Good grief!

Steven Curtis Chapman, please don’t be Sue-sad

The Steven Curtis Chapman family before May 21, 2008:
Will Franklin, Maria Sue, Steven, Shaohannah, Mary Beth, Stevey Joy, Caleb, Emily.


Maria was the Chapmans’ 
vibrant Sue of a Thousand Daysinnocent. After which she broke all their hearts. She died.

She's the one held by her Daddy; that was before May 21 in Franklin, TN. Today, May 24, Saturday Manila time, I was browsing the news all over the Internet from 0300 to 0740 hours wanting to know all the details surrounding the death of Maria Sue Chapman, 5 years old. I was intently reading more than 100 news items all in all, and then suddenly I started laughing.

Good grief! How can I laugh at a time like this, when my Gospel music hero of a singer-composer has just lost his daughter Sue in a terrible accident of his son Will Franklin’s own making? A double tragedy. After all, this is Steven Curtis Chapman, Gospel music genius, who has won 5 Grammy Awards and 54 Dove Awards, who has sold over 10 million albums and sang 44 #1 hit singles. After all, hadn't I, I had written a glowing essay on Steven titled ‘The Gospel Whisperer’ (frankahilario.blogspot.com). And not to forget, I dedicated a whole blog to him just before he visited Manila in 2006, Steven Curtis Chapman, Superstar* (aromalight.blogspot.com).

Precisely! Laugh and the world laughs with you. Sing and the world sings with you. Cry and you cry alone.

Grieving is easy – all you have to do is get a handkerchief, face the wall and bawl and wail at will. It doesn’t take much effort. At times like this, it comes naturally.

But rejoicing?! That’s crazy. That’s farthest from your mind. And that’s exactly why I want to bring it near to where you can feel its warmth, truth, beauty and goodness.

You think: Death, this is your sting. Death, this is your victory. You’re wrong about Death.

At about 0240 hours this morning, I woke up and couldn’t sleep anymore. So I began surfing and I found this entry in my email: ‘Tragedy strikes the Chapman household’ sent by gman_81 through the Steven Curtis Chapman Fan Club Yahoo Group, of which I am a member. I clicked the link and found this one-page announcement, ‘Mary Sue Chapman, daughter of Steven Curtis Chapman, dies in accident at family home’ (stevencurtischapman.com).

NashvilleTN, 5/21/08. At approximately 5 pm on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 21st, Maria Sue Chapman, 5 years old and youngest daughter to Steven and Mary Beth Chapman, was struck in the driveway of the Chapman home in Franklin, TN. Maria was rushed to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, transported by LifeFlight, but died of her injuries there. Maria is one of the close-knit family’s six children and one of their three adopted daughters.

So I started googling. My search words –“Steven Curtis Chapman” tragedy – gave me 85,100 English pages with Safesearch. That’s a good indicator of the outpouring of sympathy for Steven over Maria Sue’s demise.

Of what I can gather from many news items, at that time several children were playing on the long and winding road, the gravel driveway leading to the Chapman’s country home in Williamson County in Franklin, Tennessee. Sue was struck by the Toyota Land Cruiser driven by her youngest brother Will Franklin, 17; he had not seen his little sister as he drove by. Two of the Chapman children saw the accident happen. Nooo! It happened so fast they could not have stopped it. The bright afternoon sun was shining.

A spokesman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol called it ‘a terrible accident’ and did not expect any case to be filed.

Maria Sue was the youngest of the 6 Chapman children: Emily Elizabeth, Caleb Stevenson, Will Franklin, Shaohannah Hope Yan, Stevey Joy Ru, Maria Sue. She celebrated her 5th birthday a few days ago. She had just graduated from Harpeth Hills Church of Christ preschool program. Maria was ‘full of life, playful and beautiful,’ Scott Roley remembers (Rachel Stults & Lucas Hendrickson, tennessean.com).

The Steven Curtis Chapman family has all the right reasons for grieving. Let us try and understand them.

5 Stages Of Grief

There are 5 stages of grief according to Swiss psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (see also my essay ‘The children of Maidanek’ (frankahilario.blogspot.com):

1st stage: Denial. No, this is not happening. Tell me this isn’t true! I’m in a bad dream, I have to wake up. Wake me up, somebody!

2nd stage: Anger. Why this, Lord? Why me, God? Just when I’m doing the right things and not only doing things right, this happens. Why does bad things happen to good people? ‘Why does a great and loving Lord allow tragedy to befall His noblest knights?’ asks Roy Exum(chattanoogan.com). ‘Why? Why this man whose voice has been lifted in praise of his Savior in a way he was just recently named to the Music City Walk of Fame? Why this child who had been seemingly granted one of the greatest reprieves in the whole world?’ asks Jimmy Moore(carbwire.com). Sue was adopted from China; all the three youngest Chapman girls are adopted from China - blood is thicker than water, love is thicker than blood. ‘God, why didn’t I see my own sister?!’

3rd stage: Bargaining. Lord, heal me. Take this cup away from me, please Lord! It is too bitter. I promise to do even more good if You get me out of this. I’ll give up everything to follow Your Will. No more excuses! God, please.

4th stage: Depression. God doesn’t love me anymore. God never loved anybody like me, a great sinner. Where He promised love, there is hate. Where He promised pardon, there is injury. Where He promised faith, there is doubt. Where He promised hope, there is despair. Where He promised light, there is darkness. Where He promised joy, there is sadness. I seek to be consoled, to be understood, to be loved, to receive, to be pardoned, to be reborn!

5th stage: Acceptance. (I think this stage is mis-labeled by Kubler-Ross – it is more correctly called Resignation. ‘Acceptance’ implies a choice even where there is none.) There is nothing else you can do except await the turn for the worst.

The adoption community is devastated for the family,’ says Brenda Barker, Director of the Children’s Hope International’s Office in Tennessee (Ona Zachary, efluxmedia.com). Don’t be, Brenda. Steven Curtis Chapman and family, don’t be Sue-sad. Maria wouldn’t like it if you were Sue-sad. You can do better than follow Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief – follow me! This way, please.

5 Stages of Good Grief!

The Steven Curtis Chapman family has all the reasons for grieving right.

With the sudden death of Sue, whom the whole household loved, in commiserating with them, and recalling the eternal loser Charlie Brown of Peanuts whose favorite expression is ‘Good grief!’ I have just been inspired to completely revise Kubler-Ross' version and come up with my version of the many stages of grief, which in this case I would like to differently call The Frankenstein 5 Stages of Good Grief! I dedicate it to all the big and small losers in the world, the very first ones being the Steven Curtis Chapman family. The Frankenstein 5 are:

1st stage: Receiving. Don’t deny it in your waking and sleeping hours – initially, receive it. Don’t ask what death is; just accept it at its face value. Cry a river if you want, wail even. Steven and his wife Mary Beth are ‘grieving and wailing’ over the death of their daughter, says Scotty Smith, their pastor (ANN, author not named, news.google.com). I know it’s ironical, but grieving is good for you. More importantly, grieve as a family. Years ago, I had a son, Ernest Charles, who was born on May 22 Manila time, the same day, May 21 Tennessee time Sue died. My son’s cause of death was ‘fever of unknown origin’ according to the doctors at the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine in Alabang in Muntinlupa CityPhilippines. The death was slow, but it was as real as sudden death. We did not grieve as a family; that was a mistake. Grieve alone and you grieve alone.

2nd stage: Absorbing. I don’t remember that I cried; instead, I was angry. Get mad and you get mad alone. Don’t get mad at God, at the world, at those who were at fault. And don’t be mad at yourself if you were the one negligent. Beyond receiving what happened at face value, go and absorb everything; take it all in. Don’t resist the reality of it, the finality of it. Don’t deny your senses what they experience. Don’t wallow; instead, soak yourself in it. You are parts of all that you have met; thank God for them.

3rd stage: Giving in. After receiving and absorbing, surrender! Cast all your cares at the foot of the Cross. ‘Thy will be done.’ This is your cross. ‘Father, unto Your hands I commend her spirit. Father, unto your hands I commend our family’s spirit.’ And you can do that only if you forgive, totally, completely, washing your body, mind and soul snow-white.

Early this morning, on that one-page sad announcement at Steven’s own website, I clicked the link for typing and sending a message and wrote only one word: Forgive. Why this word? Because, to err is human, to forgive is divine. Because it was something I have yet to witness people actually do, 100%, even those who call themselves born-again Christians or born-again Catholics.

I didn’t know it, but when I googled, Steven had in fact taught precisely that lesson himself in 1997 when a gunman shot and killed 3 girls and wounded others in Steven’s alma mater, Heath High School. He had said (ANN, connectionmagazine.org):

I know that God can and will make good out of what is intended for evil. This is promised in the Scriptures. I pray that people will remember: The same lips that were silenced by these killings were lips in prayer earlier that morning, and their friends continued in prayer and forgiveness even after. Today, a poster hangs in front of the school declaring, ‘We forgive you because He forgave us.’ That should be the legacy of this tragic event.

Forgiveness should be the legacy of any tragic event. Otherwise, unforgiveness is tragedy brought upon tragedy.

Rosa Hayes’ own 6-year old, Gaje Florence, was also hit and killed by a vehicle in her own driveway (associatecontent.com). She says:

For me, getting through is not that easy to do and there are moments in your life that you want to blame someone and at that moment, anyone will do. I blamed God, my husband, the lady who killed him, but mostly me. I felt I should have been paying more attention, and it happened so fast that even I didn’t see it coming.’

Accidents are like that. Don’t add to the hurting by hating.

On another occasion, when they were deciding either to just go to China or adopt, Steve Curtis Chapman shared (Joe Edwards, abcnews.go.com):

I believe God is saying, ‘I want you to go, get your heart broken, your eyes opened, and then take this story back to the church in America and around the world.’

Today, Sue is that heartbreaking story in America and around the world.

4th stage: Rejoicing. After you have given in, instead of being depressed, you will rejoice and be exceeding glad. For Maria Sue Chapman, there is the promise of Heaven. What about you, Steve Curtis Chapman? You have been resurrected yourself, and the rest of your family. So, go ahead and celebrate the engagement of oldest daughter Emily Chapman; go ahead and celebrate the high school graduation of Caleb Chapman – and thank the Lord you had Maria Sue for a thousand days, no more, no less!

5th stage: Growing with it. Instead of only accepting, after you reach the stage of rejoicing, you will grow with it. Steven, you yourself knew this. In 2002, you read the book Through Gates Of Splendor, which tells the story of 5 missionaries murdered by tribesmen in the jungles ofEcuador in 1956. You knew that subsequently, Elisabeth Elliot, widow of Jim, and Rachel Saint, sister of Nate, went to Ecuador and lived among the same tribe, translating the Scriptures and transforming the lives of the tribe. Steve Saint, son of Nate, also became a missionary to that tribe. He said later, ‘God never wastes a hurt if we’ll trust him to write his story with our lives’ (Trennis Henderson, 2002, baptiststandard.com).

That is all that matters, isn’t it Steve? To write God’s story with our lives. Good grief! It is a glorious story if we can write it. And wouldn’t it be heaven if we can write the rhyme and compose the music too?

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