"whatever you do, don't work for a church" & other lingering notable quotables


i was walking in the airport the other day lost in some weird travel trance when i remembered a random thing someone said to me years ago that i’ll never forget.  no idea why it drifted across my mind, but the words of a placement counselor when i was at denver seminary in 2001 flashed before me. (side note: i had just started in the counseling program there–i ended up changing to spiritual direction in the end. i’m a terrible therapist. “50 minutes & see you next week” was a bad combo for me!) anyway, after taking thousands of dollars worth of personality and gifts inventories, we sat in a room where he interpreted the results as part of the training & mentoring component of the program.  here’s what he said “your strengths are mercy and leadership.  it poses quite a dilemma, though, because these tests indicate you’ll be bored as a therapist.  and at the same time, this feels pretty clear:  whatever you do, do not work for the church.  they will not know what to do with you!”

yeah, i didn’t listen to him.  and yeah, he was right.  but that’s okay.  i ended up here now, not “working for” a church but rather being part of shaping a community that isn’t afraid of women. as i was reflecting on this moment, i started thinking about other weird and powerful things people have said to me over the years that have significantly shaped & formed me, the statements made now and then that ended up being far more impactful than the deliverer of them probably ever realized.

here are a few others that came to mind:

“don’t ever tell anyone about this.  no one needs to know.  they won’t understand & they’ll just use it against you somehow.”

– a significant voice on the day of my abortion when i was 17. i let those words guide me for many years & they could have easily ruined me had it not been for God’s voice being stronger.

“you figure out where you want to go to college and i’ll figure out how to get you there.”

– my single mom who was making $28K a year and really did live up to her word.  i am so grateful for the cycle of uneducated-ness to be broken in my family & i attribute it to this. (it’s really cool, too, that a few years later she finished her degree & then went on to get a master’s degree a few years ago).

“you need to choose between your career & your marriage.  it will be really hard to have both.”

–  my boss at the phone company a few years out of college. i was just finishing graduate school and was being considered for a big promotion but engaged to jose at the same time (yeah, my boss was seriously old school).  it was awfully confusing to hear when you’re pretty much alone, young, being groomed for upper level management & deeply in love with a navy pilot.

i really think you’re supposed to be in this group. it’s not a bible study. it’s not a therapy group. it’s just a group of women trying to get more honest about our relationship with God and other people. we don’t really know what we’re doing, we just know we need to do it.”

– my dearest friend elaine, cornering me in the church bathroom during a sunday school break before i even knew who she was, inviting me to be part of a women’s group that changed my spiritual journey forever.

“daughter, you are forgiven”

– Jesus, when i was really intentionally seeking healing from the shame of my past. it was the first time i really felt it & since then i have never gone back to the long-held feeling of unforgiveness & paralyzing guilt.

“well, that’s what the problem was–two healthy baby boys are in there!”

– the doctor when he popped on the ultrasound after a test for birth defects for what we thought was one baby came back positive.  i was braced for the worst & never in a million years expected that he’d say that (or that i’d be a person who had 5 kids!)

“no, i’m not calling you to ask you if you know someone else for the job. i’m asking you to do the job.”

–  a friend who called me to see if i’d come on staff as a care pastor.  at that point i was a stay-at-home mommy and volunteer extraordinaire so it felt so out from left field & it honestly took me a while for it to register in the conversation, “you mean, you’re calling to for me, are you sure, really, come on, is this a joke?”   little did i know it’d change the course of history for me, it was where i really discovered more clearly what i was passionate about & met so many of the friends who have since become family.

i am so sorry. all this change has been harder on me than i thought.  i have been wrong. i will do this with you.  i want to do this with you.”

– jose, after my entrance into crazy-full-time ministry forced us to reckon with just how imbalanced our marriage was when it came to pursuing passions and taking care of our home & kids. this was the moment i believe we truly switched to an equal marriage in practice, not just theory.

“this is go-time.  this is our march madness & i need my starters in the game. you have 8 days to think about this situation.  then you need to be able to sit across the table from me and answer ‘yes’ to the following 3 questions:  1) that you will submit to my authority 2) that you will submit to the authority of the elders and 3) you will perform all the functions of your job.”

– the newly hired lead pastor during my downward descent from a megachurch staff.  in that moment it became crystal clear, um, i am not sure this is going to be such a good idea anymore.

come on, let’s do it.  the dream is possible.  what’s the worst thing that can happen?”

– my friend & teammate, karl, trying to encourage me to go for it when he knew i was terrified to form & co-pastor a new little faith community that became the refuge.

these were just a few that came to mind when i was reflecting on my journey.  i am wondering what some life-altering, defining statements, notable-quotables have been for others?

words are powerful. i am sure that some of the people who have said these things, extended some of these invitations, have no idea that they somehow influenced my journey.   this has made me wonder, too, how words i have said to people have impacted them directly & indirectly and i would never have known.  words shape and form the direction of our lives in so many ways.  they stir up what might be.  they close doors. they open others.  they cause us to think. i am thankful for the good ones, the bad ones.  the ones that were clearly from God, and the ones from people that God somehow redeemed.


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.


  • A very powerful post.

    It is amazing the power of words and so often, we do not reaize the power that we have in the words they speak.

    The words can be negative or positive, yet they have the power to change the person that hears them – for good or bad.

    It is re-affirming how much we really need to pay attention to our words and take the Scripture in James seriously ( quick to listen, slow to speak ).

    As I read your post, the words that have been spoken to me – flushed my sole.

  • kathy,
    Lots to think about. There are life changing moments both for good and bad. I think about the power of lies that hinder us from believing what God says about us. Many of those are from life-changing moments and phrases spoken by someone else, and then we step in and repeat and rehearse them continually in our thoughts. Restoration begins when we are able to replace the lie with God’s truth.

  • words are so powerful. for negative and for good. power of life and death right? I love words.

    it’s amazing how many words/phrases you remembered that happened at turning points in your life – or were what caused the turning point. that’s awesome! I love how I learned about your journey through those simple phrases.

    I can’t really think of any phrases or words spoken to me like that…

    actually I do remember some phrases spoken to me that affected me in negative ways which were all from my guidance counselors and other school people telling me what I could NOT do. telling me that I couldn’t do the things I dreamed — so to think of new goals, to get smaller dreams…. way to deflate the spark I had at ages 12 – 18. I hear that the guidance counselors haven’t changed and are still as small minded (in general) as ever. THAT is who we have guiding and counseling and supposedly encouraging our youth?… geesh

    great entry

  • The “Go time” quote, followed by your “um” response made me laugh out loud — and I’ve heard that story before 🙂

    Love this concept — challenges me to think back to the words/quotes that have shaped my life…

    Here’s one off the top of my head:

    “So are you asking to marry me, or just go on a date?”
    -Spoken by my bride, when I asked her out on our first date. Apparently I got a little ahead of myself 🙂 Fortunately I didn’t scare her away…

  • Kathy–

    –love this post. I have lots of things running through my head, but I think one of the most stunning and permanent was spoken by one of my Youth with a Mission leaders, oh so many years ago. He said: “Ryan, it’s strange that you are American because the oppression and trials that you have gone through in order to follow Jesus seem very much like what I hear from people in places like China.”
    –It’s the first time that I really gave myself permission to understand the weight of what I had gone through and how tragic it really was. And it’s stuck with me, because I really cherish my story and how magnificently I was tucked into the arms of God throughout my life. Thanks for bringing up memories.

  • Great blog, Kathy! Sorry to hear about the hassles you had, but thrilled that you didn’t “bag it” and it sounds like you are in a great place now. Would love to hear more.

  • Wow Kathy. Your post really touched me. I enjoyed the peek into your life, and how all of those quotes together formed some of your story so far. I’m a collector of stories, from writing them to listening to them. Many times true life, when someone is open and honest, is much more interesting than fiction. I am curious to explore this weekend, what some of the quotes in my life have been that have shaped my story.

    Just out of curiosity, what about “50 minutes and see you next week” was a bad combo for you?

  • Words can bring life and it can bring “death”, shame, guilt etc.

    Your post reminds me to listen to the words and to those inner prompting that also come in words and either follow the words or see that they are lies that we have been taught.

    Powerful words from you in this post. Thank you.

  • jeff – yes, words are so powerful! that passage in james gets me every time 🙂

    grace – i agree. the lies that have been spoken to us are so dangerous to embrace & we must ask God’s truth to replace some of the damage that was intentionally or unintentionally done. i think this is why listening for God’s voice is so important…

    randi – yeah, i think we all have heard some of those words that you are describing here that somehow deflated us, made us afraid to dream, afraid to say outloud certain things that were going on in our heart. a good question is: “do these words bring life or death? hope or despair?”

    steve – 🙂 so fun. good job, her asking that important clarifying question!!!

    ryan – thanks for commenting here! that is a cool example of a powerful statement that God used to shift something deep inside you. beautiful.

    dr. blomberg – thanks for stopping by. wondering how you heard about the carnival? yeah, i love “the church”, the beautiful and wild Body of Christ, too much to give up on it…

    minnow – thanks

    lisa – i am glad you have some weekend fodder 🙂 i just meant that i am a terrible 50 minute person. i could do the 50 minutes no problem, but it felt so frustrating. it’s way too short, i always wanted to introduce clients to other people i knew that had the same story so they could get even more hope, i wanted to check in on them and see how they were doing, i was always thinking of community and all kinds of things way beyond that 50 minute moment. it was all kind of comical, actually!

    john – always great to hear from you here and hope to see you soon!

  • “i’m sorry. i love you. i’ll pray for you”-spoken to me by a wonderful friend after i had just told her the ugliest secrets of my life. those words, forever, changed the course of my life. thank you, my precious friend, for speaking life into my heart!!

  • a very powerful post …

    one that brought back to mind many dear friends and “enemies” – got me a little melancholoy to be honest.

    Words as James said are powerful, since I have stopped preaching in the “established church”, the Gospel of Avoiding Hell and now am a part of a Community that proclaims the Kingdom of God is at hand I am discovering Kingdom words produce servant hearts – the establishment produces Ned Flanders.

  • so beautifully writeen kathy!!! Words affect our minds,hearts and souls so deeply. I hope that you will continue to positively touch lives with your written and spoken words for a long time to come!!! Hope to see you at an OTM conference sometime!!!

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kathy, for sharing those powerful words!!! Love you and miss you!!! ~Dawn Stanford

    Here are some of the ones that have stuck in my head and heart…

    “Do not succumb to mediocrity.” ~my Jewish high school psychology teacher that I loved and everyone else thought was a freak.

    “Walk slowly through the crowd.” ~Rev. Ellis Brust, my rector and boss when I was the youth minister at an Episcopal Church in Texas talking about how Jesus truly saw the needs of the people all around Him.

    “So you’re not perfect!” ~from a friend after sharing with her about some failures and it altering her perception of me that to her looked like I had it all together.

    And one of my all time favorite quotes, but not actually spoken to me is by St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach always and if necessary use words.”

  • mike – who knew? God is definitely nutty! thank you for being the greatest supporter and encourager and carrying of burdens ever.

    mark – yeah, i thought that too, when i was walking through this. “ouch, that’s right, ugh, oh!” i love that “the gospel of avoiding Hell”…i will have to use that one 🙂

    robert – always great to hear from you here. i am going to get up there one of these days, since otm is in denver, too, this year, no seattle for me. are you going?

    dawn – oh it is so good to hear from you here! i am glad that you shared a few of yours, too, so good….lots of love from colorado to arkansas, my dear & faithful friend.

    darrin – thanks for stopping by!


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