About the Guest
Life comes with choices. Pastor Shane Stanford, a lifelong hemophiliac, recalls the unforgettable day when, at 16, his doctor revealed to him that he had tested positive for the HIV virus. Told he had only a few years to live, Shane talks about the invaluable encouragement that kept him going and the beautiful girl who stuck close by his side through it all.
Shane StanfordShane Stanford is a teacher, speaker and author committed to connecting people in significant relationships with Christ and each other. He is the Senior Pastor of Christ UMC in Memphis, TN-- a congregation committed to sharing God's love, truth and grace through Biblical teaching, small groups and serving. He is also the co-host of "We Believe in Memphis", a 30 minute interview, TV program at the crossroads of faith and everyday issues. Shane is also the author of 13 books including When Go...more
Life comes with choices.
Bob: Shane Stanford was sixteen years old when he got the heart-breaking news: because of a tainted transfusion, Shane was HIV positive.
He remembers having a conversation with his grandfather not long after that.
Shane: I remember on this particular day, we were sitting there. You have that feeling that somebody wants to say something to you, and you know you want to say something to someone, but no one will start the first words. That’s what happened, and finally my grandfather looked over at me and he said, “So, what are you going to do with this thing?”
He wouldn’t say AIDS or HIV. He said, “What are you going to do with this thing?” I looked over at him and I said, “I don’t think I have a choice.” He said, “Son, you always have a choice.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today® for Monday, October 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Shane Stanford joins us today to talk about a number of the choices he has made since first learning that he was HIV positive.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
You know, I think it was probably 25 years ago when I first heard about the HIV virus and about AIDS. At that point, in the late ‘80s, there were a lot of questions. We didn’t know where it came from; we didn’t know how to curb it. I remember warnings that you shouldn’t eat at a salad bar or swim in the local community pool because you might get AIDS. It was an alarming disease.
We live in a different era today, and thanks to medical science we have a little more control over what’s going on with the AIDS virus, but I think we need to remember that this disease still devastates a lot of families.
Dennis: It really does. We have the privilege today of hearing really a God story. In fact, as I was thinking about introducing our guest on the broadcast today, Shane Stanford, I thought of this verse that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 10: “But by the grace of God, I am what I am. His grace toward me was not in vain.” Your story is a story of great grace and a story of heroic faith on your part.
I’d like to welcome you to the broadcast, and I want our listeners to stay tuned because they’re going to hear a great story today.
Shane: Well, thank you very much. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be a part of this. I appreciate you guys and all you do. You do a great work! This ministry has made a difference in my life in very personal ways. Maybe I get a chance to share that today.
You’re right. It is still an alarming disease, Bob. That is a point that needs to be made. It is still the number one killer for young women, ages 18-25.
Bob: Anybody who gets the news, “You’re positive with HIV,” their life changes.
Shane: Their life changes. Their relationships change. The way that they should handle and make decisions should change. This is still a disease that is killing people around the world. Just because we have medicines that can change that does not negate the power of a virus that will affect your body in very profound ways.
Dennis: Shane, you’re a pastor.
Dennis: You’ve written a book called A Positive Life which is a story about how you have been living with HIV, not only as a pastor, but also as a husband and a father. It’s just a great story of God’s work in your life.
I want to take you all the way back to the beginning, though.
Dennis: Your childhood was checkered with some amazing news, right off the start.
Shane: It was. From the very beginning, being a hemophiliac, I was six months old when I fell trying to walk like most children do, and I cut my lip. We could not figure out why I could not stop bleeding. My grandfather, who was also a hemophiliac, my mother’s father, had died when my mom was 12 years old. Everyone in the family had forgotten that he was a hemophiliac.
The way hemophilia is passed from one generation to the next is that it goes from male to female to male. So, women are carriers; males are hemophiliacs. It was a doctor in a very small town in southern Mississippi who finally asked the question, “Do you have hemophilia in your background?” After remembering about my grandfather, they said, “Yes.”
I was diagnosed at the age of six months and a few days. We went from there. At first, for probably the first six or seven years of my life, there was really no treatment other than a very complicated regimen of blood transfusions.
Bob: Explain what life is like for a two year-old, three year-old, four year-old who’s a hemophiliac. Does that mean that if you skin your knee, you’re in life-threatening danger?
Shane: Well, it depends. There are variations of hemophilia. You can be a major, severe case of hemophilia, or you can be mild. I’m mild. Usually what that means is that if I cut myself, I’m going to bleed a little bit longer. For instance, if you cut yourself, Dennis, you’re going to be 29 seconds clotting. I’m going to be 46 seconds.
So that extra 17 seconds makes a difference when that blood continues to flow. The primary problem for hemophiliacs, though, is what happens internally. Your joints – if you hurt a joint, it doesn’t heal. If you hurt your muscles, they don’t heal the way that they should heal. So you basically grow up with injuries that become self-sustaining almost.
For a three or four year-old, imagine the number of times that you fall and bust your knee or you do something to your hand or bust your nose or lip.
Dennis: Or twist your ankle.
Shane: Or twist your ankle, yes. Those are events that, for a hemophiliac, they don’t just heal. You can imagine the stress. My father was really not around. He was not as active as he needed to be. My mom was basically a single mom. She was very young when she had me. You can imagine having a child and you don’t know very much about the disease, who keeps bleeding and hurting himself and not healing.
So I grew up with a mom who was learning along the way. Thankfully, she’s a great godly woman, but at the same time, you know, we grew up together in a lot of issues.
Dennis: Well, that disease not only took a toll on your life, but also must have taken a toll on your parents’ marriage.
Shane: It did. In fact, two days after Christmas in 1976, my father came home from lunch, which was a rarity. He never came home from work. He told me that my parents were getting a divorce. They had actually gotten a divorce that day. I remember thinking to myself that my world was coming to an end.
I didn’t know anything about divorce. I just knew that my parents didn’t spend a lot of time together, so I didn’t know about a healthy marriage either, but to have my father then all of the sudden pack his clothes and leave at the age of six – that was tough.
I remember going outside - we lived on a college campus because my dad worked for a local community college as the Public Relations Director – and sitting in the front yard, I just began to cry, and I remember a few minutes into that I looked up and coming down the road was an old, beat up, red pickup truck. It was my grandfather. That was really the first time that my grandfather would become my hero and my rescuer for a lot of things in my life. He would play an important part in the HIV diagnosis as well.
Dennis: He ended up being the model – the male mentor – in your life.
Shane: He did.
Dennis: So that as a teenager, when you were diagnosed, he stepped into your life in a significant way.
Shane: He did, and it might be helpful for me to say that around the age of seven or eight, there was a major discovery in hemophilia called “factor.” Most of us were missing a particular factor that causes us not to be able to clot or heal. I’m missing the “A factor.” They developed a replacement therapy, where you could take a medicine that was made of human blood donations; it would take about thirty donations to make one dose of that.
If I took three doses per day, then I was taking blood from around 90 different people. This was a miracle drug, because what it did was replace the factor we were missing. So I clotted much quicker, healed much better, and we really thought that hemophilia -- within a matter of a few years that we would be taking a pill, that we would be able to live with this chronically, at the very least – that our lives were going to change.
That was until around 1981, 1982, when the first cases of hemophiliacs becoming sick with the same virus that was plaguing gay men in San Francisco hit the news. Come to find out, the HIV virus was actually in the blood supply. Hemophiliacs were taking factor that had been made from blood donations that were already infected with HIV.
Dennis: When you were a teenager, again, having already received these blood donors with tainted blood, you were also at the time exceling at sports?
Dennis: You became quite an accomplished golfer?
Shane: That’s right.
Dennis: I love what you wrote about in your book. In your journal, you quoted yourself (as a sixteen year-old, I guess), saying “Man, I just shot 78 from the tips.”
Shane: That’s right; from the tips.
Dennis: All the way back, sixteen years old. That day was to be an important day in your life – not for your golf game, but for the news you received.
Shane: That’s right. Later on that afternoon, I was told to go by my doctor’s office; that the doctor needed to talk to me about something. We had been informed a couple of years before about the possibility that there were viruses in the blood supply. They had taken me off of factor, and I was taking some other factor-raising drugs at that time.
What had happened was that we had not done it soon enough. The doctor informed me that the medicine used to treat my hemophilia had indeed been contaminated with HIV and that I was HIV positive. I had been tested as I was having eye surgery, and they actually had waited several months because it was such a traumatic diagnosis.
There were no medicines at that time. If a person was diagnosed with HIV, it was usually profoundly aggressive and they would have around two to three years. That was what I was told; that I had two to three years to live.
Bob: Did you go into that doctor’s appointment as a sixteen year-old all by yourself?
Shane: I went by myself and found the news out by myself and left by myself. It was surreal. I tell people that I went to bed the night before as the captain of the golf team and president of my class, dating the prettiest girl in school, and the very next day was told that I had two to three years to live.
Bob: How did you process that?
Shane: You know, God does -- I don’t believe in coincidences. Three months prior to that, I had accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord of my life. I had gone to church all my life; I had walked the aisle as an eight year-old, but I really didn’t get it. I was truly transformed just a few months prior.
Dennis: There had been a young lady in your life who had been in the hospital where you were staying. Tell the story about the impact she had in your life. This was like an angel sent.
Shane: I still believe she’s an angel. Her name was Katherine and as I was in the hospital recovering from eye surgery - I have a disease completely separate from the hemophilia where my corneas actually will degenerate -- so I was having a cornea transplant. I remember one night I was fussing. I was sixteen years old and I was in the children’s ward of the hospital. I heard these groans and these moans from the room next to me.
I remember leaving. No one was staying with me that evening, and I went over to the next room and there was just a beautiful young lady. Her head was bandaged, but her face was just gorgeous. She had these beautiful eyes. She was just hurting terribly. I quickly stepped out of the room, but the next day I walked back over and she was sitting on the edge of her bed.
I went in and began to talk to her. I say in the book that she’s the type of girl that you either wanted to marry or elect president or both. She knew about politics and about God and about SEC football. I mean, she was one of these that could talk about anything.
Dennis: What else would a man want?!
Shane: What else do you need? That’s right!
It was a conversation with her that reminded me about the power and the grace of God and how Jesus Christ came so that our lives personally – your life, my life, our hearts – would not be the same again. No matter what we went through, we would not be the same again. It was not just words.
Here was a young lady who had everything in the world to be bitter about, who was not bitter. I thought to myself, “I want that. I want what she has.”
Dennis: You need to tell them what she had.
Shane: She had a brain tumor. She had a brain tumor. What had happened was that they had gone in and she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. They thought the brain tumor was benign. When they took the brain tumor out, they found that the wall around this particular part of the brain (which by the way didn’t affect a great deal of her motor or sensory abilities) was malignant on the edges.
Here’s the part of the story that is heavenly. I don’t know what happened to Katherine. As I have gone back and asked individuals about who Katherine is, I have never been able to locate information about her. People have questioned this, and I’ve had my skeptical friends say it certainly can’t be, but I believe she was an angel.
I believe she was put in that place, in a means by which I could understand her. Just like God becomes like us, God became like me – a hurting teenager – and stepped into the midst of my story, so that I could understand what it meant to have grace. It was because of that angel - that relationship - that I began to . . .
Dennis: She quoted C.S. Lewis to you?
Shane: She loved C.S. Lewis, and that became my sort of hobby over those next few weeks. I read Mere Christianity. I remembered the quote, you know, “How can you call a crooked line crooked if you don’t have an understanding of a straight line?” That was the one quote that she loved more than anything else.
She kept saying, “Shane, you look around and you see all the problems with the world, but why do you know they’re a problem? Why do you know this isn’t normal? It’s because deep down in your soul you know there has to be something better.”
You know, I mean, this is a teenager who is dying who’s talking in this kind of language. That’s profound.
Bob: Did you start thinking, “Well, I want to go to Disney World before I die, and I want to go to Paris, and I want to do this and this and this?”
Shane: You know, what I thought more than anything else was just, “I want to pretend like this isn’t here.” I remember saying to several people that I went back and started hitting shag balls. I went and started practicing the next day again. I had tournaments coming up. I needed to get back to life.
That is not a quality that has gone unvalued in my life. You know, some psychologists call it denial. I call it moving on. I mean, there’s only so much that you can do in the trenches. You finally have to crawl out of the trench and go fight the fight.
Dennis: Well, you had been fighting it.
Shane: I had.
Dennis: Since you were six months old.
Shane: That was my life. My life had been that whatever the situation was, you faced it.
Dennis: You’re not a quitter.
Shane: Not at all.
Dennis: And that’s really what you and your grandpa talked about.
Shane: Well, my grandfather and I - after my parents’ divorce – he became the person in my life that I counted on the most. We had a place where we would go. At first, it was a little place in an orchard where we would go and sit and, you know, kind of just spend some time together on Sunday mornings. It shifted to a hill overlooking a golf course later on, of course.
I remember on this particular day, we were sitting there. You have that feeling that somebody wants to say something to you, and you know you want to say something to someone, but no one will start the first words. That’s what happened, and finally my grandfather looked over at me and he said, “So, what are you going to do with this thing?”
He wouldn’t even call it by the letters. He wouldn’t say AIDS or HIV. He said, “What are you going to do with this thing?” I looked over at him and I said, “I don’t think I have a choice. There’s really not much I can do.” My grandfather was such a sweet-spirited man, but when he said things that he wanted you to remember, he had that tone in his voice that you knew that these words were important.
He said, “Son, you always have a choice.” He said, “Now, you can get in the corner and you can feel sorry for yourself.” He said, you know, “I love you so much that I’ll get in the corner and have that pity party with you if that’s what you choose.” He said, “. . . but I think you’re going to choose a better way. I think you’re going to choose to make every day count.”
He said, “No matter how many days you have, every day’s going to matter.” I can remember leaving that hillside thinking, “That’s what I want. I want every day to count.”
I have to say that God has answered those prayers because I believe that the journey has meant something. I believe that, if nothing else, if people can look at this journey, they learn two things: number one, never, never give up, because (number two) there is nothing that will separate you from the love of Jesus Christ.
Dennis: And that’s really where I want our broadcast to conclude. Maybe a listener is hearing you right now, and that person is saying, “I want what Shane has. I want the perspective of life where I experience the grace of God through Jesus Christ like you’re talking about.” What should that person do?
Shane: I tell people that, number one, you have to get out of your own way. You have to learn how to really love Jesus. If you learn how to love Jesus on the terms that Jesus offers for you to love Him, it is life-transforming because God doesn’t hold anything back from you. When you seek after His face, when you seek after His heart, there’s nothing that He will withhold from you, Scripture says. He wants to fill you up with His Spirit; He wants to fill you up with His presence.
Then the second thing that happens is that the more you get filled up by loving Jesus, the more you need to go love like Jesus, because the more you love like Jesus, the more then you become that blessing. I tell people all the time that the tendency when we receive negative news, when we receive a burden, is the tendency according to the world that we pack that in and we try to hold onto it ourselves.
But what does Jesus say? Jesus says, “Come unto me those of you who are heavy-burdened and give it over to Me, turn it over to Me. I want to carry this for you.”
If we can learn to turn that over, including the places where we are most prideful, then not only are we going to be filled up, but we’re also going to become that blessing for somebody else.
Bob: You know, we have a resource that we send out to folks who contact us requesting more information about what it means to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It’s a booklet by our friend Jim Elliff called Pursuing God. If you’re listening today, and you don’t know what it means to walk with Christ, to have a relationship with Him, to be His child, we’d love to send you a copy of this book.
All you have to do is call 1-800-FLTODAY and request it. That’s 1-800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word “today.” Or go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and leave us your information. We’ll send you a copy of the book Pursuing God, by Jim Elliff. Our hope is that that book will help you better understand what we trust is going on in your own heart as you are responding to the grace of God and to hearing about the death and resurrection of Jesus on your behalf.
Again, ask about the book Pursuing God when you get in touch with us at 1-800-FLTODAY, and you might also want to ask about the book that Shane has written called A Positive Life. It tells his story and talks about a number of the powerful lessons he has learned as he has lived now, for a couple of decades, as an HIV-positive husband and father.
You can request the book online at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and ask about the book A Positive Life by Shane Stanford. We’ll make arrangements when you call to get a copy of it sent out to you.
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This month, if you can make a donation to help support us, we’d like to send you a copy of Barbara Rainey’s new devotional book for families. It’s called Growing Together in Truth. Barbara includes seven stories that are designed to be read aloud to a family for family devotions or around the dinner table at night, all of these stories helping to reinforce the idea that God’s Word is true and that we need to believe what it says, even in a culture that denies it or wants to contradict it.
We’ll send you a copy of Growing Together in Truth when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month. All you have to do is type the word TRUTH into the key code box that you find on the online donation form, or when you call 1-800-FLTODAY, ask for a copy of the Growing Together in Truth devotional from Barbara Rainey. We’re happy to send it out to you.
We do so appreciate you getting in touch with us and helping us out here at FamilyLife Today.
We want to encourage you to join us back tomorrow when Shane Stanford’s going to be here again. We’re going to hear tomorrow about how you proposed to your wife and began your marriage together. Again, considering that you were HIV positive at the time, that will be an interesting story for our listeners to hear.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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