NASHVILLE (BP) — Lauren Chandler had good reason to thank God. “Most of my life was pretty charmed,” she says. “I grew up in a home where my parents loved Jesus and each other, loved my brother and me. My life had a natural flow where things just kind of worked out for me.”
In 1999, Lauren married Matt Chandler, a passionate young preacher who would become lead pastor of one of the fastest-growing churches in America, The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The willowy, blue-eyed blonde would be a Dove-nominated singer-songwriter and an in-demand speaker at dating and marriage conferences. She and Matt had two beautiful children, and she was pregnant with their third.
Then she suffered a miscarriage. And another one after that. Lauren’s world was crashing in on her.
“I had always thought, Things will just work out for me because I trust God,” Lauren admits. “But this was very painful. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me.”
When she became pregnant after the second miscarriage, Lauren found herself filled with fear, not knowing then that she would carry the child full term. “I was afraid the same thing would happen,” she says. “And the Lord just confronted my fear. He showed me I believed God is good because He blessed me instead of believing God is good no matter what — that He loves me and will do good for me no matter how things might appear to me.”
It’s hard to be thankful in difficult times if we equate easy times with God’s blessing, Lauren writes in her new book, “Steadfast Love: The Response of God to the Cries of Our Heart,” published by B&H Publishing Group. In the book, she mines Psalm 107 for life-saving truths about God’s covenant-keeping love — an anchor strong enough to hold through life’s worst storms.
“We have this confidence in God, whose love never changes,” Lauren says. “We may think, How can this be good? Yet, we can cry out to God, ‘I don’t understand this, but I want to trust You. No matter what is going on, I am going to trust that You are good, that whatever You bring into my life is something that ultimately will be for my good.'”
When people put their trust in a false anchor — like thinking they can work out their own problems — those anchors invariably give way, Lauren says. But when people realize God’s steadfast love is an anchor that will hold fast in any storm, it gives them a deep peace and confidence that allows them to thank God even in the hardest times.
Learning that lesson from the miscarriages was crucial for Lauren because she and Matt were about to face an even more severe trial.
I still will trust You
On Thanksgiving morning 2009, a seizure threw 35-year-old Matt to the floor. Tests at Baylor University Medical Center showed a mass in his brain’s right frontal lobe. The seven-hour surgery to remove the malignant tumor was followed by an arduous course of radiation and high-dose chemotherapy.
Even though most patients with that kind of cancer aren’t likely to live long, Matt’s scans are still coming back clean — no sign of cancer in his body seven years later.
Lauren’s heart overflows with gratitude for that gift, but she is careful not to take it for granted. “Every time Matt gets into the MRI machine, I say, ‘Lord, You have shown me Your goodness no matter what, and I trust You. I know we do not deserve positive results, but You have been so kind to give that,'” Lauren recounts.
Living with an attitude of gratitude isn’t automatic, however. One thing that keeps Lauren from forgetting God’s grace is living in relationship with Christians who bear one another’s burdens.
“I get to step in with them, caring about and praying for them,” she says. “Coming alongside them in their struggle helps me be grateful, not because I pity them, but because I remember how God has been faithful to me and how He continues to be faithful.”
She remembers the example of the three Israelites who refused to worship the Babylonian king even when he threatened to throw them into a blazing furnace. Faced with unimaginable pain, the men told the king: “If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire…. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).
As her husband is drawn out of the MRI machine, Lauren continues her prayer: “God, I believe You will deliver us, but even if You don’t, even if the results of this MRI are not what we hoped and prayed for, You are still good, and I still will trust You.”
Right before Matt’s cancer diagnosis, God took Lauren to the book of Job and highlighted for her that when Satan wanted to afflict God’s servant, he had to get the Lord’s permission.
“It showed me that anything the enemy could do in my life was simply him being a pawn in God’s hand,” she recalls. “I realized God would use for my good whatever the enemy meant for evil. It taught me we can see God’s hand in hard times.”
Even when good things are happening to us, pride can blind us to the opportunity to thank God, Lauren adds. “We don’t see them as graces in our lives. We think we did it,” she admits. “We want to be the ones who are strong, who have the answers, who can do everything — when really we are needy. And it’s a beautiful thing to be needy.”
In good times or bad, followers of Christ can live in thankfulness by letting Scripture remind us of God’s steadfast love, Lauren encourages. “God is faithful in the trial, and He is faithful in the peace times,” she says. “Lord, help me remember that You are good, that there are so many things in my life to be grateful for — even things that seem inconvenient and frustrating and disappointing. Even in those things, Lord, help me be grateful.”