It’s the news every spouse and parent fears: be prepared to go it alone, because your loved one may not live much longer. Lauren Chandler bore that diagnosis in the very public role as pastor’s wife. Chandler and I corresponded about the health of her husband, Matt; how she’s changed since his diagnosis; and why we’re so surprised by suffering.
So how is Matt’s health, and how are you and the kids doing?
After his resection in December 2009, 6 weeks of radiation, and 18 months of chemotherapy, Matt has been given the much-longed-for status of “no evidence of tumor.” His most recent MRI scan was in early January, when we gratefully received this news. However, according to the doctors, this is a disease that will not officially be in remission. We believe nothing is too hard for our God, including healing Matt of oligodendroglioma. The kids and I are doing well. During Matt’s recovery and treatment, by the grace of God, we were able to find a “new normal.” Currently, we are enjoying the “old normal”—no pauses in life for “chemo week” and Daddy being out of commission.
What was your reaction when you first learned of the severity of Matt’s condition?
Matt’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Barnett, strongly suggested we let Matt rest and recover from the trauma of surgery before telling him the diagnosis and prognosis. To keep treatment protocol running smoothly and in a timely manner, Dr. Barnett invited our friend and lead elder, Brian Miller, and me to meet with him about the diagnosis. The three of us sat at a large, square table in a small, closed room in the belly of the hospital. It could not have been more suffocating. Once he delivered the news that Matt did indeed have anaplastic oligodendroglioma (malignant brain tumor), I was surprisingly calm. It wasn’t until I asked for the prognosis of this type of brain tumor that I started to feel sick. The typical life expectancy of a person with anaplastic oligodendroglioma is two to three years. Two to three years—the age of my younger daughter right now. It wasn’t enough time. I decided that it would be best not to let anyone else know about his diagnosis until Matt was informed. I didn’t want that for him. I didn’t want that for them. I didn’t want him to be oblivious, and I didn’t want them to have to pretend. This was a difficult decision. I stepped out of the stifling conference room and was immediately accosted by couples. I say accosted, but not literally. I felt accosted by the realization that I could very well be half a couple in two to three years. I was nauseated by every man and woman I saw holding hands. Only when my dear friend Maury prayed over me in the hospital hotel room before we fell asleep did I start to feel peace. Thankfully, the peace stayed and has been a welcome guest ever since.
People often cling to biblical promises amid suffering, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone point to Isaiah 33:5-6. How did this passage become so important to you?
I’ve enjoyed the privilege of walking with the (mostly) same small group of women for about six years. Just after Matt’s surgery, we started Beth Moore’s Bible study Breaking Free. In one of her video sessions, she brought our attention to rest on Isaiah 33:5-6. With the sturdy ground of a loving, godly husband threatening to give way, this portion of Scripture provoked me to prop my life on something, or rather Someone, stronger. Verse 6 says, “and he [the LORD] will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure.” How I needed some stability! Now, this is an “already and not yet” kind of statement. In Christ, there is stability now in knowing that because of his work on the cross and his resurrection, all things work together for my good (Rom. 8:28); but there is to be a stability at the consummation of all things, when Zion is filled “with justice and righteousness.”
Why are we so surprised when suffering comes?
I think most of us associate the favor of God with living pain-free lives. I believed this until the Lord graciously allowed me to suffer the loss of two miscarriages. He awakened me to the favor of his nearness in pain, the favor of being stripped of something desirous to see intimacy with him and joy in him as ultimate; to say with Paul that “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).” What I’ve found to be so interesting is that there are plenty of people who are surprised when suffering comes but also plenty who suspect it around every corner. Some believe that the Lord has positioned them on the anvil of suffering and is just waiting to bring the hammer of loss down on their heads. Lamentations 3:31-33 says that though the Lord may cause grief to his children, “He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” This gives us a very different glimpse of God. Yes, he may choose for his great purpose and our great joy to allow suffering in our lives, but he isn’t champing at the bit to do so. At the heart of suffering is God’s steadfast love.
How have you changed since entering this season of suffering?
In his study of Galatians, Tim Keller says, “Jesus suffered, not that we might not suffer but that when we suffer, we could become like him.” This season of suffering has become an opportunity to press more and more into the Father, and be shaped by him more and more into the likeness of Jesus. It has been an appointed time to let all other “props” go so that I may lean solely on him. By no means do I lean on him perfectly. There are plenty of false props that he brings to my attention, of which I continually have to confess and repent. But, even then, it is an opportunity to believe the gospel and trust that even as I don’t “get it right” Jesus got it right for me, and he has made a way for me to run to him, not from him when I inevitably fail.