She knew she had a deadline coming up for her first Christmas album, so the pressure was on. On a summer’s night in July of 1983, Amy Grant and her then-husband Gary Chapman, a songwriter, were driving south out of Nashville on their way to Franklin when the full moon’s light reflecting on the hillside looked almost like snow. Later that year, Grant’s first holiday record — “A Christmas Album” — came out, and the very first track was “Tennessee Christmas,” the song she and Chapman wrote on that car drive more than 35 years ago.
A lot has changed for Grant since then.
When she and Chapman divorced in 1999, the holidays were difficult. Grant told Faithwire she felt like “the guilt-burdened mother trying to make life OK with a lot of things under the Christmas tree” for her three kids.
Now married to husband Vince Gill, a country singer and songwriter in his own right with whom she has a daughter who just left for college, Grant said the pendulum has swung far in the opposite direction. “It’s less about the gifts and more just about time together,” she explained.
“Life is so short,” Grant reflected.
During the holidays, when people extend just a little more kindness and seem even slightly more open to the things of God, the six-time Grammy winner uses her music and touring to share lessons she’s learned through her faith and life experiences. And in the midst of such a divisive season in America, those lessons couldn’t come at a better time.
Grant explained the five-phase mantra she learned years ago from “a dear, old friend of mine,” the 95-year-old Jimmy Gentry, who served as an infantryman in World War II and played a key role in the liberation of Dachau, the first concentration camp established by the Nazis.
“One of my kids was going through an especially rascally stage, and I just said, ‘Oh, God, I need some help,’” Grant recalled, “and [Jimmy] said, ‘Amy, I’m gonna give you five phrases, and I want you to say these phrases as often as possible to your child.’”
Since then, Grant said she often speaks the phrases over herself as well as to those who cross her path.
When he first told her the mantra, Gentry held out five fingers. The first phrase is, “How can I help you?” After folding down his thumb, he moved to the four-word phrase, “I’m proud of you.” The three-word phrase that followed is, “I love you,” followed then by the two-word phrase, “Thank you.”
“Then the one-word phrase he made me guess, and I couldn’t guess it,” Grant said. “He said, ‘This will change everything.’ And I said, ‘I don’t even know what it is?’ And he said, ‘‘We.’ Look at the world as ‘we.’’”
“It is a divisive world,” she continued, “but I really believe what we speak, what we think — we have the ability to create the world that we step into. … I just try to operate with grace and respect and say, ‘The world immediately around me can be vastly different by how I conduct myself.’”
With that in mind, Grant uses the platform she’s been given in her life, often through music, to make an impact on those around her. And to those worried about what’s outside their control, Grant said she’s “not gonna waste a lot of energy fretting about how someone else is using their power.”
“I’m gonna use mine to include, and lift up, and speak good things,” she said. “We all have a lot more power than we realize.”
Grant’s reflection on that timeless lesson comes as she prepares for a seven-show Christmas tour with Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith and a nine-day residency with Gill at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, a show she said her husband “does for me” because of her love for the holidays. And her favorite song to sing with Gill? “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a Christmas classic she described as “flirty, and playful, and lovely.”
In addition to her upcoming shows, Grant just released her most popular Christmas projects in a limited edition vinyl box set.
Of all the songs included in the special collection, “Breath of Heaven” means the most to Grant, who remembered a moment some years back during a book signing at a Barnes & Nobles bookstore in Manhattan, when two sisters came up to her and asked if they could sing the classic Christmas song alongside her.
“I said, ‘Sure.’ They had just had a family member pass away,” Grant said. “I started singing, and I guess there was part of a choir there, and suddenly, all these parts were filled in. … It was so moving.”
For those sisters, Grant lived out her mantra: she used the power she’s been given to “lift up.” And all of it started all the way back on a summer night in 1983, when she had to meet a deadline for her very first Christmas album.