rest, sheloves, blogs, faith shifts & summer.

kathyescobar blog, down we go, ex good christian women, faith shifts, just because i thought it was fun 3 Comments

come to me all you who are weary

it’s july 1st. we just got back from dropping our #3 off at college on the east coast for his summer-start and we are tired & sad & happy & proud & missing him already.  as i mentioned last week, after a wild and full week of grief, i am going to be taking 2 months off here to rest, take a breath & regroup a bit.  for the past several years i have always taken a month off blogging but last year i realized it’s not enough and took 2.

it was so worth it.

there’s always a risk in doing it but it’s also been a consistently good decision; the world is saturated with plenty of voices & thoughts & opinions & plugged-in is our middle name. i am hooked, too, and a little sabbatical forces me to unplug, stop-thinking-in-blog, and focus on what’s right in front of me–the twins who only have 4 more summers before they graduate, the refuge and all of the beauty and hard stuff here, and my favorite season of the year, summer! we try to be lake rats all summer and enjoy the water and warmth while we can.  the above picture is a view of it at sunset (see why i love it there so much? it’s 10 minutes from our house, too).

plus, there’s plenty–and i do mean plenty–to read around here already.  6 1/2 years worth of my rambles, to be exact.

here are all of the grief week links from last week:

if you click on the past series link, there are other series i’ve done over time (my favorites are the rebuilding after deconstructing series & what could be from a long time ago) plus a top 10 posts (i need to update this but it’s in the ballpark).

i also have a new post up today at sheloves magazine called be yourself, everyone else is taken (i really do think the work of our lives is to learn to be comfortable in our own skin). it reminded me to share the list of sheloves magazine columns that i write every month, centered on down we go.  i love sheloves & their heart for justice and beauty and passion and love.  i’ve been writing for them for a long time now, and it’s always a joy.

here’s the list if you haven’t read them before:

sheloves magazine when sleeping women wake

lastly, i am really excited about all that is in store this fall with the release of faith shift: how to find your way forward when everything you believe is coming apart published by convergent books, a random house imprint. this little baby was a lot of hard work but i am so excited about what came together in the end.  a tool for spiritual refugees, church burnouts & freedom seekers, it’s filled with stories & hope & honesty about what it looks like when our once tightly held beliefs about God & church begin to shift and faith & practice as we knew it unravels.

we’re in the final stages of copyediting, etc. and the release date is october 21st.   i shared the cover on facebook a while back, but realized i never shared it here.  i love the way it turned out; here’s what it looks like (and it’s available for amazon pre-order, too):

Faith Shift

i’ll end with this little gem, one of my favorite poems that i draw back to again and again. i thought you might enjoy it, too:

the journey poem mary oliver

i will miss being here over the next 2 months, but absence always makes the heart grow fonder.  i am always grateful for this space; it’s been a gift to me.

enjoy your summer and look forward to being back september 1st for the start of a wild & crazy fall!

peace and hope, kathy

acceptance: letting go again and again

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 7 Comments

acceptance chalkboard

denial, anger, bargaining, depression.  the first four stages of grief are filled with raw and real feelings and many “i don’t knows.”  as i said earlier, these stages are so not linear and we cycle through them over and over again throughout time.  i like to think we bump into them at a difference place each time.

the last stage of grief is also one that we will revisit again and again.  acceptance is usually not a once and for all but something that we have to do again. we re-accept, we let go yet again, we forgive in a new way, we move forward again after periods of feeling like we are moving backwards.

the stage of acceptance is about accepting a new reality. it doesn’t mean forgetting the past, but it means moving forward toward the future with a new hope.

a lot of times, people want to maintain life as it was before the loss.  even if the relationship was hard, or the church situation was dysfunctional, or the job stunk, it was familiar. it was comfortable. we knew what to expect. and if the person we lost or the dream we were living was good, it makes the desire to go back and get-the-past-back even stronger.

in time, through bits and pieces of acceptance, however, we see that we cannot maintain the past intact. it has been forever changed, and we must readjust.

one of the hardest parts for me about my church grief was that i desperately wanted some of the old security back. there was something about the stability of life before a faith shift that i missed. the certainty, the structure, the belonging.  accepting that i could never get that back has not been an easy process, but 8 years out i am grateful for the past but so glad that i have moved into a new present.  celebrating what was and finding what works now  has been key for me.

finding acceptance can start as having more good days than bad days. there’s a tipping over where things begin to not feel quite so hard, there’s a tad more relief, a bit more color that comes into the grayness of the first four stages.

it can also mean beginning to make new connections, relationships, and new inter-dependencies.

acceptance is also risky, but it’s a good risk.

instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs (this is why nonviolent communication can be such a great tool)

we move.

we change.

we grow.

we evolve.

we may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives.

we may move forward to stepping into some kind of life or connection or community or dream again.

we begin to live again with new flickers of hope.

i am not sure what acceptance looks like for you, but i know for me, a lot of it has to do with forgiveness, letting go, and intention.  it has to do with honoring what was and accepting what is.  it has to do with leaning into some of the amazing words in the serenity prayer (i know some of the language will bother some of you but i try and take what i can out of it and leave the rest)

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change. courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference. living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as i would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if i surrender to Your will, so that i may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with you forever in the next. amen.”

what do you need to accept about the past that you cannot change?

what is something that you can and want to change moving forward?

when we have done this station in real life, we used rocks and candles (a refuge staple, ha ha).  i can’t recreate this here, but you can imagine it here.

pick up a rock that’s on the table. feel the weight in your hand. as you do, consider what part of your experience it’s time to let go of, release, accept.

is it a person you need to let go of or forgive (including yourself or God?)

is it a resentment it’s time to release?

when you are ready, drop the rock in the bucket as a symbol of letting go and acceptance.

rocksbucket to go with rocks

as you finish, light a candle to represent a flicker of hope, your desire for new life and light to come into some of the darkness you’ve been feeling, as a gesture toward continued acceptance.


remember, we’ll have to let go again and again and again. to keep dropping “rocks” and keep lighting “candles.”

peace and hope to all as you grieve whatever your unique loss is.  may you bravely walk toward hope, crawling when you need to, resting along the way, remembering you are not alone. you are in good company.  be gentle with yourself. trust the process.

i’ll see you next week with one last post before my summer break.  thanks for hanging in there this week! love, kathy

depression, a natural part of grief

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 2 Comments

depression chalkboard

in his book a grief observed CS lewis says this about grief:

“no one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. i am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. the same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. i keep on swallowing. at other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. there is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. i find it hard to take in what anyone says. or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. it is so uninteresting…”

there is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.

the fourth stage of grief is depression, which can look and feel like an invisible blanket between us and the world. a fog. a darkness. a thickness. a can’t-seem-to-think-clearly, a numbness, a sadness, a scary am-i-really-ever-going-to-feel-alive-again-ness.

as we’ve been walking through the stages of grief this week centered on all different losses–people, relationships, faith, church, health, dreams. we’ve touched on denial, anger, and bargaining and now come to what i think is a place that is often weaved throughout grief and isn’t at all isolated as one-stop-along-the-way

depression can often set in when we experience loss.

for some, depression can look like lament, a crying out to God and the universe for relief.

for others, it looks like silence, despair, loneliness and a deep sadness that won’t relent.

we may even feel like a loser when we feel our loss, like something is wrong with us for feeling this way.

and for others it can feel like lethargy, lack of sleep, too much sleep, or any other ways we are just not ourselves.

those who have a propensity toward depression in the first place find it even trickier when the magnitude of the loss swoops in.  and those who may not have ever experienced depression in their lives can find themselves there as reality sets in.  our world is rocked and the sadness and disorientation sets in.

it’s easy for us to feel like depression is a state to be fixed, something to snap out of as soon as possible.

but the reality is that depression is a natural part of the healing process.

like anger, if we accept its realities and let ourselves feel what needs to be felt, eventually we can come to a new place. it’s true, it can be dangerous to stay in depression too long and let it ruin the life we have in front of us.  but at the same time,  it’s important to honor it as part of healing.

there’s nothing worse than someone waiting for us to “snap out of it” when we are filled with sadness.

one way to navigate depression is to let ourselves lament.

lament is a lost art; in many current cultures (and certainly in the bible), lament is a central part of life’s rhythms. it wasn’t frowned upon as being unspiritual or not-having-faith or being dramatic. it was considered a natural part of death and mourning and loss.  men and women alike were given permission to grieve, to feel, to cry out, to weep, to wail, to retreat.

one of the reasons i love the entire book of psalms is that it is filled with cries of lament, honest stories of struggle with life and God and faith and a willingness to cry out and not hold back.

in some of the different stations we’ve done over time, we have had various prompts and ways to express the condition of our heart during this stage.  one is to write a psalm, or create a lament collage, or do-anything-possible-to-honestly-share-what-we’re-thinking-and-feeling related to our loss.

here are some prompts for a some kind of short psalm or piece for lament:

God, right now, i feel…

my heart is heavy with…

my eyes can’t see…

my ears can’t hear….

my fingers can’t touch…

i’m so sad about…

i’m weary of..

i hope that once again i can feel….

the last thing people need to hear when they are in depression is “you’ll get over it soon”, “when are you going to stop being so sad?” “it’s time to move on.” “you just need to pray more, be grateful more, be ______ more.”  like each of these other stages, we have to find our way in our own time, holding on through the dark, borrowing hope from others that somehow dawn will break through.

it makes me think of the book a grace disguised: how the soul grows through loss by jerry sittser that i read years ago when a san diego-navy friend of ours died in a tragic accident. i don’t have a copy anymore to refer to, but i remember the story of him talking about how his grief (loss of his wife and children in an accident) felt like walking in the dark across the earth. eventually, when we keep walking, we come to a place where the sun is rising.

sometimes during depression, we can’t even walk. we crawl. but eventually, light peeks through again.

tomorrow is the last post in this series: acceptance.

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.