This past week, news broke that a Mississippi pediatrician has found a “functional cure” for AIDS. When I first saw it in my Twitter feed late one night, I wasn't sure what to think.
My generation has never known a world without AIDS. The first officially recognized case in the United States occurred in 1980, and it has been a growing part of our consciousness ever since. I remember learning about it at 10 when I watched a made-for-TV movie about Ryan White
, a young teenager who eventually died after he contracted it through a blood transfusion.
But because it is a sexually transmitted disease, AIDS has also been a highly controversial one. For a long time—and even today—those infected with the virus were stigmatized and misunderstood. After all, AIDS is God’s judgment against drug use and sexual promiscuity, right?
A judgment that has often fallen on the heads of millions of innocent victims worldwide.
Because of this, no other health concern has marked my generation like the AIDS epidemic. When we think of AIDS, we don’t associate it with promiscuity alone; instead, we associate it with the 16 million orphans who have lost parents because of it; we associate it with the millions of women who have unknowingly contracted it from faithless husbands; we associate it with the current 34 million cases—of which 3.5 million of are children. We associate it with the 2 million people who will die this year alone. In response, we host benefits to raise both funds and awareness. We wear red ribbons on the first of December, and we buy coffee
in the hope that a few extra cents might just turn the tide.
So last week, when I read that Dr. Hannah Gay of the University of Mississippi Medical Center had successfully treated an infant known to have been born with HIV, I could help but think, “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for.”
And yet, as the details emerged, it got even better. For me, at least, the most surprising part of the story isn’t that someone may have finally found a cure for AIDS, it’s how it happened. For me, the significant thing is the story behind the story
—a story that only a generation steeped in irony can truly appreciate.
The funny thing about us Millennials is that despite hearts of largess toward the less fortunate, despite our desire to see peace and justice reign in society, despite our commitment to find a cure for AIDS, we are also some of the first to draw up battle lines and construct paradigms. And the wonderful thing about Dr. Hannah Gay is that she doesn’t fit any of them. The wonderful thing is that God used a person that none of us would expect in order to find the cure that we all were looking for.
We thought that the cure would come from the halls of academia, from a research scientist who finally conceived and executed the perfect experiment in the perfect petri dish. In God’s wisdom, it came from a pediatrician loving her patients well and having the guts to try something out of the ordinary.
We thought that the cure would come from the places where we had invested vast amounts of money, places of prestige and knowledge, somewhere like New York or Washington D.C. In God’s wisdom, it came from Mississippi, the state with the lowest math and science scores in the nation.
We thought that the cure couldn’t come from a person of religious values because we all know that those
kind of people are close-minded, judgmental, and don’t care for the less fortunate. In God’s wisdom, it came through the hands of a woman motivated by her faith—a conservative faith that propelled her to teach children to memorize Scripture, be an overseas missionary, and attend a church that unabashedly proclaims that Christ is the way to God.
We thought that the cure would come from someone who would dedicate themselves exclusively to their career--who if she were a woman, would have (as statistics predict
) no more than 1.67 children. In God’s wisdom, it came through the hands of a woman who is the mother of four.
And some of us thought that the cure couldn’t possible come from a mother because being a mother meant never working outside the home. In God’s wisdom, it came through the hands of working mother who worked to save the life of a child who wasn’t even her own.
The irony of Hannah Gay is that she didn’t feel compelled to leave the church to work for the good of society. The irony of Hannah Gay is that she didn’t leave her work to focus exclusively on her children. The irony of Hannah Gay is that she didn’t abandon motherhood to pursue her career. The irony of Hannah Gay is that she didn’t care about the spotlight and was simply faithful to what God had called her to do.
As human beings, we tend to live in categories, to compartmentalize ourselves, to line up behind ideologies and lob invectives against anyone who doesn’t fit our paradigm. But it is just like God to come along and knock them all down.
He slashes through our presuppositions; He destroys our established notions; He brings to nothing the wisdom of the world.
Of course, there is still a long road ahead as other men and women build on this breakthrough. It will require long hours in the laboratory; it will require more funding. As Dr. Gay said of her work recently, ‘It may take a long time, but I hope it will point us in the right direction to come up with a cure we can consistently apply to other babies worldwide."
But for this moment, while the world is basking in the hope that we might just beat this terrible disease after all, I want to bask in the wisdom of a God who uses the foolishness of men to praise Him
. I want to bask in the power of a God who works outside established paradigms. And I want to bask in the good nature of a God who might just be more ironic than the hippest hipster among us.
So here's a FABULOUS website
that I stumbled across when a friend posted it on Facebook recently (recently meaning five minutes ago). I was so struck by it that I just had to share. Jackie Brown is a woman who has combined her love of cooking, family, and community into a unique ministry based on freezer meals. Yes, freezer meals. This puts Proverbs 31:15, 20 into
a whole new light. Here's a clip about what she's up to:I am a passionate Christ follower, wife, mother, teacher, homemaker and friend to all who visit my blog. Freezer cooking is my hobby and lifesaver. It allows me to spend more time with my family of six. I love to share my experiences and photos with you as you take time to visit. I’m on a mission to glorify God through my passions-freezer cooking, writing, speaking and teaching.
What caught my attention the most is that Jackie's work
is a tremendous example of seeing the needs around you, knowing your God-given strengths, and finding a way to connect the two in your unique context. This is how is supposed to work people, and to quote the 1980's, "I love it when a plan comes together."
I’m not talking about the newer series post-1970s that’s filled with nasty bits and epic romance – my nine-year-old self was quite content with an amorphous Ned who appeared ever few chapters to escort Nancy to a seasonal BBQ or give her an occasion to wear her new taffeta party dress. And as far as violence, for me it was pretty dicey when Nancy was bound, gagged and left to starve.
No, I’m talking about that classic Nancy Drew that lived somewhere in the magical world post-high school but pre-matrimony. Old enough to drive
and travel independently, but young enough to still need her dad. And, always, regardless of the situation, mature enough to help others with grace and style
I’m not the only one who thinks so either.
In this NY Times piece
, all three women Supreme Court Justices identify Nancy as a formative literary role model. What captured them probably has less to with Nancy’s white middle-class upbringing and more to do with the essence of Nancy herself. As critic Melanie Rehak recognizes, “Nancy was courageous and independent but she never used that independence in an overtly rebellious way. Instead, she used her freedom to have adventures, but they were always in the name of doing good and serving justice.”
And that’s one reason why I’m purposefully directing my daughter to these books. (That and it gives me an excuse to re-read them myself.) I’m not vying for her to be a Supreme Court Justice one day—heaven knows we don’t need the High Court adjudicating whether or not Barbie Fairytopia is in copyright infringement of Disney’s Pixie Hollow—but I do want her to have a robust view of womanhood. I want her to know how to bake a cake for the elderly
neighbor next door and have the guts to chase away the intruder who’s trying to steal said neighbor’s family silver. I want her to be smart and kind, pretty and unpretentious, appropriate and daring. I want her to be forgiving and humble, gracious and accomplished.
All at the same time
I’ve decided that in my next life I want to be reincarnated as Nancy Drew.
Certainly I’m not conferring faith or belief on Nancy. And maybe it’s simply an example of common grace, general revelation, or the two times a day that the stopped clock is right
, but a lot that I learned about womanhood came from having Nancy Drew in one hand and my Bible in the other. And the more I read the latter, the more I’m realizing that true womanhood isn’t an either/or proposition.
More than likely, it’s both/and.
It’s women with a hammer in one hand and a baby in the other. It’s women with the wisdom to defer an angry king and the kindness to minister to the King of Kings. It’s women with strength to lead and the humility to follow. And it’s women with the grace to move in society at the very time that they are turning the world upside down.
I’m from a generation that is quick to throw off anything that we don’t deem significant whether it’s marriage, motherhood, or social propriety. But I’m also from a generation that is perilously divided and grotesquely caricatured by our private definitions of what it means to be a woman.
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere with a powder blue convertible, a twin set, and a pair of pumps. So as for me, don’t be surprised if you peek in the back of my minivan while I’m ferrying my children around town and see an overnight case packed with a change of clothes, pajamas, a toothbrush, and a bathing suit.
Just in case.
And while some might say I want her to be Nancy Drew, others would simply see hints of Proverbs 31. Surprisingly, in my experience, the two conflict less often than you’d think. One presents an image of a gracious woman, sympathetic to the needs of those around her, bravely facing danger with courage, smarts, and determination; and the other presents…. an image of a gracious woman, sympathetic to the needs of those around her, bravely facing danger with courage, smarts,
So today's two-for-one special is a book review AND and an interview with another fabulous person, Ben Freeth.
Several months ago, my husband and I watched the following documentary
about the racially-inspired violence against the white farming community of rural Zimbabwe. I have a latent interest in the issues surrounding Africa’s complicated colonial past and her progress to self-governance that first began when I read Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country
. So while it was the topic itself that initially caught my attention, when the film began exploring the protagonists’ Christian faith, I was hooked. It tells the story of Mike Campbell and his son-in-law Ben Freeth, two white African farmers and their decision to take a stand against Zimbabwe's tyrannical dictator, Robert Mugabe.
Initially I thought about simply posting a review of the film, but in the crazy working that is Providence, I ended up reviewing Ben Freeth’ s book, also titled Mugabe and the White African
and interviewing him. The Freeth and Campbell families definitely make the cut of people quietly going about their business responding to God’s call when it comes and I’m thrilled to help share the story of their courage and faith. Here's the review
and the interview.
(PS--If you hurry, you can still view the film online at POV
(Several weeks ago, I mentioned wanting to introduce you to some fabulous people I know. What I had in mind was posting interviews, and while that will happen eventually, I decided to start with this.)
She was born Hideko, but by the time I knew her, already twenty years the wife of a small town factory worker, she was simply “Aunt Heidi.” Standing not even five feet tall, she had thick raven-black hair, skin the color of golden sand, and dark eyes that always seemed to be smiling. And somehow, despite my western European ancestry, my fair skin, blue eyes, and blond hair, it never was odd to me that this woman should be my aunt.
She was simply my uncle’s wife, my aunt whose nut rolls, lady fingers, and apricot drops showed up at every family gathering from birthdays to graduations. She was my aunt who at Easter made individual plates of chocolate crosses and peanut butter cups for her nieces and nephews. She was my aunt who on Christmas Day handed out much anticipated envelopes with ten-dollar bills inside, and in her heavily accented English, wished us each a “Me-ly Chlis-a-mas.”
But before she was my aunt, she was Hideko.
Born on a small island in the Pacific, she was a toddler when WWII invaded her tropical home and turned it into a major battlefield of the war. To escape the firestorm, her family and neighbors fled to isolated caves where provisions and medical care were scarce. When she contracted an infection, there was nothing to do but move her to a separate part of the cave, administer meager doses of black-market drugs, and endure the shunning of the other refugees.
She survived and eventually the war ended. But the lush paradise she once knew had been destroyed and rebuilt and repopulated by US military bases with an ever revolving collection of American GIs. By her early twenties, she had adapted to this new normal and caught the eye of a young Marine far from his home in rural Pennsylvania. One whirlwind romance later, they were married and welcoming a daughter with the same dark eyes and black hair as her mother. Eventually he was discharged and hoping to find a quiet life as a family, they left her Pacific paradise for his home in the States
But what she found there were the wintry hills of Pennsylvania, trees stripped naked of all green life, fields of mud crusted with ice, and skies that never cleared but forever changed from gray to black to gray again. Instead of pots of rice and freshly caught fish, she found rice mixed with greasy ground meats wrapped in boiled cabbage leaves. Fish was strange frozen rectangle coated in yellow batter and plunged in hot oil. And yet, she blossomed. She soon had a son and despite her limited English, quickly learned to navigate the continuous cycle of doctor’s visits, bus schedules, PTA meetings, and after-school practices. She became a faithful member of a church, mastered the pot-luck, and saw her husband become a deacon.
All this, seven thousand miles from where she had been born.
After her death, my uncle confessed his misgivings about bringing his bride to such a foreign place. Early in their marriage, he had opened a bank account in her name and deposited $1,800 in it. He told her that if she ever found her new life too overwhelming, too lonely, or if she simply wanted to return to her family, she was to use the money and go.
She never did.
Instead she stayed and chose to be part of our family. She left her own mother, father, brothers, and sisters and embraced her husband’s mother, father, brothers, and sisters. She left her own nieces and nephews and embraced me and my cousins. She traded life on a Pacific island for life in rural America with the man she loved. Growing up, it seemed pretty unremarkable to me that Hideko was my uncle’s wife, my aunt.
Today it does not.