A Change in Direction
About the Guest
Life in the pastorate was all-consuming, but rewarding. Those are the thoughts of pastor Shane Stanford as he considers the circumstances that led to the breakdown of his marriage. Shane tells what brought them to their lowest point and what they did to rebuild what was lost.
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 in the pastorate was all-consuming, but rewarding.
A Change in Direction
Bob: Shane Stanford was 16 when he learned he was HIV positive. He was 19 when he proposed to his wife, and eventually he was a pastor of a local church. You might think that his being HIV positive would be the biggest issue he and his wife would face in their marriage, but actually Shane’s tendency to ignore his marriage and bury himself in his work wound up being an even bigger problem.
Shane: I remember one day we had actually started to talk again, and in those long talks we were kind of getting back to the way Shane and Pokey had been all of our life and our early part of our marriage. And one day Pokey came into the room and I’ll never forget the look on her face. She said, “I’m not who you think I am.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today®. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Shane Stanford shares with us today the secret that his wife had been keeping from him in the early years of their marriage.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, the first couple of years in just about every marriage there is some adjusting that takes place. There are some working things out that takes place, right?
Dennis: There was in our marriage.
Bob: But can you imagine what it’s like if you marry at 19 and one of the things you bring into the marriage is that you’re HIV positive, and the doctor says, “You shouldn’t expect to live very long.”
Dennis: Yes, and it’s where you take two people who have an ability to exhibit an extraordinary love for one another, and that really is the story of Shane Stanford, who joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Shane, welcome back.
Shane: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
Dennis: Shane has written a book called A Positive Life: Living with HIV as a Pastor, Husband and Father®. He is the father of three daughters, and he and his wife, Pokey, have been married for over 20 years.
Bob: Now I’ve just got to ask right here. “Pokey” is not what it says on her birth certificate, right?
Shane: No, her real name is Barbara.
Bob: So where did Pokey come from?
Shane: Her father was a war hero from Vietnam, was coming home from his second tour, and there was a rule that if Pokey had been born before a certain date, as he got home there were more benefits involved. And she was born, of course, three days after that, and so she was known as the pokey kid. So that’s where she got it. And it literally stuck. Her students call her “Dr. Pokey.”
Dennis: Well, she wasn’t pokey in the classroom because she does have a Ph.D.
Shane: That’s right.
Dennis: And teaches at Southern Mississippi University. You know, you’ve had a lot of things happen in your life. You were diagnosed at six months having hemophilia; at six years of age your parents got a divorce –
Shane: That’s right.
Dennis: And then at sixteen you were diagnosed with HIV. Then you moved into marriage facing all these obstacles, and all the bags that you brought into your marriage relationship. And then, not long into your marriage you encountered another amazing trial.
Shane: That’s right.
Dennis: Now, when would you say things kind of started going south with you and Pokey and your marriage relationship? I mean, it sounded like you started out great. Your first year of marriage, it sounds like, was just wonderful.
Shane: Oh, I would have to say really probably the first five years were great. We went through the first two years of being students and finishing our college degrees. We went off to graduate school. I finished my theology training. We came back, were appointed – We had some trouble, and really that’s where the first break happened. It wasn’t in our marriage; it was just in our psyches, in our souls. That was when I was appointed to the first church out of seminary where I was supposed to be the pastor, and they refused to take me.
Shane: Because I was HIV positive. And because of that, it had a profound effect on me. It made me think that I needed to work harder, I needed to prove to people that if they took a chance on me as their pastor, that they would not be disappointed. And what ended up happening inside of me was that I threw myself into work. I really basically abandoned Pokey.
I never did anything immoral. I never did anything that was inappropriate in terms of another relationship, but I really did start an affair with the church. Everything I was doing in the name of being a really good pastor was held against the health of my marriage.
Dennis: At what point did you sense something was amiss, because you hint at it in your book – that you had your intuition or your feelings that something wasn’t right about this one relationship that Pokey had.
Shane: I can just remember – and now, of course, being a marriage and family therapist myself, I can remember sensing, “You know, she smiles a little too much when she talks about this person, she is more eager to go to be places where this person and their family were going to be.” There was just an energy that was happening in that relationship and I do believe that there was nothing happening at that particular point.
What was taking place was this individual actually was in a very bad place himself, and ended up becoming a relational and emotional predator. I don’t know if he would characterize it like that, but that’s exactly what was taking place. And that’s what happens in those situations where you have individuals who are broken. I tell people it’s sort of like bleeding in the ocean with sharks swimming around. Eventually human nature is going to take over.
I can remember thinking to myself, “Pokey and I are not okay,” which was really more of the issue than feeling like this other relationship was not appropriate. But put the two together, and the warning signs were definitely going off. The problem, Dennis, was that I was too dumb to stop and pause. I was too prideful to stop and pause and do anything about it.
Dennis: Were you a senior pastor at the time?
Shane: I was an associate pastor, but my senior pastor six months into my appointment had been in a very serious car accident, and I took over as the senior pastor of this church at the age of 23, fresh out of seminary. I had just finished my MDiv. What happened was is that the adversary, Satan, knows how to get at you, because he doesn’t necessarily have to strike at your weakness. He can strike at your strength, too.
The church began to grow, people began to pat me on the back, they began to say, “You’re doing a great job. We would prefer to have you than the senior pastor,” those types of things. And so as I’m working hard here to prove that those people who rejected me had made this bad decision and therefore you could count on me to be a success, I was losing my marriage. I was losing the person that was the most important person in my life.
Bob: And you suspected it, but you didn’t know anything, right?
Shane: I suspected it, and did what I think most people in a relationship would do. I would make comments, I would watch the reaction, and of course, there was absolute denial all the time. What ended up happening was, as we began to grow further and further apart, I realized that we had to make some decisions that needed to change the course of our marriage, because in my mind, nothing had happened yet. Nothing had taken place, and therefore I needed to do things as course corrections before something bad did happen.
Bob: And when you say you were growing further and further apart, were you hostile with one another or just detached.
Shane: No. Pokey and I – we didn’t have that kind of relationship. It became more and more apathetic. I tell people all the time I wish we would have been angry with one another; at least there would have been some emotion. But what was happening was that our emotion was being fueled – mine was being fueled to the church, hers was being fueled into this other relationship.
So I made the decision to change the dynamic of my work life, and did that, became a church planter, which was a great move for me. I loved being a church planter. Pokey loved that life, too. She loved that new opportunity. We got out of that community; moved into another community, though it wasn’t very far from the community where we had been, and gave us some time to kind of peel the scab back on some things.
But what happened was, is that the more that we peeled back, the more the truth began to flow to the surface. Because I believe that once light hits our life, God wants that all out of us. It’s like purging us; it’s like a fever – it’s going to burn that out of us. I remember one day Pokey came into the room, and I’ll never forget the look on her face. Because I had told her how sorry I was for abandoning her, and doing what I did to her, and she said, “I’m not who you think I am.” I remember –
Dennis: She had said that to you at one other point in your relationship, and that was when you had told her you had HIV.
Shane: That’s right. The night I told her that I was HIV positive, she had told me about making some very poor choices in her life, and that there were things that had happened in her life that revealed that she was very broken. Now she had not gone into the full dynamics of it.
What I learned was, when she came to me on this particular day, she didn’t start out with the inappropriate relationship. She started out with being molested from the age that she was in the second grade to living a very promiscuous life behind the backs of everybody who thought that she was this perfect little church-going girl, had fought an eating disorder all of her life, and all of this is coming out and I’m sitting here and I’m watching the tears flow and I’m watching this look on her face, and then I remember her saying, “And your fears about this relationship are true.”
She told me about – I mean just spilled it all – about all that she had done and all this relationship, and it had gone on for several years then. And then she couldn’t take it and she left and ran towards the door, and that’s when I chased her and I grabbed her and kind of pulled her to the ground.
I can remember thinking at that point, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this broken heart. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all these feelings I have inside.” But all I knew at that point was that this woman, who mattered more to me than anything else in the world, was the most fragile, most hurting person I’d ever seen in my life, and I was not going to leave her. I was not going to abandon her.
Dennis: You were not going to let go.
Shane: I was not going to let go.
Dennis: You held her.
Shane: I held her physically.
Dennis: And held her and held her. For how long?
Shane: It was hours. She fell asleep in my arms on the floor at the front door of our house. We laid there on the floor. And from that point on we started over. It was not easy. It was the hardest road of anything that I’ve faced, and I’ve faced some pretty difficult things.
Dennis: Now wait a second. You faced a diagnosis at 16 with HIV. You’re saying that that moment with the person you loved the most and who was the dearest thing to you as a human being – that that infidelity and breach of trust was far more difficult.
Shane: Absolutely. By far it was more difficult.
Shane: Because I myself at that point questioned whether or not it could be put back together again. That is a pain that is so deep and I think – and this is going to sound maybe too pastoral, too theological I guess, but I think that’s why Judas’ betrayal is so poignant to the story, because there’s nothing like betrayal when it happens from somebody who is supposed to love you dearly.
And when those relationships break down, it is by far, I would say, the most painful, most devastating thing that a person can go through. I think it’s why people give up, because they think to themselves, “There’s no way I can get on the other side of this.” But what we learned from this was, we do this to God every day. Everything that I was feeling, everything that we had done to each other, every way that we had failed each other –
Shane: It’s the same thing that we do to God. And God does not give up on us. I can remember talking to a friend of mine. All of my friends that I had told were telling me to leave her, and I’ve learned since that people are so quick in that situation to give up. But there is nothing, nothing, nothing that can separate you from the love of Christ if you decide, and if both of you have decided that you want to make that work. You can get through it.
Bob: When did you decide, and when did she decide?
Shane: Well, immediately we knew we wanted to make it work. We loved each other; we had been in love with each other from the time we were teenagers. We had been through too much. This relationship she had been a part of was a relationship that filled a need that I was supposed to be filling in her life. She realized that, and I realized that what I was doing with the church was something that she was supposed to be that engagement in my life. But we couldn’t get past ourselves. We were still struggling.
And there was a weekend, it was a September weekend, I’ll never forget it. Beth Moore was coming to New Orleans. Pokey went with a women’s Bible study to the Beth Moore conference, and the first question out of Beth’s mouth was, “If God could look into your heart, what are the places where He would not be pleased?”
Well, at the same time my friends were telling me to go to this pastor’s retreat, and I go to this retreat place. I don’t like silence and come to find out when I arrived it was a silent retreat. I thought I was going to die, literally. Got into the first day of it and just was miserable. By that night I snuck out of the retreat center, went and got in my car, and I was headed home. I wasn’t going to – I mean, this is mature, right? Here’s a fully ordained pastor sneaking out of a window of a Christian retreat center.
I end up at a truck stop near the interstate, and go in. I’m the only person in there. I go in to pay for the gas that I put in my car, and there’s a guy by the name of Earl. Now that’s my grandfather’s name, and my grandfather had passed away by this time. I can remember he said, “Would you like some chicken?” because he was cooking chicken over to the side in the little warmer. I said, “Yeah, that kind of sounds good.” He said, “Well, you need to go sit down and I’ll bring it to you.”
I thought, “Why I don’t have time for this.” But I did. I went and sat down, and he brought me a basket of what was the finest-tasting fried chicken I’d ever had in my life. I can remember he looked at me and he said, “So what’s going on with you?” And I said, “What? I don’t know what you mean,” and he said, “Son, you look like somebody who’s either running from something, or running trying to catch something.” We just sat and had a great conversation.
I can remember once again, weeks later, thinking, “God has given me another angel.” It really set my head straight, and I realized at that point, “I need to stop running. I need to face the problems that I have in my life and I need to either put up or shut up. I either believe what I preach or I don’t.” I decided, you know what? I’m going to believe it. I’m going to make every day count. Why was I doing this? Well, you know, I was giving in to those broken places.
Pokey’s coming back from this conference, and she’s all energized, and she knows that God is working in her life – and that was really that crossroads where we said, “Okay. We’re going to go forward.”
Bob: I just have to step in. It took Beth Moore with her, and Earl at the truck stop with you –
Shane: Don’t analyze that too long because I know where you’ll end.
Dennis: A couple of prophets, huh?
Shane: Mine really wasn’t required to be that up on his game.
Dennis: A chicken-cookin’ prophet.
Shane: A chicken-cookin’ truck-stop-lovin’ Earl.
Bob: You look back on that turning point in your marriage, and that’s been 13, 14 years ago?
Shane: Yes, probably 13, 14 years.
Bob: And to look back and to see where you are today.
Shane: Yes, it’s amazing. She is my best friend, she is my soul mate, she is the sweetest, most beautiful person that I’ve ever known, and she is a true child of God whose heart has been restored. We are in the middle of a big transition. She resigned from her position a month ago because she wants to come home and just be a wife and a mom.
This is a person who had chosen her career track as a way, I think, of trying to validate some places in her life. Not that she’s not great at what she does, but she is, but her career meant a lot to her, and it still means a lot to her. But you can see these places that have awakened in her soul, and I will tell you that I’m an extremely blessed man.
Bob: You could have cashed it all in.
Shane: It would have been easier to quit. It would have been easier to give in and to do what everybody else was saying I needed to do.
Dennis: And that’s where I wanted to go here. To that person who is listening and they’re living that story right now where there has been a betrayal, hopelessness abounds.
Bob: Let’s pretend that you’re Earl at their truck stop, and they’ve just pulled up. What do you say to them?
Shane: You’ve got to stop running, because the truth is is that no matter how hard you run, no matter how far you go, there’s two things you can’t outrun. You can’t outrun your problem, but you also can’t outrun God. So I’d rather stand still and let Him embrace me, and we’ll face that storm together, than to keep running and trying to do it on my own.
Dennis: Would you pray for that person?
Shane: I’d love to. Gracious God, I just thank you so much for who you are. I thank You, Father, that you are a God who meets us exactly where we are in this journey, and there is nothing that scares you, Father. And Father, so many times we’re running away from something or we’re running trying to catch something, trying to hold on to it with the tips of our fingers, Father, and it feels like it’s slipping away. But that’s why we turn over the things that are most precious in our lives to you, and we trust you.
Father, I want to pray for that person right now whose life is falling apart, who is dealing with storms in their life and they don’t know what to do with it, they don’t know where to go. And Father, I just pray that you’ll put your arms around them. Give them a sense of protection and security, and allow them, Father, to know that no matter what has happened in their life, number one, they’re loved; number two, they’re forgiven; and number three, you’re a God that restores the broken things.
God, you build mosaics with the broken pieces of our lives that turn out to be the most beautiful things, more beautiful than this world could ever imagine, and for that we say in the name of Your Son, Jesus, thank you. Amen.
Dennis: Amen. Thanks, Shane, for sharing your story. I think you’ve brought some light and some hope to people who are in various places. It may not be a disease, it may not be an affair, but there’s plenty of ways to get off in a ditch, and I appreciate your sharing your story with us.
Shane: Thank you.
Bob: Well, and at the risk of sounding self-serving, we would encourage listeners who find themselves at a point in their marriage where there’s some tension or conflict or just a rough spot that needs to be worked through, or maybe you’re just at a point where you need a little refreshing – we all need that from time to time. The FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway is designed to be that island of refreshment in the middle of a busy life.
It’s a two-and-a-half-day getaway for couples, where you better understand God’s purpose and design for marriage. You learn more about what the Bible has to say about building a strong marriage. You get a chance to laugh and to spend some time together, and it really is a great getaway for couples. You can find out more about the Weekend to Remember when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY, and we can send you information about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Our fall season is underway right now; we’ve got a lot of getaways taking place this weekend and in the weeks to come. So get more information online, FamilyLifeToday.com or call toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY.
Also check online for more information about Shane Stanford’s book called A Positive Life. We’ve got that in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can request a copy when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us to request a copy at 1-800-FLTODAY.
Now a quick word of thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We couldn’t do what we do without you. We do appreciate your partnership as you help defray the production and syndication costs for this daily radio program, now heard in more than a thousand cities all across the country, and of course around the world via the internet. A lot of folks are using our iPhone app to connect with the program each day, and a number of you also download the program as a podcast.
You can find out more about all of these opportunities for connecting with FamilyLife Today when you go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, we want to say thanks to those of you who make all that possible through your donations. Some of you give to FamilyLife Today each month as Legacy partners; others of you make a donation from time to time.
This month, if you make a donation we’d like to say thank you by sending you a copy of Barbara Rainey’s brand-new devotional book for families called Growing Together in Truth®. It includes seven stories, all designed to help point you to the reality that God’s Word can be trusted, that it is absolutely true. Request a copy of the book Growing Together in Truth when you make a donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Simply type “TRUTH” in the key code box on the online donation form, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and just ask for the new devotional on truth.
And then get back in touch with us as you share these stories with your family; we’d love to hear your feedback. I know that would be encouraging to Barbara and to our whole team as we seek to help you as you press Biblical truth into your children’s hearts.
And we want to encourage you to join us again tomorrow when we’re going to hear a message from Dr. Russell Moore. He’s the Dean of Theology at Southern Theological Seminary, and we’re going to hear a great message from him on the subject of adoption. That’s coming up tomorrow and I hope you can be with us.
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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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