It was the darkest version of every parent's nightmare.
Last May Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman's teenage son Will Franklin accidentally ran over his sister, Maria Sue, in the family driveway. The five-year-old died of her injuries later at a Nashville hospital.
Rev. Scotty Smith, the family's pastor, told Beliefnet that when he arrived at the hospital the whole family – Steven, his wife Mary Beth, children Emily, Caleb, Will, Shaohanna, and Stevey – were all on their knees around their sister's bed.
"Steven was holding Will Franklin around the waist and saying, 'I am not gonna let go of you, Will Franklin,'" Smith said. "I am thinking, how many dads are free enough to move into the chaos of the loss? But here is a dad that is a huge model for the rest of us. He said, 'We will walk through this and grow and groan through this together.'"
Chapman, 45, is nominated as one of the year's Most Inspiring People for living out his faith in the face of a horrible tragedy, becoming a standard bearer for others whose faith sustains them through horrors they could never have contemplated.
Maria Sue came into the Chapmans' lives while Steven, a Grammy and Dove Award-winning artist, was on tour in China in 2004. After an Easter Sunday performance, some missionaries introduced him to the baby. The two had an instant connection--her name reminded Chapman of a song he had written called "Who's Gonna Love Maria?" Chapman called his wife and asked if they might adopt her.
The Chapmans have long been advocates of overseas adoption. Before Maria Sue, they brought home Shaohannah and Stevey Joy. The couple founded Shaohannah's Hope, an organization that offers financial assistance to Christian families seeking to adopt, both overseas and at home. To date, more than 1,600 families have been aided.
He has been an international spokesperson for World Vision, a Christian relief organization that focuses on children, and for Project Restore, a program aiding in the recovery of the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina. He spoke about the problem of school shootings after his own high school in Paducah, Ky., experienced such a shooting, and he has traveled to Africa to draw attention to the plight of Ugandan street children.
Rev. Smith, who has known the Chapmans for 20 years, said the way Steven Curtis Chapman has chosen to face his family's loss--with attention to the pain balanced by a reliance on God-- serves as a model for others. Since Maria Sue's death, the Chapmans have become even closer as a family, celebrating the graduation of Caleb and the engagement of Emily and continuing to make the music that always sustained them
"What has been so remarkable to me is to watch a family wail with such integrity and hope with such audacity," Smith said. "A lot of times Christians assume that to do well through a tragedy means to move on…But they are honoring the journey of grief. And in that we see the real living hope of God."
The song "Cinderella" was inspired by Maria and her sisters and is a message to all parents encouraging them to cherish every moment with their children. This song carries a whole new meaning since the death of his daughter, and it is one that remains close to his heart.