort in his grandmother’s words that she could only imagine what her son was seeing in heaven. So, he began to write about it.
While the whole song only took about ten minutes to finish, it was a story that took his whole life to write. And it was no surprise that when Amy Grant heard it, she loved it so much that she wanted it to be on her record. According to the gospel singer, she heard the song during a time when her life had sort of been in an upheaval, and it was very healing.
But as Grant prepared to perform it for the first time in public, she had a different idea. She told Millard how “I Can Only Imagine” was a career song that was going to change his life and how she did not want to take that moment away from him. So, they decided to have him perform the song with her and her husband, Vince Gill.
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And as he stood off the side of the stage waiting for his turn, he was grinning from ear to ear. For him, it was the culmination of all the countless nights he laid awake thinking of better days. He felt a mix of emotions, and for the first time in his life, the reality he was living in finally outdid his imagination. Not to mention that it was Amy Grant, the heroine of his youth, who was singing his song.
As soon as Grant finished the chorus, he stepped onto the stage and walked to the mic. It was surreal. During the whole song, he felt that more than the sea of faces watching him, he was performing the song for his dad and God.
When Grant said it was a career song, she was right. MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” earned the band the Dove Awards ‘Pop Contemporary Song of the Year’ in 2002. And as of 2018, it has already been certified to be quadruple-platinum.
It could have been one of Amy Grant songs, but she knew that everything happened the way it was meant to be. Amy Grant definitely helped make “I Can Only Imagine” to be in a place it deserves to be.
amy grant, MercyMe