Pink Toilet Paper & Falafel Shack

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed,” Psalms 46:1-2

When I was a child, I was under the impression that my grandparents were wealthy.  I came to this conclusion based on two factors: coffee cake and toilet paper.  I often spent Saturday mornings with my grandmother, going to the hair salon, eating lunch at a diner and shopping at the local Piggly Wiggly.  While grocery shopping, my grandmother would take a gander at the bakery and buy a glazed cinnamon coffee cake.  My eight-year-old mind couldn’t believe that she was buying such a delectable treat in such a casual manner.  I really thought this purchase should be celebrated with songs and explosions of glitter!  Didn’t she realize that she was buying “ambrosia” fit for mythological Greek heroes?  She then went to the paper section of the store and purchased multiple rolls of blue, pink and mint green toilet paper.  Again, I was stunned!  I, being a mere mortal, was forced to use only white toilet paper at my house!  I was also stupefied, knowing that she already had rolls and rolls of toilet paper stashed in her master bathroom!  Yet, she nonchalantly added these to her already ample rainbow stash.  The Walter Family legend is that, when my grandmother passed away in 2008, we found rolls of colored toilet paper in her house, even though they had not been manufactured in color for years!

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been thinking about my grandmother’s toilet paper stash.  She definitely would have been ahead of the panic, able to share rolls with her family and friends in need.  It is hard to imagine that, just a few weeks ago, I was at Target taking advantage of their sale by stocking up on items I typically purchase, including toilet paper, unaware of what was about to transpire.  I have to admit, this pandemic took me by surprise. I knew that there was some concern about a “virus in China”, but didn’t think it would affect my daily living.  Even some of my friends, who are healthcare professionals, didn’t seem overly concerned, which added to my detachment.

Everything changed in a manner of days.  Schools, including my daughter’s college, started closing along with major event cancellations.  Last Saturday, as I tried to do my usual grocery shopping, I was shocked to find no meat in the cases, bread shelves wiped out, and limited pasta choices.  Yet, I still managed to find most items on my list.  My concern heightened when I started seeing online that grocery stores across the country were empty.  Monday, I sent my daughter to our local butcher shop only to find their case void of all meat, except steak.  The Pennsylvania governor later recommended that all non-essential business close, including my gym.  Additionally, as everyone knows, the president has recommended that we limit social gatherings to no more than ten people for the next two weeks.  This “virus in China” was suddenly far more significant than it had been the week before.  I felt an urge to pray for our nation, our leaders, our healthcare professionals and those infected with the virus.

I know that a lot of people are experiencing fear, panic and anxiety in the midst of this situation.  There are so many unknowns and most of our lives have been affected in one way or another.  As a Christian, I am choosing to abide in some scriptures that encourage me and keep me balanced in this crisis.  Some scriptures that I find reassuring are 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love and of a sound mind”, along with the entire 46th chapter of Psalms.  I am also choosing to respect the recommendations of our leaders and not criticize their decisions.  We have to remember, that none of them have ever led during a pandemic crisis, including our president, governor, mayor and pastor.  We should support them and pray that they make wise decisions that best serve their constituents.

I know that some of the measures are a major inconvenience to most of us.  In many ways it is forcing us to simplify our lives and prioritize our needs.  Yet, as a Christian, I need to ask myself, what is my responsibility during this pandemic?  How can I still be a beacon of light in my community?  How can I encourage others who are stressed and panicking?  Here are some of the conclusions I have drawn, I hope you find these encouraging.

The best hummus in the world!!

1.  I need to check on my neighbors and loved ones to see how they are doing.  I have made an effort each day to knock on a few doors in my neighborhood, letting them know I am praying for them and asking if they have their needed supplies.  I don’t have a lot, but I can share at least a roll of toilet paper.

2.  I need to support my local church in prayer and finances while encouraging my church family.  Even if we are “socially distancing” ourselves, we can encourage one another through phone calls, texts, letters and social media.  I need to find creative ways to be connected.  As a Sunday school teacher, I am putting together some lesson papers for my students to do at home, sending them out via mail.

3.  I can be a responsible consumer and not add to the panic.  I don’t need to stockpile six months’ worth of food.  Instead, I have chosen to buy just a little extra and be creative in my meal planning.  I am reminded of the bank panic scene in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, when a woman told George Bailey she only needed $17.50 to tide her over.  She took what she needed to get by and no more.  I am choosing to do that.  Ultimately, God is my provider.

4.  I need to support local businesses whenever possible.  Many of these small businesses can’t survive an extended period of time without customers.  My family loves a local restaurant in Chambersburg called Falafel Shack.  We intend to patronize them along with our favorite coffee shop, Denim, during this pandemic.  I can help my community by supporting others in their moment of crisis.

5.  I can encourage others who are being forced to home-educate during this period of time.  This is an area where I have some expertise, having home-educated my own children for fourteen years.  When I see parents frustrated and discouraged, I can send them a message of encouragement.  If needed, I am willing to give any counsel or advice on how to organize their days.  Please, feel free to private message me if you have any questions.

6.  I need to embrace this time of simplicity.  It’s a time when I can focus on writing my book, read great books, catch up on some podcasts, play games with my family, and find different ways to stay healthy.  God has given me this space for a reason, and I need to be industrious and creative with it.

If I sound a little cavalier during this pandemic, it is not my intention.  Although my family has not faced any significant difficulties as of yet, we are facing losses.  We have worked hard producing an Easter Drama in our church that has been postponed.  We were also supposed to visit my son and my sweet daughter-in-law next week.  My heart is sad because it looks like travel might not be the best decision, right now.

The reality is that we are all facing some losses.  Yet, in the course of history, we are still a blessed people.  Recently, I started reading “Pioneers” by David McCullough.  It seemed fortuitous that I started this book last week.  Reading about the hardships of our pioneers in comparison to what I am experiencing during this pandemic is illuminating.  One particular family left their home to settle in the Ohio territory.  Along the way, they buried two of their children, suffered additional health crises, and faced danger from the elements.  Along with other Ohio settlers, they practiced “social distancing” on a regular basis, not having the option to interact through technology with the family and friends they left behind.  Yet, despite these challenges, they made choices to pursue their goals by adapting to new situations.  These were not extraordinary people whose names made it into our history books.  They were ordinary people living their lives, dealing with adversity and making the best of hard times.  I have no intention of making a name for myself as a great survivor of the COVID-19 crisis.  Instead, I need to be an ordinary person living my life.

Daffodils, Decluttering and Miss Piggy

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.” Virgil A. Kraft

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

This week, the smell of spring flooded my senses as I took a walk in my neighborhood.  It was the smell of the rich brown earth awakening while new growth tried desperately to peek through.  Not only could I smell spring, but I could see small buds appearing on bushes, chirping birds flying in trees and daffodils peeping through the dirt.  While the sun was shining down, I instantly felt a bounce in my step, soaking in the signs of spring, breathing in the fragrant air.

Sunday School Art Work

Spring always delights me.  I love to see the world awaken from winter, the drab gray of earth’s landscape replaced with succulent green verdure.  I love to see tulips, daffodils and hyacinths blanket yards, nodding their heads to the sun.  I am enchanted with the music of the birds as they sing to each other, building nests and starting families.

As the earth is awakening from its slumber, I feel a need to declutter my home.  I take a long, hard look at all my stuff and attempt evaluate whether it is something I need or something I love.  Some of this stuff might be books that I read years ago, but no longer capture my interest.  Other items might be kitchen gadgets that have remained untouched for the last year, crowding my cupboards and drawers.  Still other items might be beloved objects that are broken.  They sit in a corner of a closet, with me secretly wishing they were still whole and beautiful.  Whatever the reasons, I make decisions resulting in parting with the items that are no longer beautiful or useful.  The items then find a new home, leaving my house forever.  At the end of the process I feel a weight has been lifted and a burden gone.

It seems so easy to declutter my home, but much more difficult to declutter my mind of habits and ways of thinking that take up space, hindering me in my walk with God.  These thoughts and habits race through my mind, crowding out thoughts that can bring me new life.  They can halt creativity or be a doorway for bitterness to develop.  Some of these thoughts can be deeply rooted patterns of thinking that don’t reflect God’s word and principles, keeping me from reaching my potential.

Photo Credit: Margaret Collins

This decluttering of the mind might seem a little philosophical to you, but let me make it a little more practical with you by sharing with you some of the examples that I have been wrestling with in my own mind.  One of the thoughts that has plagued me since first grade is that I am not an artistic person.  My art teacher, an old-school thinker, had definite ideas of what colors things should be.  I have always been drawn to vivid colors, hoping to brighten my world by adding splashes of color to objects like tree bark and houses.  She persistently critiqued my choice of colors and chided me on my techniques.  I felt defeated in art, never feeling like my art work measured up.  I have carried this with me into adulthood, forcing me to rely on others to help me carry out my creative vision for projects such as decorating my Sunday school room.

This past Christmas, I shared with my husband my desire to attempt drawing again.  He believed in me and bought me artist quality colored pencils and a sketch book.  Weekly, I have tried to spend time working on my skills, creating little pieces of art.  I am by no means saying that I have uncovered a talent that matches Michelangelo.  I would not even put myself in the same category of some of my dear friends.  Yet, I have found sketching to be relaxing and fulfilling.  I even managed to sketch some silhouettes for my Sunday school class.  Granted, my cows looked a little more like sheep, but overall, the items were better than just recognizable.

Skinny and Fat Cow Silhouettes for Sunday School

Another area cluttering my mind is more personal and relates to my self-image.  I have lost a considerable amount of weight, equal to a whole person.  Yet, for decades, I was the biggest person in the room, taking up the most space, trying to match the space with a big personality.  Although I have lost a lot of weight, I still perceive myself as the morbidly obese woman of a year and half ago.  I still find myself gravitating toward the plus-size clothing sections in stores, dismayed when the items are too big on me and even more reluctant to try on large or even extra-large.  I look in the mirror and don’t see the new me because I’m still burdened by this imaginary weight that no longer exists.  This imaginary weight represents negative messages I received from stepfather, who remarked how the ground shook when I walked into the room, or who compared me to Miss Piggy and followed it with pig sounds.  These messages clung to the fat that enclosed my body.  As I shed the fat, I need to shed those thoughts with scriptures from the Bible that remind me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I need to memorize verses that remind me that even at my heaviest, God saw me as worthwhile, a person of value.

Every spring, my mother-in-law would assign Terry the dreaded chore of cleaning the thatch in the yard.  Terry would spend hours raking the dead grass into piles and bagging it up.  The clearing of the thatch seemed pointless to a ten-year-old boy, but his mom knew that removing the thatch would allow fresh green grass to carpet the yard.  In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us, “be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  The Greek word “anakainosis”, translated as “renewing”, can also be translated as “renovation” or “a complete change for the better”.  I need to rake up the thatch in my mind, to make room for thoughts that validate God’s presence in my life.

Photo Credit: Margaret Collins

Recently, Terry bought me a beautiful journal, decorated with florals and the word “Thrive” on the cover.  I have decided to use this journal for both goal-setting and reflections on cleaning up the clutter in my mind.  When I find myself burdened with thoughts that don’t reflect God’s word, I am going to write down what the proper perspective should be, and fill the page with  corresponding scriptures and prayers to help me renew my mind.  Just like getting rid of items in my house that are no longer useful or beautiful, I need to get rid of thoughts that are not helping grow in God.  In essence, I need to focus on Godly thoughts that help me “Thrive”!

Algebra II and Compassion

“And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, ” Mark 6:34

This past week, a friend of mine lost her sixteen-year-old niece in a car accident.  I didn’t know the niece or her parents, but I do know a few people who loved and cherished her.  I was struck by how the body of Christ immediately rallied around this family, providing support in the midst of a terrible tragedy.  Immediately, a meal train was set up through the end of April.  A “Go Fund Me” page was started, raising almost $15,000 in a matter of days, not necessarily for funeral expenses, but for whatever the family needed to help them through this tragedy.  In addition, this family was covered in prayer from all over.

I recognize that neither meals nor money will ever lessen the immense grief this family is experiencing.  No casserole dinner would ever soothe my intense heartache if my daughter was the one who had died.  That family would likely give all the money in the world to have their daughter back with them.  Yet, the meals and the money will give this family the time and freedom to work through their grief without having to worry about the mundane things of life.  Instead, they can focus on supporting one another, grieving, and moving toward healing.

This is a beautiful picture of the body of Christ in action: a group of believers coming together to offer whatever is needed to support one another.  They aren’t hesitating, or counting the cost, or evaluating if this is too much, but instead sacrificing time and resources to minister to a hurting family.  It isn’t just feeling compassion, but putting compassion into action!

In the Gospels, the Bible records five times where Jesus was moved by compassion to minister to others.  He didn’t just say, “I feel terrible for that man with the lame foot.”  He didn’t mutter to himself, “It’s awful how that person struggles with blindness.”  Instead, even when exhausted, he acted upon his compassion by healing and ministering to those in need.  Later, in John 21:25, it records that “there are also many other things Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”  I like to visualize scriptures.  Having been to the Library of Congress, I always envision that every book filling the shelves in that grand building records just a small amount of the miracles Jesus did in his short ministry.  Can you imagine the amount of books it would take to record all the miracles he has done since then?  It’s staggering!

To be completely honest, I don’t always act upon my feelings of compassion.  Too often, I say, “That’s terrible, I’ll pray for you.”  Then I offer a short cursory prayer and move on.  Or I think about doing something more tangible, but after evaluating the time and the cost, I provide only the bare minimum of support.  Even worse, I sometimes feel prompted to do something simple, yet neglect to follow through with the activity.

This past summer, I failed, once again, to act upon my feelings of compassion.  I was chatting with my uncle about an Algebra II teacher we both had had.  This teacher, Mr. Roeber, was famous for his mantra, “There are only three certain things in life: death, taxes, and Algebra II assignments.”  He was an excellent teacher who treated students fairly, did his best to explain hard concepts effectively, and challenged you to do your best.  Personally, for one month, he took the time to tutor me for half an hour before school in order to help me be successful in his class.  As much as imaginary numbers eluded me, he helped me understand how to use them and apply them in mathematical formulas.  This tutoring helped me not only pass the class, but to pass it with a “B”.  After the conversation with my uncle, I felt prompted to send Mr. Roeber a thank-you card.  I took a picture of his address in the phone book with the goal in mind to send a card when I returned home.

Then I forgot…. until my sister sent me a message that Mr. Roeber had passed away this past December.  I felt terrible and knew that there was no way to resolve the situation, but send an online condolence.  Somehow, this didn’t seem to rectify the situation.  The reality is that the card wouldn’t have cost me much, just a few dollars and time.  Yet, I let the cares of my life take precedence over a momentary moment of compassion.  I could justify it by saying that he might not have remembered me knowing he had a lot of Algebra II students over the course of his teaching career.  On the flipside, maybe that card would have given him just a few moments of satisfaction knowing he had made a difference in the life of one of his students.

I will never know because I didn’t act upon my compassion.  This may seem insignificant to many, but to me it was a warning.  I felt the Lord had admonished me by saying, “What if I had forgotten to show you compassion in your times of need?”  I knew that I needed to repent.  Repentance seems like such an ugly, old fashioned word, but the reality is when we violate God’s principles, we need to tell God we are sorry for this violation and resolve, with His help, to do better.

Some of my resolutions have included making sure I respond immediately in those moments of compassion.  Sometimes, it is a simple act of sending a text encouraging someone.  Other times, it is taking a few moments to write and send a card.  Still other times, it is making time in my schedule to proactively think about ways I can minister to someone in need.

I also determined to make sure that I have the tools needed to carry out my acts of compassion.  I have a stack of blank cards that can be used to write a short note of encouragement to someone.  I also make sure I have stamps available.  I keep staples in my pantry, so that if needed, I can quickly put a meal together for someone in need.  I also am keeping a prayer journal, containing names of people and situations, so that I can spend some quality time lifting up those needs in prayer.

I’ve been blessed by others with many acts of compassion, but, more importantly, I have been comforted by God in times of need.  He has given me peace and hope, and healed me of various heartaches.  He has used others to minister to me with cards, meals, visits and, in some cases, anonymous financial blessings.  In 2 Corinthians 2:3-4, Paul says, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.  Who comforteth us in all tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” If God takes the time to orchestrate acts of compassion in my life, the least I can do is follow through with ministering to others when I am moved by compassion. And prayerfully, I will no longer have phone calls that leave me with regrets.