connection, resiliency & identity

connection resiliency and identity

a little while ago a friend of mine was telling me what he was learning in the overseas adoption book he was reading.  he and his wife are dear friends of ours, and they are adopting 2 boys from ethiopia.  we are all so excited for their arrival into our extended family!  he was sharing how their responsibility as a parent was to help these boys, who have been orphaned, cultivate “connection, resiliency, and identity.” these 3 words powerfully sunk in, and i had this flash across my mind that  these are 3 things that most everyone i intersect with is trying to cultivate in some way, shape or form!  so many i know, both in and outside of the refuge community, are somehow “orphaned” and these 3 things–connection, resiliency & identity–get stunted, lost, wounded, broken, some-how-messed-up.  to me, part of our spiritual/emotional growth & transformation comes from growing in our ability to connect with others, ourselves, God and our ability to bounce back from adversity & life’s struggles, and in discovering our true identity.

since then, i have used this thought to stir up a few conversations in some different groups/venues i facilitate; every time, in different ways, everyone seems to resonate with the need to cultivate more of these 3 things in our lives. in terms of nurturing the refuge community, i’d say that these 3 things are core areas that i hope become stronger and healthier for not just my friends, but for me, too.

i have no idea how the adoption book defined these 3 words, but here’s my translation; they are definitely slanted toward grownups and our spiritual & emotional journies:

connection:

  • ability to be connected to others, ourselves, God
  • flow instead of stuckness
  • attached & not lonely

resiliency:

  • ability to absorb pain & struggle but not let it kill us
  • a “bounce-back-ness” that isn’t fake or denying but real & deep
  • meeting calamity with serenity (one of my favorite lines from AA material)

identity:

  • embracing our story instead of running from it
  • a deep sense of knowing who we are apart from others
  • clarity
  • on a solid foundation, with deep roots

each time i have shared these 3 words, the one that everyone seems to focus in on the most is “identity.” maybe it’s because so many of us have gotten “lost” or “orphaned” along the way. we don’t know who we really are.  we are not on a firm foundation of love & hope.  there’s far too much insecurity & brokenness & lack of confidence, and loss of freedom & hope & purpose for so many of us.  and whether we’ve been part of “the church” or not hasn’t seemed to make the difference it was probably supposed to make.  sure, we talk about identity in Christ, but i will be honest, most of the conversations in the typical churchey ways haven’t lead to the kind of true freedom, creativity, hope, and peace that i think was always God’s idea for us.

i am not God, of that i am quite sure.  at the same time, sometimes i think of  my heart for my kids and those that i love dearly & how passionate i am on their behalf, how much i want for them, how fierce and deep my heart is for them to know they are beautiful, loved, treasured, valued.  and i am reminded in those moments of how God must feel about us on such a bigger, wider, much wilder scale.  and in reflecting on my kids, i can firmly say that i hope each of them grow to be very solid in terms of these 3 things.  i want them to feel connected, be resilient, and be sure of their identities.  already, even with 2 somewhat solid parents & a lot of pouring into,  i see how tricky it is for these things really take hold.  but they’re worth cultivating & fighting for & caring about.  they’re worth focusing energy on.  they’re worth praying for & nurturing & teaching in really tangible ways.  and i don’t want them for my kids (my real kids & my “adopted” family ) just so they can have an “easier life.”  i want these things for them so that they can live more fully, try more crazy things, be willing to chase their dreams, be brave enough to stand up for what they believe, to risk more on behalf of others.  i do believe that the more these things are developed in us, the better off  the world is & that the “kingdom now” is far more present despite the world’s brokenness.

yeah, i think we all have a little part to play in helping others cultivate connection, resiliency & identity. and i think we need others to help us develop these things in ourselves as well.   it is a lifelong process, but i think that there are seasons where we might need more intention on them than others.

here are some of the questions i have tossed out in a few groups conversations to consider:

  • how is connection, resiliency, or identity being cultivated in your life right now?
  • what’s hard about it?
  • what’s good about it?
  • this year, which of these feels like one that might need more attention than the other?

in reflecting on these questions in a few different contexts, i shared that i was feeling halfway good in the connection department; in fact, i could use a little less connection with people, ha ha, but always a little more in the God one.  i am also hoping to continue to grow in resiliency & my ability to “bounce back” from adversity & conflict.   learning the fine art of freedom from codependence is not easy or cheap, especially when it’s a natural reflex.  i have encountered several really hard things in the past few weeks where i noticed a shift in “bend-back-into-shapeness” that wasn’t denial or fakeness but actually something deeper, better.   and, like so many of my friends, the one that feels the strongest is to grow in my true identity.  as i keep growing up & healing & learning & changing,  i want to step into the reality that this life as a community cultivator is in my bones & heart & what i’m supposed to be doing and to live out of that freedom and strength.  and at the same time, that is just one part of me.  i am much more than only this.  or being a mom.  or a wife.  or a friend.  i must always remember that, otherwise who i am is tied to something that isn’t permanent or anchored in the deep. yeah, i am learning that i am a woman made to dream, to hope, to create, to love, to live dangerously, to try things that are meant to be tried and to not worry so much about success or failure because those things don’t really matter.  understanding that i am 43 years old & probably pretty done with the first half of my life & don’t want to spend the last half worrying so much about what people think.  knowing that i want to notice the beauty in God’s work in my life and those around me each and every day and be less impatient. I want to radically intersect with the gospel not just for others but for myself, too.  yeah, i want my roots to go down deep and be anchored in God’s love, hope, and peace in the midst of all of the wild twists & turns of real life. i want to live on solid ground.

anyway, i think these words are going to linger for me. i think they should somehow be cornerstones in developing & nurturing places of healing so that more-alive-bonded-healther-stronger-free-er-grounded  people can emerge (and i think that’s what “the church” is supposed to be about).

i’d love to hear some of your reactions to these words. how are these being cultivated in your life right now?  what do you long for more of?   what are you learning along the way?

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.

7 Comments

  • There’s so much we can learn from adoption as it relates to the gospel, Kathy. Romans 8:15 even calls our new life in Jesus “the Spirit of adoption.” So who *wouldn’t* want to grow in these three areas?

    Especially connection. For me, the world connection takes me to the passage in Ephesians where Paul points out that the body needs connection in order to let life flow from one part to another: “from Jesus the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” I love that phrase “what every joint supplies.” The joints are the points of connection in the body. If there is no connection, there is no supply. The Father wants to give us everything we need, and he frequently chooses to do so through points of connection–that is–people!

    I can see why you would use words like these to facilitate conversations–they reflect important realities.

    Peace.

    Reply
  • thank you so much for your words…in my last 11 months of sobriety and recovery i have days where to go to another meeting is just too hard and all the days of my life…overwhelming…but i remember the words of my present from God, my sponsor….”I don’t just want you sober and on this earth taking up space and breathing in air… i want you out there…i want you to give back….be a strong and confident role model…meetings are just such a small part of this….but one day you will give back what i have given you”

    of course she always premises it with “only through the grace of God did we meet, connect and work together at the time we did”…..it is amazing to me how much i learn from AA shares….from honest, bold, getting naked in front of strangers reality….. some nights i get home and i have so much to be grateful for i want to burst at the seams…i am in a bubble of gratitude, and in the school of learning when, how and why to SURRENDER to this program and in the beginning i thought…”easy does it”, “one day at a time”, “progress not perfection”, what are you all a bunch of “bumper sticker speaking idiots…” i was the idiot for not realizing the simplicity and success of what is called “the largest organization in the world, that no one wants to belong to”,

    so, what i took with me from your blog was a feeling of security in knowing that this lifelong struggle is more than worth it….just for being able to know and love people like you…and of course the gift of my brother and his lovely wife and their great “crazy go nuts” adventure…God Bless you for surrounding John’s words with your own coated with your own special grace, wisdom and spark type of frosting…. i loved it and will wear it on my heart for a long time….love kathy

    Reply
  • Kathy I love this profound image from Isaiah 53, it captures the reality of connection, resiliency and Identity.

    For the Servant of God grew up before Him like a tender plant, and like a root out of dry ground.

    So often we think of being resilient as mental and spiritual toughness…when really it is like that tender reed, being flexible, bending and not breaking…it is being tender. And the connection, this mysterious sense of communion with ” all ” creation. It is being rooted in ” all ” humanity, the diversity and beauty of natural creation, and God…growing up before and in the midst of it all. In all of it we identify with the wild profound mystery that we are a part of something very sacred…something more than we can imagine.

    As I age…life tells me to become flexible, bend with the Wind which ever way it blows.

    Reply
  • Wow. Even 6 months ago, I would not have even know how to evaluate where I fit with those definitions. I still have a long way to go. But through a wonderful therapist and a true gem of a friend, I am beginning to believe that I have value, even to God. 🙂

    It is hard to describe in ways that some who has never been there can understand, but when you grow up in an abusive situation with little to no positive input, some of the items on your list are just simply foreign concepts with no context for evaluation. There have been so many times over the last 4 years with a dear and amazing friend that she would tell me how valuable I was, or how beautiful I was and it wasn’t that I just didn’t believe, it was hard for me to process it – it did not feel real. Many times, when something silly would happen, I was (and sometimes still am) shocked that she is not angry with me.

    It is a process of unlearning then re-learning….

    Reply
  • Three deep realitities – connectedness, resiliency, and identity;

    Idntity – once it dawned on me that I’d never fit in as an American (I’m a resident immigrant from Brazil), it was a tremendously freeing experience for me to be who I am and who God created me to be; I do not worry any more about who I am with all the three divers culture s that are an intrinsical part of me.

    Resilience, haven’t been sorely tested as Bonhoeffer was (just finished reading is biography) but I prayed as he prayed that I will have the courage and strength to do as God bids me to and be grounded and stand if it comes to it …

    Connection, is the one I most struggle with; somewhere I read that American males have a great difficulty in developing male to male relationshps because it requires vulnerability which is difficult to do in this very competitive culture;

    I must it it to heart the quote from Bonhoeffer…”God wanted his beloved children to operate out of freedom and joy to do what was right and good, not out of fear of making a mistake. To live in fear and guilt was to be “religious” in the pejorative sense that Bohoeffer so often talked an preached about……but if one wished to live responsibly and fully, one would be willng to do so.”

    Reply
  • I have a friend in New Orleans who is adopting a girl from Ethiopia. I have been following his journey toward adoption via his blog as he and his wife add to their family of four children.

    For me connection is the most difficult b/c I live in another country, not my home country. And I don’t fit the demographics of the expats here. I am single, older than many expats, and not with an established organization.

    Then your post made me think about the struggles of the poorer Honduran with those concepts. How hard it must be to connnect, be resilient and establish identity when your dad or mom or both have abandoned you as is the case for many here. Or you have to move within the country frequently to find work? Or you share a very small home with lots of extended family? Those are things I am going to ponder this week.

    Reply
  • ray – thanks so much for sharing. yeah, it’s so interesting that i’ve been thinking so much about the word “adoption” lately too, and how even though we might be orphaned, we’re ultimately not. but also how truly important and healing true attachment to the family of God really is to help feel more secure this side of heaven. there’s far too much loneliness & feelings of utter abandonment & rejection in this world. i always so appreciate what you share, thanks for reading & being here.

    kathy – oh your response made me cry. i am always reminded how in the least likely places in the world’s eyes, the most powerful truths of God always seem to be lived out. so beautiful. thanks for reading & for sharing your journey. when is your exact one year date??

    ron – thanks for sharing that beautiful reminder. i love that you made the connection to that passage. i love all of the imagery in isaiah. i, too, want to continue to be more and more flexible, willing to go where the Wind blows, strong in knowing our roots don’t mean we’re stuck in one place…

    katherine
    – i totally know what you mean. when things in our houses, our lives, our faith experiences are so contrary to some of these ideas, it can feel so foreign to even know what some of these ideas of being loved, valued, beautiful, connected, free, strong, etc. really are. it is why we do need friends like yours & lots and lots of grace & lots and lots of time to let some of these spirit-infused ideas move into deep places of our hearts and our experience. it definitely doesn’t come overnight, but it’s so beautiful when it comes. thanks for sharing.

    carlos – thanks as always for sharing. i am so glad you took time to share your reflections on each of these. i see the connection part different in this culture than yours, too. we are so independent, afraid to let others in & need each other the way that latin cultures do. we’ve been reflecting on some bonhoeffer stuff in some refuge stuff recently, and i am yet again struck by how powerful his words are and just how rare it is to have places to really live them out. fear and independence has so many of us by the tail.

    laurie – yes, i am so with you that these things are difficult for all human beings, but those who are poor & marginalized & more-likely-to-somehow-be-“orphaned” have it harder. this is why the work that you are doing there is so important–presence, incarnational, tangible presence-does help contribute to these, i think, but then the “moving on” makes it harder to stick. i do believe that we take with us what we learn along the way, though, and that every bit of God’s touch lingers. thanks for being part from afar, i think of you often. with the united-continental merger, we are going to be able to fly to latin america again so one of these days i’ll make it to honduras.

    Reply

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