By now, you may have heard of the severe allergic reaction I suffered on Thursday, August 4. The reaction brought about intense burning and pain in my eyes. The pain began around midnight, became worse throughout the early morning hours, and simply would not go away. I was unable to open my eyes for more than three seconds at a time. I could not hold my head up. So, finally, around 4:30am I asked Lou Ann to take me to the hospital. I felt helpless riding to the hospital as I realized if we were to be in an accident of some sort, I could do nothing to assist

As I said last Sunday (8-7-2022), during worship, I am filled with gratitude towards God, Lou Ann, and the ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital emergency department staff. Of course, I overflow with thankfulness towards Dr. Benjamin Kessler as he ordered the IV with pain medication and steroids and other goodies that enabled me to walk back out of the hospital later that morning around 11:00am. However, it took everyone I encountered in our local emergency department to alleviate my suffering and put me on the mend. The nurse who first tended to me when I arrived took my blood pressure and temperature. She got the ball rolling. Then there were the medical personnel in the hospital room who put the IV in my arm. Someone else took care of the necessary paperwork. Due to the condition of my eyes, I was not able to get a good look at anyone, including the doctor. However, I felt their presence and their touch. And whoever it was exactly that administered the pain medication – thanks be to God for you!

This was a frightening experience, perhaps the most frightening of my life. I did not think I was going to die. However, I clearly did not rule death out completely as I gave Lou Ann a few “in case I die do this please” requests. During this ordeal, I tried out all sorts of theologies – the good, the bad, and the ugly. My preferred understanding of God then and now is simply to use our pain to identify with the sufferings of Jesus. God, in Christ, knows great suffering. No one escapes suffering in this life. So, whatever our pain – physical, mental, relational, financial, heartache – as Christians we should use our pain to enhance our intimacy with our God who made himself known to us through the human flesh and blood of Jesus the Christ.

As I continue to seek God in this experience, an unexpected picture comes to mind – this year’s Vacation Bible School. Vacation Bible School was exceptional. Of course, the kids were a delight. However, the adults too. My jobs, during Bible School, are to take pictures and to interact with people. It’s a good gig. I had a front row seat to all that our adult volunteers did to carry out their responsibilities – everything from decorating, to welcoming families as they arrive, to preparing meals, to teaching lessons, to taking kids from room to room, to leading activities at our newly opened green space, and everything else Vacation Bible School asks from us.

The apostle Paul tells us that we all have a part to play in the body of Christ – the church. He says it this way, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly …” (Romans 12:4-6a, see also 1 Corinthians 12). I thank God for the different gifts we all have and the different roles we all play both within the walls of the church building and outside those same walls.

It is a clear demonstration of God’s mercy upon us that we are unable to see the future. If I had known, in advance, my circumstances for the early-to-late morning hours of August 4, I would have chosen my steps differently. And while I hope never to experience anything like this again, not only did my pain grant me greater intimacy with my Savior, my pain also gave me a greater appreciation, through the superb work of the ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital emergency department staff, for the congregation I serve as pastor.

Thank you, First Baptist, for using your gifts to the glory of God and for helping our children to grow up to be like Jesus – strong and brave, full of grace and truth. You looked like a well-oiled medical team!

In Christ,

Paul R. Gilliam III