Series 15: For the Love of Music | Episode 04
Amy Grant: Compassion, Community & the Cycles of Life
Say the words “Amy Grant,” and you launch a generation of music lovers into nostalgia. We’ve grown up alongside Amy, haven’t we? Who didn’t sing “Love Will Find a Way” or “Baby, Baby” into their hairbrush? Who didn’t feel a rush of pride when we saw our favorite Christian songstress—someone even our parents approved of—show up on VH1 and Top 40 radio stations? Amy navigated the whirlwind of success that enveloped her and the inevitable criticism it brought from those who thought she had left her roots behind to become the strong, gracious and gifted artist she is today. Those darker moments, which she describes as “a 10-year tunnel,” started with her very public divorce that found her emerging on the other side with a new sense of connection to God and to those who walked alongside her. With her career and her music still going strong, Amy’s devotion to family and community is firmly at the center, and she looks back at the tough times as bringing about a “very unique toolkit” that will be essential to help guide her children on their next great adventures.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey guys. It is Jen Hatmaker here, your hostess for the For the Love Podcast. So glad that you’re here. Welcome to the show.
I’m grinning. I don’t know if you can tell that I’m grinning while I’m talking, because I am excited for you because you’re about to just hear the most delightful conversation. It’s just . . . It’s charming and endearing. It wanders and meanders, and you are gonna be just really, really happy that you put this podcast on while ever you’re doing what you’re doing. You’re not gonna wanna miss any of it. Please stay until the end.
We’re in this series called For the Love of Music, which I’m happy to say is one you guys asked for, one of your best ideas. We’re having the best time talking with icons for so many of us, who really kind of sung us through our childhood and adolescence and young adulthood. It’s just . . . I mean I am over the moon on this series.
I know that it’s cliché for me to say that my guest today doesn’t need an introduction, but it’s really true because Amy Grant . . . I just love her, so whatever. Just let me laugh about it. She has become a household name for decades, right? Not just in Christian circles, which is where she got started, and we’re gonna talk about that, but all of her mainstream crossover success too.
Golly, we started listening to Amy back when she was this young thing singing “My Father’s Eyes,” which we all sang into our hairbrushes. Then just all the way through her CCM career and her pop career crossover, which was so exciting to watch, and see one of us, one of our people go over to VH1 for crying out loud. In fact, her song “Next Time I Fall,” of course you remember that song, number one on the Billboard charts, that she sang with Peter Cetera, who was one of our muses at the time.
She’s just been such a marvel to watch. We’ll talk about this too, but she weathered a lot of public criticism, a lot of rejection from her community via, well several reasons. Some of it was from her crossover move. Some of it was with her really public divorce which she’s gonna talk about too. Then her subsequent remarriage to Vince Gill, you may have heard of him.
It’s gonna inspire you to hear her talk about that season and what she learned. She’s just a really deeply genuine and sincere person. This whole conversation is just rich, rich, rich, rich, rich. We laughed and we laughed and we laughed.
I do wanna say, just because I start with it, so my confession. I met Amy finally for the first time last summer at a Christian festival called Wild Goose, and I knew she was there of course. In fact, that is how they got me to come. “Can you speak?”
I’m like, “It’s summer. This is usually my time off.”
“Amy Grant’s gonna be there.”
“When do I fly in?”
That’s kind of how that worked.
So I was in kind of a house with a bunch of my friends who were also there, and we kind of got word, somebody sent a word through somebody else that Amy was like, “I’d love to meet Jen,” at which point I perished. I literally died on the spot and then Jesus resurrected me. So Amy and her manager Jennifer, who’s so fabulous, came to our house that we were renting and we cooked dinner.
You guys, I’m not joking to tell you right now, on the menu, it was already in flux, we didn’t have time to be impressive, we fed her hot dogs and tater tots. I joke you not. I fed Amy Grant hot dogs and tater tots. So, I met her last summer and I was just so starstruck. Whatever. Let me live.
But she is as lovely a person as you would possibly imagine her to be, and so you are gonna enjoy this conversation. I know I sure did.
Jen: So please welcome my amazing guest today, Amy Grant!
Amy: Okay let me ask you this. How does that sound?
Jen: It sounds good to me.
Amy: Okay. This is speaker phone. I just am so nervous about having a phone next to my head. I try to always talk on speaker phone.
Jen: You do?
Amy: Yeah, because I don’t wanna get a brain tumor next to my ear.
Jen: You know what? I tell you what, when that turns out to be true for the rest of us, you’ll be the last one standing. Like who’s laughing now?
I’ve got a friend who does that with microwaves and I’m like, “Come on.”
She’s like, “You’re only saying that because it hasn’t affected our generation yet until we’re like in our 70s, and I’ll be alive.”
And I’m like, “Okay. That’s fair.”
Amy: You know, my family, we got an early microwave, and it’s when it just had like a grill. It wasn’t even a solid door. It came with a set of engraved dishes with the initial of your last name and a turkey.
Jen: Are you being serious?
Amy: Yeah. It was so new, and my family, we put a Krispy Kreme donut in it, and as a family sat and watched it. They didn’t spin at the time, and watched it bubble in about four seconds. I mean that’s how old I am.
Jen: That’s amazing. So we’ve covered that.
Let me just say this. I’m so happy that you’re here today, I really am. I just love you and I’ve loved you forever. So I’m tickled. I’m tickled to talk to you today.
So I have, I’ve obviously, I’ve told our listeners a little bit about you and about your story obviously, which is so well known. But if you don’t mind, if you wouldn’t just indulge me, I’d love to go back just for a minute to your early years. You’re just a girl playing a guitar, made a tape for her parents. A tape, young listeners, is something we used to do before we had the internet. Then of course it got discovered by a music producer, I love your story. Can you talk just for a minute about what that was like, to be so young and then signed to a record deal in an industry that was still figuring its own self out a bit?
Amy: Right. Well for one thing, imagine there was no audience.
Amy: To anybody’s experience. There was no social media, and so everything felt very close proximity wise, every experience. People only knew about it if you actually told them.
Jen: That’s right.
Amy: With words. In person.
Jen: Very old fashioned.
Amy: So all that to say, yeah, it was a totally different time. So it wasn’t, there was zero ripple effect. None. Zilch. Zero. I was 15. I was writing songs. One of our youth group leaders, he was taking a music class at Belmont College, it was a college at the time. He had some extra studio time and he said, “Hey, I know you’re writing songs. Do you want to use some of my studio time to record your songs?”
Two of us went in, another songwriter and myself. That was the tape that eventually this friend of mine was making copies of that tape in the studio where he had a job, and a man walked in and heard it. This guy that walked in, his name was Chris. He’d been on a few dates with one of my older sisters and he said, “Oh my gosh. Word Records is trying to launch a contemporary label, and they’re trying to find 12 artists who do contemporary sounding Christian music.” I don’t even think they’d coined the phrase “CCM.”
Jen: Right. There was no category yet.
Amy: There was no category. If there was anything happening, it was in Southern California.
Amy: And then I went to a church that happened to be connected to a very hippie coffee shop. Hang on, my dog is barking.
Jen: Oh, that’s fine. We’ll hear your dog over the course of this conversation and we will hear the train that is 200 yards from my house, and it’s just fine. We’re living real lives.
Amy: Anywho, so yeah. So that’s how it started. Then would I like to make a record? So I would . . . It was fall of my junior year right before my 16th birthday-
Jen: That’s ridiculous.
Amy: When I was asked that, and trust me, I didn’t tell anybody.
Jen: You didn’t?
Amy: Oh gosh no. Fear of failure. I didn’t tell any of my school friends.
Jen: My gosh.
Amy: They knew I was working part time at a studio. I never played anybody anything unless I was playing out, you know? I played for my friends at school. They would say, “Hey we’re having a double date dinner party, will you come be background music?” I mean it was.
Jen: Oh my gosh. I bet they tell that story to this day, like, “One time when I was a junior, Amy Grant was our background music at our weird double date.” That’s probably a lifetime story for those people.
Also, I wanna say that it’s very indicative of the kind of human you are that you kept that under wraps. Let me tell you something. If I at 16 was offered a record deal, ain’t nobody could’ve told me nothing. I would’ve been insufferable. I mean, absolutely insufferable. I would’ve made sure that I talked about that in every single conversation, and so I commend your restraint and your humility. I would’ve been the living worst if that would’ve been me.
Amy: Well, but I think that that was more a reflection on how I felt about my own skill set.
Amy: Then, so my first record came out spring break of my senior year.
Jen: Oh geesh.
Amy: Yeah, and then I gave a few copies to my friends at school. It’s just fun. It was just very community. I mean I went to sort of a small school.
Jen: Yeah. So you’re thinking at this point, I’m curious what you’re thinking. Are you thinking, “This is gonna be my career. This is my future.” What are you thinking as a 17-year-old?
Amy: Oh gosh, no. Well, you know I graduated from high school, and then I went on a promotional tour, a radio tour. We started in southern California. My mother went with me. I’m 17 at the time. This was the trip where, oh gosh, there was one bookstore that sold music in southern California and the manager there had said, “We’ve got this huge event that’s happening. We’ve sent out 1200 engraved invitations, a sound system. Come and play.” I show up, not one person comes to the bookstore. Not one. I mean even my mother said, “This is awkward. I’m gonna go down to the strip mall and do a little shopping.”
Jen: Your mom abandoned you.
Amy: I thought, “How do you even stay in business? You had zero walk-up traffic.”
Jen: Oh my goodness.
Amy: How do you stay in business?
And another legendary story that happened around that time, right before, or maybe a month before I was supposed to leave for college, Brown Banister, who was the producer, got a phone call, because of course I was not listed in the phone book, and Lakeside Amusement Park in Denver, Colorado was trying to book a gig with contemporary Christian music artists.
So Brown fields the request, he calls me and he said, “Hey, Lakeside Amusement Park wants you to come and play on such-and-such night for $300.” And there’s this long silence. We’ve told this story so many times and I think, “God Brown, I’ve saved up $500 just kind of for not living expenses, but entertainment for my freshman year. If I blow $300 on one gig, like, I’ll have nothing left.”
Jen: Oh gosh. That’s so amazing.
Amy: “I think they’re gonna pay you. I don’t think you have to pay them.”
Jen: That’s so outstanding.
Jen: Love it. It’s such a . . . It’s just kind of a more innocent time. It’s so much more scrappy, and it’s so different now. I mean it’s just a completely different world for young budding artists now, but it’s just so cute thinking of you back there, just a girl singing her song with her tape in her hand.
So what happened next? Because if you’re not thinking this is gonna be a career path for you, and then it obviously became one, how did that road meander into a much more serious space?
Amy: Well, the deal with the record company was that we would just decide one record at a time if it was good for both of us, if I could handle going to school and making music. I played all summer long different places.
Then my senior year of college, in the fall I made my 6th record, and two of those were a live record, so it was really only my 4th studio record. It felt different. All of my friends also my senior year were interviewing for real jobs, and all of my free time was going for music. I was going, “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. I should get a real job.”
Amy: But then that . . . Yeah, that record came out in May or June of, I guess May of 1982. It was an album called Age to Age. That album created enough interest, and then I was no longer in school, and so I went, “I’m actually gonna tour.” So I hadn’t graduated . . . Anyway, because I always only took 12 hours because I was always working.
My dad had said, “Please, if you start an education, finish it.”
So I went to my parents and said, “I promise I will finish my degree, but I think I would rather work right now.”
He said, “Okay.”
Jen: Did he? Okay.
Amy: You can imagine that is still hanging over me. I’m 58. Both my parents have passed, and I still have 19 elective hours.
Jen: Oh my gosh. Dang it.
Amy: So every year people will say, “So what’s on the docket this year? Do you have new music coming out?”
In the back of my mind it’s like, “Graduate from college.”
Jen: That’s right. “I swore. I promised.”
Okay, I’m excited about that. I’m gonna start looking up some course selections for you, and I’m really gonna think through your docket and what’s gonna be interesting for you to finish your degree.
Jen: I’m so curious. I just . . . I grew up in that era of your music, so for me I did not realize how much you were pioneering. I didn’t understand that at the time. It’s just all of a sudden you were a gift to all of us. And at the time I thought, “Well this is lucky us. This is what music is like in the Christian world. It’s not all terrible. Look at this amazing artist.”
I’m so curious what it was like for you, specifically in the ’80s, to literally kind of be on the front edge of that entire genre. I mean you didn’t have precedents. You didn’t have really people to look to for any sort of modeling or even really know what to expect in the market.
Was it clear at the time, did you feel like, “Man we’re out here doing something really new and really different.” Did you feel excited? I just wonder what that decade was like for you.
Amy: It was very exciting, and we didn’t . . . I mean my initial reaction to your pulling up the ’80s was the incredible sense of community that I experienced and felt, and that started within our church, which is really the experience that whetted my appetite to want to sing.
So I didn’t grow up with gospel records, even when I was making contemporary Christian music I didn’t really own any contemporary Christian records. The music I grew up with was a lot of what was coming out of Southern California, but it was the singer/songwriter movement or The Beatles. So my reason for writing in the first place, to write anything about faith, which was not the only music I was writing, was because I wanted to augment my setlist with songs that were about faith. Because it’s exciting, you know?
I went to a church that was just on the edge of the projects. I remember, I mean it was just, you never knew what was gonna happen at church, you never. This was a church that my older sisters discovered when they came back from being in college in Boston, and eventually our whole family got there. But it was, I mean people . . . There was a bar kind of caddy corner across from the church and people would come there hammered and shout stuff out.
I remember one time I was at the door standing next to the pastor, whose daughter was a dear friend of mine, and a woman came in. And I’m telling you I was standing there and she said, “Preacher, I take my clothes off for a living. Can I come to church here?”
Amy: And he said, “My dear, you give your heart to Jesus. He’ll tell you what you can and can’t do. Of course you are welcome.”
Jen: That’s a great story.
Amy: I mean, yeah. But I think wild things were always happening, and there was a coffee shop next door that had this music.
So what happened was, there were a lot of young music lovers that loved the creativity, the spiritual aliveness, a bit of the chaos that was also a part of that church. And so just close at hand were the people that became my managers, Mike Blanton, Dan Harrell, Brown Bannister, my producer.
Michael W. Smith was going to church there. He was a songwriter. Gary Chapman and I started dating and got married.
Jen: Wow, gosh.
Amy: He was going to church there. Everybody, and then also a lot of other great artists, because they would play at the coffee shop. So writing songs, everything was about the hang. Everything was about the hang. It was not about the end result, because you’re right, we were oblivious where this road went, but the hang was . . . So making a record was all about the, “Hey, let’s invite our friends. I want my family to come.” It was just, we felt so alive and so vibrant. There weren’t the clear lines, you know, even as far as promoters of shows or where you did a show or who you included.
My mind was just kind of reeling. It was so much fun and a lot of hard work.
I guess it looked like a machine, but we just all innocently found each other. So yeah, it was beautiful. It really was.
Jen: That’s such a good example to set, and I think we’ve lost a lot of that. We’ve lost a lot of that flexibility to be in meaningful relationships across ideologies and experiences.
I don’t know if why I feel like the Christian community is clamping down instead of opening their hands a little bit. I would’ve loved to have seen them follow your example back then, which you really lived out.
I mean you did, because of course you had . . . You crossed over. You had mainstream pop success, which was so exciting for us to watch, because I can tell you as just a few years behind you, and just a person who grew up with your music, it felt like, “Oh my gosh. She’s one of us. She’s one of us. She’s on the main radio right now.” And you were cool. So it’s like we had a person, we had somebody to look to in that big wide space. It was so exciting to watch you be a hit maker alongside Madonna and all of the other people we were listening to.
You probably wrote all kinds of music all the time. But what was it like for you as you really steered your ship into mainstream-hit world? Was that a deliberate choice? Did you stumble upon that? What was that season like for you?
Amy: Well it happened in waves, you know? So starting in the mid ’80s, I remember a really earnest conversation with Dan Johnson, who was one of the heads of Word Records, because I had signed a contract with Word, and they had a mission statement. I remember it being kind of an emotional conversation. I said, “You’re giving me the opportunity to sing, but I feel compelled to broaden . . . I just can’t only sing the good news.” I remember it being, and I said, “First off, nobody’s gonna listen if you always have the answer. Plus, I don’t have the answers. I mean, life is messy.” But I remember a very emotional conversation, not emotional for him, but I remember being teary and a ragged throat, because my opportunity to make music came through that company. I was really honestly asking permission to deviate from their mission statement.
Amy: Anyway, and you know what he said?
Amy: He said, “You know, Jesus spoke in parables and a lot of times nobody knew what he was talking about.” He said, “Just write.”
Jen: That’s great.
Amy: I thought that was so awesome and I went, “Okay!” He just gave me permission to try, to fail, to do whatever.
But it was the freedom to try something different that created the impetus for Word then to reach out to A&M Records. And they said, “We have an artist that’s doing some stuff here that doesn’t just fit our business model, and we actually feel like might help if we shared the distribution of this product.”
Amy: Yeah, so when I was signed to A&M Records, I actually did not sign the dotted line. Word Records made a deal with A&M Records. Then all of a sudden I was part of business meetings and radio phone calls. This is like whoa. These people were . . . They were just a totally different world and so fascinating. I mean it was just, it was bigger and bragging and strutting. You know, all this stuff that honestly just made me want to be myself as honestly as I could, because they were certainly wasting no time not being themselves.
Jen: That had to be kind of refreshing. Sometimes in the Christian world, inside of it, it’s all very polite and coded and restrained, and sometimes there’s a lot of spiritual words to cover up what you’re really thinking, what you’re really meaning, and so I bet there had to have been something at least moderately refreshing about being in a room where everyone’s just wheels off, just . . . I can only imagine. It kind of probably felt a little free.
Amy: Well, first let me just say, the whole CCM world was developing, and so it didn’t feel like . . . However you would describe it now, peel 30 years off of that.
Jen: That’s a good point.
Amy: 30 years. But I remember going on a work trip with a guy named Charlie Minor. He was from the south. He was a mover and a shaker. He was head of radio with A&M Records, and we’re going to Boston. I just go, “Man, he’s got a girlfriend every city.” And I’m trying to make friends. They would take me to places, and they want you to meet this person. I mean on one hand it was exhausting for me because I enjoy people, but I also have a side that I have to have time to myself.
Amy: So we would go to a dinner at a nice restaurant, and we would sit down with six people, and then I’m hardly even noticing all of the sudden four of those people have gotten up, four new people are there. Then three others have gotten up. I had stepped into the promotion machine.
Jen: Oh man, where you don’t even know the rules.
Amy: You don’t know the rules, and it’s constantly changing. I do think sometimes we take our cues so much from each other that we start speaking the same language, we start using all the same phrases. But my early musical, the first two decades of that for me, it was such a revolving door that I had to find my own language. I had to . . . Or not. You know, I mean I had times that I completely lost my rudder.
Amy: You know, just going, “Okay. I didn’t really like how that turned out, ” or, “I didn’t like the way it felt after I had this particular experience. But I can’t stress enough that we have, all of our . . . Our culture has morphed into something that is feeding our own worst nightmares about ourselves, and I believe that it’s not the big, dark world of the church. It’s not any of that. To me, the nightmare, and we all have to gauge how well we can navigate these waters because some of us cannot navigate them at all, but it’s the water of comparison.
Jen: I know. It’s real.
Amy: Because every one of us is designed to take up a unique place in the universe. Very unique.
I do think it’s important to share our stories, but we . . . You have to know. We each have to know how much can I give to non one-on-one interactions? Because even how we process, human nature is . . . From a distance, we process in a very self-protecting way. Up close, that’s why community’s so important, up close we process with compassion.
Jen: Good point.
Amy: But from a distance, from a distance we totally revert to animal mode. You can’t help it. It’s like your brain stem kicks in. It happens at the finest black-tie event and you’re looking at a woman across the room and go, “Boob job, yes or no? Thigh tuck? Maybe. Oh my gosh, is that a new outfit?” I mean from a distance we are so insecure and . . . All of us. That is human nature.
Jen: That’s right.
Amy: But up close, that person that you’re intimidated by on the other side of the room, or judging on the other side of the room, or any of that, they come up close and start a conversation, and you hear the tone of their voice or they start to talk about something, and you hear the catch in their throat. Then suddenly it’s a real person. But anything that’s not voice-to-voice or face-to-face can fall into that . . . I don’t even know what to call it except for it just . . . It’s like we are in animal mode.
Jen: It’s so true, and it’s so easy to do it now. I mean we just have . . . For as many gifts as social media has given us and continues to give us, and some of that is real, the capacity to at this point disappear into a world that is . . . While it says it’s to connect us all, it actually promotes a ton of disconnection as you’ve mentioned, and takes us right out of the real world.
But you’re right, there is something about real life community, face-to-face, voice-to-voice, that is irreplaceable. It cannot be duplicated.
Amy: Yeah. Yeah, and plus real community, I mean we do things because we wanna be involved with the community, like I wanna be part of a supper club or a book club. We’re wired for community. But you wanna get real community happening, do anything that puts you in a little bit over your head and you need somebody. That can be like . . . I mean I laugh about this now, but Vince and I have two grandkids. They’re his daughter Jenny’s kids. Over commit, I mean commit to take care of your grandkids beyond your energy level. Or plant a big garden. Or I mean, you wanna experience real community, get in a little past where you can touch and start swimming.
Jen: I love that.
Amy: You will be amazed who you will accept help from.
Jen: Yeah, totally.
Amy: Anybody. Anybody. And so for me, that’s also part of the adventure because need connects us like nothing else. That’s why you can walk in the front door of St. Jude’s Hospital and there’s immediate community, because those people, everyone has a need there. Everybody’s child is fighting for their life. All the walls are down. Nobody’s wasting energy on—
Jen: That’s a great point.
Amy: Things beyond what . . . Yeah.
Jen: What matters, what’s real, what’s gonna last. That’s such a great example.
Jen: Anybody who’s ever weathered either a crisis or a challenge with their people knows that what you’re saying is absolutely true. All this other stuff just recedes and that takes precedence.
Amy: Okay, can I tell you?
Amy: Yeah, can I give you . . . This is a specific of an experience that found me. A lot of things find me, but it has been a game changer. This has just been since January.
So December’s a really busy month for our family, and Vince and I this last year had a residency, they call it that, at the Ryman Auditorium. But it’s just busy, you know?
Amy: So Christmas cards would come in and I just stashed all my Christmas cards, I thought, “I want . . . Look, if people are actually sending Christmas cards, I wanna open these Christmas cards.”
So I waited, I waited until after 2019 had started. I thought, “I think I’m gonna wait until one night when I’m the only one in the house. I’m going to read the newsletters. I’m gonna light a candle. I’m gonna fix a cup of hot tea. I’m just gonna make an event out of opening my Christmas cards.”
Jen: That’s cute.
Amy: This only happened because four of our five kids are fully grown and live on their own.
Jen: Yes. Please tell me. Tell me about your life. That is a future that I will get to have some day.
Amy: Yeah, but I couldn’t have done that at a different chapter. So, the night comes. It’s a Friday night. Vince is singing at the Opry. Corrina has got plans with friends, and I thought . . . I almost watched a TV show and I thought, “When am I gonna have this chance?” So I made the choice to light a candle and put on the tea kettle.
As I was walking towards this basket, I don’t even know why, but I was reminded of this story that my friend Cindy Hudson told me about this man of prayer, and I believe this happened in Hawaii. But he was asked by a mental health/legal, what do you call it, like a mental health prison.
Jen: Oh okay. Sure.
Amy: He was invited, asked to come pray for the inmates at this facility. He said, “Let me think about it,” and finally he said yes.
You know, Jen, for all I know this is an urban legend, but this is the story told to me.
Jen: All right.
Amy: So he said yes he would come and pray for them, but he said, “I’ll come and I’ll stay until the job there is done. I don’t wanna ever meet any of the inmates, but if you will find me an empty room, I will stay.” He actually stayed for over two years.
Jen: Wow. Oh my gosh.
Amy: He would request that they bring a file in of an inmate, and he would read all of the things that were a part of that person’s life. He would allow all of his natural inclinations to come up toward that person—repulsion, fear, judgment, all that stuff. He would pray for that inmate until he had cleared himself of everything so that compassion could flow through him to that inmate.
Jen: Gosh. I have goosebumps.
Amy: I know. Crazy, huh?
Amy: Well, and the end of the story is, everyone from that facility was rehabilitated and they shut the facility down.
Jen: That’s crazy.
Amy: So I sit down with my Christmas cards, and before I opened them I thought, “Why in the world did I just think about that man and a clearing prayer? That’s so weird.” Then, and I thought, “Hey, I think I’m gonna pray for each one of these families.” But then as I started to open the first card, I went, “God, I think what I need to pray for . . . I need to let every negative thing in me surface, and I need to clear that.”
Jen: Wow, gosh.
Amy: So that what I feel for this person who’s card I’m reading is only compassion. And it could be some snarky comment about their outfit, or I used to be in their inner circle before I went through a divorce. “Gee, I wish I was still included in the party,” whatever. But the cool thing was, everything that came up as it came up, I said it out loud. I went, “God, you see it and I see it, and I know you forgive me. I forgive myself.” I let that go. I cleared that.
I got through all the cards, and it’s funny because one of the cards had a member of my family, which is huge. There are 55 of us from my sisters and me down. I didn’t even . . . I wasn’t even aware that I needed some clearing, but the next time I saw that person, I felt a different flow of energy.
After opening all of my Christmas cards I went, “Life is too short to live with whatever channel we are meant to be, we’re completely inefficient if that is clogged.”
Jen: That’s right.
Amy: So the idea, even of praying for people, this is not going, “Oh I’m so great, I’m praying for all these people.” It’s going, “No God, really,” praying for somebody is allowing your own wickedness to surface, and then you pray that away.
This has been . . . Every day I just go, “Oh my gosh. This is such an adventure.” And I’m telling you, sometimes I’m too exhausted. Sometimes I don’t want to sit down and pray for somebody because I know really the reality is, “Oh my gosh, okay I’ve gotta let all of my negativity surface.” We like to pet our negativity.
Jen: Totally. I nurture it like a family member. I feed it and give it water. Yes. Make sure it’s alive and well. Yes.
Amy: I’ve got this old friend, his name is Jimmy Gentry. He’s a World War II veteran. He was a foot soldier at 17 when they walked for days into the concentration camps. It was either Dachau or Auschwitz. They could smell it from miles away, but he was part of the liberation army.
Amy: One day he was telling me stories of World War II, and he said, “Amy, you know the most important word, the single most important word as you live your life? You know it don’t you?” He said, “It affects how you see everything and everybody.” I said, “Love?”
He’s shaking that big head and those big ears.
I wanted to say the right thing. I just want to impress Jimmy Gentry.
Jen: Of course.
Amy: I could not guess it. I said, “Tell me, Jimmy.”
Then he held up his thumb like a one answer, and he said, “We. We. If you will start to see the world as “we,” it will change the way you live.”
Jen: Wow, golly.
Amy: I know. I know. Yeah, so you get stuff like that stirring in the pot for 30 years, and it does . . . Things start morphing. That’s the beauty of getting older, is you just—
Jen: It sure is. I love that story.
Jen: I love hearing you talk about this because I know that you are telling the truth. I know that this is real for you because we all watched you weather quite a bit of public storms. We watched you sit in the middle of a great deal of criticism and critique, and sort of this lonely moment.
I mean, there was more than one reason. I mean you took a lot of criticism for singing mainstream music, so the Christian community just clutched their pearls at that and freaked out. Some of them did. Then of course you mentioned a minute ago, you sort of experienced a lot of rejection and critique too after you divorce from Gary. That was all done in the public eye, which is so weird, because none of us are geared for that. That’s just . . . We’re not meant for that, so it’s this very bizarre world where people who have some notoriety have to endure the normal bumps and bubbles of life, but in the most weird way possible with all these watching eyes.
But you did it with an enormous amount of grace and kindness. I found you at every moment—and of course we were all watching this—I found you gentle in every single moment, and quick to forgive, and slow to speak, and all the things that the Bible tells us to do in order to live a healthy life.
I just . . . I wonder if you could talk about that for a minute, about those seasons of public criticism, and frankly rejection, and what that was like to walk it at the time? Who were your mentors? Who was teaching you how to handle that with such dignity and with such grace? Because it was really a wonder to watch, and of course now you are this person who is so incredibly kind. I mean I see the fruit of it in your life. I see this was real for you, you really really took these practices into your heart and soul and mind.
So you could just . . . What would you teach us about that season and what you learned and what you practiced and what you know now?
Amy: Well, first off I would say the dark tunnel going into a divorce, relaunching your life, coming out of that tunnel, that was about a 10-year tunnel for me.
Amy: And all kinds of behavior happened in the tunnel.
Jen: In the tunnel, yeah.
Amy: I have many of not my finest moments. But I would say just on a very surface level, I didn’t pursue information about myself or about anybody else beyond the people that were directly affected by that divorce decision.
Jen: That’s so wise.
Amy: It was all I could do to navigate. We had three young children. I mean our kids were 6, 9, and 11 when we filed for divorce.
Jen: That’s right. Yep.
Amy: At the time, as I told Gary after we had gone through the divorce, either there was no value left to our marriage or I had lost my ability to value it. I mean, the crash of what happened in a life, and especially . . . Ours honestly had a lot to do with all the success that it had.
Amy: You know, it was just too much.
Jen: I can only imagine.
Amy: Too much everything. Too much opportunity, too much time apart, too much competition between the two of us, too much. Too much. So it really helped me . . . It’s funny now. When I see things firing on all pistons for somebody, my feeling is, “Woo! Buckle in, and you might crash anyway.”
Jen: Wow. Yeah.
Amy: I didn’t discover the writings of Julian of Norwich until after that 10 year tunnel, but I did have a friend come to me at one point in the years just immediately after the divorce when I was, I was just drinking and eating guilt every day. She said, “Why don’t you trust that every hard lesson coming to your children and to you and to your family and to Gary, why don’t you trust that all of these hard things are bringing about a very unique toolkit that will be essential to each one of your children for the adventure of their life?”
Amy: Yeah, and you know what was interesting to me about that, because that friend at the time was not a church goer, not a Bible reader, but was just very intuitive about life. I thought, “You know, I mean it wouldn’t take too far of a stretch to put that in the context of ‘All things work together for good.’”
Then simultaneously I think the people right around me knew that I was such a wreck, like why add insult to injury? It’s funny. Years later I was invited to, I had had a song called “Better Than a Hallelujah” come out. I was invited to go do this thing in Minneapolis. I was seated a table with the head of the record company. I mean excuse me, radio station, big radio station in Minneapolis. We had a great conversation. I hadn’t seen him in a long time. After the dinner, I was talking to my manager and she said, “I never told you this, but they quit playing your songs for 10 years.”
Jen: Wow. Gosh.
Amy: She just protected me from that information. She said, “What is the point? You can’t . . . ” You know what? Then I sat at that dinner . . . I don’t live in Minneapolis. I didn’t know I wasn’t on the radio. But that enabled me to be at that dinner and not . . . I mean, that was just to me the kindness and compassion of my friend, who’s also my manager, going, “I’m not gonna . . . This is hard enough for her anyway. I’m not gonna tell her about this city wide rejection.” I didn’t . . . It was my natural inclination to not pursue that. If I would see something written about me, I would not read it.
Jen: That was so mature.
Amy: Well, I think it just, to me it was like scratching poison ivy.
Amy: It just makes it worse. You already just feel like such a loser when you’re in a failure cycle. But yeah, and I mean talk about holding a secret, 10 years. There were other . . . I’m sure there were conversations, but it was so funny because then we laughed about it and she said, “Didn’t you notice you went from playing arenas in Minneapolis to nothing like crickets. LIke, we could book you there, but you can’t do a show if you don’t have the support of the Christian . . . ” I went, “Well, you know, I guess I was singing other places. I didn’t really notice.”
Jen: Now that you say it, right. Hadn’t been in the Twin Cities in a decade.
Amy: Yes, but I’m gonna tell you. It’s funny. Information is power. But if that power is handled respectfully, and sometimes that means you handle it the most respectfully by being silent about it.
Jen: That’s good.
Amy: Then later, after it’s played out, whatever that dynamic is, because everything plays out, I think about that every time somebody says-
Jen: It’s true.
Amy: “Can I tell you something in confidence?”
I mean, you have to be a good friend to yourself to just let that, whatever you’re told, tell yourself, you tell yourself. You know?
I laugh with Jennifer, my manager, and I said, “My eternal self will laugh about it with my temporal self and we’ll go back and forth.”
But you have to appreciate your own company enough to be able to hold someone’s secret.
Jen: That’s right. That’s true. Good point.
Amy: You have to be . . . Yeah, but then years later if you do hold it, it’s so good. You know? Then they can tell their story, and I mean all those just lessons in delayed gratification are, you learn those the hard way by not keeping a secret.
Jen: You’re so right. Because it all plays out, just like you mentioned. It does. Even just whatever feels absolutely white hot, it feels like this will never cool down, this will never burn out, this is going to be a crisis forever, even that thing, it won’t. It will cool down. It will burn out.
Amy: It will.
Jen: I learned that too. I mean I found myself too kind of in the middle of a white hot outrage cycle, and I had enough good counselors in my life to say, “What you’re gonna wanna do is behave and respond in such a way right now that you are gonna be proud of 10 years from now, that you’re gonna look back and say, ‘I did that well.'” For me, that looked like a lot of silence, as you just alluded to, that looked like I’m saying nothing. It looked like not defending myself and not replying and not jumping in the fray and not getting into all the arguments. It’s true.
I mean I haven’t hit anywhere near the 10-year mark, and I still feel like I look back with no regrets, that it felt like everything was unraveling, except it wasn’t. That’s also a lie that our brain in crisis tells us, that this will never be good again, there is no possible path to recovery, the tremors will go on forever. Yet it’s not true.
I’ve rarely regretted grace. I’ve just rarely regretted caution or restraint, and I think I’ve watched you do that well, and it’s true. Because here you are, you’re on top of the world. You’ve got the most beautiful family and so much, just this gorgeous life. Your career is still so wonderful and strong. The tunnel, 10 years is a long time, but you emerged. I think you did it with your dignity intact. That’s worth something, really worth something.
Amy: Thank you. Also, I will say that energy has to go somewhere. I am a firm believer if you can be alone, whether it’s your car or a closet, but screaming at the top of your lungs is really a great . . . You can’t believe how much energy that can disperse, but just screaming, screaming, like really scream until you’re losing your voice.
Jen: That’s great.
Amy: Then it’s like, “Okay, whew. I mean, we got through that.”
Jen: It’s true. There are some really easy levers to pull to release the pressure valve a little bit. You’re right. It’s possible.
I had a practice in my white hot season too where I had just a couple of friends, and they were, as you mentioned earlier, in-real-life friends. And we kind of just had this ongoing agreement in that season, and I said, “When I need you to come over sometimes, I need you just to sit in front of me and I’m gonna just say 1,000 things. I probably only mean half of them, but I’m just gonna say it. It’s everything in my brain. It’s all my feelings. It’s my rage. It’s all my plans for vengeance.” I mean it was just incredibly dramatic. But I said, “Just know that I don’t really mean it all, but I need the words to come out of my mouth. I need to purge them. You don’t need to fix it or talk me out of it or any of it, if you can just listen, like human ears so I know that those words have gone out and been absorbed somewhere.”
And it was unbelievably helpful just to say some of it and realize how much . . . Most of it was absurd, and the rest of it just needed to be heard. That was enough. That was enough to do it for me. “These people love me and they’ve heard me, and that weirdly feels like enough at this moment even if the whole rest of the world didn’t get to hear it or defend me.”
I would love for you just to talk . . . I know we’re almost out of time here, but if you could just talk a little bit about your family right now, because you’re in such a great season. You’re one click ahead of me. You’ve got grown kids, almost. You’ve got one left at home, right? Is she a senior?
Amy: She’s a senior.
Jen: Yep, this is it. You’re it. This is the finish line right in front of you. It’s so crazy.
Amy: I know.
Jen: If you could just talk about this season a little bit, what it’s like.
Amy: Okay, yeah. I can hear the music of Chariots of Fire playing dimly in the background.
Well, life is made up of a lot of cycles. The cycle is basically, you have a dream, you invest in that dream, the dream comes to fruition and then it’s over. Then you grieve. I mean that happens . . . That to me is the cycle of life. There are always a whole bunch of those cycles happening at one time, you know? This year I have two weddings and a graduation. I have two brides.
Jen: Oh my gosh.
Amy: I know, but all of my kids have moved back to the Nashville area. They are all, they are so unique from each other. Jenny is in her mid-30s. Matt is early 30s. Millie and Sarah are both in their late-20s. Corrina is almost 18. Things that I have started doing in the last few years is if I haven’t seen my kids in awhile, I will just send out the message, “Hey, we’re gonna have Monday night stakeout.” I will cook big meals, really good stuff. I’ll say, “Come, or come pick up a to-go bag.” So right now I try to create opportunities for us to spend time together.
Then the other thing is, I do a lot of silent prayer for my kids because I don’t know what’s going on in their lives, not really. I wasn’t telling my mom the nitty gritty. But I will do sometimes is I will just stand in a quiet place and I’ll put my palms face up, and I’ll just picture my children. I’ll picture their faces. I’ll picture their significant others. I might, just whatever. I don’t even know how to put words to it because I don’t know what they’re going through in a day. But anything—I just picture them and I’ll just pray the phrase, “Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and has become.
But to me, this is the freest kind of prayer because I know I’m not slowed down by my words, and it makes me feel incredibly connected to whatever they’re doing.
Especially when I’m feeling out of touch with my kids, rather than go, “Oh my gosh, I’m out of touch with my kids,” or, “They don’t care about my input,” or whatever wah-wah-wah thing, I just go, “Nothing is stopping you from empowering them in a substantial way spiritually.”
It’s gotten to the point that I . . . I really see this as the bigger work, and of course they make choices at every turn that are not the choices that I would’ve made. I’m from a different generation, and all of their choices are different, but that’s freeing too.
Jen: Oh my God.
Amy: But I will tell you, I had that impulse, the first time I really felt the power of that was on a celebration trip that Vince took me on my 50th birthday. I was on the other side of the ocean, and I felt so far away from my children. The moon was just coming up. I was on a hillside. I was by myself and I just said, “Am I really this far away? Is there a way that I could feel connected to my children forever, even from here? Is it possible?” It was the first time I ever felt led to just turn my palms up and pray for them just with pictures.
Jen: You gonna make it when the kid goes to college? Do you feel good? You’ve done this a lot of times. You’re not a novice.
Amy: No, this is the only child that I didn’t parent through middle and high school not in the wake of incredible guilt.
Jen: Yeah, just the timing.
Amy: So this has been, it’s been unique, for better or for worse. She probably had the healthiest version of a mother, but everybody else just got what they got.
Jen: Totally. That’s what me and Brandon say. “Look, folks. This is it. We’re your parents, I’m sorry. This is as good as it gets really at this point.”
My oldest is 20, and then I have freshman in college too. She’s 18. It’s just . . . I keep looking around like, “Does somebody think I can handle this? Does somebody know that I know what I’m doing here? What are the rules? I have no idea.” But it is an adventure. It is an adventure, and I hope I’m talking like you are in a few years, able to sort out how to stay connected and how to stay present, how to give advice, how to sometimes not give advice. I just . . . Please keep talking about parenting adults, because there’s so many of us like, “Who will help us? Who will help us get through this weirdness?”
Okay, listen. I’m gonna ask you three very quick questions. We are asking every guest in the music series these questions, and just whatever, top of your head.
So when you are down, when you need a pick me up, who do you put on your record player, what artist?
Amy: Keb Mo, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin.
Jen: Oh yeah, that’s so good. That’s a no fail answer right there.
Okay, how about this one? Do you still have a musical bucket item on your list, anything? A venue, a collaborator, a partner, anything that you haven’t done musically that you’d still love to do?
Amy: I would like to write with a few people whose music I’ve admired. I’m not even sure how to . . . I’m not sure how to get there, but yeah.
Jen: Well we wanna know who that is. Put it into the world, and let’s see what we can make happen.
Amy: Oh, I love that. “Put it into the world.”
Jen: Who do you love? Who are the people that you’re watching going, “I’d love to collaborate with you?”
Amy: I would love . . . I’d love to collaborate song writing with James Taylor.
Jen: Oh, well gosh.
Amy: And also with Natalie Hemby.
Amy: Yeah. I’ve known both of them for a long time, but it’s different to invite yourself into someone’s creative world, especially when you’re already very successful. I mean, they are both very successful. So, you don’t want to glom onto somebody, and so I probably would wait to be asked, honestly.
Jen: Well I do wanna tell you something that it appears that you don’t know. I would like you to know that you are very successful. That might come as a surprise to you, but these are actually your peers. So this is not a weird ask, they’d probably fall over. So we as America demand these partnerships, and so I’m signing my name at the bottom of this request, and I can’t wait to see if those both materialize.
Okay, here’s the last one. This is a question we ask every guest every series. It’s from Barbara Brown Taylor, one of her books, and I love her so much. This can be your answer however you want it to be. It can be a really serious thing. It can be really silly. It can be really huge. It can be really tiny, so whatever you want it to be. But her question is, what is saving your life right now?
Amy: What is saving my life right now? Oh my gosh.
Jen: Oh, I know.
Amy: I mean, I’m thinking several things at one time. The first thing that came to my mind was creativity on all levels.
Jen: Oh, that’s good.
Amy: Creativity saves my life every day, and it can be what’s the latest adventure at our farm, how are those dots connecting. That’s a whole ‘nother story that is my happy place.
Corrina walks in and says, “What’s for dinner?” I forgot it was dinner time, and then the chaos of going, “Oh hang on two seconds. I’ll tell you.” Then I throw an onion in the skillet with some olive oil and it smells great and she goes, “Oh that’s fantastic.” I’m trying to think of something. Then the other thing is . . . Two other things. Can I say two other things?
Jen: Oh, please.
Amy: One is the steady, constant affirmation I get from my husband Vince.
Jen: That’s very dear.
Amy: His first language is music, and so that is . . . He doesn’t necessarily want to get down and dirty talking through the details of everything like I do. I mean, I kind of see the glaze go over his eyes, so I find other people to talk through all the details with. But he is very . . . He is constantly encouraging. I’m getting ready to not see him for a month because of his tour and being overseas, and I just . . . The absence of his presence I will feel every day.
The other thing is, in 2019, I am reading . . . I have not managed to do it every day, but I’m trying to do it most days, of just reading the Red Words.
Jen: Okay, my favorites.
Amy: Just the Red Words. Sometimes you don’t even get context for the story, but only the Red Words. I mean, yes I believe the Bible’s inspired, but people are messy. Even the apostles are messy, prophets, everybody’s messy. So do I trust human nature? No, but neither did Jesus. So I’m just bypassing all of the primarily . . . So, just the Red Words.
Jen: I love that. What a great practice. I mean that’s the one guy we can count on. Those are the words we can hang our hat on for sure. So what a wonderful 2019 resolution. That’s fabulous.
So I just want to tell you thank you for a thousand things. Thank you for who you have been to us for a really long time and how much your work, your music, your creativity, but also your life has mattered to so many of us. I mean, I just, you couldn’t possibly ever know the scope of it. You gave us a lot of language around God and faith and ourselves, and life and relationships when we needed it. You sang us through.
So, I may thank you for the way that you’ve lived your life with such integrity and such honesty. It’s hopeful to me. It’s a relief and it’s a joy to watch and to see and to witness, to see such a long term life of faithfulness and recovery and mending and healing and then joy and laughter. It’s just wonderful. You’re just so important to so many of us. So thank you for being who you are. Thanks for coming on the show today too, because you are very, very beloved in my community, so everyone’s gonna go bonkers.
Amy: Thank you, thank you. Thanks for the gift of all those kind words.
Jen: You’re welcome.
Amy: This is fun. I’m glad we’re alive at the same time.
Jen: Me too.
Amy: Thanks, Jen.
Jen: That was just cute and fun, right? Right? I loved that interview. I love her. I loved all those stories. Oh, that was so great. What I want you to know is I normally have my podcast interviews pretty charted out. My team, Laura my producer and her team, we do a lot of research on all of our guests, and we’re really careful about the questions that we pick. This one we just went all over the place. I sort of . . . I asked a couple of questions I had planned, but then we just . . . The train just went wherever it wanted to go, and I am so happy that it did, because I enjoyed that conversation so much. I hope that you did too.
Amy Grant’s just a treasure to me for sure, and I know to so many of us. So this music series is just bomb. I just love it, to me it’s so fun. It’s so fun. It’s just such a fun job. I’m lucky.
Thanks for tuning in. We’ve got more, more to come that you’re really gonna enjoy. I promise. Thanks for listening. Thanks for your great ideas and your feedback. Thank you for subscribing. That’s so good for podcasts. If you haven’t done it, just pop over and give a quick subscribe wherever you listen. That’s just fabulous for us and it just, this podcast will just show up in your phone. You have to do zero work week in and week out. It just archives it for you, so it’s so easy to manage.
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On behalf of Laura and crew and Amanda and I, we are just so delighted to bring you this show week in and week out. We just work so hard on it because it’s a joy for us and we love bringing you some of the most amazing and interesting and fascinating people we can find.
Thanks for tuning in you guys, and see you next week!
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!