Dealing with STDs in Marriage
Editor’s Note: Today’s story is SO bravely shared by Emily Sledge. She tweets at @JustSledgified and if you’d like to email her, please contact lauren[at]goodwomenproject.com for her information. Pay close attention to the information she gives about HPV. You may need to get tested and have no idea. I know I didn’t. – Lauren
No one really knows what they might do if someone were holding a gun to their head. Plead with the shooter, plead with God, blame God, blubber, sweat, sob… I’ve always hoped that I would be totally calm, at peace, and unwavering in my faith in God. With all the shootings the past month, I’ve brooded over how I would actually respond. A few weeks ago, I dreamed that it happened.
* * *
I was in a crowded, dark room, and the gunman was pacing in front of us, deliberating on who his victim would be. Suddenly, he stopped right in front of me and said, “You.” My heart was pounding as I moved slowly toward him. He grabbed my arm and yanked me around to face the crowd. Then he whispered in my ear, threatening me, giving me an ultimatum. I took a deep breath, smiled gently, and said, “God, I trust you.” A wave of exhilarating joy washed over me as I thought, my faith is real! Nothing will shake me!
The dream cut off when I woke up the next morning, and I instantly forgot the scene just playing in my head. I got up and went about my morning, thinking and feeling nothing unusual. A friend came over for breakfast, and we chatted about life. Everything was happy and as it should be when the sound of my phone echoed through the room. As I talked to the person on the other line, my friend tried not to invade my privacy but noticed as tears instantly welled up and began to spill over. My voice was very matter-of-fact and composed, contradicting the pain and fear on my face as I said “OK” a lot and thanked the woman for her call.
“What’s wrong?” my friend asked as I laid down the phone and wept.
I’ll try to explain a bit of the back-story, though it’s hard to know where to begin. It feels like my whole life has built up to this moment. I believed at an early age what Christ had done for me on the cross in paying for everything I’d ever done and will ever do. I went to church, sang all the songs, lead Bible studies, attended every possible mission trip, and God was real to me – but very much in a box where I had no intimacy with Him.
When I got to college, my cognitive faith did little to cushion the transition, and the depression which crept in my senior year in high school took over my world in full force. I quickly found a church and desperately tried to find God in my pain, emptiness, and self-hate. I begged Him to take away the chasm in my soul, but heard no answer. I began to question His promises, His goodness and love, His very existence. Was my faith even real? Was I believing a lie?
* * *
He finally broke through my walls of fear, sorrow, and defeat one night at the Passion Conference my sophomore year in college. He told me simply that He was mine and I was His, and He loved me more deeply than I could imagine. He also gave me the simplest and most powerful gift: hope. He helped me believe He hadn’t abandoned me, and that I wasn’t going to stay stuck forever, which was my greatest fear.
Over the next four years, my ravaged trust in my Savior slowly healed and began to grow again, and I finally discovered what trusting God truly felt like. He showed me later that while seeing my suffering was painful for Him, too, heartache was the only thing that would strip me down and bring me back to ground zero. From there, He and I could explore the depths of my soul, bringing healing and freedom where there once were chains. He gently and patiently rebuilt my faith entirely anew without the legalism which once stood in the way of a relationship with Him.
But still I wondered… Nothing horrific has ever happened to me, so what would I do if it did?
My mom had a heart attack when I was little and my dad had a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung). Both brushed hands with death – but both survived. I’ve also lost two extended family members to cancer, but no immediate family. So I just couldn’t be sure. If I were to lose my health, a parent, a sibling, my husband…? Would my faith survive such a beating? I’ve always hoped and prayed so. But you never know until you get there, and you’re faced with that much fear and grief.
* * *
A few days before that phone call, I had gone to the gynecologist for my yearly check-up. I let her know my husband was my first, but he had been sexually active before our relationship. She performed the normal tests, and told me she would call with the results in the next week or two. I left, and it barely crossed my mind again over the next week and a half.
When she called Friday morning, she went straight to the point. My results had been abnormal, and confirmed that I have human papillomavirus (HPV).
Through a haze of fear and shock, I heard her explain how the immune system fights HPV like any other virus, and destroys it in about two years for most healthy people. But occasionally, it can turn into cancer for both men and women. There is no treatment for the virus, only the reactions it causes. She assured me it wouldn’t be dangerous since we caught it early and could monitor everything carefully.
I had known for a long time that getting HPV was a possibility, as 50% of sexually active Americans have it. Ben (my husband) had gotten tested for everything, but there is no test for HPV for men. I was really anxious when he laid out the possibility, but my worries waned soon after marriage. Now, all of a sudden, I had to face the reality: my husband and I have an STD.
As I cried on the phone, I listened to what she was saying, trying to process everything, trying not to break down completely. The fear and sorrow pressed down like an avalanche on my heart, and I felt I could barely breathe. The conversation didn’t seem real. I realize that having a gun to your head can be more life threatening, but the intensity of the emotional trauma can seem just as crushing. My life, my health, my marriage as I knew it was at risk in a split second, and I had no idea what came next.
Suddenly, something deep within my soul silently cried out, “God I TRUST you! No matter what happens, no matter where this leads, I trust you, I trust you, I trust you!!” Instantly Jesus reminded me of my dream from the night before, where I had declared the very same words. Peace slowly trickled in through the shock as He reassured me that even with the proverbial gun to my head, my faith would not give out, and He would not let go.
I don’t have to be afraid. I needn’t fear the collapse of my world! Come what may, HE would be my Fortress and my Deliverer.
Over the next few days, I was attacked by fear, shame, anger, resentment, and grief by turns.
With each jab at my faith and marriage, I resisted. Hope surged through me as my God and I fought in the spiritual war waging for my soul. Ben and I prayed often and earnestly, not allowing lies to gain any ground in our hearts. Fear hits us most often, causing us to dwell on the terrifying possibilities. Anything could happen, or nothing. We might not even see a single symptom our entire lives. It’s just the “what if” dangling before our eyes that we must face and defeat.
I admit, we don’t have a debilitating disease at this point. There are FAR worse things I could have heard on that phone call. But I’m not afraid anymore. I do not doubt that God will bring me through to the other side, even when I fail and fall, even if my health or my husband is taken from me. I have a hope that is secure, which may flicker in the storm but will never go out. Psalms 62:2 is my mantra – God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Oh, and for anyone wondering why I would share such a private, vulnerable, and culturally “shameful” story? This is for anyone else going through something similar or worse.
No one ever talks about STD’s in the Christian world, so I want you to know: You’re not alone. You aren’t dirty, worthless, or tainted.
You aren’t damaged goods. Your purity has not been lost. You don’t have to be afraid or ashamed. You don’t have to hide what you’re going through. We are clean, forgiven, and loved because of what Christ did on the cross. He took that shame, and we no longer bear it! “There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus!!” (Romans 8:1). Any shame that others see in it is not our reality. Any shame found in it is dead and removed from us.
God is still good, even when our circumstances are horrible. He still loves us so deeply and desperately, even when we run straight to sin and fall flat on our faces. Anything less than this is a lie, and that’s the truth.
And friend, He will never let go. Even, no especially, when the gun is at your head.
NOTE: If you have not been tested for HPV, please do so if you are able. Even if you’ve only had oral sex! Most local clinics offer testing for free or very cheap if you do not have health insurance. There are vaccinations available to prevent HPV; ask your doctor to tell you more about your options so that you are informed! There are no HPV tests for men, as the woman in a dating or married relationship, it’s important that you get tested.
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