More Wormwood than Honey
by Shawn McEvoy, Crosswalk.com Managing Editor
My son, give attention to my wisdom, Incline your ear to my understanding; That you may observe discretion And your lips may reserve knowledge. For the lips of an adulteress drip honey And smoother than oil is her speech; But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, Her steps take hold of Sheol.
For about 20 hours late in 1998, I had AIDS.
I was a month from getting married. My wife-to-be had saved herself for me, and as such, she had a request: that I, who had regrettably failed to remain chaste in my youth, get tested for HIV before we exchanged vows. Happily I agreed.
The nurse who drew my blood told me one thing several times: "We can't call everyone back, so we will only contact you in the event of a positive test. No news is good news." Fair enough.
A week later, on a Friday afternoon, I returned home from work and checked my voice mail. One message. "Mr. McEvoy, this is Nurse Jones from the Farmville Clinic. I'll need to talk to you very soon, but I am leaving for the weekend. I will attempt to contact you again on Monday."
My mind raced. The first thought was, "No way on earth I can wait all weekend to talk to her!" Talk about torture. That was followed with most of my past catching up to me. What had I done? Could I still get married? Even if Valerie still wanted me as a husband, would we ever be able to be intimate? Who would I have to contact from the past? Was I going to die?
Val's apartment was two floors up from mine. I called her, she came right down, and I told her the news. "Surely not...," she said encouragingly, but we both had to admit that the nurse had made it completely clear that I would only hear from her if... if it were a positive test. What else could it be? I spoke to my parents, who put up a strong front for me but I would later learn sat over their pizza staring blankly at each other and muttering, "No... Shawn can't have AIDS..."
That night, as you might imagine, I didn't sleep. All I could think about was my total need for deliverance. I'd long before now dealt with my sin and sought forgiveness - from God, and from my fiance. But here was a very real, very possible, very damaging consequence staring me in the face. Had it been worth it? What could we do? Valerie was prepared to give me her everything in marriage; what was I giving her? I prayed, I read the Bible, I sweat, I couldn't eat.
Valerie is a woman of action. She certainly wasn't going to wait several more days to learn our fate. On Saturday afternoon, she finally tracked down my nurse at another clinic, and got her on the phone.
The woman was chuckling.
"Mr. McEvoy? I didn't scare you too much did I? I just need to ask you a question, because you tested positive for syphilis."
"Great," I said to myself in my morbid way. "I'm not gonna die, I just have VD. Swell."
"Did you happen to be ill at the time your blood was drawn?" asked the nurse. "Or shortly thereafter?"
"Uh... yes! Two days later I developed an awful cold. Why?"
"Ah. Okay. Well, that explains it. You were on your way to that cold when you got tested. It happens. It's called a biologic false-positive. Nothing to worry about, I just needed to make sure. Sorry again to worry you. Best wishes on your marriage!"
Hallelujah. I fell to my knees.
Release. Freedom. Tears. Praise. Hugs. And then Valerie saying, "I'm gonna kill that nurse!"
But we both knew she wasn't the one to blame. My poor choices from so long ago had brought us to that hellish night, and now, I had been given a new lease. Appropriately, the next morning as I drove to church, Shania Twain was on the radio singing, "From this Moment." I knew this would serve as a milemarker for me the rest of my life - the time I learned how damaging and fearfully consuming sin could be, and just how far Christ had gone to separate me from what I deserved.
In college, while studying to be a youth minister, I had once written a sermon for a class assignment based on Proverbs 5 and "the adulteress." I had used an illustration about NBA player Magic Johnson contracting HIV, and spoke of "the mingled taste of honey and wormwood." The professor liked it, writing, "I hope you get the chance to preach this one day" in the margins.
I still have never preached it, but I did indeed live it. The words of wisdom are true.
And yet, everything about our culture tells us otherwise right now. I even had a Christian friend - during a very rough time in his life and marriage - tell me several times that he was convinced that God's rules on purity are "a crock." His logic was that he knew several friends, me included, who had foregone abstinence prior to marriage, but they were now in very happy, sexually satisfying marriages. He, meanwhile, had remained a virgin, and yet here he was in a miserable and sexually unsatisfying marriage. Therefore, his logic went, the rules were messed up, and did not apply. Never mind the concepts of grace and forgiveness, or the laws of cause-and-effect, apparently.
He was hurting, so I never quite told him how his take personally pained me for reasons I've already shared. (His logic was flawed, but he had hit on something we unwittingly mis-teach our youth: that abstinence carries a 'guarantee' of marital sexual satisfaction. It does not). Now that he's in a healthy place spiritually and emotionally, we have talked about it, and he once again knows the reasons God has for the rules He's laid out for us for our own good and His purposes.
Do you? I'm nobody's ideal role model, and neither am I - by grace of God - anyone's cautionary tale. But I do know the gift my wife gave to me. I know the damage I did to other men who, I can safely say, would have really rather I had respected them by respecting their future wives. I know that any temporary unbiblical gratification in life is not only not worth it in the long run, it may just be tragic.
In the end she is as bitter as wormwood.
Sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death.
Choose life, abundant life.
Intersecting Faith & Life: We all mess up, whether sexually or otherwise. Have you marked the day your consequences caught up with your actions, the day you decided you would never return to travel the route you came? What has been different for you since then?