signs of hope: staying in instead of running away

in this season of easter i have been posting a few interviews with friends, some “signs of hope”, little slivers of resurrection in the midst of real life.  the first two were:  emerging from the darkness of sexual abuse and the bumpy road of sobriety.   i am a little behind but will try to get more up next week.  this one seems to fit well with the last few posts about “the church” and the power of healing community.  plus it’s my birthday today & so i get kind of nostalgic & reflective.  this story reminds me of that all this refuge-community-life together-healing nuttiness is somehow worth it..  i’m learning way more than i bargained for about grace & trust & love & friendship but i wouldn’t trade it for anything.  enjoy.

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as you all know, i am extremely passionate about community.  not just “hey, i hang out with these guys once a week and am part of this church, etc.”  but real true-blue-in-the-deep-places-of-others-experience community.  i think that’s where we learn the ways of love, where we come face to face with our darkness, our goodness, our hope, our fears.  where we learn to love and be loved. one of the scariest parts of the refuge community is the high level of relationship that it requires; yeah, most everyone’s church experiences didn’t really help with this critical piece of life, and many have gotten pretty far in the christian world without ever feeling connected to other people.   but i have the privilege to see up-close-and-personal what can happen when, despite the obstacles and fears, people try to stay in instead of run away.  come out instead of hide.

meet my friend kyle*.  he has been a pastor and christian leader for pretty much all his adult life.  we always joke that he was paid to be a christian.  through the ups and downs of the refuge community, he has been learning a lot about himself, about God, about other people.  hope is not easy for him, but during this past season some new slivers have been breaking through.

  • you’ve been through a lot over the past several years.  losing a ministry job that you were really excited about.  battling alcohol addiction & depression.  wrestling with huge faith issues that have really messed with your mind and heart. trying to get to the bottom of why it is so hard to really let love in.  how would you describe the past 4 years or so of your life and faith journey?

The past 4 years have been profoundly difficult, but at the same time it is the life I have sort of always known. I have no memory of ever feeling normal, or a true part of something that would embrace and love me as I am, so I present what I believe it will take to be loved and accepted. (my issue, I am sure I have been in places that could handle it, I couldn’t) . The depression does not feel separate from me; it feels like it is me. To not be depressed and hiding, are abnormal feelings.  My journey with alcohol dependency was certainly fueled by my feelings of betrayal and loss of my romantic ideas about the church, but the “seed” was always there–that I need to cover pain and escape from it. I was/am the type of alcoholic who does not often get drunk, but who is always needing just a couple to make it, to feel alive. Of course, the reality is that “just trying to make it” is almost by definition the loss of life.

  • what are some of the things you have cried out to God during this season?

Mostly, “I am so sorry.” But also “does my inability to feel loved and accepted, worthwhile and normal mean that it will never happen?  Will I ever get to feel those things? Or should I just learn to live with this?” I have to admit, a core issue is I am not a very good cry -out sort of person, I am trying to learn how to do that. I am aware that as the middle child of an alcoholic mom and abusive step parents, crying out for help was not an option. I can honestly not think of a time when i asked my parents to help me. It is really hard to first unlearn a behavior that actually made childhood survival possible.

  • how do you think being a “professional christian” has made the last few years even harder?  do you think it would have been different if you had a “regular” job?  why or why not?

I have to admit that part of my “stinkin thinkin” is that I am special, not in a good way, but special in peculiar way. As a pastor, my profession has often fed that feeling by making me more important than I really am.

  • what has it been like for you to have a faith community that keeps sticking with you, through the darkness & the light, the good times & the bad?

I am clearly not a freak in our little place. I am certain that had I been in my previous church, I would have been sent to a “ranch” to deal with my “issues” (with lots of deep concern) and then quietly replaced.  It is hard for me on many levels; the easiest place to hide is on a stage in front of thousands of people.  It is much harder at The Refuge to hide.

  • you are a good giver, but what has “receiving” looked like for you over the past months?   share why you think it’s hard for you to let love in.

Honestly, this is the crux of the issue. Somewhere in my DNA, I have an almost biological instinct that says you can not let anyone in close enough to love you. The predicate to receiving is need, and in my interior world the model is “ need = weak, weak = vulnerable, vulnerable = great pain. Thus, no needs = no pain.

  • I know that asking for help is one of my greatest character defects. I am sure that by asking or “needing” I put myself in a vulnerable position that seems almost insurmountable to me.

Alcoholism has been a gift, it made me face the reality my life is unmanageable. Admitting that, allows God (usually via people) to enter and help.

  • the journey is far from over, but out of a lot of death and darkness, some hope and new life is emerging.  what does that look like for you?

This will only resonate with your readers who, like me, are people pleasing junkies, but I know I am seeing new life when I fail or disappoint someone and it does not totally trash me for a week. I have a glimmer of hope when I can say out loud what I want and let it go at that. I love it when we have our Refuge parties and all the wild and crazy mix of the most wonderful and sincere people are together, and I feel like I get to see that romantic and beautiful church. Plus, the skills I am learning in community are helping me have a much more peaceful and fulfilling marriage.

  • yes, we all know that hope is sometimes dangerous, risky.  how are you opening your heart up to hope even when it’s scary?

We just celebrated 4 years of The Refuge, and I am still here.  That might not seem like much, but for me this is no small thing.  My instincts are always to run away, go someplace new, so me still being here, dreaming about the future, is a big step for me.

  • anything else you’d like to add?

If you are restless and longing for more in your faith community, it is possible that you may not “find” it, but it may be possible that you can create it. If your hope reservoir is dangerously low and you fear you might lose your way, your faith, spend your last bit of energy on simply finding one or two friends who will listen to your story.

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the church, unfortunately, has been one of the best places for people to hide.  i am so proud of kyle and am thankful for his friendship & love & journey toward healing.  it reminds me why we are dedicated to what we are dedicated to.  spiritual transformation isn’t just about knowing a lot of Bible verses;  it’s about changing in the deep places of our hearts & becoming closer to God, other people, ourselves.   there are so many burned-out, disconnected, christian leaders out there; my hope is that some how, some way, they might find some form of healing community to learn what they never could learn in the place that was supposed to teach it best.

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.

13 Comments

  • Thank you Kyle and Kathy, this is so great.

    Oh yes, staying instead of running, hiding… yes this hits close to home.

    My big pieces of God homework right now are:
    STAYING PRESENT. With God, with hope, with The Refuge.
    The best picture I have is this: Recently my daughter had all 4 of her wisdom teeth pulled, and as she was coming out of the anesthesia, her dad and I were instructed to keep her awake not let her fall back asleep. So we were doing all sorts of stupid, foolish antics to keep her present.
    I also have to go through all this with myself: “Stay with me, stay with me, just feel the terror, no islotaion, no medication, don’t slip into numbness, FEEL!”

    NOT HIDING. (sort of in the same vein)
    Bringing forth my authentic self without shame. It’s equally as hard to bring forth the darkness as well as the light.
    I’m working on it.

    And yes I agree the church is a great place to hide. I sorta miss that.

    But I’m making baby steps. At least I no longer have long discussions with myself if I’m going to show up at The Refuge stuff or not. I’ve come to ignore my feelings and get in the car and push the gas pedal.

    Reply
    • thanks mary, it is so hard, but a tiny bit easier it seems when you at least do not have to do it alone.

      it is hard for many of us to believe that our presence has value for others, even if we are just there. i know yours is…

      Reply
  • Thanks for this one Kyle and Kathy! So good – I was just talking to my son-in-law about a friend of his who was a youth pastor but when his wife left him, the church said, “Sorry, you can’t be in leadership anymore.” Really? Why are we there if not for hurting people? And, to me, we have so much more to give when we are walking through the messiness of life in real ways. It is a sad indictment of the church when things like this happen.

    It is hard to be real in a faith community but it is so worth it! I have a close group that I can be totally myself with and they don’t let me hide – I love that!!

    Reply
    • yea, i was just talking to someone about how the church is all “family” when you are getting hired, but not so much when getting fired.

      Reply
  • hey kyle, thanx for sharing your heart. the urge to run, is always in the front of my mind. i must admit that i don’t know where i would run to, though. being in community with you and other amazing refugees, gives me the courage to stay in and be present, when every part of my being says run. there is something so freeing, but also scary, in being around authentic, loving, yet messy people. thanx for being a wounded healer in my life, my friend!! i’m looking forward to seeing where this journey might take us.

    Reply
  • So much to say about this blog yet need to think about it because I don’t want to use up all your comment space (ha!).

    In the meantime, deep, “Thank You, Lord, for the wonderful treasure of your people!” thanks to both of you, and —

    “Happy Birthday, Kathy!”

    Reply
  • Kathy & Kyle- this really is powerful sharing and honesty and so touching. Kyle i am a former minister who had a problem which forced me to resign and really made me wonder about my ability to recieve love as well as give it. The shame,guilt and inner sense of unworthiness become so strong, yet I have always put up a solid front outwardly of being in control and no needs. Thanks for sharing Kyle your story really inspires me!!

    kathy- you just rock on lovely lady!!!!

    Reply
    • robert, thanks for sharing, i am sure that life experience is difficult to remember.
      one of the hard parts of the church as we know today is we use the word “family” to describe it. not bad, except when you screw up or are perceived to have screwed up- suddenly the church is no longer family. no one on the last day of church work was ever placed in front of the church like this “i know when we hired Kyle we said he was joining our family, but as you know our family has a high priority on beauty and frankly kyle is just too ugly to be a part- therefore today we take it all back, and kyle is an orphan as of now- oh yea, God led us to do this…”

      Reply
  • I heart Kyle, for soo many reasons, but his honesty is a huge part of that.

    This line made me laugh “I would have been sent to a “ranch” to deal with my “issues” (with lots of deep concern)”, because, um, I believe that refuge life *is* said ranch. 😉

    We love you, Kyle, for who you are and for sharing those pieces with us. Thank you for staying in. You help us stay in, too.

    Reply
    • stacy, you are a wonderful trophy of the meaning of true and sacrificial community- you do more than anyone i know to make it happen
      love you too

      Reply
  • Hello again,

    A week ago I chimed in with an, I need to formulate what I long to say without rambling. Since then I’ve learned so much and believe I’m effectively able to communicate. Part of this has come from my own exploration of faith and belief in the context of cultural molding and perception. I’ve also been able to explore my past, lay the multi-layered onion skin of unconditional love on top of that beginning, and have seen my lack accepted, covered, blessed.

    What have I learned? Community, true community, = relationship. It’s being real and open and honest and vulnerable. It’s sometimes saying, “I’m messed up [here] and [here] and [here]. This part of me needs correction, this part needs patience, this needs to be applauded in acknowledgment of progress made.” It also means studying the life of Jesus more closely and understanding that, truly, He has/is the answer for everything.

    No, I’m not falling back on Christianese. I’ve learned some fascinating things from a couple of my brother’s sermons, then applied them in my life. (1) Abraham believed God when He said his descendants would be as vast as the sands on the seashore. He believed so fully that, a decade after that original declaration, he could call God on it: “What can you give me? I do not yet have a child.” It doesn’t appear that Abraham was concerned about seeming ungrateful about what he had. He really wanted a child; didn’t have one; and had been promised one. Where was it? (2) Jesus could be real with His disciples, so real that the night of His betrayal He could say, “I am sorrowful to the point of death. Stay with me and keep watch.” He didn’t provide a pat, formulaic answer to give the appearance that everything was all right. When He was hurting, He let those closest to Him know; and He asked for help. (3) I was able to confess that, while I’ve made great strides away from the person I was before I knew the Lord, interaction with my sister (who has wounded me more deeply than anyone alive on this earth) causes me to react in pain and anger and, in those conversations, I forget about things like self-control and forgiveness.

    God treasures our being real, and letting others know what’s going on. He wants us to be real with Him; He wants us to be real with each other. That’s what you and your Refuge bunch are doing, Kathy. And that’s what is helping Kyle heal. When the soothing balm of unconditional love is layered over our pain, eventually that pain is smoothed away, the empty places are filled in, and the rough edges are rubbed out. It encourages me to read these posts and, from afar, to be part of the interviews. What you are doing is Heaven-blessed and, because of your example(s), I can do the same here. Whether it is reciprocated now or later, I can do something to bring community to wherever I live. Thank you; and God bless you all!

    All of Heaven’s best,
    Margret

    Reply
  • thank you margret
    you are so right, unconditional love is the balm to heal all wounds. no doubt it comes from God, but he seems to apply it most using the fingers of His creation- and that is what i have felt. thanks for commenting!

    Reply
  • honestly, i thought i responded to this but just realized i never did. so sorry! one of my pet peeves is when people take time to share their comments and they go out to la la land. know that i treasure every one of your responses. and when it comes to interviews, they mean even more because there’s nothing like sharing your story and being met with crickets. thank you for your faithfulness and willingness to share.

    mary – oh, those are two biggies. staying present. not hiding. i am so glad there are a lot of us trying to practice together.

    patty – yeah, when i hear those stories i get so sad. but they are oh-so-prevalent. it is a beautiful thing to be part of a community that chooses healing and community above appearance and power. i am also so glad you have a safe spot for you!

    mike – thanks for all you do to create a safe space to learn these hard things…you’re the best.

    margret – thank you for sharing. one of the things that i always appreciate the most about Jesus is that moment in the garden where he was that gut-wretching honest, pained, filled with anguish and doubt. those real parts, fleshed out, remind me of my own humanity and to not run from it but integrate it as part of me, not trying to hide or spiritualize or pretend. i so appreciate your heart & am glad you are part of the conversation from afar. thanks for my birthday wishes, too.

    robert – thanks for your honesty. i did not know that part of your story so thank you for sharing a piece of your heart. i know far too many similar stories; it makes me sad but also even more hopeful there are many who will do whatever they can to not allow the same thing happen to someone else and work at creating safe communities, whatever that might look like, no matter how small or big. thanks for all your love and encouragement!

    stacy – oh that made me laugh: the refuge is “said” ranch. ha ha. glad you’re part of the nuttiness, the beauty.

    karl – thank you for being you. you are a gift to me. i have and continue to learn more from you than you even know. i am thankful for your friendship and journey and willingness to do this crazy thing despite its hazards and pitfalls.

    Reply

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