By Norris Burkes 20 March 2020

Having just returned from a 10-day trip to Honduras, I hopped in my car to search for the budding prize of this COVID-19 pandemic – a package of 48 Double Roll Ultra Plush Bath Tissue.

The shelves were bare in four different stores, so I stopped at a chic downtown market known for their grand deli sandwiches. They were out of stock too, so I comforted myself by ordering a ham and turkey on a chibota bun.  

While I waited for my sandwich, I pushed my cart through the aisles, grabbing impulse buys like a 16-ounce can of chili, some canned tuna, and a bag of chocolate-covered popcorn.

“Man,” I thought, “No wonder I’m craving a jumbo roll of Ultra Plush.”

That thought led me to make a quick stop in the store’s restroom. Inside, I flipped the light switch and assumed my position in front of the toilet. 

Suddenly, my eyes fell upon six rolls of 4-ply sitting on the toilet tank. They weren’t the double rolls I sought, but they still looked luxurious.  

As I zipped up, only one question came to mind –Could I fit a roll into my coat pocket?

I picked up the roll and wondered how obvious it might appear in the snug fit of my L.L.Bean jacket.

It just might work.

“No!” screamed a voice in my head. I’m never sure if the voice belongs to God or Mrs. Chaplain.

Nevertheless, I slammed the roll back on the pile. “You’re not that guy! Have some respect for yourself, will ya?” 

I left the bathroom and pushed my cart toward the checkout.

“Hey,” I whispered to the balding clerk near my age. “You really need to secure your lavatory. There’s a stack of toilet paper in there calling my name.”

“What?” he said, perhaps wondering if I’d wandered into the store from the behavioral health facility a few blocks away.

I explained how I’d been looking all day for toilet paper but had found none. 

“Your shelves are bare too.” I said. “But just now, I find a pile in your restroom. I had to fight off the temptation to snag a roll.”  

He looked me over but found no suspicious bulge. 

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m not that guy.”

He slid my apples onto the scale without looking up again.

“At least not today,” he said.

I shot a blank stare, so he repeated it, “At least not today, right?”

“Right,” I smiled, “At least today I’m not…”

He volunteered my ending, “a shoplifter.”


As I carried my bag to the car, I worked to remind myself who I am today.

For the moment, for today, I’m the guy who writes a spirituality column, encouraging hundreds of readers to keep the faith, not to give up, but to live out their faith in everyday life.

At least today, I choose to remain the hospice chaplain guy, daring to sit in the silence and unfairness of life.

For the time being, I decided I will remain the dad, husband and grandpa who will love and hold his family ever more tightly through this crisis.

I’m the very imperfect follower of a Jewish carpenter whose words from Mathew 6:34 are beautifully paraphrased in Eugene Patterson’s work, The Message: “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

In these uncharted days, many of us have become “worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.”  

But our faith calls us to give our entire attention to what God is doing right now. So for at least today, I encourage you to remain the person God has called you to be, that man or woman who chooses to let God “help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

And guess what? I went home to find that Mrs. Chaplain had tucked six big double rolls into our bathroom cabinet. Maybe it was her voice I heard after all.


Contact Norris at or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.