For Christian music legend Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, autumn is their favorite time of year. In addition to the gorgeous colors of the season, October calls to mind the month in which they were married in 1984. It is also a season that invites reflection on the fruit that comes with growth. As “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman (no relation) observed each fall long ago, an abundant harvest comes from small beginnings. Steven’s abundant harvest includes five Grammy Awards and 59 Dove Awards, over 11 million albums sold, and songs that have been recorded by the likes of Sandi Patty, Glen Campbell, and Roger Whittaker. But the in-gathering of God’s faithfulness is more than just musical accolades. For the Chapmans it also includes the trophies associated with raising six children (three biological and three adopted from China). In their 38 years of marriage, the greatest adventure of their life together has been scripted by those who call them Mom and Dad.
“We’ve always said we love every stage of life with our kids,” Mary Beth contends. “Every stage of parenting has its unique challenges, no question about it. I’m a believer that you kind of get what you expect. So we’ve tried to live with the expectation that every season is going to have its unique joys along with its unique challenges, and that has definitely been the case.”
One unique challenge found the couple facing the tragic death of their 5-year-old daughter, Maria, in 2008. The devastation of this unexpected loss was met head-on with a determination to not let life’s trials derail their commitment to one another. The lyrics of Steven’s song “I Will Be Here” — written as a pledge to Mary Beth, following his parents’ painful divorce — verbalizes their resolve to embrace heartache and each other with God’s help.
The most decorated Christian musician of all time met the person who would become his wife and partner in life and ministry at AndersonUniversity in rural Indiana. Steven discovered that he and a freshman female student by the name Mary Beth Chapman (her maiden name) shared the same campus mailbox. Neither of them could have guessed on that warm Midwestern fall day 40 years ago that within two years they would eventually be sharing the same mailbox the rest of their lives.
The title of Steven’s autobiography, between Heaven and the real World, is a play on the title cut of one of his most popular albums —Heaven in the real World. Because the book chronicles God’s faithfulness in a fallen world, they are quick to admit they are still in the process as a couple and as followers of Jesus.
Gleaning From Life
Reflecting on their ministry as a couple, Steven admits, “We didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s been the process of our walking through life together, making about every mistake you can make. … I think our ministry is to tell and show people in as vulnerable and honest a way as we can that God is faithful and has been [faithful] in every step of the journey of our life together.”
It’s a life together that found the boy from Paducah, Kentucky, and the girl from Springfield, Ohio, proving the axiom that opposites attract. In an interview on Focus on the Family® a few years ago, Steven admitted that he is like Tigger from the Winnie the Pooh stories, while Mary Beth resembles Eeyore: one the contagious optimist and the other a glass-half-empty melancholy. The result is a balancing act that levels out unrealistic expectations while being more intentional about how they care for each other.
“I think now we have a ministry that has been seasoned with time,” Mary Beth admits. “We’ve seen God move, experienced mountaintops and valleys, loss, victories, loneliness, all the things. I think of the cast iron skillet: The older they are, the better they are as they get worn and seasoned. It’s way different now, not that we’re that much wiser, but we certainly have more life experience. And we try to pass that on.”
Passing it on has included watching their children grow, embrace the faith, and have children of their own. Emily, Caleb, and Will — the three oldest Chapman kids — are married and have blessed Steven and Mary Beth with six grandchildren.
For the past four decades, the Chapmans have made their home in suburban Nashville, Tennessee. As part of Christ Community Church in Franklin, they have found a place where their marriage has grown and their ministry has prospered. Steven acknowledges that many of his lyrics have been birthed from messages their pastor, Scotty Smith, has preached.
Giving to Others
As Steven and Mary Beth look back on their 38 years in Christian ministry, one highlight doesn’t have a thing to do with writing, recording, or performing music. It has to do with living out the lyrics of love. As Mary Beth explains, it has to do with listening to their eldest child.
“When our oldest daughter, Emily, began to feel a sense that God was putting on her heart that we should pray about adoption, …we already had three kids, and life was busy,” Mary Beth observed. “We did begin to pray about it, and God took us on this crazy, amazing journey that led us into the miracle of adoption of not one but three daughters.”
The result of the Chapmans’ willingness to open their hearts and their home to three little girls from China was a decision the couple made a few years later to launch an organization they called ShowHope. This unique adoption agency that began in 2003 allows Christian parents to adopt when the cost of traditional adoption seems an unachievable obstacle. Ironically, daughter Emily has led the organization for the last several years.
“We offer financial aid grants to help cover the costs of the adoption, as well as other resources and support for a family on the adoption journey,” Mary Beth observes. “The average adoption aid grant is about $9,000 now, and we have been able [to help more than] 8,000 families through adoption aid grants.”
This most gifted family, who has enriched the lives of countless Christian families, approaches Thanksgiving this year trusting God and giving Him thanks for whatever the next season of their lives will bring. And that likely will include more challenges. After all —and in the words of one of Steven Curtis Chapman’s most loved songs — we’re not home yet.
About the author
Greg Asimakoupoulos is the chaplain at covenant Living at the Shores in Seattle. He is the author of 12 books including Finding God in It’s a Wonderful Life. Greg and his wife, Wendy, have three grown daughters and two granddaughters.