Bart Millard Opens up about His Experience with Chronic Illness

In MercyMe's hit, "Even If," the frontman explores the struggles and doubt he's faced caring for a child with diabetes.

Posted in , Jun 28, 2017

Bart Millard Opens up about His Experience with Chronic Illness

In two decades, Grammy-nominated Christian music band MercyMe has had 28 songs reach the top of the Billboard charts. The band has crafted a musical legacy that revolves around their willingness to get personal with their fans, and their latest single, “Even If,” off the band’s ninth studio album Lifer, is no exception. 

Lead singer Bart Millard says that the song emerged from his journey caring for his 15-year-old son, Sam, who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at two years old. The opening lyrics of the tune -- I've stood on this stage night after night/ Reminding the broken it'll be alright/ But right now, oh right now I just can't -- encapsulate the helplessness he felt caring for a child with a chronic illness. 

“It was one of those days,” Millard tells of why he wrote “Even If.”“We had his six month checkup and the checkup may have gone fine, I don't remember. I just know that it's like going to the principal's office, it's never really good,” Millard says. “It's just a harsh reminder that our life revolves around this… disease.” 

He and his wife recently calculated how many insulin shots they’ve given their son: “Over 37,000 shots in his life so far,” Millard says. “Whenever food goes in his mouth, a shot goes in his arm or his leg. We call it the new normal.”

Though the family has developed a routine over the past 13 years, Millard says that as a parent, managing a child’s chronic illness can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. 

“[Sam’s] had it since he was two, so he doesn't really remember anything other than this. This is all he's known, and for the most part, he's felt great, but as a mom and a dad, it's crucifying us daily,” he says. 

“You always have the enemy saying, ‘You're not a good enough parent. You could've done something better,” Millard explains. He started the non-profit organization Imagine A Cure when his son was first diagnosed to help combat juvenile diabetes— and those feelings. 

“When you first find out, part of that is what gets you through -- you want to fight back and you want to put your effort into a worthy cause,” Millard says. “I remember when we were diagnosed, we were like, ‘We're going to find a cure, we're going to find a cure.’”

After talking with his son, however, Millard reevaluated the need for a charity with his son as the focus.

“After years, you're like, ‘You know what? I do not doubt there'll be a cure, but I realize that we're going to enjoy every second of life and make our kid feel normal.’ Sam didn't want to be a poster child, he didn't want to be an agenda, and it really hit me as a dad, it was, ‘You know what? Then we're not going to do it anymore.’ We're just going to be parents; you're going to be our son.” 

Instead, Millard decided to use his platform to do something just as important as raising money and creating awareness for the disease.

“When I say get the message out, it's not to create awareness of diabetes,” Millard says. “If you don't know what diabetes is, or some form of it, you've been under a rock. But what we've learned is that God’s given us a voice to help people who have kids or have diabetes have this sense of not being alone. With a chronic illness, sometimes there's nothing that makes you feel more alone than thinking you're the only one wrestling with this.” 
Millard insists on sharing the journey with fans because of all the advice and support people have given to him over the years, including his friend and fellow Christian artist, Tim Timmons.

Timmons was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer over 15 years ago and Millard sought out his advice. 

“I ended up unloading on him like, ‘Man, I'm done with this. I can't play this 'God is good all the time' crap anymore, honestly, because I don't feel like that right now,’” Millard recalls. “I mean, I don't know what the thorn in Paul's side was, but mine is believing that God can heal my son but won't. So it was just a tough day.” 

Timmons was able to give Millard some words of wisdom from his own experience

“I was going off like, ‘You don't even know what it's like to have a chronic illness!’ and he's just grinning at me. He's like playing piano like he's Liberace over there, like a lounge singer. I thought he was mocking me,” Millard says. 

After Millard left the singer’s house, Timmons sent him what would become the base of the first verse in “Even If.” He had been writing down everything Millard told him and crafting it into a song. He also shared two lines that would become the chorus -- I know you're able/ I know you can – words Timmons had written when he was coming to terms with his own illness years ago. 
Millard knew he had to use it to sing about his own journey and he wanted the song to have a hopeful vibe – regardless of how defeated he was feeling. 

“It's got a theme of victory,” Millard says. Despite still having hard days, it’s that sense of optimism and faith that’s helped him accept and embrace his son’s illness and he hopes his music will lift up others going through their own dark days. 

“The good news is my relationship with Christ is not based on how I feel,” Millard says.  “He's got really broad shoulders, so I have this amazing ability to cling to him and gripe the whole way sometimes. With songs like Even If,’ we've had so many people say, ‘I've got an uncle, I've got a son, I've got a parent,’ whatever. Anytime you find community and a chance to relate and just kind of let it roll off your chest a little bit, it's a good thing. That's the way we've gotten through is community. It's what the body of Christ is supposed to do.” 


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