Sunday, January 31, 2010

Matt Chandler - Enduring faith

Enduring faith
The Associated Press

DALLAS -- Matt Chandler doesn't feel anything when the radiation penetrates his brain. It could start to burn later in treatment. But it hasn't been bad, this time lying on the slab. Not yet, anyway.

Chandler's lanky 6-foot-5-inch frame rests on a table at Baylor University Medical Center. He wears the same kind of jeans he wears preaching to 6,000 people at The Village Church in suburban Flower Mound, where the 35-year-old pastor is a rising star of evangelical Christianity.

Another cancer patient Chandler has gotten to know spends his time in radiation imagining that he's playing a round of golf at his favorite course. Chandler on this first Monday in January is reflecting on Colossians 1:15-23, about the pre-eminence of Christ and making peace through the blood of his cross.

Chandler's hands are crossed over his chest. He wears a mask with white webbing that keeps his head still when metal fingers slide into place on the radiation machine, delivering the highest possible dose to what is considered to be fatal and incurable brain cancer.

This is Matt Chandler's new normal. Each weekday, he spends two hours in the car -- driven from his suburban home to downtown Dallas -- for eight minutes of radiation and Scripture.

At the hospital, Chandler sees other patients in gowns who get chemotherapy through catheters in their chests and is thankful he gets his in pills before going to sleep at home next to his wife.

Chandler is trying to suffer well. He would never ask for such a trial, but in some ways he welcomes this cancer. He says he feels grateful that God has counted him worthy to endure it. He has always preached that God will bring both joy and suffering but is only recently learning to experience the latter.

Since all this began on Thanksgiving morning, Chandler says he has asked "why me?" just once, in a moment of weakness.

He is praying that God will heal him. He wants to grow old, to walk his two daughters down the aisle and see his son become a better athlete than he ever was.

Whatever happens, he says, is God's will, and God has his reasons. For Chandler, that does not mean waiting for his fate. It means fighting for his life.

The beginning
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.

She texts the women in her Bible study and asks them to pray.

At the hospital, Matt comes to.

"Honey, what happened?"

"You had a seizure."

He realizes that their two older children -- Audrey, 7, and Reid, 4 -- had seen it.

"Are the kids OK?"

Tears well up in his eyes.

"They're fine. They're fine."

He dozes off, wakes up and asks about the kids again. The same exchange repeats itself five times, always ending the same way, with Matt tearing up.

In short order, Chandler is wheeled back for a CT scan, followed by an MRI.

Not long afterward, the ER doctor walks in and sits next to him.

"You have a small mass on your frontal lobe. You need to see a specialist."

It was Thanksgiving. Chandler had not seen his kids for hours. He had collapsed in front of them. For whatever reason, those grim words from a doctor he'd never met did not cause his heart to drop. What Chandler thought was, "OK, we'll deal with that." Getting the news meant he could go home.

The man
Chandler can be sober and silly, charming and tough. He'll call men "bro" and women "mama." He drives a 2001 Chevy Impala with 144,000 miles and a broken radio. He calls it the "Gimpala"

One of Chandler's sayings is, "It's OK to not be OK -- just don't stay there." In other words, your doubts and questions are welcome at The Village Church, but eventually you need to pull it together.

He's also been known to begin sermons with the warning, "I'm going to yell at you from the Bible."

Chandler's long, meaty messages untangle large chunks of Scripture, a stark contrast to the "Eight Ways to Overcome Fear" sermons common to evangelical megachurches that took off in the 1980s. His approach appeals, he believes, to a generation looking for transcendence and power.

His theology teaches that all men are wicked, that human beings have offended a loving and sovereign God, and that God saves through Jesus' death, burial and resurrection -- not because people do good deeds. In short, Chandler is a Calvinist, holding to a belief system growing more popular with young evangelicals.

"Matt goes right at Bible Belt Christianity and exposes the problems with it," says Collin Hansen, author of "Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists." "He says, 'Enough of this playing around and trying to be relevant and using cultural touch points. Let's talk God's words.'"

Chandler's background does not suggest someone suited to the role. He grew up a military kid, drifting from Olympia, Wash., to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Alameda, Calif., and Galveston, Texas.

Chandler was taught that Christianity meant not listening to secular music or seeing R-rated movies. He developed what he calls a small and "man-centered" view of God -- that God will bless people who are good. That began to change when a high school football teammate started talking about the Gospel.

After graduating from a small Baptist college, Chandler became a fiery evangelist who led a popular college Bible study and traveled the Christian speaking circuit.

He was hired from another church in 2002 at age 28 to lead what is now The Village Church, a Southern Baptist congregation that claimed 160 members at the time.

The church now meets in a newly renovated former Albertson's grocery store with a 1,430-seat auditorium; two satellite campuses are flourishing in Denton and Dallas. Chandler has a podcast following in the thousands and speaks at large conferences.

"What Matt does works because it resonates with the deep longing of the soul the average person can't even identify," said Anne Lincoln Holibaugh, the church's children's ministry director.

The surgery

Tuesday after Thanksgiving. The Chandlers meet with Dr. David Barnett, chief of neurosurgery at Baylor University Medical Center.

The weekend had brought hope: A well-meaning church member who is a radiologist looked at Matt's MRI and concluded the mass was encapsulated, or contained to a specific area.

But Barnett delivers very different news. He saw what appeared to be a primary brain tumor -- meaning a tumor that had formed in the brain -- that was not contained. It had branches.

"Matt, I think you're dealing with something serious," Barnett says. "We need to do something about it quickly. Go home. Talk it over with your wife. Pray about it."

Chandler is facing brain surgery. He schedules it for that Friday, Dec. 4.

He is scared.

Questions start to haunt him. Am I going to wake up and be me? Am I going to wake up and remember Lauren?

The surgery begins around 2 p.m. A biopsy determines that it is, indeed, a primary brain tumor.

Additional Facts
On the Net:
Matt Chandler's blog

Lauren Chandler's blog

This was taken directly from here.