It is my honor to review Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther. It released on March 18 (my birthday!). And it is brilliant.
While I didn’t grow up in church at all, I can totally relate to much of what Elizabeth writes about: cult mentality.
I, too, have felt like a girl at the end of the world.
I have felt lost and all alone, surrounded by people who said they knew what’s best for me. I’ve been that girl screaming on the inside.
I sorta joke when I tell people I grew up in the Church of Army. My dad’s doctrine was pretty simple: his authoritarian ways and views and no arguing or opinions of my own, his own personal brand of integrity, his way or the highway.
It made me who I am. It was a long time coming to feel comfortable being me. I spent much of my youth lost in the world. I tried to end it all. I blew through two marriages, each with its own brand of churchianity.
But this isn’t about me. I will not steal Elizabeth’s thunder. This is her book review.
I love it.
Three parts, each compelling and vivid. Chronicling Elizabeth’s life with The Assembly and her escape from it and her experiences seeking God on her own. I read this book in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down. And then there are study questions and an interview! I want more, more, more. Tell me there is a sequel, prequel, never-before-released rare memoir, something, somewhere!
It’s better than fiction. It reads like a novel. It is art.
I laughed. I cried. I nodded in agreement and shook my head in disbelief.
I highlighted lines of wit to commit to memory and Picmonkey Pinterest ponderings.
We seldom realize the story behind the person. Meeting Elizabeth at Allume a couple years ago and seeing her images of her lovely ballerina and roses on Instagram don’t tell the story. I’m sure people who meet her today won’t know the past lurking inside her.
I realize that many of my misgivings with church were what Elizabeth lived every day. She lived in real fear of never measuring up. I attended two fundamentalist Baptist churches. While I enjoyed the preaching of one, the other only had three sermon topics: salvation, missions, giving more money. They both used solely the KJV and usually only the New Testament.
If the dull (though energetic) preaching wasn’t enough to drug my intellect into apathy, then came the brainwashing doctrine of appearance that kept me in constant anxiety. The pastor had brochures with Bible verses in the lobby dictating what women should wear.
I couldn’t wrap my mind about their modesty rules and gender roles and I couldn’t for the life of me keep up. I couldn’t carry on a conversation with any of the women, who’d never attended a real college (only Bible college is allowed for women and encouraged for men – to find spouses and prepare for full-time ministry) and I have a BA in English literature and an M.Ed in education. I was odd, surely in need of fervent prayer and counsel. I always felt like an outcast.
I read that infamous book by The Pearls and tried their methods for a few months. It was wrong. When the entire women’s ministry decided to study it, I didn’t participate.
Then, I was horrified when my eldest (then only ten) questioned a male friend who had his hair in a ponytail and an earring: “How can you be a Christian with long hair and an earring? Men can’t do that!”
We never went back to that church.
I love Elizabeth’s definition of cult. I totally believe many churches are abusive and use their power poorly and twist the Gospel. I live in Utah, and too many people here are like the blind leading the blind.
I so relate to Elizabeth’s anxiety issues. Her church was her entire life – her family, friends, everyone she knew. Isolation is the first sign of an unhealthy relationship. They don’t want you seeing what you’re missing or talking about what’s going on because they know it’s weird or wrong. I’m an introvert. I am prone to anxiety attacks when I am stressed, isolated, overwhelmed, and not in control of the situation. The panic attacks began after my suicide attempt and I still occasionally get mild ones and have to put myself in timeout until I can resume “normal” function.
Like Elizabeth, there was a cold comfort for me being raised and told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it and harsh punishment for disobedience. Part of me desperately wanted escape yet fear and low self-worth kept me in the familiar. It took several attempts before I left home for good, and it was not under good circumstances. I eloped and I was disowned.
I love that Elizabeth found God through His mother, Mary. I love that divine revelation and comfort that came to her in her time of need. I love that she’s in a comfortable, safe place. I love that her marriage succeeded despite all the stress they must have gone through during their healing.
I think God does reach down to us and lift us up in the most extraordinary way. We’re all His children and He loves us. He loved Elizabeth all through her scary life with The Assembly and while she was struggling to make sense of Him and find her place in the world and His Kingdom.
We all just want our place.
I pray for her and for you.