(Photo: Christian Post/ Stephanie Samuel)
Lauren Chandler is the wife of Matt Chandler, the pastor of The Village Church in Texas, and a mother of three. She is also a passionate songwriter and worship singer who released a six-song album this past summer.
Many came to know the Chandlers for their faith after doctors found a malignant tumor in Matt's brain in 2009. Together the family has persevered through brain scans, surgeries and chemotherapy.
Lauren spoke with The Christian Post during the Defined by God conference for pastors' wives this past weekend in San Diego, California, including about her husband's brain tumor, miscarriages, and her new album. The following are excerpts from the interview.
CP: How long have you had this desire to sing worship music?
Chandler: I've always loved music. I've always written little songs even as early as fourth grade. I entered a little song in a contest, liked the UIL (University Interscholastic League) contest, and got a little award and stuff. I always, like when my heart's really aching or hurting, I'll write a song, or a poem or something. So I always enjoyed music, played the piano, sang in choir – church choir – growing up.
Then I honestly heard for the first time – they were then All Sons and Daughters, then Watermark, Christy Nockels and Nathan – I heard one of their albums and it captured me. I just loved the honesty, and I loved her voice. I could hear the passion in it and it just resonated with me. Then I went to Passion [Conference] '99 and just kind of saw worship being led differently than I had seen before. So my heart was stirred and so I desired that.
I always wanted to write and record something of my own – my own songs. So there has always been that stirring, and I'm 32. So to do a record, I mean that's been a 10-year desire. But I wasn't ready yet. The Lord had some work to do before it was time.
CP: Compared to what you were writing then as a child and what you're writing now, do you see any themes that come out more and more as you compose music?
Chandler: Just kind of that [theme of] trusting the Lord no matter what and really anchoring myself in Him and His character, and that He's good and I can trust Him and that no one else can bear the weight of worship. I feel like that's kind of where I get drawn to.
CP: Speaking of "bearing the weight of praise," you have endured so much in your past with your husband and the tumor. How did you find praise during that time?
Chandler: Before Matt had the brain tumor, I had experienced a couple miscarriages. I feel like the Lord really prepared me through that season of praising Him in the hurt and really that was where my heart was resting, was in praising him and not in questioning and doubting.
Yes, He is big enough to hear my doubts and questions and my crying out to Him, like literally, kind of like "Why."
So I think that prepared my heart. Actually He gave me kind of a picture in my head of this heart being wrung out like a towel and just this phrase that sometimes he wrings the worship and just this idea of the Lord squeezing our hearts and squeezing that worship out sometimes – that real deep worship.
There's a song on the album called "Though You Slay Me." It's kind of a Job song – the kind of deep worship song that "My heart and flesh may fail, the earth below give way but with my eyes I will see the Lord high and lifted up, the Lamb that was slain. I'll know that it was worth it all" – just that kind of praising Him no matter what. If He slays me, yet I will praise Him.
I really think that our hearts will not rest any other place but in worshipping him and praising him in the midst of heartaches and storms and lost and doubt and frustrations. But sometimes it's a fight. It's a fight sometimes.
CP: How did you find balance with a sick husband, young children and a job in ministry?
Chandler: I think what I did was I just received. I received grace from the Lord, received people's prayers, received people's help. They wanted to help us. They wanted to fill in the gaps for us especially during that season. I mean we pretty much just cleared our calendars for about six months to almost a year, I think. We slowly started working some things in at the six month point, but we were like we're just going to focus on this battle right now and this is where we are.
So those places that I've help previously at the church, just like I was in the recovery ministry, I was helping lead worship, the Lord just filled in people for that time, and I got to enter back in different ways when we kind of felt the release.
But really the balance was just clearing our calendars and saying, we're just going to take one day at a time in this season right now. I really think it helped the church for us to just be willing to receive and just the community that was around us just to be able to receive from them.
CP: How about your kids? How did you break the whole situation down for your children to understand?
Chandler: Our youngest was six months and the next oldest was three or four. I think he was four, so they didn't really get it. I mean, the six-month-old had no clue; the four-year-old kind of. It was more about Matt's hair falling out than it was about a brain tumor. With the oldest daughter, we tried to just be as honest as we could.
I mean, that's a conversation that I continue to have with her because I think in their minds [they think] oh, it's over. Matt hasn't gone through chemo, he's not going through radiation any more but the doctors would say that it will come back. It's never gone, he's never cured, there's no remission.
So having to explain that to Audrey, it's like, "OK, here's what we've got: either the Lord's going to keep that cancer at bay and modern medicine's going to find a cure and dad's cured, or the Lord's just going to flat out heal him. And that's what we're asking for – just that the Lord would heal him. Or, it will come back and it might take dad's life." And then I was like, "What do we have in that?" And then she was like, "The Lord will be with us." You know, all along the way He's with us. That's kind of the way I've revisited things with her especially because she has the clearest memories. She has the most understanding of what happened. So that's kind of where we are.
CP: How do you teach your children to praise and not to doubt God? How do you keep them trusting God and praying and believing that He does work?
Chandler: I think just modeling it and honestly, being honest. There're no real effects on our family right now from the brain tumor, except for Matt. His scans come up every now and again. So Matt and I will get anxious and we'll really have to press into the Lord together. But the kids don't know that and so I don't think they would know anything unless a scan revealed something's going on. But just really modeling and being honest about our doubts. But also modeling asking the Lord for more faith and praying for that and believing that He'll give it.
CP: What's it like to be a mom of young kids in ministry? How do you do it?
Chandler: Be willing to have community. It comes in seasons. On the panel yesterday Lisa Chan said something about that – being in seasons. There's going to be seasons that you're at home a lot, especially at the early weeks and months of a baby's life. But then the season will kind of open up and you'll get opportunities to do more outside then and you'll learn how to structure your days and try to get up early and go to sleep at a decent hour. But sometimes you don't get as much sleep.
And just involving them in ministry the older they get. Like Audrey coming with me here to travel with me and have time with me, and I just enjoy it very much. So try to bring them along. I took Audrey with me to Africa this summer and let her see what the Lord is doing. So [I'm] doing my best to bring them along with me in ministry, and then being sensitive to when I need to say no or not go or be sensitive to where they are, where their little hearts are.
CP: How do you try to be a good wife to your husband?
Chandler: The most important thing is really having a thriving relationship with the Lord – real and intimate. It's got to start there – a real honest relationship with the Lord.
And then being a friend to my husband, like wanting to be with him, wanting to tell him things that are on my heart and share things and hear things from him, and then being responsive, period. Just in every way. Just to respond to him and to anticipate desires and needs and just having laundry done and a meal and space when he's tired, and letting the kids go out and play while he just kind of rests and not putting a lot of expectations on him.
And then honestly, to be a good wife, if there are expectations that you think that are fair, at least just putting it out there in a very respectful way and showing that you need him and saying, "Really if you could, I really need your help with this."
I think a lot times what we do in our minds, we just want them to guess. We want them to read our minds and be like, "Oh honey I noticed this. Would you like me to help you do this?" And I think, just being real honest and saying, "Hey babe, I've got guests coming. Can you just go home and make the bed and straighten the house?"
That happened just the other day. I was out running around, going crazy and thinking, OK, Matt probably didn't make the bed when he got up. He probably didn't do this; he probably didn't that. Instead of getting upset about it and huffing my way back home and straightening up all the things he should have done, you know – which he didn't know, he's just going about his day – I was like, "Babe what are you doing? We have a lot of people coming and I'm way out, like an hour away. Would you please just go make the bed and make sure things are straightened in our home?" And he was like, "Yeah baby." That was easy.
And even acknowledging, "Baby I know I'm asking a lot of you but could you just… It would really help me," and that goes forever with us.
CP: Lastly, what are the issues/needs for Christian women, in your opinion?
Chandler: I remember hearing for the first time the song "How He Loves," and it was right after I had had our third child. It's such a messy season when you're pulled in so many directions and it's just really hard to get up early and spend time with the Lord. So I had this guilt of gosh I'm not doing enough. I'm not getting in the Bible, I'm not praying enough, I don't love you God. God, help me to love you more.
I was on a run by myself and that song "How He loves" was playing and it was like the Lord saying, "It's not about how much you love me, it's about how much I love you. I loved first. So quit trying to muster up this love. Why don't you just receive."
So I think women need to hear that –just to receive His love and to know it. Do you really know it? To know His character: He's good, He's trustworthy. And even that idea of Him being our Father, letting Him set the tone for what a father really is and not maybe what they experienced in their lives personally with their earthly father, or lack thereof.
So I think just being loved by their heavenly Father and knowing who they are as His daughters and not letting themselves be defined by anything else but that.