I started reading Elizabeth Esther’s blog around this time last year. I don’t remember how I found her– probably by following a long trail of link-crumbs– but the second I stumbled into her talking about Michael and Debi Pearl and Victoria’s Secret panties, I was hooked. When I found out that she was writing a book, I knew I wanted it. When I found out that she was writing about her “escape from fundamentalism in search of faith with a future,” I knew it would be a book I’d need to read.
I was right.
I got it in the mail a few weeks ago, and I finished it by that night because I couldn’t put it down. Handsome (my partner) would try to ask me a question and I would just make a shushing motion and then read him a quote, mostly because I wanted to start running through the streets reading it out loud, but that would be crazy.
Fortunately, I have a blog, and I can run through the internet’s streets shouting about this book.
There were so many moments when I had to stop and cry because all I could think was I’ve been there, I know this, I know what this is like, this is what it’s like SOMEONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S LIKE.
When she described Sister Kathleen I thought of one of the women in my church-cult. She was bright, and vivacious, and she laughed as loud and as free as she wanted. She did her hair in fancy up-dos. She wore makeup. She came to church once wearing a slightly-shorter-than-knee-length chiffon skirt that scandalized the 12-year-old version of me, and yet . . . I wanted to be her. She was bright and lovely. She was my Kathleen.
She told of how she started seeing boys for the first time, the first time she had a crush, the first time she fell in love, and I remembered sitting in the Palm’s Grille with my first ever crush and he’s promising to write me letters and my heart is turning over in my chest because a boy just promised to write me letters, oh, what does this mean, could he be the one, no, don’t think about that you can’t give your heart away like this.
Then she talks about how her father forced her to resign from the positions she’d earned at school, and my heart stops. And I start crying. Because I know that feeling. I know the weight of that boulder crushing my chest. I wish it wasn’t something I could understand, but oh I do.
That is what Elizabeth captured. She took all those moments– all the heart-thrilling, heart-shattering moments– and wrapped them up in a book. She wrote a book about what she went through, but it is also a book about what we went through. There are burning-bright memories in the minds of every child who grew up in cultish fundamentalism, and they are so bright we flinch away from them, so gharishly vivid we don’t know how to put them into words.
She gave that to us. She gave us the words.
But the most wonderfully beautiful thing about what she’s written is that it isn’t just a book for us. I believe it could be powerful and healing for many of us, but it’s also for the not-us.
I’m looking across the living room at my partner as I read it, at my wonderful partner who loves me but doesn’t understand. It’s good that he doesn’t know this, that he doesn’t have to carry this, but there are times when he looks at me and his eyes are sad because I am at the dining room table trying to eat a grilled cheese sandwich and I can’t because I’m sobbing into my tomato soup because the pastor made a joke about spanking infants in the sermon that morning and all I can see are terrified baby eyes staring at me.
If you care about someone who grew up in a spiritually abusive church and you didn’t– you need to read this book. It’ll show you the way things probably were for them.
If you’re a pastor, you need to read this book, because it will open up an entire world of hurt and suffering and pain that is mind-bendingly difficult to understand unless you’ve been there. Elizabeth will take you there.
And she’ll show all of us what it looks like on the other side. The still-hurting, still-healing side, but also the getting better side.