Isaiah 43:19 – Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. (KJV)
Last year, Steven Curtis Chapman didn’t know it, but God had been feverishly working behind the scenes to re-order the pieces of his life, revamping the makeup of his family, the way he would make music and even view his daily existence.
It all began when Chapman’s pastor, Scotty Smith, presented consecutive sermons that revolved around the topic of God making all things new. Just as day becomes night, so the earth changes seasons, the trees’ leaves turn from tender green to crinkly bronze, only to sprout anew as spring comes to call. A life shattered is restored by Christ’s love.
The concept of God making things new is not a new one, but one that Chapman had never really contemplated — until things started to change, radically. Through these earthquake changes, Chapman not only realized there was no way he was in control of his life, but he must let God take the wheel — or crash.
Who’s going to love Maria?
While standing on a porch in China, meeting an orphaned baby girl who was staying with American missionaries, a song began ringing loudly in Chapman’s head. “Maria” was a song he had penned 12 years prior for The Great Adventure album, the lyrics inspired by a little girl with whom his daughter, Emily, had attended kindergarten. The words of the song shook him, touching his soul.
“There I was holding this baby girl and they told me her name. Immediately this song started blaring in my brain,” Chapman remembers. “And the voice was like God singing it. It sounded like James Earl Jones in this deep voice singing, ?Who’s gonna love Maria?’ I was thinking, ?No, God. We have too many (children) already. I’m serious! This is so not fair. You have all these little tricks up Your sleeve!'”
Stunned, Chapman asked the missionaries why they had chosen the name Maria for the orphan girl. It was an odd choice — a Hispanic name for a Chinese girl. They really had no answer other than they thought it a pretty name and it seemed to fit the girl. They couldn’t adopt the 1-year-old, the missionaries said, but were keeping her safe, praying for her and loving her as they waited for God to bring her a family. Somehow, Chapman knew why he was there. God wanted him to take Maria as his daughter and give her his name. He pushed the thought away, remembering he already had five children at home. Adopting another one was out of the question — wasn’t it?
When God’s answer is staring you in the eyes
Returning to his home in Franklin, Tenn., Chapman told Mary Beth, his wife of 24 years, about Maria and the odd experience he had while holding her. They prayed. They wrestled with adding yet another child to their already big family. In addition to their three paternal children, Emily, 18; Will Franklin, 16; and Caleb, 13, the Chapmans had already adopted two little girls from China: In 2000, they brought home Shaohannah, now 6, and in 2002, they adopted Stevey Joy, now 3.
One day, a few weeks later, the missionaries sent Chapman some photos they had taken while he had visited them in China. His heart was pounding as he looked at a picture of Maria and himself.
“I was kissing her goodbye and saying a prayer with her. It was a picture, not of a man kissing an orphan, but one of a father kissing his daughter. I just looked at it and I was like, ?OK God. Who am I arguing with? This is my daughter.'”
Giving the family to God
In mid-July, the Chapmans flew to China to bring home their fourth daughter and sixth child — Maria Sue. An orphan of a communist country and diagnosed as a special needs child, Maria, now 17 months old, has a family of her own and a home in Tennessee with a large yard filled with grass and trees in which to play.
Six children are a lot, especially for a couple who has made it no secret that their marriage has had its rocky times. When the Chapmans felt led to adopt Shaohannah, their first daughter from China, some of their closest friends were concerned that adding another child to the mix might add more pressure to their already strained relationship. Wanting to obey God no matter what, Steven and Mary Beth Chapman stepped out in faith and adopted Shaohannah.
“God, we are going to trust you and this is going to expose us to the point that we know we aren’t in control,” Chapman prayed at the time. “If we thought we were in control before, then this is really going to blow us out of the water. God, if you’re not calling us to do this, then this will probably do us in.”
Surrender is the key to love
But adopting a child — or three — didn’t do them in. Strangely enough, their faith and their new daughters have lifted their marriage to a new dimension. Chapman marvels at how he and his wife have given up their urge to control one another, their family and the neatness of their home. They learned that in surrendering to God, their love has grown stronger and their family is flourishing as never before.
“I watched God use the last thing you would imagine (three orphaned children) to bring healing and health into my marriage,” Chapman says.
As a couple and as an individual, Mary Beth Chapman has really come into her own as well. She has stepped out of her husband’s vast show-biz shadow to speak boldly as a powerful advocate for adopting orphan children into Christian homes.
“Mary Beth definitely wasn’t the wife waiting for her chance to get into the spotlight. She hated it,” Chapman explains. “Now, she has a passion for others to share the miracle of adoption like we have. It’s so cool to see this part of her that I never knew was there. Neither one of us would have known that part of her was there if we hadn’t have gone to this very crazy place.”
Letting go of one daughter, embracing another
As God was orchestrating the entrance of a new daughter into the Chapman family, another was preparing to leave the nest. In August, Emily Chapman, 18, began her first semester at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. It is a bittersweet time for both Emily and her family. It was because of Emily’s steadfast belief that her parents were to adopt a daughter from China, and her nonstop prayers that first brought Shaohannah, and later Stevey Joy and Maria, into the family. Emily was sad to leave just as her new sister arrived.
The Chapman house will still be home to five children this fall, but God has created a new family dynamic with the addition of Maria. Meanwhile, Emily will venture into college, a fresh, open path before her. Mom and Dad will no doubt have some adjusting to do.
“I definitely have this big, huge, empty place in my soul that is like, ?Helloooo, is anybody home?'” says Chapman of his daughter’s absence. “And although it’s still there, I’m excited about her going to a place where she can become the woman that God is making her to be and watch what happens. She is going to rock! She is going to change the world. God is going to use her in so many ways that He couldn’t do if she were to stay here.”
Chapman knows firsthand about God taking people out of their comfort zone to use them for His purpose. Although he dislikes big cities, God led Chapman to record his new album, All Things New, in the most unlikely of places — Los Angeles, Calif., known ironically as the City of Angels.
Recording Christian tunes amidst worldly chaos
As God was rearranging Chapman’s family, he was also busy reshaping the singer’s long-held views on how to create a hit contemporary Christian music album. Christian albums are typically recorded and mixed by Christian musicians, producers and engineers in a nice studio somewhere around Nashville, Tenn. But not this time. Because Chapman had been studying the concept of God making all things new and had chosen All Things New as his album title, he decided to throw the old recipe out the window. Instead of recording in a beautiful setting in the rolling countryside, God led Chapman to a funky, rocked-out studio in the heart of Los Angeles, on Sunset Blvd., where prostitutes, drug addicts and strip clubs are the norm. The soundproof walls drip of music history. Mainstream rock legends such as Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and others have jammed in that place, making music for the rock-hungry masses.
Also missing were the Christian musicians. Enter mainstream musicians who play for the likes of Jane’s Addiction, Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morrisette. Chapman truly believes that it was God’s plan to bring this Christian album together in one of the most worldly places on earth with musicians who didn’t know Him or the first thing about Christian music.
“My hope and prayer was that if they (the musicians) didn’t know Jesus, they would by the time the record was over,” Chapman recalls of his time in Hollywood. “I definitely believe that all of them were deeply impacted by the lyrics and our discussions.”
Chapman and Brown Bannister, a Christian record producer, would spend their breaks musing about what God was doing in their lives and why He chose to bring them to Los Angeles to record All Things New with secular musicians. They told the musicians the album was special and God was running the show. And He was.
The God factor was obvious as Chapman worked with famed blues guitarist Jonny Lang, drummer Matt Chamberlain (Jane’s Addiction) and guitarist Lyle Workman (who has played with mega-pop-star Beck). Chamberlain, he says, is one of the sweetest guys he has ever met and Workman and Lang are already talking with Chapman about recording together again. The day before production ended in Los Angeles, Chapman prayed with Trina Shoemaker, the engineer for most of Sheryl Crow’s records. It was a touching time for Shoemaker, and all the musicians, who enjoyed the camaraderie and family-like atmosphere they experienced while working with Chapman and Bannister.
“We prayed in the first five minutes that we met. I didn’t know what they would think about it,” Chapman recounts. “Even in the making of this record, God was so evident.”
Going to Ninevah
How does Chapman know that God wanted him to record the new album smack dab in the middle of the chaos of Los Angeles? It was an answer to prayer. Since God had began working in his life to alter and renew it, Chapman prayed that God would lead him according to His will, promising God that he would follow no matter what. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if God would use three adopted children to create a stronger bond of love and a sense of calm in the Chapman family that he would take the singer to a crazy, chaotic place to make his music?
Confirmation came that this was where God wanted the record made when Chapman discovered a quaint, quiet courtyard nestled among the three recording studios. There he stood in a quiet, peaceful place with trees and flowers, while life outside buzzed past at the speed of lightning. Looking upward to the sky, he spotted a cross, framed perfectly between the two taller buildings. The cross, perched atop a church that stood across Sunset Blvd., was inscribed with the words, “For the Greater Glory of God.”
“I asked God to give me a view to remind me that He makes all things new,” Chapman says. “He gave me that cross right in the middle of Los Angeles to remind me that this is where life is happening. You go to those mountaintops, and they’re great places, but this is where God is making things new — right here. You find out where His story is happening and you go to it.”
Copyright © 2005 Christian Music Planet, used with permission.