The Story Behind The Photo: HIV and Choosing Truth Instead of Fear

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Holt adoptive mom Jennifer shares about how HIV isn’t a huge deal in their family — it is just one of the “scars” that God has taken and used to write a beautiful story for their perfectly-imperfect family. 

You know those typical social media pictures? Pictures of supposedly perfect families, in perfect places, and looking perfectly happy. Those pictures that, when posted, can make life look so much better than reality. In this picture, my own family is sitting in my favorite spot of our house (my back porch). It shows the seven people I love most looking like the happy family that we are (most of the time). But in truth, we are very far from what the world would describe as perfect.

When I see this picture, I see so much more than the surface level thoughts that could cross most people’s minds when they see it. I know the heartbreak, I know the pain, I know the scars, I know the challenges, and I know the struggles behind all eight of those smiling faces. We are not at all perfect as defined by the world.

I believe that every person is born with a purpose and every person has a story. I also believe that every single one of us is broken and has pain, trauma or illness that has left us with scars. Some of our scars are visible for others to see, and some are hidden deep within our minds and our hearts. It was when one of my best friends had surgery to remove her thyroid cancer, and was left with an usually huge scar across her neck, that I had an epiphany. As she tried her hardest to cover up that scar, I found myself telling her to let that scar shine. It was a symbol of what she had survived. It had become a beautiful part of her story — a story of survival, strength and so much more. Ever since then, I knew I wanted to be real and open about our scars. I no longer see them as something to hide, but instead a beautiful piece of our redemption story.

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There is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear. 1 John 4:18

One of the scars that our family bears is that one of us is HIV+. While I assume that this scar sounds like the biggest obstacle we could face, it is not. The truth is that it is one of the most manageable things we deal with in our little family of eight. A doctor’s visit every three months and taking twice-daily medication are the essentials to surviving this virus. What truly makes this scar as big as it is in our family is, amazingly, the stigma. It is not what the virus does internally or how it impacts our lifestyle (which is so minimal), but instead the response of others that can make that scar go from being a little sliver to something much bigger than it should be.

But like I encouraged my friend, we are not going to hide that scar. Because of this, we have gotten a taste of the pain of rejection and discrimination. We have lost some friendships and felt the awkwardness when others shrink back in fear. And that has left a scar on not just one of us, but on all of us.

But we will not let the opinions of others influence or change what we know to be true. And the truth of the matter is that there is no guilt, no shame, no fear and nothing bad about being born with, and living with, HIV.

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In reality, it is a very manageable condition that doesn’t need to impact, or cause fear in, anyone else. There is nothing to be fearful of. As long as this child of mine takes the necessary precautions in taking her medication every day, uses universal precautions with blood and practices safe sex when she is married, then the disease will be well controlled and won’t spread. She can get married without fear of spreading the disease to her husband. She can get pregnant and give birth to a child without passing along the HIV in her blood. She can live an extremely healthy, full life — just like everyone else. And that is just straight up truth.

The truth will set you free. John 8:32

The scars we bear, including the scar of HIV, are not ugly or scary to me. They are a beautiful part of the story that God has written for our family. HIV is a scar because it does bring with it some pain and challenges, but it’s a scar that can also bear witness to healing. And from this healing comes great strength, which is the beautiful, redemptive piece of all of this.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is exactly what we are! 1 John 3:1

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There is not enough room here for me to share all of the strength, growth and even joy that our family has experienced as we’ve embraced and clung to the truth about living with HIV. I can look at this picture of our family sitting on my back porch, know the true story, and still see the perfect family for me. But it is not a perfect family as the world would see it. It is my family — full of eight broken people who are immersed in the love of God. This is a love that does not fear or shrink back from the truth. A love that doesn’t discriminate against past mistakes, how others view us, our daily struggles, our health conditions or the gazillion other scars that we may have. I see this little family of mine as full of scars AND full of His perfect love that helps to strengthen us as we focus on truth.

Jennifer | Holt adoptive mom

learn help advocate

One Reply to “The Story Behind The Photo: HIV and Choosing Truth Instead of Fear”

  1. Your family is beautiful! We met on our trip to adopt our daughter. Your son and my daughter shared a room in the orphanage. I was encouraged by your strength and ability to overcome fear and support one another. I’m sorry you have faced unnecessary rejection and discrimination. You are a strong amazing mother. All the best to you and your family.
    ~Corie

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