victim. survivor. thriver.


i know i say this all the time, but this past week goes down in recent history as one of the wackiest in a while.  living in real community is not, capital IS NOT a picnic.   it’s a beautiful gift, and i wouldn’t trade it for anything, but sometimes life in the low places is just plain old hard.   coming on the heels of a lovely holy week and celebration of easter, i was reminded yet again that life–real life, the kind that Jesus brings–is a crazy mixture of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, pain and joy, fear and courage.

i  taught this year at our easter celebration, which was fun for me mainly just because i love hope, resurrection, new life, the wild & crazy easter story.  and those of you who preach/teach/facilitate/lead know that when you are working on what to share, you always get extra busted, convicted, stirred, moved, rocked, strengthened, irritated, or frustrated in some way, shape or form.   yep, that’s what happened with me.  earlier last week i came across a quick email newsletter from the clergy leadership institute about the three angles on the easter story.  here’s my take on it:

if we stopped with good friday, it’s a victim story.  Jesus wrongly accused, arrested, killed unjustly.

if we stopped with holy saturday, it’s a survivor story.  Jesus is dead, gone. the disciples need to move on and accept that their hopes were dashed and figure out how to survive.

but resurrection sunday is a thriver story.  an infusion of new life and hope emerges out of death, darkness, and lost hope.   it’s an overcoming story–not the kind of overcoming where everything is smooth & easy and all falls into place (we all know how rough the road post-resurrection was for Jesus’ followers).  but a life of faith and hope and peace in the midst of the trouble.

this metaphor has all kinds of implications for us as individuals, as teams/groups/families, as  communities. (important note: i am not speaking to people who don’t understand the ravages of real life, who don’t understand or respect their own pain or the pain and others. i’m talking to the majority of you who read this blog who understand that real life, real faith, is harder than we expected.  happy clappy’s can abuse this metaphor).

  • victim.  i think in this crazy genesis 3 world it is most easy to live as a victim.  life didn’t quite go the way we had hoped.  some of us are real abuse victims, hurt by the hands of others.  others have failed marriages, kids gone awry, wounding by churches, lost faith, lost love, lost hope.  the list of injustices is long.  i’m not saying that each of these pains doesn’t have some victim-ness to it, i just think it’s really easy to get stuck here.  i know from my own personal experience, especially when it comes to church wackiness.
  • survivor. i also think a vast majority of us emerge from life-as-victim and move into survival mode.  this is the place i most easily live.  i pride myself on being a survivor, pulling myself up by my bootstraps despite the obstacles and figuring it out.   it’s a controlled, eeking-out-whatever-good-we-can kind of existence.  sure, there’s hope here and there and lots of pride that “at least i’m not back there anymore” but the essence of survivor mode is really just staying alive, making it through the day, gutting it out, doing the best we can with what we’re left with.  spiritually,  survivors don’t really count on God for much; hope and expectations are kept pretty low so we’re not disappointed again.
  • thriver.  thriving?  really?  my reaction to the word was shared by many in our community.  it is a scary word, mainly because of all the misinterpretations of it in the christian world that has pumped so many of us with false theology about what life and spirituality is really supposed to look like, feel like.  my first reactions to the word “thrive” are that it somehow means strong, put-together, all-good-no-bad, happy-clappy.   but the more i reflected on it, i love the word because it implies being planted in solid ground, nurtured, tended to, able to grow into what it’s supposed to grow into.

in the victim.survivor.thriver email i received, i loved this line:  “Jesus didn’t say ‘i come to bring you less death.’  no, he came that we’d have life.  and to me, life means a little more hope, more peace, more freedom, more joy, more beauty, more justice, more healing, more sacrifice in the midst of a hard, harsh world that we live in. Jesus didn’t promise an easy road; in fact, he told us that following him would be a rough ride.  and it would require going down, not up.   but that his ways lead to life, not death.  to hope, not despair.

i don’t think God wants us to stay stuck as victims or just survivors.  it’s not that either of those are bad or that he’s not present with us in both of those places of our experiences. i just find it hard to believe that’s the big idea.  the last thing i’d want for my kids or my friends is that they’d be stuck being hopeless victims or tired struggling survivors.

but hope is dangerous.  and thriving requires it.

i think we can thrive despite our circumstances, despite all the wacky ways life, faith, relationships messed with us.  i have seen it up close and personal.  people in the world’s crappiest situations filled with a crazy weird hope that is present in the midst of the pain and suffering they live with each and every day.   thriving doesn’t look like a nice house, a great marriage, healthy kids, cars with gas and insurance, food in the cupboards, and cable tv.  that’s just the wacky american-dream-that’s-become-christian-success.   i think thriving means living from a loved place.  a solid place.  a-yes-my-life-is-harder-and-weirder-than-i-want-it-to-be-but-i-still-have-hope place.  a beatitudes as a pathway to peace place.

i have been thinking about this cycle from all kinds of angles this week, and as the refuge celebrates its 4 year birthday this weekend i can see how we are shifting as a community, too.  believe me, we started as victims.  we were bloodied, beaten, barely-breathing when we started as a way to show that big-bad-church-that-hurt-us that they couldn’t take away our dreams.  we really showed them, ha! (trust me, when it comes to numbers, we’re good at church shrinkage & they’re good at church growth).   then, we’ve spent the past couple of years shifting from victims to survivors.  we pride ourselves on our ability to survive despite the obstacles.  to make-things-happen-with-basically-nothing.  to keep our expectations low so we’re not disappointed.  but, like all survivors, we are tired and really self-reliant. we’re always used to scraping, begging, clawing our way along.  it’s not all bad.  hey, survivors have a lot of amazing qualities.

but, this easter i was reminded what resurrection looks like, how out of death and darkness hope and new life can emerge.  how hope, despite its dangers, is worth leaning into.  how in order to thrive,  we as the refuge (and me, personally)  need to lean into possibility and hope instead of default to blaming & surviving.   yeah, a gentle breeze swept in this easter, reminding me God wants to nurture me, nurture us, in ways i/we might have been resistant to because it’s easier to be a victim or a survivor.   to be firmly planted in good, solid soil that will sustain the elements, so we can be strong enough, humble enough to live, is indeed dangerous.  but beautiful.  and i think the big idea.

so here’s my hope for me, for us, for you–that if you identify more with the victim story or the survivor story–individually, corporately, or anything in between–that we consider together the possibility of entering a new chapter of the story that embraces what it might mean to thrive.

* * * * *

a few additional thoughts:

this picture was taken by the lovely jenny herrick from our lent station night; it was from the “darkness” station, where people shared what they hoped would emerge from the darkness over this season.  they sprouted over the past 40 days & we used them at easter.

i have a post up at communitas collective this week called it’s about the people, people.  feel free to share any comments there.

if you can pull it off, join us at the transFORM east coast gathering april 29th-may 2nd in DC.  i am really excited for the conversations and dreams that will emerge from there.  let me know if you are going so we can connect!

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.


  • I’ve been chewing on this a lot in the last few months and the more I think about it and listen to words like yours, I gain more clarity and peace about letting wholeness rise to the surface and letting myself thrive.

    When a person’s life breaks, in the beginning it’s all consuming. In a way it feels like it becomes your sole identity. The throbbing pain demands constant attention. You migrate toward groups of other broken people. Like luggage you have acquired, you carry it with you wherever you go. You are the victim.

    I’ve made the mistake of believing that the goal after brokenenss is healing, thriving–an existence where all the brokeness is gone and I am whole. But for anyone who has experienced brokeness, many will tell you that they don’t WANT to forget, or to be healed. I imagine that we stay in a state of being a victim or living in our brokenenss, because to move on, to thrive, means to forget. I now realize that the goal isn’t to rid myself of brokenness, but to allow both brokenness and wholeness to coexist and let a new “normal” emerge.

    To allow God to lay among the broken parts and show me how to thrive at the same time.

    To give myself permission to do cartwheels as well as cry.

    Or something like that.

  • i never realized that i had stopped in the survivor mode. i was just so happy i had gotten out of the victim mentality, that i never considered there might be something more for me to work toward. when i look around me and see so many precious friends, struggling with more than i can even imagine, yet still thriving and in some cases even soaring, in spite of all odds, i’m a bit embarrassed. this week i have been challenged, on many levels, to actually try and thrive. to see if it is possible to actually live in the freedom God has for me. to find a nugget of hope that shows there is truly life after survival.

  • I miss stopping by in person, but I’m grateful for the blogs posted to read.
    Thought provoking.

  • Just wrote about my own anniversary of leaving the building. The post got a lot more revealing/personal than I intended but it was good to see where my head is. I do not want to be a victim and a spent a lot of time surviving until I could “escape”. It wasn’t a very healthy place for me to live. At the same time, thriving seems really far away still. Maybe I just don’t have a triving in the midst of mess vision yet. Guess I’ll keep working on it.

  • Great post, Kathy. I seem to need a lot of reminding that the life Jesus offers us goes beyond surviving to thriving. And, as you and Mary said, thriving in Christ isn’t like the world’s version of thriving. I’ve spent way too much time stuck in survival mode, which for me has meant SHAME and believing the lie that God can’t really use me until I’m more “mature” or “whole”.

    Brokenness is a beautiful thing once you understand that it opens the door to Christ’s wholeness – which I think probably looks more like your Refuge family than the “mega family” (is that an oxymoron?) you once belonged to.

    I join Mary in her cartwheel-athon. 🙂

    p.s. Check this video out when you get a chance – I think it will give you a laugh.

  • Good analogy. I know that I have been in the survivor mode lately, occasionally flirting with a move to thriving. Several of my friends are with me in this phase, too. This message confirmed in me once again that I am going to thrive if I choose to embrace the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I want to move past victim/survivor so I can reach other victims. In my ministry, I meet so many victims that sometimes I get hopeless/impatient/angry. That’s not the way to look at it. Your model may be a useful tool for women in Honduras to understand the message of the Gospel as well as how to live an overcoming life in Jesus. I am going to think a long time about this post.

  • Kathy-amazing how your 3 examples form a lil trinity eh?? 🙂 I am struck as i ponder your post about how death and resurrection really is a constant reoccurrence in so many ways isn’t it?? Work,job,relationships,goals, so many things. I really am pumped at how you show Jesus wants us to thrive and He doesn’t mean to be free of any problems and struggles and disappointments and heartaches but that we realize we are living loved ALWAYS!!! Cant wait till you come to Pdx again friend!!

  • Great post Kathy! The big question that comes to mind though is how to differentiate the thriver concept from the prosperity message? This is a difficult road for me to navigate because of the worldly pressure of searching for the nice house, nice job, kids, car, etc. Consequently, I’m struck with how difficult it is to get out of the survivor mode without totally forgetting the victimization that has occurred. But then if I’m honest about that if I do forget the victim mode it feels like I’m chasing the prosperity message, forgetting what’s behind me and just moving forward. The problem with this is that am I really moving forward with God or am I moving forward alone? Does God want me to use the hard places in my life and thrive with them, or forget them and prosper without them? I really want to honor God and the life I’ve been blessed with, but I also want to forget the tough times and only live in the good. There are definitely pieces of my experiences that I’m missing out on. Challenging stuff to ponder.

  • mary – oh you have so many good thoughts in there! i think the biggest problem with “thriving” is what that really looks like. i can’t say it enough: my definition definitely doesn’t include the all good-no bad version. i love what you said here: “I’ve made the mistake of believing that the goal after brokenenss is healing, thriving–an existence where all the brokeness is gone and I am whole.” i do believe that healing can come from brokenness but that part of the beauty of brokenness is not to have it GONE but to have it redeemed in some weird and wacky and often unexplainable ways. and to embrace our scars as a piece of our story but not all we are. we’re more than just our scars. we’re living paradoxes. here’s to crying cartwheels…

    mike – i ‘m so cautious of the word “more” because it implies that weird climbing-up kind of thing, but i also believe wholeheartedly that life is more than just surviving and gutting it out. i just thought of this in this moment is that part of thriving requires the other word is “less” – less fear, less paralysis, less hopelessness, less self-centeredness. hmmm. glad that new life is emerging for you, it is so fun to see!

    – miss seeing you but glad you are part of the convo from afar

    – all of my rss feeds are messed up right now so i missed it, so annoyed, not sure why they got stuck somehow? will have to go check it out. as i said in my post and really strongly stand by, i would just use extreme caution with the word “thrive” in its typical all’s great kind of definition. “more free & willing to hope despite the circumstances” is probably the main word i’d interchange with it most. thanks for your honest journey, i hope one of these days you’ll come down to denver to hang out.

    – always great to hear from you. i need to go check out that video but wanted to respond really quick first. yes, thriving definitely includes leaving shame’s power behind. i am so freaking sick of shame, it is such a life-destroyer. so glad you are part of these convos from afar…

    laurie – i am glad it stirred up some good thoughts. i facilitated a staff retreat for my husband’s legal aid clinic staff team a few weeks ago & used this metaphor because i read it the morning of. anyway, they primarily serve domestic violence victims and mainly spanish speakers. all of the opppression and marginalization is up close and personal each and every day. they really loved this metaphor, too, and it has lingered. but the reality of what it means in action is a whole other thing. breaking out of a lifetime of victimization and survival mode (when basic needs aren’t met, too), is an awful tall order. but at the same time, the beatitudes, the gospels, point us toward life in the midst of trouble, hope in the midst of despair, resurrection in the midst of death, the poor being rich in joy and hope. sending love and hope down there…

    robert – yes, not free of pain and disappointment but “living loved” – ah, that is the perfect line!

    urh – i am with you, and as you know i couldn’t be more against the “prosperity” gospel. living in the tension about what “thriving” can look like is really worth considering. i think it’s the acceptance of all the good, all the bad together instead of only focusing on the bad–or the good. i also think that power issues can’t be dismissed–that power in this world is tilted toward a whole population of people and against many of the ones we work with. that means that many are true blue victims of power and oppression and so to expect “thriving” in our twisted version of it is an impossibility. in a balanced, beatitudes-version, though, it isn’t. Jesus makes so clear that the last will be first and the first will be last, that the way up is to go down. and that grace and hope pool up in the lowest of places. thanks for sharing!

  • Yea, it is spring time…why IS it dark? Maybe the “thriving” has something to do with seasons? No, probably should happen in all seasons, huh? But, I think thriving just LOOKS different in different seasons?!?! Jesus wasn’t necessarily “thriving” by the worlds standards/definition when He went to the Cross…or in Gethsemane??? BUT, I would have to say, from a Kingdom standpoint…He WAS THRIVING!!!! 🙂 Good blog…as always, thanks for your insight and encouragement! God bless you, Kathy Escobar!


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