I just finished the last chapter of Steven Curtis Chapman’s new memoir, Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story. As a lifelong fan, who has also had the privilege of interviewing this Christian music icon multiple times through the years, I was eager to dig in and read his story from beginning to end as written by the legend himself. Picking up his book felt like I was sitting down for a conversation with Steven. He made me laugh. He made me cry. And perhaps, most importantly, He made me remember the kindness of God in our lives.
Throughout a career that’s spanned three decades, Steven is the most-awarded artist in Christian music history. But beyond all the accolades, he’s one of the most respected artists in the entire genre. A tireless advocate for adoption, Steven and his wife, Mary Beth, have championed the least of these through founding Show Hope and adopting three daughters of their own. He remains the gold standard of songwriters; and he’s the biggest fan of Colony House the world has ever known (just check out his socials).
But when his daughter, Maria, was tragically taken in 2008, fans the world over saw a different side to the revered singer and songwriter. In a split second, he went from a GRAMMY® winner to a heartbroken husband and father. His life and career were never the same. He obviously shares this gut-wrenching part of his story in Between Heaven and the Real World, but thank God, it isn’t the whole story. Maria’s death and the subsequent grief that followed take up many, many of the book’s chapters; but it’s a piece of the larger narrative Steven tells. Much like the tragedy that changed his life forever, this book gives readers a glimpse into different never-before-revealed facets of this beloved man. After reading it in full, here are six things Between Heaven and the Real World taught me about Steven Curtis Chapman:
1. He’s human.
If anything, Steven’s new memoir proves that, at the end of the day, he’s not a superstar—he’s a man. He’s a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend. And somewhere in there, he’s also an award-winning songwriter. But he’s fabulously flawed. And that’s what makes him even more endearing. While he’s always been transparent in his songwriting, his writing here is nothing if not honest. Throughout the book, he doesn’t mince words when it comes to his mistakes and struggles. In the midst of his wrestling, he’s relatable.
2. He’s a chronic “fixer.”
A self-proclaimed “Mr. Fix It,” time and time again throughout his story, Steven reiterates his need to fix everything. He wants to fix people. He wants to fix his family. He wants to fix his marriage. He wants to fix his career. And on and on it goes… It seems his innate need to “fix” things has become a thorn in his flesh. However, it’s taught him much about his never-ending reliance on God for the many things he can’t fix in his own strength. It’s also a good reminder to readers that we’re not in control.
3. He’s insecure about his voice.
This will come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever heard the man sing, yet even to this day, Steven doesn’t claim to be the best singer. As the book details, early on, it was his brother, Herbie, who was the prized vocalist in the family. Steven was always his wingman. Later, when he moved to Nashville, labels weren’t interested in developing him as an artist. They immediately loved his songwriting, but they just couldn’t get behind his voice. Decades into his career, Steven dealt with a paralyzed vocal chord, which further complicated the issue. Even to this day, it’s apparent he’s not confident as a singer. (Steven, fans beg to differ!)
4. His family is everything.
This isn’t exactly something new that I learned. Steven’s devotion to his family has been evident since day one. Yet, the book really backs up the truth we’ve known all along. Steven is the ultimate family man, and the tender way he talks about Mary Beth and his children is deeply touching. He also gushes about his son-in-law and two daughters-in-law with equal gusto. And it goes without saying, his four grandchildren give him so much joy. He candidly shares how he’s struggled through the years making sure his family came first. I found it interesting that at one point he admits he feels like he’s lived his whole life at the mic with one hand on the chord, ready to pull the plug at any moment. In every season, he’s constantly re-evaluating his career and the sacrifice it requires, especially in regards to his family.
5. His pain has created a beautiful story.
The chapters about Maria are hard to read. He recalls that fateful day—and the days that followed—with vivid detail. Every word is laced with heartache. Yet, when I step back and look at his story as a whole, all rolled up neatly into the pages of his book, I wonder if his story would be as powerful without the Maria chapters. Yes, he’s a valiant man of unwavering faith and steadfast integrity; but tragedy has a way of making one’s character all the more vibrant. I would venture to say that his story is far better and far more beautiful by being able to tell people that he experienced the valley of death and came out on the other side—by the grace of God. Loss creates connection. Pain paints a beautiful story. And Steven’s story is beautiful on every level.
6. Even without music, his story is compelling.
It’s true 11 million records sold, 58 Dove Awards, 5 GRAMMYs® and 48 No. 1 radio singles is impressive. But do you know what’s more impressive? Giving more than 5,500 children forever families. Staying married for 33 years. Finding your true calling and passionately pursing it with excellence at every turn. Taking inconvenient, expensive early morning flights so you can be home for your kids’ soccer games. Cheering on your children from the sidelines of life. Maintaining your faith after going through the fire. Becoming the type of man who loves and leads with his heart. His record deal and industry stats are cool, but even stripped of his storied career, Steven’s life speaks for itself.
Buy Between Heaven and the Real World here.