I saw the paramedic getting out of his truck in the driveway. I ran toward him and grabbed his arm. "You've gotta save my little girl!" I screamed over and over . …
So writes Mary Beth Chapman, who relives in heart-shattering detail the death of her 5-year-old daughter, Maria, in her new book, Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope (Revell). In the chapter titled "May 21, 2008," Chapman — the wife of Christian music star Steven Curtis Chapman — remembers sitting at the dining room table, working on wedding plans for their oldest child, Emily.
She goes on to recount the horrible events of that afternoon: son Will pulling into the driveway, accidentally running over his little sister, the chaos, the panic, the blood, the 911 call, the emergency personnel, the hospital, the brutal news that Maria had passed away, the screams of "No! No! No!" giving way to Mary Beth telling her husband, "We have to let her go, sweetie. It's time to let her go."
That kind of gut-wrenching honesty and vulnerability runs throughout the book as Mary Beth, married to Steven for 26 years, shares the story not only of Maria's death and the family's subsequent grieving, but also of her own continuing feud with the Creator — a difficult childhood and teen years, adulthood battles with depression, and more.
Maria was the third of the Chapmans' three adopted girls from China; Shaohannah Hope (10) and Stevey Joy (7) are the others. Their biological kids are Emily (24), Caleb (20), and Will Franklin (19). Mary Beth is also the president of Show Hope, a nonprofit organization that cares for orphans worldwide by providing financial assistance to families wishing to adopt. Last summer, Show Hope opened Maria's Big House of Hope in China, a facility for orphans with special needs.
Christianity Today caught up with Mary Beth to talk about the book, the grieving process, and what she calls "a lifelong wrestling match with God." She, Steven, and the family will also share their story on a fall tour, "A Night with the Chapmans," beginning this month.
Steven told me he had to write songs as a part of his grieving process. Is this a book that you had to write?
Probably yes. After we lost our daughter, I began blogging, and it became one of those places where I could write like a stream of consciousness, the grief flowing out of me. People started to respond to that, and publishers asked us to consider a book.
At first the working title was Mary Beth vs. God, about my wresting match with God, and really with all of life — the theme of what do you do when things go wrong. This isn't just the story of losing Maria. It's also the story of the redemptive struggle that we all walk through when God doesn't seem to be who we thought he was, or when things don't work out the way we thought they would.
You write openly about your struggles — with depression, your marriage, and so on.
Steven and I have always been on what we call a preventive maintenance program. When we got married, we found out pretty quickly we were quite different. Sometimes it's holy headlock, not holy wedlock. And I write about my depression. When I finished the book, it was like a release. I felt God saying, That's all I needed you to do. You wrote it; it's in black and white now. I took you on a journey that wasn't easy, but I revealed things about my character to you. Now you can just let it go. So it was a really good process for me — really hard, but really good.