Eugene Cho

maria sue chapman’s funeral service: lessons on compassion

* Guest column I wrote for the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

While Maria Sue Chapman’s death was painfully tragic, it is my hope that it will encourage many of us to be more human.  How?  By being more compassionate

I’ve been surprised at how Maria Sue’s tragic death has impacted so many. I’d figure a handful of Christian news sources would cover the story but it’s been fairly widespread and still remains one of the top items on search engines.  Perhaps, it speaks to ways that Steven Curtis Chapman has ministered through his music to so many people – both Christian and non-Christian.  Perhaps, it speaks to how Steven and Mary Beth have demonstrated the beauty of the gospel through their lives – outside his music.

While I enjoy Steven’s music, it’s the latter that compels me the most.  Christian entertainers and celebrities [and this includes pastors and leaders] must be careful not to allow our art and craft [music, preaching, books, healing, leadership, etc.] to be what defines us but ultimately, our faithfulness to the gospel when we are not on stage.  This not only brings substance to our faith but meaning and beauty to our art.  As a pastor recently described by one of my congregants as “somewhat famous” – this is the challenge I am often reminded about.  I am a follower of Christ foremost.  Anything and everything else is a distant second.

I very much enjoyed reading Jim Houser’s summary of Maria Sue Chapman’s funeral service because it shows that there’s more to the Chapman’s lives than hit songs, Dove awards, and our insular Christian subculture.  Jim is responsible for Steven’s day to day management of Steven’s ministry. 

I am writing this post and sharing Houser’s summary in hopes that with numerous folks coming to this blog in search of information about the Chapman tragedy, we might all be drawn to the compelling love and grace of Christ

In addition, it’s my hope and sincere prayer that this tragic [but redemptive] death compels each of us to be more HUMAN.  By this, I am simply suggesting that we live as God intended – to care not only for ourselves, our kind, our families, our peeps, and our children but for the many – locally and globally – that need the compassion and kindness of fellow humans – especially Christians. 

It is great that so many have been drawn to the story of the Chapman family and this one child. But, let’s not stop there. Please…let’s not stop there.  Pray and give generously to the relief efforts in China, Burma, or other places that tug at your hearts.  This past year, Minhee and I realized that we were falling more in love with the idea of compassion and justice and it was starting to get a little stale…the idea part. It was time to act – like yesterday.  This is the main reason why we are taking our sabbatical this summer to put our ideas into motion and we are scared and excited about starting a grassroots organization to help fight global poverty.  Again, we share this not to be boastful or righteous but to encourage folks to think, talk, pray, but make sure you ACT.

Here’s Jim Houser’s entire post about the memorial service [via Jim’s blog]:

For those who couldn’t be here, I thought I’d share a rundown, the best I can remember it as I was a bit emotional. It was a beautiful and moving celebration of this little girl’s life. And in typical Chapman fashion… God was honored, the Gospel was presented, and… It went long. : )

Throughout the service, pictures of Maria were shown on screens above the platform. There were about 2000 people present and the program was just over 2 hours.

Michael W Smith provided a beautiful prelude and then sang “Still” to open the service. Then a prayer of invocation was offered, and a Pastor at Christ Community Church, the family’s home church, Scotty Smith called us to worship with a congregation responsive reading of a portion of The Heidelberg Catechism and the question What is your only comfort in life and in death?

Matt Redman, who was in the airport in Atlanta preparing to fly back to his home in the UK when he heard the news of Maria’s death, left the airport rather than board his flight and drove to Nashville to serve the family anyway he could. The Chapmans not knowing Matt was in the country had discussed him being a part and we’re overwhelmed to hear he was able to be there. Matt led worship along with Christy Nockels singing several songs including two that Redman has written out of his own loss and sorrows, “Blessed Be Your Name,” and “You Never Let Go,” as well as the hymn “It Is Well.”

Then Matt explained that Steven and he had penned a song “Close To Your Heart” a few months ago for a close family friend of the Chapmans just after the loss of their child. Little did Steven know it would bring comfort to him and his own family on this day, as Matt shared it at Maria’s service.

One of Shaohannah’s Hope’s orphan care partners in China, Robin Hill flew in for the service and he offered a prayer.

Then family and friends stood just feet away from Maria’s tiny coffin and shared stories about the spunky, adorable little girl. A few here…

Family friend Karen sharing how Maria loved to wash dishes butt naked, and loved when her family “was altogether,”

The unpredictable Mary Beth with a few stories including how Maria loved her nicknames and running the sweet list down,

Family friend Melissa challenging us to live like Maria and love others like she did, not holding back!;

Caleb sharing how he had prayed for God to heal Maria after the accident, and how God did it in a way that he didn’t like very much (taking her to heaven) but that he has never been more convinced that Jesus is real,

Miss Meagan, Maria’s pre-school teacher, commenting on her love of art, drawing flowers, her classmates and her family,

Emily telling the story of how when she told Maria that Tanner had asked her to marry him that Maria asked her “whacha say?” and Emily went on to challenge us with the picture God gives of how the groom Jesus has asked his bride, us, to marry Him with a relationship through the cross, “whacha say?”

lastly, Steven sharing that Maria had professed Jesus as her Savior and those moments; as well as a moving story from him about how he had asked God to help him see that Maria was safe, and how God showed up. (I’ll let him tell it soon)

Next, children in the service brought flowers to Maria’s casket as SCC’s best friend Geoff Moore sang “With Hope,” a song Steven wrote 10 years ago for a family that lost a child, that same family the Mullicans are now walking he and Mary Beth through this now shared tragic experience.

Scotty Smith then took a few precious minutes to challenge us on the Gospel, that Maria’s story is our story and we can be adopted into God’s family and see Him and Maria at the end of our lives. (I’m not able to do Scotty’s words justice)

Tammy Jensen then sang “Jesus I Am Resting, Resting,” close family friends mentioned above the Mullicans prayed to close our time. And then the video of “Dishwashin Daddy and “Bellyflop” that has gone around the world was played.

Friends, it was such a difficult, yet sweet time. I urge you now to pray for this family. Be intentional. Set an alarm to go off on the 21st of every month, or anytime you see an SUV let it be a reminder, or whenever you hear a Steven song… whatever you feel is best. As someone who has experienced a difficult loss, some days ahead will be difficult for this family because the rest of the world moves on and forgets. It’s very understandable of course. If you can though, remember to keep them in your prayers.

I too echo Caleb and his wise beyond his years comment, after having the privilege to walk with so many of their family and friends next to the Chapmans through this time, I have never been more convinced that Jesus is real, that the Gospel is true. Despite this tragedy that could seem to contradict He is a good and sovereign God, we know the truth that is on the front of Maria’s Memorial Service program! That He has plans for us “plans for peace and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Filed under: christianity, family, religion, ,

26 Responses

  1. […] the hope in the steven curtis chapman’s family tragedy The accidental and tragic death of Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman’s youngest daughter – 5 year old Marie Sue – was very difficult to process.  There was the initial shock, then confusion, then anger, and then the need to ask some hard questions.  [Another post on Lessons we Can Learn]. […]

  2. Kendy Peers says:

    you guys are all in my prayers and always will be god bless you chapman family
    with love your sister through jesus christ Kendy
    p.s. jesus is very real!!!

  3. Nathalie T says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. Yes, Jesus is more real than ever before. My heart cries for the family. Because of one seed that has fallen, many will grow.

  4. Linda says:

    This family has so much support, I wish everyone who has lost a child could have so many great people show up to share in the mourning. It’s also really touching that SCC had written songs for others who have lost a child, which have come back to him.

    Yes, with all due respect to the Chapman family and not at all to diminish the sorrow, the burden of their loss, I do agree that it is extremely unbalanced in the passion and response we as a society give to the rich & famous at the loss of one life versus the millions of nameless, unseen children a world away, or in our own neighborhood, who not only die quietly but also had suffered greatly prior to it in a life of impoverished health and wealth. I try to extend my prayers to them as well.

    Thanks, PE, for keeping us updated and keepin’ it real!

  5. Lady Carmen says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I heard the news on the radio the morning after and it completely broke my heart. The music of Steven Curtis Chapman has blessed me in such a great way and I love the idea of reaching out to others around the world as a response to this.

  6. Tess says:

    I can’t help but think of all the children in China who either lost their lives or became orphans as a result of the earthquake. Grief so deep.

    We adopted a child from China, so there is a connection with the tragedy that country has experienced and a connection with the grief that the Chapmans know.

    I’ve watched a member of another family go through unspeakable grief this year and know that the buoyancy from Maria’s service will lag. In this case, three brothers were target practicing on the 19 year old’s birthday. A bullet from the 21 year old’s gun ricocheted and hit and killed their 16 year old brother. Can you imagine? I surely cannot.

    Hoping we all hug our kids a little closer and love them a little deeper.

  7. Sue Staeger says:

    Thank you for posting this update. They are in my prayers. My heart aches for them all, especially the son.

  8. Beverly says:

    Well said!!!

  9. Teresa says:

    I came to Christ at age 14 after watching my youth group leader go through the loss of her 18 month old daughter in a similarly tragic car accident, and refuse to curse God, give up on life or faith, and saw her continue to trust that God was good even though life isn’t. That her faith was strong enough and her God was real enough to sustain her when life sucked, spoke volumes. My prayers are with the Chapman family…I have three kids. I cannot even start to imagine the depth of their loss.

  10. Larry says:

    I’ve been around similar tragedies in my life, so I lift the Chapman family to God’s victorios love and peace. Steven has blessed so many in our world with his genuinness so I send my sincere love and compassion to his family.

  11. fikalo says:

    wow, powerful and thoughtful, thanks for sharing

  12. mamapeter says:

    thanks for your posting. I think that people are drawn to this family because this is something that can happen to anyone. This is not some freak/wierd news event that we see far too often, but a human drama of people who has experienced loss the average person can imagine – and dread. The Chapman family is visible to us in their music and in their compassion displayed in their love for the Chinese children. The attention they are getting is incredible but yet very understandable because they are people just like us, living their lives with hopes and dreams, really nothing out of the ordinary except that they are more visible than most of us. They are a reflection of who all of us are, and therefore we reach out to love them back in this exceptionally difficult time in their lives. The Chapman family holds a the light of Christ for all to see, the light that shows the love of Jesus that is for everyone. This light is drawing thousands. This does not surprise me, because the light that God gives is truly irresistable. The Chapman’s pain and loss has become a vehicle for God to use to shine His light and make Him known. Not what they would choose, but what they are in the process of accepting. A truly profound experience in all our lives.

  13. Jean Murdock says:

    I was sadden to hear of your recent loss having just a little over a year ago lost my daughter. Your pain and your loss is real but I know that God will deeply heal in time. He is not a God to waste himself. He has a purpose and a plan for our lives. So, I give you this scripture in Psalms 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God…”

    My prayers are with you and your family, especially your son. May God comfort and keep. And it’s O.K to mourn.

  14. Donna says:

    I was one who discovered your blog after searching for more information on the tragedy of Steven Curtis Chapman & his family losing their precious Maria. As an adoptive mother to a daugher from China, I have cried and prayed for the family since first hearing the news. It has affected me in ways I cannot begin to verbalize.

    Thank you for your words and insights.

  15. Rachael Elliott says:

    I started crying when I read the part about Maria’s funeral. My thoughts and prayers go out to my brother in Christ, Steven and his family. Lord, bring comfort upon this family and wrap your arms of love and peace around them. Heal their hurts and renew their strength. In your name…


  16. Becky says:

    I can’t keep from praying for Maria’s brother! He is so heavy on my heart and I know it must be the Lord who is prompting me. I wake up during the night and pray for him. I pray for his parents as they lead him through this. How does a parent who is grieving walk a child through this great test of his faith? I don’t have the answers, but I do know that we serve the God of ALL comfort and He can carry them through this even when their faith weakens and is tempted to fail. When we are faithless, He is still faithful. We will continue to bring this family, and especially this teenage boy, before the throne of grace. May God strengthen his faith and not let him give way to doubts. May he learn to speak truth to himself and not listen to himself. Our family has always been encouraged by this family’s ministry. My youngest son, at 2.5 yrs old, couldn’t say much, but he could ask to listen to “Stepen Curwis, Chapmaaaan”. We love you guys! God be with you!

    Becky in AR

  17. Maria Sue Chapman’s Funeral Service…

    The service was this past Saturday. Please see this post at the Beauty and Depravity blog….

  18. MikeT says:

    My friend, you have just written what I have been feeling. I have been living and breathing this little girls story in my head for the last 6 days. When I see an SUV I pray for the family, when I see an Asian child I pray for Will Franklin, when I see young children I pray for the other 2 adopted sisters that they feel safe. But what I notice is that I have opened up to people, I am looking strangers in the eye and sayng hello with a smile, I stopped to help an elderly couple change a flat tire even though I was in a hurry, I want to help other people understand adoption and be able to adopt children. I have always wanted to make the world a better place, but this story has inspired me to do something about it and not just think it. Even though I sit and wonder why her and why them, I also see that this family is going to make it and going to continue to fight to make this world a better place because they stand with faith in God and they know that we will once again see Maria on the other side. I dont think that we understand this and faith doesn’t always make the pain less, but they still have hope and they will continue with their life of compassion as we should all do.

  19. Mrs. Lee says:

    I will always remember the Chapman family and the loss of Maria. The 21st was my birthday. Having little children of my own my heart was broken over and over on the 22nd after I heard of Maria’s death. I will now always pray for this family; especially on my future birthdays and especially for the brother who was driving…he really needs our prayers!

  20. I feel as if I know this family. It’s because we are family in The Lord Jesus Christ. I have shed tears and wept along with them. I feel Will Franklin’s hurt and the hurt of all the family and will continue to pray that healing and joy returns fully even over the top because Maria (which is my middle name) seemed so full of joy, excitement and fun that she will see to it that things return to normal and even extraordinary from where she is seated with The Lord on high! I may buy my first Steven Curtis Chapman CD soon. I have always loved “I Will Be Here” which I first heard over 20 years ago at a wedding. It was sung by a little know singer back then named Donnie McClurkin. God is good to us and we will all see how He will turn this around for good somehow. Maybe millions of children will be adopted now and spared homelessness and poverty. One never knows but we do know that what the enemy meant for evil, GOD will make good!

  21. “But, let’s not stop there. Please…let’s not stop there. Pray and give generously to the relief efforts in China, Burma, or other places that tug at your hearts. ”

    Or consider opening your heart and home to a child in your home state’s foster case system who would could really use a supportive family and a stable home environment. 😉

  22. Frankenstein says:

    We can all learn from it. You may wish to read my new essay on the Steven Curtis Chapman tragedy, ‘From Grief to Grace’ –

  23. Ruth says:

    Ever since last Wednesday I have felt this burden on my heart to pray for the chapman’s.
    Especially Will Franklin,I can’t imagine the pain that is in his heart.As hard as it is to comprehend at times,God loves you Will and you were a tool in God’s hands last Wed.May 21st,2008.None of us can understand why God took little Maria Sue home when He did,but we can know that we serve the True and Living God who is able to comfort us in our heartaches and trails.

    Even though God killed His only Son,Jesus in our place,the Roman Soldiers were tools in God’s hands,He forgave them while on the cross.I am certainly not placing Will in this picture at all,so do not look too hard into it.

    If anyone knows Sharon Ethridge she has written a book called,”Completely His”she was a teenager when she was driving to school one day and hit someone.It turned out to be someones wife and yet she was a tool in God’s hands and this ladies husband did not hold anything against her because his wife had actually been talking about that she felt that God was going to call her home soon,and it has taken years for Sharon to accept but she now knows that God used her to bring His child home and now she has a beautiful husband and two children and the husband of the wife who she hit is re-married and they look on Sharon as a daughter.Sharon also has a beautiful Ministry teaching young girls to be pure till marriage.

    God is going to heal your heart Will in a way that you will praise Him for later,not now because He knows that you need to grieve and walk through this,this is natural.

    I know that Lord willing,showed He tarry, and it is His will for me to marry,it may not be.I have always had this desire for years now,since my teen years that I would love to adopt a child.There are so many children in this world that are motherless & fatherless and no one cares for them,that is what the body of Christ is and should be a part of.

  24. Ashli says:

    “Seeing and celebrating the glory of God where it shows up…in the pain…in the joy that He has given us in this life…”


    I thank God that Maria was loved by the Chapmans and that they were loved by her. Her life may not have had quantity here on earth, but it had quality. And I have every faith that God is going to use her short earthly life in a powerful way.

    I continue to pray for her brother in particular, and for her sisters who witnessed the accident.

  25. heather says:

    I send my prayers and love to Maria and her family.

  26. grace says:

    one cant farthome the loss of a loved one under such incidences,my heart felt condolonceses to the chapmans my prayer is that the brother forgives himself.,grace

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Grateful. Still reflecting on the letters that I've received from classmates and students that have come before me and after me. Never imagined all that God would have in store for me. Lots of humbling things but in the midst of them, there were literally thousands upon thousands of daily decisions and choices to be faithful. That's what matters. Seen or unseen. Noticed or unnoticed. You do your best and sometimes you stumble and fumble along but nevertheless, seeking to be faithful.

Also, you know you're getting old when your school honors you with a Distinguished Alumni Award. Lol. 47 is the new 27. Or something like that. Here's to the next 47. In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

Indeed, God is not yet done. May we take heart for Christ has overcome the world. "Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity and they become mere projects. And God did not intend for anyone to become our projects." Grateful this quote from my book, Overrated, is resonating with so many folks - individuals and  NGOs. / design by @preemptivelove

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