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Raw But Hopeful Reflections Highlight New Steven Curtis Chapman Memoir

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Recently, five-time Grammy Award winner Steven Curtis Chapman had the opportunity to perform not once but twice for President Trump at National Day of Prayer festivities held at the White House.

His performance was just the latest in a stellar 30 year recording career that has made him the most awarded artist in Christian music history.  Despite such a tremendous amount of success, Chapman has also battled through an overwhelming abundance of adversity in his life, most notably the tragic death of his then five-year old daughter in 2008.

I recently spoke with Chapman to discuss his new memoir, Between Heaven and the Real World, why God sometimes seems to leave prayers unanswered, and never giving up on marriage no matter how rocky things may seem.

You have a new memoir called Between Heaven and the Real World.  These types of books often come at the end of an illustrious career.  I’d like to think you have a lot of years left to go as you’re still making very relevant music.  Why now?

That’s a great question, and really there’s a lot of ways to answer that, but I think primarily I felt like I was at the right place in the journey to have a perspective, to be able to tell this story. I think for many years whenever anyone asked about it I had the same kind of initial reaction of ‘Don’t you normally do that at the finish line in some ways?’ I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near that finish line and really can’t ever imagine, given what I do and where it comes from. I can’t really ever see a day coming where I would say I’ve written my last song, I’m hanging the guitar up, putting it in the case for the last time, anything like that.  If anything, as the journey gets deeper and goes on and on, you feel like you learn more, you know more of your own need of God and you see Him showing up in more profound ways.

One of the things I love about you and it comes through very clear in your book is that you are unabashedly transparent.  In Between Heaven and the Real World you say, “From conception, it seems like my life was to be defined by fixing broken things, broken situations, and broken people.”  Why do you say that?

It’s something that I discovered over time. I didn’t know that when I was a kid. I wouldn’t understand until later when my parents would tell me they actually decided to have another child when they were at a crossroads in their struggling marriage. My brother came along when my parents were just married, so it was just a real struggle for them. They were at a point of trying to decide whether they were going to even stay married.  So, they came up with this crazy notion of what if we had another child kind of on purpose, and tried to do this the right way?  I was born into that. Of course, I didn’t know any of that until I got older, but as I started to kind of realize that, I just became so driven to really try to fix everything that’s broken in the world. That really came to the surface when my wife and I got married, two broken people as every two people are when they come into a marriage, but very clueless about that, thinking we’ve got this thing figured out, we’re going to be great, and beginning to realize we were much more broken than we thought. I was so determined to try to fix all of the broken things in my life and work on myself along the way.  I foolishly thought, if I can just get these things fixed in her, we’ll be great. That was, in many ways the beginning of pulling back some of the layers of my own heart to say there’s a lot more fear than you thought, there’s a lot more brokenness than you thought, and this frustration that you feel, that you carry through life, that you have to fix everything, it’s up to you to fix what’s broken.  That was really the beginning of me just beginning to understand more about the grace of God.  Songs like “The Great Adventure,” was really written as I began to come more alive to the fact that I can’t fix it.  In fact, that’s why God sent his son Jesus to earth. It’s because it’s unfixable apart from a savior, and it’s going to continue to be that way until Heaven. We’re not going to fix these things, and yet there’s still that part kind of woven into the fabric of who I am that still wrestles with that.

Have you found writing this book to be a therapeutic experience for you?

No question, yes, very much so. Just the healing that would come from being able to share the story of my journey, to remember, that’s one of the things that I’ve learned a lot about in writing this book. It is just the power of remembering. It was important to God for His people, the Israelites. The whole of the Bible is so much of remembering God’s faithfulness through the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness parting the Red Sea and crossing the Jordan, all through history how God has shown up in the lives of His children, and rescued and redeemed. We don’t tend in our culture today to do a good job of taking the time to remember as much as we’re driven towards what’s next. That was so powerful for me, to just go back and retell the story. I felt like I fell in love with my wife again just retelling our love story.

This book was very therapeutic and healing for me, and certainly sharing the story of Maria, as hard as that was in committing that to paper; I think it was very important to honor, that there’s something about that which honors the loss as well and the grief.

For so many, I want to thank you for sharing Maria’s story so openly and honestly.  It has been nearly nine years since you lost your 5-year-old daughter in a tragic accident.  You write that you pleaded with God to bring her back to life.  How do you deal with prayers that seemed to go unanswered?

That’s why it’s called faith, and it’s saying, God, I don’t get it and I don’t understand it, but where else am I going to go? I’m going to trust you. Unless we come as a child we can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and a child just says I don’t understand all of this, but I’m going to trust you. That’s all I know to say. It sounds so overly simple, and it sounds foolish because it is. Even Scripture tells us that it is foolishness apart from just saying it but I believe that God’s Word is true. I believe that He is, as He promised, working somehow. I can’t imagine it, I can’t figure it out, but He is working all of these things. Nothing’s going to be wasted. He’s going to work all of these things together for our good as we trust Him, as we love Him, and for His glory. He knows the plans He has for us, and it’s just over and over again running back and dropping an anchor. It’s kind of like the picture that I kept having (after Maria’s death) and keep having is just that I’m dropping an anchor in the promises of God and what He said.  Here comes another wave. I’m drifting, it’s a tsunami, it’s going to take me under, but I’m just going to anchor again to God’s promises and say, but this is what God’s Word says and I’ve got nothing else to hold onto. I can’t hold onto my understanding of it.  As I’ve looked, and we have in our darkest, most hopeless moments have looked, where else would we turn? We’re going to trust you.

Changing gears, intertwined in what has been a fantastic music career is your 32-year marriage to Mary Beth.  She has been at your side through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  You write very candidly about your marriage in the book.  What has been the key to your marriage?

We can give you the numbers of many good counselors in the Nashville, Tennessee, area if you need one. We’ve got them all. We say that kind of laughing through our tears, because there’s been a lot of tears shed in our own brokenness.  But we have never given up, and most of the counselors would say, man, this is just two of the most stubborn people that we know. But we have been stubborn for the right reasons, to just know that we are on this journey until one of us places the other in the arms of Jesus. But over and over again, it really comes down to what God’s Word tells us, and the truth of Scripture that says to bear with one another in love, and that love bears all things.  I go back to Scripture and go, wait a minute, why didn’t it say love gets it figured out and does it right, and then you don’t have to “bear” anymore? Why does it say, “Love bears all things, bear with one another in love?” There’s that “bearing with” part that tells you it’s going to be broken. It’s going to be frustrating. You’re going to go crazy sometimes. Why can’t we get it figured out? Why can’t we get this right? Why can’t you do it better? Why can’t I do it better? And I think if we can continue to realize that over and over again Scripture and Jesus points us to you’re going to have to trust me. You’re going to have to bear with each other in love. Love is going to bear all things, believe all things, keep hoping and not give up. Love never fails. And if there’s a secret, a key, I just think it really comes down to just continuing to say I’m going to keep loving you and trusting that God is not finished with me or with you, and it’s not going to be fixed till Heaven. We need to trust what only God can do in our hearts.

What is your greatest hope for the people who read Between Heaven and the Real World?

I wrestled a lot as I was sharing my story with “why would I ask anybody to take the time to read this?” I think it’s kind of got some interesting parts and some heartache, but there are a lot of great books out there way better than my story, way more inspiring, way more difficult, and it finally came down to this … that if someone could take the journey with me, and I could share honestly enough in that process that they would find themselves on the pages of that story and go, you know what, if God’s faithful in his story, if his family could walk through that and continue to trust God and see God’s faithfulness in that, then I can find hope in my story. I can take the next step in my journey, as painful or as confusing as it might be. If God’s faithful in their story, God will be faithful in mine.

The Steven Curtis Chapman Family in 2016.

The Steven Curtis Chapman Family 2016

Guest Name / Person Interviewed or Featured in Article or Video: 
Steven Curtis Chapman
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