I live in Texas, and we famously got rocked by a snowstorm in February of this year. We had no power, no water, for days on end. Subzero temperatures, followed by two days of snow and ice, and the whole state shut down. But, because it’s Texas, the temperature swung back up to around 70 degrees by that weekend, and a week after the snow had begun, there was no trace of the storm at all.
I heard on the news how, as the snow melted, there would be even more damage because pipes would start bursting. And they did. Even as the weather warmed, thousands of people continued not to have access to potable water. Even as things looked to be improving, The Great Thaw caused its own damage. I went on a run, and as I jogged through my neighborhood, in the bright sunshine, at every other block, water gushed out from cracks in the pavement, curbs, and the side of houses. The water department couldn’t even pretend to keep up; they just threw down a cone at every geyser, begging us to stop calling them to report the breaks. At every seam in our neighborhood, water busted through.
In the weeks since the freeze and the subsequent thaw, I’ve been thinking about the larger “thaw” happening in the world around us. In March of last year, our world as we knew it froze. We all bunkered down, changed our lives on a dime, and survived massive psychological strain, financial burden, parenting crises, and for many of us, grief on a scale we had never experienced. There was suffering. Massive suffering.
Now, as we head deeper into this summer, case numbers have plummeted, vaccinations have become available to larger and larger numbers of the public, and outdoor events have become more possible, meaning that many of us are re-opening doors that have been closed, at least since Thanksgiving, if not since last Spring.
We are thawing.
But, like in my neighborhood, the melting ice can create damage in its wake. According to a survey by the American Phycological Association, nearly 50% of Americans feel anxiety about returning to “normal” life at the end of the pandemic. That statistic is almost identical among vaccinated people. This seems to suggest the anxiety isn’t epidemiologically oriented but psychologically. While there are plenty of valid fears about the pandemic, there is also the reality that now that the ice is thawing, the cracks in the pipes are becoming apparent, and as the water flows, the damage may not be over.
What toll has a lack of socialization, the persistent anxiety, distance learning, fear of the other, and isolation taken on our ministries, the teenagers we work with, our friends and families, and on us? As our world returns to “normal,” how are we prepared to deal with the reality that we will not? That our teenagers will not? That our world will never be the same again?
And how do we care for ourselves? How do we understand that reality in our teenagers and in ourselves, and what do we do to respond to it?
The key here, like it often is, is grace.
We need to be gentle with ourselves and with everyone else as we all try to pretend we can snap back to normal. We need to be able to take our time re-entering the world and be ok if our youth and their families don’t feel up to hopping right back in all the way. We need to be ok with two steps forward and one step back and fundamentally understand that this journey forward out of the pandemic is not one back to the way things were.
In January of 2020, my team and I successfully lead the largest youth event I have ever been personally responsible for. The curriculum, the themes, the talks, the games, the volunteers, the branding, I was proud of every square inch of that retreat. This was the tenth year of the event, and it was the biggest one ever. The 11th one won’t be very big. The 12th and 13th may not be either. Part of the damage that the Great Thaw is revealing in my community is that we have to do some pretty serious work to be ok with that.
What does The Great Thaw look like in your context? What questions, struggles, anxieties have revealed themselves in your community? In your young people? In yourself? Tell us on the Women in Youth Ministry Facebook group, and find the community to help you navigate those cracks with grace.
You are doing enough, you have survived the freeze, you can handle the thaw too.