never quite right

never quite rightthis weekend’s walking wounded: hope for those hurt by the church was a really sweet & beautiful time for me.  it was hard, too, because the reality of so much pain & loss in what’s-supposed-to-be-the-safest-place-on-earth really gets under my skin. i will never be able to recreate what happened there but i will try over time to share some of what it stirred up for me.  i’m so behind on this blog, with unfinished posts here & there so i’ve got a feeling they won’t come in order, but they will come!

there were many things that stuck out for me over our friday evening & all day saturday together.  however, if i had to choose one overarching thing  it would be the deep sadness of realizing how so many dear and dedicated people, with deep passion for Jesus & people & hope & change, could end up on the outs somehow.  it just hurts.

and i think the thing that everyone has in common is that somehow they weren’t quite “right” for the systems we were part of.

they were too much or not enough. too messy. to passionate. too caring. too female. not male enough.  too gay. not pretty enough.  too strong.  too weak. too mentally ill. too poor. too loud.  too divorced. too single.  too wild.  too quiet.  they asked too many questions or not the right ones. too creative. too boring.  they said “no,” said “i can’t anymore,” said “something’s wrong here,” said “i’m not so sure anymore,” said “what about those people?” said “can i take a break?” and “can you please help me, i’m hurting?”

the church should be the safest place on earth.  the one place where we are okay just as we are.  in all our mess, in all our glory. in all our femaleness in all our maleness. in all our good and all our bad. in all our strengths and all our weaknesses. in all our love for God and in all our doubts & questions.

but the truth is that because of its emphasis on performance, growth, exclusion, and self-interest, the church has become a place that continues to make most people feel somehow never quite right about who we are.

i realized that has been my experience from the beginning, really.  when i first became a christian i always felt stupid because i didn’t know important things i guess i was supposed to know magically about the Bible.  i remember being chastised by my first real pastor when my oldest son was a baby for asking what-i-think-were-really-fair questions about predestination. he made me feel so dumb, so “not quite right.”  i have countless stories of feeling shame in these kinds of church-y moments.  then, as i learned more and started to grow up, i ended up feeling completely inadequate as a christian; i wasn’t a good enough christian wife or mom or friend or disciple and somehow needed to pray more, work more, learn more, do more, try more.  when i started to break free from that and gain a little more security & healing, i found myself in a system that in subtle & direct ways kept saying to me “um, can you quit talking about deeper relationship?  we just want to study our Bibles and go to church and be happy.  stop it!”  that is on top of being a strong, passionate woman who isn’t interested in either children’s ministry, worship, or only women’s ministry.  yeah, until now, i was never quite right.  i have always been too much or not enough for the church.

i know so many of you in the same boat.

you’ve just never been “quite right” for the churches you’ve been part of.

i’m so sorry.  it’s not the way it should be.  i don’t think it was ever the idea.

the church, the wild & beautiful body of Christ, people of all shapes & sizes coming together in some shape or form to learn how to love God, ourselves & others should be the one place where we’re okay.  just as we are.  today.  not tomorrow.  not once we do this or do that.  not once we know this or know that.  not once we heal this or heal that.  now.  today.

so that’s my prayer for those of you who are on the outs and are hurting.  who were never quite right for the places you tried to be.  i am so sorry for your pain.  but you are not alone.  oh, you are so not alone.

my hope is that we can gain the courage & healing to redeem what was lost. i have a feeling it will look totally different than anything we’ve ever seen or experienced before. for me, it looks like the refuge, but for you it might just look like a few close friends dedicated to hanging out with each other just because.  it might look like being part of a ministry or organization or group that you’re really passionate about.  it might look like planting a new safe community. it might look like finding one that is safe enough for the real you.  it might look like going to therapy or spiritual direction to rebuild strength that was stripped or gain it for the first time.

it looks so different for each of us.  but i can strongly say that i think we all need to try to find some little pocket of love & little pocket of freedom where we (and the people who are part) can feel welcomed, valued, loved, honored, restored, and okay-just-how-we-are.

that’s not too much to ask.


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.


  • “That’s not too much to ask.”

    That simple statements stirs up so much pain and hope….
    I have found a little pocket of safety – although my heart is still so cautious, so slow to trust. I even have trouble calling the leader pastor. But he doesn’t call himself that (he’s not one much for titles). You can call him pastor if you want, but I think he just prefers to be called Robert…:-)
    He often says, “you should be where you are celebrated, not tolerated.” …..and I am beginning to believe he means it. There are only about 25 of us right now – started about 2 months ago. Every one of us was rejected or chewed up in some way by the ‘church system’. We are an eclectic bunch – and learning to navigate around each others sore spots and bits of religion clinging is a challenge. But there is love – like I’ve never know before. The connections I’m making here will stay even when I move…
    Thank you, Kathy (& the Refuge) for giving me hope that it could really happen. 🙂

    • i love that “where you are celebrated, not tolerated.” we can all smell out “being tolerated.” it’s a bad feeling. oh we missed you this past weekend but i did feel your spirit with us from across the hills!

        • it’s so weird that we somehow never quite do! we’ve lived here 14 years and i think we’ve been out there 2-3 times total. but it definitely doesn’t mean it can’t happen! 🙂

  • Kathy,

    I am very sad that I was not able to make it this weekend. I am still recovering from a crash on the motorcycle (not very serious) and have been so busy at work that I needed a day to just sit and recover. My thoughts and prayers were with you and those from the refuge, and I am rejoicing that you were able to reach so many people with the message of safety and love and hope. Hope to be able to hang with you all again soon.

    Your Brother in Christ,

    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

    • i am sorry i am just now responding to this, but i am glad you are okay! i hope any brokenness is healing and you are feeling better. it was a really great weekend and i thank you for your prayers and love. you are such an encouragement to me and i am thankful for you. look forward to hearing how things are going down there!

    • oh that’s so true and sometimes honestly it pains me the stark reality of how rare it can feel for so many. it looks like we are coming out to josh’s game this weekend but it’s a crazy family trip and so probably won’t get to see you guys this round but hoping to make it out there in early 2012. i’ll keep you posted on dates, it would be so fun to hang out.

  • I know there r many verses, in the bible, where Jesus says we r more than good enough. That we r alright. But from early childhood, all the church has ever made me feel like was a failure, if do couldn’t obey all the rules. There seemed 2 b this illusion that everyone else was. I was the only one not quite good enough. Still not quite right w God or 4 God. It is nice 2 b able 2 have a place where people think I am alright. Warts and all. Now the trick is 2 try & change the old tapes & believe that they might b right.

    • sometimes i get so mad at how messed up we can get so early on and how hard it is to ever recover. that’s why we need God and each other so much, to replace this false message that somehow we’re not quite right and always fall short.and i think you hit on such an important thing–even with a safe place & safe people, it’s awfully hard to restore the damage that’s been done. but that’s what healing looks like & i am glad we get to see it and taste it and experience it in our own lives in little and big ways together.

  • “i don’t think it was ever the idea.”

    -no, me neither. thanks for being one of the brave voices providing safe conversations, places, and friendships. your words are always a breath of fresh air.

  • I think that from age age 16, when I started to learn the spoken and unspoken rules, I was striving for a magical arrival point of spiritual nature. Now, at 32(!).. I am working on not striving.. and the unpeeling work in community. Leaning more into who I am. Embracing my brokenness, and not hiding. Letting myself believe that my femaleness is not an automatic deduction in the faith world. I am so grateful for my safe place, on more levels than I can count.

    Yeah, I would move all over again. My family is here… and it is starting to sink deep into my bones that despite the deep pain from my awful church experience, that I can believe that. 🙂

    • yeah, so much for that magical arrival point, eh? this my dear is what healing looks like. oh it’s a beautiful and bumpy and terrifying ride. but oh so good and my hope is that you keep feeling more and more comfortable in your own skin because you’re awesome.

  • oh my what a statement “you should be where you are celebrated, not tolerated” i am stealing that one!
    i know that for me and lots of us the word evangelism, especially personal evangelism stirs such strong and scary emotions. but if had to guess, i wonder if Jesus intended that someone unfamiliar with Him could join a community and feel that overwhelming sense of finally being safe who could help but follow that person?
    for so many, the need to survive emotional and spiritually has meant they had to leave. oh so sad.
    i got lucky, call it what you want, but that is how i feel to be lead by people who more than anything value safety.
    honestly, before i met you kathy i don’t think i had ever heard that word in the context of relationships?
    i grieve i did not know that is what we are called to while parenting my kids, or forming a relationship with my sweet wife. i thought i was called to change them, of dear God how wrong can one person be!

    • thanks, karl. oh i think of the ways i cemented this into our especially-early- parenting years all in the guise of trying to be “good christian parents”…yikes. it freaks me out because the one thing i have always struggled with was feeling “enough” and here i passed on this message to my kids that somehow they weren’t. oh that pains me. but thank GOD for redemption and healing and change and that somehow we don’t have to pay year for year on change.

  • Oh I was so glad we came; been wanting to see “the refuge” and to get the added benefit of the conference was such a bonus….one of the things that stood out for me can be characterized by the word “Real”….allow me to clarify…interesting how truth is found anywheere and this was found in the best sales course I ever had a few years ago…it’s title was “Helping your clients succeed”, and here is the crux, the sub-title was “let’s get real or let’s not play at all” – it taught us how to really uncover all the needs of the client, which required frank, open, and “real” dialogue and not play games…this weekend showed me a group of people, all in one room, who were real, and not playing games, as painfull as it is/was for somee, nevertheless” real, because we realize we’re “doing life” together, and NOT playing games…and yes so difficult to do/see in the existing churches…

    the stories were so dear and, yes the sadness was great, but the joy and laughter was so regenerative… will the laughter replace the tears when each has to re-tell/re-visit the painfull experience? I sincerely hope so….

    lastly, it gave me some additional people to add to my conversations with the triune personalty and his circle of friends during my early morning runs….

    • i am so glad you came, that was one of my highlights, meeting you all. i do hope the laughter replaces the tears somewhere in this process. so often now the things that we used to cry about and hurt so much now we can laugh at and see it for what it is. i think that’s part of grief. if you just skim over it and pretend it doesn’t hurt, then you can’t really get to that part of acceptance. but once acceptance comes, it helps in not taking it all quite so seriously anymore. i thank you for who you are and your deep and beautiful faith and your prayers on ours and others behalf. it does feel comforting in more ways than you know!

  • Last night in my Bible study, I broke down. We were studying “Honor your father and mother,” which was always a hard one for me. I never dishonored my parents, but I didn’t “feel” it, because I was abused.
    A couple of people were patting themselves on the back for being better parents than the general population, and I just lost it. I’ve made a few mistakes as a parent, but as I told the group, I never abused my kids. Sometimes that’s the best I can do.
    I think I made people really uncomfortable. Someone handed me tissues, a few people assured me I really am a good parent and a good daughter, and the conversation moved back to something more… safe.
    Nobody did anything wrong, but I do wish we could be more open as a group. I know there are broken people there, but I just get hints and vagueness. I don’t blame the church in this case. If anything, I blame human nature. We give lip-service to “you can say anything here,” but we tend to hide behind our facades.
    I love your concept of a refuge. Our church is so small that i don’t know if we could pull together enough people together for one, but boy, I’d love it. Meanwhile, I hope I (unintentionally) gave people something to think about. Maybe by admitting how messed up I am, I gave them permission to do the same.

  • I have to add a postscript to what i said above: One member of the group called today, thanking me for what I said and assuring me I hadn’t done anything wrong. I am in a refuge, but in my insecurity and selfishness, sometimes I don’t recognize it. We’re all moving along at our own pace, but we’re all moving toward God.

    • thank you for sharing both of these stories, carrie, first your experience & then what happened afterward. beautiful in all kinds of ways. first that you were brave enough to put it out there despite the risks & second that even though it felt cruddy and weird afterward somehow it got redeemed and strengthened trust and hope that you are in the right place somehow, someway, learning important things along the way. vulnerability is terrifying but it is so healing and freeing, too. so glad you shared here, i could feel both of those moments somehow!

  • I think because the church wouldn’t allow me to use my gifts there, I assumed I had no voice. It was encouraging to meet other people who had also been rejected because those in power did not want to let it go and perhaps consider another, better way. It has finally dawned on me that ministry takes place every day “while going throughout the world.”
    It was a wonderful experience to finally see the Refuge and spend time with others in honest communication.

    • i am having computer woes and somehow my comment to you didn’t make it there. i am so glad you guys came; that was a highlight for me for sure. wish we had more time, though, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. i love what you are saying, though, that the system cannot suppress your heart or ministry or ability to love outside of the confines of the building. that is a beautiful thing and i am glad you are living out your faith in all kinds of ways with no restrictions. you are a light.

  • So good to hear you express yourself so fully Kathy. I wonder where the supposed *right performance* is and who is carrying it out??? So many verses get taken and taught in the most legalistic,get your act together and live in victory. Where Jesus says those who love Him are those who obey, to be holy as God is holy,to run the race and persevere,to repent and turn all over to Him. I cite these verses because, for ME at least, they have been used as a hammer as opposed to redemptive love. Especially when underlying the teaching is that God predestined all who are not *elect* to be cast away in some shape or form for eternity!!! UGHHHHHHHHHHHH :(( I say this to end by encouraging you to keep on as you have been Kathy precious friend, and hopefully more and more of us can do as you said, find our own lil *refuges* and build relationships of love more and more.

      • thanks robert! and me, too, katherine! i love how you said “they have been used a hammer as opposed to redemptive love….” hammers have done so much damage to so many and boy do we need God’s healing from all the negative messages that his church have sent to so many. freaky, really, the irony and also the sadness. thanks for reading and sharing as always, robert.

  • Safety is the word that jumped out to me.

    On Tuesday, I was with 10 of our church members at a conference and one of the themes that was developed – talked about was the aspect of safety.

    In this context, it was a little different because we were talking and sharing about how our ministry needs to be a place where individuals are safe to come and wrestle with God on the issues of doubt and fear.

    From a church staff standpoint, I can say that in most of my 15 years of full-time ministry that I have never really felt “safe” and not being “safe” has created much hurt and pain.

    • yeah, that is the word that’s maybe one of the most talked about words in church small groups and the least practiced 🙂 probably because it’s so hard to do and the truth is that we don’t even really know what it means because so few of us have lived in it before. safe families are just as tricky as safe churches. i think one of my deepest pains about my nutty mega church experience is that i thought i was safe; then to discover i was so far from that it wasn’t even funny is what really rocked my world and as you said “created much hurt and pain.” thank you for sharing!

  • Hey you wanna talk about not being quite right enough for a church? I am a professional guitar player and singer. In 2006 I was hired by a church to play in their band. I made friends and put effort into it and eventually became the worship leader. Thing is that this whole time I never knew (and still don’t) know even 10 commandments. I just had a ingratiating personality and talent and was good at making impressions on people. So one afternoon I go out to lunch with some people after church and order two beers with my lunch and joke about how we should all go to the beach and keep it going. Next day the pastor calls me and was so upset and I’m like “are you alright? sounds like you need a freind to talk to.” and he’s like “we gotta meet right away” Turned out that drinking with the congregation, in front of their kids really rubbed some people the wrong way. Keep in mind no one ever set up those boundaries or told me those “rules” going in or else I wouldn’t have done it. And that I never was even drunk I just had two black and tan beers with a steak! Maybe it was just “understood” I don’t know. He says “I could just hire professional musicians if I wanted that to happen” and I said “thats what you did, but I started to blend in and became more than that” This is where it gets better! A few people from another church where I played in the band thought because I drank I needed rehab! So I drank a couple beers and now I need rehab??? I didn’t get fired but eventually I left out of frustration with the expectations that we put upon me. To this day more people from that congregation are still freinds with me and don’t even go there anymore b/c their expectations are too lofty for anyone to live up to. Their kids who are now facing college they have hang out with me because I am a down to earth, no-nonsense, good influence. I could have been a great worship leader and even learned a lot of bible verses and charismatically led who knows how many people to christ but instead a bunch of self-righteous pompous people deemed me not good enough b/c I drank two black and tans. End of story.

    • thanks for sharing bob, oh the stories always have such a similar thread that run through them, no matter their uniqueness. i really liked what you said about the “hidden rules” and not knowing them and how of course, when the hidden rules get violated, look out. very powerful and sad to me, just how much energy is spent on helping people feel “not quite right…”

  • Great conference, Kathy! I’m still trtying to process what I heard and experienced.

    We all know or are people who were not loved or accepted by religious clubs that go by the name “church”. Somehow we didn’t fit it. Maybe we refused to play by their rules, were too poor, lived in the wrong neighborhood, had the wrong color skin or whatever.

    The church folks thought they had found Jesus by singing a song and waving their hands in the air. Jesus walked in the back door and sat down. But they ignored Jesus because Jesus looked liked a poor, stinking, dirty minority from the wrong side of the tracks. So Jesus got up, left the church and kept on walking. Those church folks are still singing and waving their hands, quoting theology and preaching like mad, but Jesus has left the building.

    How come we all want to pretend that Jesus is still in the building? When any group, “church” or whatever name they want to call themselves chooses to reject Jesus in any of the guises in which He shows up among them, why oh why do they insist on pretending Jesus is there?

    I guess we think there’s no harm in letting the “church” folks think He’s lurking in the shadows somewhere around their “church”. It has kind of become a non-issue for me. My issue is focusing on accepting and loving Jesus in whatever guise He shows up in my daily life.

    • one of my favorite parts was having such an awesome new teammate that weekend. you rocked. thank you for your labor of love on our behalf. it was such a gift…yeah, Jesus is found in all kinds of wild places that i am glad to continue to discover that sure aren’t in those 4 walls for one hour. julia and i saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “jesus is coming back to save his religion” 🙂


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