* 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.”