I grew up on Steven Curtis Chapman. I loved his song “Live Out Loud” and was convinced that he was a winner of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire because of it. Years have gone by, but I can still recognize his voice anywhere, and his music continues to bless me. And now his story does, too.
You might know already that the Chapmans lost one of their dear daughters in an accident a few years ago. I was so saddened when I heard the news, but I never expected that little Maria would touch my life, that God would use her so greatly. How is that possible? Because the Chapman family shares her story. They openly grieve, openly question, openly still believe in all that God promises. I am still amazed and inspired by them.
Steven’s album Beauty Will Rise is a collection of songs written during the first year without his daughter, in the middle of his deep sorrow, in one of the darkest places I can imagine. The most inspiring part of the album is the overall theme and tone: HOPE. Hope that the pain won’t last forever, that there is purpose even in the dark, that God will remain constant. I have shed a few tears listening to it– sometimes for him and his family, sometimes because a song has spoken to me personally. You’ve probably heard “Heaven Is the Face”, one of my favorites; my other favorites include “Beauty Will Rise”, “Questions”, “Jesus Will Meet You There”, and “Spring is Coming”, but all of them have touched me. I don’t want to share on the stories behind them, because Mr. Chapman was gracious enough to do so along with the lyrics in the cd jacket, but I’ll give you a little glimpse of what the songs have meant to me.
“Heaven Is the Face” speaks to me of patience. It’s a peek into the desire to go to Heaven not someday but NOW, which I have felt countless times. The ending is a tearful declaration: God, I know/ it’s so much more than I can dream/ It’s far beyond anything I can conceive/ So God, you know/ I’m trusting You until I SEE/ Heaven in the face of my little girl/. Like the title of another of his songs says, we “Just Have to Wait.” Heaven is real; someday we’ll be there, where every lonely heart finds their One True Love/ there’s no more “good-bye”, no more “not enough”/ and there’s no more enemy/. “Beauty Will Rise”, the title track and main anthem, reminds us of the incredible truth that Jesus makes goodness and beauty come from our ruins. No matter what we have, no matter how small or hopeless it seems, He will make something out of it. Out of these ashes, beauty will rise/ and we will dance among the ruins/ we will SEE with our own eyes/. Ashes are pretty final; what can anyone do with ashes, right? Jesus uses things just like them, small and completely useless. He changes them; He makes things come from them that you would never expect. Buried deep beneath/ all our broken dreams, we have this hope/. “Questions” is a song that I’ve prayed more than once. It’s so honest; it asks questions that I think everyone has thought before, but never voiced or really dared to ask. I love the line: You know that I’m afraid to ask these questions/ but You know they are there/ and if You know my heart the way that I believe You do/ You know that I believe in You/. It ends not with knowing all the answers, but trusting that God has them and that He will act on our behalf because of them. “Jesus Will Meet You There” is gorgeous in both sound and lyric. It brings the assurance that Whatever road this life takes you down/ Jesus will meet you there/ He knows the way to wherever you are/ He knows the way to the depths of your heart/ He knows the way, ’cause He’s already been where you’re going/. Finally, “Spring is Coming” is a song that I clung to last year, in the midst of a “winter.” All you need is that one line: SPRING IS COMING/. Don’t let go of the hope; it’s just about here/.
Not only has Steven shown us how to honestly cling to Jesus in the middle of pain, but his wife, Mary Beth, has opened her heart to us as well. Her book Choosing to SEE, written with the help of Ellen Vaughn, is one of the best books I’ve read. Really. It absolutely captivated me. Within the first chapter, I felt like Mrs. Chapman was a friend over for tea telling me about herself; by the end, I almost felt like I knew the Chapmans personally. I laughed out loud and I sobbed on the floor. I cannot imagine anyone reading Choosing to SEE without being impacted.
The book begins (and is interlaced) with Mary Beth’s personal story: memories from growing up, when her understanding of grace and her relationship with Jesus became real, how she and Steven met and fell in love, the growth of their family, what led up to the adoptions of each of their girls, the founding of Show Hope, the list goes on. The underlying theme in each story is that Mary Beth had planned her life but ultimately God had way different, way better ideas for her. It made me look at my own life and all the things I never thought I would see, experience, or make it through. He is writing me a story, a page-turner, a best-selling masterpiece of a life! When times are tough, I need to look at it as an exciting part of the book. He knew I’d end up there, and He knows all the different adventures my story will have in it. I need to be enjoying this story, knowing God is an excellent writer and He will be with me so I make it to the end! Mary Beth takes you not only into her stories, but into her heart during those times– she shares her struggle with depression and the faithfulness that God has shown her in the midst of it. The book would be inspiring and interesting it if ended right there. But it doesn’t.
Around the middle of the book, Mary Beth revisits some of the most painful days of her life. I am amazed at her bravery and strength in sharing the story, and completely blown away by every family member. When I read the chapter that retells the accident, I had to set the book down three or four times. I don’t usually cry because of books, and if I do, I only tear up. Not this time. I sobbed– red eyes, runny nose, sore stomach, all of it. Multiple times. I cannot imagine the pain that the Chapmans suffered, if simply reading about it hurt me so much. The rest of the book is full of grieving, crying, loving– and worshiping. They do it all together, still leaning on God, still full of love and hope. Choosing to SEE is an amazing journey, and the best part is that, while it hasn’t yet ended for them, they already know the ending, that it’s a sweet one. I will be reading this book many more times before my life is through.
If you’re living in a season of grief and hardship, the Chapmans can help you keep your heart and mind in the right place. But even if you aren’t, you will be moved, inspired, and convicted by their story.