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…