On Grief, Depression and Wrestling with God
Mary Beth Chapman Opens Up about Life's Challenges
February 20, 2011 - Three years ago, a little girl asked Jesus into her heart and just three months later, she went to be with Him in His "big, big house." Her mother's book details the story of both days, how she dealt with losing her daughter, and other self-described "wrestling matches" with God.
In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
by Janet Chismar
The morning of February 20, 2008, began like any other in the Chapman household. “The alarm went off at 6 a.m.,” Mary Beth recalls, “the snooze button got pushed until 6:20, and then we were all running late.”
But within a few hours, the day would turn into something extraordinary and eternal because February 20, 2008, was the day that little Maria Chapman asked Jesus to live in her heart.
“Mom, is it true that God has a big, big house?” she asked. “Yes,” replied Mary Beth. “It’s true!” From there, mother and daughter discussed what heaven was like and Maria said she wanted to know if she could go there. Mary Beth retrieved her husband, Steven Curtis, who promptly explained the Gospel as best he could to a four year old. Maria then asked Jesus to live in her heart and "take her to God’s big, big house" when it was time.
"We could never have imagined … she’d be going there so soon.”
That lyric, from the Steven Curtis Chapman song, “February 20th,” on Beauty Will Rise captures the bittersweet beauty of that day, as does Mary Beth’s book, Choosing to SEE. Each parent has birthed a work of love in memory of Maria Sue Chapman, who was killed in a horrible accident on May 21, 2008.
Along with describing how she dealt with the aftermath of her daughter’s death, Mary Beth wrote about struggles from her childhood, how she dealt with marriage and children at a very young age, and her own journey with depression. The book takes you on a personal, transparent and emotionally compelling ride inside the lives of one of Christian music’s most public families.
During a phone interview a few months ago, Mary Beth discussed why she felt compelled to reveal so many personal details when she admittedly prefers to “nest at home with her kids” and gets so nervous about speaking in front of people, she feels like she could pass out. I’ll let you read her own words from that conversation—about her wrestling match with God, and how the book brought healing.
Q:/ What finally prompted you—a self-described introvert—to take this step forward and write the book?
A:/ After losing Maria, we had been approached about a book, but I never felt comfortable writing just the story of Maria. With Steven doing music for 23-plus years now, we had already been approached several times. We wondered, “Is it the right time to write the story of us or the biography?” and we’d actually almost headed down that road a couple of times. But then something would happen or it just didn’t feel right and we stopped.
I’m not big on journaling, but after the accident, I began blogging some of the questions and the pain and some of the bad days. That was fairly easy because it was a stream of consciousness that flowed out of me—I can type as quickly as I can think.
From that, a lot of people started responding and that’s when I was approached about writing this story. Steven and I would pray, “Is it time for me to write the story from my perspective of growing up and then marrying a musician?” At that time, I had given a speech to a church north of town and the working title was “Mary Beth’s Wrestling Match with God” and it ended up that’s where the book proposal came from.
As I was writing, I realized that there were places where God didn’t quite show up the way I thought He was going to, and how badly I needed to help Him and become the fourth member of the Trinity! I thought I had to help Him figure out that He was not doing my life the way that I had intended for it to be. So out of that came this, “Maybe I could offer comfort to those who are not just suffering the loss of a child but all kinds of loss, all kinds of pain.” You know, I’ve been through a lot in my 45 years and so that’s kind of where it’s all birthed from.
Q:/ How hard was it to reveal those parts of your life, the early days?
A:/ I knew it was going to be difficult heading into it only because I tried to be as transparent and as honest as I could be. There are the parts about Maria and what our family lived through that are more like David in the Psalms. He’s just kind of spewing it all out—the good, the bad, the ugly—and it’s like, “God, where are You? God, we trust You.”
Then other parts of the book, like when I was abused in high school, it’s a little more guarded yet I felt like I needed to talk about it. It’s more like Paul where you clearly know that he considered himself the chief of sinners and had this thorn in the flesh that obviously kept driving him back to Christ, but he was a little more protected about that story. It took me on this journey of, "How much do I say here?” I want to definitely be able to help people and show them my pain, show them why I am who I am, and what God has brought me through and delivered me from.
I’m no stranger to counseling. Steven and I are quite honest about the holy wedlock and holy headlock! From the get go, we realized we better have a real good preventative maintenance program in place. But this particular journey sent me all over the country to different counselors, different people who could really help talk to me about specific things, and authors who had written about depression before, who had written about sexual abuse before. I asked them, “How do I do this book and how can I work through it myself?” I tell people all the time, when I got into doing the book, it was like my mind had a lot of this stuff kind of tucked neatly away in my Tupperware.
But then I began burping the Tupperware lid and all of a sudden, the next thing I know, the lid’s off and everything is just kind of oozing out of it. It was a good process for me to go back and work through some things that I really thought I had already worked through. It was a deeply painful, yet purging, yet healing experience for me. Not just about Maria, but about everything in the past.
Q:/ What did God show you at the end of the process?
A:/ When I finally put the finishing touches on it and sent the last thing off to the publisher, I felt like God just whispered to my soul really quietly: “You needed to do this for yourself. There were some things that you needed to confront and face and have people help you work through, and learn how to write about it, and talk about it. The book I needed you to write is now tucked away on your shelf and what I do with it from there, I will do, and you were obedient to do your part.”
I’m very grateful that I did it. It wasn’t easy at all, but it really has helped heal in some areas, not completely in others, but it has given me kind of a road map now to go on. I’m still journeying in this part of my life and I’m still working on this part, and it’s still in process. Until we’re in heaven, I won’t be a completely finished product, but God has shown me so much in doing it and hopefully, in return, it will bless other people.
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