lessons from egypt

kathyescobar church stuff, healing, spiritual formation, women in ministry 34 Comments

well, i went back to egypt yesterday.  it was a wild experience and i thought i’d share it since it reminded me of just how much things can change in a given 2 1/2 years.  yeah, yesterday i went back to my old church.  i hadn’t set foot in the door since early 2006.  when the door kicked me on the butt back then we made a conscious and healthy decision not to ever go back.  i know so many who got the crap beat out of them but still go there because they love the music & the programs for their kids & the show. i respect everyone’s personal decisions, but i think we have to be careful not to be direct participants in perpetuating unhealthy systems and ensuring they will never change.  i really have had no reason to set foot in the door until now.  a month ago one of the best, most dedicated & devoted volunteers in all of that church’s history died, and yesterday was her memorial service.  when i was on staff i talked to her more than a couple of times a week. both jose & i really loved her and were able to say our goodbyes at hospice the night before she died. that night, i told her “just so you know, girl, you are the one person that would get me back in that building!”  i knew she wouldn’t care if i went or not, but in my heart i knew i needed to put my craziness aside and honor her life & that somehow, someway, i’d get a bit of mine back, too. 

so yesterday after a new haircut & a cute outfit (couldn’t quite lose 20 pounds in 24 hours!) i held my head up high and walked willingly back to egypt.  i had my dear refuge peeps with me, watching my back and worrying about me.  really, i was fine.  during one piece of the service i did have a bizarre 30 second stint where the only words reverberating in my head were “i hate this church, i hate this church, i hate this church.” but thankfully it passed and i moved into some weird space of thankfulness. 

thankfulness that i had been there. thankfulness that i was no longer there. thankfulness for some really beautiful people i met while i was there. thankfulness that i am still friends with those people & that we are still in the trenches together.  thankfulness that i have a husband who navigated that craziness with me and my experience there shifted our marriage in ways that changed the course of our history together.  thankfulness that it was there that i became more clear than ever on what i believe about the kingdom of God.  thankfulness that God plucked me out (even when that’s not what it felt like) and rescued me & brought me to a place where my dreams wouldn’t be just dreams anymore. 

and i was reminded that i really, truly have left this particular egypt.  when i was there, it didn’t feel like i was in slavery. i actually really loved so many parts of it, it’s just that my eyes slowly became opened and i realized there were shackles on my neck & i really was just a person to do the work that needed to be done.  i know that was no one’s intention, but i really truly believe when we are honest, that is how these kinds of systems get by.  yeah, it’s much easier to mistreat a slave than a sister or brother.   

God’s relationship with the israelites has always gotten under my skin.  and trust me, i never, ever dis the israelites. i am so them!  i see miracles one day and the next day i whine and complain that he never delivers the goods.  i want to listen & trust & go where he’s asking me to go, but lots of times i am stiff-necked & prideful & scared.  i want to take each new step toward the promised land & new things but in my dark insecure times i miss the predictability & sureness of egypt. 

there was something about yesterday that made me look back & reflect on the beautiful and painful lessons i learned from egypt:

my time there shaped who i am today.  even though i would like to think i’d believe the things i do now without my time there, i have to honestly admit that’s not true.  without that season, there’s absolutely no way i’d be as passionate and crazy about the things that now are such an integral part of my faith experience.  the positive & the negative moments all mixed together cemented something in my heart that i will now always carry with me. plus, it was there that i got my legs and risked more than i had ever been willing to risk before.  

predictability is easier than mystery.  i understand clearly why the israelites wanted to go back to egypt. the predictability in so many ways really does help.  a known system.  a known program.  a known formula.  damn, there are days that i miss that (although i must say, they are much fewer & farther between, yeah!)  the mystery, the fluidity, the experimenting, it is requires so much more trust in God and when it’s all said and done, trusting in God and not man is brutal. 

i have developed a strong aversion to unhealthy power that probably won’t ever go away.  i don’t believe christ-followers are supposed to be addicted to power. i don’t believe in perpetuating power-laden systems that create hero-worship and an “us-them” culture. i don’t think that gifts & talents are supposed to be controlled by a few chosen people who happen to get a paycheck from the church.  i think that true leadership comes from below, that the last will be first and the first will be last.  the church was always supposed to be about relationship instead of structure, love instead of control, freedom instead of bondage, mercy instead of sacrifice.

God loves to redeem.  we just never quite know what twists & turns are part of our faith journey.  leaning into it is so difficult, especially when there is pain & woundedness there, but when i take a step back and look at the bigger, crazy story i am in awe of how God manages to take the weirdest & most messed up thing & somehow redeem it.   it’s why i love isaiah 61. i really do believe that God brings beauty from ashes, peace can come from despair & our grief and mourning can over time become gladness.

bottom line, we all have our egypts.  they are different for everyone and i think we’re supposed to recognize them for what they are–a piece of our story that was part of shaping us into who we are.  i am thankful for this egypt.  i am glad i went back and am pretty sure i won’t be going back again anytime soon. my eyes are set forward. and every part of me is thankful for the sweetness of freedom.