My mother was miserable during the last days of her life. Cancer had taken over that sweet lady’s body. I know she wanted to fight, but her feistiness was gone. She could not punch back.
Her internal instincts to survive had guided her at other stages of her life.
She had beaten back a reckless, careless father who deserted his wife and their three children in Mississippi.
At some point during the family’s transition into the Piedmont section of North Carolina, they survived a significant house fire.
A few days before Christmas in 1972, my mother and sister survived an auto accident. Most people who looked at the broadside impact on the driver’s side of the car wondered how my mother lived.
But, I will never forget when my mother had a confrontation with the shingles. She looked battered. There was a weariness about her that I had never seen. And, it is the only time in my life when she turned down a hug—to embrace her hurt her body.
Earlier in the spring when I had my annual physical, my doctor told me that I needed to get the shingles vaccine. This is now a two-shot process.
After repeated, well-intentioned reminders from the Commander Supreme, I went to my local CVS pharmacy for shot number one.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 18, I kept my appointment, signed my life away, and waited for the pharmacist to find a quiet moment to administer the shot.
The pharmacist was gentle when she poked the needle into the upper part of my left arm. I could feel a slight muscle ache as she finished up. Before releasing me, the pharmacist rattled off a list of possible side effects.
I don’t remember the pharmacist saying anything about dying in her side effects list. But by mid-morning on Wednesday, I thought I might be in the early stages of death.
My ears were boiling hot, channels of chills ran rampant through my body, pangs of pain pinged through me like a unruly pinball, and I had no energy. I thought to myself—I have got to keep moving.
I called the Commander. She was in North Carolina helping out family. The Commander reminded me that her sister, Abby, way out in California, had felt lousy after her first shingles vaccine.
Upon the advice of the Commander, I took a couple of ibuprofen, and slowly all those flu like symptoms gradually subsided. But after dinner that evening the body invaders returned for round two.
On Thursday, I had a couple of skirmishes, but overall was feeling better.
As far as I can remember, this is the first time in my adult life that I experienced a side effect from a vaccination. I want to tell you—I am really looking forward to the second shingles shot.
However, if that second shot gives me even the slightest potential of avoiding the misery my mother experienced from the shingles—I’ll take the second dose.
But the more I thought about this experience, the more I pondered side effects. We might take side effects for granted, but in truth they are all around us.
We make a decision—a side effect. We offer an opinion—a side effect. We fail to respond to a request—a side effect. We are negligent—a side effect.
Sometimes in listening to a television commercial for a powerful new drug, I also hear all of the potential side effects rattled off. My internal voice asks—with all of those risks why would a person want to take that drug?
The answer is simple—relief, and perhaps beating the odds of a life threatening condition.
Churches are not immune from side effects.
Today, in a different kind of way, churches might be looking for a powerful new drug to solve their challenges and bring relief.
Declining attendance, aging congregations, tired facilities, resistance to change, grounded in their glory days, and an inability to assess and evaluate their current circumstances create multiple side effects for churches.
In the same vein, our country isn’t much different.
What are the side effects for COVID-19, social injustice, economic divide, failing infrastructure, our inability to fix longstanding vicious cycles that rob people of basic human dignity, and our loss of civility?
Sadly, for our churches and our country—there is no wonder drug to cure our ailments.
This past week at Trinity, my church where I work, I felt like alligators were snapping at me at every corner.
People wanted this, and they wanted that, and they were counting on me to meet these requests, and they wanted them in the blink of a nano second.
The temptation to snap, to reply in a totally inappropriate manner was very present in my old brain.
But, then I started to reflect.
Rob showed up to do some grounds work.
Our door guy, Jim read my mind, knew how many keys I needed, cut them, and delivered the keys to the church.
Dennis and Ronnie worked with my risk taking related to ladders, lifts, and lights.
Nell refocused me on another church project.
A young electrician, Chad, found a way to move a thermostat.
Our ageless wonder, Joe, continued the challenging task of painting exterior railings.
And one of our high school students, Amelia, wants to return on Saturday morning to do more power washing.
Each of those people were “good” side effects. They were a counter to the alligator snapping.
If churches and America are going to make it out of this mess, we must work tirelessly and collectively to find the good in the hearts of people.
I wonder what the side effects will be for us when we let go of our divisions and find the good in the hearts of you, me, we, and us?
In truth, I believe that is our only chance.
And, I think God is impatiently waiting on us to find the good in our hearts.
He wants us to put our hearts to work.
I sense he is weary of our division and its side effects.