Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan, and sometimes that’s a beautiful thing.
Emily Stimpson Chapman, an author, freelance writer, wife, and mom to two—soon to be three—adopted children, has personally experienced the joy of living a life that is different from the one she imagined as a young woman.
Chapman joins “Problematic Women” to talk about getting married and becoming a mom in her 40s, and how her faith has affected the choices she has made in life.
Also on today’s show, we break down why the Biden administration’s plan to rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council is not in America’s best interest.
And as always, we’ll be crowning our “Problematic Woman of the Week.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I’m joined by Emily Stimpson Chapman. Emily is the author of multiple books, a freelance writer for a number of publications, a wife, and a mom of two—soon to be three—adopted children.
Emily, welcome to the show.
Emily Stimpson Chapman: Oh, it’s so great to be here and talk to you. Thanks for having me.
Allen: Well, I was so excited just to talk with you about your journey of adoption, of getting married late in life, your career as a writer. It’s so fun just to kind of get to dive in and chat about someone’s life and their story.
I want to begin by first asking you to share a little bit about your faith, because as I’ve researched your story, the books that you’ve written, your bio, it’s so evident that your faith really is the thing that drives you, which I think is just absolutely beautiful.
Could you just talk a little bit about your faith and how that does influence the choices that you have to make and that you do make in the way that you live your life?
Chapman: Yes. I always say that Jesus is my boss. I work for him. I don’t know. I’m his scribe. I don’t know. I’m his copywriter. I’m Jesus’ copywriter.
Allen: I love that.
Chapman: He chose everything in life. I grew up Catholic, but not deeply faithful. Didn’t know my faith. I didn’t really think about it. Went to college and met a very cute Protestant boy who put some tough questions to me that I didn’t have the answers for.
I always say I didn’t want to have the answers because I was so much more interested in making the boy happy than thinking through things on my own. I did end up really considering, really thinking through the claims of Jesus Christ, though. I gave my heart and my life to Jesus and sort of set the Catholic question aside.
When I was back in Washington working at The Heritage Foundation, I had a super-smart Catholic co-worker who put some more questions to me. That ended up leading me to come back into the Catholic Church.
For me, it’s all just been one big journey, where I’m deeply grateful for my time with my Protestant friends, and how I learned to walk with Jesus, and what a relationship with Jesus looked like, and that I’m grateful for my time, my life since, in the church and all of the riches, and the tradition, and the formation that I’ve gotten through that.
Yes, it informs everything. I mean, my faith informs how I write. It informs how I decorate my home. It informs how I raise my children, informs how I cook, how I eat. My husband always says that faith is like honey. It gets all over everything. That’s definitely been true for my life.
Allen: That’s such a good analogy. I love that. That should be our goal, right, that our faith does cover every aspect of our life.
Chapman: Yes, it should be sticky, so sticky everywhere, like you can’t get away from it. You’re like, “Oh, here it is again, and here it is again.”
Allen: I love that. Well, I do want to talk about some of those books that you’ve written. You’ve written eight. Is that correct? Either authored or co-authored eight?
Chapman: Maybe. I’m at the point, I’ve lost track because I write the books, and then I write things that are book-length studies. I write a lot. That’s what I do.
Allen: Oh, I love it. Well, one of the books that I want to chat with you about, you published in 2012. That is “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years.” I’m a single woman. I really appreciate hearing those stories of how women have just figured out how to journey through singleness with a lot of joy, with purpose.
You are married now, but you did get married late in life. Talk a little bit about your journey of singleness and why you actually chose to write a whole book about being single.
Chapman: I don’t know. I think “chose” is not the word I would use. Hounded by God and my publishers to write it … ? I mean, who wants to write a book about being single when you’re 35, right? That is no girl’s aspiration in life.
I always assumed I would marry in my 20s like my parents did. I wanted four or five kids. When I was younger and my 20s came and went, and that didn’t happen. Then I found myself in my 30s wanting a larger family. By that point, I was like, “Oh, I want lots of kids.” God just had other things for me to do. The person he had for me to marry was not married yet.
It was really, really tough because on one hand, I was blessed with work I loved. I had wonderful friends who loved me as part of their family. I had their kids. I had my family. I had as good of a single life as anyone could ask for, but in my heart was the conviction that I was made to give myself in a deeper way to a husband, to children.
There was always this tension of being happy and grateful for the life I had, but also longing for more, and struggling for more, and not understanding why I wasn’t getting the things that I felt like I was made for, which was to be a wife and a mother.
I’m grateful for all that time when I look back on it because it really forced me to look at Jesus’ face on Calvary and how he died for people who didn’t love him back. He loved us even when we weren’t loving him.
In the longing for marriage, in the longing for what I didn’t have, I just got to sit with Jesus on Calvary and see his love for us. My faith grew in that time. I became more patient. I became more gentle. By the time I finally did get married, a lot of the rough edges had been rubbed off.
I’m definitely a better wife and mother than I would have been if I’d married 15 years ago. More tired, my knees hurt. My back hurts after my 2-and-a-half-year-old sleeping on me all last night.
It was a really fruitful time for me, both spiritually and professionally, so that now I’m able to work from home and do my writing with my boys around. I wouldn’t have necessarily been able to do that if I had gotten married 20 years ago.
I’ve just come to trust in God’s providence and God’s wisdom. All those years I was praying for a husband and baby, I’m so glad he didn’t answer those prayers then, because I wouldn’t have the husband I have now, and I wouldn’t have the children I have now.
I just think God knows all the prayers we’re going to pray throughout our entire life. He knows which prayers we ultimately want answered. I’m glad he did not answer the prayers of my 20s and early 30s, and instead, answered the prayers of myself later on in life.
Allen: Well, I want to chat a little bit. I wonder if you remember this. Two years ago … This is going way back. Instagram posts resurfaced. A friend of mine sent me something that you wrote on Instagram in February of 2019. You talked about how your life … like you said, it looks different than what you had pictured, but still, you’re so grateful for what it is now.
Talk a little bit of, kind of, that wrestle within yourself of getting to that place of being OK with … “OK, I am in my 30s and my life does not look like what I pictured it. How do I continue moving forward with joy?”
Then also, OK, now that you are married, how do you stay in that place of thankfulness and recognize, “OK, this is for this season, and it’s OK that this didn’t come sooner”?
Chapman: Yes. I’ve talked about how I thought by the time I was … I mean, I’m 45 now. I thought by the time I was 45, I’d have seven or eight kids. Maybe one of them would be starting college. I would have homeschooled them.
I always thought I would have girls. I’m pretty girly, and little girls love me. I think everyone assumed that God would just send girls my way. That was my expectation for my life. It has never looked like I expected it to look. Not one second has turned out like I expected.
There are moments where that was really hard, and crushing, and confusing, because I didn’t understand why other people were getting the things that they expected and they wanted, and I wasn’t.
It comes back to that relationship with Jesus. The more time I spent with Jesus, the more I got to know him, the more I looked at how he was bringing blessings in seasons of unanswered prayers, times where I was struggling and not happy with my life, but he was blessing me in so many ways.
I learned to trust him and trust that he knew better than I knew. His plan was better than mine. Even when I didn’t feel like that, I would go back to that intellectual assertion, and really cling to that, and look at the blessings that had come from difficult seasons. I just kept walking forward and trying to seek his will.
I think that’s where the supernatural virtue of hope comes in. We often talk about hope like God is a genie. He’s going to give us all the wishes and desires of our heart. Having hope means thinking that God is going to give us what we want, which is really presumptuous, to think that the God of the universe is there to grant our every wish.
The idea of supernatural hope is knowing that it’s not thinking God is going to give me what I want, but that God is going to give me what I need. What I need is him. It’s placing our heart not in the things of the world, but in heaven. Trusting that going along with God and his plan, and trusting him, and following his ways, and not compromising our beliefs, our standards, our morals … .
That ultimately is the better decision because that is what it’s going to get us to Him.
Trust and hope, and really just trying not to think too much about what I didn’t have and looking at what I did have … . God is always blessing us in some way. It may not be the blessings we asked for.
It may not be the blessings we thought we needed or that we thought we wanted, but there are blessings in every day for everyone. For me, sometimes that was coffee. OK, thank you, God, for coffee. I may not have a baby, but I have coffee right now. That’s good, Lord. All right. We’re good with that.
At other times, it’s the riches of friendships and the opportunities he was giving me. Just cultivating a spirit of gratitude for what I did have and not a spirit of resentment for what I didn’t have kept me just moving forward and trusting that God does know what he’s doing.
Allen: That takes work, that cultivating that spirit of gratitude. I think that it’s so beautiful and it takes such intentionality, but when you do it, it’s like, “Oh, my goodness.” All of a sudden, the glass is half full in every situation in life. Nothing has necessarily changed. It’s just that taking the time to recognize, like you say, what you have, even if that’s just coffee.
Chapman: I mean, you have to be the grownup. I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old right now. He’s led by his emotions. If he doesn’t have the right cup, it’s tears and drama, and everything is so hard. We can be like that even when we’re in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, if we don’t check ourselves.
We have to be the grownups. We have to use our reason. We have to use our heads, and talk to ourselves, and say, “OK, I know this is hard. I know this hurts, but let’s think through this.”
When we do that and we go back to what we know, it becomes a lot easier to be in the present and be grateful for the present.
Allen: You are married now. Tell us a little bit about how you and your husband met.
Chapman: You don’t have long enough for that. We actually met when I was 30, and he was 37. We met through CatholicMatch. We both had gone to Franciscan University of Steubenville [in Ohio]. We both had lots of mutual friends in common. It kind of felt like we met through our friends, even though we ended up meeting through the website.
I was smitten. He was brilliant, and funny, and faithful, and gorgeous. I was like, “Ah, yes, you, of course,” but he didn’t have that same reaction. He was like, “Oh, you’re nice. I don’t know.”
We did the ambiguous friend thing for a very long time. It was very dramatic. It was sort of like, I don’t know, a telenovela. It was like a Spanish soap opera. Eventually, he came to his senses and realized that he was very much in love with me and needed to marry me very quickly.
We started dating in 2015, were engaged within the year, and married within five months. We’ve been married five years this summer. I was 41 when we got married, and he was about to turn 48.
Allen: So wonderful. I love it. I love that everyone’s story is so different and so unique. It’s just great to hear about all the different stories that people have. It’s almost Valentine’s Day, or as many women call it, “Singles Awareness Day.”
For all of our listeners who have that desire to be married, but they are still single, what would you say to them to encourage them?
Chapman: I mean, don’t give up hope—I mean, natural hope as much as supernatural hope. One of the blessings that came from writing the book about being single was everyone wanted to tell me their story about their friend, or their aunt, or their mother, or their grandmother, who married in their late 30s, or their 40s, or their 50s, or their 60s.
I had one couple; I was doing a television show about this on EWTN. A couple in the audience came up to me afterward who were 82 and were engaged to be married.
Chapman: I know. There are so many people who are getting married at different seasons in life, in different ages in life. It’s not a lesser marriage because it happens later. It’s different.
It was a sad thing for me the day I realized, “Oh, I’m never going to be the young bride. I’m not going to be the young mom. That ship has sailed,” but I wouldn’t trade one minute of my marriage with my husband now for marrying someone else earlier.
God brings the right person into your life at the right time. I’m a better wife. Our marriage is a better marriage for the age we met and the things that … we had been through.
We’re better parents because being a little bit older. We’re more tired. Our joints hurt more. There’s different blessings in different seasons. Again, it’s like you have to focus on the blessings of the moment, what God is giving you right now and what God is not giving you.
There’s no expiration date on a vocation to marriage other than death. By the time you’ve died, OK, there will be no marrying or not marrying in heaven. Until then, you just don’t know what God is going to do, or how He’s going to be using you, or bringing different people into your life.
Healing is happening all the time. Growth is happening all the time and transformation. You just have to let God surprise you and trust that whatever Hhe does, if you are trying to follow his will, is going to be for the best.
Allen: So good. Well, obviously, one of those blessings of this season has been getting to be a mom. You’ve mentioned your kids. You have two children that you’ve adopted. You’re in the process of trying to adopt a third. Why did you and your husband decide that adoption was a path that you all wanted to walk down?
Chapman: It was a really natural path for us. I have lots of friends who have adopted or who are adopted. One of my close friends is a birth mom. She placed her daughter for adoption 19 years ago. Adoption was a very familiar thing for me.
Although I know it’s different than giving birth to babies, I know that God gives us the children he wants us to raise through lots of different doors and windows. Chris and I felt when we were saying “yes” to marriage, we were saying “yes” to life.
We were going to be open to life however God wanted to give that to us, whether I got pregnant, whether we never conceived and never adopted, and just were welcoming our friends, and their children, or people who needed a place to belong into our home, or whether it was through adoption.
When we first got married, we thought I would be able to get pregnant. I had lots of friends in their early 40s, late 30s who were getting pregnant. Doctors thought it wouldn’t be an issue, but that didn’t happen. We were, like, “All right. No babies coming that way. We don’t have a lot of time to waste here, so let’s think about adoption.”
As soon as we just began thinking about adoption, it was like every possible door that needed to be open just blew open. A huge gust of wind went through your life. We weren’t even ready to begin the process, and someone asked us if we would be willing to adopt our son, Toby, who was in utero at that point.
Yes, we jumped in. Then after a year and a half, really felt like our family wasn’t complete. There was somebody missing from our family. We began that process again right before COVID started and adopted our second son, Becket, in July.
He was what they call a “stork drop.” We had really no warning. We were sitting on the porch, 4 on a Monday afternoon. Our adoption consultant called us up and said, “Hey, there’s a baby in Dallas that needs a mom and dad. He’s yours if you want to come down.” We’re like, “OK.”
We were on the road to Texas two hours later. Then we were in the [neonatal intensive care unit] with him for a month and got home. Within six days of coming home, my husband walked into the kitchen. He had just gotten off the phone with the adoption attorney we had worked with for Toby’s adoption.
He told us that Toby’s birth parents were pregnant again. They planned to abort unless we wanted the baby. We’re like, “No, we’re there. We want the baby. No, no, no. We want the baby.”
Again, I think once you say yes to God, and if it’s his will, when he’s ready to move, he moves. It becomes very clear what path he wants you going down because, again, all we did was say “yes” to adoption.
Suddenly, we’ve got our third baby coming in 2-and-a-half years, which when you have those three babies between 43 and 45, I think they count as four children each. I think we’re technically having our 12th child in a couple of months.
It’s a blessing, and it’s hard. Adoption is different. There’s so much sorrow involved in it. It’s a hard thing to have your motherhood made possible by another woman’s sacrifice and sorrow.
You know that there’s going to be different issues you’re working through with your children. I mean, all kids come with issues, so this adoption comes with certain issues.
It’s not an easy thing, but it can be a beautiful thing. I would carry the cross of infertility and prolonged singleness all around the world and back again, 10 times over, for my boys. They have made every step of the journey worth it.
Allen: Do you feel like your experience adopting and now being a mom has impacted your view of God?
Chapman: It has. It really has, in so many ways. It’s one of the things I do on Instagram. Everywhere else, I have to do the writing. Usually, people are telling me what I have to write about, but on Instagram, I get to work through just sort of the depths of understanding I’m coming to through motherhood about God and how much He loves us.
I mean, adoption is a sign of God’s relationship with us. We believe that God works through physical realities to teach us about spiritual realities. That’s true of marriage. That’s true of family. I know, it’s true of nature. It’s true of adoption because we are all adopted children of God when we’re baptized into his family.
Seeing the love that I have for my sons and how total and complete it is has helped me understand more truly the love that God has for us, how it’s not based upon what we do, or what we accomplished, or our failures, but there’s just this incredible love for us in our existence. I have that for my sons. I know that that comes from somewhere, and I believe it comes from God.
Our son, Becket, is black. I think our love for him, and our new love for his culture, and his heritage, and taking that on as our own, which you do in marriage … .
If an Irish person marries an Italian person, suddenly, you find you got a whole lot of Italian in your family. There becomes a deep appreciation for your spouse’s culture.
God does that. God does that with us. He took on our nature so that we could take on his nature. Coming to study the black American experience more, and love the rich contributions they’ve made to American culture, and have a deeper appreciation for that … .
It’s not like, oh, we want this in our house because Becket is here, but Becket is ours, and so, now this is ours.
I think when I look at the state of racial tension in the United States right now, and I wish more people could see how much we belong to each other in America, we have assimilated so much of every culture that has come to us.
We’re all a product of all those cultures. I think if people could see the ties that bind us not just based on culture, but on being children of God, of sharing human nature, of realizing we all belong to each other, that there would be a lot more peace.
Adoption has definitely been a window into that for me.
Allen: That’s so powerful. It’s simple, but it’s incredibly profound and just so beautiful to hear about your adoption story. That’s something that we just really love to talk about on this show and highlight because it’s so important to that value of life and that foundation of family.
I do want to take a second, and just loop back, and talk about one of your other books. You’ve mentioned cooking earlier and that that’s something that you really enjoy. You actually wrote a cookbook in 2016 called “The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet.”
I really love your perspective on food. I was reading a little bit about it earlier on your blog. Could you just share a little bit about that perspective on food, and hosting, and cooking?
Chapman: Sure. I’ll correct you a little bit. I did something confusing. In 2016, I wrote a book about food, which is “The Catholic Table,” but it’s more the theology of food and my story of my recovery from years of eating disorders, and sort of the Catholic vision of what food is, and how it’s a sign of God’s love, and a foretaste of Eucharist.
Then in 2020, I wrote a cookbook called “Around the Catholic Table.” That was written as a fundraiser for our adoption for Becket.
Allen: Oh, good. Well, tell me a little bit about both then.
Chapman: Yes. Really, they go together. “The Catholic Table,” the book, in 2016, gives you this rich understanding of the sacramentality of food, and how food can lead us closer to God and closer to one another, and what the theological meaning of hospitality and welcoming people is.
Then “Around the Catholic Table” gives you 77, I think, recipes that are made for hosting. Super-easy, entertaining. They feed a crowd. I’m always feeding big families. They’re designed for that.
That also includes essays on practical aspects of hospitality, like how not to worry about your house when you’re having people over or what to cook for people who are bringing lots of kids over to your house. Basically, my advice is: don’t.
Just have cheese and crackers because kids never eat when they’re around other kids and they’re not at home. Just really simple, easy tips on hospitality and recipes. The one that gives you the theology; the other gives you a way to practically apply the theology and live it in your home.
Allen: I love it. It’s so good. Well, before we let you go, we love to ask all of our first-time guests on the show this question: That is, do you consider yourself a feminist? Yes or no? Why or why not? No right or wrong answer. We get all sorts of different and unique answers to this question.
Chapman: I think the word “feminist” has become a bad metaphor because it’s so loaded with different agendas that when you use the word, they don’t know what you always mean. They’re like, “Well, what do you mean? You mean you hate men?” Do you support equal pay? Do you like John Paul II? And you’re talking about the feminine genius?”
It’s a really bad word at this point because people don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s not a word that I use to apply it to myself. I like to talk about the feminine genius, and allowing the feminine genius to flourish in the world, and being free to become the person God made you to be.
Those would be phrases that I would probably use and stay away from “feminist,” just because I think it’s a bad metaphor.
Allen: The term does certainly come with a lot of different emotions and opinions that people have.
Chapman: Yes. It doesn’t communicate necessarily what you’re trying to communicate. I’m a writer, so I’m obsessed with, “Am I communicating this properly? Is this a good word for me to use, or is it just going to make people stop listening to me because they think I’m saying something I’m not?” That’s how I feel about the word.
Allen: Well, and speaking of you being a writer, tell our listeners how they can find your books, follow your writing, and also follow you on Instagram, because now that I’m following you on Instagram, I feel like I’m always so encouraged by the things that you post.
Chapman: Yes. I am alone in the house with two boys most of the day, so Instagram is my connection to the outside world. I love Instagram. I love, love Instagram. Instagram is great. I have a blog called “The Catholic Table,” but I treat Instagram like a blog at this point.
Books are all on Amazon. I’ve published both through Emmaus Road Press and Doubleday. You can find some of my books on their websites. I’ve got a new book that is going off to the publishers in 10 days, God willing, and if my computer stops breaking down. Hopefully, there’ll be a new book come summer.
The publishers wanted to release it three weeks after I brought our new baby home. I was like, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Men, men who are arranging the marketing of these things, that’s not what a woman can do.
There’s some room for a little feminism there where you’re, like, “Could we all think through this a little more clearly?” Probably in June, a new book will come out that is called “Dear Emily: Letters to Myself From the End of the World.”
Allen: Oh, wow. Tell me just a little bit more about the concept with that because I’m really intrigued by that title.
Chapman: Well, I was supposed to be writing a different book, but it was May. Everything was starting to fall apart between … We saw the tragedy of the [George] Floyd murder and the reactions to that. They’re just the politics as we were getting ready for the election. I saw people really struggling to hold onto their faith, to not despair, to figure out how they were supposed to fight injustice, but without committing injustice in the process.
I was, like, I could see myself 20 years ago having a lot of these struggles. What advice would I give to myself in 2000? What advice would I give to 25-year-old Emily about how to understand what God is asking of us, how to love, how to be a bum, how to use social media, how to fight injustice, how to cope with scandal in the church, how to pursue holiness. That’s what it is.
It’s 45 short letters to myself, just trying to give the wisdom that I’ve acquired and that is keeping me sane right now, when the rest of the world often seems to be falling apart.
Allen: Wow. That’s so priceless. I feel like all of us probably wish that looking back, that, yes, our 25-year-old self could have had letters to my 45-year-old self right now.
Chapman: It would have been so much easier.
Allen: It would have made life easier.
Chapman: So much easier, yes, if I could’ve just skipped all of the tough stuff of learning the lessons and then, “Oh, yes, right, OK, I won’t do that. Good thought, Emily.” That’s what the new book is.
Allen: That’s so good. Well, we will be sure to put a link in the show notes for where you can find all those books on Amazon. Then, yes, please be sure to follow Emily on Instagram at @EmilyStimpsonChapman. Emily, thank you so much for your time. We just really appreciate you coming on the show.
Chapman: Oh, thank you, Virginia. It was great talking to you.