Living With AIDS
About the Guest
Back in the 80's, AIDS was a death sentence. But Shane Stanford, a hemophiliac who contracted HIV when only a teen, was determined to live life to the fullest despite the diagnosis. Shane talks about the love of his life, his wife, Pokey, and the family they have together. Shane also shares how, with Christ, he is able to live a life with no regrets.
Back in the 80’s, AIDS was a death sentence.
Living With AIDS
Bob: There are a lot of ministry opportunities that Shane Stanford has that you and I may not have because he is HIV positive.
Shane: I think one of the doorways that was opened for me because of this disease was the fact that I could, as an evangelical, speak into communities and speak into the conversations in certain communities where other evangelicals are not going to be welcome.
So, what I’ve learned about being able to minister and be active with individuals who are of alternative lifestyles is that number one, everyone is searching for something to complete that place in their soul that only God can fill. We will try to complete that with so many other things in our lives. The only thing that will make that whole is Jesus.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today® for Tuesday, October 11th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Today, Shane Stanford joins us to talk about serving the God who gave you the assignment of living with HIV.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Can you even imagine growing up from childhood as a hemophiliac, a bleeder, somebody, who whenever you get cut, you don’t clot as quickly as everyone else does? That can be life threatening in some cases. Then, as a result of the treatment that’s being applied for your hemophilia, you wind up HIV positive because of a tainted blood supply; and at age 16 being told by a doctor, “Two to three years, that’s probably it for you?”
Dennis: Back in the 80’s when someone was diagnosed HIV positive, it wasn’t long before they had full blown AIDS. They were dead within, as you said, a couple of years. That is a part of the story, at least the diagnosis, of Shane Stanford, who joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Shane, welcome back.
Shane: Thank you. It’s great to be back.
Dennis: Shane has written a book called A Positive Life. I really like the title.
Shane: Thank you.
Dennis: A Positive Life. He is the Senior Pastor of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church in Gulf Breeze, Florida near Pensacola. Right?
Shane: That’s right.
Dennis: He is the author of a half dozen other books. He and his wife, Pokey, have three daughters.
The thing I found fascinating about your book is despite bad news from the time you were six months old you’ve been a man of faith. You’ve turned toward God instead of turning away from God in the midst of that. To someone who doesn’t have a faith, how would you explain that?
Shane: There are two things that I think are important in my story whenever it comes to people seeing the fact that I did turn to faith or that I had a positive attitude: number one, I think, I had always had people in my journey that God had placed at the right point. I had to accept that they were there for that purpose in my life.
It’s sort of like the story of when they held Moses’ arms up in the wilderness. God will always provide, I believe, someone to be able to hold your arms up and to survive that. But you have to be willing for people do that for you. I guess, for one reason or another, I came into this world needing other people to help, you know? As a child, I was sick. Relationships—so, I always knew the value of having someone standing the gap for you. I appreciated that.
The other thing I would say, though, Dennis, is I had a mom who carried the mantle. She was not afraid to say that she loved Jesus. She was not afraid to call out to Jesus when she doubted, when she was afraid, but also to remind all of us that at the end of the day it’s our relationship with Him that makes the difference. I think that more than anything, even when I was very far from God, at times, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and they will not depart from it;” there was always an echo in the bottom of my soul.
Bob: You were diagnosed at 16 as HIV positive.
Bob: Tell our listeners what the progression would typically be if you had an HIV diagnosis.
Shane: If you go untreated or if the medicines are not working, to die with AIDS is really a horrible death. What happens is, basically, your immune system shuts down, and you become susceptible to what they call opportunistic infections. There is a list of those infections that are things that you guys will fight off normally that a person with HIV or full blown AIDS cannot fight off -- a host of cancers, other types of viruses that attack your nervous system.
I tell people that by the time a person with full blown AIDS dies they usually are completely blind; they are completely deaf; they’ve gone into full dementia. It is a terrible, terrible way to die. I think for a lot of people it really is our modern day leprosy in so many different ways. Just as a medical diagnosis, it is such a powerful, difficult disease.
Bob: In the 1980’s, did they have anything—
Bob: —to give—interferon wasn’t being used—
Bob: —at that point?
Shane: AZT came about in the late 80’s, like 1989, around 1990. That was the earliest. Yet, it would only prolong for a little while. It did not fight the disease from so many different angles that the medicines do now.
Bob: So, you were left with the diagnosis with no known treatment and you’re 16 years old. Did you start to experience anything that led you to think, “This is the beginning of the end?”
Shane: Well, my doctor that day looked at me and said, “You will die from this.” He said, “Barring a miracle, barring anything coming along.” He was always very direct. He became a very dear friend in my life, but he said, “You’re going to die from this. I want to tell you the truth on the front end.” I can remember feeling almost like someone had hit me, but again as I said, in those weeks after the diagnosis I just got back to life.
Bob: I would think anytime you coughed, sneezed, or had a runny nose, you’d go, “Uh-oh.”
Shane: Yes. Can you imagine being my mom, who every time I got sick, got a rash, or—I can remember playing golf. I would get sunburned, and I would get these little brown spots. Immediately, that was going to be Kaposi's sarcoma, which is the skin cancer that most people with AIDS get.
You can only imagine what it was like, and the fact on top of that that we couldn’t tell anybody. My aunts didn’t know. The church members did not know. We told my pastor at the time, but he was very nervous about this diagnosis.
Bob: Because of the stigma—
Shane: Because of the stigma.
Bob: Then, nobody would want to get near you? You couldn’t come to church and do all of that?
Shane: Absolutely. We would sit—I can remember we would sit around because we—I grew up Southern Baptist. We would sit around on Sunday nights after Sunday night church. People would come over to our house, and there would be jokes made. I can remember there would be a joke made about AIDS. We would all laugh nervously at that time. I would catch my mom’s eye. We would be thinking the same thing, “These people would not be around us.” That’s what we felt.
Come to find out years later, probably most of them would have held in there with us, but fear does that to you. It causes you to think irrationally. That’s why it is so dangerous.
Dennis: You had come to faith in Christ some three months prior to the diagnosis; and you had a significant relationship with a young lady by the name of Pokey, who you told—
Dennis: —that you had tested positive to HIV. There was a sweet description in your book of what took place after you told her. I got emotional about it because I’m sitting here reflecting back on what I was like at 16. I was so self-absorbed. I just admired both of your responses to each other. You shared with her that you had tested positive; she shared with you almost immediately that there was brokenness in her life that she hadn’t been honest with you about. Then, tell our audience what happened.
Shane: We simply sat there and put our foreheads together; just spent that moment there together embraced. I can remember that Pokey prayed at that particular point; and I have to say that intimacy as a response for people, we always sort of conjure up what intimacy is. I’ve never had a more intimate moment in my life than that moment.
There was nothing else going on except knowing that here were two individuals as absolutely as vulnerable as two people could possibly be. I tell people that we became 40 overnight after that news. We grew up almost immediately. I did not know the full scope of what Pokey had been through. We’ve since—she’s shared that all over the country. It’s become part of her testimony that she was a sexual abuse survivor.
She’d been abused from the time she was in the second grade, had never told anyone, had never told her mother, her father, no one. She had lived with that. So, as I had this disease rattling around in my blood system, she had this disease rattling around in her soul. Here we were two individuals that God had put together in that time and place.
Bob: So then, jump ahead to the end of high school—
Bob: —and you and Pokey had to be talking about, “Okay, so what do we do with these feelings we have for one another; and you’ve got HIV. How do we—what do we do with this?”
Shane: We had gone to a True Love Waits conference. I remember not only feeling so good about the fact that we had waited, that we had not been sexually active; but also, it gave us a frame work for why that’s important. I didn’t feel like, “Okay, we have to do this because I’m HIV positive.” We felt like, “We have to do this because we are children of God. This is the way God has ordained for human sexuality to exist, so that when you are married you get to experience the full measure of this.”
Now that I am the father of daughters it is an important issue for me that I talk a lot about in my congregation, because we frame so much of our lives in terms of that physical intimacy. We do it to our daughters even when we don’t know we’re doing it to them, by the way that we allow them to dress, by the types of shows we’re watching on television, by what we say attractiveness is.
I can remember that being such a profound moment in our life, and it probably saved Pokey’s life because we would have made other decisions probably.
Dennis: How did you ask her to marry you?
Shane: We had no money; you can imagine. We had decided at the age of 19 that we were going to get married. We convinced our parents, primarily because my immune system was starting to take—the reports were showing there was some infection, some impact on the immune system. So, I took her out to dinner one night and surprised her with an engagement ring. I asked her to marry me. I had taken two and three jobs extra to be able to afford it.
I had been asked to serve as a student pastor at a church, and that was how we were going to get married because I was going to get health insurance. I was going to have a place to live and I was going to have a little salary. I had no intention of going into the pastorate. This was just a job, a job move, a career opportunity. I was going to be a lawyer.
Bob: Were you thinking, I mean, “Infection starting to show up?” There had to be this thought in the back of your mind, “I’ll ask her to marry me, and I’ll have one year before I go home.”
Shane: Certainly. Certainly. Pokey will tell you today, too, that she thought she was going to be a 22-year-old widow. She was fully prepared for that. It’s one of those things; now she jokes and says, “You stayed around so long now that I’m losing my looks. You’ve gone so long now that I don’t have any other options.”
I mean, she’s just—she’s funny. We’ve been married 20 years. We’re best friends. We’ve been through such struggles together. In our marriage, we’ve been through some struggles, but I think the thing that we thought at that time was, “Here we are. We’re facing this. We’re not going to beat it.” No one was telling us we were going to beat it. Everyone was telling us, “You’re putting up a great fight, but you cannot win this.”
Shane: So, we fully expected that it was going end very soon.
Dennis: There’s so much more to the story that we could grab hold of here, but I have to take you out to the time when you talked about having children. Immediately, I’m sure the listeners are exactly like I was -- “How does that work?”
Shane: We went through a procedure where, basically what happened was that the virus was washed out of my system and then artificially inseminated, and Pokey was able to be pregnant. She’s safe. The girls are 100% safe.
This particular procedure was found for us by a friend, a doctor friend, who at a dinner party one night (you can only imagine the way the conversation went) said to us, “Hey, if you guys want to have children, here’s something that I found.” We did. We now have three children. We’re extremely blessed. They’re healthy, wonderful, beautiful girls.
Bob: Go back to the doctor who gave you the diagnosis. You said you’ve remained friends over the years, right?
Bob: What does he say about your story?
Shane: His name is Ronnie Kent. He is a pediatrician, or was a pediatrician. He is now a specialist for behavior disorders. Ronnie and I are still the best of friends, but he will tell you that one of the aches in his soul (that’s what he calls it) is knowing that he probably ordered the factor that was contaminated with HIV. He tells me that all the time, that that’s something he’ll probably live with the rest of his life, that he prescribed the factor.
I tell him, “You know, you were just doing what you knew to do. There was no way to know that you were ordering that contaminated factor.” That’s another part, Dennis, that you said just a minute ago about being broken. We also all carry something. We all carry something in the back of our minds that is a regret, that says “if only”.
That’s why I love the part there at Lazarus’s tomb, where Jesus basically says, “No matter what, no more.” We’re just not going to live that way anymore, and He weeps. He doesn’t weep for Lazarus because he’s dead; He weeps for everybody who is very much alive because they live like they’re dead. That’s what people do when they live with regrets.
Dennis: Well, Shane, I’ve read your book. I’m just curious because the disease that you contracted as the result of hemophilia was pretty much a homosexually-transmitted disease in the 80’s and early 90’s. What did you learn about the homosexual community and about loving homosexuals?
Shane: Well I think one of the doorways that was opened for me because of this disease was the fact that I could as an evangelical speak into communities and speak into the conversations in certain communities where other evangelicals are not going to be welcome. The number one thing that I learned is that we all have sacred value. Every person on this planet is loved by God. Period.
No matter what the choices are that we make in our life, God does not abandon us. He doesn’t walk away from the shorelines, I say, of our lives. He stands there and He calls out to us to cast our nets on the right side of the boat. He does that not because He wants to make a show of it; but because that’s where we’re going to be able to be the most successful, where we’re going to be the healthiest, where we’re going to be the most complete.
So what I’ve learned about being able to minister and be active with individuals who are of alternative lifestyles, as I say, is that number one, everyone is searching for something to complete that missing part, that place in their soul that only God can fill. We will try to complete that with so many other things in our lives, and the only thing that will make that whole is Jesus.
The other thing that I am completely convinced of is that everyone has some yearning and some hunger for something that is deeper and bigger and better than they are. I think that’s the imprint of God’s soul. Now, most people who are far from God are never going to admit that, because if they admit that, then they go down a road that becomes very fragile and very vulnerable.
I have to tell you that some of the most profound conversations that I’ve had in my life, spiritually, have been in those places where—with people who are the farthest from God that you can possibly imagine, who have been broken, who’ve been torn apart, the tattered edges of their life.
What they are wondering—because they are looking at life like you look at the back of a tapestry, the ugly side of a tapestry. They want to know, “Is there something beautiful on the other side?” That’s the privilege that I have of having this disease, to be able to step into those communities and say, “There is something beautiful on the other side of that tapestry, and I want you to have that.”
Dennis: And I know Him. He is a God of love; and to the best of my ability, I want to be able to express that love to you as well. As I read your book, I thought, “That’s a great message and a great reminder for the Christian community, who tends to pick up stones—”
Dennis: “—to throw at people who are broken, who have made their own choices, wrong ones, lived contrary to Scripture.” But haven’t we all?
Shane: In the story of the woman caught in adultery, there really are only two places you can be in the story. Either you’re going to be the one laying in the dirt at the feet of Jesus, or you’re going to be throwing down a stone starting with the oldest first. One way or the other, no one leaves that place the same.
When you face something like HIV or you face something like a broken relationship, or a broken heart, whatever it might be, or a life filled with sin and bad decisions, you’re not going to be the same. That’s why God looks at us through the eyes of Jesus because all He sees are the beautiful things that we were intended to be from the very beginning. He wants to repair those broken places and to give us hope.
Dennis: Honestly, I don’t know where people will find hope today—
Shane: I agree.
Dennis: —if it’s not found at the feet of Jesus Christ. He is the God man who died on a cross for our sins, rose again on the third day, is seated on the right hand of God the Father, and offers us eternal life and forgiveness of sins, right now, today, if we’ll cry out to Him in faith.
Bob: Well, whenever we talk about the transformed life that comes when we pledge our allegiance to Jesus and become His follower, there are always folks who are listening and something starts stirring inside of them.
If that’s you today, we want to encourage you to get in touch with us. Either go online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and say, “I was hearing you guys talk about what it means to be a Christian, and I realized that I need that, that I need to be following Jesus and I haven’t been.” We’d love to send you a copy of a book called Pursuing God by our friend Jim Elliff that talks about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Just call 1-800-FL-TODAY and request the book. It will come to you free with no obligation on your part. Again, it’s 1-800-FLTODAY. Just say, “I’d like that book called Pursuing God.” We’ll be happy to send it out to you.
You might also ask about Shane Stanford’s book called A Positive Life where he talks about many of the powerful lessons he has learned since he was diagnosed as being HIV positive back when he was sixteen years old. The book again is called A Positive Life. You can order a copy from us when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask for a copy of the book, A Positive Life. We’ll get it sent to you.
I always enjoy when I am travelling for whatever reason, and I get a chance to interact with some of our FamilyLife Today listeners. A few weeks ago I was in San Diego speaking at a pastors’ event there, and then in Seattle that same week, speaking at another pastors’ event. Many of these pastors who came are regular FamilyLife Today listeners.
We had a chance to talk about how God has used the ministry of FamilyLife Today in their lives, in their marriages, and in the lives of people in their congregations: folks who have been to our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways or those who have used our resources. Some of these pastors have hosted an Art of Marriage® weekend conference at their church or used some of the video resources that we have been creating for churches like the new LifeReady® Woman curriculum.
Again, it’s always great to connect with listeners and get a chance to meet folks face-to-face. We also appreciate it very much when you get in touch with us either online over at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY.
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This month if you make a donation we want to invite you to request a copy of Barbara Rainey’s new devotional book for families called Growing Together in Truth, seven great stories that you can read aloud to your family that reinforce the idea that God’s word is absolutely true.
If you’d like a copy of the devotional, when you make a donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, type the word TRUTH into the key code box on the online donation form. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation over the phone and just ask for a copy of the devotional from Barbara Rainey. We’re happy to send it out to you. We just want to say thanks for getting in touch with us and for supporting the ministry.
Now tomorrow we’re going to talk more with Shane Stanford about something that was potentially more destructive in his marriage than his HIV- positive diagnosis ever was. We’ll find out about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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