One woman’s battle with HIV.
by Kathi Winter
The strength and stamina I used to have are diminishing. This may be a result of simply passing the age of 50 or of the numerous pills I have to take daily to keep the HIV virus under control. Often I have to change my short- and long-term business and personal goals just to get through the week.
Many times I am unwilling to let go of old friends; but if they don’t support my walk with God, I have to. If my work becomes too demanding, then I must learn to say no. Often I am simply too tired to continue doing it all as I have in the past. This is a good thing, forcing me to look to others for help and not try to be so self-sufficient.
These changes confront and challenge me. They require more faith in God. I resist, struggling against change, yet find myself surrendering to a “new season” in my life. As the Bible says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NKJV).
I was diagnosed with HIV almost ten years ago. Friends and family couldn’t believe that I would be so stupid as to be with a man who had AIDS. Fact is, I should have known. Donald had been a heroin user before I met him and before he accepted Jesus’ death for his sins.
But denial is part of the Devil’s plan and, God knows, I was naive in blindly trusting my body to another. I didn’t know it was sin back then; I wasn’t a Christian when I met this man. Donald was a street preacher who had been delivered from his ten-year addiction in one day when he became a Christian. After 16 months in drug rehab, he became manager of a halfway house, where other former street people were kept to finish their rehab.
I met Donald at the shelter in December 1994. I took some friends there to serve a free Christmas dinner as part of my street ministry, which feeds the homeless and/or those in rehab. I was taught as a child to admire those who have risen above their past. I had been away from anyone “spiritual” during my college years, so I hungered for someone who spoke about Jesus.
I fell in love with Donald that first night. He was sweet, seemingly shy, and committed to his Christian faith when he told his story to the group.
What I didn’t realize is how much in denial he was. Donald had been diagnosed with HIV in 1989 before he became a Christian, but he denied he had the virus. He pretended to everyone — even to me — that he didn’t have HIV.
We became sexually active. This didn’t bother Donald until I became a Christian six months later. Then he started to back off, saying we had to be “obedient” and refrain from sex. Once we started in that direction, however, it was too hard for us to quit, so we broke up.
At first I was sad and hurt. But I believed that God wanted us to split because we were sinning by having sex. Donald moved back east for two years, and I closed the door on the relationship and began several years of emotional healing.
After Donald left, I wanted assurance that he and I weren’t sick. I was tested for HIV, knowing his heroin background and that HIV can spread through using dirty needles. When the results came back negative, I thought I hadn’t caught the virus and that he was clean as well (his virus wasn’t strong enough yet to penetrate my immune system). But I made a huge mistake: I assumed that a negative test meant he wasn’t carrying the virus.
So when I met up with Donald two years later, I didn’t think I needed to protect myself.
Once we got back together, we fell into the same old behavior. Again I denied there was anything wrong with trusting the man who influenced me to become a Christian. Soon Donald became extremely ill, as did I. We thought the flu had hit us hard, but he didn’t recover. After three weeks, I took Donald to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS and pneumonia. The doctors said he wouldn’t live three more days.
Truth and consequences
Finally, Donald had to tell me the truth: He had full-blown AIDS and had known about it for some time. When I was tested again, it was clear I was HIV positive.
Anger burned inside me. Why did Donald lie to me? Why did he put my life in danger? With the help of a dear friend, I confronted Donald; but he looked so sad and so sick, I couldn’t stay angry. I changed from wanting to kill him myself to wanting to nurse him back to life. Like many women, I put my emotions aside and took care of him for nearly three more years.
For a long time the wounds in my heart were stronger than my fear of the disease. With God’s help, my anger subsided, and I reached a level of forgiveness; but I lived with shame and guilt for my sin. I felt tainted, used, and unlovable. I also learned how isolating HIV is. People were afraid to be around me; they refused to touch me and cringed if I coughed. My sister-in-law wouldn’t let me in her house for nearly nine years. I fought with my brother and didn’t speak to him for four years.
Good out of evil
What’s clear to me today is that what the Devil meant for evil, God has turned into good. Thanks to His healing and lots of prayer from friends, Donald’s health improved. He’s alive today and says that my love and God’s plan worked together to keep him on this earth.
I, too, was healed of the crushing emotions in my heart and reconciled with my brother.
Donald and I still work with the homeless on the streets, only now our story is that abstinence and obedience to God’s plan — not people’s fleshly desires — are the only things to keep one from getting HIV.
I’ve learned that God is the only one a woman can trust and that even a man of God isn’t immune from Satan’s lies. I’ve learned the value of forgiveness when I give my hurts to God. If He forgives me of my sin, why can’t I forgive myself?
I am acutely aware of my brokenness. Shame and guilt have been hard to overcome; but thanks to Jesus, I can try to love myself the way God sees me, not as our society sees me.
Being addicted to love was wrong. When I speak at schools and in churches, I warn others not to trust their bodies to another until marriage, and even then to be sure the man (or woman) knows the value of monogamy.
Most of all, I now have a sense of what God did when His Son Jesus died on the cross for me. This has never been more real as I embrace the truth in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (NIV).
If I could go back and choose not to have the virus, if it meant that I wouldn’t come to know Jesus Christ, I’d choose again and again to live with HIV. Through it I seek a closer relationship with the One who loves me no matter what and lives in me.
This story first appeared through ASSIST News Service, November 8, 2001. Visit ASSIST at www.assist-ministries.com. Also, type in “Kathi Winter” on the ASSIST site to read an interview with her at the recent AIDS conference in Barcelona.
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