Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review: 4 Women, 4 Stories

   Today I am sharing a compilation of book reviews as one post, since I find that while the stories of these very real women varies drastically, and their experiences differ dramatically, - there is an underlying theme of courage that has shaped their lives.


 Escape,  written by Carolyn Jessup, with Laura Palmer
‘I was born into a radical polygamist cult. At eighteen I became the fourth wife of a fifty year old man. I had eight children in fifteen years. When our leader began preaching the apocalypse, I knew I had to get them out.” 

Stolen Innocence By Elissa Wall, with Lisa Pulitzer 
 ‘My story of growing up in a polygamous sect, becoming a teenage bride, and breaking free of Warren Jeffs.”

     These two books were written by women raised in the same sect, roughly a dozen years apart. Carolyn Jessup is the older of the two women, - raised in the LDS church in a time before the notorious Warren Jeffs came to power. She was raised in a  group that did believe in polygamy, but at a time when the church was relaxed and marriages were only beginning to be very loosely  arranged.

     She watched as her group became more rigid and radical over the years. I found it fascinating that controlling the education of children born to those in the church became of greater and greater importance as the power and leadership consolidated.

 Author of the second book, Elissa Wall, born and raised in the same group as the Carolyn, only over 10 years later. (Though not friends, they both knew and mention some of the same key people in their books) Elissa is raised in a time when a previous mild pulling away from the public schools had became a more rigidly controlled form of education which really amounted to indoctrination.

    Raising thinkers is dangerous to any group that relies on compliance to maintain power, and therefore the purpose of the education of their children was not to expose them to history, science, and reading  etc. so that they could enlarge their views.   Instead, much basic knowledge (such as American history, biology, and more) was purged from church run classrooms if it did not serve the purpose of creating good church members, and children were rigorously drilled in the history and beliefs of their church.

    The women in both books were keenly aware of this as adults, and in both cases, remembered loving school and their studies, as a sort of escape from difficulties in their lives. Both pushed hard to continue studying past high school. (Rare, and not encouraged for girls were expected to marry and raise children early) Both worked hard continue their education and to have a means to support themselves despite the fact that they had to obtain permission from husbands and fathers for every step along the way.

     I do not think it coincidence that the women, who had the courage, strength, and ability to leave dangerous situations in life, are those who had already fought to educate themselves.
Women mentioned in these books in far worse, far more life threatening and violent situations never even attempted to leave, and I can only assume it is because their wills were broken, their ability to reason atrophied, and confidence and courage to act based on their own behalf was carefully destroyed long before, in childhood.

   Of course, the most disconcerting aspect of these stories to me was the absolute conviction these women held that by perfect, blind obedience to their authorities they were pleasing God. The chains that held these women captive, binding their hearts and minds were forged one link at a time by their own beliefs, and their fear in loosing right standing or divine protection of an unsearchable, unmerciful God.

    It is hard for me to admit just how uncomfortable these observations made me feel. The thought that someone can fervently, whole heartedly believe, and live in a way that is self sacrificing, in an attempt to honor God, - and be completely, totally, wrong, is terrifying and heartbreaking.

   The book Banished, by Lauren Drain with Lisa Pulitzer

   Lauren's story, contrasts in many ways with the first two.
    The Westboro Baptist Church is a family cult run by highly intelligent and educated individuals, (most adult leaders are lawyers or have several degrees) They pride themselves on knowing each fine point of each law in our country. They encourage their children to be sharp, smart, and fearless. Their goal was to raise great debaters, who could out argue, and yell, and emotionally destroy anyone in their path.
  Lauren and the other children raised around her did go to public school, - where they excelled in their studies. They also did not seem to try to live differently than their ‘worldly’ classmates as much as I expected, - and while they did have some rules, - seemed to be trying to engage in the culture, insofar as it could advance their agenda.
  The Phelps family are experts at using their freedom to verbally assault and damage others in every possible way.  Because of their rigid doctrinal beliefs, they firmly believe that ‘sinners’ cannot and will not choose God, - therefore they see their job as one of spreading the message of hate and judgment, as unemotionally as a timer beeps when to tell you the time is up.
  It is not surprising then, that a group who holds their God’s hate as it’s most important dogma, is unable to love those in its own group who in any way fail to measure up to the strict standard of perfection they have decided is important to their God. They would rather cut off part of their own, than to give up their dark, crushing idea of perfection.
This book perfectly illustrated to me that the most fervent believer can be broken by one thing. Love.

 Finally, Kisses from Katie, by Katie J. Davis and Beth Clark
 This is the story of an average American teen, who went on a missions trip to Uganda to work in the orphanage there, and would never be the same.
  The book is a mixture of her diary and narration as she describes the life she left, so she could save children who had no one and nowhere to go. By age 22 she had personally adopted 14 little girls, and today lives and ministers in the country of Uganda healing and helping one moment, one bath and warm meal, one kiss at a time.
   This book was beautiful and poignant. It brought me to tears several times with her descriptions of the absolute poverty and conditions of the people of Uganda, especially the children.
     At a younger age I would have felt great guilt, because of my own beautiful life. I may have become obsessed with the idea of scooping orphans off the street, and adopting hoards of hungry babies, - until I read another book which would have filled me with a new passion and new need to worry over.
   This book certainly strengthened my resolve to support financially and in other ways those who are doing such important work.
But to an older me, - the most encouraging part of this book was the absolute certainty with which Katy knew her calling. Though not always easy, and definitely not always understood by others, - Katy knew and recognized her calling, her purpose, and her part in bringing God’s love to the world in a very real, tangible way.
   Katy was just an average American girl. In her own words,   For as long as I could remember, I had everything this world says is important. In high school, I was class president, homecoming queen, top of my class. I dated cute boys and wore cute shoes and drove a cute sports car. I had wonderful, supportive parents who so desired my success that they would have paid for me to go to college anywhere my heart desired. But I loved Jesus.”

Having read these four books in just a couple of months I cannot help but compare her childhood to the women in the other books.

   It is so ironic to me that the parents in both the LDS and Westboro Baptist Church both believed that they were in an exclusive group, - living the only way that would please God.

   These families lives were consumed by living in strict accordance with their ideal of how best to serve and please God, - down to the length of their skirt, the color clothes they wore, whether or not to cut their hair or wear make up, what books were ok to read, - what school subjects were necessary to teach home makers. And when they weren’t obsessing over what they should do and say, - they obsessed over the sinfulness of others, - whether it was inappropriate dress and flirting, or other’s sexual choices.
  I found it telling that in both groups, -individuality and personal achievement were not celebrated and encouraged, - but were seen as a threat to the stability and success of the group as a whole. One person’s needs, interests, passions, or desires were a disruption to the systematic advancement of the group to a more and more identical looking standard of ‘right’. Personal preference and taste was something to be overcome.
   I am amazed at how though God designed each person to be totally unique, groups that seem to be the most fervent in pursuing 'holy' or 'righteous' living go to extremes to destroy the very diversity he created and instead create a uniform, ‘one style fits all’ approach which disallows any display of the wide variety of personal taste God put in each person.

   Crushing the unique beauty and interests God created in a child is no more honoring to God than systematically going around spray painting all birds black.

   It was interesting to me to see that while one group eliminated virtually all real education to control their people, - the other group used education as a tool in their arsenal to spread hate. In both cases however, questioning and challenging those in authority was never acceptable. In both cases, God’s protection, guidance, and each individuals connection to God was directly related to them being in good standing with people deemed their ‘authorities’.
  In Katie’s case, - it is clear through her book that her desire to make her parents happy and follow the normal path of college and career was something with which she struggled. However, it is also easy to see that Katy was raised by her parents to be a strong, independent person, and as she relieved her parents fears for her safety and well being, - she and they both were happy to see her live out her passion and calling.
   Most significant of all to me, is the fact that three of these women were desperate to please God. They were willing to go to extremes to show the world, their families, and God that they would do whatever it took to live a 'righteous' life. In each case, - they subjected themselves to everything they believed would make them pleasing in God’s sight even when it meant letting little pieces of themselves die with every breathe they took.

  One of these women just knew that God loved her. That he adored and accepted her just as she was. And she wanted desperately to give that love to others. With a smile, a hug, and warm meal, because God loves you, I love you.

  Three women came to the breaking point. They came to the point where there was nothing left to give the harsh god they thought was demanding all that they were.  

One woman found that by pursing her passion and joy and basking in Gods love her life and love expanded to explode life and joy and healing to everyone around her.

The questions I asked myself after reading these books…..
Which kind of life am I living?  Is my life characterized by pious and noble sounding self sacrifice? Is my life an explosion of love? Am I honoring God by pursuing the passions and gifts he gave me? Am I living out loud?

    And then, as a parent, - I can not help but ask myself.

  How do teach my children just HOW MUCH God REALLY loves them? How do I raise them to know there is nothing they can do, - nothing they can say, - nothing they need worry about that can ever, ever, EVER separate them from the LOVE of God!  

  How can I teach my children that there is no sacrifice God is wanting from them, - no act of humility, - no special outfit, - no moral standard, - nothing that will make them more pleasing in his sight?  It is only the love of Jesus. Only the blood of Jesus.
 He did the dying so that we might live, and live life abundantly.

  How do I help them realize that THEY are a gift?
    Their passions, and talents and gifting, and interests, - these are not things to be slowly killed in some quest for Christian Club Conformity.       
  That those unique passions and personalities are the very  tools God has given us to change the world,  one painting, one speech, one dirt bike ride, one glorious dance, one touchdown, one hug, one smile at a time.
Meanwhile I long to live like Katie. To raise a daughter like Katie.
   A daughter free to become who God designed her to be, - a woman who is strong, and confident in herself and her abilities, a woman who knows how to question, and challenge, and fight for what she believes; THAT woman, - will never be bound.

  That woman will never be defined by what the test scores, the magazines, the press, or well meaning religious people tell her. That woman knows how much God loves her, and loves the life he gave her.
 That woman will change the world.

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  1. you are that woman(mentioned at the end of the article that you want your daughter to become...your example will lead the way...don't underestimate the powerful influence you have in what may seem to be a small circle . Think of all the apples that come from one seed....:) inspite of what you may feel have been your have changed my world for the good...btw happy birthday love mom

  2. Thanks mom.... I love you!! :)