Backs Straight, Heads Lifted


kathy escobar -backs straight, heads lifted-3

Sometimes I get calls from women asking for help to get out of an abusive relationship. Skittish, scared, and filled with shame, they reach out and share their story. It’s so brave.

Some are rich, some are poor. Some are educated, while others have never graduated from high school. Some have kids, while others don’t. Some have husbands, others never have. Some are leaders, others are followers. Some call Jesus their God, others lost their faith a long time ago. Their circumstances might be different, but their stories are the same. The thread that binds them together is the life circumstances and relationships that somehow stripped them of their worth, dignity, and voice.

They’ve been devalued, silenced, used, controlled, and diminished to the point where their heads are hung low and their backs are bent.

I have heard some say that there isn’t a war on women. They claim the rhetoric paints the situation to be worse than it really is. These people don’t know these women in real life—as friends, as sisters, as daughters.

There’s no doubt, women have made great strides over the past chunk of years, finding greater equality in many professions and gaining ground on freedom. But underneath the surface, a deep and insidious system still exists that is tilted against women.

Patriarchy and misogyny are alive and well, robbing women of freedom and equality in more ways than we know. #MeToo has brought it to light, but we have a long way to go for real change.

Sexual addictions and exploitation of women are rampant. Our safe houses—from downtown to the suburbs—are overflowing with women fleeing abusive relationships. Local social service agencies are overwhelmed with desperate women struggling to feed their families with no support from their kids’ fathers. Most all the women I know are working more and getting paid less. Many churches continue to perpetuate “women are under men” structures and methodologies. In business, women have to put up with all kinds of unacceptable things to keep their jobs and positions.

Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is available to us now, and that part of our responsibility as Christ-followers is to participate in bringing heaven to earth.

To me, that means we’re called to be the lifter of heads and the straighteners of backs.

To call each other to be all we were created to be.

To nurture a spirit of equality, justice, mercy, love, and hope in the spaces and places we find ourselves in.

To restore dignity where it’s been lost.

It also means our work isn’t just about others (this is where a lot of us go first.) Our work is to straighten our backs and lift our heads, too.

As a pastor and leader in Denver, I am often saddened at how many women and people on the margins are experiencing oppression, depression, and disconnection from the kind of life Jesus said was possible here, now.

I remember years ago when a friend told me, “Kathy, you are in an emotionally abusive relationship with this church.” As a woman who worked with abused women, it feels crazy to think I couldn’t see it. But the truth is that was how I expected to be treated in church leadership. I was told I should be grateful, that I had it better than most women in the church, that the grass wasn’t greener in other places. (It is.)

Honestly, I believed them at first.

Until others began to tell me that I deserved better.

That I mattered.

That there was another possibility for me.

It started me on the bumpy path toward greater and greater freedom, a path that has lead me to intersect with a wide range of women who feel stuck, alone, and longing for something better. From suburban women suffering from loneliness and depression in their beautiful homes to moms lined up at food banks to corporate leaders with good salaries and benefits, women are struggling to believe they matter.

Shame is a powerful weapon of darkness that tells us we are not good enough, not worthy enough, not you-name-it enough.

It causes our bodies and souls to shrink.

A significant part of the problem is that many church systems we have been part of, have perpetuated the problem. At this point I honestly don’t think words mean anything anymore in the conversation on equality. Telling women or anyone on the margins that “they matter to God” won’t make a difference on its own.

What seems to be making the biggest difference is actually seeing and experiencing something different.

When we see women freely telling their stories and using their gifts, something shifts.

When we see other women who have found their way out of bad situations and are experiencing hope, it gives us hope, too.

When we experience men as safe people, as friends, willing to help and listen and care, deep wounds of neglect or abuse can begin to heal.

When we begin to be treated with dignity and respect, our heads begin to lift and our backs begin to straighten.

I think that’s what we are supposed to participate in doing for all people who know what it feels like to be diminished, disrespected, and undervalued (not just women)—to help lift heads and straighten backs.

SheLovelys, here’s to straightening our backs and lifting our heads in all kinds of new, empowering ways as we embody a healthier way of moving in the world.

Yes, it might feel foreign at first, but over time it truly becomes more natural, the way we were meant to live and move.

Backs straight, heads high.

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 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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  • Kathy, thank you for words that encourage women to BE the gospel to one another, putting flesh on the words that predicted the way Jesus would be when He came “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    So powerful! Thank you for sharing your story … so much of your story resonates with me. I, too, am recovering from an abusive relationship with the church. And even saying that feels so dangerous!
    Patriarchy has silenced far too many voices for far too long. Thank you for reminding us to stand tall … I know I’ll return to your words often.

  • YES! I am learning to stand taller and definitely find hope in the stories of others who have overcome.