Beauty Will Rise
“Heaven is a sweet, maple syrup kiss and a thousand other little things I miss with her gone” ...from “Heaven is the Face”
It’s the little moments in life that are often the most defining – a sticky kiss from a child, a shared prayer, an embrace from an old friend. For more than two decades, Steven Curtis Chapman has celebrated life’s most precious moments in song. The joys and challenges of daily existence reverberate throughout Steven’s music and his songs have become the soundtrack of life for believers everywhere. For Steven, life and music have always been inextricably intertwined. So in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy – the death of his five-year-old daughter Maria – Steven did what all songwriters do, he poured the torrent of emotion into his music.
The result is Beauty Will Rise, a stunning body of work inspired by a circumstance no father should ever have to endure. Steven is unflinchingly honest in his exploration of grief and loss. He asks the questions we all ask when horrible things happen to the innocent, yet throughout the album hope shimmers, faith becomes more real and even more precious, and the peace that surpasses understanding leaps from the page and becomes palpable.
“It is weird for me to even call this a record because it is just my personal psalms from this journey that we have been on,” says Steven. “After we lost Maria, I did not know if I would ever write anymore songs or if I would ever sing again. The last thing I wanted to do is turn any of this into a song. Then you realize ‘God, this is what has happened to us and now what would You have me to do with it?’ Slowly songs began to just come out as ways for me to try to process what I was thinking and feeling and what my family and I were walking through.”
Knowing that things would never be the same, Steven and his family began navigating what they’ve come to refer to as the “new normal.” In doing so, Steven began writing once again. “The first song was ‘Just Have to Wait’ and I think the next one was ‘Questions.’ They were all just songs that were literally praying and wrestling with God and asking, ‘What am I going to do with this? What do I really believe now? How are my family and I going to journey through this and walk through the rest of life with these holes in our hearts? What is that going to look like?’” Steven says quietly. “Music has just always been one of the ways that I have processed whatever is going on. These songs were just my wrestling through it and being as honest as I could possibly be about that process. That is where these songs came from.”
I can’t wait to see your sisters play
The way they do when all of you are playing all together
And I can’t to wait to watch your brother’s face
When he can finally see with his own eyes
That everything’s okay
...from “Just Have to Wait”
In the months that followed the accident, the songs began pouring out and Steven says a Christmas gift from his wife, Mary Beth, encouraged him to share their story. “My wife gave me a journal. She had found a website where you could send pictures and they engraved jewelry and other things. She made necklaces and different things for all of us in the family that had pictures of Maria,” Steven says. “There was a picture of Maria on the little button that closes the journal. She gave me that and inside she wrote a note saying ‘I know you have so many things to say. I know that you have things that you are writing and I know you are waiting in a way for me to release you to share those because it is so deeply personal.’ So when I got this journal, she said, ‘You fill this with your thoughts and our songs. I know that you are going to share this and God is going to use this to minister and heal and comfort many other people.’ I think it was at that point that I felt released to begin sharing.”
Though he wishes he’d never had to write any of these songs, Steven says he’s gleaned a measure of peace knowing they may help heal others. “If there is comfort to be given to others then that is going to make some sense out of this; that is important and vital to us. Part of what makes this survivable is that we can see God using it for good in the lives of other people,” Steven says. “Obviously there is a part of me that would have never had chosen to write a song called ‘Just Have to Wait’ or ‘Heaven is the Face’ or any of those, but the decision to do it was not really a decision to write them, it was a decision to share them with people.”
Once the decision was made to share these songs, Steven began recording them in a way unlike any other album he’d ever made. “I am so prone to try to please everybody – radio guys, A&R guys and management,” Steven says, noting that on previous albums he invited feedback from the team around him. However on this project the personal nature made Steven reluctant to have anyone else speak into the process. “For better or worse, it just had to come straight out of my gut. I cannot make it pretty. I cannot try to conform it to anything. It has just got to be whatever comes out. So I sort of put my fingers in my ears in a way that I have never done before as far as anybody speaking into the process.”
He did, however, enlist bassist/producer Brent Milligan to work with him in recording the songs. “He went on stage with me in July, that first night I returned to performing after the accident, and walked through the journey with me – the pain of just trying to decide if I should even be singing anymore or if I should begin to write some of these songs,” recalls Steven. “I went to him and said. ‘I need somebody to help me record these songs and I feel like you are the guy that could help me capture them.’”
Much of the album was recorded on the road during The United Tour with Michael W. Smith. “We went in and did the recording and put it together just as honestly as we could,” Steven says. “A good half of it – if not more than half – was recorded in dressing rooms on the United Tour with Michael W. or in hotel rooms or wherever we might be. We would set up a little make shift recording studio and record. I just kept thinking ‘I don’t know what this is going to sound like and how is this going to measure up to what I think are some sonic masterpieces that [producers] Brown Banister and Phil Naish have helped me to create over the years. This is just raw.”
Despite Steven’s concerns “Beauty Will Rise” is a beautiful, multi-textured aural tapestry. The production is gentle and understated, laced with the melancholy sounds of a cello and earnest, earthy guitars. Each instrument perfectly underscores the emotion in Steven’s delivery. He’s always been a compelling vocalist, but never has he been more transparent, more vulnerable and achingly honest than on this poignant collection.
Who are You God?
Cause You are turning out to be so much different than I imagined
And where are You God?
Cause I am finding life to be so much harder than I had planned
You know that I’m afraid to ask these questions
But You know they are there
And if You know my heart the way that I believe You do
You know that I believe in You
But still I have these questions
These songs became Steven’s own personal psalms. Yet as he wrestled with the heartbreak and loss, his faith remained, somewhat bruised, but never broken. The title track, “Beauty Will Rise,” is testament to that faith. “That song expresses the hope that we have that has allowed me to share this music and this whole recording with people,” Steven says. “Part of the process of doing this is to see God bring beauty out of the ashes and begin to see the comfort in other people that can come from this. One of the unique things about my grieving process was how connected to the earthquake in China I felt. We had been to China and, in fact, were sitting in the Shanghai Airport when the earthquake hit. Immediately we began to pray for the people of China. I remember telling Maria, Stevey Joy and Shaohannah ‘we really need to pray for these people and the families.’ Then on May 21st, we really feel like as a family that is when the earthquake hit us. Even within hours of Maria going to heaven, I heard myself praying for the people of China because all of the sudden I could pray for them in a new way. I could pray for the people who lost their Chinese sons and daughters because I knew their pain now. ‘Beauty Will Rise’ was written very much with me identifying with the pain of those people.”
Steven and Mary Beth’s bonds with the Chinese people continue to grow. Named in honor of their daughter, Maria’s Big House of Hope was built in Luoyang, China. The six-story facility is equipped to provide care for special needs orphans. Steven also recently performed a concert in China and the photo for the album cover was shot there. “It was taken in a village that was destroyed by the earthquake,” Steven relates. “I am standing on the edge of this village on a river with the rubble and some of the ruins behind me in the background with my hands in the air saying ‘God I am going to praise You because You are going to bring beauty out of these ashes.’”
Out of these ashes
Beauty will rise
And we will dance among the ruins
We will see it with our own eyes
Out of this darkness
New light will shine
And we’ll know the joy that’s coming in the morning
...from ”Beauty Will Rise”
One of the most affecting, affirming songs on the record is “SEE.” In the hours after Maria left to be with Jesus, Steven fervently prayed for a sign that she was okay, pleading with God just to let him see. “I remember just saying, ‘We know it is true. We know she is with Jesus. She is safe in the arms of the God who made her. We know she is okay. We know it, but could we just see something?’” Steven recalls asking. “The next morning we went back to our house to get some clothes for the memorial service. We were not going to stay there and it was really hard to even go in the house because of the memories. We were walking through with friends who were holding on to us as we were going from room to room.”
“I walked into the kitchen and there is this little art table that Maria and Stevey Joy would sit at for hours. She loved crafts. She would cut out pictures. Scissors and glue were her favorite things. She would just cut and paste and draw for hours, and she often created cards for us. She would write the words she knew, ‘I love mom’ and ‘I love dad’ and then she would sign her name ‘Maria.’”
“Everything was cleaned up at the table but there was one little piece of notebook paper lying on her side of the art table. It was a flower, a six-petal flower that was kind of her signature flower that she would draw all the time. Only one petal was colored in blue, and the rest of it was just the outline of the petals. It had a little stem and it had a little orange center of the flower and it had little leaves at the bottom of the stem. I had noticed something else kind of bleeding through the back of the paper where she had written something and I turned it over and it was a little butterfly and then she had written the letters S-E-E. She had never written that word before. All that she had ever written as far as we knew was ‘I love Mom,’ ‘I love Dad’ and her name. Out of all the words that she could have written that day before the accident, she had written the word ‘see.’ I was already weeping uncontrollably and at that moment I just really, really believed that God gave us that sign and that was the gift that Maria left us to say ‘I know you are wanting to see something, but see I am okay and I am where you said. It is okay.’ That flower became so precious to us. It was my wife that looked at it and realized what we thought was an unfinished flower, was finished. Only one flower petal of the six was colored in. Then we realized we have six children there is only one that is colored in; there is one that is whole and the rest of us are still waiting for our color. It just became such a gift to us.”
It’s everything you said that it would be
And even better than you would believe
And I’m counting down the days until you’re here with me
And finally you’ll see
Each song on Beauty Will Rise represents a part of the Chapman family’s incredible journey. “February 20th” joyfully chronicles the day Maria accepted Jesus as her Savior, just a few short months before she went home to be with Him. “Faithful,” on which Steven’s son Will Franklin plays drums, is a salute to God’s mercy and faithfulness. There are songs that express Steven’s pain and loss, yet the overall tone of the project is gloriously, desperately hopeful. God’s sovereignty is celebrated in “Our God Is In Control” and “Jesus Will Meet You There” is a gentle reminder that no matter what the circumstance, we are never alone in our sorrow. “Spring Is Coming,” featuring the Children of the World International Children’s Choir, soars with the expectation of better days to come.
Steven Curtis Chapman has survived every parent’s worst nightmare and felt pain few could ever imagine. Yet his faith in God remains undimmed. He knows everything he’s been singing for the past 20 years is true. Life is indeed a great adventure and when the rubber meets the road, God is there. So Steven continues to do what he has always done. He uses the gifts the Lord has given him to remind us we are not alone on this journey.
I will proclaim it to the world
I will declare it to my heart
I will sing it when the sun is shining
I will scream it in the dark
You are faithful, You are faithful
When You give and when You take away
Even then still Your name is faithful
You are faithful