Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Decision to Live

I have been very disturbed this week, as I've read articles and watched interviews, regarding a lovely teen girl in Wisconsin who has chosen to end her own life... and thousands of people are praising her for being brave and strong. This girl has the same disease as I do - Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and has decided at the age of 14 that she doesn't want to deal with the pain and limitations anymore.

I don't know if this young lady has gotten wrong medical information, has poor role models, or is watching the wrong kinds of movies. But whatever has caused her to want to give up, it deeply breaks my heart. I want to sit with her, tell her my story - and Kevan's story, and Joni Eareckson Tada's story, and Nick Vujicic's story, for that matter! She is not alone in pain and weakness and weariness, and this is not the end of her story!

The crazy thing is, when I was 14, I was in the hospital with pneumonia and a collapsed lung, and the doctors told my parents I probably wouldn't make it. At that time, in the midst of incredible pain and weakness and feeling like I was slowly drowning, I could have very easily given up. The short term prognosis was bad, but the long term prognosis was worse - that it was very likely I would be hospitalized many times in my brief life. I had a critical decision to make then, and I chose to live. I was able to do it because of the hope and peace and strength Christ has given me.

I have had to make the decision between life and death countless times in the nearly 20 years that have passed since then - on hospital beds, on ventilators, and in my own bed at home. Choosing life is incredibly difficult sometimes. I wrestle with depression and frustration in my weakness and limits, and I battle with thoughts of being a burden on the people I love.

As a true follower of Jesus, that decision is more complicated than you might think! I often think about what heaven will be like - no more pain, no more weakness, no more limits! I'll get a new and improved body, and I can tell you right now that I will be unstoppable, making up for many years of missed-out activities like mountain climbing and scuba diving, and dancing - SO much dancing! Sometimes I get so homesick, its all I can do to not beg God to let me get there already.

But then... I remember that Jesus came so I could have life to the fullest (John 10:10), and that God commands me to choose life, that I and my family might live (Deut 30:19). He is the Author of Life, and the Giver of All Good Things. And he knows the good plans he has in store for me (Jeremiah 29:11). He knows the number of my days, and he has a perfect plan for each one. Why would I throw away his precious gift of life? Why would I give up and quit before his plan is fulfilled in me? That wouldn't be brave; that would be cowardly and selfish and the weakest thing I could do.

I've been thinking this week about all the incredible, beautiful moments I have experienced since I was 14 years old. In choosing to live, I rejected my own self-pity and all the easy excuses I could use to be worthless. I found true joy in life by doing hard things, taking risks, trusting people, and researching the best ways to care for this frail little body I've been given. Every morning, I chose to get out of bed and keep breathing, keep smiling, and keep moving. I choose to not let my disability rule over me, but defy every limitation in the name of Jesus, and with the help of amazing friends and family who love and support my choice, not just to exist but to truly live. My relationships have been so rich and full, because they've taught me to trust others and receive help, and they've taught my friends a whole new level of creativity, selflessness, strength of character, and love.

Choosing to live is a hard thing to do, but it is the very best thing. It is the only truly brave, amazing, praise-worthy thing to do. Every day is a new adventure, when I remember that I am not alone. Jesus is with me, to give me strength to live, and to carry me through my weakness. In him, I am limitless and strong.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ocean Waves

A poem I wrote, inspired by the beautiful ocean views and the beautiful ministry I experienced in Portland, Maine... 

The rhythm of the waves --

Reaching out and pulling in
Rolling forth and falling back
Advancing and retreating
Swelling and shifting
Coming and leaving
Exhaling and inhaling and exhaling again.

Constant in its fluidity
Eternal in the temporary
Making all things new and fresh and new again.

Sweeping over sand
Swirling among shells
Washing through seaweed
Crashing against rocks
Transforming everything it touches
In slow, deliberate strokes.

Let me not sit
Still and stagnant
Safe and timid in the shallows.

Give me purpose and freedom on Your open seas --
Breathing Your mercy in and out of me
Casting Your love on dry and parched hearts
Bringing life to dead and dying souls
Filling hollow spaces with Your peace,
And forgotten places with Your hope.

Make me like the ocean waves,
Delighting to move with Your wind and tide, to

The rhythm of Your grace.

~ c. l. chandler

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Backpack: A Parable of Grace

About two months and $27,000 ago, my brother sat next to me in my room, with a pinched, anxious look on his face. "I'm just worried that this thing is going to become about me... I don't want that. I don't want to become overwhelmed by the organizing and the details and the spotlight, and the weight of being the Point of all this..."

In case you've been living under a rock lately, "this thing" Kevan was referring to is a campaign that he and his friends were just beginning, called "We Carry Kevan." You can visit their page... or read/watch basically any major newscast in the world (literally)... to learn the details of this now and become a part of it. But before it was a famous global campaign, it was Kevan's dream to do some things he physically cannot do alone. And before it was a viral internet sensation, it was a commitment that Kevan's friends made, to help him fulfill his dream. (By the way, if that seems vaguely familiar to you, check out Luke 5:18-20.)

When Kevan shared his concerns with me, I tried to be patient and sensitive, and then I said, "But Kevan! The whole Point of it all is that it's NOT about you! The Point is, you CAN'T do any of this on your own... the Point is, you need others - we need each other. And just because your name is on it doesn't make you the Point. You are the object, not the subject!" (Side note for the word-nerds: "We" is the active subject, "Carry" is the action that the subject does, and "Kevan" is the passive object - the one being carried. So really, it about the ones who are doing the carrying.) "So, just relax and enjoy the ride. Your role in all this is to be the receiver of this awesome gift, and to tell the amazing story."

I've been trying to understand GRACE more this year. I think maybe it's some kind of powerful, potent, magical, dangerous, life-changing, world-changing thing, and I'm on a quest to try to somehow grasp more of it. Do you know Jesus didn't really talk about grace? I mean, in the Bible he didn't ever have a sermon on the topic of grace, he didn't outline the five steps to having or receiving grace... but actually, he talked about grace all the time - he lived grace. His parables and miracles and interactions all sparkle with grace, because grace is not a textbook term, it is a living story.

"We Carry Kevan" is a parable of grace. It's a cripple in a backpack, leaning and depending and trusting on others to carry him when he cannot take a single step on his own. It demonstrates our personal limitations and inadequacies, and our desperation for something bigger, stronger, and more than ourselves.  It's a group of friends who offer strength where it is lacking, and who share a burden in order to experience deeper joy together. It is a message of hope and abundance beyond what we can ever earn or deserve.

It's a picture of Jesus Christ, lifting us out of that broken, dark, hopeless curse of sin, and lavishing us with a deluge of forgiveness and redemption and favor. He is the one who sees us, hears us, knows us, saves us, loves us... and yes, carries us. We are just the objects, the receivers and witnesses of his amazing grace. He is the subject - and it is all about Him.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why I Go to (My) Church

I've been a member of my home church since I graduated high school (about 15 years ago). Since that time, I've been a part of other "faith communities" as well - the church I attended near my college in Greensboro, the campus ministry, a next-gen seeker-friendly ministry, a young-adult Saturday night service, a youth ministry leadership mentor team, my community church in Indiana, an international ministry team, and a young ladies' Bible study. I have been so thankful for all of these experiences, and have grown exponentially in my faith because of each one. But throughout all those years, I still called my home church "home." And this is why...

My Church is my Family. 

It's people who truly KNOW me. Some of them have known me since I was little - they saw me get baptized in a polka-dot bathing suit when I was seven. Others got to know me when I was trying to conquer the world with my crazy post-college Super-girl complex. Others are new friends who are just starting to know me. There are people who have prayed for me physically beside my hospital bed, have prayed for me spiritually as I was full-time on the mission field, and have prayed for me emotionally when I was weary and wounded. They've seen me at my best and at my worst. And they still love me.

And I'm heavily invested in people here. I've cried with those who have faced disease, tragic loss, consequences of poor decisions, and unemployment. I've celebrated births, graduations, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, new jobs, ministry callings, baptisms, salvations, and recommitments. I've watched kids that I taught in youth group, girls study, and Sunday school grow up into godly, passionate, and faithful young adults.  I've mentored teen girls, and sought out the counsel of older women. I try to serve wherever I believe I can do the most good (even if it isn't my favorite role), and I try to challenge the Family to take risks where I see gaps in our ministry to each other and the community.

And I'm not saying my church is perfect - not even close. They drive me crazy sometimes, like family. Some have made decisions I disagree with, some have done and said hurtful things, and some have made mistakes that have had heartbreaking results. But life gets really messy and sometimes ugly when you are in real relationship with people. And unless we want to just sit in the back and be inactive and complacent, ugly and messy WILL happen, because we are human, and we are broken. The key is to be able to press on - to argue, wrestle, apologize, compromise, become humble, be teachable, be flexible, and be willing to try to trust again... to trust that we are all here by the grace of God, and we all - individually and collectively - need Him desperately. I can't give up on the Family when it is imperfect; I need to be a part of fixing our flaws, healing our wounds, making us stronger, turning our eyes more on Jesus. I do this, not because it is easy or pleasant, but because I need this Family in my life. I love them, and they are precious to me.

There are other things I love about my church, like weekly communion time, plurality of leadership, Bible-based teaching that doesn't water down the Truth, and the clearly presented message of the gospel at every opportunity. I love that it is a smaller church, and that we're kind of a ragamuffin bunch of people of all shapes and sizes (literally and metaphorically), and our one real common factor is that we know God loves us, and that has changed us all.

I am the only person my age in my church, and sometimes that makes me feel a bit lonely. I've been tempted to church-hop and "shop around" to try to find where people my age are... But I'm not really interested in churches that are primarily made up of young people, because I really need older people in my life to teach me and set an example. I'm not impressed by loud music or high-tech lighting or a focus on the latest programs, because I think that's all peripheral fluff that takes focus away from what matters most. I'm turned off by churches that think they are somehow special, and invest in making a name for themselves, because I think John was right: "He must increase, and I must decrease." I don't fit in very well in churches that seem to be preoccupied with being cool or hip or even "relevant," because I don't feel like I am any of those things, and Jesus never tried to be either.

I want to be in a church that is about truth and authenticity, and where the Gospel is our focus and source of life and joy and growth. I want to be in a church that is truly built on relationship that is fueled by the love of Christ in us - working hard to maintain unity and transparency within the Family, and working just as hard to reach out and invest in meaningful and intentional connections in our community. To be honest, my church is not there yet, but I don't know of any church that can claim to have all of this completely figured out. But I think this is the desire of my church... I see my beloved Family wrestling and striving towards these things, so I'm hopeful that we will get there someday together... and that is why I go to my church.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Fountain of Life and Justice

"Look back therefore, rise to the heights, go to that place where once God hath spoken, and there thou wilt find the fountain of justice, where is the fountain of life. 'For with thee is the fountain of life' [Psalm 36:9]." - St Augustine

I love that St. Augustine says here that the fountain of life is found at the fountain of justice, which is found with God. That is very full of hope, when you really consider it. I look to God as the only true giver of justice and life - and he gives both perfectly and fully.

I've been thinking about this quote a lot this week, because it is used in a book by Elisabeth Elliott that Mom and I have been reading together on our road trip to Florida...

We drove to St. Augustine, FL, on Saturday. For all the times we've come to Florida, I've never visited "the oldest city in America." So, we did this time. We had an amazing dinner at The Columbia, an absolutely beautiful (and romantic!) Spanish restaurant in historic downtown. The next day, we did a trolley tour, bought some souvenirs, admired the peacocks, and visited the legendary Fountain of Youth, which Ponce de Leon is said to have discovered. It was rather anticlimactic, as the "Fountain" was merely a fresh water spring enclosed in a hut, which we drank from in little plastic cups. Not that I really thought it was magical, but I thought they'd at least try to make the experience more magical. At any rate, I decided I'd much rather drink from the Fountain of Life and Justice, than be forever young.

We went on down to Jupiter after that... which has been different, strange, and a bit sad, since it's the first time we've been here since Grandpa Jack passed away in October. But we know he drank from the Fountain of Life and Justice, so we choose to live fully and joyfully. We are staying in a hotel by the bridge, and spend most of our time on the beach, soaking in the sun. When we're not on the beach, we're eating the best seafood ever! We realized that we've been coming here so often (and it's Mom's hometown) that we can comfortably and confidently do things that the locals do - hang out at Dubois Park, eat at the Dune Dog, and wear our bathing suits everywhere. But since we don't live here, we can also have fun doing things that tourists do! We went on a boat tour around Jupiter Island, visited Palm Beach Gardens, and had conch fritters and pina coladas on the boat dock at the Rustic Inn Crab House. Our hotel is pet-friendly, so we've met a lot of really cute dogs here... and apparently it's the beginning of spring training in the baseball world, so we're surrounded by plenty of St. Louis Cardinals fans!

Tuesday we went down to Fort Lauderdale to visit the Perrys... our dear friends whom I've known my whole life and who have always lived out loving ministry in a very authentic way. We had a charming tea party of M&M cookies and tea (Sprite, for the kids), and I got to be the honorary "auntie" to Rachel and Linda's kids - seven little ones, and counting! A few hours at the Perry house is refreshing and restorative to the soul. I really believe the Fountain of Life and Justice flows freely and generously there.

That evening, my wheelchair hit its 1700 mile marker. When it happened, I was talking to a friend from Indiana who had just attended the funeral of a boy that was in our youth program. Such a tragic story, full of so much in-justice and un-life. It's hard to find joy and hope in those moments. Even in the midst of such a fun and memorable week, this has been a shadow over my heart, as I grieved for the families and wished I could be there to comfort and offer ...something. But what could I say or do?

Remember that book I mentioned earlier, that Mom and I were reading? The one with the cool St. Augustine quote? Well, the title of the book is, "Trusting God in a Twisted World." She talks a lot about death and other things that cause us to ask God "Why?". Really good thoughts and reflections, but I just keep coming back to that St. Augustine quote... and there's a fountain right outside of our hotel that brings it to mind too. Fountains are refreshing springs that never run dry, never get tired, never stop giving. And when I find myself again and again faced with tragedies in this world that is so twisted by injustice and the curse of death, the only thing I can do is trust the Lord, and run back to that Fountain that sustains me. And he is my joy, my life, my strength forever.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Superfruit of the Spirit

Recently at my home church, we've been studying the "Fruit of the Spirit," as it is laid out in Galatians 5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We've been learning how Christ is the perfect example of all of these attributes, and how our lives will bear this good fruit in an authentic way when we abide in Him, and submit ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

In my personal Bible study time, I've been doing a word study, with the term "grace." I decided I wanted to really understand this word on a deeper and richer level than ever before. I could tell you what grace is not. Grace is not an afterthought, and it is not a free pass. And I could tell you the definition of grace - getting something good that we don't deserve. But I want to become more knowledgeable and more passionate about what grace is - its essence and significance. 

In the Old Testament, it seems like grace is something that is asked for, found, and bestowed. (Yes! There is amazing grace in the Old Testament!) In John 1, grace is embodied in Jesus himself. In Acts, grace is the evidence of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in the evangelists and early believers.

But this week, I was reading the mentions of grace in Romans 5, and it hit me: Grace is the Superfruit of the Spirit! Check this out:

"But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death,so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

In the "health and nutrition" realm, basically all fruit is good for you in some way. But some fruits are labeled "superfruits," because they are abundant with many really great things your body needs, like antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals... things that will help you live a longer, stronger, healthier, happier life. You may not even realize that some of your favorite fruits are considered superfruits - like apples and bananas! 

With that in mind, I realized that even though "grace" is not listed in the famous Fruit of the Spirit list, it is all over that list! Grace happens through and because of love, it brings joy and peace, it is so often synonymous with patience and kindness, it is given out of goodness and gentleness, it is a discipline that is produced from faithfulness and self-control. 

It is so powerful that it conquers the curse of sin! It is the key to salvation! It is a gift that God freely and abundantly gives to us. It fills us and empowers us to do amazing things. It is meant to overflow from our lives to others, in our speech, attitudes, and actions. 

When we bear the fruit of grace in our lives, it is the greatest, most powerful testimony of salvation, redemption, and transformation that others can see. And it is so crazy, so supernatural, that it cannot be credited to anyone or anything but Jesus. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

All About the New Book

I teach English as a Second Language. I love international people, I love learning about other cultures, I love words and grammar (yes this is true!), and I love to teach. Ergo, the ESL education realm is my happy place. But my other (and even bigger) passion is Jesus Christ - I love studying the Bible, learning more about Him, and sharing the beauty and hope of the gospel with others. The great question I have struggled with for the past 8 years is, how can I most effectively combine my passions to love and serve other people? 

About three years ago, I was complaining to my roommate that I could not find an ESL curriculum anywhere that was the perfect resource for what I wanted to accomplish in ministry. In response, she said something incredibly wise and challenging: "Then why don't you write it yourself?" That sparked an idea, which grew into a huge project for me, which I have invested much brain- and heart-power in for the past two years.  

As a word-nerd, I find myself studying the word choices and the structures of the phrases in the Bible. What words are most often repeated? What verb tenses are used? Why is a certain phrase passive or active? What is the purpose behind the prepositions? The more I study these details of language in the Bible, the more rich the stories become for me... so why not use those details to teach English language learners? Instead of trying to separate the English lesson from the Bible lesson, I wanted to combine them and actually use the Bible as the primary English learning resource.

As a tutor and teacher, I have found it very difficult to find a one-size-fits-all curriculum... textbooks tend to be divided into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced levels, but what if you want to teach a multi-level group of students? And what if a student is a great speaker, but struggles to write a paragraph? And what if you have one-on-one sessions with several different students who are at different proficiency levels? And what if a textbook works great for one class, but the very next class cannot relate to the content? I knew if I wrote a curriculum, I wanted it to be flexible enough to be used with one or twenty students, on any and all levels of proficiency. 

As a Bible student, I couldn't find a Bible lesson series that really covered stories in a chronological way that connected events and characters to each other. Most series I looked at would jump from creation, to Noah, to Abraham and Isaac, to Moses, to David... and it made me sad that they were missing so many precious details in between - things that reveal the gospel of grace and mercy and justice and redemption! So when I decided to write a Bible series, I was committed to making the gospel the primary focus.

So the first volume is 30 lessons on the major events of the book of Genesis. (I have five other volumes outlined, to cover the rest of the Bible.) For each lesson, there are seven pages:

1. Teacher Planning - Instead of making a separate teacher manual, I've made a page of suggested materials and activities that the teacher can use to aid in learning and understanding the English concepts and gospel truths. 
2. Illustration - Original black-and-white artwork by myself and my friend, Josh Malchuk, each one depicting a major event in the story, and contains images of new vocabulary 
3. Vocabulary - New and review words, character names, and pre-reading questions
4. Story - Simplified interpretation of the story, with the Bible reference - 15-25 sentences
5. Verbs - Chart of all the verbs in the story and their tenses, and mini-lesson with practice
6. Sentence Structures - Mini-lesson on some aspect of the grammar in the story, with writing practice 
7. Comprehension - Cloze (fill-in-the-blank) version of the story, and thought/application discussion questions

The pages are designed to appeal to different proficiency levels... If your student has no English background, only use the Illustration page with them, pointing to objects and giving single-word vocabulary and acting it out to tell the story. If your student is more Intermediate, add the Vocab, Story, and Verbs pages.  If your student is Advanced, add the Sentence Structure and Comprehension pages. Or adjust the amount of work to cater to the unique proficiency and learning style of your student! 

So here it is, available for $30 on! If you are interested in teaching English and the Bible at the same time, please order one today and try it out. I would love to see churches offer Bible studies or Sunday school classes with this, or even have tutors use it in homes for one-on-one or small group instruction. International students who are Christians might enjoy going through familiar stories in a new language, and students who are not Christians might find this an interesting and academic way to learn more about the Bible. I hope students will gain confidence in their English skills and be encouraged by the good news of the Lord through these lessons.