You know when you have to play an ice breaker game or a get to know you game? You know that question, “If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?” I hate that game. I hate that particular question. For years I stuck with the answer Pilate, because I’d love to know what was going through his head while Jesus was on trial. But after reading this book last night, I’ve changed my answer to Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman (and not because he’s a famous artist; because of their lives).
In 2009, when I was slandered on an anti-adoption website, the people right above me on the “vulture” list were the Chapmans. I considered myself in good company, and felt a little better that I was being lumped in with them. They are recipients of the Angels in Adoption Congressional award. They are super devout Christians. They truly seek God in all they do. And after reading this book last night, I can also say they are real.
Mary Beth Chapman is a real woman. Yes, she is married to a Christian rock star, but she is real. She struggles with things “normal” women struggle with. She has experienced things in her life that almost everyone experiences, with the exception of the death of her five year old daughter (meaning, I pray that the death of a young child is not something almost everyone experiences).
The book, “Choosing to SEE,” is the story of her life. Yes, the heart of the book is about her (five year old adopted Chinese) daughter Maria’s death in 2008. But the soul of the book is about trusting God in the bad. It’s about choosing to see God in the pain and the death and the suffering and the tragedy. It’s about choosing to accept God’s will for your entire life and giving up control (because let’s face it, us having control is simply an illusion). It’s about one family’s reality of living that dichotomy of loving God and being so angry at Him at the same time. It’s about one family learning to live with grief and joy. Even the way the book is published and printed draws you into their life.
I started this book at about 7:00 last night. I finished it at 12:45 this morning. I couldn’t stop reading it. Keith came to bed and found me sobbing. Sobbing. The chapters about Maria’s death, funeral service and so forth just about killed me. I was gasping for breath I was crying so hard at one point. I cannot imagine.
But, because Mrs. Chapman is a gifted writer, I could imagine. I could picture myself viewing the things she was seeing; I could feel the things she was feeling.
The first section of the book details her life growing up, meeting Steven, marriage and things like that. But she also covers things that she didn’t think were necessarily important at the time, but aided her in her time of grief. The middle section of the book covers Maria’s death and the following few weeks. The last section of the book are excerpts from Mrs. Chapman’s journals and blog entries.
One thing in particular struck me in the 2008 Christmas letter she wrote to her friends and family. About halfway into the letter, while talking about how Mary must have felt, knowing that she was raising Jesus to die, she wrote, “But because God favored Mary, she was also chosen to suffer. Not just at the crucifixion, but her whole life… . She was human, she had a baby, and she raised that baby with the heaviness that she was to see Him suffer and thus she too would suffer. I think when Mary was hiding things in her heart, it was a lot more than the reality of who she carried in her womb. I am certain that she was hiding away the memories of the first smiles and steps, as well as the first tears and tumbles. Knowing what was to come, did Mary have the opportunity to live differently as a mom to her little boy? I believe she did… . (she) probably begged God to let the cup pass from them, but in the end yielding up the prayer we all hesitate to pray when it comes to our children…Your will be done.”
As a new mother, I tremble in fear at the thought of my son dying. I don’t think about it 24/7. I don’t allow the fear to conquer my normal life. But when I wake up at 7:45 in the morning and Little Man is still sleeping, my heart clutches in my chest and my first instinct is that he stopped breathing (because normally he wakes up way earlier!). As an adoptive mother, I wonder if that which I feel and fear for him is normal (and Mrs. Chapman, as an adoptive mother herself, confirms that for me a hundred times over in her book). I wonder if I really could give up my child if that’s what God wanted.
After finishing the book last night, I did pray perhaps the hardest prayer any mother could ever pray: “Father, let Your will be done in my son’s life. Here’s what I want, but it’s what You want that is important.” I guarantee that isn’t a one time prayer, either. But after reading this book, I am confident I can pray that prayer. And mean it.
Additionally, this book is a wonderful encouragement to adoptive families. I can’t even really articulate why, but I know that Mrs. Chapman affirmed for me many of the thoughts and feelings I have. It’s a beautiful book about family and what makes a family a family.
I highly highly recommend this book to every mother. It is a hard book, but a beautiful one. I would not, however, recommend you read it while you are highly hormonal like I was last night *grin*! And, as always, no one has paid me to write this review. I just feel very strongly about this book.
And I truly hope I get to meet Mrs. Chapman one day and tell her in person how much her story means to me.
Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman, with Ellen Vaughn. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell (Baker Publishing Group, 2010).