“But You Loved Me Anyway”

Sitting in the dark room, in the middle of the night, he began sweating as if he ran five miles. The question which kept on coming in his mind was, “How did I end up here?”

He grew up in the church. He knows more Bible verses than anybody else. Growing up, he was considered as one of the spiritual young men who could take the next pastoral position in the church. Even as a young lad, some people used to come and ask him to pray for them.

As his mother only son, his mother raised him as if he was the last man from human race. She didn’t let him go through circumcision until he turned thirteen. With his father and uncle influence, his mother agreed to let him get circumcised at the age of thirteen. While he was recovering from the circumcision, the incision area began to itch. So he scratched it to relief the itch and before he knew it, his whole blood gushed into his private part. He didn’t know what it was until he felt the relief and sensed some kind of pleasure. He didn’t want to discuss this unique experience with anyone. He was happy for finding it out all by himself but at the same time he was terrified to tell his experience to anyone. He thought he found something nobody out there had known before.

Then within few weeks, he mastered the practice of getting sexual release but he was struggling with this guilt feeling which used to eat him up from the inside right after the practice. So he began setting different fasting and prayer programs to stop masturbation. His mother used to say to him, “My son, isn’t this fasting a little too much for your tiny body?” He always responded back to her, “Mom, don’t worry about me.”

Always after he fasted and prayed, he privately declared his victory over masturbation; but within a month or so, he would find himself back in it. And whenever he came back to it, he would add more pornographic pictures to his collection of pictures he put under his mattress. But regardless of his repeated defeat, he never stopped fighting to stop the practice.

When he turned seventeen, his pastor called him to lead the youth ministry of his church and he accepted the offer. His mother and father were very proud of him; so was everybody who knew him in the church. He became very busy with different church activities he used to put together for the youth group he was leading. His church youth ministry became famous in the small town he was living in.

But he was a very lonely young man. People used to come to him looking to get from him like a prayer or just short counseling but nobody came to ask him how he was holding up in the middle of all those activities. He sometimes wished if he could tell someone about his struggle with “his Goliath” which always waited for him in his bedroom. But he chose not to discuss it with anyone. After all, everybody thought that he would be “the next St. Paul.”

When he turned eighteen, his whole family got Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery to come to the US and he left his church and his small town and country, Ethiopia, to come to the US with his whole family.

Within two weeks of their arrival in the US, they found one church but they couldn’t get involved in any ministry as they would like to because of all the pressure of new life in America.

He began working in the nearby store to make some money to support his parents. He bought his own laptop and was able to apply online for different colleges. He loved his independent lifestyle he was able to lead with the small money he was making. He bought an old car and life seemed promising but one thing.

His sexual struggle was with him, at a heightened intensity. While he worked at the store, he was introduced to one particular magazine that he found himself being very addicted to. He fought with himself never to checkout their website but one day, while he was bored and looking for something to entertain him, he gave in to the temptation and typed their website he knew by heart. From that night on, it became his daily routine to stay on his laptop till one in the morning, searching for more porn sites he didn’t see before.

He couldn’t understand the love and hate relationship he built with the porn videos he was addicted to. He sometimes became scared to go to his room by himself but once he starts to watch the videos, he forgets everything. He lost all his spiritual passion he used to have. He tried to fast and pray but couldn’t do it more than few hours or even minutes. No faith in his heart. One voice used to discourage him saying, “Why do you try? You know you won’t come out of this!”

Then one day, he found his high school friends who came to the US a little earlier than him. They were very happy to find each other. He has a very nice and pleasant personality that attracts everybody to him like a magnet.

So after that day, he began to see them regularly at least two or three days a week. They repeatedly invited him to join them on their Friday night outs. He had never been out in the night throughout his life and didn’t want to embarrass himself. So, he used to give them different excuses not to go out with them.

But one Friday night, he decided to have dinner with them. In the middle of that dinner, one of his friends said, “If I’m not mistaken, when we were 9th or 10th grade, you were one of those strict Christians, weren’t you?” Everybody laughs, including him. Before he responded back to his friend, one of them said, “That is one of the things you do when you were a teenager.” Patting his back, he said, “He grew out of that a long time ago, didn’t you?”

He didn’t agree or disagree. He kept laughing. Then after dinner, they seemed to know where they were going but he didn’t. Taking out his car key, he said, “So, – – -.” One of them said, “No, I have a big track, we will go together.”

He was a bit hesitant and said, “I will follow you guys. I may need to go earlier than you guys. I have to go to work early in the morning. But where are you guys heading?”

One of them, holding on to his left shoulder, said, “You agreed to come out with us after a long time and let us surprise you. Just follow us.” Two of them came with him while the other three drove together.

And they all went to the famous Ethiopian cuisine happy hour. Two of his friends began smoking while in the car and one of them took out a bottle of alcohol from a brown paper bag and began drinking directly from the bottle. He offered him but he said, smiling, “Not now.”

When they got to the place, the place was packed. There was a very dim light and the music was loud. He didn’t want to look like a fool. So he decided to look cool as he stretched out his shirt’s collar. Some people were on the dance floor dancing and some of them were standing. Nobody seemed to listen to each other. Here and there, he heard loud laughter. Other than that, the only thing he heard was a loud music. He had no idea what that music was all about but he began moving his body so he blended in.

Then a group of women came out to meet them. One of them seemed to know one of his friends and the others seemed to know none of them. But as if they had appointment, each of his friends took one woman and one of the women took his hand and invited him to the dance floor.

He had never danced before. He began sweating at this point. He was very thankful that nobody could see his sweat which made his face and neck oily. She was wearing a skirt which covered only her waist and a little down from there. She was wearing very high shoes which made her as tall as his. In the middle of the dance, she whispered in his ears, “I don’t think you drank any alcohol, did you?”

He replied, “No, why?”

She said, “You don’t seem to enjoy the dance. You look uptight. Why don’t you drink some so you will loosen up a bit?”

He replied, “Maybe I’m tired.” Then the next thing he knew, her hand went directly to his belt.

With a quick reflex action, as if he caught a thief’s hand, he caught her hand. He was dumbfounded and didn’t say a word except pushing his body a little away from her. At this point, he could hear his heartbeat. She held his hand and led him out of the room and asked him where he parked his car and invited him to his own car. As if he didn’t have a say on her decision, he followed her.

He doesn’t remember the detail. The only thing he remembers now is, when she left the car and closed the door, he immediately began driving. He didn’t even know where he was driving until he came to a junction where he had to take one of the four highways.

He never slept with a woman in his life until that night. He thought he was dreaming and wanted to wake up. He pinched himself many times to check if he was dreaming.

When he got home, it was three in the morning and his parents and both of his younger sisters were sleeping. He went to his room and couldn’t sleep but kept on asking “How did I end up here?” He went to work the next day without any sleep.

For three weeks, he didn’t say that much in the house. He was very sensitive for every little thing and he became very distant from his parents and sisters. Anger and rage were filling his heart. He was mad at himself, at his friends; at the woman he neither remembered her face nor her name but above all, he was very mad at God.

Then at the end of those three weeks, his lips began itching and noticed a sore. He remembered seeing the same kind of sore on the woman he slept with that night. Without wasting his time, he went to see a doctor and he heard that it was oral herpes. When the doctor explained how that can be transmitted from one person to another, he asked the doctor if he could give his blood since he had “unprotected sex” with a woman.

Then his blood test came back positive for both herpes as well as HIV. He wanted to disappear. His doctor began explaining about the viral load, when to contact them; how he needed to protect himself, what he needed to do when he wanted to have sex next time and – – –

He didn’t hear any of it! He stood on the floor; shook the doctor’s hand and left the room quietly.

He left and got into his car. He went directly to his home. Nobody was home. He went to his room and fell on the floor, crying, “LORD, I sinned against you and please forgive me; and please take me now. Please! I can’t put my mom through this. Please kill me now. Please! Don’t let me kill myself, You kill me now! Please don’t let my poor mom go through this. Kill me!”

He cried and wailed for several hours and when he looked up, he saw his forgotten Bible sitting on the shelf. He crawled to it on his knees and picked it up and he randomly opened it. His eyes fell on these Bible verses because he highlighted them with a dark yellow marker:

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Isaiah 1:18-20 NIV

Then he felt amazing presence of God entering his room. He then began asking God to go away from him saying, “No, You can’t come to me now. No, You can’t love me now. Please LORD, go! I only ask You to kill me, not to come to me. Please go out of my bedroom! Please LORD!”

But his God was a God who does listen to his soul not to his lips. Even if he didn’t see God or touch Him, he felt a warmth hand hugging him tightly. He thought he heard God say: “Be still and know that I’m God!”

Unspeakable joy took his heart and soul! He never knew he could cry that much and that much of tears could come out of his pair of eyes.

Then he began saying, “LORD, I love You. Now I know You forgave me, now I know You love me! Please let me not sin against you again! Please save me from myself!”

Oh, he was in his room for more than six hours but he didn’t know until his dad knocked his room to ask if he was okay.

The next day he went to the church his parents were attending regularly and asked if he could see the senior pastor. He was allowed to go into the pastor’s office without any appointment and when he looked at the pastor, he thought he saw God’s face. He fell on his knees, cried and said, “Pastor, please help me!”

That day was amazingly enough much better than the day he invited Jesus Christ into his life. It was like being born-again all over again.

Within eight month, as a 27-year old young man, he became a leader of the youth ministry of his church. His pastor knows everything about him but always says, “Don’t ever forget what God said to you. Know that He is God!”

Once he became the leader, that youth ministry took another level. As it was back in his home country, God blessed everything he put his hands on. Most parents went to the pastor saying, “What a young man you got for our youth! Thank you!”

Some came to him and said, “Thank you for ministering to our youngsters with this passion. May the LORD bless you!” And most of them asked him, “So, when are you going to get married?”

He always smiled and said, “One day!” But immediately after he said that, he used to say to himself, “I wish they didn’t ask me that.”

While he was ministering, he began to get very close to one of the girls who helped him in the ministry. Then he said to God, “LORD, please help me never to think about this thing. I know, I’m going to die with these viruses I am carrying in my body. I can’t get married. You know that!”

This girl was 26 years old and she seemed very devoted for the work of God and he liked her devotion. She was always there for a prayer meeting. If he called for a meeting, she was the first one to be there. Then he began thinking about her every day and that really bothered him a lot.

At this point, he was free from all of his past struggles. He actually helped many young men who were in the same struggle, saying to them, “I understand what you are going through because I was there at one point in my life.”

Many young men enjoyed spending time with him because he had this contagious humility which reckoned everyone to be humble before God.

He was busy with many young people; as he ministered to them in different ways, but he couldn’t stop thinking about that girl. Then he began praying about it so that God would take this thought out of him. Then one day while he was praying, he felt God was leading him to call the girl. He was terrified. Then he went to see his pastor to ask advice.

His pastor said, “You know, God is too big. We only know what we can see and feel but He can see more than that. If you feel like God is saying to you to call the girl, call her.”

“And what am I going to say to her, pastor?” He asked looking more terrified than before.

The pastor, being very careful what to say and how to say it, said, “You know, God will put the words on your mouth. Don’t worry about it. But remember, if you see her, the first thing I need you to tell her is about you and your health condition.”

He began sweating. His pastor prayed for him and on his way back home, he called her.

As if she was waiting for his call, she picked it up with one ring and said, “For some reason I was thinking about you.” She laughed and added, “How are you doing?”

He said, “You know what, I’m not sure if I’m okay.”

Her nurturing instincts took over and she said, “Do you want to talk about it? Let’s meet up for a cup of tea or coffee.”

Phew! She took the burden off of him! They met at the nearby café. After they talked about the ministry and how God was working through some of the teens they were ministering to, she asked, “So, why did you say that you are not sure if you are okay?”

He bluntly said, “I’m thinking about you more often than I should. That is bothering me.”

He caught her off guard but she managed to say, “And?”

He said, “And I know that I can’t have you as a wife; but only as a sister.”

Trying to read his face, she calmly said, “Why not?”

“Lord, why are You letting me go through this?” asked God quietly.

When he didn’t say anything, she said, “You don’t even know about me and I don’t know why you are concluding like that. If you want to ask me any question, I will answer it to the best of my knowledge.”

He said, “Okay, do you go out with me?”

Looking a little puzzled, she asked, “Is that the question which bothered you this much?”

He lost it! He couldn’t take the anguish his soul was going through. So, he spelled it all out to her.

“I made one mistake in my life and I’ve been an HIV positive on the top of herpes since then.”

She sure didn’t expect that from him at all! He again caught her off guard but at this time, she ran out of words.

When he saw her face, he said, “I know I’m crazy for telling you all these. I’m so sorry.”

She calmly said, “This is too much for me to carry. I don’t even know what to say and what not to say to you. I guess I have to go now.”

He regretted for telling her. He waited for her to call, at least for her to call and say, “I’m so sorry this happened to you” but she just disappeared. He didn’t see her at church the following Sunday and on Monday she called and said, “I want to see you.”

He didn’t even ask her why; he went to see her. When he saw her on the same café they met last time, his soul screamed at him saying, “This is your woman!”

Her smile and tender gesture gave all up what was in her heart. He didn’t plan to say anything to her; but she didn’t seem that she expected anything from him. She said, “For the last seven days, I was fasting and praying asking God what He wanted me to do. I’ve been praying about you since I first put my eyes on you. I took you as my man the day I first saw you. Then last time, I was a bit shocked and didn’t know what to do and what to say to you. But today I want to see you because I want to tell you that the God I worship is bigger than HIV and Herpes. I will take you as my man regardless. The rest is not up to us but up to Him. You and I will die whether with HIV or NIV or XYZ.”

They both laughed but his laughter was a bit fuzzy because he didn’t really sure what she was saying.

“There is more treatment now than twenty years ago. I read as much as I could to learn about these disease states. We can get married and lead a normal life. And we can have kids and – – -”

His soul began singing the song he was listening to in his car:

“I am a thorn in Your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist
But You love me anyway
I am Judas’ kiss
But You love me anyway” by Sidewalk Prophets – You Love Me Anyways

He thought he lost his mind and he thought his mind was playing a trick on him. She continued saying, “This is our lot from God and God will be with us and we will make it. He will see us through.”

Those “our, we, us” rang in his mind, soul and heart as if they were heavenly songs. He looked at her and got up from his seat and hugged her as if he saw her after ten years. They cried on each other’s shoulders. They didn’t even look at the people around them. They left and didn’t say much but when he opened her car door to let her in, he said, “We need to see our pastor.”

Wow, that was four years ago. He is now a father of a three-year old handsome boy. Reclining on a beach chair, staying far away from the ocean and staring at his wife as she played with her son with the ocean wave, he said, “Lord, so you made her for me? Please help me every day how I can die for this woman so she will live happily ever after.”

As if she heard what he said to God, she turned around and waved at him. He waved at her and she came and asked him laughing, “Why are you staring at us?” His son already climbed up on him but his eyes were not on his son but on his wife. Fixing his eyes on hers he said, “No, I was not staring at you two but I was staring at my wife because my wife is the one who gave me back my life. I stare at her for the rest of my life. While I was staring at my wife, I was asking God to let me die for her so that she would live happily ever after. That is all!” ///