The Hidden Joys of Pandemic Plan-B

The global pandemic has forced nearly everyone to Plan B as vacations, family get-togethers, theme parks, movies, beach outings, ball games, camps, vacation bible schools, swimming parties, travel to grandparents’ homes/farms/ranches have been canceled. Parents are dealing with restless children, financial insecurities, joblessness and uncertainties about schooling in the fall. College and High school grads sacrificed formal graduation exercises and other students were denied closure to their school year. Colleges and schools are struggling with social distancing teaching styles this fall. Life has switched from a fun roller coaster to a stopped merry go round. Other events such as surgery, a death, move, job change, etc. can also catapult radical changes into Plan B. Is there any way to put a positive spin on a disruptive Plan B?

I’ll dip back to 1967 when our family experienced a pandemic of sorts 53 years ago when we moved North from Texas. The reason was a joyful one after Jim graduated from Seminary and we accepted the call to pastor a mission-church. Jim and I had flown up for the weekend a month earlier to meet with the pastor-search committee. Even though the move was an answer to prayer, Jim and I and our children 5, 8, 10 and 11 were facing a total change.

Packed into a station wagon, the six of us excitedly traveled to Pennsylvania in the middle of August. We enjoyed the trip, sang songs and played car-games. The children were fascinated by the several long tunnels through the mountainous turnpike. The roads were narrow and hilly. The farm lands were beautiful and the tall trees were a delightful sight for this Yankee.

The sponsoring church in Virginia provided a 3-bedroom parsonage located in a lovely suburban area 20 minutes outside York. They also rented the VFW hall in downtown York for the 50 members and was responsible for most of our salary. We slept on sleeping bags that night to meet the moving truck early the next day. The kids thought that was more fun than Jim and I did.  Several ladies from the mission provided food for the day, but we were on our own, otherwise. After the movers put furniture in appropriate rooms and Jim hooked up the appliances, we began the emotional exercise of sorting through which boxes would go in which room. The house also had a basement where many things belonged. We were not use to stairs.

Everything was different— catawampus (everything out of order) describes the situation perfectly. We had never had so much room and missed air-conditioning. Saturday, August 12 was very, very warm. We located what we each would need to go to church the next morning. Starting over with new job, friends and places was mind-boggling. Cultural shock had begun.

Sunday, August 13, we found our way to the VFW Hall. The children were shocked when they toured the huge building which didn’t look or feel anything like a church. The basement still had booths and bars. The 3rd floor would eventually become the church nursery.  As the children met the kids at church, they soon experienced being teased for their accent by the crisp speaking northerners. I felt sorry for Jim having to preach twice that day after such a long trip and fractured Saturday.  But he was calm, friendly and poised as he always was. The day went well.

As we began to get acquainted, our new congregants wanted to discuss food and language differences.  We soon learned that we were in the cross hairs of Pennsylvania Deutsch Country where they ate pan Haus, hog maw, and potpie and the majority of members from the South who came here on job transfers, wanted barbecue, pinto beans, fried okra and black eyes peas, while I am comfortable with green beans, potatoes and meatloaf.  We found the Duetsch/Amish very amusing, especially “the coffee is all”, which means, the coffee is all gone. Or “leave it with me for a while”, meaning I’ll take care of it, and “outen the light” means turn the light off, or “throw me down the stairs my hat” is a speaking style we hear ourselves using. Jobs brought many members who were looking for a familiar church.  Wonderful, caring people.

The kids wanted to ride their bikes but the narrow, hilly streets were not conducive to riding. Ten-year-old David wanted to run, jump, be outside and find something to climb on.

Julia Beth was content with her dolls; Kay found her books and five-year-old Roger was happy with a tire pump and the dirt pile next door where a new home was being built. They missed their friends and room to play ball. School would not begin for a month.

Jim and I put our thinking caps on to find ways to improve Plan B which was bound to be a constant for the time.  We had little money so had to come up with “free recreation”.  A place with slides, swings, teeter totters and climbing bars. And hopefully some rocks and a ball field.

We launched a plan to visit all the city and surrounding area parks, the kids agreed that was a good idea. For the next several days we packed picnic lunches and Jim with a map in hand began the park tour. We’d take an informal vote after the visit. We usually stopped for ice cream on the way home. David and Roger particularly liked the parks that had water where they could skip rocks. We finally visited the one that still remains our favorite, Sam Lewis State Park overlooking the Susquehanna River. We could picnic, hike, fly kites, climb on the rock pile, and play soft ball on the kids’ ball diamond.

We had fun playing on a slippery slide on a perfect hill in the back yard especially in such hot, humid weather. We had no TV so we read books and played board games. The children were pleased with our first purchase of a swing set with swing, teeter totter and monkey bars.

But there was lots of church work for Jim and me. We discovered that the girl who had been doing the secretarial work for the mission quit, so I had to step in immediately.  Our excursions to the parks became limited, so we selected Saturday mornings for breakfast in the park. Jim took over cooking bacon and scrambled eggs. Always a hit.  Once in a while we would fry pancakes. ‘Wasn’t long before we were inviting friends to join us for the breakfast outings.  Rather than being a downer, Plan B turned out to be a cherished memory maker. In a nut shell this is how I’ve recounted the hidden joys of the 1967 family pandemic:

1.    Provided extra family time playing and working together for solutions.

2.    The unusual importance of little things like slippery slides and skipping rocks.

3.    The special bonding with our children as we shared the ministry in a new place.

4.    Exampling for the children the sustaining grace of God during a time of enormous change which kept us calm and focused.

5.    Our family’s launching of warm relationships in the church we pastored for 34 years.

Now, back to the current Plan-B. In March of 2020, when Covid shackled all of us with Plan-B, Jim’s life was being snuffed out by bully brain tumors which presented our family with an additional plan-B life style disruption. The loss of my mate has undoubtedly rearranged my lifestyle. I’m endeavoring to capture a new rhythm on the way to a re-invented Plan A.

You can do that too. God understands the adjustment-demands of any disruptive Plan B.

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid…for I myself will help you,” declares, the Lord… Isa. 41:13 (NLT)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7 (NIV)

For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you… Jer. 29:11-23.

Lord God, you tell us in your word that when we ask for wisdom, you will grant it.  And since we have a great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, we can approach your throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Give us more wisdom and understanding in relationships, decisions, and interactions. We want to trust you as we move forward with our re-invented Plan A.