By Dr. Shane Stanford
As a person living with HIV and AIDS, my entire life has been a race. A race against illness and disease, against fear and uncertainty, against discrimination and prejudice. A race against time.
Sure, the race has been difficult, with many twists and turns — from growing up a hemophiliac to discovering my HIV and Hep-C status at 16 to watching how the secrecy of my HIV status affected the emotional life of our family and relationships.
It is a journey with spiritual struggles and tension — from watching my denomination struggle over whether to ordain me to being rejected by the first church to which I was appointed as pastor.
And certainly, it is a race with great loss and disillusionment — from the loss of dear friends to the disease, to the loss of others due to the fear surrounding it.
No, it has not been easy. It has pushed me to trust beyond what I can see and understand — even, at times, pressing the limits of my faith, not necessarily as much for God as for God’s people.
Certainly, this is not a path I would have chosen. But oddly enough, so many miles into the journey, I would not trade it with anyone.
You see, my illnesses have afforded me an incredible glimpse of what God offers in this world and the best for what God’s people can become. This journey informs me about God’s call for each to respond faithfully as God’s children and teaches all of us who call ourselves “Christian” important lessons that potentially can change our world.
Lessons about time. Because of my illness, I am reminded each day that time is a privilege given to us by God, a luxury afforded to us with the possibility that each of us can make a difference in this world.
Lessons about relationships. I am blessed with a beautiful wife, three wonderful daughters, two amazing sons-in-law, and countless family and friends who remind me that the most important things we do in this world are not done alone.
Lessons about simplicity. More, bigger, and nicer pale in comparison to simple things like sunsets with those you love and the laughter of children at play.
And most important, lessons about real faith. Personally, my illnesses remind me every day that, with God’s grace, what I need, I have — and what I have is sufficient. Sufficient to confront the struggles of my health and the uncertainties of tomorrow. Sufficient to meet the needs of others if we, the body of Christ (when we truly live like it) with all its imperfections, holds as the hope of the world this gospel that says God passionately loves the unlovable, the marginalized, and the forgotten.
Illness, struggle, or suffering are not easy for any of us. But it is a journey with real lessons for each step along the path, and if we listen carefully, it can teach us much about loving God and each other.
So, friends, I keep running this race so that one day I can take hold of that which God has planned for me from the start. Press on, Paul says — victory is in sight.
Dr. Shane Stanford is the Executive Director/CEO of The Moore-West Center for Applied Theology and President of JourneyWise.Network. An author of 19 books, Shane is an ordained Methodist minister with 30 years of pastoral experience.