Girl at the End of the World, by Elizabeth Esther

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Esther Henderson lives in Southern California with her husband and their five children.  She's a blogger, freelance writer, and her dreams include hosting her own TV show, adopting more rescue dogs, planting a garden, keeping chickens, having a pygmy goat, and adopting children.

I was raised in a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group—which is just a shorthand way of saying I’m classically trained in apocalyptic stockpiling, street preaching, and the King James Version of the Bible. I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor sharp “modesty vision” that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away.

Verily, verily I say unto thee, none of these highly specialized skills ever got me a job, but at least I’m all set for the end of the world. Selah.

Elizabeth Esther grew up in love with Jesus but in fear of daily spankings (to “break her will”). Trained in her family-run church to confess sins real and imagined, she knew her parents loved her and God probably hated her. Not until she was grown and married did she find the courage to attempt the unthinkable. To leave.

In her memoir, readers will recognize questions every believer faces: When is spiritual zeal a gift, and when is it a trap? What happens when a pastor holds unchecked sway over his followers? And how can we leave behind the harm inflicted in the name of God without losing God in the process?

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Girl at the End of the World is a story of the lingering effects of spiritual abuse and the growing hope that God can still be good when His people fail.

Includes reading group discussion guide and interview with the author.

MY THOUGHTS:  I plowed through this book in record time.  The author's free-flowing, conversational style makes reading her story feel like she's my best friend sharing about her past at a pajama party while I hug my pillow.  Except I didn't feel like sleeping when I turned that last page.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to cheer for the fact that Elizabeth escaped or vomit to think about what she'd been through. More than once while reading, I was thankful that the title of the book alerted me ahead of time to the fact that she did eventually get out.

There were times I was overwhelmed by what she went through, by how adults had misinterpreted scripture or taken them out of context, resulting in a childhood filled with fear, confusion, and abuse.  And unfortunately, I recognized myself in the pages of her story. I recognized how easily I have trusted well-meaning people who understood something different than what I now believe the original intent of the Bible to be.  How easily I have adopted as a principle some parenting tactic, sure that the Word of God compelled me to mother in that way.  How easily I have fallen into a pattern because others around me, seemingly more spiritual or more enlightened said this is how it should be.  How easily the voices of powerful men can be confused with the voice of God.  How easily a movement can become a cult.

Several things really stood out to me:  I appreciated the author's honesty, not only as she shared what happened to her, but in sharing her doubts, her mistrust, her challenge to God.  Her viewpoints on the Catholic church were especially helpful, considering where and how I work right now.  Hidden in the embers of the fire of what she lived through is also a precious love story, not only of the God who never let go of her, but of a man who saw her for who she really was. She also voiced something I've felt for a long time--the similarity between many mega-churches and cults.

This is just good stuff.  It's real, and unfortunately, it's real common.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review of this book.

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