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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Tell Me: What's in YOUR Closet?

By Rev. Andrena Ingram

July 18, 2014

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As told at the Faith Based Symposium on HIV in Baltimore, Maryland, June 19, 2014.

It was hard coming up with something to talk with you about. I didn't want to be up here talking just to hear myself talk, but I wanted it to be something memorable, something different, something so important that it would stay with you for at least awhile, if not until the end of your days.

There is usually just soooo much stuff floating around in my brain (my anxieties do not help) and my brain just couldn't make up its mind.

So, I thought it best that I do what the Lord told the prophet Habakkuk to do, when he found himself confronted with his complaint.


The Lord told Habakkuk to:

"write his answer plainly on tablets so that a
runner might carry the correct message to others."

And isn't that what this conference is about, carrying the message to others when we leave here? Amen? ...

And then as the Holy Spirit often does, she nudges me ... sometimes pushes me in the direction she wants me to go. Each time I thought about you, and our time together ... my husband would begin popping into my head ... thing is, he has been dead for over 20 years. According to medical terms, he died from AIDS related complications, in 1993.

I have been thinking about him a lot this past week. He began to nudge me ... "Tell them about me," he seemed to be saying. ... And to myself, I would whisper, "Oh dear, I don't know if I want to go there."

My husband nudged me again ... "Tell them about a love story," which gave birth to the title of my message,"HIV: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told" ... What an odd message!

And then the other morning, I awoke with a song in my heart: "The Promise."... It's a love song by Tracy Chapman. Before we delve any deeper, I invite you to journey with us ... with Warren and I, with those who are seeking love and acceptance in spite of their HIV diagnosis. Journey with those who have experienced stigma and the constant fear of rejection.

Yes ... even in some of our faith communities.

Close your eyes and take 5 minutes to listen with your heart, and remember someone dealing with this virus ... a virus I have been living with for over 26 years.

Spirit invites you to take 5 minutes to remember the beginning of your journey, with or because of whatever or whomever it was that led you to this place. As someone rightly said yesterday: "You were supposed to be here in this place at this time."

Perhaps you may be thinking about your own diagnosis, your own fear of rejection, your own fear of disclosure, your own faith community ... or someone you may know of, who needs to be at your table, or sitting beside you in your pew ...

Perhaps you may be thinking of someone you have rejected or dismissed. Please, close your eyes and listen...

Now, breathe ... breathe again ... It's OK. ... It's OK. ... It brings up some powerful imagery of love, and loneliness, faithfulness ... desire and yearning. All elements of the promise ... all elements of the vows Warren and I took with each other, in the presence of God over 21 years ago. I loved Warren, he was my Mr. Rogers, even though we met in drug rehab. I for alcohol and crack, he for intravenous drug use.

Warren and I had been married for about a year when he sat me down in the living room, beside him on the couch ... and shared with me that he was HIV positive.

Without saying a word, I got up from the couch, went into our bedroom,

opened up the closet door, sat down on the floor and closed that door behind me.

Leaving him on the couch ... with that disclosure hanging in the air ... I only remained in the closet for a short while, but what a long while it must've been for Warren ... he was still on the couch when I returned ... but by then, knowing what I know now ... the damage was done.

It wouldn't have mattered if I left him sitting there for one minute, 10 minutes, or half an hour. The bottom line is that I left him.

Warren didn't take any medication, didn't tell anyone else about his status.

(Could you blame him?)

He wasn't churched ... so that was definitely out of the question.

Once he got up from the couch, he continued to live as though nothing was wrong. We didn't discuss it again.

Warren disclosed his status to me in March, and in September ... Warren was dead.

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See Also
10 Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being
More on Getting Support From Religion / Spirituality

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Is the Ribbon Enough?

Rev. Andrena Ingram

Rev. Andrena Ingram

Reverend Andrena Ingram (also known as "Pastor Andrena" or "Pastor Ingram") has become a strong advocate for those living in the margins, as she once was. She is an activist in the HIV/AIDS arena, herself living openly and unabashedly with the HIV virus for over 22+ years.

Raised in South Jamaica, New York, Reverend Ingram served seven years of active duty in the U.S. Army. She would later move to the South Bronx, where she attended Transfiguration Lutheran Church with Pastor Heidi Neumark as her pastor and mentor -- empowering her to rise up out of herself and her life challenges, which seemed to her, at the time, insurmountable.

Reverend Ingram is a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with a Master of Divinity. She has been the pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church on Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., for the past four years.

Reverend Ingram can frequently be found speaking about HIV/AIDS, encouraging everyone "to know your status, get tested, and be informed." Silence = Death.

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