An Equality Love Story

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L_KathyI didn’t always have an egalitarian marriage.  

In the Christian culture that was part of our early marriage, “egalitarian” wasn’t a word I ever heard. In fact, I never heard the word “complementarian” in any of the bible studies and small groups I was in, either. They just talked about what men were supposed to do in relationship and what women were supposed to do.  The story usually went like this:

Men were supposed to be the spiritual leaders.
Women needed to submit to their authority and let go of control.

In those days, I constantly heard women talking about how “they were praying their husband would be the spiritual leader of their family” (and how he never seemed to want to, so they would keep waiting.)

Honestly, that wasn’t something I was overly concerned with those days; my husband, Jose, and I were pretty decent teammates on the whole.

Until I began to want something different.

I wasn’t looking to become a pastor, but when I was suddenly asked to come onto a big church staff more than 13 years ago, I was shell-shocked. I had been doing all kinds of healing ministry within the contexts of Bible-based, community churches where I was fairly respected and loved but never considered part of the pastoral staff. (That was for the guys.)

To be asked to come onto a growing church’s staff as the Care Pastor was a watershed moment in my life.  

However, I turned down the job.

Why?

Because it didn’t work for my family. Jose didn’t want me to take the job, and some of my close friends concurred, too.  The twins were still in preschool, and they felt I needed to wait.

The truth is I desperately wanted to step up and into this role, but I just didn’t have it in me to stand for what was deep in my heart at the time.

After I called the church and passed on the job, I cried nonstop for a week.

After a while I moved forward on the outside. Inside, however, I thought about it almost every day.

Resentment started to set in.

I realized I said no to make everyone else happy.

A year later, after attending a popular Christian leadership conference in Chicago together, I finally broke down and shared with Jose how deeply I regretted my decision. He listened (he really had no idea because I just pretended like I was fine with it—I’m good at that.)  He held me and said he was sorry. It helped to just say it out loud.

A month later, out of the blue, I received the same phone call from the same person at the same church, offering me the job again.

This time, when I told Jose, he immediately responded, “This time I’m not going to mess it up for you.”

I went through all the paces required to get hired and started working in a position I loved, doing what I love to do. Jose was on board for the first month or so until he saw the hours that I needed to work, the stress I was under, the reality of this change in our life.

Then we started to fight.

After 12 years of staying home raising babies and keeping things rolling at home, I was ready for the fight in a way I never had been before. I was ready for someone to adjust to me, to make a sacrifice for my time, to make my food when I came home from work, to think about taking care of the carpool arrangements, to do some of the things I was so used to doing for him.   

I was ready for a truly equal partner in every sense of the word.

Even though Jose and I were good friends and pretty solid teammates, subconsciously, the trap of the roles that church had taught us, was being challenged underneath. If you talk to Jose now, he will share freely that his life was easier when we were operating under those rules because it totally worked for and around him—in the moment.

He will also tell you that changing was one of the best things he ever did, but that it didn’t come cheap or easy.

I stood up for what I wanted in a way that I had never stood up before.

I was tempted to quit and do what it took to keep the peace, but I felt God’s stirring running through my veins and I knew I just couldn’t turn back.

So we fought.

Oh, we fought. (The worst year in our 25+ years of marriage.)

But this wasn’t petty fighting.

This was fighting for my soul. For our souls.

For a true equal partnership where we truly adjusted to each other, carried the load together, and broke down the hidden assumptions and damaging theology.  

There were times where I truly thought, “Are we seriously going to end up divorced over this stupid ministry job?” But I knew there was something deeper brewing underneath that was far more important than a job.

This was about shifting the tectonic plates of an imbalanced complementarian marriage to a fully equal one.

After 12 months of pain and wrestling and trying to figure it out, something finally shifted in Jose all the way. I will never forget that moment. He cried. He apologized. He asked me to forgive him.

And he said the words that have been his truth ever since:

“I am so sorry that I’ve been your anchor, dragging you down, holding you back. I was just so scared. Now, I’m fully committed to being your sail, to helping you fly.”

It might sound silly to some but for us, in the world we had lived in, it was no small thing. We finally shifted from one-over-the-other to being truly side-by-side.

To mutual submission. To equality. To a love that changed our story forever.

______________

Image courtesy of Kathy Escobar

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
Kathy Escobar

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  • Controversial as it was 26 years ago, the words “mutual submission” were in our vows, and I believe that this very biblical concept has been bedrock to the partnership in our home. Not perfect, for sure, but blessed.

  • Wow. This is solid food for thought. It’s ironic because I’m currently reading a book that encourages Christian egalitarian marriages, too. I’m intrigued by this idea. Thanks a lot for sharing your story.

    • thanks, ganice. what is the book called?

    • Saskia Wishart

      Oh ya I would be interested in what the book is called as well.

    • @@kathyescobar:disqus @@saskiawishart:disqus Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey 😉

  • gwally

    Thanks for your honesty! We have experienced a similar dynamic on and off over 40 years of marriage as I’ve moved in and out of the work force. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that my husband interacts with me in a more meaningful way when we make the adjustment needed to function in a more egalitarian way.

    • thank you, gail, for all you do on behalf of equality. http://www.juniaproject.com is an amazing support for so many! keep up the beautiful, brave work you all are doing. it matters.

      • gwally

        Wish I could do more! Thanks for mentioning The Junia Project 🙂

  • Nicole A. Joshua

    This is such a great post Kathy.Thank you for honestly sharing about how tough the adjustment was. These words are challenging me, even though I call myself a feminist, because of the many times I unconsciously slip into complementarian thinking and behaviour. Here’s to more honest self reflection and challenging of my own theology.

    • thanks, nicole. yes, it is so true, the unconscious part. i totally get that. it’s good to be gentle with ourselves, remembering how deep the grooves are and why they have become embedded into us. the good news is, we can create new grooves 🙂 peace and courage to you from colorado.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    Wow! That brought tears to my eyes, that is so beautiful!

    • thanks for taking time to share your tender heart with us!

  • Your story makes me wonder how much of our behavior, both men and women, is subtly influenced by complementarian teaching in the church. Add to that generations of cultural expectations, and it can be difficult to see our marriage roles clearly. You and your husband have done the difficult work of re-ordering your assumptions and expectations, which causes me to think through my assumptions and expectations. Hmmm….

    • i am so with you, judy, about the subtle thread weaved through so much. it’s pretty insidious and hard to untangle. thanks for taking time to share.

  • HeleneBurns

    What a a beautiful marriage you have built Kathy… it’s strength is evident in that you both allowed your heart-comittment to shine as you became mutually submitted equals. It’s hard but glorious, grace-filled work. Your photo is stunning – it makes me smile. Thanks for sharing your love story here today. xoxo

    • thanks for taking time to share. i am grateful. and he is fun 🙂

  • Doreen A Mannion

    How blessed to have a partnership where both can grow and stretch together – a true partnership.

    • thanks my friend. as you know, true equal partnerships rock 🙂

  • Kathy, I LOVE this. Honest and not pulling any punches … You standing into something new. O, and then that moment when Jose comes to you … THIS.

    • thanks idelette. i love reading about robben island, too. FREEDOM…xo

  • Saskia Wishart

    I so appreciate this post Kathy, we need more equal love stories and the struggles that come with that.

    • thanks saskia, i’d love to hear more of them, too. i know there are a lot of them out there!

  • I appreciate your honesty here, Kathy, and find your story so encouraging. I’m thankful there are such shifts in the air (even though I wish they didn’t have to cause any troubling times in between, but sometimes that happens). You’re a wonderful example to many of us.

    • thanks, lisa. yes, let’s keep shifting things 🙂 xo

  • Cherie

    Kathy, thank’s for sharing your story! I recently made similar changes to my life. I decided to return to work full time for the first time in 27 years to work for a faith-based humanitarian aid organization that does work that is near and dear to my heart. I too got a call out of the blue and initially mentally rejected it while saying I would consider it. I realized it resonated with me on so many levels and that the reason I immediately thought to reject it was because it would disrupt my husband’s life. Fortunately, after some calm and thoughtful discussion, he realized it was the right thing to do and fully supports my decision. I hope your story encourages other women to confront the Christian and secular system that prevents women (and men) from fulfilling their purpose.

  • I love what you said about fighting for your soul. and for your souls. We want our relationships to be conflict-free, but there are things that are worth fighting for. A whole marriage with two whole partners is one of them. Thanks for highlighting that.

  • carameredith.com

    Wow. This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for letting us into your story, your soul, your ALL. You inspire me, Kathy!

  • Thank you for sharing this. It’s so important to remember the journey and I’m glad you shared part of yours.

  • Roos Woller

    Thanks for sharing. This is so encouraging and even though marriage has hard times it can be an equal partnership where both flourish and live to the fullness of what God have created them to be.

  • This is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing Kathy. Even when you begin a marriage with a belief and commitment to being a team, living it out daily requires constant renewal of that vow to be one another’s sail, rather than an anchor. Such a good reminder that the hard stuff is hard, but it is worth persevering.

  • Kathy, you never disappoint! Thanks for this.. .you pushed through what so many women and men have not been able to.

  • Margaret Marquez

    that’s what i wish had happened in my marriage—my husband just couldn’t let go of the servant thing—

  • So good to read this. Thank you so much for your honesty – makes me feel I’m not alone. One of the biggest ( if not the biggest) moment for me in marriage counselling a few years ago was when I said to my husband that I would rather do the job I love , than stay married, if staying married meant I couldn’t work. It seemed crazy ( a bit like your ‘will we get divorced over this stupid ministry job), but it was about so much more. Once the words were out I couldn’t unsay them. I didn’t know what would happen next, but it was a watershed and the change, the deep, deep change, that took place is a big part of why we can now tell a redemption story.