Exclusive interview with Steven Curtis Chapman
by Jenny Bennett
Think back to the beginning of your career. What was it like for you when you realized you were becoming famous in the Christian music industry?
Well, it's interesting…a guy I was in college with and sat beside in The Physics of Sound class – which I struggled miserably at – helped me a lot and was a good friend. I had been writing songs for other people and had the opportunity to make my first record. I called this guy who had started doing some management stuff and asked if he would help me. I told my wife, "I don't think this is going to be a big thing because I don't have this amazing voice, like–at that time Russ Tapp was huge and you had Sandi Patty – these great singers and I said, "I'm just kind of a singer/songwriter guy. I think I can provide for my family and I think I can do what God's called me to do, and that's as big as I'll dream at this point." I had no aspirations of winning GRAMMY awards and Dove awards and all that stuff. This friend of mine said, "No, I think you've got something really special and I think you're going to have a Gold record on the wall someday." And I just laughed at said, "You're nuts! There's just no way that's going to happen."
And so it was a really strange journey that started out very small. Even the record company didn't have huge expectations. I remember my first big arena concert at the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas and people were running to the front of the stage at the beginning when I was singing saddle up your horses and rockin' out to The Great Adventure. It kind of freaked me out, honestly. I was kind of taken aback by it and a little nervous because I thought, "God, is this right? Is this okay? Because they're really excited about it."
Looking back to your past turned out to be something of a hindrance to you when writing your most recent album.
That's true. Someone said to me the other night during a meet & greet, "I've been with you for two decades of your music." That just freaked me out! I know I've been doing this for 20 years, but two decades is a lot bigger sounding. I didn't even know I'd been alive that long!
You know, with the amazing awards that I've been so blessed and privileged to receive, that can really start to loom over you like a dark cloud and you ask yourself, how are you going to top that? The bar gets raised so high and the expectations – externally and internally – I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody does – are a factor. It's like, I gotta write a song like that but it's got to be even more creative, and then on the ministry side, I want to see a greater impact, and all that stuff.
So yes, it really did. On this album in particular, all that stuff kind of came to a head. Looking into the future was kind of freaking me out – what's happening in the music industry is changing. Christian music – like every other genre – is just turning upside down with the Internet and everything that's happening there. So analyzing that; looking over my shoulder and having the voices of the record company and different people saying, "hey do this, change that, don't do that." I call it the "paralysis of the analysis"; I think I had that disease for awhile.
But all of that is where the theme for your record, Live in This Moment, came from?
It really did. I didn't even realize it was happening. I'd written Cinderella already. That was the one I wrote not because I was trying to write a song for an album but because it just kind of came out of me. I just felt, I need to say this". For me, songwriting all began not as a way to make a living, or give the record company what they were asking for, or even the fans, but just me trying to articulate what I was going through and what was going on in my life. That's the way I process information and Cinderella was that way. So as I began to look at a theme running through the songs, I kind of felt like God was saying to me, "You're so concerned about the future and you're exhausting yourself trying to top the past." Even just to forget about the past wears you out. It's like God said, "What am I saying right now in this moment? Just be faithful to that. It may not seem hugely profound; it may be incredibly profound. That doesn't matter. Just be faithful to the moment that I've given you, the here and now, and I'll take care of the rest." And that really was freeing. That was when I felt the doors swing open and I was able to move forward and do what I needed to do.
You had already reared three beautiful children. How did you know that God wanted you to adopt three more?
It all began with our oldest daughter Emily. She's now almost 22. She was 11 at the time, and she'd taken a mission trip to Haiti with her mom. When they came back she just had this passion for helping children in the world who needed help. She'd always had that. Even when she was a little girl in Kindergarten, she would come home from school and tell us about the kids who were having trouble. She just had that sensitivity and tenderness about her.
She had been saying, "mom, you need to have another baby. I want a little sister." (She has two brothers.) And mom said, "well, that is not going to happen." We had some close friends at our church who had adopted and she was good friends with their biological daughter, so she'd watched her friend experience this and she said, "We should do just what they did and adopt!" My wife explained very quickly that she couldn't do that. So Emily started praying that her mom's heart would change about this whole adoption thing. And today, after graduating from Baylor University, she's working at Shaohannah's Hope, our organization that she really started with her prayers.
Long story short, a year after that we were in China adopting our first daughter Shaohannah. We came home and our hearts were completely changed. I heard someone say it this way and it was really perfect: When you walk through orphanages and brush up against children in need anywhere in the world, hungry, AIDS, orphans, and you combine that with God's heart for orphans as you see in scripture: James 1:27 'care for orphans'; and 'father to the fatherless' as He calls himself in the Psalms – you get those two things together and your heart gets broken, and then these little ones just crawl inside.
And for us we thought one was all we were going to adopt. But my wife started saying "Shaohannah needs a little sister. I think we could adopt another." And I was the one this time who said, "No way. We're too busy." We had started our organization by that point. But God did a work on my heart and we adopted Stevey Joy. Then I was in China for a music mission project for orphans and met a little girl named Maria in a special-needs orphanage there and just fell in love with her, and came home and told my wife and at first she said, "No way. Not gonna do it," but within a week was filling out the paperwork saying, "I can't get her off my mind and my heart and I think we're supposed to go get her." So that's how we ended up with three. It was really God's miracle.
How are you able to balance family life with life on the road?
Well, I don't. It's by the grace of God and a whole lot of trial and error; things get out of balance all the time. I'm always working with my manager to try to figure out if I'm doing too much. Am I doing enough? Sometimes my wife is feeling like this tour is too much: "It's killing me; we've got six kids now. It was okay – we could sort of do it with three – four, maybe, five…six." So the scales are always tipping back and forth. And a lot of prayer and the grace of God is really it.
I have a sense that many of your fans find great comfort in your songs. For me it's Be Still and Know. Who comforts you and from where do you draw that peace?
It sounds like a "Sunday School answer" when you say it, but God's word, more and more, is really becoming alive and becoming a comfort. The Psalms are so powerful for me to run back to and I'm so thankful that God inspired scripture to be written through men who were real people who struggled. And David, the man after God's own heart as we know him to be, and yet, one chapter he's as schizophrenic spiritually as I am. One minute he's "God, you're everything I need and I'm so at peace," and then the next he's "Where are you God? How long are you going to leave me like this all alone?" And I'm just so thankful for that because I'm comforted so much by it. And then obviously God has brought amazing friends into my life. I read yesterday a scripture about, "exhort one another daily. Encourage one another every day." And I thought, "I'm so glad that's in there because sometimes I feel like such a wimp. I'm like, I'm wearing people out with my discouragement. Every day I'm calling a friend asking them to pray with me. I was so glad when I read that because I thought, "wait a minute. It's a commandment! It's in scripture! I'm not a wimp for needing that because we're made that way. We need to encourage and exhort one another and comfort each other daily. So friendships are big. And then a great church, great people around me. And really no one more than my family. My wife and the gift that she's been, my kids and the family that God has blessed me with have been an incredible encouragement, comfort and inspiration.
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