My dad has AIDS. It is unthinkable, unrealistic, and completely true. When my parents called us all to come home for the weekend in March 2011, I initially didn’t think anything of it. Then, on Saturday evening, it became clear that there was some sort of announcement. I really thought they were going to say my mom was pregnant (which was biologically impossible). The idea that my dad could have AIDS never crossed my mind. I had almost forgotten about the needle prick in 2004.
Here is what I know at this point in the journey: God doesn’t give us what we deserve because none of us deserve the grace He shows us. However, this felt really unfair. I mean REALLY unfair. My dad is easily one of the best men I know. So, why him? Why us? Why me? These are the three questions that kept circling in my mind after I found out. After a relatively short span of time, I stopped asking these questions. God gave me the gift of peace in not knowing. I recognized that I did not know why, but more importantly I understood that I did not need to know why. It was in God’s hands; God would use it for good.
As Jesus was walking along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Teacher,” his disciples asked him, “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” – John 9:1-3
This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. Christians with easy/perfect lives (whether actually so or simply perceived) do not have the potential power to show God’s might and the gift of faith that my family has because of AIDS. It is only through weakness and strife that people see the power of God versus the power of us as individuals. Because of AIDS, people recognize that faith does not guarantee an easy life. It also shows that circumstances of our lives are not a reflection of our faithfulness. God allows things to happen to individuals of great faith for reasons we cannot comprehend (think of Job’s trials, Paul’s persecution, John the Baptist’s beheading). AIDS has given my family, and especially my dad, the potential to show the power of faith and God’s mercy in any and every circumstance.
It also has influenced us in many personal ways. Our family is stronger than ever. We are there for each other every single day, every single celebration, every single struggle. We are wholly and completely present in each other’s lives. It is incredibly weird, frustrating, and comforting.
AIDS has increased our compassion. We don’t know everyone’s story. We don’t know what people are going through. Our call is not to judge or advise. Our call is to love – pure and simple.
For me, AIDS was a wake up call. I have always had a tendency to structure my life around my family. This isn’t bad, but it can be limiting. Here it was in shocking form: my family will not be here forever. So, I had to start learning to be content and preparing to live the life to which God has called me, which may or may not be within 20 minutes of every member of my family. This sounds like it was easy or immediate, but really is something I am just learning to accept within the last few months.
The world is suffering from an abundance of two main things in my experience: apathy and a lack of compassion. So, I try to fill the void in any ways I can to both of these with everyone I meet. That is what AIDS has done to me. It has made me more aware of the people around me. It has made me listen more closely to their stories. It has made me care about them as individuals It has made me lead a life of faith in action.
All of this being said, I want to be clear. I don’t want to give the impression that people who have AIDS/HIV, should simply look on the bright side. No. That is not it at all. AIDS is an ugly and smart sickness. It can takeover, adapt, and shatter lives. My family represents the lucky global minority who has constant, reliable access to medicine and health care. My dad is lucky in that he has a support system in our immediate family that didn’t abandon him when learning of the diagnosis like happens to so many people. Even with this, AIDS has changed my life, our lives, my dad’s life in many ways. My dad’s energy is completely different. We take/do activities differently. My dad gets sick more often. If we are sick, we have to act differently and be more careful. A common cold has become a big deal. We operate with the knowledge that his medication is incredibly strong, which comes with strong side effects and long term effects that we are not even aware of yet.
This is not the ignorance or prejudice that is experienced regularly, which can be more difficult to handle than the physical effects. I am a white, protestant woman who is college educated and from a middle class background. Easy to say, prejudice and discrimination have always been things I had to learn; it was never something I had to face – until AIDS. All of a sudden I saw first hand what many people face in various forms all the time. Family friends of my parents all of a sudden distanced themselves. Family members no longer make physical contact with my dad. He’s been looked over, questioned, judged. We’ve walked out of churches where the main sermon was that AIDS was given to people as judgement for their sins. What other illness do people ask you how you got it? In other words, what perceived negative life decision(s) did you make? Whenever someone new is told or finds out, you have to wonder is it worth the risk of telling them? What will their response be?
So, when people ask me why I’m not bitter or if I just want to ask God why, I just smile and shake my head. I believe in a God that knows better than I. I believe in a God that has a plan for my dad, my family, and me. I’ve known a God who always keeps me guessing. I have a relationship with a God who pushes me and those closest to me to strengthen us, never allowing us to be complacent in our identities, lives, or our faith. I believe in a God that can use AIDS in my family for good for us and for others.
It comes down to five key things. Spread facts not myths. Spread awareness. End the stigma. Get tested. As always, live with compassion