“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.
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.