Mary Beth Chapman Chooses to See
By Deborah Evans Price, senior editor, gmclife.com
Few women have enjoyed greater blessings or endured deeper heartbreak than Mary Beth Chapman.
Her new book, "Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope" (Revell), has been riding the New York Times Bestseller list and was recently No. 1 on the Christian Booksellers Association list. With the help of writer Ellen Vaughn, Chapman, the wife of award-winning recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman, crafted a compelling story that deals not only with the loss of their daughter, Maria Sue, to a tragic accident, but also chronicles life with Steven as they’ve parented six children, three of them adopted, and dealt with the mercurial music industry.
“As you might expect, we had been asked a lot because Steven has been doing what he does for 23 years now,” Mary Beth says. “And then of course the unthinkable happened, losing Maria, and the blogs [were] just honestly grieving it out [and] kind of a stream of consciousness. People started responding to those and asked if I would consider writing a book.”
When Maria's teenage brother Will Franklin accidentally hit her with the car in the family's driveway in May 2008, the tragedy became a defining moment in the Chapmans' lives, but Mary Beth wanted the book to share more than just the pain of loss.
“I had been sent so many grief books and the majority of them were about someone’s specific journey through grief of losing their child or their loved, and while there was so much helpful information, there were tons of them,” she says. “I thought, 'this needs to be the kind of book they’ve been asking us to write, but more from my perspective' since Steven wasn’t going to have the time to collaborate with me and they really just approached me. So they teamed me up with Ellen who I’ve known for a long time. Ellen is an adoptive parent, and it was easy to share stuff with her.”
The book honestly chronicles Mary Beth's struggles with depression and other trials in her life.
“The working title really was ‘Mary Beth versus God,’” she explains, “because it’s about my wrestling match with what I thought was going to be good for me and what I thought the plan was going to be, which obviously wasn’t what God had in mind. As I began that journey of telling the story, I said ‘there is hope throughout this.’ The part, obviously, when it turns to the story of Maria is going to be heavy and sad for people so there needs to be those fun stories.”
Among the hilarious moments Mary Beth shares is a thrilling trip down the Nile River and how their eldest child Emily was conceived because their dog had eaten Mary Beth’s birth control pills.
“I’ve always been known as more of the loose cannon between the two of us. Steven is a little more guarded,” she says. “I’m just as spiritual [but] I’m a loudmouth. I wanted women to relate. Nobody is talking about depression and I think that leaves room for women to be more depressed because they think they are the only ones dealing with it, and [they think] if they could be spiritual enough, it would all go away. That’s just
“The whole point of my new book is to make people laugh. I want them to know how devastatingly sad we’ve been, but they need to know where our hope is coming from. I’ve always told God these things I wouldn’t do and then I end up doing those very things. I’ve ended up adopting [children]. I’ve ended up speaking in public. I’ve ended up home schooling. [Writing the book] ended up being my own personal pilgrimage, my own little journey and when I finally finished it – and I promised [my daughter] Shaoey the writing part would be done before school let out this past May, so I got it done – and I just felt this huge release, like God just said ‘You wrote the book you needed to write, and you wrote it for yourself, and now you can file your copy up on the bookcase and whatever happens with it from there is just the icing on the cake. You can let go of it.’”
Beyond the Book
“It will be a lot like the book. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry and share our hope. It’ll kind of be like [being] in our living room, which is how Steven has always been. All these opportunities have started coming for next year. Women of Faith already asked me to do next fall and it’s just been real easy to say ‘No. Thank you so much, but that’s not why I wrote the book. That’s not what I’m stepping into.’ This fall Stevey Joy is competing in gymnastics, but that came after my commitment to do Women of Faith, so I’m missing her gymnastics meets, and I’ve never missed my kids’ stuff. I’m not going to miss the two little ones I have here growing up. So it’s a limited engagement. If you want to see Mary Beth, you better come this fall cause I’m riding off into the sunset come January. It’s not that I won’t do anything. It’s just that the commitment is to be at home. I don’t have to say ‘yes.’ I don’t have to feel the pressure when they go ‘Well that’s not very good for career building. ‘Well, that’s not why I ever did the book. That’s not what motivated me.”
Mary Beth admits putting on her author’s hat was extremely difficult, yet cathartic. “Obviously the part about Maria and the day that we lost her, that was extremely excruciating. One of the reasons I wanted to get it on paper was so I didn’t have to recount every last bit of it every time I did an interview. I could say what I was comfortable with and then say ‘the rest is in the book,’ not as a sales pitch but just so I didn’t have to retell the story. It was good for me to document it. It was awesome to sit with Will as he read and reread it and go ‘buddy, you have to be comfortable with this. Anything that you’re not, we’re gonna take out and anything you want to add that I may have forgotten, tell me, but you need to understand that once it’s in print, it’s in print and the world is gonna read it.’
He was so proud of me, just like Steven. They were all big cheerleaders but he was championing my cause and so proud I wrote it. We’ve always been very careful about what media we’ve done, and we’ve let him drive a lot of that, and we’ve done a lot of it together. It’s been a big part of his healing too for us to walk through all of that together. He’s my little hero. He sat with me and got to have his input and at the end of it all, he said ‘Mom, I really love how you did it.’ So it was good to have it on paper. It’s her story, therefore it’s our story. It’s changed me...Obviously our hope of heaven has completely changed because as I like to say ‘I’ve always had treasure in heaven, but now I have tangible treasure.’”
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the family has moved forward. Emily married in the fall of 2008 and she and husband Tanner are living in Ireland where she’s working towards a master’s in theology. Caleb married his childhood sweetheart Julia, and Will has moved into his own place. Caleb and Will’s band opens for Steven this fall before the band of brothers heads out on their own.
“I’m so proud of my boys and the way they handle the questions they’ve been asked and how they want to honor Maria’s story and point others to Christ through it. It really is so hard to say ‘good has come’ when it has come at such a high cost. Could God have chosen to do it another way? Absolutely! He’s God, but it was no surprise to Him because Maria’s days were numbered. She lived a full life and we will see her again. And in the meantime we are going to honor her story by pointing others to Christ with the hope that we have that we are going to see her again.”
Mary Beth hopes that sharing her story will help others on their own journey...whatever the season and wherever it takes them.
“The book isn’t just about Maria. It’s about a lot of things I went through as a young child and in high school and marrying Steven,” she says. “It’s the whole journey of me wrestling with God and where it has brought me. It’s choosing to see God in the journey and that He does care intricately about every part of our story.”
About the Writer
Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian/Gospel music for Billboard magazine since 1994. She also contributes regularly to CountryWeekly, CMA Close Up, Devo’Zine, Christian Single, HomeLife, BMI Music World, and other publications.
A Nashville resident since 1983, Deborah has held editorial posts at Radio & Records, Country News, American Songwriter and Billboard. Amy Grant, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, 3 Doors Down, Third Day, Don Henley, Bon Jovi, Chris Rice, Sandra Bullock, Mercy Me, Alan Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Steven Curtis Chapman are among her many interviews. Additionally, she's a sought-after music industry analyst who has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, TNN, The Today Show, and ABC PrimeTime Live, among other outlets.
Deborah is a member of the Gospel Music Association's board of directors and a graduate of Leadership Music. She resides south of Nashville with her husband, Gary, and son Trey.
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