Choosing to SEE

I am most of the way through Mary Chapman’s book, Choosing to SEE. My heart is so full, I couldn’t wait until I was finished to pour out the words and emotions oozing from me this morning.

I’ll be honest, I was putting it off. Not sure what I expected. I spend so much of my time immersed in the grief of others, reading the stories of broken-hearted mothers and families trying to live a new normal. Prayers for each of them leave my lips and the weight of each one tugs at my heart. I have learned to balance the heaviness of grief, both my own and others, while still embracing the joy of every breath. Well, most of the time. In truth, I suppose I’m still learning to do that…and covered in much grace as I try.

Anyway, I’m not sure what I expected from this book, but I knew that it would be another story of a broken-hearted mother carried by a loving God, comforted in His arms. I needed some time to prepare for this one.

What I didn’t expect was how much of Mary Beth’s heart was poured into her telling of the story that God has woven through her amazing life. I didn’t expect there to be so much of her shining from the pages . And, I certainly didn’t expect her to capture my heart so completely with her spirit. I was there in Columbus when time stopped as she took the Women of Faith stage to tell her story for the first time. I mean this with all do respect. But Mary Beth is not a typical wrapped up in a neat bow, smoothed edges Christian. She is beautiful…don’t get me wrong. But, she is probably the most genuine, real person…so real that it is disarming. So honest, and humble. So not a picture of a woman wallowing in grief, and yet still someone that you know battles the struggles of balancing sorrow and joy each day. She is funny and gritty, honest about her imperfections in a way that somehow endears her to us even more.

I laughed through most of this book. And a couple times, I cried. But, when she told the account of what happened on May 21, 2008 in her driveway….the words gut-wrenching and heart-wrenching took on new meaning for me as the two collided in my own body’s physical response to her words. The sobs I cried literally wrenched my heart and turned my stomach as I pictured the blow that Satan delivered to this beautiful family on that spring day. I wanted to throw my arms around each of them, and felt as if I were there feeling the devastation with them that day as I read her words. And, the mother part of me wanted to back away…run away…far away from the possibility that any mother would ever be in that moment.

And, then…came hope.

The kind of hope that rises when you are in the midst of the ugliest, most hopeless situation. The kind of raw truth….so bare and real that when it comes in the midst of such incredible devastation that you know it has to be real. You couldn’t conjure up that kind of hope when you are so hopeless. Those are the moments we know that God will meet us there. When hope falls from the mouth of a mother who has just held her lifeless child for the last time…and a father who gave his last butterfly kiss. That is the place where eternity lives on this earth. That is where we have to embrace God and know that He is. When it is the darkest and the veil is the thickest….that is when we SEE with the most clarity….our desperate need for Him. And, his complete ability and willingness to meet us anywhere.

I love that Mary Beth seems like the kind of soul that would rather laugh…which is kind of ironic, considering that she has cried many tears in her life as she battles depression and now has walked such intense grief. I love that about her…that she has a spirit that still finds a way to laugh and desires to make others laugh. I love that she finds herself in these crazy Lucille Ball moments (of which I can also relate). I love that she is a beautiful mess. And, I love that it is so easy to see Jesus through her beautiful mess. I wonder if she knows that she and her family have revealed Jesus to so many people in such a tangible, miraculous way. Those seem like just words….inadequate words. I know she would say that she is a mother who would trade all of the lives touched by Maria’s passing to hold her little girl again. But, that truth just makes THE truth even more real and beautiful.

Stephen and Mary Beth aren’t just giving some pretty Christian words like a band aid to fix everything. They are living this. They are “doing hard”, gut-wrenching, toughing it out through this pain….and still clinging to Him for breath everyday. When they say He is the way, because of where they have walked, it is believable….even for the most hardened cynic.

God’s timing is always so perfect, and He is creative in the ways He speaks to our hearts. Do you know that there is no place too far, too dark that He cannot reach you? Do you know that He will not give up….He will not stop reaching for you…even when you are not reaching back? Please let those words sink in.

I have not been the person I want to be…for such a long time. I’ve hidden behind my layers. A couple times, I ventured out…thinking I could climb out out on my own. Saying I would trust God to help me, but not really trusting Him. The layers were no match for me…with all their stinky heaviness. Even as I write this, I just ate a handful of Doritos. I am still a work in progress, but I know who to cling to. I know the Lifter of my Head.

Recently, some wonderful blogger friends attended the Relevant Conference. I so wanted to go, but it just wasn’t to be. I couldn’t make the time and resources fit into my plan, and figured it must not have been in God’s plan for me to go. Instead, I stayed home and had a very revealing conversation with my husband about the way I spend my time and the focus of my heart.

Home was where I needed to be.

Home needed to be the most relevant thing for that moment. God has been speaking to my heart about living the life He’s given me to live….even as I balance the reality of sorrow in the lives of others. He has been whispering freedom and joy into my heart in ways that I am trying to learn to embrace. I have been hiding under the various hats I wear and the many layers I cover myself with. My visits with the Lord have been few and far between…other than the prayers I lift for those who are hurting, the mini prayers I throw up on behalf of my family, and the moments He has permeated my heart during worship. My time with Him has not been as intentional…not a daily priority. Not lately. It’s hard to run to Him, when you are busy running away.

As I’ve poured over Mary Beth’s book the past couple days, it occurs to me that God can reveal His relevance and make our lives relevant where ever we are. I didn’t get to go to the conference and hug the women whom I have laughed with and cried with, prayed with, and been inspired by since I entered this blogging world. I didn’t get to go get all encouraged and filled up. Oh, how I longed to go. But, He is filling me right here….stinky, onion layers and all. Right here. Finding me, even as I’m running away. Loving me just as I am…embracing me just as I am…using me, just as I am.

I desperately want to be relevant…and free…full of joy…living this life…embracing every moment…dancing the dance He has meant for me to dance. I want to live the adventure He means for us to live…ready to go every time He says go. Unencumbered by the worldly flesh that holds us back. I want to see all that He has for us…I want to SEE Him in everything.

And, I feel Him whispering….

“Just show up. I’ll do the rest.”


He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?      Micah 6:8


Mary Beth Chapman ~ Part Two

Continued from Part One of my account of Mary Beth Chapman speaking at the Women of Faith Conference in Columbus, Ohio. (Click here to read Part One.)

We waited, literally on the edge of our seats for her words. She looked down at her papers and sipped her water. There were some light-hearted quips about her sweet husband…little windows into life in the Chapman family. Then, she delved into her story and we were captivated.

She spoke of wrestling with God…

“I’ve always had a plan,” she began, as she described her type A personality and her need for control. “But, there were so many plot twists…my plan had to go out the window.”

She wanted to marry someone who was predictable, a planner with a schedule…maybe an accountant. Instead, she fell in love with a “guitar-playing, mullet-wearing, song-writing musician” named Stephen Curtis Chapman. The only thing they had in common was being in love and sharing the same last name. His glass is always half full…where hers is always half empty. Her family believed practical jokes were a love language. Stephen thinks practical jokes are “vandalism”! (That one really made me smile, because my husband is the same way. And, I know how ornery he was as a kid. So, it really makes me laugh that he is so strict about things like “toilet-papering”. He won’t allow our kids to do it! My mother went toilet-papering with me when I was in Jr. High…and even fell out of a tree and cut her leg when we were almost caught! Oops…did I just blog that?!)

She went on…

“God was writing His story all along and I was trying my best to control it.”

As his career grew, she struggled with feeling even more out of control of their circumstances and their lives. She shared of her battle with clinical depression, an ongoing battle that forces her to draw near to Jesus.

Her words:

“(It) daily drives us to Jesus, the Healer of all pain in all ways.”

Oh…what desperately beautiful words of hope and truth. He is the Healer of ALL pain…in ALL ways. He is faithful.

When she spoke of adopting their daughters from China, her words were so fitting…such a picture of the rescue that we ourselves have received.

She said…

“For the first time, I realized what Jesus did for us on the cross…”

“She had no name, no hope…We came and gave her a family, an inheritance.”

Jesus came and did the same for us. “He told us, He would not leave us orphans.”

And…He kept that promise.

Then…on May 21, 2008…

“God wrote a chapter in our lives that nobody wanted…”

She courageously and with raw honesty spoke the words that every mother can understand…

“As a mom, I would choose to have Maria back over all the lives this story has touched.”

Tears streamed down my face as I nodded. We know. We know what she means. We know what it is to see God make beauty from ashes…to even understand how He has given us so much from walking that path. How He has touched so many lives because they lived on this Earth. But, we didn’t choose it. And had we been given the choice to offer comfort to others or to watch our children grow up, we would choose to have them here with us. He sees the beginning from the end. We do not. And, we are mothers, after all.

Mothers…just like Mary Beth…who was busily living life when this storm swept in without warning.

And, then…these words from her mother-heart…

“I miss her with all the miss that there could be in the world.”

Yeah…
They were living life…planning weddings and graduations…busily preparing. One day they were planning a wedding for one child, and the next, a funeral for their little girl.

“Satan surely came calling for the Chapman family…Satan didn’t win. He won’t win.”

Her voice rose slightly with firm resolve as she said those words.

Life continued on with it’s relentless pace…oblivious to the attack that had pummelled their lives. Their son sang at his graduation in the very same place where he had attended the funeral of his sister the day before.

They were initiated into the “fellowship of suffering”.

Days into this new journey one of their children asked,

“Why is it so hard?”

Mary Beth answered, “Because God has asked us to do hard.”

“We have chosen to see that God is in all of this…Can we choose to see God in the good and in the pain?”

She talked about Maria’s Big Hope…about the promise that out of these ashes, beauty will rise.

As the days wore on, they were wanting desperately to “see” God’s hand in all of this. The children found a drawing that Maria Sue had been working on. It was a flower with six petals…only one was colored in fully. To Mary Beth, that one represented her daughter…the only one of her six children who was completely full, healed, and home.

On the back of the drawing was one simple word…a word Maria Sue had never written before.

In big, unmistakably bold, capital letters the word…

SEE

They knew…

“God was with us…He has a plan for us.”

She said so much more. Some of the most poignant and hope-filled words were lost in the frenzy as I frantically scrawled her words in my little green notebook in the dark. I desperately wanted to share the gift of those moments with you. She was speaking quickly at the end, conscious that time was running out. We could have listened to her all night. We sat captivated. She mentioned something about “we who are sufferers are invited…to a special place close to God’s heart.” She said it so much more eloquently, and I lost some of her words. They were words of faith and hope from a women who has been through the fires of desperate grief.

I will leave you with these simple words from Mary Beth…words of hope and truth.

“God is good even when life is not.”

Stephen Curtis met her on the steps as she descended and he embraced her, his eyes still damp from the tears he shed, as she recounted their journey of beauty rising from ashes. With unabashed pride and love, he acknowledged the incredible courage she displayed…taking that stage to share such sacred pieces of brokenness and healing with all of us. We knew. We knew we had witnessed such intimacy from two people who have walked in the ruins and beheld the ashes of their lives.

Stephen bit back the tears several more times as he began singing the promise…

“Out of these ashes…beauty will rise…”

It’s rising, sweet Chapman family…in all of it’s heart-wrenching splendor…beauty is rising from the ashes. It is a glorious sight to behold…and one of extreme hope. Thank you for allowing us to see it…to hear it…to walk this path with you. And, thank you for your faithfulness as you continue to cling the One who carries you…the One who dances with you among the ruins.

Yes…

God is good, even when life is not.

Sandi Patty, Stephen Curtis, Mary Beth, and more….Part One

As you’ve heard if you’ve been remotely near this blog recently, I spent an amazing weekend of renewal and encouragement at the Women of Faith Conference in Columbus with some wonderful blog and in real-life friends. I’ve been meaning to write about the speakers, and in particular…Mary Beth Chapman.

As thousands of women poured into Nationwide Stadium, I reflected on the ways that God had blessed our time in Columbus. Two girls bopping around the city, not really knowing their way around. He had been our guide, parting seas of traffic to smooth the path before us, setting up divine appointments with soft-hearted chaplains who genuinely cared about grieving families, and leading us to just the right hospital (one we weren’t planning to go to) when we “lost our way” for a moment. It seems we thought we were lost, but we were on His path all along. I smiled as I thought of how He mulitiplied the three tickets we purchased, and how several beautiful women of faith who otherwise would not have, gathered together to find refreshment and encouragement last weekend.

The lights dimmed and the worship team took the stage. Thousands of voices joined as one to praise their Father. Sweet Jennilee sat to my right and Becki to my left.

Soon Anita Renfroe, hysterical and quite gifted in “breaking the ice” had us all laughing deep belly laughs until tears filled our eyes. Oh, that girl is seventy kinds of funny! Love her…

While Mandisa sat wrapped in her Snuggi on the “porch”, Sandi Patty took the stage and melted us with the beauty of her indescribably phenomenal voice. There are no words that could do it justice. Hearing Sandi sing is like getting a specially-wrapped gift straight from heaven. Perhaps in heaven everyone will sound like Sandi…wouldn’t that be something? I think I could listen to her for eternity.

Sandi shared about her battle with her weight. I loved when she said that she released seventy-five pounds…because if you lose something you intend to get it back!

She spoke of a time when she was rejected by Disney to work as one of their singers, because of her weight…

She said that it was devastating.

She thought she stood on the edge of a dream.

Then she felt that she was on the edge of disaster.

She later realized that she was on the edge of the divine.

…where grace begins…

Soon after that time, she had the opportunity to tour with the Gaithers and there she learned many things that have taken her to where she is today.

Later, she shared a time when she struggled with feeling like she would never be enough…

Moms, wives, women on planet earth…have you ever felt that way? Ever felt like you could never be enough? Can I get an amen, sister?!

She told how the Lord revealed to her this message:

“You are enough for Me and I am enough for you…”

And, she said, “We are worthy of His love…we are enough…”

Because of Jesus, we are worthy and we are enough…

What I love the most about Sandi’s message, though is how she referred to the time when she started to work on losing weight as “peeling back the layers”…what a woman after my own heart. She gets it. You know, for those of us comfort eaters…it is a “peeling back the layers” process. And, what’s underneath isn’t pretty! At least not all of it…O.K., most of it!!

———

Next, that little spitfire, Patsy Clairmont stepped on to the stage. Did you know that Patsy once battled (and still does at times) agoraphobia? Patsy’s son battled a life-threatening case of H1N1 this past year. I’d love to go into detail, but I’ll just give you the gist of her message. I know you are all waiting to hear about Mary Beth and Stephen…and I have a lot to say about that.

Patsy said…

Prayer matters…
Love matters…
People matter…
Recovery is a process…
Never give up…

“Sometimes change is good.” And when circumstances change and we resist…thinking they look a certain way, reacting in fear and hesitation….as in her journey with her son’s illness and recovery…ask…as the Lord whispered to her heart…

“What if this change is for good?”

I like that…and I love you, Patsy…

Oh…one more thing Patsy said, when talking about feeling protective of our families. You know how it is when you are in the hospital with a loved one and you’re not sure about the choices they’re making?

She said…

“We gals can rise up mighty when it comes to our people!”

Yes, we can, Miss Patsy…yes, we can! =)

——————-

Stephen Curtis Chapman took the stage…

We held our breath…

He sang…”Sink or swim, I’m diving in…”

He sang the words, and we knew he meant every nuance. We knew that when the river’s high, the water’s deep…He was going in, trusting God whether He would sink or swim…

We know where He has walked…

Before he sang a heart-wrenching “Butterfly Kisses”, he said…

“I can sing this song because I am going to sing and dance again with my princess, my Cinderella…”

He spoke of his Maria Sue who went to be with Jesus on May 21, 2008 after a tragic accident. She was five years old.

More of Stephen’s words of hope…

“…we anchor ourselves to the hope of the gospel…”

“God is going to make everything new…take that hope and promise to this moment…live with hope and purpose…anchor ourselves to Him. Our future is so far greater than our short past….

I will continue to sing until I get to dance with her again…”

The sea of grief is relentless. Many of you know that. Many of you are being tossed about mercilessly as we speak…helpless in the clutches of the storm. People can talk of hope…of the promises of Jesus. But, those words coming from this father…who has lived this pain and experienced the hope of that anchor as he clutches onto it for dear life while the sea roars around him.

Him, we listen to. We know he knows of that which he speaks. He knows it in an intensely real way.

Watching him, was faith and courage in action. I watched as he bit his lip several times to fight back the tears. The beauty and the brokenness were woven into his eyes, lilting forth in the sound of his beautiful voice, pouring through the haunting words promising that indeed, beauty will rise from these ashes. His unabashed love for his wife, his children, his Savior shining, nay…oozing out of every core of his being.

It was like beholding rising beauty.

With pride (and humility, too), he teared up as he introduced his wife Mary Beth.

Again, we held our breath, knowing that we were being given a precious gift. This was the first time sweet Mary Beth had taken the Women of Faith stage and shared the most tender pieces of her heart. What an unimaginable privilege that we could be invited into such a sacred place. For it is an incredible gift to be allowed to walk with a grieving heart…to hear the testimonies of God’s grace in the valley of the shadow of death.

She tenderly made her way to the stage. Her eyes drawn with grief, her body still carrying the weight of sorrow on her tiny frame, she displayed more courage than I have the words to convey. She stood in the middle of the stadium shuffling her papers in her shaking hands, taking a moment to get her voice. We embraced her with every fiber of our hearts.

When she hesitated, tearing up for a moment…words of encouragement were shouted from various parts of the filled stadium.

“We love you, Mary Beth….”

And, we cried with her…

She found her voice, though…and beauty rose. Beauty, courage, strength, faith, hope. Those aren’t just words…not when you are beholding one who stands in the very grip of His grace. Nothing is more real.

More on what Mary Beth said coming soon in another post…

To be continued…