Monday, June 9, 2008


A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in Partner in Caring’s PETS program. PETS is a three-level training program that educates and prepares people who are HIV positive to be peer mentors to people who have been diagnosed with HIV. Level two and three of the program consists of a week long retreat that provides the students with information related to HIV/AIDS, other STI’s, and substance abuse, and it trains them to utilize various practical tools while mentoring.

My week at the PETS retreat proved to be a very positive experience. It was the first time that I have taken the opportunity to spend an extended period of time with people who are dealing with this illness. I can’t get over how radically open and hospitable this group of people was. There have been few occasions where I have felt such genuine community and fellowship in the midst of a diverse group of people. I felt welcomed from the start and knew it was a safe place where I could let my guard down and just love people (and do the electric slide). And that has been my challenge thus far when I’m confronted with the gracious opportunity of relationship with those who are often overlooked: to suspend all obstacles and seek to love…but not the kind of love that uses "love" to mask some kind of ulterior motive, but the kind of love that is willing to look someone in the face and embrace them for who they are, even if that might mean “suffering with” them.

Well, the week presented some unexpected opportunities for me. The moment I walked in on the first day, one of the leaders of the retreat asked me if I’d be willing to lead the “self-care” session that is part of the curriculum. I agreed, and found myself towards the end of the day trying to teach about the benefits of focused breathing and meditation.

I was asked to lead another self-care session on Thursday afternoon on the topic of forgiveness. We were a little rushed to finish the day out, so I didn’t have as much time to discuss the topic as is needed. Reading through the curriculum, I decided to try to focus the short session talking about 1) being people who are forgiven and 2) being forgivers. As I approached the session, I kept remembering the audience with which I would share: these were people who had potentially been treated as if being forgiven was impossible and being forgivers was irrelevant. I began the session discussing all the ways un-forgiveness affects us, how it becomes a weight that bogs us down and often affects all our relationships. I illustrated “forgiven and forgiver” citing an example from “my faith background.” I told them about how we often, in our time of worship, will confess our sins before God and others, and the priest/pastor will then say “In the name of Christ you are forgiven.” Then, as those who are forgiven and reconciled, we go and extend the hand of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace to others. We are graced to be forgiven and to be forgivers. After I shared for these brief moments we concluded the session by taking a few moments to sit in silent reflection, and I encouraged each person to reflect and/or pray about being both forgiven and forgivers.

Well, as we were concluding the last day of the retreat, one of the participants asked to borrow 30 seconds of my time. I said “of course” and we went around the corner to talk. This person told me that for a long time he had been carrying around a burden because he had not been able to forgive the person who had infected him with HIV. He told me that during the session on forgiveness he had been able to forgive that person for the first time, and that consequently he felt as if a weight had been lifted from his life.

This was quite a powerful experience for me. The opportunity to talk about forgiveness in that setting was something I never could have planned or sufficiently completed. In light of this opportunity as well as a few others that randomly occurred throughout the week, I really felt as if the Spirit was at work and had graced me to participate in that work. It was one of those opportunities that wouldn’t have happened without the Spirit and one of those circumstances where I found myself saying “If You don’t show up in the midst of all this, I will certainly mess something up.” I’m scared of such opportunities and circumstances but I guess they are what I should pray for.

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