this is what love looks like here

one of the things i have always tried to honor at the carnival (and facebook) is never exploiting my friends’ stories.  it is hard sometimes because i want to share some of the wild & beautiful & hard & ugly & hopeful & hopeless moments that i experience each week with the people i intersect with.  i always say the refuge is part-church-part-nonprofit-advocacy-agency-part-family. some of the people i hang out with never come to the refuge; others are regulars.  but the one thing everyone seems to have in common is the desire for healing & hope & change & to be loved & to love.

in the comments on my last post being known for love my friend sam asked a great question.  he said, “In a subsequent post could you flesh this out a bit for those of us who aren’t part of the refuge? Are we talking about smiling and shaking some hands, taking a casserole when someone is sick or just had a baby, visiting someone we slightly know who was just charged with a serious crime and is sitting in jail, inviting a gay person who just lost their job and apartment to live in our spare room until they can find a job and housing, or what?”

and so instead of me listing all the ways i think the refuge loves people, i thought i would ask some refuge friends to share from their own heart how they have experience love as part of this community in some shape or form.

here’s what they shared in their email responses back to me. please know that this isn’t some kind of PR campaign for the refuge.  we’re just one little community trying to make it through the day.  but of course i was so touched by the sweet & tender responses that offer just a taste of our culture far better than i could.   i couldn’t bear to edit them or cut any parts out or make it all neat & tidy & organized.  the one thing you might notice is somehow my “lower caps” typing has transferred over to some of them! it made me laugh.   each individual person is separated by  * * * * *.

“i like joseph pintauro’s way of putting it – “to believe in God is to have somebody who knows you through and through and loves you still and all.”  I’ve come to experience more of that in the refuge community than in any other community of faith i’ve ever hung out with – encouraging me to be honest and loving me no matter what.”

* * * * *

The Refuge is where you:

  • feel like part of the family even when just visiting
  • get genuine hugs from people who really care
  • can let people know your hurts & concerns (not just the pastors)
  • will be fed physically and spiritually at least once a week…& more for those who want it
  • see God in action through others
  • can let people see you at your worst with no worries about being judged
  • you will be asked for your thoughts and opinions, and actually heard
  • will be missed when you can’t show up (not guilted about it when you come back)
  • you can admit you struggle with “stuff” and not have to pretend it doesn’t exist

* * * * *

  • The Refuge has done a lot of things for people, including providing “real” help: food cards, gas cards, rental assistance, and “handyman” help (fixing or replacing appliances, etc).
  • The Advocates’ Group is unique; a group of individuals joined by a single passion to walk with others, both in the short-term and the long-term, in the “icky places”.  I have never seen such a thing, outside of actual college degree programs.
  • The “let’s try it” attitude exemplifies a value at the Refuge that individuals, not leadership or staff, have the skills and the inspiration to accomplish amazing things if given the space to try.  It is a rare place that allows one the space to take an idea and try to get it to work.  Examples include the Word in Art and the Refuge Eats meals on Saturday nights.

* * * * *

love is seen in a person by the things that they do.. that is how i think it is or should be

when you get a group together that share the same feeling it’s an awesome experience

* * * * *

Being recognized, hugged, appreciated and valued for my presence not for what I do or do not provide

Encouraging me to speak my mind and not shaming me when my opinion may be different

Confronting bad behavior but offering grace to make changes and not judge or exclude

Always encouraging one another to be motivated from a place of love in all that we say and do

* * * * *

A place where:

  • The gifts I give are appreciated and readily received, but not assumed or taken for granted.
  • I can watch for the needs of others and help when I can.
  • I can share my problems and struggles when and where it feels safe.
  • When I do share my problems I am met with clear listening and not a boatload of judgement.
  • When I humble myself and open to change, suggestions for help and opportunities for help arise together.
  • I know I am loved, even though some of my problems seem intractable.  I am loved and encouraged anyway, we believe in the long term healing presence of Christ. That feels like grace to me.
  • cars shared when otherwise I would be walking.
  • meals shared when otherwise I would be hungry.
  • kindness shared when otherwise I would be shrinking into despair.

* * *

Several people and families have sponsored our family for a very long time as we journey through counseling–  marital, individual, and even one of our children! There is no way we would have ever seen such amazing growth without this sacrificial type of gift…  It truly works!!!!!!!

On several occasions we have needed things–  a ride, or to pick up a Rx, or help with groceries or gas money or Christmas gifts…  I cannot say how empowering it is to be able to ask without guilt or shame.  No way could we stay in a bad situation with so many cheerleaders!!!!  The change is coming as we look ahead to grad school and me graduating from college– our kids see this and it rubs off… They ALL 3 want to be some type of social worker or activist or psychologist in the future– It’s so beautiful.

Mike has filled the need I had for a father.  In many ways so has Karl.  The Refuge is our family–  it fills the huge void left by an inadequate an unhealthy family system.  When holidays come up, Kathy’s house is the place to be.  We are never left in the cold.  We are never alone in this world.  We never have to be alone.  It would have to be by choice if we were.  That makes life a million times more bearable and lends hope.

* * *

Rob coming to my work on a Saturday afternoon, got my keys and drove my car around trying to figure out what was wrong.  Then that Wednesday, in your parking lot, looking at it again and fixed it!

When I’m depressed, I have always wanted to be invisible and sneak out of church without being seen but that is not possible at the Refuge.  I know that if I don’t say goodbye to certain individuals that I will be getting a text before I make it home asking me if I’m okay, wanting to go bowling or just to set up a coffee date.  To be part of the Refuge community is to be seen and known.  You cannot hide even if you want to.  That is a good thing.

* * *

My love language is acts of service, so I feel most loved when people do things for me. In the context of my church community, I feel loved when:

my children are cared for and engaged in God’s teaching so I can participate in the service

people step in to help when my family needs extra help, for example

  • bringing food when I had a new baby
  • sitting with me while my child is in surgery
  • watching my children when I need a break and my husband is out of town

other things that make me feel loved

  • sharing vegetables from each others gardens
  • taking time to pray with me right when I ask for it
  • offering to pray for me even when I don’t realize I need it
  • giving me space to share my stories so that I can be knownproviding opportunities to express myself creatively so that I can grow

* * * * *

*love bears all things….we try to really really endure and persevere with one another…with such a diverse group, this is no small task…..

*time…we try to continually connect, not just in a 2min “say hello to those around you” interaction. We love each other by entering in, and being a part of their real lives…

* we honor the uniqueness in each of us, and make room for all voices. In doing so, we hope to continue to learn to love god, each other *and* ourselves……

* * * * *

i try to:

  • invite someone along
  • fix something that is broken and they cannot afford to fix, or have the tools, or know how
  • call someone
  • go sit by/with at service
  • meet for coffee
  • pay a bill
  • lend money
  • tell them specifically how they help me- funny, faithful, smart, kind, tolerant, honest
  • tell them i love them

* * * * *

oh, how i love my sweet little community.  this is just a very small slice of thoughts on the refuge. sure, in this moment we hear all the good stuff but in reality, we know there are all kinds of ways we fall short & have left people feeling sad and lonely unintentionally.

the part that made me cry as i read these different quick responses was just how grateful i am for my friends.

i have seen them in action for the last 4 1/2 years & it’s not all talk. they show up for interventions, they engage in healthy conflict & learn a better way, they give rides & share cars & share houses & share food, they babysit for single moms, they drive people to doctor appointments, they talk every day to someone working their first days of sobriety, they sit with people at social services, they help organize paperwork for those who can’t, they drink a lot of coffee at coffee shops, they watch a lot of movies on lonely sundays, they move people without whining & complaining (well, maybe just a little bit), they sleep on hospital couches, they cheerlead, they counsel, they encourage people to use their voices & create & try hard-things-they-don’t-want-to-do, they share their experience, strength & hope, they go to family meetings at mental hospitals, they show up at court, they hold babies, they sit with friends in their sh*t way past midnight, they call and text and check in and pray and care deeply for people not just in words but in actions.

they are relentless & love me & jose & our kids so well.  so tangibly.  so deeply.  so unconditionally.

they are my family.  they are my friends. they are my advocates. they are my precious sisters & brothers & mothers & fathers & daughters & sons who are teaching me what love in the kingdom of God looks like now–in the midst of the pain & the suffering & joy of real life.

so that’s a little slice of what love looks like here.

* * * * *

a few quick extras:

  • i have a short little post up at communitas collective called creating messes.  communitas now has a weekly podcast called “the collective” on tuesdays that will have some good & challenging conversations.  this post is based on the first one called “criticism through creating.”


  • thanks for your prayers & love for my back.  i have to have surgery on november 17th to repair this ruptured disc. unfortunately, because of the extent of the damage & a lot of leg numbness surgery is the best option .  i am relieved but scared & really excited about the prospect of sitting again (i haven’t been able to for over a month now & boy do i miss it!).

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.


  • Kathy,
    what wonderful words these are.what a gift you have been blessed with.Its so nice to read your articles and hear about how God is working in so many lives.You have obviously found your calling and I am sure Our father is”well pleased”.Thanks for sharing…
    kelly (hanson)

  • Kathy,

    I’m not part of the Refuge, but I just wanted to say this:

    Love is lived in your life and shared with me because of the time you take to listen, to encourage, to pray and laugh. I know that spills over to all areas of your life in so many ways. And I appreciate you! I’ve been thinking about you and praying lots for your back. I’ll keep Nov 17th in mind and hope for good news for you soon after, friend!


  • Kathy,

    I soooo wish that we lived closer.

    However, you have shown that same love to me, even though we’ve never met. You encourage me through emails and I can feel that your concern is genuine. Thank you.

    There are so few, in my experience, who are willing to walk the walk of love – really. It is not easy, it is challenging and raw and wonderful and filling.

    Hmm… I think that the church in general discourages this actually hands on love because it is messy and requires long term commitment. It does not fit with the corporate image.

    Through the last few years of walking out of the darkness of abuse into the light of freedom – from the bondage of the Law into the freedom of Grace – I have learned that because of the abusive nature of my childhood, religiously, physically and emotionally, I have a difficult time understanding – or maybe believing in – genuine love. I am suspicious of the motives. To have a friend that recognized this and was willing to hang on and walk through this process with me long term was the ONLY way I ever had a hope of learning that this love was real…. and in that, beginning to learn what it means when God says he loves me….

    Hugs from over the hills and a prayer for your surgeon’s wisdom and skill to come together perfectly and that your back will heal quickly and fully. 🙂

    Love, Katherine

  • dear friend,
    thank you for loving me and praying for us and for sitting (well, standing) with us and listening to our shtuff… for caring. we love and adore you.

  • Oh reading this made me cry, too. It was actually really motivating to read so much of our heartbeat from beautiful individual voices .

    I remember not being able to put my finger on it, but wanting (“back in the day”) to really love and give of myself way more than in a short term missional setting..

    Without knowing exactly what it was, I believe it was a part of cultivating the need and desire to *really* be known and to know others..

    Just reading the words, I fell in love with our wacky little community all over again. 🙂

  • This is amazing! Lots of us would like to be part of such a community. My wife and I were discussing these posts and wondering – How did the refuge become like this? Was it a couple of people who modeled what this looks like, and like attracts like?

    How does one do this and not end up with a long line of those who want to receive and a very short line of those willing to give? How does one find the givers? Sure, lots of groups have one or two, but they soon grow weary. When our little group does service projects, we usually know who will participate, and who is never or rarely involved. Would this change if we announced that a television crew would follow us while we did some particular service project?

    Groups like yours have gotta be almost unique. It’s so much easier to go to church, smile, shake hands, sing and listen to someone talk. If we really get to know people we will discover that they all have problems, sins & issues and are not as pretty as most of us pretend to be. Then we think we must move on and find nicer people, with bright shining faces.

  • kelly – thanks so much for reading & for your love and encouragement from afar….

    ryan – oh my friend, thank you. i am so glad our paths crossed that night at the house concert & we have been able to forge a way to get together when we can. you give me hope that things really can be different. your generation is going to be the one that really tips things toward a better way, i really believe that….love & hope & peace to you & see you soon i hope, when i can drive again, yeah!

    sarah – thanks so much for reading & your voice & your heart and passion. it’s lovely.

    – oh, me, too. i know you’d have some fun here. one of these days i hope you can come and hang out for a bit. i do agree with you, messy messes with corporate. they just don’t work. we’ve always had this culture very embedded in our community but over the years it’s become more and more and more clear that the two models can’t be mixed. unless relationships (safe, honest, two-way, authentic ones, not power-weird-unsafe ones) are the #1 priority & pretty much the only thing that gets much energy & tending to, the rest will always win.

    angela – i couldn’t think of anyone i’d rather “stand” with, as in literally, ha ha. the day i can sit again when we’re together we can all sing hallelujah before we start. love you.

    tami – yup, it sure is a little slice of heaven. so thankful for you, for all the nuttiness, for all the love.

    stacy – oh i am so glad you took a total wild and crazy indiana-jones-stepping-out-into-the-abyss-and-hoping-the-bridge-appears risk to do this with us. your heart and love is so beautiful…

    sam – that’s always the hardest question to answer because it was never like we said “okay, this is how it’s going to be…” the truth is that when people are in touch–or trying to be–with their pain, their story, their real doubts, their real fears, their real feelings–it creates a much more compassionate person. the refuge is FULL of pastors. we all know it’s not a title, it’s a gift. i think it’s that 2 corinthians 1 thing, that we comfort others with the comfort we’ve received. it’s wild because it is pretty natural. and at the same time, we are really intentional about it. our advocates group is one of the places where i think the culture of caring tangibly is extra-cultivated although many who do those things don’t necessarily come. but it does put in front of us that there’s no us & them, there’s no “here’s my mission and my project”, there’s no “i have to save the day” (our advocates logo is an anti superman sign, ha ha). anyway, some day i hope you can hang out with us for a bit & maybe everyone else could share how it’s developed. the truth is that we continue to learn and there’s so much more that can continue to be cultivated. even though we’re 4 1/2 years in, the reality is we are still really young in the big scope of things. i think a lot of what i really care about is really fleshed out in that jean vanier book “community & growth”. thanks for being part here, i am really glad we met here. (ps: they were able to move my surgery to the 18th so that if jose can actually come home, he could stay for the whole weekend).


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