The words in the Red Cross letter blurred as my eyes filled with tears and I quite literally fell to the ground….”It is highly likely that you are infected with the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)”. This was the first step of a journey that has changed me and my family in so many ways. Once the additional testing and confirmations were completed it was determined that not only did I have the virus, the virus had become invasive and in fact had progressed to AIDS. Without immediate aggressive treatment my prognosis was less than 1 year to live and if I did respond well to treatment it was impossible to determine how much damage had been done to my organs.
Trust me on this one, I spent many hours arguing with God and arrogantly proclaiming that He had made a huge mistake. Between the side effects of the medication and the debilitating nature of the disease it was a struggle to just get out of bed in the morning. During this early stage of diagnosis and treatment only one thought continuously remained at the forefront of my brain…..WHY ME?
It’s amazing how at a time like this you instantly become aware of what’s really important and what’s not. The kind of car I drove, the square footage of our home, and the amount of money in my 401k….all became insignificant as I began to soak in the things that were important. Suddenly a smile and warm hug became as valuable as coins of gold….a supporting phone call from a friend, time with my wife and children all began to take on new and profound importance as God began revealing simple truths to me. Even in the midst of chaos and even while medication side effects daily eroded my quality of life and even as I struggled with a God whom I felt had abandoned me I gradually felt change overcoming me…..He had not moved – He remained in control – He was still drawing me closer! Gradually that thought in my head began to change…
Who was I to question God….who was I to think I was above anything…who was I to (so many things could go here).
What’s interesting is that even as I was drawing closer to God than I had ever been before, I was also discovering the lack of compassion for people living with HIV/Aids from within the Christian Community – particularly churches. I guess the assumption was that if I had Aids then it must be as the result of sin in my life. Funny, I don’t remember Jesus asking prostitutes why they did it….he just met them where they were at with love and a new plan for their life. Even if I had acquired this disease through sin in my life, why should that change the response of the church? I have been able to share my experiences and speak at several groups and churches but I must be honest and say that the response of the Christian Community to HIV/Aids is still an area that I continue to struggle greatly with. (I have come to a new understanding of Mahatma Gandhi’s comment; “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.”)
Here are a couple of observations from my journey:
- When someone is distressed (illness, divorce…) it doesn’t matter what you say near as much as the knowledge that you cared enough to call!
- Don’t say “let me know if I can do anything”…..just do it.
- Sometimes we don’t need answers….we just need you to listen.
- True friends tell us when we’re wrong…yes, even when we are sick.
- I am not sick because of God’s judgment on my life – just as you are not healthy because of your superior walk with God.
- Celebrating your victories/events/occasions will not make me sicker – do not hide opportunities for me to celebrate victories in your life.
- Most of all hold my hand, put your arm around me and walk this journey with me….through the ugly and dark as well as the laughter and joy!
- Sometimes things happen simply because evil is present in our world – a long term result of the original sin nature of man.
I would be very hard pressed to proclaim that AIDS has improved my life….however; I can say that battling this disease has changed my life in ways other than the obvious. My conversations, arguments, discussions and time spent with my God have become more honest and real than ever before. Kelly and I truly treasure moments together – we sneak off for weekends instead of waiting for the right time. We cherish moments with the family like dinners. (We use wine glasses for milk and cloth instead of paper napkins) We create moments instead of waiting for them. I have also become quicker to hug, more willing to say I love you, more cognizant of beauty in the small things, more empathetic to those in needs and less judgmental as to how someone got into a situation. So am I perfect? Yeah right – that would be NO WAY…but I am closer to God and my family now. Have I learned everything God is trying to teach me through this? Again….NO, as I realize my shortcomings almost daily.
I do realize and proclaim that God remains in control, that he hasn’t moved, that he does love me and he does have a plan for my life…..so…….. WHY NOT ME?
Job 23:13-14 – “But He is unchangeable, and who can turn Him back? What He desires, that He does. For He will complete what He appoints for me, and many such things are in His mind.”