About the Guest
You just found out you only have three months to live. How do you handle it? Matt and Lauren Chandler faced this reality when Matt was diagnosed with brain cancer. They both tell their side to the story and how their focus on heaven was sharpened.
You have three months to live. What do you do? Matt and Lauren Chandler faced this reality when Matt was diagnosed with brain cancer. They tell their story, and how their focus on heaven was sharpened.
Michelle: It was Thanksgiving, 2009, when Matt and Lauren received the devastating news that he had a cancerous brain tumor. They had very different responses to that news.
Lauren: I remember thinking, “We need to get this out as soon as possible. It is an intruder. It does not need to be in his brain.” Matt/he fell apart just thinking about our kids: “Would they love God who took their dad from them?” That was a really hard
24 hours/those first 24 hours. I think you saw his theology come to life.
Michelle: We’re going to hear how one couple found the treasures of God when darkness fell and all hope seemed lost on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. We all have hard things happen in life, and it’s how we handle the hard things that show our true character. Think about Job. Are we like Job?—steady—maybe questioning God a little bit—but still steady. Or maybe we have the tendency to be Job’s wife, and those words come through, “Curse God and die.”
When the tough thing happens, how well are you prepared? Will your anchor hold? Matt and Lauren Chandler are intimate with an unknown and difficult journey. Matt is the head pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. Lauren helps out at the church with worship, and she is also busy raising their three children.
It was Thanksgiving morning, nine years ago, when life changed in the Chandler household; and the unthinkable happened. Okay, I’m going to stop right here. Think about Thanksgiving morning: “What’s it like in your house?” You’re either getting ready to go to a relative’s house or you’re ready to have people into your home. Pies are baking in the oven; somebody is busily wrestling a turkey, and stuffing it with who knows what, and sewing up that bottom. Next on the docket is a green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and all of that stuff. Or maybe you’re rushing around, getting ready to go to someone else’s house; and in the back of your mind, Christmas is looming.
And it was that morning in 2009 when Matt experienced a massive seizure and the ambulance was called. The Chandler family entered a journey that they never saw coming. Here’s Lauren, sharing with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine her memories of the events that followed.
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Lauren: When they pulled him out of the back of the ambulance, he looked at me and was like, “What’s going on?” He recognized me—which, I mean, it really was a relief—because I thought, “He’s never going to know who I am for the rest of his life or the rest of my life.”
Lauren: They ran tests and the ER doctor said, “You need to go see a neurosurgeon. You need to get in as soon as possible; there is some kind of mass in your brain.” We’re hoping that it’s just kind of something that doctors need to watch, that it’s been there probably this whole time; and we just need to make sure that it’s not growing. We were hoping it would be something benign.
He saw a neurosurgeon the following Tuesday. He showed us the film and said, “This looks pretty bad; so much so that I’ve made room in my schedule on Friday to get you in to get this out.”
Lauren: Yes; brain surgery.
Bob: —on Friday.
Lauren: Yes; Friday after Tuesday.
Lauren: It’s not my brain, so I can understand why I felt this way; but I remember thinking, “We need to get this out as soon as possible,”—
Lauren: —like, “This is an intruder; it does not need to be in his brain.”
Matt/he fell apart just thinking about our kids: “Would they love God who, it seemed, took their dad from them?” That was a really hard 24 hours/those first 24 hours. Then, I think, you saw his theology come to life. He was like, “You know what? I really do believe that God is good; I really do. No matter what happens on Friday—whether I lose my life, whether I don’t come out the same person—I know that He is good. He’s going to take care of my family; He’s going to take care of my kids; He’s going to take care of this church.” It took him about 24 hours to get to that point, which I think is—it could take longer for a lot of people—and that’s okay—
Bob: Sure; yes.
Lauren: —just wrestle and struggle through that. I think he finally got to this point where, “I just have nothing else to hope in; this has got to be true.”
Dennis: I want to stop you there; because what I want our listeners to hear: “You don’t prepare for the storm in the middle of the storm.
Dennis: “You prepare for the storm when the seas are calm, all the way up until you face the storm.”
Dennis: The reason Matt was able to believe God was good was—he had been preaching, teaching, living the Psalm that you talk about in your book, Steadfast Love—Psalm 107, verse 1, which says, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
Dennis: You don’t get to that if you haven’t been living by that.
Lauren: Yes; that’s what the storm does: is it exposes what you’ve been trusting in.
Michelle: Lauren Chandler in an interview with Dennis and Bob, just last year, remembering the hard journey that she and her husband Matt have walked through.
That’s a really good point: the time to prepare for the storm—it’s not in the middle of the storm—as Lauren said, “The storm exposes who you’ve been trusting.” That was Lauren Chandler from 2017.
Now, I want to peel back the layers a little bit and peek into, maybe the middle of this journey, a few years after the [terminal] brain cancer diagnosis, radiation and chemo treatments, when Bob Lepine had a chance to go down and sit with the Chandlers in their living room and hear from Matt and Lauren as they were walking in the middle of this storm. Here’s Matt, talking about how he’s been wrestling with trusting God, knowing that there’s a high possibility of his imminent demise. Again, this is from an interview in 2012.
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Matt: Really, as a man, who is not looking to escape—
I love my wife deeply; I love our children deeply; I love our family; I love coming home. It’s been one of the great gifts of God and one of the great joys of my life, to be given the family that I’ve been given, and the wife I’ve been given. I don’t just love my wife; I really enjoy Lauren, one of my best friends; and I’m getting to like her more, and more, and more; I’ve always liked her.
—to worry about:
“Do I get this future?”
“Do I get to be 60 and sip coffee with my wife in the morning?”
“Do I get to be an empty nester? Do I get to come back around, in my 50’s and just have my wife to myself again?—and have our home, where we’re not cleaning dirty diapers; and we’re not having to magic erase marker off the wall; and we can actually have nice stuff that doesn’t get destroyed in a year-and-a-half/two years?—to really, kind of enjoy one another.”
But then, look at this very real possibility of early—and I don’t think anybody leaves early; right?—but to leave, honestly, before I thought I would. It created in me/really, what the Lord stirred up and showed me is that I had some idolatry in my life; and I had some confidence in me in my life that, ultimately, is the kind of idolatry that you would never get in trouble for.
The Lord had to, just really graciously go: “You love them more than I do?” or “You’re a better provider for your wife than I am?” or “Really, all your hopes and dreams about your family are built around you?” Those were the kind of gut checks the Lord was having with me in those early days.
Then one of the gifts/one of the sweet gifts He gave me is that it is alright to mourn and alright to ask Him for things that maybe sounded selfish—so believe He’s sovereign; love Him more than anyone or anything else in the universe—but I want to walk my daughter down the aisle; I do. And I want to see my boy become a man; and I’d love to see him get married; and I’d love to see him be a daddy; and I’d love to have grandbabies. I want those things; it’s not idolatrous for me to want those things.
Like everything else, I just need to have an open hand—
Matthew: —and say, “You gave me the breath; You gave me the life; it’s Yours to do with as You please; but ultimately, I have these desires; and I don’t think they’re wicked desires.” Really, that was some of the wrestle that I was going through in those early days.
Bob: Did you, in these days, start to think about: “Okay, if we only have two years, I want to make sure we do Hawaii; and I want to make sure we this and…” [Laughter]
Matt: We’d already done Hawaii.
Bob: Did you start to go through the checklist of: “Here’s what’s on the bucket list; let’s get this done,” and “Then, we’ve got to get prepared for if I’m going to be a single parent and…”
Bob: Were you doing all that?
Lauren: No; I really believed that Matt had more than two to three years. I really felt like the Lord just say: “Today; let’s just think about today.” I’ve had years of guarding my heart and my mind against that, when this comes to play. We’re doing this Galatians study—Tim Keller’s Galatians study with our church—and he talks about, in Galatians, where he says that “He has prepared, in advance, the good works that we would do.” He points out that He prepares us for these good works that He has coming for us.
I think, for so long, I read, “Okay; He’s got these good works. I’ve got to keep my eye out for them, because I might miss them”; but really, [I should be] focusing more on the Lord preparing us for these good works that He has for us to do. We’re not going to miss them, because He’s shaping us so that we can walk through these good works—to not have a “Plan B”—but to just trust the Lord for each day and that, ultimately, what I get—because I’m His—is Him. That’s really only the hope that lasts; that’s only the desire that is fulfilled.
“A hope deferred makes the heart sick”; but there is a place where I can put hope, where it’s not deferred—and it’s in Jesus—that there is a desire that can be fulfilled; it’s intimacy with Him and knowing Him. Whether that means I get two to three years with my husband—or I get twenty to thirty years with him—just trusting Him with each day and not getting too far ahead of Him and of the grace that’s for that day.
Bob: Matt, when you get a headache now/when you start to get a headache—do you start to go—
Matt: My doctors were/have been—every one of them—have been brilliant in coaching me through this. What I mean by that is: yes, anytime the weather changes, anytime the pollen kicks up in the air, anytime I get a headache, I go, “Oh man! Is this it? Here we go.”
Finally, I went and had a scan/a scheduled scan; and it was clear. I was, “Whew!” I talked to my neuro-oncologist and said, “Hey, I get/I’m having to remember: ‘I got headaches before this; I had some allergies before this,’”—every time I get a headache now/every time I’m fatigued now.
One of the ways that the tumor was signaling—that we were unaware of before the seizure—was I had kind of become anti-social. I didn’t want to go to parties; I didn’t want to go to events with a lot of people. I just thought the growth of the church and the pace of life that we’d been living had made me a bit of a recluse. But what was happening was the tumor, and where it was located, was really making me kind of withdraw.
So anytime I feel like that—anytime Lauren’s like, “Hey, what do you think about going to this deal with the Bleakers and the Pattersons?”—good friends of ours—and I go, “I don’t really want to do that,” I feel myself now going, “Oh no, no! Let’s do it! Let’s go do it!” [Laughter]I did have to figure out how to—what we call it is—“the new normal.” I had to figure out the new normal, and I have to preach to myself far more.
Another really residual effect, emotionally and spiritually, from this journey is you just have morbid thoughts all the time. We were on vacation last year in Florida; we’re playing on the beach. My son and I are just kind of digging in the sand—he’s five at the time—and I see this teenage boy throwing the football with his dad. I’m having the thought, “I wonder if I get to do that.” I would have never had that thought before.
They opened up a new hospital here in town—a really nice kind of hospital down from our church—and when they opened it, I thought, “I wonder if I’m going to die there.” I mean, those are the kind of thoughts that you're constantly having now, but I have to hold in check. My wife laughs at me; because she’s like: “What if we all die there?” “What if everybody—you know, everybody we know—maybe that’s where we all go and die.”
Or on vacation, we took some pictures with some friends; and in my mind, I’m like, “Hey, that little video thing they play at funerals, is this going to be one of those pictures?” It’s like you’re stuck in that line of thinking, because it’s very real. In some strange way, it’s what Moses asked God for: “Teach me to number my days”; God’s just kind of given us as a gift.
I’ve still got to actively go in for scans regularly. They’re still fully convinced that this takes my life—and takes my life in under a decade—they’re still fully convinced of that. Those are some of the things that you kind of have to continue to walk in and learn to—once again, open handedness—“Maybe I don’t; but maybe I do. You know, Lord, I want that: I want to throw the ball with my boy on the beach when he’s 16; I want him to be able to take trips with me; I want him to be able to do those things. But You’re better, ultimately; so I want to voice to You that I want these things/that I desire these things, but I trust You. If You want to call me home, then let’s go. But I’m like this…” That’s kind of the rhythm I’m in with the Lord.
The irony is, even talking with Lauren, that day on the beach—I mean, I’d go back that night; and I was like, “Hey, I had this thought…” She was like, “I was thinking the same thing on my chair, reading my book!” It’s become this point for us, where we’re just kind of real honest about, “Hey this is a thought I had, and I don’t want to hold that thought to myself; I want to share it with you.”
We found some real peace with each other in this journey by me not harboring all these fears, or her not harboring all these fears—kind of this joint rhythm of we want to express our desire for this before the Lord, while simultaneously saying—“But what You want is better than what we want, and what You want will bring more joy than what we’re saying we want.”
Bob: Are you emotionally at a place where it’s, “Lord, if You’re ready to take him, let’s go.”
Lauren: No. [Laughter]I mean, I want him here; I want him here. I’m not at the place where—you know, if the Lord wants him, then that’s fine—I mean, I want him here; I want him here for decades, but I trust the Lord.
Michelle: That was an interview with Matt and Lauren Chandler from 2012, being very honest about where they’re standing with God and with their hope in the future. They’re both trusting God, and they’re both finding peace in what God has for them. According to doctors, Matt shouldn’t be here right now: he shouldn’t be delivering the powerful sermons that he does; he shouldn’t be writing books; he shouldn’t be taking his kids to their ball games and shouldn’t be loving his wife; he should be dead. But by God’s grace, he’s doing all those things and more! Matt is a brain cancer survivor.
We need to take a break; but when we come back, we’re going to hear from Lauren once again, from an interview in 2017. Stay tuned.
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Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. We’ve been hearing, today, from Matt and Lauren Chandler and how God has walked them through a storm. Matt has survived almost ten years after being diagnosed with a type of brain cancer that is almost always fatal. Here’s Lauren and Bob Lepine talking about this uncharted territory that they seem to be walking in right now.
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Bob: I was told that Matt asked the question: “So, when I get past ten years, and I’m still scan-free,—
Bob:—“what will you tell me then?”
Lauren: I know!
Bob: And they said, “We don’t know—
Bob:—“because no one’s ever done that—
Lauren: You’re right.
Dennis: —“no one.”
Lauren: I think there have been a few that are right now—that are probably like
15 years in—but there are very, very few. There’s just no statistic, really, for him.
Bob: You feel like God’s healed him.
Lauren: I do. I’m just like, “Lord, You used that season,” and “I’m going to believe that You chose to heal him; and until You show us otherwise, we’re going to trust You for that.”
Bob: If you’re sitting in an oncologist’s office, at a regular checkup and scan, and they come in and say, “Well, it’s not the news we’d hoped for this time,” is your heart ready for that?
Lauren: I don’t know; I would hope it is, because of how God has sustained me in all these seasons. That’s the thing about the book, because I don’t start with the brain tumor; I go way back to these other seasons of my life, where the Lord has shown me that He’s enough. I think I’ll just take one day at a time and say, “Lord, I trust You,” and “I know You’re still good, and I know you still sustain me with Your steadfast love.”
I’ll ask for the Lord to heal, but I will receive what He has. I mean, it’s not going to be easy; I’m not going to trick myself into believing that it’ll just be easy. But I do think, and I pray, that I will trust Him in it.
Dennis: So what would you have to say to a listener, who’s at the beginning of this process?—
Dennis: —maybe it’s their health; maybe it’s a child’s health; their spouse’s. What would you instruct them to do as they read Psalm 107?
Lauren: Take to heart that these people cried out and that you don’t have to be okay with it. I sat with a woman, whose husband has been diagnosed with cancer, and she’s—with a really aggressive form of cancer—and she’s pregnant with her second child. It is a really hard situation.
She’s like, “I just/I’m not okay with it right now.” I said, “I really don’t think you have to be okay with it. I think you can be like, ‘Lord, this is not right!’” And it’s not! It is the effects of a broken world. I think it’s okay to struggle with that—and to not make peace with the problem or the trial—but just to make peace with God. You cry out to Him, in all your snot and all your tears, and you ask Him for healing; but more than anything, you ask Him to be near and for Him to show you how near He really is.
Dennis: God is not threatened—
Dennis:—by our angry shouts,—
Dennis:—our tears, our cries of anguish, of grief, of sadness, of sorrow, of potential loss.
Dennis: He can handle it; He’s not insecure.
Lauren: That’s right.
Dennis: But He is the anchor that people are looking for.
To that person, who doesn’t know Jesus Christ right now, who’s listening—who may think they’re ready for heaven but they have no idea how they’re going to get there/they have no idea what it takes to get there—what would you say to that person?
Bob: Yes; somebody who—you described yourself, earlier, as somebody who was trying to please God but not really surrendered to Christ—right?
Lauren: Yes; right. That’s the cross—is that I’ve heard it just the most simply put—Jesus lived the life you couldn’t live and died the death you deserved to die. He didn’t do it out of duty but out of “for the joy set before Him He endured the cross.” That there is a God who loves you, who desires a relationship with you—who is the God who designed us to be with Him; He is the God with us from the very beginning of time—His desire has been to be with us and among us and to dwell among His people. He will use any trial and any season to draw you into Him.
How we can see that His love is true and it’s lasting is by looking at Jesus, who gave up—willingly endured one of the most violent, horrible, humiliating deaths—so that we could know what it’s like to be in a relationship with God. And the proof of it is that He didn’t stay in the grave, but He rose. Just this proof of: “I did it for you, because you couldn’t on your own.”
It is that simple to just trust Him: to trust that Jesus has done it for you, that a relationship with God is possible, and that’s what you’re meant for. You were meant to draw near to Him to know Him/to be used according to His purpose. That’s where life at its fullest is.
Michelle: Such a great reminder from Lauren Chandler: apart from God, we are weak. We need to draw near to Him, because that’s where your best life will always be. She talked about Psalm 107 that gave her and Matt hope during this hard journey.
Psalm 107 starts off with: “Oh give thanks to the LORD for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.”
Later on in verse 14, it says: “They cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bands apart. Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness and for His wonders to the sons of men.” I think we can say that the Chandlers are doing that, loud and clear, right now.
Hey, coming up next week, we’re going to play a couple of rounds of the game of Life®. You remember playing that board game; don’t you? It’s that game where you pick the color of car you want and then, through the game’s journey, you go off to college; or you get married; or you have a couple of kids; and eventually, you retire. Well, we’re going to play that game next week; I hope you can join us for that.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the cofounder of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, our president, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to Keith Lynch; our producers, Marques Holt and Phil Krause. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
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