Last November—November 26, 2009, the morning of Thanksgiving to be exact—Matt Chandler’s life changed forever.
Here’s how the Associated Press profile described it:
Thanksgiving morning, a normal morning at the Chandler home.
The coffee brews itself. Matt wakes up, pours himself a cup, black and strong like always, and sits on the couch. He feeds 6-month-old Norah from a bottle. Burps her. Puts her in her bouncy seat.
The next thing Chandler knows, he is lying in a hospital bed.
What Chandler does not remember is that he suffered a seizure and collapsed in front of the fireplace, rattling the pokers. He does not remember biting through his tongue.
He does not remember his wife, Lauren, shielding the kids as he shook on the floor. Or, later, ripping the IV out of his arm and punching a medic in the face.
During the ambulance ride, Lauren, 29, looks back from the passenger seat at her husband in restraints.
He is looking at her but through her.
The doctors discovered a mass on the frontal lobe of his brain and planned for surgery.
A week later, a few days prior to his surgery (December 4), Matt recorded this message:
On December 15 the neurosurgeon, Dr. David Barnett, informed Matt and Lauren that the pathology report revealed that the brain tumor was malignant (Anaplastic oligodendroglioma, grade 3), that it was not encapsulated, and that they were not able to remove all of it.
He was released from the hospital the next day.
On December 18 Matt taped the following video:
He began radiation and chemotherapy treatments on December 29.
Matt has graciously agreed to answer a few questions, reflecting on the past year. I encourage you to read it not merely for an update or for information, but as a means of stirring you up to pray for our dear brother. (You can receive health updates from Matt here.)
If you could go back and have a conversation with yourself on the evening of November 24, 2009, what would you have said to prepare Matt Chandler for the year ahead?
I think I would hug myself and just say, “He’s prepared you.”
What role has your theology played in sustaining you throughout this year?
I’m not sure how men and women without a strong view of God’s sovereignty and authority over all things handle things like this.
There were at least 3 meetings with my doctors early on where I felt like I got punched in the soul. In those moments when I was discombobulated and things felt like they were spinning out of control, my theology and the Spirit were there to remind me that “He is good and He does good”—to remind me that God has a plan for His glory and my joy that He is working. I was reminded that this cancer wasn’t punitive but somehow redemptive (Romans 8).
It sounds like the Lord not only prepared you personally for suffering, but also enabled you to prepare the people at your church by teaching them about the theology of suffering?
When I arrived at The Village 8 years ago, we started growing with young men and women almost immediately. (I was 28 at the time, and I’ve heard you tend to draw those a decade behind you and a decade ahead of you.) The average age back in those days at The Village was in the early 20s. If there was a funeral or I had to run to the hospital, it wasn’t because an 80-year-old died or was sick. It was a baby that went down for a nap and didn’t get up, a young husband who went fishing and drowned not coming home to his wife and 3-month-old son, and on and on I could go.
I learned that, at least at The Village, there was no real understanding of what was going on in suffering. The theology most people had been taught was erroneous. They felt lost and confused. Over the next few years I would return to the subject of suffering at least monthly trying to weave it in as often as I could. Although most people would rather not hear about the subject, everyone is going to experience it. Therefore, I desperately wanted to help shepherd the men and women of The Village through what is a reality in a fallen world.
In the weeks and months leading up to Thanksgiving I was still doing this, mentioning the reality of cancer in my sermon on Sunday, November 22 and reminding the men and women at Southern Seminary on November 12th out of Hebrews 11 that sometimes we are faithful and do exactly what God wants us to do and we get mauled by lions and overrun by armies. It was a drum on which I was constantly beating and continue to beat. The great mercy of God in it all was that while I was purposefully preparing God’s people, He was purposefully preparing me.
What about the role of your friends in helping you during this painful time?
I have always deeply desired to be an honest man who said it when I struggled, stumbled and worried. I longed to be a man with real friends—friends who knew me at my worst and loved me. I woke up in the hospital on that Thanksgiving morning with no memory of what happened to me. When I came to, it was my wife and two of the pastors of The Village in whom I have confided, by whom I have been rebuked and corrected, and with whom I have prayed, cried, laughed, and vacationed, standing there with tears in their eyes.
Over the next 3 months they were constantly by my side, driving me to radiation treatments, bringing me meals, praying for me, celebrating with me when radiation was over, going to MRIs and doctor’s appointments with Lauren and me. They were steadfast in their love for me despite the workload they all had to bear with my absence for those 6 weeks. When I was afraid, they reminded me of His promises; when I was angry, they reminded me of His goodness. It truly has been a group effort.
For those who are walking with others who are suffering, what are some of the dumb things to avoid doing and saying?
I’ll stay away from the “what are dumb things people do/say” question. I think people can get a little weirded out by pain, suffering, and death. They don’t know what to do so they end up saying things that are hurtful to people who have experienced loss.
What do you wish people understood more about how to relate to those who suffer?
I wish people understood the power of presence. Just people being there to pray with us, encourage us, and support us was extremely life-giving (once I recovered from surgery).
How can we be praying for you and your family?
I am 10 months in to 18 months of chemo, and the treatments are starting to wear down my stomach and intestines. I am cramping up quite a bit, even after the round is over. I still have at least 8 months left and am hoping that it doesn’t get worse.
I asked in the first email I sent out after the seizure that people would pray for the salvation of my children, and whatever happened that they wouldn’t grow embittered to the Lord. My oldest Audrey has asked God to reign and rule her life a month ago and we’ve been celebrating ever since.
I’d ask for the continued prayers of salvation and sustaining grace on my family’s life and continued death to the cancerous cells that once ravaged my brain!