Friday, June 08, 2007

Real Freedom

Freedom… Once and For All
By Shane Stanford

The fourth of July is one of my family’s favorite holidays. My wife and I have always made the most of the birthday of our nation. One fourth, several years ago, we took our young family to Washington, D.C. to watch fireworks on the Mall. Our two oldest daughters still talk about the heat and excitement of the day. And… they always talk about how the fireworks display lit up the night into, what Juli Anna describes as, “art in the sky”. As long as I live, I will never forget how much fun we had celebrating what it means to be an American and, especially, doing so as a family.

The Fourth of July matters to me because it reminds me of freedom’s power and its cost. Our family has a long history of individuals who have served our country in the armed forces, and we are very proud of their dedication. Their commitment and willingness insures the freedom that we all, at times, take for granted.

My grandfather, a Navy man, used to say that “nothing in life is free… except God’s love”. How true! In this life, we see, time and again, the cost and struggle of freedom. We hear it in our political dialogue; we watch it in those who put their lives on the line to defend our nation; we experience it in every singing of the national anthem and in every chill of a trumpet’s note. As the inscription from Ellis Island reads, men and women yearn to be free…” and that comes with a price.

But, as I think about my grandfather’s saying, God’s love also cost something. The freedom we have in Christ also required a price. The difference is that freedom bought for eternity was paid by God through the sending of God’s son. That gift can never be fully explained. No… that kind of freedom, which is even more precious than our freedom as men and women, goes deep into our souls and releases us from a bondage that no gun, uprising or battle could resolve. No… that kind of incomprehensible freedom can only be bought through an incomprehensible love.

This Fourth of July, give thanks for what we take for granted as Americans—for our freedom to speak, pray, agree or disagree. Give thanks for those who bear the price of its burden.

But, also look upward for another independence and give thanks for the greatest freedom, whose victory has been won, once and for all… Indeed!

Happy Fourth… Blessed Freedom!

Be Salt and Light…

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Nine Lessons from a Positive Life

Several years ago while speaking at an HIV/AIDS conference, I shared my story as a long-term survivor of the disease. After the presentation, one of the participants asked me what lessons I had learned from a positive life. Her question referred to “attitude” but I realized that my story and perspective had been shaped by my “positive” HIV status. Not quite the “positive” she meant, but poignant none-the-less.

I discovered my HIV status in 1986 at the age of 16. As a hemophiliac, the diagnosis was not surprising, but still incredibly difficult. I remember having the “world on a string”; complete with all of the dreams and aspirations that fills any young person. I was president of my class, captain of the golf team and had just started dating the “love of my life”.

Discovering my HIV status forced me to grow up and take a serious look at life. And, it forced me to decide how I would approach and appreciate each day.

As a person of faith, I believed God had a plan for my life, but I also believed that I had a choice in how I would live out that plan. I could have, as I described to the audience, “gotten in a corner and felt sorry for myself” or “ I could live my life—as boldly and as passionately as possible.” More than anything, I knew I wanted my life to matter.

Was I scared? Certainly! Was I unsure of what tomorrow might bring? You bet! But, I was also committed to not giving up and not allowing the disease to define my attitude, nor, to the best of my ability, my future.

I closed my presentation by sharing how blessed I had been since that diagnosis nearly 20 years ago. I married that sixteen-year-old “love of my life”, and we are the parents of three beautiful daughters. I have had a wonderful career as a church planter and author. And, I have watched God move in amazing ways through good and bad times.

Certainly, the road has not been easy. I have had my share of roadblocks and obstacles along the way including a diagnosis of Hep C+, open heart surgery (caused by medicine taken for HIV) and the emotional pain of being rejected by the first church to which I was appointed.

But, the journey has also taught incredible lessons about life and about the really important issues we face.

Returning home, I thought about her questions (or at least my version of it). I found the answers in the normal routine of life, like taking my children to school, playing softball in the back yard or praying with my family before bed. The lessons formed apart from the language usually associated with a terminal illness or crisis. No, the words and phrases described life in general, about soaking up every moment. Each day, I discovered a new treasure from the journey. Here is what I found…

1. Become satisfied with never being satisfied. Life is about moving forward. We either follow or lead. Deciding which makes all the difference.

2. Crave Awe and Wonder. Have you ever watched a child on Christmas morning? God shapes life to experience the wonder of His creation. Every day is a gift and should be opened as such.

3. Simplify. Write down the 10 most important things you wanted to accomplish. Then, tear the list in half. We complicate life, not the other way around.

4. Celebrate Boldly and Laugh Loudly. In Luke 15, God seeks after lost things and then throws a party when they are found. Put simply, Christians don’t throw party and laugh enough.

5. Do Life with Others. The most important things we do in this world can’t be done alone.

6. Embrace the Unfamiliar. The measure of a person is found not in what they “know” but in what they are willing to admit they “don’t know”.

7. Love Unconditionally. This lesson speaks for itself.

8. Get Yours Hands and Feet Dirty. Holy is not about clean; it is about proximity. Jesus loved the least of these, so should we.

9. Read Fairy Tales and Ride Roller Coasters. Fairy Tales and Roller Coasters are like life--Between “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After” there are turns, twists, ups and downs, but, in the end, it is oh so worth the adventure.

These nine lessons reflect not only how I view life but also how I approach it. But, you don’t have to be HIV+, ill or even in crisis to appreciate their real value--- learning to make the most of this amazing journey.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Imus in All of Us

The Imus in All of Us
By Shane Stanford

Several weeks ago, after having surgery, I awoke in ICU to the full throng of the Don Imus controversy. It was around 4am and the news channels were replaying the details from the previous evening’s programs. Now, I can’t remember 90% of what happened while in ICU, helped along by various pain medicines, but, for some reason, I do remember Don Imus.

I watched as the pundits blamed Imus for being an idiot; the media for, once again, over blowing a person’s stupid gaff; rappers for doing what rappers have mostly done from the beginning; and anyone who had ever appeared on Imus’ program or participated in any other “shock response” format.

I listened as they debated race, inappropriate language, issues of dignity and, most importantly, the treatment of African-American women in general. Certainly, all valid and important issues.

However, Sunday of that week (six days after my first encounter with the controversy), Gwen Ifell of PBS spoke on Meet the Press about what she believed was another critical issue of the entire drama. Speaking beyond race, profanity or even decency, Ms Ifell challenged that the issue was about all girls and about how culture in general, not any particular ethnicity, views women. She broadened the discussion to include how we teach our sons, how we send both conscious and subconscious messages to our daughters and how, in all of this, each of us, not just shock jocks and rappers, play a part.

This was not the first time I encountered this, either in ministry or for personal reflection. As the father of three daughters, I’ve been concerned for years about the way we treat young women. Images and expectations in the media as well as the usual banter of our society pressures young girls to “be” and “become” ideals that are both unhealthy and, for most, unattainable.

Add to this the way we teach our sons in the mantra of “boys will be boys” and the condition worsens.

Of course, most men I know would never think of using derogatory language such as Imus used when describing a woman, and they, for the most part, deplore the explicit nature of how women are described

Yet, these same men might tell an “off colored joke”, look at inappropriate images, or simply refer to women in ways that sexualize them as objects (Anyone familiar with “badonkadonk”… Go to Wikipedia for a definition. I rest my case).

Either way, most men have made reference to women in ways that cast their place just a bit beneath our own. Sure, we can say that women like it when we do this, they do the same to men or that this is just the way men are “wired up”. But, these excuses are, as one wise, rural friend calls it, “corn fed hog c#!p.” I like the way my friend puts things!

Of course, I confess I am the chief among sinners and it wasn’t until the birth of my first daughter that I began to see the world differently. I realized I needed some re-wiring myself if I were to become the father she and God needed me to be.

Thus, my re-wiring began where most of my soul work does, namely with the words of Jesus. I found Jesus’ treatment of women to be far different than what his culture expressed. And, even as the other New Testament writers fall prey to the prevailing nature of the day, Jesus does not.

No, Jesus treated women with a sense of both respect and dignity. Respect for their place and for their struggle; dignity in that he gave them a voice. The women caught in adultery, the anointing at Bethany, the woman at the well, the woman with the dying daughter, the woman with the bleeding condition… I could go on and on. Jesus never categorized women or talked down to them. No, he included them in the fold quickly, almost immediately, and charged them with the same request, “Follow me….”

Women played an incredibly important role in Jesus’ ministry to the very end, even after everyone had abandoned him at Calvary. That alone should qualify the gender for equal spiritual billing… but that is another article.

Over the past few years, several authors and pastors have encouraged a “re-masculinity” of Jesus. They’ve said that Jesus and His message have become “wimpy” and that the Christian male needs to reclaim what it means to be “a man” in the example of Jesus.

Okay… if you need to climb a mountain or repel down one all the while grunting the “Lord’s Prayer,” more power to you.

But--and this goes for men and women-- if you are going to follow Jesus, be sure to follow all of him for the entire journey. Follow his wisdom, compassion and faithfulness too. Treat everyone as a child of God regardless of gender, race or economic condition. And…. make the effort to embrace the Gospel (Jesus’ message) as more than just a means of personal spiritual redemption but also as a guide for how to live like Jesus as well. Suggestion: Read the Beatitudes everyday for a year. They are no less than the values of Jesus for this issue and others, and they will amaze you at their direct but simple power in finding the glimpse of God all around us. I know a great book if you need a start….

Be Salt and Light…

Friday, April 27, 2007

I Look To The Hills...

I lift up my eyes to the hills from where will my help come? (Psalm 121: 1)

Several weeks ago, I learned I had blockage in one of the main arteries in my heart. It was a complete surprise, especially for a hemophiliac who prides himself on eating appropriately and exercising regularly. In fact, it was while exercising that I felt the first of those uncomfortable feelings that led me to schedule a series of tests that eventually identified the problem.

After a week of various appointments and consultations, it was decided that a single by-pass surgery would be the best long-term solution. Of course, when you add hemophilia and HIV to the mix, what is a routine (albeit serious) surgery becomes extremely complicated over night.

Thankfully, I live in a community where the quality of medical care and expertise vastly outreaches the size of the town and, in my opinion, equals anywhere in the country. From the doctors to nurses to hospital personnel, I could not be happier with the process or outcome. To say that people have gone out of their way to provide support and care is an understatement.

Like so many in my position, I could not begin to name everyone who has made this journey bearable and possible. Family, friends, even strangers have provided a glimpse into the very best of what the Body of Christ can be when we come together and act like it.

One person whose support meant a great deal to my family was our next-door neighbor, Chris. Everyday from the time we entered the hospital, Chris would send a bible verse via text message and would provide a “devotional theme for the day”. It never ceased to amaze me how perfectly each day’s Scripture passage matched the particular issue we faced.

The day I was to take my first walk around the hospital, the verse came from Isaiah reminding me that we would mount up like wings of eagles and “walk and not faint” (Is. 40: 31).

The third day after surgery, when all surgery patients face that mystical, but all too real “wall” of pain, the scripture verse encouraged me to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1: 9).

The day I woke up feeling particularly concerned about what would happen next, the verse echoed Jeremiah’s words of a God who “knows the plans He has for us… plans for good…” (29:11).

Everyday was a new day, not always easy, but always wrapped in the sweetness of God’s word sent sincerely and humbly by one of God’s most precious servants.

My neighbor is not an ordained or professional preacher. He works at a church, but doesn’t have the title “minister”. But… I could not have had a better pastor during the past weeks of my life.

Chris reminds me that the best of who we are in Christ has little to do with titles or training and everything to do with our hearts. And, anyone of us, lay or clergy, could learn a thing or too from his actions, not from preaching a great sermon or growing a mega-church, but by simply being Jesus in our midst.

We Christians often make things too complicated and take ourselves way too seriously. We convince ourselves that the size of our congregation or the vastness of our programming is the mix by which the Jesus formula is spread. We too often believe that the size of our church facility, the pedigree of our pastor or the quality of our music defines the depth of our faith. However, it remains that the best way to be like Christ is to simply live like Christ using everyday as a means by which everyone we meet knows that the God who created the universe is desperately in love with you and me. Wow! Think about that!

One of the last Scripture passages that Chris sent was from Psalm 121. This was an especially important verse not because of its familiarity, but because I live on a hill at the end of a cul-de-sac…well, I live on one half of a hill. On the other half lives my neighbor who reminds me that we do not need to look far to see Jesus at work. In fact, I just step out on my front porch and look to my left.

The nature and value of the Gospel is not just about eternity. It is also about here and now. One word, one touch, one prayer… can change a person’s life forever. You don’t need a church budget or seminary degree to be Jesus for your world… although text messaging does come in handy!

Be Salt and Light!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

One Final Update

Good Morning Friends... This is Shane.

What a great feeling to wake up on this Third Sunday of Easter knowing that so many people have been and still are praying for me and my family! What a reminder of the power of God and potential of prayer when God's people join together.

I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate your continued prayer and support. The past few days have been long and, at times, difficult. But, they have also been a blessing in deep and meaningful ways. Pokey, the girls and I have experienced the very best in care from so many, and we are humbled by the outpouring of love and grace.

How am I doing? Well... each day is a new and better day. This goes not only for my body but also for my spirit. Of course, I get impatient. I have never liked "being down" but I am learning that healing takes time and occurs one step at a time. Oh the sermons that will come from this! (Not to mention maybe a book or two... ha,ha).... By the way, if you would buy a book, my accountant would appreciate it... so would Forrest General, Hattiesburg Clinic, Southern Heart Center (ha,ha--- just kidding!)

I do want to take a moment to say "thank you" to a few people who have made this journey possible and bearable....

To the nurses and staff of Forrest General Hospital... I can't say enough about your qaulity of care and compassion. What an amazing place! A special thanks to Bill Oliver for making Pokey and my family's stay so comfortable. You are great!

To the doctors, Dr. Robbins, Dr. Bellare, Dr. Campbell and Dr Enger, for taking such thought and care in this process. It was no easy task, but I would rank you guys with the best in your fields... I guess trusting you with my life proves that! By the way, everyone reading this should get a Cardiac CT done!!!!!

To my pastors, Christ Eaton, Vicki Hughes and Eddie Rester for your support and for the care of my family. Chris' daily "text devotions", Vicki's ongoing presence, and Eddie's communion on Easter calmed my spirit and made a tremendous difference.

To everyone who brought food, sent cards and visited... I am very blessed to have a group of friends who believe so deeply and live so genuinely in their faith. There are too many of you to name... Just know I know who you are...

To the St. Johns, Kents, Leeks, Smiths and Shannon Decker... can I ever say "thank you" enough... probably not, but I will spend my life trying.

To my family...

Dad, thanks for being there everyday...
Mom, Buford and Whitney, Nanny and Patty, thanks for taking care of those who matter so much to me... I am such a blessed man.
To my girls... for giving me the reason to fight and for reminding me why we keep some journeys moving forward even when it hurts and seems too difficult.
To Pokey... for being their every second. You are truly my "soul mate"... I can never say "thank you" or "I love you" enough... But you will never wonder!

And, finally, to my friend of friends, Jesus.... thanks for letting me ramble... for letting me be afraid... for letting me rant.... for letting me cry.... for letting me ask the questions... for letting me lean on you... thanks for, once again, reminding me that faith is not in vain... and that what we seek, we already have and what we already have.... well... is sufficient.

And so... another chapter.... Thank you, everyone. You are all blessings to me! I can't wait to see what God will do next.

I love you all...


Thursday, April 19, 2007

From Friends of Shane

Hi Everyone,
So many of you have been asking what can I do to help? And hear it is. An account has been opened at Bancorp South. Although insurance will pay some of the expenses, the out of pocket amount is still extremely high. Since Shane and Pokey would never ask for financial assistance,(nor do they know I am posting this) some of their friends have opened a special account for them. You may make a deposit at any Bancorp South in the Hattiesburg/Petal area. Simple tell them you would like to make a deposit into the account set up for Shane Stanford. All of the branches have been made aware of this process. No receipt will be given after the deposit, so you will need to keep a copy of your check for tax purposes.

Shane and Pokey have made such an incredible impact on all of our lives and I know they appreciate all of the love and support you have graciously shown them. If you have any questions about this special account, please email

"Give, and it will be given to you... for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." - Luke 6:38

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wednesday 18, 2007 8:00 PM

Another day!! We are so blessed! Shane has been up almost all day. He is walking in the neighborhood, and now my only problem is convincing him that he still MUST rest. He does tire easily and I think that will be in my favor as time goes on. I've begun to tell him stories about happenings in the hospital, conversations with may of you and the outpouring of love/care/concern from our brothers and sisters in Christ.Some of then bring laughter (which is pretty painful with a cracked chest=-))! Others bring tears from your kindness and generosity. I'm amazed how God is using even this electronic communication to lift Shane during this recovery time. He reads and rereads the blogs (I've printed them and put them in a notebook for him) through out the day. Again we love each of you and thank God many times during each day to have such prayer warriors praying for us. You guys are truly serving and the hands and feet of Christ to us during this interesting chapter of our lives.

OH!!! and Juli Anna is home tonight..yea...for the first time in almost 2 weeks our family will ALL be home. What a good God!