One week before the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in our school district, I made a list of all the pantry- and freezer-friendly foods I could think of and dragged my family to the grocery store. That day, we filled two grocery carts to the brim and spent more money than I’d like to recall on dried beans and canned tomatoes, sacks of flour and boxes of cereal.
At first, I was relieved and satisfied. I’m not usually the kind of girl who stocks up; I refuse to join Costco, and I have a special happy dance for using up all the food in my fridge, save condiments. But this time I had gone out on a limb. I had prepared my family for the possibility of being quarantined in our homes. It wouldn’t be pretty, but we wouldn’t starve.
The next day, I remembered that our laundry detergent was half used up, and I decided we couldn’t live without extra frozen vegetables and ground turkey (I am a vegetarian), and I dragged my daughters back to the store.
I repeated that pattern every single day for the whole week. I developed two faces, one that laughed with her friends over the phone about how I had gone off the deep end, and another much more fearful one who was still shoving more and more pantry “staples” into her laundry room. I was now the proud owner of enough peanut butter to choke a horse. (But in my defense, I only bought one pack of toilet paper.)
I’m not prescient. I hardly ever even read the news—and given my reaction to learning a highly contagious virus is circling ever closer, you can probably guess why: I tend to panic. I find myself filled with absolute dread every time I learn about a new, horrible thing one of my fellow humans has said or done. My fragile heart can’t see a way toward holiness and joy when I am aware of all the hurt and destruction that cycles through, day in and day out. So I pretend to be a turtle and hide myself away.
I am grateful to the friends who make this possible by pointedly sharing the things I absolutely have to know. Like the fact that a deadly virus is sweeping the globe.
Now that it’s here, I can’t look away. Now, closing my eyes feels just as scary as keeping them open.
I had to slam my freezer shut and lean on it hard to keep it closed. I couldn’t stop looking up listicles about vegetables with long shelf lives. But I didn’t want anyone else to know I had turned into a closet doomsday prepper, so I cautiously kept sending my son to school. He started going to a very small private school a few months ago, and I didn’t want to interrupt his new routine unless I had to.
But I wish I had prepared him for the way fear spreads—just like a virus. One kid fills up, and before you know it, the entire playground is full of small children who are worried about becoming orphans.
“Mom?” my son began calmly as we drove away from school.
“Yes, buddy,” I called to the back seat, navigating around a narrow turn on the two-lane road toward home.
“I’m kind of worried about the coronavirus.”
“Oh! Why’s that?” My mind immediately began racing. How can I reassure him? How can I calm his heart?
I’m ashamed to admit it, but Scripture never once entered my mind. I employed a strategy of deny, deny, deny. I got so wrapped up in taking care of this virus situation myself, I forgot I have a Father in Heaven who loves me and my son and every single other human literally more than life. Literally. As in, He died rather than leave us in a broken and wretched state. And then He’s so powerful that He didn’t even stay dead. If He loves me that much and has that much power…He’s a secure place to let go of my fears.
But I wasn’t thinking about God when my son said, “I’m not so much worried for me, because I heard that kids aren’t getting sick. But I heard old people are, so what if you and Daddy get sick and die?”
Oof. Also, ouch. Did he just lump me in with the elderly and infirm?
I proceeded to refute his fears, telling him we were going to be just fine, and we are strong, and he has nothing to worry about. He realized he would probably go live with cousins if we die, and decided he would get to play all the Mario Odyssey he wants at their house, and by then he was too busy talking about Mario to worry about anything else.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our county: 3.
The governor decided all schools in our state should close for two weeks.
We ran out of fresh fruit.
My husband started talking about buying a decibel meter to measure the thunderous noise our children produce constantly.
Earlier this year, I resolved to memorize 52 new Bible verses—one for each week in 2020. Here we are, halfway through March, and I’ve memorized only one.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26, NIV)
I need this verse on repeat. I also have a few other pertinent verses drifting through my mind. Like the one where Jesus proclaims, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV, emphasis added.)
I love the encouragement to have a heart for God at all times—a heart that trusts. I want to tuck myself under the shadow of God’s wings and refuse to be anxious. God is not surprised by this virus nor any other kind of pandemic, from violence to greed to apathy. He is not surprised and He is not defeated.
I want to fill my children up with more than food. I want to fill them with the knowledge that the God of the universe knows our needs. He may not provide in the ways we expect, we of little faith and fragile bodies, but He is not absent.
I don’t know whether my family will get sick, or if we are already on the clock, incubating an illness that will bounce around inside our walls for weeks. But I do know what I want my kids to remember from this outbreak: I want them to remember that we trusted God in uncertain times, that we talked about Him diligently when we sat in our house and when we lay down and when we rose, that we believed He is our Redeemer forever.
Melissa Hogarty lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three very loud and silly children. She believes deeply in the power of reading and the love of Christ. She loves to bake, sing loudly, and make her own home décor. She blogs about food, faith, and family over at Savored Grace, and you can also find her on Instagram.