My mother loves her some Amy Grant.
Because of this, I have the entire Amy Grant canon memorized. I can sing you under the table when it comes to Amy. We listened to Amy everywhere, all the time when I was growing up. On Walkmans with big ol’ clunky headphones in the backyard and from speakers on a boombox in the house and in the tape deck of the family station wagon, Amy’s voice provided the soundtrack for most of my growing up years.
You can imagine, then, that her Home For Christmas album is one I turn to often this time of year, and not just for nostalgic reasons. I genuinely love hearing her voice sing the traditional Christmas classics, and there is one song on that album that means more to me than most: Breath of Heaven.
Wherever I am when I play that song, I can hear my mom’s trembly alto singing quietly along. And for some reason, in my memory of her singing the lyrics to this understated but powerful song, I think of hours spent with her and my youngest sister in the station wagon, driving back and forth to appointments, the way our family marked time in my childhood.
My youngest sister had her first seizure at nine months old. Life forever after that was doctor’s offices and adjusting medication and parents distracted by the turmoil of parenting a special needs child decades before the community that is the internet reached out to reassure parents that they were not alone.
There are so many things that those of us who are currently parenting little ones have access to that my parents just did not. Perhaps if they had, they might have known earlier that not only did my sister suffer from epilepsy, she also was on the autism spectrum, undiagnosed until she was an adult with Asperger Syndrome.
But they didn’t know, so they did the best they could with what was known at the time. Doctors, therapists of every variety, specialists: these were the appointments around which my mother’s world revolved, and rarely were they located in our small town in Oklahoma. So, we logged many miles together, and often we sang on the way.
This is how and why I think of my mother when I hear “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).” I think of her behind the steering wheel, eyes on the road, mumble-singing along:
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now, be with me now
I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to parent a child with special needs in the decades before we were connected by online community. Before blogs, before message boards, before Facebook groups. If you were mothering a child with needs beyond those you could meet, who held your hand and walked you through diagnosis shock and listened to your heart aches and propped you up when discouragement ran you over?
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of Your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me
Did she wonder if God had made a mistake, that she wasn’t smart enough or patient enough or strong enough to guide my youngest sister through the difficulties served up to her by life? So many questions she must have had, and so few people with whom she could talk it out.
Help me be strong. Help me be. Help me. The heart-cry of all of motherhood, perhaps felt most intensely in a time when it was starkly clear that His help was all she had. Alone and at times scared, and like Mary, confused and desperate for hope. From behind that steering wheel, she unknowingly paved a road for me, one that I would return to years later when I became a mother myself, the path that led me straight to throne room of God.
Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, Breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy