Learning About Grace
About the Guest
Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman's life together hasn't all been like a fairytale. Today Mary Beth talks about her early struggles with the church, the abuse she faced in her teens, and how she came to finally understand the gift of God's grace.
Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman’s life together hasn’t all been like a fairytale.
Steven: I think we are just realizing we are more broken than we ever even imagined. It is not about, “How are we going to get this all patched up and fixed up?” It is, “How are we going to trust God to be enough? Is His grace really sufficient as He says? Can we really rest in that—trust in that—anchor to that?” That is why we are sitting here holding hands with tears in our eyes saying, “We are still showing up for this journey.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 31st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Today Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth join us to talk about the journey God has taken them on and how He has been with them every step of the way.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. A lot of people who live in the public eye spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, trying to make sure their image is managed and what the public sees is kind of a manicured picture. When I got a hold of Mary Beth Chapman’s new book I said, “They didn’t have any image consultants get involved in the writing of this. (laughter) Do you know what I mean?
Dennis: I do know what you mean.
Bob: It is kind of right out there—we are just going to tell everything.
Dennis: Well, maybe not everything but enough so people know this is not a storybook marriage that is “happily ever after” off into the sunset. Well, let me introduce you first of all. (laughter) I’m kind of off getting into it.
Mary Beth Chapman is the president of Show Hope which is a ministry outreach to orphans, foster-care kids—all about adoption and helping families find some children who need homes and forever families. She has written this book that you talked about, Bob, Choosing to SEE which is subtitled A Journey of Struggle and Hope. It could be subtitled an “Authentic Journey of Struggle and Hope.”
She is married to her husband who is—I guess you hold more awards than maybe any Christian artist in all of history with all the records you have done and how you have been recognized—Steven Curtis Chapman is no stranger to our listening audience. His latest album released last year Beauty Will Rise has been highly successful.
You guys had a tragedy in your life. Your daughter, Maria, died at the age of 5 after being run over in an accident in your driveway. I can hardly speak the words. I can’t even imagine—but as you point out in your book, Mary Beth, your life of struggle really started as you grew up and as a teenager. I found one of the more interesting stories—one of the first church events you went to—they wouldn’t let you in!
Mary Beth: No. It wasn’t one of the first church events I went to. I grew up going to those church events and grew up going to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night; youth camp in the summers; the once-a-month roller skating things that you do in the youth group. We were very involved—my family was very involved in church.
The city that I grew up in hosts the camp meeting every year that our denomination holds. So it is outdoor but somewhat of a wood structure—so a camp meeting. I decided to go. My dad and my brother and sister sang in a southern gospel group. They were actually doing a concert at a church somewhere else.
I decided to go to our church camp meeting that night because—this is an interesting story—there was a youth meeting after the regular church meeting. There was a band called Chapman Henderson that was playing there that night from Anderson College. Interestingly, I may have seen my future husband but didn’t because I was walking in—and this picture is actually in the book because I found a picture of me in this outfit. I was walking into the camp meeting and an older usher/leader-person grabbed me by the arm and whipped me around and told me I wasn’t welcome.
Dennis: “The Garment Police.”
Mary Beth: “The Garment Police.” I said, “Excuse me?” He said, “You are not welcome here with what you are wearing.”
Dennis: That may seem like a minor deal but to a teenager—to be turned away at that point in your spiritual experience—while at the same time some other things were taking place in your life as well.
Mary Beth: Right.
Dennis: You were abused.
Mary Beth: Yes. I was also walking through a period of time which actually has been just in the writing of this book really begun to be dealt with. We had dealt with it some with some counseling and some preventative maintenance. Steven and I have always maintained a strong preventative maintenance program as far as it pertains to counseling in our marriage and our family because we know where the assault comes from with the Enemy.
As I got into the writing of this book, I realized that I had not shared this information with my parents. I became very fearful of what they would think from being personally responsible and really getting to a place with the book where I could name it—what it was—and then the amazing thing was on Easter of this year getting to very fearfully drive to my mom and dad’s house. I had told Steven we will—he had encouraged me to tell them. I said, “I will tell them at their grave. I will tell them.” He longed for the day that I would tell them.
We drove there just this past Good Friday. The night before my mom had been really teary. She had known that I had been away at some counseling. She asked how I was doing, and she fell apart. I said, “Actually, Mom, I am doing as well as I have in an awfully long time. If you and Dad have some time tomorrow, Steven and I would like to sit and tell you some of this.”
With fear and trembling I led into it the next day. God really allowed a special time—a beautiful spring day. We were all sitting outside. There was a little bit of small talk for a while and then I just kind of led into it and explained what happened to me at age 16.
I was prepared with counseling and pastors that I might not get the response—the desired response. I really needed to take myself off the hook and put the perpetrator on the hook. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My parents just blew me away. My mom, without hesitation, stood up with tears in her eyes, just threw her arms around me and said, “I am so sorry you felt like you couldn’t come and tell us.” My daddy followed suit.
We had an amazing time of prayer. I feel like God redeemed something on that day. Wouldn’t it be like our sweet Savior to let that happen on the weekend of Easter?—the weekend of really being able to truly celebrate Christmas because of the cross. Christ came but He had to die for us. It was a pretty powerful time for us.
That is not even chronicled in the book because I just had to get to the place where then I could go home and write the experience so that when my parents read it, I could honor them in the telling of it. Again, when I say that if nobody reads this book other than the fact that I got to write it, and struggle through it—and my husband can speak to that of watching me with physical headaches, physical sweating, physical trying to get this worded the way I wanted it to be—if it is just to file up on my bookshelf, that is what it was for.
Dennis: Steven, when you get married, you have no idea all of that is wrapped up in the person that you receive as God’s gift to you.
Dennis: In a very, almost paradoxical way, by going through some of these things as a couple, your marriage is stronger. Your relationship and love are deeper.
Dennis: How has it grown as a result of seeing Mary Beth process evil that was perpetrated upon her by an abuser?
Steven: Well, I think we are still in the middle of that process. It is almost hard to even know how to answer that except to say that my heart breaks. Even as I would read the book as she was writing it, there is every emotion from anger and rage to want to go back and protect.
I think that is the hardest thing—when you love someone—this truly is the love of my life. I want to go back and undo—go back and fix. That is part of the thing—for all the things I miss in my non-structured, flighty-brained self—I’m a fixer. If there is a problem, I am going to do everything I can to try and fix it. The problem is what I can do is somewhat limited in my ability to fix things, particularly when it comes to scheduling, planning, structuring, and remembering; but I want to fix this. I want to fix the pain in my wife’s heart.
I think it has been a greater dependence on the Savior. It has been a greater place of having to realize that we live in this world: “You will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” It is a greater place of living in light of the hope that is coming.
Obviously, with losing Maria, for us just put a huge reality that this world is never going to be alright. We both grew up, and all of us in this circle, and probably most listening probably grew up with this gospel that says, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” You assume, because you are from America and you grew up in the good world that we grew up in, the wonderful plan for your life includes it is all—if you do all these things—it is all going to come together; it is all basically all work out. Your kids are going to act right. Your marriage is going to go well.
Certainly, your children aren’t going to be hit by a car driven by one of your other children. I mean, those kinds of things don’t happen to Christians because you are living right and God has a wonderful plan for your life. I think journeying through this with my wife and even just having to realize that that is part of our story—that is part of the woundedness that is going to create trust issues for her and it is going to create our struggle. It is going to be places where we are going to be broken until Jesus comes back. What is it going to look like to let God daily, hourly sometimes, redeem that?
That thing that our pastor Scotty Smith says he learned from his spiritual father, “Cheer up. You are a whole lot worse off than you thought—than you think; and you are a whole lot more loved than you ever dreamt and imagined. That is what our journey is 25 years into our marriage, 47 years in our life. I think we are just realizing we are more broken than we ever imagined.
It is not about, “How are we going to get this all patched up and fixed up?” It is, “How are we going to trust God to be enough? Is His grace really sufficient as He says? Can we really rest in that—trust in that—anchor to that?”
If it is not true, then we are truly hopeless. It is like Paul says, “If our hope is only for this life, we are to be pitied.” If it is to get it right here on this planet Earth to get everything figured out—then we are foolish because it just isn’t going to happen; but if our hope is anchored in the promise of God that there is a day coming He will wipe every tear from our eyes—every wounded girl who was abused and every one of us. Because we know that day is coming, we can show up this day with whatever is ahead of us, whatever dark places we have to walk through and know that He will not leave us—He will not forsake us. His grace will be enough. He will carry us through that. That is why we are sitting here holding hands with tears in our eyes saying, “We are still showing up for this journey.”
Bob: You focus on relying on the grace of God. One of the things I found interesting in your book, Mary Beth, is you said you went a lot of years hearing about God and about Jesus and about the whole story of the Bible and didn’t understand—really didn’t hear about grace. When did grace become something you understood?
Mary Beth: It was after we were married. I believe that Emily had already been born when we started attending Christ Community Church. Scotty is our pastor. I remember sitting in the old chapel on Franklin, just Steven and I, starting to hear of this concept of grace and not works and not striving to be enough and not striving to do it right and not feeling like it was your fault or all of that. It really wasn’t until I was already a young mother. Emily was five, maybe, when we started attending Christ Community. It was well into my journey, which, again, is part of the stuff that I carry with me as it pertains to how we deal with each other as spouses and parents and all of that. It is very good news to me when I heard Scotty Smith start preaching the doctrine of grace.
Bob: Did it take a while for you to...
Mary Beth: Yes. Just ask my husband! When you have been indoctrinated with works and being perfect and being good enough—not to the blame of anybody other than the way I was wired, the way I heard it. Many, many times, seated with my granddad trying to ask exactly—because I think God did put those questions in my at a young age—I was trying to figure it out. It always came back to this life that I was living of, “It is works-oriented—works-oriented—works-oriented.”
Bob: We are all wired that way. Every one of us wants to self-justify. We want to be able to say, “Look, God, at what I have done. Be pleased with this.” The message of the gospel is a liberating, transforming life-changing message to say, “That stuff is worthless.”
Mary Beth: Right.
Bob: It is what Christ accomplished that has worth.
Dennis: And you are never going to perform to be accepted by God. That is not how it works. The only way you can be accepted by God is through a personal relationship with His Son Jesus Christ.
Once you have received His gift of grace for the forgiveness of all your sins—past, present, and future—you then begin the process at that point, I think, of beginning to go to the first grade of faith and learning about grace. Then you have the rest of your lifetime to begin to unpack that and find out what that really means in your life.
I agree with Bob; I don’t think you are alone. I think most Christians today sit in the pew and they think they have to earn their way for God’s acceptance. As long as the good—I always picture scales. As long as the good has a bigger pile on the one side than the bad on the other side, they are in good standing with God.
Bob: We started out with how transparent you are in this book. It is only because of grace that you can be transparent.
Mary Beth: That is right.
Bob: It is only because you know your acceptance and worth is not based on what you can hold up and say, “Look at how good I have done.”
Mary Beth: Right. Again, for me, it is a continuing choice to see it—pardon the “choosing to see”—but a choice to see because I still have family members—if I hear it once, I hear it over and over, “I hope I have done enough. I hope I am going to heaven. I hope I...” I just want to weep with them and say, “This is a finished work. This isn’t something that changes tomorrow.”
Bob: Nothing in my hand I bring. Only to thy cross I cling. Those are the words of the hymn.
Dennis and Mary Beth: Yes.
Dennis: One of my favorite verses comes to mind in Galatians 5. “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Don’t go back to trying to perfect your standing before God based upon your works. I have to admit—I have been walking off and on, well now, for over 42 years with Christ. I have to say I keep struggling with this issue of better understanding; but, you know what, He finished it on the cross. It was paid in full. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to do anything to earn God’s favor, God’s goodness. He loves me no matter what; but because of that love, He calls me to obey Him. Therein lies the tension.
Bob: In response to His grace, you want to obey Him. You want to surrender.
Dennis: Surrender to Christ. You know, there has to be a listener right now who needs to just nail it—surrender to the Savior. Jesus Christ didn’t come to take sides. He came to take over. He came to take over human hearts. He came to see us open our hands like the song you were quoting just a few moments ago, Bob. Surrender to Him—hold out our hands and say, “I surrender to You, Master and Savior, Jesus Christ. Begin to make me the person You want me to be.”
Bob: I think your example of that is clear for not only listeners who have been with us today but anybody who reads a copy of the book Choosing to SEE because in the book you outline what one author calls the severe mercy—the mercy of God to interrupt our lives to make us more like Jesus. I would encourage listeners to get a copy of Mary Beth’s new book called Choosing to SEE. The subtitle here is A Journey of Struggle and Hope. I think you guys have talked openly about both of those being a part of your life.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you are interested in getting a copy of the book Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
We should probably let our listeners know about the plans that we have together for the weekend of November 5th, 6th, and 7th. Show Hope and FamilyLife’s Hope for Orphans, along with Focus on the Family and other organizations—we have set that weekend aside as Orphan Sunday Weekend. We are making plans for a special webcast with Francis and Lisa Chan to draw attention to the plight of the orphan.
It is a one-hour webcast, and it is available for churches or groups to use in whatever setting works for you. You can get more information about Orphan Sunday and about the one-hour webcast with Francis and Lisa Chan when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the Hope for Orphans link.
By the way, we also have some copies of Steven Curtis Chapman’s new music CD called Beauty Will Rise. We are making the CD Beauty Will Rise available this week if you can help support the ministry with a donation of any amount. We are listener-supported and depend on listener donations to be able to keep this program on this station and on other stations all around the country. We are asking if you can make a donation to help us this month, feel free to request a copy of the Beauty Will Rise CD from Steven Curtis Chapman.
If you make your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, you will see a key code box on the donation form. Type the word “CHAPMAN” in there, and we will know to send you a CD; or call 1-800-FLTODAY—1-800-358-6329—and just mention you would like a copy of the music CD from Steven Curtis Chapman when you make your donation. We will send it out to you.
Let me say, “Thanks,” in advance for your support of the ministry; and “Thanks,” to all of you who were first-time donors during the month of August. Of course, today is the last day of August. It is the last day for us to add to our total of first-time donors.
If you are a regular listener of FamilyLife Today and you have never made a donation, and you want to make one today and if you can make a donation of $100 or more today, we would love to send you a thank-you gift. That is a certificate so you and your spouse can attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways—a great weekend getaway for you and your spouse at any of the locations where the getaways are going to be held this fall. Again, go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and click where it says “First-time Donor.” We appreciate your financial gift to this ministry.
We hope you can be back with us tomorrow when Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman are going to be here again. We will continue to hear about what God has been doing in the midst of a tragic situation for the Chapman family.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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