Searching for the Small Shoots

I started reading about Post Traumatic Growth in the summer of 2020, because I was feeling, well, traumatized. Rather than lament all that Covid was taking from us, I wanted to choose hope, focusing on what we had learned from pandemic deprivation and stress. Upon reflection, I see I may have been trying to do that a little bit early. How very American of me. I wanted meaning. I wanted progress. I wanted it now.

On one hand, learning about Post Traumatic Growth was a great faith impulse, as the essence of the theory looks to quantify and name what all major religions, including my own, assert: that facing trials has the potential to produce in us character, endurance and joy. Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But I wasn’t waiting in faith; I was looking for immediate evidence. It’s still probably too soon to quantify all we’ve learned, or to declare ourselves out of this period of global trauma. (I wrote about this last week as I was trying and failing to come to conclusion about how extroverted I really am and what I now need from relationships.) But at the two-year mark, I thought I’d lead us all through the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory, and check our progress. I’m pretty sure you’ll find at least seedlings of growth. Having spotted these tender shoots, we can name them and make a conscious effort not to trample them as we move towards a life that’s a little more normal. To evaluate whether and to what extent someone has achieved growth after a trauma, psychologists use a variety of self-report scales. One is the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996). It looks for positive responses in five areas:

  • Appreciation of life.

  • Relationships with others.

  • New possibilities in life.

  • Personal strength.

  • Spiritual change.

I invite you to journal through these prompts this week. I’ll share a bit of my thoughts to get you started. Do I have an increased appreciation of life? Yes! I appreciate my health, safety and access to medical care more than ever. But also, I have an increased appreciation of small pleasures. In 2020 I recommitted my heart to jigsaw puzzles, watching birds at my birdfeeders, taking long walks, spring flowers and fall leaves. Family dinners and movie nights with our legs tangled up on the ottoman were paramount. These were all wonderfully sustaining and I cling to them. I also have an increased appreciation for creativity. Not just my quilting and embroidery. But also, I found joy in doing ridiculous creative things, including an obsession with taking photos of our family Peg People (little wooden dolls I made to look like us, which I first took on a trip to Italy to stand in for us when the kids didn’t want to be in photos). Two years ago, I roped in my friend Jodi, and we had an online contest for the best fantasy spring break Peg People photos. Tune in to Instagram for a repeat this week. Have I seen growth in my relationships with others? Yes. I so appreciate anyone I’ve come out of this crisis still talking to. I managed to get a lot closer to a few key people. I went through a really hard season with one of my very dearest people and worked that out, too, thank God. I also made two new friends which is nothing short of a miracle. We spent a lot of time outside initially, talking loudly from six feet apart. That kind of sealed the deal. If you’re willing to invest in someone new under those conditions, you’ve automatically made each other feel loved and valued. I also stepped back from a few key relationships, and, harsh though it sounds, this was growth as well. We can’t keep everyone. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is let go – and that’s growth for me. Are you recognizing new possibilities in life? New possibilities in life: Well, as an event speaker, I did some pivoting during the era of social distancing. I learned to teach in front of a camera, first in my living room when the study I was filming with a live audience got shut down. And then in studio, and I ended up self-publishing two Bible study video series. But in a bigger sense, I’ve made small steps toward letting go of my timeline, something I really believed I’d surrendered when we went through secondary infertility 15 years ago. It's never easy for me to release what I "should have accomplished by now." But knowing the whole world was in a holding pattern helped. I'm hoping that this experience helps me hold on to outcomes a bit more loosely in the future. Did I grow in personal strength? As a Christian, the paradox in personal strength is that when I am weak, God steps up strong, and helps me get stronger, too. The last two years have offered multiple opportunities to surrender: my will, my understanding, my afore-stated timeline, and my emotions. I’ve come out of these last two years sober, I have learned to rely on the Holy Spirit for strength and comfort – and I no longer cope with wine. After not drinking for two years, I decided to give it a go during the first summer of the pandemic, and concluded that I’m an addict; I started going to A.A. I’ll be sober two years this July. Go me and go God. (If you want to read more on this click here.) Have I experienced spiritual change? I love that in this assessment, it doesn’t say “spiritual growth,” a phrase that can carry so much legalistic baggage. I have struggled in the last two years with my place in the church, my label as an Evangelical, the “big C” church’s response to racial tensions, political tensions and issues of social justice. For about a month I toyed with starting an online group called the Women Wrestlers, so I could find other women to talk things out with, wrestling for the blessing like Jacob did. I got too exhausted to do it. But I say to myself and to you: wrestling is good. Maybe you are wrestling with faith issues of certainty, suffering, sovereignty, or diversity of opinions within the church. Maybe you’re assessing your spiritual practices: how you gather, worship and learn – and how often and with whom. Keep at it. God delights in us when we engage in these struggles. I’m nostalgic for the first two months when Covid hit my country, because the messaging we embraced was, “We’re all in this together.” This blog is my small call to you, my precious community, to continue to choose love and unity. Weary though you may be, ask God for eyes to see what growth he is producing in the world, in the people around you, and in yourself. Choose growth and hope today, my beloveds. When we surrender, He is strong.

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