“God was my anchor in a storm of sorrow”
Steven Curtis Chapman opens up about his greatest loss
5-time Grammy winner Steven Curtis Chapman was living a blessed life filled with love and music, until a tragic accident changed him forever. Now he looks back on his grief and suffering and shares how it drew him closer to the Lord in ways
he could’ve never imagined
With a loving marriage, six children and a music career that had spanned three decades, Steven Curtis Chapman’s life had been pictureperfect. Then on a warm spring evening in May of 2008, it took a heartbreaking turn.
His teenage son, Will Franklin, was returning home when Steven’s 5-year-old daughter, Maria Sue, excitedly ran outside to greet her big brother…darting right in front of his SUV.
Will slammed on the brakes but it was too late. Maria was LifeFlighted to Nashville’s Vanderbilt Hospital, but despite the doctors’ best efforts and the family’s desperate prayers, their precious girl went into the open arms of Jesus.
Today, eight years after the accident, Steven’s heart still aches from the loss of his daughter, but he says he has also begun to see God’s purpose in the pain. Here, he opens up about his long walk through the darkness and how God was there every step of the way to guide him back toward the light.
HE KEEPS US AFLOAT
Steven and his wife, Mary Beth, have three biological children— Emily, Caleb and
Will Franklin. They also adopted three young daughters from China—Shaohannah, Stevey Joy and Maria Sue. The youngest of their brood, Maria, had stolen Steven’s heart the moment he’d met her. “Just after we lost her, I remember going upstairs to put away some luggage and sitting on the ground and just weeping,” he confides. “It was one of those waves of grief where you think, I’m not coming up from this—it’s too big; it’s a tsunami. I remember saying, ‘God, I just don’t want to breathe again.’”
Steven admits he didn’t know how he or his family could survive such sorrow. “I just kept praying, God, I have to drop my anchor of hope in You because things feel hopeless. I don’t know how to take the next step,” he recalls. “I would just beg, ‘God, please carry us through this.’”
Early in the healing process, one thing Steven found surprising was that the ups and downs of grief were never the same for two people. “Mary Beth and I would encourage each other during the dark times, but we learned that sometimes by trying to lift each other up, you can do the opposite,” reveals Steven. “Sometimes you just need a safe place to crash. That became the question: Can we just be a place for each other to crash and love each other even in that? You have to say, ‘I’m not going anywhere. Your grief or anger isn’t going to chase me away. I can’t fix the sadness in your heart, but I’m here.’ God loves us in the same way,” he adds. “He’s an anchor, He’s a safe place to crash…and we can never chase Him away.”
HE’S THE BALM TO OUR HEARTS
As Steven and his family slowly moved forward month by month, year by year, he admits there were many moments when despair threatened to pull him under. His only comfort was crying out to the Lord. “Loving God doesn’t have to be perfect—it’s most precious when it just pours from a wounded heart,” Steven says. “For example, in the Bible David says, ‘God, you forgot me. I’m alone and hopeless. How long are you going to leave me here?’ But then he takes a breath and says, ‘Lord I trust You. My hope is in You. Your Love is never ending.’ For me, that vulnerability and honesty is what a relationship with God really is.”
HE’S GOT A MUCH BIGGER PLAN
Although there will always be a hole in Steven’s heart for his little girl, with time, he has begun to see the suffering from a different perspective. “At Maria’s funeral, my son Caleb had said it was like God was painting a huge mural, but we were standing too close to see more than a small part of the picture,” says Steven. “Now after years of distance, the sadness is still there, but more of the Lord’s masterpiece is in focus.”
One of the brightest rays of light that has helped Steven see beauty in God’s plan was when the Chapmans opened Maria’s Big House of Hope in Luoyang, China. The facility provides medical care to special-needs orphans and is part of the their Show Hope organization, which aids orphans around the world. “It’s so hard to see what good and beautiful things have come out of this terrible thing,” admits Steven. “But with each child that is given a happy life in Maria’s name, I see more of God’s work.”
HE’S OUR ONE CONSTANT
“Today I see God in everything,” Steven smiles. “He’s in the good and beautiful moments, but the challenge for me is to keep my eyes and my heart wide open and watch for Him in every moment—including the frustrating, painful and difficult ones. The truth is that we’re all living with pain and brokenness, but I’ve learned there’s just no way apart from the grace of God. When we’re miserable and confused and angry, if we keep trusting that God has a plan for us, we’ll get through it.”
“We’re all living
with pain and brokenness, but… if we keep trusting God has a plan for us, we’ll get
“Maria [shown here] loved waffles,” says Steven.“She’d kiss me in the morning and I’d taste maple syrup. It’s those little things you miss most.”
The Chapman family in front of Maria’s Big House of Hope, in Luoyang, China, which provides medical care to special-needs orphans (ShowHope.org)