In 2004 Bart Millard, frontman for the Christian band MercyMe and composer of the award-winning hit "I Can Only Imagine," received a life-changing diagnosis: "Your son has juvenile diabetes." Bart and Shannon, his wife of 10 years, face the daily challenge of helping six-year-old Sam cope with a strict regime of blood tests, shots, and diet, as well as parenting Gracie, three, and Charlie, two. MP talked with Bart and Shannon about the ways they stay connected with God and each other.
How has sam's illness impacted your marriage?
Shannon: There have been days when I've thought, What happened to us? Where have we gone? We deal with things differently. I'm the emotional one who hangs onto things. Bart is the "let's deal with it and move on" type. I shed tears over Sam's disease for a more prolonged period than he did, so seeing him move on created conflicts between us. We talked it through, and Bart said, "You're at a different place than I am, and that's okay because I can lead. I may have a bad day another day, and then you can lead."
Bart: Sam's diagnosis happened at the peak of MercyMe's career. People were admiring what I was doing and telling me, "You've got the coolest job in the world." But it was also the worst year of my life. I'd smile and say the right things at work, then go home and shut down. Meanwhile, Shannon kept saying, "You're finally home. Let's do something." I wanted to be there for her, but it was difficult.
What helped you pull together instead of apart?
Shannon: With what Bart does, it's difficult to stay in the same world. He has his job and he's away, and my job is here with the kids. That in itself has forced us to communicate better. And I think it helped prepare us for Sam's diagnosis.
Bart: You have two choices. You can hang onto each other as tight as you can or run in the other direction. And running the other direction wasn't an option for us. I needed Shannon more than I've ever needed anybody. There were times when we felt no one else could relate to what we were dealing with. I can't imagine going through any of this without her.
Has this impacted your faith?
Bart: I've had moments when I just wanted to quit. But it's funny how God uses that. My doubt and anger and fear—he's got broad shoulders to take them all. He's right there saying, I'm in this. Don't think I shut my eyes and let Satan have his way. I've always been in this. A blessing is that I've never pursued God more.
Shannon: I felt I was dragged to the bottom of my faith and had to take baby steps back up. I tell myself daily that God has his hand over this. Our faith is all we've had through tragedy after tragedy. We've made a decision that we're going to lean on each other and trust God. It's not easy, but when you're at rock bottom, that's all you have.
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