In 2008, Maria, the adopted daughter of Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman, was accidentally struck by a car driven by her brother and killed. She was the inspiration behind Chapman’s hit song “Cinderella.”
Before his first concert after her death, Chapman had said he would never play “Cinderella” again, but something changed that night with his sons in the band.
In this excerpt from his book Between Heaven and the Real World, Chapman describes what happened next.
By Steven Curtis Chapman
I needn’t have worried. As soon as we walked out onstage, people began applauding. Some were weeping; most were cheering us on.
It was as though just showing up was already a victory. The applause lasted for several minutes.
I wanted to speak to the audience before performing any songs. “I don’t know how far we will get,” I said. “I don’t know how this will go. But this is what we are choosing.”
I began by singing “Blessed Be Your Name.” My voice was not strong, and I squeaked and cried my way through it. But we made it through the song. I said, “If that is true, then these other things are true too. Let’s go!”
And we launched into our normal concert set. I looked to my right, where Caleb stood playing guitar, and we smiled at each other.
Behind me, Will was on the drums, playing every beat as if he was driving a stake deep in the ground, anchoring down to what is true.
I couldn’t have been more proud of my sons.
The concert went incredibly well, thanks to the audience’s gracious support.
Then we got to the spot in our concert set where I normally sang the song “Cinderella.” The guys in the band stopped and waited to see what I was going to do.
At that moment, I said to the audience, “You know what, I wasn’t sure I would ever sing this song again … and I’m not sure how well I will get through it tonight, but … tonight as I’ve sung these songs, I have become even more certain of the truth of God’s promises … and the truth is I am going to dance again with my little girl.”
A hush fell over the huge crowd, almost as though they anticipated that this was going to be a holy experience.
“This song from the beginning was about showing up in the moment,” I said, “savoring the opportunity, because I knew these moments weren’t going to last forever.”
Everyone on the hillside seemed to know that I was talking about “Cinderella,” even though I had not yet mentioned the song title.
“This was never a song about eternity. It was about here and now, in the real world. But now, for me, this song is going to be a song that reminds me to show up in these moments because we have only a little bit of time in the here and now to show up in each other’s stories on this side of heaven.
“And this matters. There’s a reason why God has us here right now.
“But there is a day coming when He will make everything new; He is going to wipe every tear from our eyes. The story isn’t over; the dance is not over.”
I told the audience about Greg Laurie’s note, which said, “Your future with Maria is far greater than your past.”
“And this is not a fairy tale or wishful thinking,” I said. “It’s what Paul said in Scripture. If our hope is merely for this life, if this is all we have, then we are to be pitied . . . we’re foolish.
“If everything in our life is simply to make things better or more comfortable in this present world, then when some unthinkable tragedy happens, we are destroyed.
“But if our hope is for eternity, and this life is getting us ready for that, if we really believe it, then I can sing this song ‘Cinderella’ because I have an eternity to dance with my little girl.”
I began playing the introduction, and then I sang “Cinderella,” crying and squeaking my way through it. A few times I became overwhelmed with emotion and just had to let the band play, joining back in when I could.
I finally made it to the last chorus, and when I came to the end of the section where I had originally written, “’Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight and I know she’ll be gone,” I spontaneously changed the words to “the clock will strike midnight, but I know … the truth is … the dance will go on.”
And with that change the song took on even greater significance; I’ve sung it that way ever since.
From there we went into “Yours.” It seemed especially fitting to declare on this first night back, “It’s all Yours, God. I’m Yours. There’s no place in my journey that is not Yours.”
I had rewritten the song after Maria went to heaven, adding a third verse, and had actually released that song to radio as my response to so many who had prayed for our family.
That night I sang the new verse for the first time as well.
I’ve walked the valley of death’s shadow
So deep and dark that I could barely breathe
I’ve had to let go of more than I could bear
And I’ve questioned everything that I believe
But still even here in this great darkness
There’s a comfort and a hope that comes breaking through
As I can say even in death or in life, God, we belong to You
We are Yours, God.
It was truly a triumphal moment, not because of my performance, which was fragile at best, but because just by showing up, just by being out there, Caleb and Will and I—as well as our entire family, our management team, and everyone associated with my career—were saying, “We believe. We will not allow the enemy to have the last word. Our God is great and He is good, and we will trust in Him.”
Here is Chapman on the book: