The Journey of Grief
About the Guest
May 21, 2008, changed their lives forever. But it didn’t change their faith. Today Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman talk about walking with God after losing their daughter Maria in a tragic accident.
May 21, 2008, changed their lives forever. But it didn’t change their faith.
Bob: It’s about time that Steven gets relegated to the corner.
Steven: I’m saying … I’m just saying…
Bob: Push him back and let’s just talk to Mary Beth!
Steven: That’s right! I will just be over here strumming my guitar if you need me.
Mary Beth: We need background music
Steven: That’s right. I should provide some.
Dennis: Well, they have been married for over 26 years. They have six children and their accomplishments are too numerous to mention here. Mary Beth has put, I think, maybe their greatest accomplishment, which is surviving a tragedy, in a book called Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope.
I was like Bob, Mary Beth. I was struck by your honesty especially in telling the story of what happened on May 21, 2008. Before we tell that story though, there had been a number of almost storybook things happen in the days prior to that. I was amazed—it was like you guys were living in a—obviously, as you’ve shared earlier, it wasn’t a bubble…
Mary Beth: Right.
Dennis: You’ve had struggles in your marriage, and we all know what it’s like to raise a family in this culture. You were in a kind of glowing moment as a family because you were anticipating some very important things.
Mary Beth: Yes. We were graduating our oldest son Caleb from high school. Maria had just celebrated her fifth birthday, and the two littlest ones had graduated. Maria and Stevey Joy had a pre-school graduation and were headed to kindergarten. Right after that—our daughter, who we knew was going to be swept away for the weekend to become engaged to be married. That happened on May 17, so we were at a really great place.
You know our son knew he probably had an impending engagement coming because he had been dating his elementary sweetheart. That’s what we say. They have been together since about the fourth grade. It was just that we were in a really sweet place of life. We had just on the 20th of May, the day before the accident, went and picked out Emily’s wedding gown.
So, we were just—you know—a mom’s dream because it was my first born—so it’s the first wedding. So, yes, a lot of really great stuff was happening.
Dennis: Steven, what were you doing on May 21st? I mean, it was a normal day for your family. You guys were just hanging out?
Steven: Yes. Like Mary Beth said, we had turned the dining room into “wedding central.” I was actually writing some music. I had decided one of my gifts to Emily would be for me to write original music for her to walk down the aisle to and for the bridesmaids to come down the aisle. So, it was a great day. It was a day; we were—everything was looking forward to this real day of celebration coming.
Bob: This was down time for you? You weren’t touring; you weren’t recording; and you just had a little time off?
Steven: Yes.The boys had been out withbecause that’s the year they had taken off of school. They had taken off the year to travel and tour with me. So, yes, we just kind of finished up. We had wrapped up the tour for some down time. Actually, we had just come back from China. We had been in China for a couple of weeks.
Mary Beth: …Two weeks.
Mary Beth: Leading up to that to do the tour.
Steven: Yes, I had done a tour there with the boys. I had done four different cities in China, which was a remarkable amazing time we just had come back from. We were in China May the 12th. We were sitting in the Shang Hoi Airport May 12,2008, which is when the devastating Chinese earthquake hit. We heard reports. Friends called and said, “Are you guys okay? There was just an earthquake there.” We didn’t feel it. We got on the flight—flew home from Shang Hoi.
We got home on the evening of the 12th, I think. It was the day before Maria’s fifth birthday which was May 13. Even as we were celebrating her birthday, we were hearing all the reports of the terrible earthquake in China. So, we had even been praying for the people of China. That is another memory of that time because really our hearts were heavy even with all the joy we were experiencing, of praying for our friends in China that had lost so much.
Dennis: That bubble was interrupted, dramatically.
Steven: Yes. We wrestle a lot with this. We have wrestled with how much of the day to tell and the actual events of the day. I watched my wife really, really struggle through telling this story.
Bob: In the end, Mary Beth, you decided to tell the story very transparently.
Mary Beth: Yes. I decided because of knowing that God had confirmed to Steven and I that I would write the book. I knew this question would come up so much in such a painful experience that it was important for me to be able to articulate it because I wanted to honor my son and I wanted to honor Maria’s death because of all the things that God would do through that ultimate suffering. It was a very painful experience to just kind of navigate through that.
I would go back through it and change—back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. At the end of the day and when all the edits were finally finished, I said, “Okay, now the situation is I sit with my son and we read these chapters together and make sure that everything is as it should be.” We feel like, with Will Franklin’s permission, it’s the version that needs to be told; and it’s told in the book.
The retelling of it—I was fearful, with all the interviews and with all the things I would be talking about, that it would become this thing that I would just go on “automatic pilot.” I wanted it to be right, and I wanted it to be as honoring to her as it could be and as honoring to my son.
Bob: Did you fell as you were writing it like you were almost detached from it and you were being clinical with it—like it had happened to someone else and not to you?
Marybeth: Not really, that’s what I think what the painful part was. I relived it, and I relived it, and I relived it. It got to the point that I thought it was, “Okay, I’m still not finished with it so I get to relive this accident again today.” It’s the part I wrote first. I said, “We need to really concentrate on this first. I want to get this section of the book finished.” So, then I could concentrate on going back and kind of reliving some of the stories.
It was kind of important for me when they approached me about the book that it wasn’t just a story of Maria. That it wasn’t that the Chapman’s have this charmed life and then “Wham!” this horrible thing happened because we have been blessed beyond measure—blessed beyond measure—with so many opportunities and so many awesome things and the journey that we’ve been on together for the last 25 years.
It’s not been all charmed and all it’s cracked up to be. There has been struggle all along. I said, “I feel it’s important that from a mother’s perspective, from a mom’s perspective, from a wife’s perspective, that I’m able to tell the story, the entire story of the struggle and the hope. Thus the whole story.”
Dennis: One of the parts that I thought it took a lot of courage for you to write: It was the scene beside the grave when you told Steven to go on back to the limo while you sat there with Will. You said something to him—it’s powerful. I mean, I’ve been beside a grave like this—not the same obviously. Would you rather me read your words?
Marybeth: Yes. (In a whisper)
Dennis: You turned to Will and you said, “There are no words for this. This is as hard as it gets; but I promise you one thing right here by your sister’s grave. It’s going to be a long, long journey that won’t end until we get to heaven; but it’s going to be okay.” That’s really a picture of life.
Dennis: We don’t want to admit that, you know? Life is not a Hollywood movie that has a good ending—that has this warm, fuzzy-feeling ending. It’s filled with a lot of tragic endings; but at the end, if you know Christ, and that’s what was reflected in your statement here: At the end of the story, after numerous chapters, it is going to be okay. I just felt like your words to your son couldn’t have been better stated—couldn’t have been more profound.
Mary Beth: I think that the heart of a mom—God gave supernatural understanding and strength because in dealing on both levels—because if you can remove yourself and pretend or imagine that Maria was struck by a stranger, it’s almost easier to go to that place of anger or forgiveness. You just got to picture it differently; or picture poor Will Franklin, where he accidently struck someone else’s childyou would be all consumed with that.
For me—Steven and our family—it was both. I think that only the supernatural filling of the Holy Spirit can give you the strength at that time. Obviously, during those days and moments, you are filled with adrenaline and all the scientific stuff that goes on, but I do believe that God gives you. It was very clear and very important to communicate to Will Franklin for a number of reasons. He and I have always been super-close; but obviously, he loved that little girl. He needed to know that it’s going to be okay. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be okay.
Bob: To be both a grieving mom and a ministering mom simultaneously…
Dennis: She did it one more time, Bob. Let me read one more section that I was drawn to. You said, “One day the girls were crying about missing Maria. They said it was so hard and you just gently put your arms around them,” and you did it again, Mary Beth. You said, “Girls, God has asked us to do hard. It really stinks, and I wish that we didn’t have to; but this is what our family has been called to. If we stick together, we can do hard.”
Bob: To be able to do that, you have to have a reservoir of strength that is beyond your own, don’t you?
Marybeth: Absolutely, yes. I don’t know, without the hope that we have of seeing Maria again and watching this whole thing be redeemed and all the stories that will be told and made right and we will see the perfectness of it, I don’t know what a grieving parent, a grieving mom, a grieving grandfather, grandmother does with that loss because it’s really, really hard still—so hard—two years removed. The questions still come; the counseling still happens, and all of that.
Dennis: Steven, I am looking at Mary Beth here; and through the tears, there really is the glory of God. There is a light in her eyes. There is life there. You’ve seen a thousand of these moments as you’ve watched her counsel your kids, provide those moments of clarification.
You have to be incredibly proud of Mary Beth and how she has gone through this process and how she has come out of the other end hoping in God. Earlier we talked about her saying she had to ride your coat tails. I have to believe there have been points where you have been on her coat tails.
Steven: Absolutely! When we were in the hospital at Vanderbilt University, we huddled around in this state of absolute shock and just moments of knowing what we thought was probably the case but dealing with the reality in those first moments that Maria had been carried away in the arms of Jesus. At that moment, one of our prayers was, “God, if one of our children is being taken from us at this moment, please don’t let us lose two,” because we knew Will was walking on such a line of despair—as we all were.
I just always remember my wife, as we huddled together and we prayed, and I had Will—I had him and I was just kind of over him—almost just covering him physically. I remember I had him in my chest and I was just covering him and in some ways feeling like I was holding back the enemy, the grief, and the guilt, and all of that. I was just praying with every breath.
I remember hearing my wife say, “Guys, I don’t know anything about where we are going; but as a mom, I know this destroys many families. The enemy has come. This thief has come to kill and destroy. He will not destroy our family over this.”
Over and over again to see my wife live committed to that—to speak those words of comfort to our girls, to our sons, to me as we have journeyed through this. I am blessed over and over again—a blessed man to have seen the glory of God, to have seen faith lived out. I have seen it lived out in my wife.
I say it as I’ve done Women of Faith Conferences; and I say, “I am married to the greatest woman of faith.” I know my wife immediately throws her hands up and says, “No! I am messed up; I’m this; I’m that; I’m this; I’m that,” but I have watched my wife walk the journey of faith in adoption. Contrary to all of her emotions, all of her questions to say, “God, I trust you. I am going to follow you.”
Steven: I’ve watched her walk through this valley of the shadow of death. I’ve walked through, holding her hand, but watching in amazement. She has said, “God, I do not understand—I don’t get this—but I do trust You and we will do what You have called us to.” I am proud, in awe, and I see the glory of God in her. I am so blessed to walk through this with her.
Dennis: You wish there was a different route. Oh my goodness! You wish there were a different route than through the valley you had been taken through.
Mary Beth: Yes. I would like to have detoured that one.
Dennis: Yes, give me the detour…Give me the detour. No one can say they enjoy that kind of tragedy; but you have done life well and you continue even though it’s hard, Mary Beth, to do it extremely well.
Bob: Not only have you walked the journey faithfully, but you have opened your life up to shine light on the path for others who find themselves having to walk down the same path or who can learn more about God through what you have experienced. I appreciate the time and effort, the transparency that has gone into writing the book, Choosing to SEE, which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
If our listeners are interested in a copy, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information; or they can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and we can get a copy of the book sent to you. Again, the website FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask about the book Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman.
We want to let our listeners know about something that we are teaming-up on: Show Hope, which is the ministry that Steven and Mary Beth have started to help people with adoption, along with Focus on the Family, and FamilyLife’s Hope for Orphans Ministry, and other groups. We are all teaming up to draw attention to the plight of the orphan and to how we, as a church, can respond. The weekend of November 5, 6 and 7—that is Orphan Sunday Weekend.
Together the partnership is working to produce a one-hour webcast that is available for churches or groups to use. You can get more information when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. The webcast is going to be hosted, by the way, by Francis and Lisa Chan. We are excited about that. Again, more information about the Orphan Sunday Weekend webcast can be found online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the Orphan Sunday link you find on our website, and that will take you where the information you need can be found.
Now, in addition, if you can help us with a donation this week of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we would love to send you as a thank-you gift—Steven Curtis Chapman’s music CD called Beauty Will Rise, where you have poured out your heart and given us some powerful songs in response to what you have walked through here.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation. Type the word “CHAPMAN” in the key code box on the donation form. We will send you a copy of Steven’s music CD Beauty Will Rise, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone. Request a copy of Steven Curtis Chapman’s music CD Beauty Will Rise, and we will be happy to send it out to you.
Let me just say we appreciate your support of the ministry. We are listener-supported, and we depend on folks like you to make it possible. So, “Thanks,” in advance for whatever you’re able to do in support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Just before we wrap up today, I want to make sure our listeners are aware of a special opportunity that we are making available to FamilyLife Today listeners. It is only good for the rest of this week and next week.
As some of you know, next February, Dennis and Barbara, my wife Mary Ann and me, and Crawford and Karen Loritts, and the music groups Selah, and Big Daddy Weave, and Point of Grace, Kirk Cameron and his wife, Shaunti Feldhahn and her husband—all of us are going together on the “Love Like You Mean It” marriage cruise.
It leaves on South Florida on Valentine’s morning. We go for a week to the Bahamas and Coco Cay. It’s going to be a fun week onboard the cruise.
We are starting to fill up, and we wanted to make sure our FamilyLife Today listeners had an opportunity to be with us for the cruise. We worked it out so that this week and next week, if you will sign up to come along with us Valentine’s week of 2011—you sign up this week or next week—and you can get your stateroom at half price. It’s a buy one; get one free. You sign up and you pay for yourself, and your spouse comes free.
You can get all the details when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the “Love Like You Mean It” cruise link there. In order to take advantage of this offer for FamilyLife Today listeners, when you see the promo code box up on the registration form, just type my name “BOB.” Automatically you will be recognized as a FamilyLife Today listener, and you will be able to take advantage of this special offer this week and next week for FamilyLife Today listeners. We hope you can come along. It’s going to be a great week. We are looking forward to it; and we’d love to meet you on the FamilyLife “Love Like You Mean It” marriage cruise sailing from South Florida next February. All the details are online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now tomorrow, let me encourage you to be back with us again. Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman are going to be here, and we will continue to hear about the journey that God has had them on since the tragic death of their daughter Maria. I hope you can tune for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team.
On behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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