lessons from egypt

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.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

34 Comments

  • I can understand your egypt because today I am wandering in the desert. I can’t really understand not wanting to go back to Egypt right now. I think if “Egypt” were single and available, unfortunately I am still sick enough to want him.

    Hopefully, in the years to come I can deal with my “Egypt” and find a way to hope for something better for myself. It’s really a mystery to me why I still care when that situation didn’t bring me much joy, love, acceptance, peace, growth or happiness.

    I agree…I have difficulty with God’s relationship with Israel, and I don’t think I’ve thought I knew better than them, or Peter, or Thomas, or whoever else struggled with God, since I was a very young child.

    And I’m kind of pissed off at the moment that life seems like a bunch of heart-ache, with small moments of happiness in between.

    I’m glad you had lots of support behind you and were able to go back to a place where so many things broke your heart. And I’m glad I get to read about it, because it helps me feel better about all of my stuff (not alone out there and all…).

    Reply
  • I went back to Egypt a month ago for my dad’s memorial service. It was so weird, and I realized I’m not the same person I was then. I’m so glad you could do that and realize how far you’ve come. Wish I lived close enough to attend refuge!

    Reply
  • Pingback: the memorial service, finally. « To Be A Fool…
  • someday, i need to go back in the archives and read more of your journey.

    today, though, i just wanted to *smile*

    this may have been one of the best, if not the best piece that i have ever read from someone who has been “burnt” and went back and their reflections.

    this piece of writing is a true gold-mine of great information, reflection and wealth of wisdom and knowledge.

    i am looking forward to re-reading this after the weekend and truly reflecting on this journey.

    this may even help me process through our last church departure.

    Reply
  • That’s a great story — love this quote: “…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.”

    Interesting to think that your egypt may be someone else’s Nineveh, Babylon, or even promised land. Easy to forget as well that even egypt had been used by God — to save Israel from famine in Joseph’s time. Then they got uppity and forgot Joseph and God. Forgot as well that it was a God given vision to Pharoah that allowed them to thrive during a famine and become so powerful and successful in the first place…

    It’s hard to reconcile at times — but cool nevertheless, that God can use our unique circumstances and perspective to reach others no one else could reach.

    To quote a former pastor: “God never wastes an experience.” He can redeeem even the worst experiences if we’ll let him. And he can use them to shape us, and fuel our imaginations with unique ways to bring about his Kingdom on earth (did a little post on that earlier this week: http://blog.visionnavigator.com/2008/08/kingdom-imagination.html ).

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s great to see how God has taken something painful from your past and turned it into something new and beutiful. Looking forward to hearing more…

    Reply
  • Awesome post, Kathy. I so related to the lessons you have learned–especially the part about how Egypt shaped who you are.

    I have never gone back to my Egypt–in part because I moved out of state. (And I have a feeling that enough damage was done after we left that we would not even be welcome back.) But I do know God used that experience to shape us and teach us and train us. And over time, healing has come, and so has forgiveness.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
  • Yes, we all are wounded by those closest to us, and how deep are the wounds of our employers (who are supposed to be representatives of God but are just as human as we are). From the book ‘the Shack’ is the phrase: “it is through relationships we are wounded and relationships we are healed” (sometimes they are the same relationships!). A big piece of healing comes through forgiving from the heart. That, too, is a lesson from Egypt. Forgiving our abusers – which does NOT mean that it was okay what they did, but it does mean that we take the person off our hook and place them squarely on God’s hook to deal with their error (which, incidentally, is never quite how we’d like the person to be dealt with – but then God is also very merciful to us in our sinfulness and doesn’t deal with us the way we deserve to be dealt with either). A piece of this journey is to learn to trust that God truly has your best interests at heart and that He will make all things right, so you can forgive that hurt and unshackle yourself from the chains that keep you connected to your hurt. Forgiveness is about benefiting us and putting salve on our wounded hearts and not for the benefit of the other person who hurt us.

    Reply
  • hey kath, i’m glad we were both in egypt at the same time. in many ways, it was a great time. i believe, too, that God places us there. there is always a life lesson in the places He put us. i’m glad i could go back to egypt, yesterday, to see how it really was. not how i used to think of it a few years back nor how i have perceived it in this last season. but how it really is. that said, i’m on my way to the promised land God has for me. i don’t feel like i’ll ever has to look back at this particular egypt, again. glad we could travel back there, together, and thrilled that we can journey to the promised land daily.

    Reply
  • Kathy, I’m just so proud of you! Proud that you went there when you needed to and didn’t let fear keep your away. Proud that you had friends with you. Proud that you were honest enough to tell us of your 20-second thought pattern. But most of all proud that you found the redemptive part of that experience.

    I remember my first time going back to the church we had left. I couldn’t find anything redemptive after that first time, just gratefulness that we were no longer there. Now, however, after a decade and numerous trips back to that church for various things like weddings and funerals, I’ve finally been able to see the beautiful weaving of God’s redemptive story in that part of my life. But it took me waaaayyyyyy longer than it did you. So, I’m proud of you for that, too!

    Reply
  • Wonderful post – I had sweaty palms sensing your claustrophobia in the building.

    Got me thing, you talk about Egypt, I agree,it’s defined, it’s visible – it’s border living emergents/missionals that I feel are in real danger, living in the border areas of Established/Emergent. It was the the border tribes of the 12 tribes of Israel that lost their identity first.

    It’s no good comming out of Egyty and putting up a tent on the border no good at all, one becomes like the surf of the sea tossed to and fro …

    Then I guess most borders are dangerous places to be – Oh, except USA/Canadian border.

    Reply
  • well thanks for your thoughts–they made me cry and i’m not a big crier 🙂 i told jose how blessed i feel to be part of a beautiful community not just here in denver but also through the lovely & challenging, domestic & international extension of it out here in blogland. thanks for caring, thanks for understanding. sometimes in these moments i feel so stupid, like “what’s the big deal anyway?” but all of you know why it is.

    lisa – yeah, the magnetic pull back is so strong, even when we know it’s not that good for us. have you ever heard that song by sarah groves “painting pictures of egypt?” i’ll play a mulitimedia dvd that i made for a friend of mine a long time ago. it hits it on the head. that’s why we need each other so much, to keep reminding each other “don’t go back to slavery” even when we’re not sure what freedom really is or feels like.

    heidi – oh that is so much to do, such an intense combination of two kinds of grief. thanks for sharing. i wish you were closer, too, i can tell our hearts would so resonate! alas, we’ll find refuge out here instead.

    jeff g – thanks for the encouragement…yeah, we all have so many stories, don’t we? i will be thinking of you tomorrow morning when you share about safe community!

    steve b. – i love that “kingdom imagination” thought, btw, i didn’t have a chance to comment but that is good stuff. and i do think that our experiences, especially the painful & difficult ones, help cultivate dreams that don’t as easily flow from simple & easy places. thanks for your continued encouragement & support. it really means more than you know!

    phyllis – right back at you, my dear and fabulous friend who understands my craziness.

    jeff mcq- yeah, being next door has it’s goods & it’s bads. i sort of am jealous of moving out of state, actually, having it be right here all the time sometimes makes it a little tricky on my soul, that’s for sure. we all are learning an awful lot, though, aren’t we?

    char – nice to hear from you here. hope all is well with you. great thoughts & i do agree that it is a process of forgiveness & restoration & that God is mightily at work, healing & redeeming. i am thankful.

    mike – all’s i can say: couldn’t have left egypt without you & can’t imagine this journey without you.

    tracy – thanks for your love! yeah, you so get it. and i am so sure on this end that there is more continued redemption & heailng that will hopefully happen over the years & experiences…

    mark – great thought about the borders! hmmm, that is something to really consider. when we first planted the refuge i think we camped there, thinking it was possible to straddle both fences. now 2+ years in i am so convinced it’s not really possible, at least not for us. we’ve picked up our tent and continually pitch & re-pitch it deeper & deeper in the woods, that’s for sure. and everytime we do i believe we get closer & closer to our true identity. it’s all a little confusing, though, all those seemingly thriving border towns!

    Reply
  • I was the DJ/emcee for my former church’s Upward basketball program for four years. Some of my best memories of that church revolve around playing music for the crowd that came every Saturday morning and uplifting the kids as they played. It was an honor for me to be there, even if some of the fuddy-duddies didn’t like it when I played secular music mixed in with the Christian stuff.

    Anyway, once we quit going there, I was invited back once to announce for the closing ceremony for their soccer program. It was so strange being back there, mingling with old faces and seeing so many new ones. It was a surreal visit . . .

    Like you, I am grateful for the years I spent there. But I can never go back . . .

    Reply
  • Hi Kath. You are so brave.

    I do admit that my ex-church was instrumental in forming me into who I am today, but I still ask God “wasn’t there any other way?” because it was so painful. I wish there had been another way, not only the leaving process I had to go through, but that I was ever a part of that at all. I can’t say I’m appreciative of it…but then I am appreciative that God got me out of it, and maybe that was his point?

    Thank you for sharing this, it gives people like me courage to know we could get through it if we had to.

    Reply
  • Great thoughts!
    I could really relate to the importance of looking fabulous before entering the arena. That way, no matter how bad things are, at least you look good. 😉

    Reply
  • Kathy,

    Great Blog! Ha! At first, when you stated you “went back to Egypt,” I thought you had literally flew/traveled to visit THE country of Egypt!

    I completely GET why you labeled your old church Egypt. Very good metaphor!

    I can completely relate. Quite honestly, I have no desire to go back or even attend one single service at my old church, or any for that matter.

    Ha! It’s quite interesting actually, I actually live, in my apartment, right across the street from my old church! Yet, it’s funny…I watch all the cars come and go from the services, but you know…after the last Sunday service, the cars move out of there so fast. It’s like a baren desert after. Like nobody was even there. Nobody really lingers. No coincidence, of course. No real community. I don’t say this to “dis” the church or the people. It’s the system that’s the issue.

    ~Amy 🙂

    Reply
  • KATHY!

    I just finally created my very own Blog-page. I hope you can pppllleeeaaassseee go visit “me,” read my entries, comment, and perhaps even add me to your Feeds or Blogroll. I’d love that! BTW, I enjoy your Blog so much, it’s added to my Blogroll.

    http://amyiswalkinginthespirit.blogspot.com

    Spread the News!
    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂

    Reply
  • brian – fun story. yeah, it is the weirdest feeling to see how much has changed in the past few years. wild, really.

    erin – oh you are kind. i don’t know how brave it was, but i am glad that it is done. i so see what you are saying, and that is the part i think is so different for every person & we will all have to wrestle with. so much will never make “sense” and i think for those that have experienced deep spiritual abuse it is a different matter all together. the mystery of where God is at in the whole thing will always be so beyond me…talk to you soon!

    grace – yes, there are very important priorities in these moments & that was definitely one of them!

    amy – welcome to the carnival, so great to hear from you here and also excited for your adventure into blog-land. congrats. i can so visualize the picture out your window, have it perfectly in my mind as i’ve seen it before. i like what you are saying, it’s not that it’s “bad or wrong” but so not for you anymore (and definitely not for me, either!) real community & people willing to go long haul to grow & change & attempt to follow the ways of Jesus is all i am really interested in anymore, whatever that looks like is fine with me. happy writing!

    Reply
  • Great thoughts. Thank you. I remember the first (and last) time I went back to that place. I sat through a service and it was like an exorcism. I was literally shaking in the plush theater seat, cowering down in shame. By the time the service was almost complete I had been delivered of the demon that was lying to me about who I was and what I had done. I got up and left, and basically shook the dust off my sandals. The unhealthy power they wielded led me to think that I needed their approval. Now that is a shame! That was then…I’m journeying on. My departure was definitely forged by that unhealthy system and the protective tendencies of the religion of control, but I went about it all wrong. That was then…I’m journeying on. I’m through with love-less attempts to please God and people. Your post reminded me of all that I’ve been gifted with since my implosion. All gifts of Grace, received only when I was ready.
    Thanks,
    Dave
    http://www.monachusbellator.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • For the last few years, we’ve been running support groups in my church for people who have come to us wounded by other churches (or, in a few cases, by our own church–hey, we’re not perfect either). The journey you describe here is so much a part of God’s healing process. Thanks for your honest chronicle. People (and churches) need to hear this.

    Reply
  • Awesome. Bravo. I left Egypt after being on staff as an educator at a church that I love/hate, too. I have had tremendous emotional healing now that I am away from that place. I didn’t know that God LOVED me so much to take me out of there. Megachurch, power, and lots of do and don’ts. I’m glad I have a church now where we love God, not religion. You really said it well.

    Reply
  • I am going to write you an e-mail. Just so you know, this very, very much impacted me. 😐

    Reply
  • Thanks for speaking this, Kathy, got your site from Ellen H:

    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.

    Yep. I love how real you are, girl.
    Barb Dokter

    Reply
  • I found you through Brian over at The Cheek of God.

    Beautiful post, and well written. Having recently gone back to church again, 25 years after leaving Egypt, I find that I’m a different person now, and it’s not Egypt. I’m in a new place geographically, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And if this new place ever begins to feel like Egypt, I’ll move on. For now, I’m feeding my spiritual side and loving every minute of it. But I do this with my eyes open, as they should be.

    Peace – D

    Reply
  • dave – welcome & thanks so much for sharing. yeah, so much healing to be had as we let go of giving people way too much power. it can really destroy us & i, too, am thankful for God’s grace & how the lies we bought into can be redeemed.

    we’ve been lied to – how’d you hear about this blog? thanks for the link

    blake – i’d love to hear more about what you guys are running! and yeah, in our quest to be safe & healthy, i know that we are not perfect & i am sure have unintentionally wounded others since we started. there’s no way to get it 100% right but boy do we want to do everything we can to decrease woundedness & increase healing & hope.

    susan – thanks. good to hear from you here again.

    laurie – yep, then you so get it. it really is a love/hate, isn’t it?

    stacy – look forward to hearing from you…

    brian – i will comment over on your post. beautiful.

    barb – i love ellen (hey all, she is new to blog world & is writing some great stuff. her link is on my page ellen haroutunian. thanks for stopping by!

    riverpoet – (what a beautiful title, btw) – that is so great to hear, the renewal & redepemption that you are experiencing. i do think as we “grow up” in all kinds of ways the likelihood of getting sucked in decreases and we can keep a more balanced & honest perspective that will probably really serve us well. best to you on this next leg of your journey.

    Reply
  • found your blog through minnow’s. very very interesting. I really really love the part in this entry about power….. very interesting. I’ve never heard anybody (that was a christian) ‘talk’ the way you do…. intriguing how God can use the internet to teach and how many new wonderful ideas I’ve heard.

    I have so so many questions that I asked of Minnow – that I want to also ask to you – but I’ll just have to keep reading and find out more about you and then try to figure out how to formulate my questions 🙂

    thanks for the challenging words. 🙂

    Reply
  • hey randi, nice to hear from you here. i try to always read minnows blog. she is always asking good questions. look forward to hearing some of your questions, feel free to email or comment or whatever works!

    Reply
  • Hey Kathy,
    I hang out with Jonathan (missio dei) and Jeromy (mending shift) and found your blog through them.
    Dave

    Reply
  • Hey Kathy, a friend who has been reading the book (we have been lied to–tearing down the walls of Christian wrong belief and unbelief)found your link on his google reader (your site was recommended) and asked me to check it out. He was wanting me to understand how many people there are out there whose experience within the Religion of Christianity has been less than hoped for. The idea of what it truly means to walk by faith in the Spirit of God is so radical — go figure you actually have to believe God and bet your life on it — that so many people have opted for religion and man made forms of trying to get God to work for you. It is so sad but so true.

    Reply
  • brother maynard – thanks for the link.

    dave – oh those guys are so great. that’s cool you are all connected to each other

    we have been lied to – thanks for commenting, this is why i believe it is so important for churches to teach relationship instead of religion. ps: your link didn’t work, looked like your site got hacked or something, i wasn’t quite sure?

    Reply
  • Hi Everyone,

    I have been reading this article and the comments quite a few months after everyone else was in dialog. This topic is close to my heart. In fact I wrote a doctoral dissertation which described how my participants processed their ‘muddy tunnel’ church experience and how they eventually recovered from it.

    You can read about others who have ‘been there’ at:
    http://www.ChurchExiters.com.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *