It was a Fall Retreat about 7 years ago if I remember correctly. One of our students admitted in tears that he had HIV to the small group of college students. We hugged and then I prayed over him, but both of us were lost and in the dark. I had a good friend (love you, friend!) who told me that St. Jude hospital was conducting research on HIV and would provide free medicine to patients who fit their demographic. The patient had to be under 21 and would receive free meds up to the time the patient turned 25 and hopefully, by then, the patient would have a health provider reduce the cost of the meds. Well, our student joined that study three days before his 21st birthday...three days. I remember when he came in to tell me, we cried together because God is that good, friends are that awesome, and life was extended in this moment! But little did we know - the story was far from over.
We had more to uncover, because in our conversations he had never told me how he contracted HIV. It's one thing to tell your minister that you have a deadly disease, but it's another thing to tell you minister that you got it through homosexual activity. Deep Breath. Around this time I attended a campus ministry seminar and one of the guest presenters was Sally Gary (www.centerpeace.net) who took the time to talk to me after her class. One of the pieces of advice she told me was to make sure my student knew he was loved by me, and then listen to his story. So, every time I saw this guy, whether he walked into my office, into worship, into the on campus cafeteria, I hugged him. I hugged him every time I saw him. And then I listened to everything, every hurt, pain, inadequacy, but also victory, happy moment, and the people who were his loves became mine. We were, and still are, friends.
I realized something as we talked, he lived in fear. He was afraid that he would never be accepted by the church. He was afraid of being alone for the rest of his life. He was afraid that he had let down his family. He was afraid of the consequences that he would have to live out because he had let God down. But in a true Holy Spirit moment, I shared with him one sentence that was not mine because I was so moved by his struggle that it popped into my head and I spilled it out. I said, "Well, it seems to me that you need to trade in your theology to suit your lifestyle, or you need to trade in your lifestyle to live your theology." And there it was, he was struggling to match what he believed God wanted for him, and who he believed to be the community that would most accept him as is.
I remember the day that he said to me, "I choose my theology." WOW! And then he followed, but I'm scared no one will ever love me. In a moment of bold naivety, I reassured him that if he was faithful to God, then God wouldn't disappoint him, and you should know that I didn't believe those words, but I desperately wanted to believe them for my friend. I really did.
And then he got a date...with an awesome girl. He asked me if he should "tell" her, saying that if he did tell her she would probably run away.
I told him that if it got serious, then he should...
and he did...
and then she shared her stories of heart ache and like an exchange of sorts, they began to hold the other's fragile heart in their hands.
And that was the single weepiest wedding I have ever done, I was fighting back tears the whole time, because it was redemptive. Absolutely beautiful! To think that God had been faithful to a young man who chose God over who he, just years later, thought he was, and that it was happening right before my eyes. WOW! Fast forward to just a few weeks ago, Sally Gary came to speak to the students, and she remembered our conversation from years ago. AND GET THIS...I thanked her for the advice and introduced the student and his wife to her! OH LORD, YOU ARE GOOD!
Transformation - a thorough and dramatic change - is what Jesus calls all of us to desire, to want, and I think we all have to choose between our God and our lifestyle. And I just want to say that I thank God for my student and for Sally Gary and others who show me what it means to place their relationship with God before anything else they are, any choice of lifestyle that would be way more comfortable for them. Sometimes I think heterosexuals should learn something from Christians who struggle with same sex attraction, but seek to be transformed by God, not by a program or some weird manipulation trick, but by seeking God first. I pray we all seek God first. And now I know what transformation looks like, and I want it for every follower of Christ. Listen to Romans 12:1-2 from the Message:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
To my student - I love you! I love the way you have shone God to me! And I love the fact that you are willing to bless the church with your story and how bold you are in telling it - I am glad you chose, and continue to choose Theology! (I should use words that aren't so churchy) Let's keep seeking transformation until we look like Christ!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.