Wednesday, September 15, 2010

‘Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope’ by Mary Beth Chapman with Ellen Vaughn – Book Review

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I have appreciated the music of Steven Curtis Chapman for many years. I remember being in Franklin, Tennessee in 1994 and seeing him there talking to another gentleman. I decided not to interrupt the conversation! I had also been familiar with his wife, Mary Beth, who has been his supportive wife since 1984. I always wanted to learn more about them. So I was excited to hear that Mary Beth had decided to write a book, entitled 'Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope,' about their life.  

Here is the synopsis of this book:

From the beginning, Mary Beth Chapman’s life was not how she planned. All she wanted was a calm, peaceful life of stability and control. Instead, God gave her an award-winning singer/songwriter husband, crazy schedules, and a household of creatively rambunctious children. And then, she experienced the tragedy she never could have imagined.
In Choosing to SEE, Mary Beth unveils her struggle to allow God to write the story of her life, both the happy chapters and the tragic ones. And as the story unfolds, she’s been forced to wrestle with some of life’s biggest questions: Where is God when things fall apart? Why does God allow terrible things to happen? How can I survive hard times?
No matter where you find yourself in your own life story, you will treasure the way Mary Beth shoes that even in the hard times, there is hope if you choose to SEE.

Here is Mary Beth talking about her book and her life:

And here are Mary Beth and Steven talking about their lives:

Here are the biographies of these authors:

Mary Beth Chapman is the wife of Grammy and Dove Award winning recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman. Together they began Show Hope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for the world’s most vulnerable children by providing financial assistance to families wishing to adopt, as well as increasing awareness of the orphan crisis and funneling resources to orphans domestically and internationally. Mary Beth  serves as president of Show Hope and is a speaker for Women of Faith 2010 with her husband. She is also coauthor with Steven of the Shaoey and Dot series of children’s picture books. Mary Beth and Steven have six children: Emily, Caleb, Will Franklin, and adopted daughters Shaohannah Hope, Stevey Joy, and Maria Sue, who is now with Jesus. The Chapmans lives in Tennessee.

Ellen Vaughn is a bestselling author and inspirational speaker. Her recent books include Shattered, Lost Boy, Time Peace, Radical Gratitude, and It’s All About Him, a # 1 New York Times bestseller. She is also coauthor with Chuck Colson of Being the Body and eight other books. Vaughn and her husband, Lee, live in the Washington, D.C. area with their three teenagers.

The loss of their five year old daughter Maria on May 21, 2008 has, needless to say, had a profound effect on their family. Despite the pain, her faith has remained:

Even in this free fall of pain, I’ve landed on a solid foundation and my faith has held…on most days. I have learned that God is good…always. Hope is real. I have found – even in the awful pain of tears and grief so intense you think it will kill you – that my family and I can do hard. We’ll never get over our loss, but we’re getting through it. And so I have prayed that our journey through the shadows of loss might be of some help to those who have experienced similar pain…that our stewardship of this story would comfort many. (p. 24)

Mary Beth shared that she grew up in a very legalistic, works-oriented church. It left her confused:

You get the picture: I grew up very works oriented, with the idea that 
Christians don’t sin, they have “faults.” I wasn’t quite sure where the line was between people who sinned and people who simply had faults. As someone who likes to know the score, I became confused. I knew I had a relationship with God, but at what point did the big, far-off God in the sky get mad enough or disappointed enough to look at my faults and see them as sins? And if they were sins, was I really saved to begin with?
With my perfectionist personality, always trying my hardest to be good enough, I was setting myself up for huge disappointments. When bad things happened, was God so disappointed with me that He didn’t care anymore? I always had questions like this in my mind, and without the reality of grace, I just couldn’t wrap my arms around the Jesus who supposedly lived in the heart. (p. 30)

Boy, can I relate to those sentiments!

Mary Beth and Steven met at college, and they were married soon after they met each other (interesting tidbit – Mary Beth’s maiden name was Chapman, so she didn’t even need to change her name!). They spent part of their honeymoon at the Cincinnati Zoo, where the reality of their differences became apparent:

While this is a lovely zoo, I don’t necessarily recommend it for a honeymoon. It was pouring rain that day, and all of the animals were hiding in their habitats, depressed. As we strolled in the rain, we realized we were about as far apart in personality as two people could be. We cried together on the drive back to Nashville. The wedding was over, and reality was upon us.
We had known some of this while we were dating, of course, but dating is the Land of Magical Thinking. Once we had moved to the Land of Matrimony, we realized that Tigger had married Eeyore. Steve’s bouncy-bouncy, glass-half-full perspective was now linked till death do us part with my glass-half-empty, “Oh bother” outlook, and rarely the twain would meet. (pp. 40-41)

Mary Beth takes her readers on a journey of her life with Steven, including the birth of their three natural children – Emily, Caleb, and Will Franklin – and the adoption from China of their three beautiful chosen children – Shaohannah Hope, Stevie Joy, and Maria Sue.

Mary Beth suffers from depression, and she shares how it has affected her life:

What I began to understand was that this was a medical condition. It wasn’t logical. It wasn’t a response to my environment. It had to do with my brain chemistry and coping mechanisms that I’d developed over a lifetime. I began to see that I’d carried this for years, that depression had been the filter through which I had experienced much of my adolescence and everything since.
It obviously had affected my marriage as well. And now, with the depression diagnosis, it felt like any problems or difference between Steven and me were automatically my fault, because, well, I was depressed. This dynamic meant that I now carried more guilt, thinking every difference between us was because I wasn’t able to let go or lighten up, no matter how hard I tried. It often came down to this: Steven’s fun and spontaneous outlook trumped Mary Beth’s need for planning almost every time.
Depression also affected the way I reasoned, the way my brain itself perceived everyday life. While Steven might see a problem as an inconvenient obstacle he just had to figure out a way to bounce around, I saw problems as insurmountable mountains. (pp. 66-67)

Mary Beth came to realize that she was not going to be able to fix herself. She came to relate very well to a particular person in the Bible:

Now, thankfully, you hear a lot more in most Christian circles about brokenness. Most people I know are quite fond of the apostle Paul, not because he was a superachiever who spread the gospel throughout the known world, but because he realized that his pains and limitations were what kept him dependent on Christ. He knew he was a mess. (p. 69)

She has not arrived; she needs to depend on Jesus as Paul did (and all of us do):

I still have awfully dark days. I still take medication. I still see a counselor. I wish God would take my depression away. But so far He hasn’t, and perhaps that is because He’s using this as a way to keep me dependent on Him. I have to get my worth from Christ and Christ alone.
It’s a journey. I recognize the dark tides that can push and pull me to places I don’t want to go. So I anchor myself to the One who can take me where I do want to go. (p. 70)

Mary Beth and Steven received a wonderful gift when Maria approached them on February 20, 2008, telling them she wanted to be able to go to God’s Big, Big House (based on the song by Audio Adrenaline that she learned at school):

“Mom,” she said. “I wanna know more about God’s big, big house! I wanna go to God’s big, big house! How do you get there? Can I go there?”
Oh, my goodness! I thought. Here she is, four years old, and she’s asking how you get to go to heaven! (p. 134)

Mary Beth and Steven proceeded to explain salvation to Maria, and she accepted Jesus that day, as did her sister, Stevie Joy. That was much rejoicing in heaven that day!

May 21, 2008 is the day that changed the Chapman family’s lives forever – the day that Maria was run over and killed by her brother, Will Franklin, who did not see her as she came to greet him as he returned home in the family’s Land Cruiser. Mary Beth writes about the accident and the aftermath in great detail; it is truly both heartbreaking and redeeming.

The last third of the book is Mary Beth sharing her blog posts and journal entries over the last two years of her life. I loved the entry dated December 12, 2008; it is a lesson to all of us on how to live with more intention so we can deal with less regret:

How would I have lived differently if I knew that my time with Maria was going to be this short?  
Regretfully, I would have lived much differently. I would have purposely hugged and kissed more. I would have tried to memorize and lock away in my heart certain smells and smiles. I would have colored more and worked less. I would have laughed more and fussed less. (p. 211)

She wants her family’s suffering to have a positive effect on those who watch their lives:

So as much as we can, we will use our suffering as a place where people see our hope and our faith.
I’m sad. I’m really, really, catastrophically sad. I’m not sure when it will get better. I guess I will get through this but not ever will I get over it! So I will journey on, knowing that this isn’t my home, and that when I reach my journey’s end, I will be with Maria longer than I will have been without her. (p. 232)

This book has a large section (sixteen pages) of photos of the family throughout the years. There are many precious memories of the Chapman family shared with the readers of this touching book.

I really loved this book! Mary Beth (with, presumably, help from her co-author, Ellen Vaughn) writes with a transparent, fun, and real style. I felt as though I learned a lot about her, and think she would be an interesting person to sit down and chat with over coffee.

On a personal note, I thought it was sweet of the Lord to bring this book about coping with grief into my life at this particular time. Three days ago, we said our final goodbye to our 15 year old English Cocker Spaniel, Toby. Please don’t misunderstand; I am not equating the loss of a child with the loss of a pet. But to see what the Chapmans endured, and how they came through intact, gives me hope as I grieve and work through my catastrophic sadness. What is even more of a gift from the Lord is that I was under the impression that the blog tour ended three days later than it actually did; I therefore missed the deadline (my apologies again to Donna….). I had no idea that I would be enduring this loss prior to when it happened three days ago. So I am helped and comforted personally by this book at this time when I have a fresh bout of heart grief.

I am grateful to Mary Beth for exposing the truths of her journey from darkness into more and more light. I pray that this book will speak peace to many who have lost or will lose in the future, knowing that this family endured unspeakable loss and pushing through it to glorify God and help others.

You can order this book here.

Available September 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This book was published by Revell and provided by them for review purposes.

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