a view from the margins: God's ghetto


when some of us have been harmed by life, by others, it can become so easy to feel like damaged goods, like somehow we weren’t good enough to be protected by God.  like maybe his favor is on others, but not us.  a theology that supports a God who orchestrates bad things that happen to people is something that many churches & christians unknowingly pass on-that “all things happen for a reason”, “God is in control”,  that “we are his children and he is our perfect parent.”.  yeah, if we are his children, then what kind of dad would let some of these things happen on his watch?   why does he seem to bless some and ignore others?  why does God allow such horrific things to happen to beautiful innocent children? why do some get sick and others stay well?  oh, don’t think for a minute i will try to reconcile these incredibly complex questions, but i do think as Christ-followers we need to acknowledge that there are many out there who see themselves as less-than, somehow not worthy of God’s protection and care.  last week at the wounded heart sexual abuse group that i am co-facilitating, one of my brave friends who has been hacking through this material sober, after 30 years of cocaine addiction, shared some of her feelings in relationship to God.  she said that sometimes she feels like maybe she’s part of “God’s ghetto.”   i honestly thought it was the best line i had heard in a long time.  God’s ghetto. how many feel like that sometimes?

well, a lot of my friends do.  “janice” (i will be changing all the names on these interviews just to make sure everyone has total freedom to communicate safely) is one of my dearest companions on the journey.  i met her when she was just starting her entry back to God.  she actually was going through wounded heart when i met her, but the only problem was that she was going through the material still high on drugs.  the pain was too great, and she wasn’t ready to do the work.  now, 5 years later, she’s 3 ½ years sober & is tackling the material again.  she’s brave.  she’s wise.  she’s a quiet leader in more ways than one.  and she can hit the nail on the head when it comes to feeling relegated to the margins with God.  join me in entering into just a slice of what her world looks like, feels like, is.

what’s a little of your background, what kind of family did you come from? what does some of your journey look like?

I was raised in a Christian family, with a mom and dad who were very good to me.  On the outside, we looked pretty perfect.  I was sexually abused by a cousin when I was 8 years old, but I was afraid to tell my parents because I was afraid it would hurt them and destroy our “white picket fence” kind of life.  When I was 13 years old, we moved and my neighbor started abusing me.  I smoked my first joint with him.  After that things just kept snowballing.  From then on, I started drinking and drugging and doing anything I could do to numb out my pain.  This lead me to start selling drugs when I was 16 (I even sold to my high school teachers!  I know that’s going to freak some parents out). Somehow I always managed to hold down a basic job, an apartment, and pay my bills.  My family never knew about my problems.  I funded 30 years of cocaine addiction by selling drugs, and I only all the way stopped doing that 3 years ago.  Selling made me popular, and I liked that feeling. It made me feel like I had something people wanted.  For all the years I was doing drugs, I honestly blocked out what had happened to me as a little girl.  Then, about 5 years ago I ran into my cousin.  The memories came back and I kept doing everything I could to try to forget.  Somehow I ended up in a church for a friend’s baptism.  Next thing I knew I was going regularly,  but the truth was I’d do cocaine lines in the bathroom before services.  No one there knew what I really struggled with, but I did find myself drawn to God.  During this time, I ended up visiting a camp I used to go to as a kid, and I can’t really do the moment justice, but it was there that I smelled God again.   Like really smelled him.  After that, I kept going to church and ended up in the Celebrate Recovery program and began to work on my sobriety.  It was a roller coaster of relapses, but I celebrated my three year sobriety last July.  The hardest part of getting sober has been having to let go of all the people I knew from my partying life and trusting these new people, the church people.  I remember telling you that I knew I could rely on my bar friends, but i wasn’t sure I could rely on you guys.   It’s also been hard to have to actually feel my  pain instead of numb it out.  I am just now discovering I actually have a voice, something to say, and I am beginning to learn to use it.  It freaks me out, though.

describe a little what your life feels like sometimes?

My life feels lonely a lot.  In my past, I spent hours and hours at the bar, and really, I was never alone. I also did always hold down a job.  It filled my days and then partying filled my nights.  In the past few years, I have developed a lot of health issues that have resulted in me being unable to work, so now it seems like I have too much idle time on my hands.  I have never been married, my most faithful companion is my dog, I am no longer checked out on my life, but now I have 24 hours a day to fill sober, with no job, and being in chronic pain.  On top of it all, I am waiting to see if my disability gets approved, which stresses me out.

when you mentioned feeling sometimes like you were in God’s ghetto, what does that mean to you?

I know I’m his, but it sometimes feels like maybe I’m a second-class citizen.  A first-class citizen gets all his miracles and he does awesome stuff in their lives.  They get relationships.  They have something to do with their time.  They don’t seem as lonely as me.  They get money, at least more than me it seems.  They can move around, do things, instead of feeling stuck in their house.  They didn’t get abused.  I kind of feel like I get a glimpse of good things, the leftovers, but not as much as other people.  If God has anything left to give at the end of the day, I wonder if maybe I can get at least get that.  The times the Ghetto feeling gets the worst is when I go 2-3 days without  human contact. That is when the doubt really set in and I wonder why God doesn’t let me have a better life.


what do you think is the most damaging thing about being abused?

I think what my abuse taught me is to hide everything.  I don’t let people see me be sad, mad, or really anything.   We learn how to hide.   We also learn how to make everything somehow be our fault.

you’ve always been single.  when you look around and see people married, what kind of feelings does that stir up in you?

It makes me sad.  It makes me jealous.  And definitely this is when the pissed off at God starts going on.

why do you think you chose drugs & alcohol as a way of escape?

 For me, drugs and alcohol really helped me be accepted in a group of people, to feel wanted and included.

what scared you the most about getting sober?

I really didn’t know anything about life without drinking and drugging.  I haven’t really known how to do my life without these things, so I am a grown woman but it feels like I am just now learning what it’s like to live.  I was also really scared that I would leave my druggie friends behind and then my new friends would leave me, too.   Actually, what’s ended up happening is I’ve had a few of my druggie friends follow me to sobriety and none of my new friends have left me yet.

what is the hardest part about your day-to-day life with a lot of debilitating health issues?

There are times that I think about going back to my drinking and drugging because I think then I won’t hurt as much.  I think also the pressure of not having insurance.  The unknown about my future:  Will my disability really come through?  What will Medicaid look like if I really get it?  How will I pay for my meds until I do get it?  These are all the things that really get me down.



in the middle of the night, what are some of the things you cry out to God?

Sometimes I yell:  “Why?  Why can’t I get a break? Can’t you see I’m trying?”.  Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I thank him for all you guys.  Sometimes I thank him for the little glimpses I see.


what brings you the most relief?

Those little glimpses I was talking about before.  The God Squad.  People driving me around when I can’t get around, helping me get my meds when I need them.  And believe it or not, when I speak and have a chance to share my story or experiences, even though it scares me to death.   Sometimes through certain songs, I really feel God.


if you could change one thing about your life what would it be?


 I do wish there was a man in my life.



are there any really stupid things christians have said to you along the way that made you want to wring their necks?

“You need more faith.”

“Read your Bible more.”

“That’s of the world” – When I showed an old friend who’s a Christian my eyebrow piercing.

what are some of the ways people have helped you the most?

When my friends take me out to the movies, go to Starbucks, simple little stuff that breaks up my day helps me the most.  Even a 10 minute phone call might be the highlight of my day, depending on the day.  Anything that makes me know I’m not alone makes a huge difference.

have you felt marginalized by “the church” or christians sometimes?  how?

I have that feeling like I don’t measure up.  I have some of that party girl in me still, even though I don’t party anymore.  I’m not the typical good Christian girl.   I’m an old hippie at heart.  I think of proper Christians as people who aren’t tattooed, pierced, and don’t listen to the Pussycat Dolls.  I am all of those things.  I don’t feel that in my community, but sometimes when I’ve visited other churches I feel like I don’t quite fit in.  They are all so put together and preppy looking.

what have you learned about God these past few years?

Right when I am ready to give up or think he doesn’t care, somehow he shows up in little ways and reminds me he is there.

 how do you think the church could become more safe for people who are struggling with addictions & their relationship with God.


Not be so phony.  Be honest about the real things.  Love the tattooed people.  Love the people who come in dirty.  Let people be where they are at with God:  mad, happy, whatever it is.


describe the communion you facilitated a while back at the refuge.  what was that experience like for you?

I talked about being okay with being pissed off at God.  That it’s okay to yell at him.  I hate it when people talk all super-spiritual about God.  I sometimes use communion as a time to “make up” with God because I’m so mad at him sometimes.  I never thought I could sit through a service years ago, let alone think that I could talk and lead something.  Then, to have people say afterward that they understood what I was saying, that they got me, was the greatest feeling.

What do you have to say to someone who feels like they, too, are part of God’s ghetto?


That they’re not alone.  That maybe my little mustard seed of hope could give them a little.  Hang on.

thanks, my dear friend, for sharing a piece of your journey with us. may all those who sometimes feel part of God’s ghetto feel a little less alone.  and may we never make people feel like they are in God’s Ghetto when we are together in community.

a few questions for you all:

  • what are some of your thoughts about this slice of janice’s story?
  • do you have any other questions you want to ask?
  • what are some of the ways you might have felt part of God’s ghetto? what has that looked like, felt like for you?

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Hey, Janice is a reflection of so many of us, all down in the ghetto, just maybe our street has a different name, but it’s in the ghetto!

    But like she said, even there, little chinks of sunlight show up every now and then, just like God.

    Still, I can’t help wonder why He can’t bulldoze the place and move us all to suburbia?

    Part of a crazy song I wrote a while ago:

    Superman flies, Spiderman crawls
    Godzilla he just walks right thru a wall
    So why not just give Jesus the same powers too
    and like the X men, the world he’d rescue.

    He could stop the thugs and drugs, then go and heal the sick
    Help the nuns and others so bad habits we could kick

    He could lock up all the crooks and no more crime would there be
    But then how would he know
    What life is really like
    For you and me?

  • I just want to say that “Janice” is amazing. Her honestly brought tears to my eyes. And I wish that we could put her words into a syringe and inject them into every christian who thinks if you do the right things, God will protect you and your life will be great and all pretty and problem-free. What a beautiful wake-up call it would be.

    I also want to say I’m sorry to Janice that so many Christians have treated you that way. I know one day Father will wipe away every tear, but how wonderful it would be if we Christians would a do a whole lot more of that ourselves to one another while we’re walking around on planet earth.

    Hugs to you Janice,

  • It is a great story, my story is a simalar to you Janice. So confronting, but very good!! Very very good!!! It is so encouraging to see Janice that you are down to earth and honest and can say what you need to say.!! And that you found people that are prepared to listen to you and respect you were ever you are!! That is sooo important!! I always felt out of place and i sometimes still do. But i also have friends who take me for who i am, which helps me lot aswell.

    All these stupid things Christians said to me….yeah!! As if they were or knew better!! No way!!They have struggles themselfs..and i believed they were not focusing on themselfs and changing themselfs they looked at me how bad i was, so that they did’t have to change. So i always felt bad because they were spotless ( i thought) But guess what? we all need grace!! We all have pains, how big or little they are, please be honest and show them to others YOU Christians who know better!! because as you said that is so important to be honest to yourself and others!!
    I am sorry to say but true, i saw so many people like you leaving church because of no grace at all. Even though i was their friend, i couldn’t do it on my own we need eachother! But their was no room for me to do that!!

    I know now better..God’s grace is sooo big!! Thank God for that!!And touch as much as peooles heart as i can!

    And Janice i think when you have the desire to find a man ( which you have), you will be ready for it whenever that might be. I am not God and manytimes i wonder why?..but you know what..your testimony means a lot to people who have tatoes, piercings and a big mouths and all that comes to it!!You can comfort them in a really BIG way believe me you are the one!!! You can understand them how they deeply feel!! God will use you for that~!!

    Janice God Bless you and thanx for sharing your life all over the world!! Kathy i met in CA..she is lovely!! Kathy thanx again girl!! XXXXX

  • Couple of quick thoughts:

    >Glad to hear your [blog] voice again Kathy – and glad you’ve created space for us to hear Janice’s voice as well…

    >”…I knew I could rely on my bar friends, but i wasn’t sure I could rely on you guys [church people].” Sobering words every Christian and church needs to hear…

    >”It’s also been hard to have to actually feel my pain instead of numb it out.” Janice, your story, and the courage you’re showing by walking this path enCOURAGEs me. You are no second class citizen, you truly are a daughter of the King! Thank you for sharing and for stepping out in faith to work out what God is working into you.

  • I was literally blown away by Janice’s story, as that kind of courage is so raw, so powerful, so REAL, so beautiful. I would wonder though, if Janice recogizes the depth of the imapct that her story has on others? When I was in the midst of my exodus from the church, I longed for people who showed signs of being authentic, and not just speaking about & around it. People who were truly honest about their fears, and that you could trust with your heart, because they shared theirs in safe circles.

    Janice has been through beyond hell & back, and her powerful words indicate that she is, in fact, soaring. She truly is an inspiration, and not in the cheesy way, but in a “damn, girl, you are the freakin’ real deal”. Her fight to stay in gives me hope for communities that are really doing it, and she is absolute evidence of the gospel-in all of its real power-coming to life. 🙂

  • I’ve kept this up and have come back to it many times. Thank you, Janice, for sharing your story, and I believe it is going to have an impact to so many others who can be encouraged by you.

    I too have felt like ‘damaged goods’ relegated to God’s trash pile.


  • Janice, thanks for being vulnerable; Kathy, thanks for posting..In a way I see this as an issue of not fitting in…As an immigrant to ths country, the day I realized I’d never fit in as an American was tha most freeing experience in my life which carried to all different facets of my life, including the spiritual…I made me free to be me as God created me and the only prunning, shaking off, and burning off the grap that was in my life was going to be the ever consuming Love of the Father which burns(crap) but cosumes not (I borrowed this from George Macdonald); George is a constant companion, and last week reading his chapter on Eloi, I don’t think I can ever be pissed at God again (I used to be like Habbakuk and question Him) but no more; Christ who did everything God wanted and was totaly consumed in doing the Father’s will, when the Tempter came one last time as He hung on the cross and tempted Christ to turn away from God, as God turned His face from Him, Christ still cried after the Father – Eloi….All I can say, my petty selfishness must go once and for all…

    Hang in there Janice, and keep up the good work Kathy.

    Muy cordiales saludos a ti y tu marido Jose…

  • The Smell of God. This is powerful . . .

    Cling to the things that are lifting you up, my friend. Combat the loneliness with a good book, on CD if necessary, and let your imagination lead you to a new level . . .

  • pops – oh it’s always good to hear from you, i have missed you, too! i really like the last line of that song you wrote….

    tracy – i love the word “inject”!!! i think that is one of the worst theologies that gets tossed around, that “if you just….then….”

    els – thanks for sharing, and yes, i agree that this story is a beautiful slice of honesty. i am not sure i agree with you on the “man” thing because i think it is always easier for those of us who are married and have a life partner to pass on “you will find someone”…i know some people have said “well, God is your husband” to some single friends and i remember just cringing going “oh, yeah, i wonder if you’d be saying that if you were single?” i know that was not your intent at all, i am just pointing out that moment because it struck me how hard it is to really know where a person is coming from when we’re not there. i absolutely love your heart and am so thankful for your continued love and encouragement and the beautiful ways God uses you to touch the lives of others. and yes, our stories are the things that bring comfort to others so i’m glad we all got a taste of janice’s.

    steve – it’s great to be back! i have missed you guys a lot. that was one of my favorite lines, too, about trusting the bar friends but not being sure if she could trust us. that makes so much sense on so many levels. think about a bar, you can always go in at any time of day and find a safe place to be, someone to talk to, people to laugh with, people to listen. the typical church, umm, it’s just not typically accessible in the same way, and it is easy to say “well in community we are together” but janice points out so well that even in an pretty intense and intentional and highly relational commmunity like the refuge, some weeks a few days can end up going by with no human contact. of course, that makes me so sad and i don’t want that to be the case but in reality that can happen. bars are pretty much open every day all day. hmmm, i am always painfully aware in these moments of the gaps and how much room there is to grow and learn how to never assume that because we’re not lonely that someone else isn’t.

    emily – i couldn’t agree more

    stacy – soooo well said. and yes, the real deal up close and personal is quite beautiful to see.

    HW – so nice to hear from you again! yeah, your feeling, janice’s feeling, is more prevalent than many probably want to admit. i am so glad that more speaking more honestly about the feeling so everyone can feel less alone.

    carlos – thanks for sharing some of your experience. i am glad for you, that you don’t think you will probably ever be pissed off at God again after your experience. i love that everyone’s different and our spiritual journies are very unique. what i think is so important is that we leave lots of room for people to be wherever they need to be in their journey with God, mad, sad, excited, connected, full, empty, whatever. that God wants the real us. i think that sometimes what can happen for people who are mad at God is that they get shut down by others’ experiences and don’t feel safe enough to say it out loud in public (aka church)circles for fear of getting jumped on and spouted to, and have people want to kick them into gear and “reconnect” with good feelings about God as soon as possible. so many great conversations that could be had on this topic!

    brian – yeah, “smelling God.” how beautiful is that.

  • Thanks so much Kathy for this very moving post (and welcome back – and good luck with Vocafemina too). Janice’s story is a heart-rendingly poignant wake-up call to the church to recognise that the radius of God’s love is infinite. God’s passion to include, welcome and befriend has no circumference, no boundary beyond which we might be excluded.If only the church was shaped by this geometry of grace we would see each other as equally beloved. Many of our own stories are filled with pain, regret and a deep lack of self-worth, no matter how ‘good Christian’ we might look on the outside. Janice’s honesty is an icon for the rest of us and an invitation to be open, honest and trusting with each other. It’s OK to be real, and the Pussycat Dolls are great!

  • Thank you AKA Janice. Thank you Kathy. How sad that the safe place was not safe and the “best family in the world” (according to most Christians about growing up in Christian families) was perhaps the lonliest. Congrats on being sober–today!

  • Hmm…. as to Janice’s story, much of it is very familiar.

    To Janice, 1) Thank you for your courage to tell your story; 2) How are you doing? Wish I could give you a hug.

    As to feeling like I’m part of God’s Ghetto…. Hmm… always feeling like it’s never enough, no matter what I do. Feeling alien, outside, emotionally disabled, like I don’t really belong to the human race. Hmm… that I was not worth protecting. That I was damaged beyond salvaging anything worthwhile. I could make quite a list of this. I spend a good deal of my life, starting at and very young age (5 or 6) thinking God had to almost hate me… and it was somehow my fault…

  • Kathy:

    Thank you for sharing this with us I look forward to more as it speaks to my heart and I am blessed to know many people with similar stories through the work I have done with the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised.

    During this season in which Father is delivering me from my own religiosity and teaching me authentic relationship and setting me free of much of my own poverty and experiences of marginalization, and disenfranchisement, and abuse. Reading this keeps the vision alive in my heart, and encourages me as Father heals and sets me free which will enable me to do the same for others as I can not bring healing and freedom to others in areas in which I am not free and whole.

  • Kathy, thanks for doing this…what a great idea these interviews are!!!

    Janice, thank you for sharing this slice of your life. Reading it did remind me that I am not alone…I hope that in the sharing of it you find that to be true for yourself as well.
    Being into tattoos myself, I would like to know what art if any Janice has to commemorate this change in her life? And if she has any old work she would like to cover up now?

  • dear janice,
    i’m so proud of you for fighting so hard to regain some of what the devil has tried to steal from you. you are an inspiration to me and many others. love you girl!!

  • Thank you everyone for letting me share a piece of my story. Thanks for looking thru the eyes of an addict for just a moment. Please know I love Jesus, but I struggle with not understanding his ways. This sober life is very awkward for me but with the Refuge and people who love me for who I am I’m developing a closer relationship with God. Donna, I had a tattoo of a mushroom on my arm and changed it into a rose on a cross 2 weeks before I got baptized. I am planning on putting a cross on my wedding ring finger since no man is putting a ring there. I thought Jesus will be my man. I’m struggling with crippling arthritis and other health issues and waiting for a disability hearing so if you have a chance could you throw a prayer up for me? Let’s all hang in there together.

  • Dear Kathy,

    Thanks for your WARM words. also what i would like to say about the man thing is this.

    I can understand your respons, no problem i would do the same.

    The reson why i said that about a man is not that i think it is easy or a easy spiritual thing to say!!And saying it for the sake of it. That is never ever my intent, no way!My intent is to encourage, nothing more!! Let me say it like this it took ME a long long time to find my husband anyway, it was a BIG struggle and painful thing for me when i did desire it and everytime i choose the wrong man and the pain and grieve they gave me was not nice. And infact i did say to MYself and God not to desire it anymore to have any man in my life!! But God thought differently.AND YES THAT IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE! I would be the last person to judge that. I have even friends who are still struggling with this issue. Yes infact people said many stupid things to me about this issue, but again that is not my intent as you said, never! I am not God and i always make sure and be carefull for what i say. And even in that i will make mistakes even though i thought it was allright.I am not perfect, i will always make mistakes i never intented to. Thanks Kathy for pointing this out, it made me see much more clearer on my own personal issues.

  • Janice,

    You are brave! You are strong! You are beautiful! Thanks for sharing a slice of your life with us!!!

  • Hey Janice! Thanks for tat update!! I have a pot leaf on my ankle that I thought about covering up but went with a scene of an angel pulling a person up with chains attached to it…the chains were supposed to be breaking but my artist forgot that small detail 🙂 after the initial being pissed off I kind of like it this way, reminds me that I am never safe. I did have a bat on my arm covered up with a pheonix…some memories don’t deserve to stick around!! I bet your rose and cross is beautiful!!
    I will be praying for you, for the disability & a man…come on, as good as Jesus is in SO many areas….snuggling just isn’t one of them!!

  • dave – thanks for your encouragement & for linking to voca femina, too. it’s going to be fun to see what develops over there! i really love this line that you wrote: “if only the church would be shaped by the geometry of grace…” oh so beautiful. i agree, and i will say that janice will be stoked that you like the pussycat dolls, too…she’s trying to get me to convert but so far, no luck.

    minnow – yes, it is my sincere belief that “the church” should be the safest place on earth…

    katherine – oh i wish you could come and hang out with us sometime…one of these days. meanwhile, yes, you know the feeling well of God’s ghetto. i hate that somehow got perpetuated. do you have some ideas of what helps you not feel that way, some glimpses?

    tom – i am glad that the stories here keep you encouraged. that’s the idea!

    donna – oh i can’t wait to hang out in a few weeks in pdx. i am glad we are all in the same big crazy leaky beautiful boat. janice responded a few comments down. it’s fun to hear about your tattoo transformations…i am supposed to get mine before my next birthday that was my goal so that when summer came it would be done. i am a chicken, though, i think that’s what’s stopping me! i have had 5 kids with no drugs and am afraid of a little needle on my ankle, hahah.

    mike – you are such a big piece of this story…

    janice – i hope you see how your story encourages others. it’s so beautiful to see up close & personal. you rock.

    els – i hope you didn’t feel to chastised or anything like that, i was really just trying to make a point because it is a hot button for some friends i know and i can totally see why! i love your heart and i am so glad you are part of this beautiful conversation at the carnival. you are such a loving and caring soul…

    urh – yep, i agree

  • Kathy, there are days I so wish you were closer…

    Hmm… what helps me not feel that way…. Moments of connecting with a friends and seeing the love in her eyes and knowing, for a second, that this is real.

    Moments, when I’m talking about deep (not the surface religious fluff so many are satisfied with) God stuff with a friend and He shows up and for a moment, I feel His presence tangibly, then I usually break down and cry…

  • Dear kathy,

    No not at all, thanx for pointing it out!! I know your heart is in the right place!!Thanx again for your warm welcoming heart.

    I love you!!! ElsXXXX

  • Kathy…I think Janice could be persuaded to go hold your hand as you get your ink!!! It will hurt, esp near or on a bone but not like having the kids!!! Said from your friend who has never had kids!!! 🙂


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