In the first dark hours of her grief, Mary Beth Chapman felt the nurturing arms of God wrap around her like a mother who gently rocks her infant and whispers, I've got you. I'm not going to forsake you. I know you don't understand. But I'm here.
It was assurance amid a time of pain like she and her husband, Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman, had never known.
They'd just lost their five-year-old adopted daughter, Maria, in an unimaginable tragedy. The Chapmans's teenage son, Will Franklin, accidentally hit Maria in his SUV while driving up to the family's home. Suddenly the life they were building—one brimming with Steven's music, a growing family of three biological children and three adopted Chinese girls, and a budding non-profit providing for orphans—came to a standstill.
As Mary Beth recounts in her bestselling book, Choosing to SEE, their story, the story they thought God was writing for them, dramatically changed.
That was four years ago. Since then, Mary Beth says God has patiently walked with her through each phase of her mourning, bringing restoration and new blessings along the way. He's also expanded their orphan ministry, Show Hope, beyond what they imagined possible.
Here, Mary Beth shares how God nurtured her as a parent cares for a child—meeting her in the infancy of her grief and bringing her up through providing comfort, protection, gentle correction, and a renewed passion in ministry.
After Maria's death, how did you sense God nurturing you?
In the beginning I needed to give myself permission to let it all out—to grieve, cry, and be mad. And God let me know he was with me in those moments, assuring me that the same God who was holding me in my grief was the God who was holding Maria in heaven and loving her. I likened my journey of loss to walking through a dark, dense forest. I couldn't see my way out. Yet I felt God hold my hand and say, I know you can't see me, but you've got to trust me.
Was there tangible evidence of God's care?
We had friends who would send the right Scripture verse or say the right thing just when we needed it. Also, while preparing for Maria's memorial service and choosing the spot where she'd be laid to rest, we saw all these ladybugs, which are a prominent symbol in Chinese adoption. I know that sounds crazy, but I think that kind of visual sign was what we needed during those first few days to know God was there.
And there's the example of Maria's artwork.
Yes. Shortly after Maria died, we found some of her artwork. She'd colored a flower with six petals—and only one petal was colored in, which was unusual. On the back of the artwork, she'd written in all capital letters the word SEE. We'd been crying out to God for some sign of his presence, and this felt miraculous. We felt like the flower with its one colored petal represented Maria, now complete and home in heaven. I think it's no accident she wrote that word. We needed to see—to know she was okay; to know God was there. Psalm 34:8 was also a great comfort: "Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!" The ultimate way God nurtured me was by providing a refuge—a place to hide under his wings.
What came next?
For the next three years I continued to meander through that dark forest. I had my machete, so to speak, and I was hacking in all different directions, trying to find my way out. It seemed like it would never happen. Yet even when I was the most angry or depressed, there always was this invitation from God to be who I really am and lay out all my questions before him. Learning to trust him and take those steps of faith when I couldn't see a thing in front of me have been the biggest faith-building lessons God's taught me throughout my life.
Do you still feel as if you're in the forest?
In the last year I feel as though I've stepped out if it. My oldest daughter, Emily, just had a baby girl. My younger girls are growing up. God's given me reasons to live and to move ahead—not to forget, but to move forward. I still pray while carpooling and tell God I'm angry. I didn't want Maria to go to heaven; I didn't want that part of the story. But then I feel him hold my hand and say, I know you still have questions. But I've got this. I'm going to gently restore you and bring you through. Trust me. That kind of corrective training is another way God continues to nurture me.
Explain how God nurtured Will Franklin after the tragedy.
We saw God protect him. Scripture says the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. The accident obviously devastated our son. But I believe Will Franklin was chosen to walk this path. After the accident I feel God came and stood in front of the enemy and said, That's it. I draw the line here and I'm going to protect this sweet child of mine.
On any given day, Will Franklin still struggles. But I see him choosing to give it to God and let it go. Our family and community have loved him and helped him reach a place of peace and restoration.
What have you learned about the nurturing heart of God through your work with orphans?
Since we brought home Shaohannah, our first adopted daughter, in 2000, God has shown us the great love he has for the 135 million orphans in the world. During the past ten years, he's enabled our non-profit, Show Hope, to give away more than 3,000 grants, helping families adopt children from 50 countries.
God cares about the absolute least of the least. And we get to be his nurturing hands and feet when we help these children. God wants each orphan to have a home, to be provided for and loved. We take little people who are broken, sick, and don't stand much of a chance for survival and allow them to be restored.
How are you currently seeing God nurture your family?
He's given us a great gift of intimacy. Through his grace we've remained in our home where the accident occurred. We love it there, but it's been difficult. So recently we decided to renovate.
For several months now, we've lived in the multi-purpose building on our property that Steven uses for rehearsals. We tried to make it like a camping experience for the kids. We set up a camper with Astroturf and a place for an indoor fire.
Everything we own is packed in boxes, so we feel free to live simply and spend time together as a family. It's reminded us that life isn't about stuff, but about the people around you.
Mary Beth and Steven have expressed their hope to celebrate this holiday season with a renewed sense of joy, as recorded on Chapman's most recent holiday album, Joy, released Oct. 16. Read TCW's December blog post featuring Chapman's thoughts on the reason for the season here.