bargaining: the what if’s and if only’s

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 12 Comments

bargaining chalkboardwe’re on day 3 of grief week and i have appreciated the comments & emails & thoughts that this has stirred up in different ways.  if you are just joining us, we started with denial.  then yesterday was a look into anger.  today, we move into the third stage that is part of any grieving process-bargaining.

this is the stage–and one we often come back to in our healing (remember grief is not linear)–where we look back with regret and wonder:

what if i had…

if only i had…

what if i had done this differently or that differently?  

God, i’ll do this if you’ll do that…

we replay all kinds of things in our head and want to rewind and do and say things differently.

it takes us back to a desire to be the ones who somehow made the loss not-a-loss, as if we had total control of it in the first place.

easter of 2013 one of our dear refuge friends took her life. suicide sucks on every angle, but there has been no way for the thought not to cross my mind & heart over the past year–what if i had picked her up on that snowy day? what if i had read through the lines of her phone call more accurately? what if we had the perfect safety plan post-hospital stay? elizabeth kubler-ross says that “guilt is often bargaining’s companion. the if only’s cause us to find fault in ourselves and we ‘think’ we could have done differently.”

bargaining was also a  huge piece of grief when i was healing from my past abortion. i had a crazy thought in my mind that somehow i could “pay back” what i had done by working harder, giving my all to God, doing-almost-anything-possible-to-make-up-for-the-loss.  yeah, it didn’t go too well, but i see it now as part of the process.  i needed to reckon with my guilt as part of the process and part of that was making crazy pacts with God and myself that didn’t help but was just part of my healing in the end.  none of these “okay, God, i promise i’ll..” or “if only i had…” set me free. over time i discovered my best hope was to allow myself to feel the magnitude of the loss, accept forgiveness, and move forward.

when it comes to church grief, oh goodness gracious do i have so many scenarios playing in my head about what i could have done, should have done, would have done differently.  the what if’s and the if only’s were consuming for a long time and still, after all these years, i sometimes still can’t believe it all happened and come up with the “why didn’t i?” that takes a little bit of time to cycle through.

as you think about the bargaining stage (there are many more eloquent and more-pure-to-the-textbook descriptions of bargaining to check out), reflect on your what ifʼs and if onlyʼs related to your loss, no matter what that loss is.  i added some that are about the other party & God, too, because i think they are things we think a lot during grief.

what are some ways you’d finish these sentences?

what if i had….

what if God had…

if only i had….

if only they had…

i wish i had..

maybe i can…..and then…

when we did this exercise at some of our stations, we used a sandtray. i thought i’d put one here just as an example to consider what you might write on it.

when youʼre ready, write whatever words or phrases come to mind related to this in the sand tray. 

sand tray help with frame

when youʼre done, imagine raking it as an act of remembering that these ways that we bargain are a natural part of the grieving process and arenʼt permanent or written in stone.

peace and hope to you as you process through some of your what if’s and if only’s as you grieve your own unique losses of people & dreams & church & health & life-as-you-knew-it.

they aren’t dumb or crazy. they are real and our best hope is to be honest about them.

tomorrow we are on the 4th movement in grief with the oh-so-fun stage of depression.

grief week: anger

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 13 Comments

anger chalkboard

it’s grief week around here, and there are a few things i wanted to mention as we continue through the 5 stages of grief for these 5 days:

1. in life, these stages take months & years and are messy & weird. 5 little blog posts about them can minimize this reality and i wanted to make sure and highlight that.

2. while these 5 stages are widely associated with grief, there are other aspects of grief and loss that don’t fit directly into these categories.

3. like most everything else in life, they are not linear. there can be a progression but real life looks much more like circling back, skipping over and coming-back-around-to, and cycling through these stages in different ways over time.

we started yesterday with the first stage of denial. the second stage is one that i think can be the hardest for those of us who were either taught that anger was a sin in our churches or that it was unacceptable in our families.

anger is a confusing emotion for a lot of us; it can be scary to feel such big mad feelings, wrong somehow.

but anger is a core emotion that’s part of grief.

8+ years ago when i was crawling on the floor after my church drama-trauma, i remember being the maddest i had ever been in my life. i was mad at the church system, i was mad at the people that hurt me, i was mad at God-for-letting-so-much-dysfunction-prevail-in-the-church, i was mad at myself for trusting them and giving myself and family over to something that tossed me aside without even blinking.

a few months into grieving the loss of church-and-faith-as-i-knew-it, a friend asked me “when are you going to stop being so angry? i’m really worried you are just going to become bitter.”  i then proceeded to go completely nuts and yelled, “this is the first time in my entire life i have let myself be angry. ask me this question in a year because i am not going to stuff these feelings down and pretend anymore!”  oh, i was a mess.  and i was exactly where i needed to be at that time.  my typical m.o. was to button everything up, put on a happy face, and make nice when i was hurting.  to let myself really be that pissed off was one of the most healing and important choices i have made in my spiritual journey.

i discovered God could handle it.

i discovered true friends could handle it.

i discovered i could handle it.

there are certain losses and pains that deserve anger. losing people, losing relationships, losing jobs, losing faith, losing dreams, losing hope hurts. 

and when we try to stuff it down, make it all okay, pray-our-way-out-of-it-in-a-snap, in the end we don’t get to the other side.  that’s actually when bitterness slips in.

do i mean that we get to hurt people in our anger or spew all over the place all of the time? no, that’s not a good idea and we have to consider the right places and spaces to express it.

but anger must be acknowledged, felt and embraced as part of grief. 

the Bible does not say “do not ever be angry.” it says “in your anger, do not sin.”

we have to be willing to feel our anger, even though it’s scary. the more we feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more we will heal.

also, there are many other emotions under the anger–fear, rejection, shame, resentment–and over time it is good to identify what’s going on underneath. i had all 4 of those going on in full force–fear, rejection, shame, and resentment.  it helped to recognize them as primary emotions underneath the anger.

if we were all together in my living room or at the refuge, there are all kinds of good things we could do to express some of our anger.  at walking wounded live, we had a plate-throwing station outside with a huge target.  at the end of the day, every single plate was broken.  at some of our grief and church baggage nights we have had paper shredders and nails and wood and chewing gum to express it viscerally.

one simple exercise i did at a faith shift night at a local ministry was just to write down what we were mad about and then tear that paper into little teeny bits.  it’s amazing how good that ripping can feel.

what are you really angry about related to your loss(es)? don’t try to justify anything or add disclaimers on, just get in touch with “i am so angry that..”

  • is it easy or hard for you to express this anger?
  • what are some other emotions underneath it? fear, rejection, shame, resentment, or ?
  • how are you expressing it?

i have no idea if you can find a way to do something physical with it, but if you can, try.  there’s nothing like a big piece of wood and a bunch of nails to bang into it. or a punching bag. or a friend who can sit and listen to you vent and vent and vent and not edit a thing.

if it helps to vent some here, feel free.

tomorrow the fun continues (goodness gracious, what was i thinking on this for a summertime series?) with bargaining.

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