Losing a child rocks your world, your marriage and your belief in God to its core, as well-known Christian singer songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman can testify, but he determined it would only make him stronger.
Steven says that as a child he "grew up in a relatively happy home", although his parents fought often and his father "carried a heavy load of shame and anger" that he sometimes took out on Steven and his older brother Herbie.
The atmosphere at home changed profoundly, however, when Steven was seven years old and his parents and brother committed their lives to Christ during a gospel revival at their church.
Steven, himself, didn't respond at the time but later that year, seeing the change in his parents, he was challenged by the Scripture where Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone will open the door, I will come in."
"I don't remember anything else the pastor said," Steven shares, "but this was very clear to me. I could sense Jesus knocking at the door of my heart. I had seen a change happen in my family so when I heard this. It was what God used to ask, 'Will you invite me in?'
Steven recalls the day in his autobiographical book Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story: "I knelt down and prayed while the congregation continued singing... I was happy just to know I was on my way to heaven. I didn't have a lot of deep, dark sins to confess, so my conversion experience wasn't as dramatic as some. 'Am I supposed to cry?' I wondered aloud. 'I don't feel like crying. I feel like smiling!'
"It wasn't fear of hell or even a strong desire to go to heaven that motivated me to respond. It was the reality of having a relationship with Jesus that meant the most to me. 'This is a good day,' I thought.
"What God did in my heart that day in a small Kentucky church when I was just an eight year old little boy was eternally significant in my life."
The other defining influence in Steven's life was music. Steven's dad ran a music store and taught the guitar, so even before he was eight, Steven was reading music and song writing.
He and Herbie would perform together as the Chapman Brothers – he on guitar and Herbie singing.
"I have been fascinated with the whole idea of song writing for as long as I can remember," he recalls with a smile. "It was how I found my voice."
Steven's first album, First Hand, was released in 1987, topping at number 2 on the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) chart.
He maintained consistent success over the next 30 years, winning five Grammy awards and 58 Dove Awards in various categories (more than any other artist to date) with 19 more albums, 10 of which went gold or platinum.
In October, 1984, Steven married Mary Beth and together they had three children, Emily, Caleb, and Will. They later felt called by God to adopt two little girls from China, whom they named Shaohannah Hope and Stevey Joy.
In 2004, Steven flew back to China with strict orders from his wife: "Don't even look at any orphan babies."
But within seven months, another little girl was added to the family, Maria Sue. "This little one just grabbed my heart," Steven explains. His heart would break just a few years later over that little girl when on May 21st, 2008, she was killed in a tragic accident.
Maria and two of her sisters were playing in the backyard when older brother Will pulled his SUV slowly into the driveway. Maria took off running towards the car, eager to greet her brother, ignoring the warning screams from her sisters. Suddenly Will made a turn in her direction. He never even saw his sister.
"I was on the phone to my manager, when suddenly I heard screams from out back," Steven writes. "These screams sounded different than any I'd ever heard before ... I quickly headed to the garage and as I rounded the corner, the sight that met my eyes staggered me.
"I got down on the ground and starting doing CPR on our daughter," Steven remembers. "I applied compressions, praying loudly in between, 'Breathe! Breathe!'"
Maria, critically injured, was taken by helicopter to hospital where she was pronounced dead.
"We didn't know how we were going to take the next breath," Steven recalls sadly. "I would go to where nobody could hear me and scream until my voice was almost gone.
"It sure didn't and doesn't make sense. But I never felt like God abandoned us."
In all the grief and trauma that followed, Steven and his family refused to blame God for the tragic loss of Maria. Steven says that at the time, his prayers were simple and desperate. "God, I'm going to trust You. I have nothing else."
Steven turned back to music to help him channel his pain. He wrote numerous songs about his little daughter and released an album in November, 2009, called, 'Beauty will Rise,' in memory of her. But, as the title attests, it's more than a collection of grief and sadness. It is a declaration of faith in God's redemptive hand and belief in the promise of Heaven.
That same year, the Chapmans finished work on Maria's Big house of Hope, a medical care centre in China that provides holistic care to orphans with special needs.
Steven's autobiography is available on Amazon. His wife, Mary Beth, has also written a book about coping with loss, called 'Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope.'
"God has not forgotten us, Maria is safely in His care, and life – although different – will go on," Steven concludes. "I can only see a part of the picture He is painting. I don't have a clue. But I know God does."•