What an AIDS Victim Taught Me About My Theology
Sometimes, as Christians, we wrap it around us like a favourite blanket and don’t do what God wants us to do.
As a Christian, I wrapped myself in a lot of theology, things I said I believed. Over time, they became easy, familiar, and made me feel quite safe.
Until I met a woman named Toni McKay*.
The first time Toni walked through the doors of our church, she extended her hand to my husband, the pastor, and said, “I want you to know I’m infected. I have AIDS. If you want me to leave, I will.” This was at a time when there were no drugs to help those with AIDS. The disease was a death sentence.
Perhaps it was the shock of her bluntness, but I immediately felt something give way inside me, as though the parameters of our safe place had been breached. Panic rose to replace my sense of comfort and ease.
My husband and I had visited a friend who had died of AIDS not long before. The mental picture of his emaciated face was still very real, but that had been far away, in another city. Facing an AIDS victim in the doorway of our own little church was much different. It abruptly threatened my cocoon-like world. It shattered the illusion of well-being and forced me to look in the face of pain and struggle and fear.
As Toni stood in the doorway that day, I felt the parameters of my theology begin to crumble. “Love one another,” my theology said. “Do unto others; Give a cup of cold water.” On and on, the tenants of my faith rang in my ears while I observed others in the congregation care for Toni and her six-year-old daughter, Brandi*, who was also dying of the disease. The carpeted foyer of our church seemed to echo with Jesus’ words. Words like, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matt. 25:45).
What do you believe?
I began to question what I really believed. Did I trust God? Did I trust Him enough to involve myself in this woman’s life, when that involvement could be dangerous and undoubtedly painful? What was I trying to protect so desperately? I began to ponder, with new perspective, what the apostle Paul meant when he said,
“To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil.1:21).
I pondered more as my husband and I began picking Brandi up for Sunday school. She was the same age as my own daughter, Meagan. Watching Meagan take her hand and lead her to the Sunday School class tore at the fear and callousness that was keeping me at a distance — keeping me on the surface — and it began to bridge the gap between my theology and my life.
Toni and Brandi were living in that precious, precarious state known as the brink of immortality. As we spent time ministering to them, they ministered to us. Toni entered into our lives, asked the probing questions that unraveled our pain, showing us the barriers of fear and mistrust that were keeping us from loving as we should.
There was one woman in our church who agreed to go with me to Toni’s bedside one day, but I could tell she did not want to be there. Toni was sitting up in her bed when we arrived. She looked at the woman, smiled and said. “You’re having a hard time with me, aren’t you?” The floodgate had been opened and we were able to have a profound discussion and time of true connection.
Yes, it was a very hard time. But it was a time of deep soul-searching and growth.
What will you do with me?
Two days before she died, Toni sat in her wheelchair in the hospital lounge and we talked about going for a drive to see the fall colors. It didn’t take long to go from that superficial diversion of my world, into hers. She gave me one of her probing looks and we talked about purpose: “I think I’ve been here to teach you,” she said. Aware of the irony of her words, there was a glint of mischief in her eyes when she spoke.
Toni had never been a mature Christian nor a Godly role model, yet she was teaching me what faith meant, what trust looked like, what deep healing was really all about. She simply presented herself, flawed, diseased, and without speaking a word she said,
“Here I am. What will you do with me?”
That short span of time when I struggled with what to with Toni was like the grog in the clay of my theology. Grog is clay that has been previously fired in the kiln, then ground into fine particles and added to clay that needs more strength. Grog sometimes hurts. As you throw a pot on the wheel you can feel it scraping your hands. Sometimes it even makes them bleed.
That time with Toni is what made my theology stand up — it’s what made it able to withstand the fire and be shaped into something useful, something beautiful and even something deeply inspirational.
*names have been changed.
**** Thank you for reading! I’m Marcia Lee Laycock and I invite you to follow me if you’d like to read more of my work about finding the extraordinary in an ordinary life. 😊 Here on Medium you can find me at https://medium.com/pondrings and https://medium.com/koinonia
You can find me online here — www.marcialeelaycock.com for more information about my writing and speaking ministry.