1:00 P.M. EST Oct. 26, 2010
When it comes to woes and lows, everyone has something that brings them down and holds them back. But what happens when life’s everyday struggles develop into habitual hassles—when we can’t seem to break out of behaviors that don’t bring out our best? What happens when we get “stuck” in our suffering?
That’s what co-authors Deanna Favre and Shane Stanford call living a “chronic life.” Both Favre and Stanford understand being in a place where life hurts—not just the body, but also the soul.
As a breast cancer survivor, who lost her brother in an ATV accident just four days before she was diagnosed with the disease, she’s also endured some rocky times with her husband, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre. Stanford, senior pastor of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church near Pensacola, Fla., is HIV-positive and has undergone decades of chronic illness as a hemophiliac, and faced personal and professional discrimination.
The native Mississippians have been dear friends for a number of years—united perhaps by their struggles and their faith-centered efforts to overcome them. They tell their story in a new book, The Cure for the Chronic Life: Overcoming the Hopelessness That Holds You Back (Abingdon Press, October 2010).
Recently, after an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America”, Favre and Stanford talked with writer Susan Passi-Klaus about how their faith has seen them through tough life circumstances.
Give us an idea of an unhealthy pattern you both faced…something chronic you struggled to overcome.
DEANNA: When I lost my brother, I was distraught. Sad. I felt abandoned by God. . . . I was angry at God for doing this to our family. Then I found out I had cancer. It was a horrible time. I wanted to stay home, crawl up in a corner, never be seen by anyone, never talk to anyone. It was a time of great despair—a time when I was very focused on myself and a time it was very difficult to get out of feeling hopeless.
SHANE: I tend to go in the opposite direction. I tend to decide I can do it on my own; that if I’m going to survive, I have to be strong enough, I have to be good enough, smart enough, whatever you want to call it. I forget that I am not enough without God, no matter how much I have to my advantage.
Do you still battle with some of those symptoms?
SHANE: As we talk about in the book, some days we are cured and other days…not so much. Life is a journey, and some seasons are better than others.
DEANNA: The real joy, though, is that we become self aware of our strengths and weaknesses and are able to right the ship quicker and easier when we pay attention to the points we mention.
Can you identify a turning point in your spiritual health?
DEANNA: It was during that period after I lost my brother and was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was complaining to a friend. It was all about me…me focusing on myself. And my friend said to me, “You know what? I hear what you’re saying. I know you have this terrible disease, and it’s growing inside you, but you also have Christ inside you.” And that was really a wake-up call for me because I realized what was happening. I was disconnecting myself from God. But then I started to see the hurt and the needs in other people just by going to chemotherapy and sitting in the waiting room and noticing other women in there who didn’t have the life I had. And I started to realize how blessed I actually was—I had a family to support me, and I had insurance and some of those women didn’t. They talked about not being able to afford the shot you have to get the day after chemo to keep your white blood cell count up. It’s $3,500 per shot.
Is that why you started the Deanna Favre4Hope Foundation?
DEANNA: It was my response to turn outward, which we talk about in the book—to focus on the needs of others. The foundation actually provides funds for women with breast cancer who are underinsured or uninsured.
Back to turning points in your spiritual health. Shane, what about you?
SHANE: The very first one that continues to sit with me spiritually was my grandfather. Several weeks after I was diagnosed with hemophilia, he said, “What are you gonna do with this thing that you have in you?” And I said, “I don’t think I have a choice.” And he said, “Son, you always have a choice. You can get in the corner and have your pity party or you can make every day count no matter how many days you have.” And I’ll never forget those words…that you do have a chance to make life matter.
Are some people addicted to a chronic life?
SHANE: Yes. The chronic life, just like being a hypochondriac, becomes the way of life…it becomes how we are defined.
Is there a CURE and what is it?
SHANE: God’s CURE for the chronic life begins with us getting out of our struggles and refusing to be captive to the chronic patterns we find ourselves. We must then get the garbage thinking out of our lives and renew our minds. By changing the way we think instills in us a new desire for reaching, helping and assisting others through our response. And, finally, as we change our perspective, renew our minds and become the hands and feet of our faith, we become an encouragement, not just offer it.
Deanna, in the book you and Shane talk about the importance of not hiding. How do you find the courage to live so publically and vulnerably?
DEANNA: You find a way. With everything I’ve been through, it always goes back to faith for me. When you’re in the spotlight, you see the good and bad of humanity—you see a lot of bad stuff—but I’ve also met some phenomenal people and some very strong Christians on every team we’ve been on, and those are the people you just draw near.
Shane, talk a little more about why it is important to show others our broken nature or as you say, “to come out of hiding”?
SHANE: Two reasons. First, the chronic life wants to turn you inward with your thinking and possibilities for your life. As we “come out of hiding,” we throw off the old life and take on the potential of what life can be. But, also, second, coming out of hiding allows us to be examples for others in similar places. We believe the power of example is underrated in our society. No program, ministry or principles can take the place of mentoring or modeling a healthy life.
How does a self-centered approach to life hinder our recovery?
DEANNA: When we turn inward, we lose our perspective and see the world from only one point of view. That stunts our spiritual growth and keeps us stuck in the chronic life, and when we’re stuck, we’re no real good to anyone or anything.
For instance, with the breast cancer and the loss of my brother, I could have ended up in a totally different place. If I (had) stayed in that despair and not come out of hiding, I would have missed seeing other people and really putting myself in their place. But instead, I realized the blessings of helping other women. It’s incredible. Women come up to me and say, “You saved my life. When I saw your story, I got this lump checked, and I had cancer.” That was so powerful to me. It was what God had planned for me. It was my purpose—not only to reach these women through my breast cancer—but also to share my faith.
I have always wondered, “Why?” I’m the shy little country girl from the South. How did I end up marrying this guy, and all the sudden everybody knows who we are? Now I see what it all means. God has really used me in a lot of different ways.
Can you explain what you mean when you say the goal is to go from “living chronic in crisis” to “living chronic in Christ”?
SHANE: When we live “chronic in crisis,” we are dominated by the worries of life, and that becomes the mantra for how we see the world and our future. But when we live “chronic in Christ,” we encounter the wonders of life that become the hope for unbelievable possibilities and potential.
*Passi-Klaus is a staff writer on the Public Information Team at United Methodist Communications.
Editor’s Note: Shane Stanford is on the General Commission on Communication, which oversees United Methodist Communications.