suburban poverty & pain

god give us eyes to see what you see

this past friday i took a group of college students and leaders on what i called the “suburban pain and poverty tour.” they are part of one of my favorite ministries in denver–milehigh ministries, who are kindred spirits and my brothers & sisters who work with people in hard places (plus, my husband jose works at the legal aid clinic there so i extra-extra love them). the students are immersed in issues of urban life, but their leaders wanted to get a glimpse of suburban poverty, too.  so on a cold and snowy october morning, along with a few of my awesome refuge friends, we gave them a taste of life up here.

we talked about how part of having kingdom eyes is beginning to make the invisible visible, to see beyond the surface, to look beyond the words and see into hearts and real lives.  there is a misperception about suburban poverty and pain. people think the suburbs are doing halfway decent, but the truth is that there are so many people living on the edge–personally, financially, emotionally, practically.

human struggles cross socioeconomics.

and even though there there can be more money in the suburbs, there is also a major lack of it, too, and the issues here aren’t just financial. if we look carefully, we discover many people living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make it through the day, battling deep addictions and chronic pain, reeling from divorces, and desperate to find some kind of relief from loneliness, depression, and complicated lives.

i can’t re-create our little tour, which had 7 stops, but i’ll try to quickly highlight a few things we talked about and stories from refuge friends that were shared.

1. we started at our new space, which is coming together!  i will try to share some pictures eventually, but we now have our cafe and living room basically set up, and within a few weeks we will be all the way moved in. to start, my dear refuge friend and one of our founding members shared about her journey to sobriety after 30 years of cocaine addiction; she often feels like she’s part of God’s ghetto and shared the reality of living with a disability and the longing to walk into her local bar where everyone knows her name and they can pick up where they left off.  we talked about how the refuge is hoping to be a bit of a cheers bar without the alcohol, a place to come and hang out instead of isolating.

2. then we headed to another friend’s house who is a single dad. he shared beautifully about his faith in Jesus, getting on his feet and the power of a healing community to help learn stuff that we didn’t learn in our dysfunctional families.  he closed our time with the prettiest hafiz poem, and i was reminded yet again how truly lovely and brave my refuge friends are. seriously.

3. next we went to an apartment complex where the husband of one of our friends (who also recently died) overdosed on heroin.behind many of the doors of these apartment complexes are all sorts of drug and alcohol addictions. in his case, they had been trying to remain clean but got a new roommate, who brought in drugs and that was that.  yet another young & troubled life tragically lost.

4. we stopped by another local food bank, different from the one that’s in the same building as the new refuge space, and their advocate shared stories of reality–lawyers, professionals, single moms, and everything in between coming for food and how hard it is to ask and how much shame is involved in not being able to feed your family.  he shared that most all of their clients are uninsured and how for the the affordable care act will mean some will actually have insurance for the first time in their lives.

5. we then left the rougher part of our town, which is where the refuge is, and headed east into the land of more-beautiful-homes and where everything looks extra pristine and nice. we stood on the corner where a young man was shot by police after a violent episode caused by his severe mental illness.  i have known his parents for years, and it is such a tragic story.  the realities of mental illness are just as big in the suburbs as other places; it is terribly misunderstood and there are so few good treatment options.  the stigmas attached to it are great–especially in the church–and many are left to battle these demons with no support.  behind all those pretty manicured lawns are also countless people struggling with debilitating sexual addictions, domestic violence, struggling kids, divorce, chronic pain, and all kinds of other battles.

6. nestled down the street from this nice neighborhood is an established trailer park. we met with some friends of one of my teammates who shared about living there for the past 13 years as a presence in their neighborhood.  they shared about the realities of immigration struggles, people living under the radar in constant fear of being deported, and how they share resources and hope with each other.  it was glorious, to see the simplicity and beauty of incarnational living with no systems attached to it.

7. our last stop was at a nice looking apartment building on the east side of town where a sweet and brave single mom still lives even though her roommate (our friend who took her life after easter) died there. my friend had a brain injury from a fall years ago and life has been so hard since then, battling health and mental challenges daily.  a woman of few audible words, she writes beautiful poetry.  as i stood in the dark and cold hallway with her and looked at those sweet young leaders listening to a bit of her story, i felt this wonderful sense of gratitude that my life is filled with such glory and mess at the same time.

that’s life.

life in the city, life in the suburbs.

it’s all a crazy kingdom paradox— it’s beautiful & messy, complicated & simple, dark and it’s light. fragile and it’s strong.  

the most important thing i was reminded of was just how transformational life together really is. without people, we’re toast. without someone to give a rip about us, we wither. without someone to call out the image of God in us, we will never believe in our worth. without food to share, we go hungry. without love to pass on, we starve.

little pockets of love and community transform us. it reminds me of what dorothy day says,

[quote type=”center”]”we have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”  [/quote]

the suburbs don’t need another church service; there’s one of those on every corner. the suburbs need little pockets of love that will help relieve pain, offer hope, and quench the deep thirst we all have to be loved by God & others with much more than words.

God, help us make the invisible visible no matter where we live or work. help us see what you see.  

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.


  • “without someone to give a rip about us, we wither. without someone to call out the image of God in us, we will never believe in our worth.” ,<—– THIS. I love our people. Experiencing more and more people in sessions, in the agency, in the "real world", I become more profoundly aware how precious our community is. The hope is that more and more pockets of love will continue to emerge as result.

  • Sometimes love is the only roof over some people’s heads. I was touched by your post – have passed it on to a struggling friend – and with gratitude send you a hug from South Africa.

  • Oh boy – I was weeping there as you wrote about love in the midst of all the troubles you describe. Sounds a lot like Jesus.

      • I hear ya. And I her tht this is what Barb was receiving and what she valued at Th Refuge with what she shared. Being there sounds so simple and loving like what Jesus would do doesn’t it?

  • “The suburbs don’t need another church service. They need little pockets of love.” You make this so clear in all your writings.
    I wish.
    I wish.
    There was a refuge in the suburbs between Milwaukee and Chicago where some loved ones could use one.
    I wish there was a refuge in the city where I live.
    I wish there was a refuge in every city, every town, in the country.
    I wish I were an organizer. . . .

    • thanks for taking time to share, dear jean. i wonder if there might be and we don’t even know it? if it might look so much different than we ever imagined so it’s not even on our radar? i’ve thought of that many a time…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.