Family Comes Together on Steven Curtis Chapman's New Tour
- 2010 10 Sep
For more than twenty years Steven Curtis Chapman has been cranking out best-selling albums and number one hits, a career many a songwriter could only dream of.
He has long been Christian music's golden boy, the wholesome guy from Kentucky who had it all: platinum and gold-selling records, a beautiful family, and so many awards and award nominations they fill six single-spaced pages when listed on paper. It would've been easy to attribute his love for God to his abundant prosperity. I mean, who wouldn't sing about how great God is when they had as much as he did?
And then, everything changed.
On May 21, 2008, the Chapmans' daughter, Maria (the youngest of three girls they adopted from China) was accidentally hit by an SUV driven by her brother. It was a horrific accident that claimed her life.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the last thing Chapman thought about was writing songs. "The first few days and weeks you just don't know what you're going to do," he says. "You know it's going to redefine your life, but you don't know what that means. You wonder, 'Am I ever going to write songs again? Will I ever feel like it's appropriate to sing 'The Great Adventure' or 'Dive' again? You can't even begin to think through it."
Fortunately, he didn't have to. His wife, Mary Beth Chapman, gave him a journal and told him he just needed to write. It was there that he began to archive the questions and the heartbreak that had been pouring out of him. Still unsure about whether or not he could ever play music again, he kept the songs mostly to himself. Now, more than two years later, Chapman is sharing them with the world on Beauty Will Rise, a full-length studio project that is arguably his most compelling to date. Much like a collection of modern day psalms, Chapman's songs plunge the depth of his sorrow but also chronicle his steadfast hope. He makes no attempt to soften the magnitude of the gut-wrenching questions he was asking after his daughter died. In "Questions," he cries:
You know that I believe in You/But still I have these questions/ Like how could You, God?/How could You be so good and strong /And make a world that can be so painful/And where were You God? /I know You had to be right there…
The days and months after the accident were filled with a plethora of questions, questions that had no apparent answers. Chapman, the man who had been singing for years about his belief in God's goodness, found himself faced with nothing less than a supreme struggle of faith. "When you get to that point," says Chapman, "you really are saying, 'Please, let this be the last time I close my eyes this side of heaven. When I wake up, I just want to be there. In some moments there were even fleeting thoughts of wanting to speed that up, because I just didn't know how I was gonna survive this."
But then the convictions and principles that he had built his life—and his career—on kicked in. "You start saying, 'this will make us stronger; we're gonna hold on together as a family. We know this is devastating to marriages and families, but we will not be destroyed by this,'" says Chapman.
"You know it, you believe it in faith, but grief takes you to such a lonely place. [One night] we're laying in bed, and my wife's crying on one side, and I'm on the other side crying and wanting to know how to meet her in the grief that she's struggling with in that moment. Anything I say sounds like trying to put a spiritual band-aid on an open wound."
"I can't fix it," he continues. "As a guy, everything in me is screaming, 'Fix it! Fix your wife, fix the pain!' And you know, I can't even fix it for myself. All I can do is lay there and say, 'God I trust you. I don't understand. I don't know how we're going to survive.'"
As you've probably gathered from the title of the album, the Chapmans did survive, or rather, they are surviving. But that's not all they're doing. It has been a very long journey through grief and despair, and yet much like the seasons change, they can sense that some of the heaviness is lifting. In one of the more hopeful songs on the album, aptly titled, "Spring is Coming," Chapman sings:
Hear the birds start to sing /Feel the life in the breeze /Watch the ice melt away/ The kids are coming out to play/Feel the sun on your skin/Growing strong and warm again/Watch the ground/There's something moving/Something is breaking through/New life is breaking through…
In many ways the song is like a resurrection anthem, a decision to live again despite the hardships they've endured. "Our lives will never be the same, and they shouldn't ever be the same," reflects Chapman. "Part of the way we'll honor our daughter and her memory is to live differently until we see her again. But differently isn't all going to be hard and bad and painful."
Indeed, one of the most beautiful things that has come out of the family's tragedy is Maria's Big House of Hope, a 60,000 square foot, six-floor medical facility that serves special needs orphans in Luoyang, China. The "healing house" provides care for orphans who are in desperate need of surgery or special care. In addition to helping kids heal, they also help terminal patients die with dignity. One such orphan spent his last hours in Chapman's arms. "There was really no help for him, remembers Chapman, "and he otherwise would've passed away in a corner of a room, alone, probably left to die. He stayed in a state-run institution where there are so many kids they can't care for. We cried, we prayed with him, and at one point our little seven year-old, Stevie Joy, came up and whispered something in his ear. Later I asked her 'What did you say to him?' She said she told him, 'You're getting ready to meet my sister. Tell her that I love her, give her a hug for me, and tell her that I'll see her soon.'"
Each of the Chapmans has processed things in their own way. For example, Mary Beth recently wrote a memoir titled Choosing to See (that, among other things, chronicles her excruciating journey through the grief of losing a child.) Caleb and Will have formed a band, Caleb, which has garnered some serious critical acclaim. Emily is back in Ireland with her husband, and has returned to school. And the youngest two? By all indications they're joyful, resilient little girls.
On September 10, Chapman and his family are embarking on a 34-city tour, which is being billed as "A Night with the Chapmans." Steven will play some of his most memorable music from the last two decades; Mary Beth (who is joining her husband on tour for the very first time) will share from the pages of her new book, and Caleb will rock the house with their unique blend of alt-rock. Some have jokingly called them the Von Chapman family singers and Steven has leaned in to it (even writing a parody to the tune of "My Favorite Things"—hear it at www.vonchap.com) But then he always has been quite the clown.
"Maria was our laughter," says Chapman. "She was the goofiest part of the Chapman family. We all waited for her to wake up and come in the room, because she was the one that was going to put a smile on your face. That's part of what we miss so much about her. But we also know we've gotta keep laughing, even if it's laughing through our tears, to keep her memory alive."
"That's been an important thing for us to come to terms with," he continues, "because for awhile you don't know if it's okay to laugh, or if it's ever going to be okay to joke around. But then all of a sudden you're hit with a memory of, 'Oh gosh. We're so sad. We're supposed to be sad.' Then you say, 'Well, we are. We're always going to be sad [about losing Maria] but we're also going to be happy, and we're going to be able to mix the two of those together. I think this tour we're doing together is a really important element of it. We're going to celebrate, we're going to laugh, and we're going to cry, and that's life. That is what life is. And we're going to let it be that."
For more information about Steven Curtis Chapman, Mary Beth Chapman, Caleb, the tour and a full list of dates, please visit www.stevencurtischapman.com.