grief week: it starts with denial

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 17 Comments

denial chalkboard

well, exactly a year ago i said i was going to do a one week series called “grief week”, centered on the 5 stages of grief that can be part of church and life losses alike. then a friend from the refuge died suddenly in a tragic accident and i decided to start my summer blog-break early.  it’s been quite a year since then. the refuge moved into our new home (it’s been amazing, exactly what we had hoped and are in the process of raising our year 2 rent right now, fun fun, i’m a terrible fundraiser), i finished the manuscript for faith shift: finding your way forward when everything you believe comes apart, and graduated a son from college and another from high school. with my big kids already gone and another leaving for college next week, jose and i will be down to 2 kids in the house, for the first time in over 18 years. it’s really freaky!

the weeping has started for us, the reality that we will now have launched 3 of our children with only two more to go, and the hole my #3 is going to leave around here is a big one (he’s just so fun). we are starting to grieve. plus, i am ready for my annual summer blog break, a time when i just don’t think in blog and spend a lot less time online (i’ll be off all of july and august, there’s plenty to read around here already and always good to take a breath).

all that to say–i thought this would be a perfect week to finish up what i never really started.

so every day this week we’ll be walking through a different stage of grief, using elizabeth kubler-ross’s 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).

just a little summer fun, eh?

honestly, though, grief is the weirdest thing and most of us are always grieving something.

loss through death, loss of relationships we may or may not have wanted to end, loss of dreams, loss of our health or the health of someone close to us, loss of church or a once-certain faith, loss of jobs or security. 

it’s good to respect grief as a natural part of life.

to own its realities.

to feel what needs to be felt.

to keep moving through our losses and finding hope and relief and new life in different ways.

many of us have been told a message from our churches, our families, or own-internal-i-shouldn’t-feel-this-way-messages that grief is not okay–that we should be stronger, better, happier, more grateful and not focus on the negative.

but the truth is that avoiding grief only makes it worse.

and pretending we don’t hurt when we do only increases the likelihood of more pain later.

i will never be able to cover all of the bases on grief, but what i’ll try to share is some of what we have used during our walking wounded weekend experience, our walking wounded class, and at a grief night we hosted at the refuge as well as a night-for-those-caught-in-the-middle-of-a-horrible-church-breakdown.

so here goes, the first step of grief and one a lot of us are pretty good at–denial.

there are a lot of forms of denial–minimizing, justifying, rationalizing, rejecting, ignoring, pretending. 

but when it comes down to it, denial often helps us initially cope with the reality of whatever loss we are experiencing. it can be a healthy protection mechanism at first. i always say “denial has its place, and then it usually outlasts its usefulness.”

denial can be a way to cope with our traumas initially. but often we can keep thinking we are “okay” when we’re really  not.  it makes me think of this silly monty python clip that we showed at our walking wounded gathering a few years ago:

this is so me! i am a master at pushing through losses and struggles, getting back up and minimizing the reality of my experience because i need to “press on and keep on trucking.”  i can’t tell you the number of times i’ve exclaimed “it’s just a flesh wound” when so much more was going on underneath.

the result of remaining in denial: we will never get to the other side of our pain. 

a good way to begin to address our denial is to consider ways we might be minimizing, justifying, rationalizing, rejecting, ignoring, or pretending we don’t hurt when we really do.

here’s a few prompts we used at a denial station.  ours was centered on church loss but i added a few other options here.

take a few minutes and reflect on ways you used denial to cope with whatever your loss is (a person, church, faith, relationship, dream, job, health).  

how did you (or are you) minimize the pain, stuff the pain, find ways to cope?

some possibilities to get you going might include:

    • “itʼs not that bad”
    • “i should get over it”
    • “i drank a lot”
    • “i told everyone i was okay when i wasn’t”
    • “i worked harder”

we had a chalkboard to write on in real life, but since we’re not all together, maybe we can share in the comments. what are yours? 

please, be kind to yourself. denial is a way of coping with the reality of the pain.

tomorrow we’ll look at the next stage, anger. 

i’ll end with this reminder, from elizabeth kubler-ross: “the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. these persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. beautiful people do not just happen.” 

i know so many of you have been or are in the midst of some really weird & hard & painful losses.

you are all really beautiful.

“never say never”

kathyescobar ex good christian women, faith shifts, just because i thought it was fun, mommydom, synchroblog 27 Comments

if you could turn back time

june’s synchroblog is centered on “if i could tell myself one thing.”  what advice we would give ourselves if we could go back 20 years? what do we know now that we wish we knew then? what is one thing that would have been helpful to consider? come back and check out the link list that i’ll post later tonight or tomorrow.

when i first saw the topic, i thought of a few off the top of my head: “don’t take yourself so seriously”, “who gives a %($*!&!&! what people think of you,” “take more naps,” “be kind to yourself” and “whatever you do, don’t read the latest and greatest parenting magazines, they will just make you feel bad.”

but the one that rose to the top and stuck with me the most, especially this week with all 5 of my kids home from college and life is “never say never.”

“never say never.”

oh goodness gracious, way back when i said “i would never…we would never…” all the time. 

20 years ago i was so certain i’d never….

send my kids to public school

work full-time while the kids were still home

let my kids watch this TV show or go to that movie or read certain books

let my kids celebrate halloween

feed my family cereal for dinner on a regular basis

scream and yell at my husband like a crazy-out-of-control-and-obviously-not-following-God’s-ways person

expose our family to “the world”

question anything-about-the-Bible

not support the work of focus on the family and the family research council

vote for a democrat

stop listening only to Christian music

be uncertain at all about what i believed

yep, that was me a long time ago. i know it’s hard to believe now, but it’s true.  i used to be in a much different place.

it makes me laugh when i look back. but my husband and i were sincere; we really truly believed that if we did some of these things, we’d be making a grave mistake and our kids and faith would potentially be ruined.

if there was one thing i regret it’s just that we were so afraid.

but at the same time, i also respect it was part of our story and a season of our faith that had its good and bad like pretty much everything else in life.

but 22 years into parenting, 24 years into marriage, and a whole lot of years into a weird and wild faith, trust me, i don’t say “never” anymore. 

what word(s) of advice would you give to your 20-year-ago self? i’d love to hear what comes to mind.


ps: our “an evangelical and a progressive walk into the same church…” conversation was so fun.  here are a few pix and reflections from facebook. 

here is the link list to other bloggers looking back 20 years and offering their insights:


when father’s day is hard

kathyescobar healing, relationships 8 Comments

when father's day is hard

well here we are, our next big weird holiday that is great for all kinds of people and really hard for many others. i think at this point i will have covered all of the holidays except for valentine’s day–christmas, mother’s day, easter (for faith shifters). this year, father’s day snuck up on us and we have been buried with kids and sports and summer and refuge and work, but i didn’t want this day to go by without taking a pause and remembering that it’s not all bbq’s and picnics and happy-go-lucky-celebrations on father’s day for all kinds of different reasons.

if you’ve got a good daddy and can celebrate today, enjoy! it’s a gift.  

but for those of you in a different place, i just wanted to acknowledge the reality of this day.

this father’s day, there are so many out here who…

are grieving the loss of their fathers–it might have been years ago or just recently, but the hole they leave can never be filled.

are grieving the loss of a child–the ache is always there, but its reality magnifies on this day.

have children of all ages who are hurting and struggling and believe if “i had just been a better father back then” things would be better for their kids.

wish they were able to have children but haven’t been able to and are constantly faced with that reality.

long for a dad who is present and available and caring and protecting but received a much different kind.

never knew their father but always wondered what he might have been like and why he didn’t stay.  

dream of a different kind of father for their children.

dream of a different kind of father for themselves.

remain stuck with ex-husbands and ex-wives and partners who fail to take care of their babies properly and make life hard.

or remain connected to ex-husbands and ex-wives and  partners who might be really great, but this holiday is a reminder of the loss of marriages and dreams.

were taught a really damaging theology about God and are unwinding from beliefs that included God the father who was constantly mad, disapproving, and harsh. 

wonder what it would be like to hear the words “well done”, “i’m proud of you”, “i’m with you all the way”, “i believe in you” from their fathers.

believe we’re less-than because other kids and friends have fathers-who-care and we don’t.

ache for a hug, a smile, a laugh, a push on the swing, a kind word, a tender touch from their dads–again, or maybe for the first time.

like some of these other holidays, this day is sometimes a day of grief.

i pray you can let yourself feel what you need to feel.  that you can remember you’re not crazy, and the loss of a father–no matter what that loss looks like–always hurts. 

that you acknowledge God and real-life can get all tangled up and sometimes we need a little help untangling it. 

this father’s day, i am always reminded how daddy love is so important and sometimes so elusive. it’s also why community can be so important;  some of us desperately need safe surrogate fathers & brothers & sons to help heal brokenness in our lives and restore some of what’s been lost along the way.  it can never fully replace what’s been lost, but sometimes it really helps.

may hope and peace seep in today in some small unexpected way.

love from colorado, kathy

third way practices.

kathyescobar church stuff, crazy making, faith shifts, fundamentalism, incarnational, jesus is cool, leadership, the refuge 28 Comments

the third way verb

once in a while i click on a facebook link that i sort of know i shouldn’t read but do anyway (you know that feeling?) and yeah, i usually end up groaning.  sure enough, i clicked on the “there’s no third way” post by al mohler, who agrees with tony jones that when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage there’s no third way for the christians.  their premise is that people are going to have to choose. churches are going to have to split.  people are going to have to draw their lines in the sand to hold their convictions and advocate for their own sense of biblical justice–even though they are opposing views of it.

the whole thing feels really nuts to me but i recognize the attraction of having things just one way or the other. the first or the second ways, fight or flee–are easiest, cleanest, most efficient.  they make the most sense on a practical level.  battle the scriptures until you’re blue in the face. stick by your guns and make your point clear.  leave your church. be the God police.  stay with your own kind.

for me, as a full and passionate supporter of marriage equality and full inclusion for all, i know there are some who do not understand why i co-lead a church with someone who holds to a different view on same-sex marriage.  here’s why:  because he’s my friend and i can’t just flee because we disagree on this issue. we’ve fought it out and we see it differently. and it’s not just me staying with him; he’s stuck it out with me, too, when he could have run away.

yes, there’s a cost. it makes it a little trickier for both gay and straight because there’s a mix of beliefs on this at the refuge as opposed to a more purely progressive church or a more purely conservative evangelical one.  as a family the refuge met together–praying, discussing, and deciding how we would go forward on this issue; as a community we landed on a prevailing desire to allow for a space that honors theological diversity and for people to hold their individual views while upholding a collective view that our differences should be honored and valued as part of the body of Christ.

the first two ways–fighting or fleeing–is so much easier. 

it quickly solves a surface problem.  it puts us in company with people who agree with our views, no matter which side we are on.  it is comforting.  it make sense.

a long time ago when i was wrestling with why the refuge was so freaking hard all of the time, i remember a little sweeping-in-of-something-that-sure-seemed-like-the-Holy-Spirit-to-me.  it was somewhere along the lines of “if it makes sense in the world’s eyes and is easy and clean and efficient, then it probably is not the way of Jesus.”  i know that is a broad statement, but it resonated deeply and i often come back to it.  it gave me a new lens to see some of this craziness through. and i can back it up not only with biblical examples but also with real-life experience, too.

i can’t think of one thing about the kingdom of God here on earth that is easy, clean, and efficient.

that’s because we don’t learn much that way.

when it comes to the issue of diversity and the church, there is definitely a third way.

the third way is the radical, doesn’t-make-sense-sometimes way of Jesus.

the way of deeper love than only agreeing on doctrinal beliefs.

the way of relationship and friendship.

the way of non-violent communication.

the way of listening.

the way of peacemaking.

the way of sacrifice.

the way of humility.

the way of the-world-will-know-us-by-our-actions-not-our-theological-checklists.

in the spirit of practice, instead of just words, i thought i’d share a few possible third way practices that increase the likelihood of unity, not uniformity, of oneness instead of division, of peace instead of war in the church.

1. stay in the discomfort. we fight or flee to relieve our anxiety & fear & discomfort.  the third way calls us to live in the discomfort of our differences instead of opting for easy relief.

2. affirm the relationship above the beliefs. relationships are worth fighting for.  theological sameness isn’t.  i can’t tell you how much it has helped me when my friends who disagree with me say “i love you no matter what you believe.”

3. practice deeper dignified dialoguelisten to understand.  walking humbly requires humble language. take “but God says” and “the Bible says” out of these conversations and shift to more helpful language like “my view of the scriptures are…” or “i feel God’s conviction that…”  discover  more of each other’s real stories.  leave conversations “undone” and trust the long process.

4. acknowledge our diversity as a strength. diversity can be scary because it can feel threatening, but when we take a deep breath and recognize how much stronger it makes us in a deeper way, we can celebrate it.  thank each other for our differences because they make our body stronger.

5. hold onto your integrity and allow others to hold on to theirs as well.  we each have to hold onto our own personal convictions but it means we have to allow others to do that as well.  i knew that i couldn’t be part of a community that wouldn’t allow me to marry my gay friends, but i also don’t expect others to do what violates their beliefs.  we don’t compromise our integrity when we have a space for honesty and truth in the open.

6. embrace being a “learner.” this has helped me so much when i have wanted to run. embracing a “i have so much to learn” attitude is so much more helpful than “it’s all clear and i’ve got it all nailed down.” every day i am humbled by how hard it is to learn and practice so many hard things in community.  but faith and practice has always been about learning, not having-it-all-mastered.

7. avoid attempts to make any of these things easy, clean, or efficient. yeah, that’s just not possible.  i gave up trying a while ago (but yes, it still drives me crazy like so-many-ways-of-Jesus-do).

this is just a start; what would you add?

Jesus embodied a third way and calls his followers to the same.

and of course, it doesn’t make sense.

that’s why it’s the third way.


ps: i just read tonight after writing this post that rachel held evans is sharing this week on third way churches.a lot of you already read her, but if you don’t, check it out here.

and also, last week the monthly down we go column i write for sheloves magazine is up. june’s theme is “authentic” and this post is centered on showing up and telling the truthkind of fits in this conversation, too, and would love to hear your thoughts.

an evangelical and a progressive walk into a church…

kathyescobar church stuff, dreams, faith shifts, friendship, leadership, the refuge 29 Comments

unity is not uniformity

it’s been a crazy week around here with my oldest son and my second son (third child) graduating from college and high school on the same day, at the same time, in different states. we made it through, though, and it was filled with all kinds of wonderful memories. in 4 more years, jose and i will be empty nesters, wild!

it feels good to be over the hump of a crazy may, and i am getting excited for a gathering the refuge is hosting in a few weeks called “an evangelical and a progressive walk into the same church…” here are the details:

invite for an evangelical and a progressive walk into a church jpeg

the refuge is a very interesting community in more ways than i can count. among other things, my friend, co-pastor, and partner in ministry–karl wheeler–and i share different theological positions but lead together. co-pastoring is interesting enough, but add in that twist and it even makes for an even greater-need-for-God’s-help-to-keep-us-all-together. we’ve always been different, but over the past 8 years at the refuge, my faith has shifted further away from the comforts of my evangelical roots and what we both used to believe together.

at the same time, it’s been one of our greatest gifts because it also is representative of the community we are part of. at the refuge, people are all over the place in terms of socioeconomics, theological beliefs, political positions, and a host of other things that usually tend to segregate people instead of integrate them. what binds us together? a commitment to community and life together.

why am i still in?  because it is here–in this wild, weird, beautiful, tricky, irritating, challenging, uncomfortable, and oh-so-lovely-in-the-deepest-ways community–that i am learning what i would never know hanging out with people that look like me, think like me, believe like me. it’s one of the prettiest & least-likely-on-the-surface reflections of the kingdom of God Jesus spoke of that i have ever experienced.

there are more than a few times when i have wanted to throw in the towel on holding a space for this much diversity, especially theologically. it has been a stretch for karl, too. when you see issues like gay marriage differently but stay together, that is no small thing.  what does it mean to agree to disagree? what does it mean to watch your co-pastor marry a gay couple when your convictions are different but still lead together the next sunday? what does it mean to watch your co-pastor hold a position that is extremely painful for some of our friends but deserves respect because it comes from a sincere and deep conviction?

what does it mean when you see the Bible differently from the person next to you and it scares or irritates you?

what does it mean when one person’s passion is another person’s pain?

it hasn’t always been pretty.

it has touched a deep place in both of us and in many of our friends in the refuge, too. you see, it’s not just about co-pastoring. we are all in this together, wrestling with what it means to be part of the body of Christ when we see things radically differently. for some people it just has been too hard to be in a place with this much diversity, especially on core issues of theological beliefs. for others, it has been a comfort to not have to choose sides but to be able to wrestle with these difficult things in a safe place.

we are trying to be one in a world–and a church–that tells us that we should divide.

it makes me often think of Jesus’ words to his disciples in the upper room as he prepared to be crucified–”I pray that they will all be one” (john 17:21).

when i hear of churches splitting and organizations-having-to-make-difficult-ethical-choices-in-order-to-keep-taking-care-of-needy-children-around-the-world and yet another group arguing with each other online, i feel so sad because it’s so much simpler that way.

to say “if you believe this, i can’t be with you” is so much easier to say than “i see it differently, but you are my brother or sister and i want to figure out a way to stay together and choose the hard path of love alongside you.”

trust me, we don’t have all of the answers. sometimes i wonder about our future. i am up at night agonizing about how to stay true to what i believe while being open to different points of view that trip a justice wire in my soul. mostly, i am reminded how freaking hard it is for evangelicals and progressives, liberals and conservatives, bible-lovers and bible-allergics, rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old, feeling-good-about-life and struggling-to-stay-alive to live alongside together as one.

but i am seeing it up-close and i know it is possible.

the way forward is to lay down our guns.

to listen.

to let go of control.

to own our own beliefs and let others own theirs.

to pray like crazy for the Holy Spirit to show us the way.

to put relationship above doctrine.

to let our shared brokenness bind us together  instead of our list of doctrinal beliefs.  

to walk the hard road of true unity and not surface uniformity.

to practice being peacemakers in the sense of cultivating shalom & wholeness not the unhealthy people-pleasing kind.

to stay open to what we can learn from our differences.

to laugh more and try-to-prove-our-point less.

to remember that Christ’s love can bind us all together in unity. 

to close, i thought i’d share the refuge’s “invitation to community” that we read at the beginning of all of our weekend gatherings together. it was formed out of some really hard conversations last year about these differences and has brought us together in a way that has helped us take a breath and remember what we’re trying to do here.

we’ll read it at the beginning of our june 11th gathering, too, along with the guidelines for dignified dialogue.

so what happens when an evangelical and a progressive walk into a church? 

they can be invited into community together…

The Refuge's Invitation to Community

The Refuge is a mission center and Christian community dedicated to helping hurting and hungry people find faith, hope, and dignity alongside each other.

We love to throw parties, tell stories, find hope, and practice the ways of Jesus as best we can.

We’re all hurt or hungry in our own ways.

We’re at different places on our journey but we share a guiding story, a sweeping epic drama called The Bible.

We find faith as we follow Jesus and share a willingness to honestly wrestle with God and our questions and doubts.

We find dignity as God’s image-bearers and strive to call out that dignity in one another.

We all receive, we all give.

We are old, young, poor, rich, conservative, liberals, single, married, gay, straight, evangelicals, progressives, over-educated, undereducated, certain, doubting, hurting, thriving. 

Yet Christ’s love binds our differences together in unity.

At The Refuge, everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.