Episode #75: Elsie’s Evangelical Upbringing Story

This week, we are diving into a much-requested topic: talking about our conservative evangelical upbringing. I’m up first, and Emma will share her story next month. This is a tough subject to share so lots of tears are shed, but I hope you enjoy this episode!

You can stream the episode here on the blog or on iTunesSpotifyGoogle PlayTuneInPocket Casts, and Stitcher. You can find the podcast posts archive here.

Show Notes:

-The statement from the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and the link to his documentary.

-Hillary Clinton Podcast episode, Faith.

Thank you to this week’s sponsors! Be sure to check out the offers and codes from Grove, Better Help, Calm and Issuu! And if you’re ever looking for a sponsor code that we mentioned on the podcast, you can find them on this page.

Episode 75 Transcript

Elsie: You’re listening to the A Beautiful Mess podcast. This week, we’re starting a two part series about our evangelical Christian upbringing. This is the first episode where I, Elsie, share my story, which is traumatic and hurtful, but also just bonkers at certain parts. It’s vulnerable and we truly hope that it helps someone or is just interesting and a new perspective that maybe you haven’t heard of before. So in many ways, these stories shaped our lives and who we are today. And we’re excited to jump in and share this with you.

Emma: We’ve kind of mentioned that we were going to do these episodes and we, you know, decided to break them up into like Elsie’s story in my story. And really, you’ll see that some of them are kind of similar because we did go to the same church and we’re a similar age and all that. But I think we both have a lot of anxiety around sharing around it, one, because it’s vulnerable. But two, I just feel nervous, to…I would never want to take away from somebody else’s experience when I’m sharing my own. You know, I just want to share my story. And I think you feel similar, but there’s a lot of anxiety there because I think people can take things the wrong way or, I don’t know, take your story and then somehow apply it to their life, which is really not always the best thing. So I don’t know.

Elsie: Yes. On that note, I’ll start my disclaimer now. So, you know, we love a disclaimer. It’s one of our signature moves. So my thing I ask, this is a very vulnerable episode. It’s horrible to talk about this stuff, but I do think it’s important. I do think it’s interesting. And at this point in our lives, I think we’re far enough removed where, like, it makes sense for us to talk about it. What I would ask is like, please just let this be my story. And in Emma’s episode, let it be Emma’s story. And it doesn’t have to be your story. So a lot of times throughout the years I’ve briefly touched on this stuff, either in a blog post or on Instagram or whatever. And I get comments back that are like, well, maybe your church was bad, but my church isn’t. My church is great and you should try my church. And that kind of response isn’t helpful. It’s actually like, makes me feel like you’re trying to diminish my story and like you weren’t listening. So it really, really means a lot to me. I think that, you know, in Christian culture and in every religion, there are misguided people who have made big mistakes and there are people who have been really hurt by it. And those situations deserve to be truly listened to. I’m actually not searching for faith and peace. I have faith and I have peace in my heart. It’s found it’s there. And yeah, that’s what puts me in a position where I’m even able to talk about this stuff because it was traumatic. And I’ve now been almost in two years of therapy every two weeks (laughs) with my wonderful therapist to talk about it.

Emma: Which is awesome. I feel like, you know, we’re laughing because it’s fun to laugh, but it is actually awesome to work out your shit in therapy or wherever you get to. You know, not everyone gets the chance to go to therapy. But I always just really want to emphasize that I think it’s one of the most courageous and powerful things you can do in your life to change and to grow and to ask for help when you need it.

Elsie: Yeah, one hundred percent. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. And I will say I felt empowered to do it because my friends were just like, it’s great, it’s wonderful. You don’t have to have one thing you’re working through. You don’t have to, you know, have one big issue in your life. You can just go just to work on your life. So, yeah, that’s one of the reasons why we talk about therapy a bunch is because we want to normalize it in that way for people who are curious. But maybe it was like something that was more stigmatized when you were growing up. It definitely was in our universe. So, yeah, another reason I want to share this story and this experience is because I really do want for my children to have a better experience with organized religion and their faith in the future. Like the number one goal, I think for me now is to protect them from this kind of stuff. And I think one way we can do that is to be a little bit more open and a little bit more honest about it all.

Emma: Yeah, I agree.

Elsie: OK, so we’ve mentioned before that we were raised in an evangelical Christian church and home, so we were Baptist, Republican, anti-gay, and we lived with a very large list of do’s and don’ts, including like very specific things that are kind of wild. And this is stuff that I’ve definitely bonded with people on through the years, because if you were raised this way even a little bit, you’re like all of a sudden like, oh, my God, someone else who knows what I went through. So one of the specific things from our, like, upbringing and this is a little bit specific to the ’90s, is that it was like a very big thing, that it was wrong or a sin to listen to secular music, which is like any regular music, and we only were supposed to listen to Christian music, so this is actually one of my big steps of rebellion/independence when I was twenty three years old. I only listened to Christian music exclusively until I was twenty three years old. And then one day I walked into a used music store and bought a CD of Ben Folds. And that was like my rite of passage into the real world.

Emma: Woah getting wild!

Elsie: I know it’s so funny that I chose Ben Folds. My first the CD is that I really wanted where Ben Folds and Bjork.

Emma: Good picks!

Elsie: Yeah, I graduated from a Christian high school where the dress code was wearing skirts below your knees every day and your shirt had to be three fingers wide your strap so you could wear like a stop with no sleeves. But it couldn’t be like a tank top tank top with like spaghetti straps.

Emma: No spaghetti straps. That’s a sin.

Elsie: No spaghetti shops allowed. Yeah, that was like a big, big part of our formative years was avoiding spaghetti straps. A few other fun facts about me. These are crazy. I memorized an entire book of the Bible. No one asked me to. I did it on my own in high school. I think…Emma did you do it too?

Emma: Yeah. Which book did you do?

Elsie: James.

Emma: Mine was Colossians.

Elsie: And that is — that really…memorizing the whole book of the Bible? I feel like it explains a lot about our specific church upbringing. It was very competitive and in some ways it was like almost a little bit militant. Like we were very disciplined children and we were…there were good things about it, which I’ll get to. But there are weird things, too. So one of our hobbies and I mean voluntary, non-required things that we did for an after school activity with our friends was door to door evangelizing around our Christian school. We would go up and down the streets and knock on doors with our Bible and try to get people to say the prayer to become saved.

Emma: Yeah, we had a map of Springfield and our goal was to do the entire map and we would highlight it. Yeah, and we were…we wanted to do all of Springfield eventually that was our big vision.

Elsie: We did not. We did not get that far. (laughs)

Emma: We did not get that far. No.

Elsie: But we did it a lot. It was like a couple days after school every week we would do it for an hour or two. This is a bonkers one…file this one under bonkers. When I was in eighth grade, my youth pastor told all of us that God was going to return before the year 2000, which this would have been in like 1997 or 1998. So I was still in high school or I would have still been in high school when God was returning. So basically he scared the shit out of us all and made us feel like nothing in our life was going to matter anyway. Our lives were already almost over and we just need to spend all of our time evangelizing to help other people not go to hell. One of my first concerts was OK, so anyone who knows anything on this list is a little bit in our club. My first concert was Amy Grant. My first CD was DC Talk and in high school I thought it was a sin to date or kiss. And this was from the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which was a smash hit ’90s classic for church kids. We also thought it was a sin to wear a bikini and Emma and I basically wore the most modest possible swimsuit with long board shorts over the top of them. So basically like a grandma swimsuit with a men’s swimsuit on top of it On the bottom, is what we wOre in high school. So not to make boys sin.

Emma: Yep.

Elsie: Yep. All right. Let’s take a quick sponsor break.

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Elsie: So I’ll talk about some of the pros. When I first read this outline, Emma was like, you should buy more pros (laughs) because I think I was like pouring out my…

Emma: Well I just don’t want them to get the impression there was nothing!

Elsie: Right. There definitely were things that I learned that are really, really positive. One, we learned to work really hard and we learned how to excel and compete, which I know that the word compete is not necessarily good in a Christian context, but it was good when I started my career and I needed to work my way up. I didn’t finish college and I, you know, kind of started a career from nothing. And it really helped me in that context because I already knew how to set goals and achieve big things. Like, for example, we just shared we memorized a whole book of the Bible. Like nothing like that happens if you don’t make a plan and execute your plan, you know, and then you get to brag about it at the end. But it’s actually so much work in the middle. So we learned how to do that work, which I think is something really valuable that we got from it. I always knew I could do difficult things from a young age, which I think not every high schooler gets to have that experience. It’s something I really want my children to have. I also learned how to be an extreme giver and look for ways to give people big gifts when they were in need. That’s probably the number one most valuable thing that I took away from my years in the church and something that I still really believe in learning how to give a large, generous gift and to do it anonymously, not looking for credit, not looking to perform, just trying to give someone something because it’s one of your goals. You know, that you want to be a giver, I think is really, really special. I also am really thankful now that I grew up with a different perspective. I mentioned that we were raised Republican. We’re not Republican anymore. And I personally had a long, I don’t know what yours was or how you define it, but for me, I had a long transition between being Republican and being Democrat. I think I was definitely one of those people who sort of like voted for Obama prematurely (laughs). Like I was just excited to vote for a Black president at that time. I didn’t necessarily completely understand a Democratic point of view and probably over, you know, a ten year period, I had a soft place to land. I had friends who were more mature than me, smarter than me, who, you know, answered my questions about politics and explained things to me and were patient and never made me feel ashamed for what I believed or what I was conditioned for and how I was raised. And I think that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve carried with me and has been especially sort of helpful going through 2020 and the last election. And just a lot of things that have happened in a Trump era is understanding why Republican people are how they are and what it really takes to change. That it’s not going to be like an instantaneous thing and it’s not going to come from shaming, that it’s a long process and it takes a lot of support. So one of my great dreams now is to be that kind of support for people who want to take that kind of transition and that kind of journey for themselves and I, I can definitely see it happening and I think that that’s something that it’s an idea that I would hope to promote, because I don’t think that people can change as quickly as you hope that they might when your raised that way and it’s all you’ve ever been taught.

Emma: You kind of touched on a big one for me is the like not trying to teach through shaming, because I feel like growing up in our conservative evangelical Christian church that we did, there was a lot of of being taught and kind of being controlled through shame. And I now have a huge aversion to that. I, I don’t do well if someone’s trying to teach me something through shame. And I actually think it’s interesting because there are kind of a lot of people on the quote unquote left or more liberal side of things who are trying to teach through shame sometimes on the Internet. And I just have a deep aversion to it. And I think it’s left over from my Christian upbringing. I just, if you try to control me with shame, I’m out. So, yeah, I don’t think it’s…I think it can be an effective way to teach, but it is not loving and I just can’t deal. It really triggers me. I don’t even like that term, but yeah.

Elsie: Yeah. I think it’s just really, really important to understand that to switch over from being Republican to Democrat is a process and it requires a lot of education and it’s not going to happen overnight probably for most people. You know? Like I said I prematurely…

Emma: Well it’s just generally, we are all a work in progress. And if you can’t accept that in yourself and accept that in others, you need to take a step back and work on your ability to love, because we are all on a journey where we are hopefully aiming to educate ourselves, to become better at communication, to become better at loving others and loving ourselves. And you don’t know how someone was raised. You don’t know what, you know, foundation they have in their life. And this applies to politics. This applies to lots of areas. So you need to let people be the work in progress that they are and just try to help them gently on their journey and do that for yourself as well. And I think shame is not the way to go with that. Anyway, I’ll stop now.

Elsie: Agreed. Yeah, no. Can you tell we’re interested in that subject? It’s definitely a big one. OK, well now I’m going to talk about sexual experience guilt. Are you ready for this?

Emma: (laughs)

Elsie: The way we were raised, my guilt level for having any kind of sexual experience in high school and college was unbearable to me. I didn’t understand how to not be a perfect person and still be a person of faith. It felt incompatible to me. And I think that that’s a really, really dangerous thing to teach young children and kids. So, yeah, my faith was mainly a big success story where I tried to do like more and more and more good deeds until someone would notice and then someone would give a little speech about how great I was doing. That was a big thing in our church. We were always giving little speeches about each other. It feels now like very childish that I was always like living for that kind of approval. But I actually, looking back, was a child because I was still watching Power Rangers with my brother after school, who wasten, you know? (laughs) Like I wasn’t an adult yet, but I felt like I was an adult and I felt like the pressure to live a perfect life and I didn’t live up to it. So backing up, I’m going to share a few of my experiences and thoughts about marriage and sex. And this will sort of like help you understand how I became so confused, because it is a very strange sequence of events. So when I was in only seventh grade, I found out that my youth pastor, who was my hero and really like one of the most warm, loving people I had met in my life up until that time was actually having sex with a high schooler from our youth group and like to say that was devastating….like there’s no words that can describe how devastating that was. And it ended up not being the last time that I saw a youth pastor secretly dating a high schooler, which is crazy. It became a trend and something that happened over and over in our upbringing. So a big thing in our culture. Not everyone was raised this way so not everyone understands it is like the feeling that God tells you to do something, which is very hard to interpret and can start happening all the time about the strangest things. And obviously, a lot of it’s not going to be true. So I felt that I heard God tell me who I was supposed to marry when I was 14 years old. So I was fourteen years old and I already had a picture in my mind of who I was going to marry and it was the person I ended up marrying, and so, yeah, it’s easy to see now through hindsight how dangerous that is for a kid. Also seeing so many of our pastors and also just the pastors from other churches and different people in our culture marrying very young girls, I got it in my head at a pretty young age that I would probably marry someone way older than me, because just so many girls who were age, you know, 15, maybe 16, 17 years old, ended up starting like getting interested, dating and marrying really quickly, pastors and youth pastors who were more like 30 years old and beyond. So that was very normal in our culture and something that we never questioned at that time. And, yeah, just common. When I was in high school at my Christian high school, I knew of a couple who got pregnant together, a high school couple both in high school. And the girl was not able to keep attending our high school, virtually kicked out, and the boy was able to keep attending and graduated from the high school. So, yeah, that was like a contradiction and something that at the time I was like, that’s kind of strange. And then when you grow up, you realize, like, that’s actually really fucked up.

Emma: Yeah.

Elsie: And also it was a thing in our church that multiple times there would be like a high school girl going up on stage and apologizing for being pregnant and like publicly, you know, apologizing to the whole church and, you know, confessing her sins. But we never saw a man do something like that in our church. And it became a thing over time that I recognized very clearly is that men were being defended and protected and women were responsible for confessing and apologizing and fixing things. In just relationships, dating and sex, in our culture at that time, it really seemed like there was no wiggle room. It was just all or nothing. So we saw lots of people get married super fast. It would, you know, just like by you, you haven’t seen someone for six months and they’re married, very normal. And because there just really wasn’t a lot of wiggle room to have a long engagement, you’re definitely not allowed to live together. You’re not allowed to have sex. If you do have sex, you better keep it private and get married really quickly. And it just, there just wasn’t like room for those types of mistakes in our culture. In hindsight, I feel that I wasn’t at all mature enough to choose a partner at age 18, which is when I got engaged. I was barely learning how to drive my own car still (laughs) I hadn’t had a full-time job yet. I definitely didn’t have a career. I was a sophomore in college and I wasn’t the youngest person who I knew to get married. That’s what was strange. I wasn’t the first person in my friend group or my church group or my social circle to get married. It was pretty normal. There were lots of college freshmen who are married in our Bible colleges and stuff. So yeah, I already had lots of married friends by the time I got married. For talking about my first marriage, this is like kind of like a sticky area for me and I’ll share why. So when I got a divorce I was age twenty four and I had just started blogging and I was, like I’ve shared before, like our early blog posts were very like live journal-ly. There was definitely oversharing. There was definitely a lack of professionalism and purpose. We were blogging just for fun. It was not our job. So when I got a divorce, my husband asked me, please, to not share anything about our divorce on the Internet. And I promised him I wouldn’t and I never have. And then also my boss at that time asked me, he said, don’t share anything about it. Like just don’t respond to anything, basically like ghost the subject. And at the time it was extremely traumatizing for me because I was getting like really mean really aggressive comments, like, you owe us an explanation. You can’t just get past this. You can’t just, you know, pretend like everything’s normal. Like, you know, I was clearly like posting pictures in like my new apartment. And I was talking about, you know, my friends and being single. And I just wasn’t addressing it at all. And people were very angry. And I will say now that I’m past it, you know, it’s been like fifteen years. I look back and I’m so glad that I didn’t share any of that stuff. And for anyone who’s going through a divorce, who doesn’t want to share, I highly recommend it. I think that it’s a great way to protect yourself and others, and also just like protect your sanity at that time of my life, I was going to therapy once a week like I needed the support of my friends. I didn’t need the Internet, you know, combing through the details of my divorce. So I’m very thankful I didn’t share it. And also, I think that in Christian culture, it’s an all too common thing that people feel like they need to defend themselves. And how they end up doing that is throwing the other person under the bus and exposing, you know, all the things that they did wrong in a marriage. And now that I’ve been divorced for so long, I can look back and see that obviously we were both at fault and I didn’t need to prove that it was exclusively his fault, you know, and there’s nothing wrong from my vantage point now with saying I just got married way too young, period. If there seems like there’s some holes in this story, it’s because there are because I am going to leave out all the stuff about my first marriage and what went wrong and when and why, because that’s just not something I share. And it took me a long time to try to develop this story without it, because I in some ways, I think I felt like it’s not a good enough story if I can’t share the whole thing. But I decided that I’m just going to share part of it. And I hope that that works. I think that the part that I’m sharing is still a good story. And if there seems like there’s like little gaps here and there, you’re right, there are.

Emma: Yes, those gaps are called Elsie boundaries. And it’s OK to have them. And we’re going to take a quick break and hear a word from our sponsor.

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Elsie: So I’ll give you a quick timeline of how things happened because my divorce is a big part of my story. I met my first husband at age 14 at church camp where I immediately told my best friend I’m going to marry that boy who I met today. And she was like, great, wow, cool. (laughs) And it’s just like a very normal thing to say at that age. And we were into the book I mentioned before. I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which, by the way, the man who wrote that book has completely renounced it. And he, like I heard that kind of recently and I was like, good for you. So it was not a good idea to teach people that they should get married without dating at all. It’s a terrible, terrible idea, in my opinion. So anyway, we weren’t dating, but we kind of were dating. It’s like you do the like half dating is what you have to do. So some people call it like courtship and some people just call it like being friends. But you just like kind of like know that you’re more than friends. You’re just not saying that. So I basically had a high school boyfriend just in my own, like, very conservative way. So we would like make each other these like big elaborate gifts for like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. And we would like write three page letters to each other from school. And, you know, eventually we, like, did go to prom together, but just as friends, things like that. So we ended up going to the same Bible College. And then after the first semester, I switched Bible colleges because I wanted to get away from him because we were starting to get into this cycle, this like very toxic cycle of making out, feeling guilty, breaking up and then getting back together and then making out again and then breaking up again. And it was just like a cycle that wouldn’t end. So we were breaking up every few months and then getting back together and just like having horrible guilt for doing like any kind of little like sexual making out things. We didn’t even have sex, but it didn’t matter. We felt so horribly guilty. And, yeah, it carries over the summer after our freshman year, I was confused on whether I should go back to my far away Bible college, which gave me like a three-hour buffer from him, or if I should stay in town. And we started talking about marriage and I decided to just stay. And we were engaged in August and married in December. And we had, so we basically went from being broken up to being married in six months so I could see that there were red flags in our relationship and compatibility from the beginning. And I can admit that now. But I think at the time I wasn’t taught that they were red flags. I was taught, you know, God can fix anything. Every relationship has huge struggles. And that’s the main information about relationships that I was learning. So I didn’t know that maybe we just weren’t very compatible and something I learned much later. So we ended up getting married in December. And almost immediately I had terrible regrets, like it was even so bad, like on our own honeymoon. I was like, should I call my mom? Should I tell her I want to come home? It was almost really immediately that I felt like I had made a mistake and really, like, ruined my entire life was what I was afraid of. So I asked to go to our pastor and get some counseling, and he sent me to a Christian counselor who was very kind and compassionate. And she was helping me like really listening and helping me in a way that I hadn’t had. But then within our first one-hour session, like, totally flipped a switch when it came time to give me any kind of actionable advice. And she told me that, you know, as a Christian, my two options were to stay married and trust that God could fix our relationship because, of course, you know, God can fix anything, or to go ahead and get a divorce, which is what I was thinking I might want to do, but that I would need to remain single for the rest of my life if I did that. She wasn’t the only person that said that to me. It was confirmed a few more times. My grandma told me that and a couple of other people in the church told me that. And I think that it’s probably the most traumatic memory of my life is just being in this room with this woman, pouring my heart out, telling her, like, I’ve made this huge mistake, I’ve ruined my life, I’m 19. And for her to basically say, yes, you did, and here are the consequences and there are no other paths for you. So at the time, it didn’t feel like an option for me to take an alternative path, I was too afraid. I was too ashamed and I wasn’t going to go off of that advice I was given. So I did stay married for four more years. And we definitely had like a mixture of good times and bad times, like every marriage will. There was even like points when I felt hope. But I definitely stayed married way longer than I should have to someone that I really was not compatible with, all because of the advice of that one counseling session. Over the next few years, I would occasionally find a friend, usually like a woman from our church or maybe like someone like five years older than me or things like that. You know, someone I trusted, who I could confide in. And I would really tell them something that was going on in our marriage and try to like basically see if anyone would give me different advice. And every single time people would give me different advice. But it was all…they would always like just stop short of condoning divorce, because it’s just something that people just won’t do. And I feel like maybe they just didn’t want it on their shoulders. I don’t know. But people would even say maybe it’ll get better when you have a baby. People would say maybe you should try moving to another city. Maybe you should try finding a job for a while where you work weekends, which I did do. (laughs) And yeah, obviously none of those things solved our marriage issues. So towards the end of our marriage, I got my first good job and I kind of like had my own career and my own thing for the first time. And it gave me an opportunity to make friends outside the church, which was huge for me. So, yeah, eventually I found myself in a hot tub at a random hotel. I can’t even remember what city we were in. We were teaching at a scrapbook conference and all my friends were scrapbook teachers. And yeah, I was sitting in a hot tub bawling, telling them all this stuff that was going on in my marriage. And finally, for the first time, someone told me what I really needed to hear, which was just simply that my life wasn’t over and that no matter what happened, I would still have a future ahead of me. And I think that’s like the biggest thing that if I had a time machine, I wish that I could hear that sooner because I really did believe that my life was over and that I didn’t have any kind of chance, like I had just made a mistake that was going to haunt me forever. And now I’m so grateful for those people. I’m sure, like it was probably a big deal to them. It was just like a random crying girl. But I think it’s really sad. Like one of the main things I wish I could say to the church, you know, is not to make people feel like they don’t have options because the church actually does support people after they’ve gotten a divorce. And a lot of people get divorces. You know, we all know that like statistics of divorce inside and outside of the church are not different. But for some reason, they won’t support you when you’re in that part of your relationship leading up to the divorce. And I think that at that age, I wasn’t able to move forward without that support. So I was just stuck. So I feel really grateful that I finally, finally got the support I needed. So we found another marriage counselor and they were a Christian counselor, but it wasn’t like the first one. It was definitely like a more mainstream counselor, because as soon as she heard our story and heard our concerns and all of the different personal things we shared, she immediately started breaking us up into individual sessions. She gave me a book to read that was like very eye-opening to me and empowered me with the information I needed to leave my marriage. And also she, you know, immediately told us, like, the simple advice that the church hadn’t been giving us that we didn’t know was like, you don’t need to be building a house together right now. You don’t need to be trying to have a baby. You need to be figuring this out first and you need to put all of that, you know, on hold. So, yeah, just that one little hot tub session with my scrapbooking friends. And then one counselor changed my life. And after that, I had what I needed to kind of move on and, you know, move into the next phase. I knew that I was going to lose all my friends. I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue going to that church and I didn’t really want to anymore. And it was a heavy amount of loss and sadness. It was really like, you know, a big part of my life, like when we were sharing on the podcast recently about the live nativity pageant. (laughs) You know, like a lot of like very happy memories, all of the travel I had ever done in my life at that point was for missions trips, you know, and things like that. All of my friends were my friends from church. So I really was like losing everything and starting my life over again at that age. So, yeah. So eventually I did move out and I started getting phone calls. And my last, my last memories with the church were the pastor calling me and having like this super weird conversation. Like I couldn’t even really understand what he was trying to say. It was like he had been like told on his to-do list or maybe by his wife or maybe by someone else that he needed to call me, but he really didn’t want to. So I couldn’t even understand what he was like trying to say to me. He was just letting me know that he was calling me on a phone. And then women from the church who were calling me, telling me, you know, that I needed to go back with him and give him another chance and that, you know, from their experience, that was the right thing to do. Whatever they had been through was worse than what I had been through, which they didn’t know what I had been through. So it was like a really horrible thing to call and tell someone you barely know. And then, you know, rumors started circulating in our church that I would hear occasionally about like the reasons why it was probably my fault that we were getting divorced because I had the job where I traveled. And back to the point of like, you know, the church will support men and blame women whenever bad things happen. And that’s my experience. I don’t want it to be true, but it is true. I think I’m done talking about divorce stuff now, but I just hope that in the future that the church will normalize divorce because divorce is normal and it’s going to be normal. Like it’s sad, but it’s a part of people’s lives. And shame and guilt don’t keep you in a marriage. And if they do, maybe they shouldn’t. Alright. So moving on, I can stop crying now. It was actually the beginning of a very joyful season in my life. This is when I started A Beautiful Mess, Emma was like sort of like my like on again, off again roommate. We made lots of fun memories together. We started traveling together and I knew, like, really quickly that I had made the right choice, that it was life changing in a good way. I had to make all new friends and I had my first apartment. My parents got me my divorce present bed, which is like I still have. And it’s so sweet and cute as they were just trying to be supportive. And I got to do a lot of things that I had missed just because I became an adult so quickly. Moving straight from my parents house into my first apartment with my husband, I got to do a lot of like just like regular things that people in their 20s do. So that was really fun and a special time. And I did try a new church with my new group of friends.And I went a few times and it felt very much the same. It felt like a sort of like I was disconnected from it. But the teaching was the same and the message was the same. And I realized after only going a couple of times that I didn’t really want to repeat those same things again. So I decided to just take a break from it until I felt like there was like a hole in my life. And that’s one of the big things that we were taught in our upbringing, is that when you’re away from the church, there’s a hole in your life and there’s like a need that’s not being fulfilled. So I decided to just wait until that hole presented itself and it never did. It’s been like more than 14 years and I’ve never been to church again. So I am thinking about attending again. I’ll go into that at the end, but it’s for different reasons. And I think it’s like a very, very different type of situation than it was at that time. So. Oh, anyway, the other thing I learned on the other side of everything that is so messed up that I would I wish I could tell my 19 year old self is that life is honestly pretty easy for a Christian person who’s divorced. It’s easy to find a new church. It’s easy to find new friends. It’s easy to find new men who want to date you who aren’t scared of dating a divorced person. It really was not a thing where I felt like I was rejected in any way, except for before I got the divorce, when I was like living in the, like, sadness and oppression. So I feel like it opened up my world a hundred times more than it closed it. And not too long after that, I met Jeremy, who had also had his own, like long and difficult church journey. He like had quit college to become like in a worship band. And he was like traveling around the country doing that. And he had quit that within, like, I think a year of us meeting. So we kind of met at like a very good time for both of us, because we were both ready to start a new life together and get our new education and kind of like go through this long process of unlearning things that were ingrained in us and relearning things that we chose as what we thought was right. So. I think that for anyone who’s been through a situation like this, I just want to say like it’s OK to have a gray area in your faith, it’s OK to not have everything perfectly defined and have an answer for every question. I lived in that place for a long time. I still kind of do. And I actually think it’s a really healthy way to live just to realize that, like, maybe I’ll change my mind later. Maybe I don’t have all the answers because those are always true whether you know they are or not. I feel like we didn’t tell enough funny stories. So maybe your episode will have more funny stories because there really are some. But yeah, for the most part, it was really sad because I lived for a long time just trying to get over the guilt and shame that was so, you know, such a big part of our upbringing. So I’ll tell our church status now. So this is kind of exciting and different. I’ll just give, like, the sort of like bookends of my own journey over the last five years, somewhere in between Donald Trump becoming president and me, you know, listening to Hillary’s podcast, like her first one of her first, like I think it’s her first episode. Her second is like all about her faith. I think that just learning that liberal people can be really people of faith and absorbing that. And I think that also, just like having Donald Trump as a president where I personally believed he wasn’t really a Christian and he wasn’t really, you know, being an example of what a Christian should be. But it felt like a lot of his supporters were Christian. It like brought me to a place where I felt like defensive of the Christian faith. Like I somehow, like, cared about it more than I had in a long time, which was a weird feeling to have. Like, I kind of like wanted to be a part of, like fixing the church or reforming it or teaching my kids the parts of it that I think are filled with hope and valuable and can help you in your life and definitely not teaching them to, like, blindly follow someone like Donald Trump, who, in my opinion, is like the opposite of a Christian. So, yeah, somewhere over the last few years, I, I don’t know. I also like got really into Pete Buttigeig and I don’t know, like followed some people who really talk about their faith all the time but are extremely liberal. And then one day we were driving and this is during covid, but we were driving down the street on one of the cute neighborhoods in Nashville. And there was this church with like this giant Black Lives Matter sign in front of their church. And I feel like that was like my moment where I kind of did a double take. And I was like, I think I actually am interested in attending church again, not like at this moment, but when covid over.

Emma: Right.

Elsie: So one of the reasons is just because I think it could be a good redeeming thing and sort of like close a chapter of my life that was really damaging and really traumatic and maybe like bring some hope, you know, back, because I actually think the teachings of Jesus are good. And it’s something that I think I would like to have in my life, but without like all the bullshit. So also, when we were still living at our previous house, our daughter was going to a Christian preschool because it was kind of like the best option we had in our area. And they were teaching her kind of a lot of Bible stories. For some reason, they tend to teach the really weird ones mostly to kids, like the story of Noah’s Ark is actually like really bad, in my opinion, (laughs) and like violent and kind of insane to believe and to teach to a child, like Daniel in the Lion’s Den. And there’s other stories like that that are just like, why is this the first story you teach a child? When I feel like there’s like other things? And she just asked me over and over and over again if it’s real and if people really died. And just like the questions that honestly are very logical, you know, it’s not just like cute animals. It’s like the whole entire population of the world supposedly wiped out and only one family spared on this boat. So anyway, I did when she started asking me those kind of questions and she’s only, you know, five years old, I started to realize that, like, she’s going to have so many questions about this stuff. And I want to surround her with support and have a religious experience that’s not traumatic and that’s not extreme. Like more than anything, like I want to raise them with a religious experience that’s not extreme since we were raised with such an extreme one. So I almost feel like us going to church now, to a liberal church, you know, that is more focused on, you know, doing good for our community and less focused on being anti-whatever, you know.

Emma: Right.

Elsie: That’s what I really want to do when covid’s over with our kids. And I think it could be a really good experience and maybe it won’t be. Maybe we’ll go and we just like won’t like it. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but my therapist helped me find an option for a church that I’m really excited to try out and it’s definitely like completely different from anything I’ve ever been to before. So, yeah, I’m excited to try that. And I hope that that puts a little bit of hope at the end. So you don’t have to email me and invite me to your megachurch because I’m not coming and (laughs) I’m not interested. And I hope that if you’re in a church that is oppressive to women or anti-gay, like, please, please, please reconsider how those beliefs are harmful and really not Christian. Wow ranty. (laughs)

Emma: I like that you’re going to try church again. I think it’s a very open way to live life.

Elsie: I’m excited to do it. Yeah, and when I was like looking at their website it’s like so they’re doing so many good things in our community, which is like the thing I was really excited to be a part of because I want to be more involved in Nashville and we’re really not that involved in local charities besides that one food bank thing we’ve been doing. So I think it will be really cool. So we will be back next month with part two, which is Emma. Part two is called Emma and Emma’s stories are some sometimes similar, but really, really different because as you heard in this episode, my story was like a lot surrounding my divorce and Emma didn’t have that. So her stories will be really different. And I hope that you all enjoy this episode is definitely the most difficult, vulnerable thing we’ve ever recorded. But, you know, hopefully it’ll help someone or if not just like provide a little bit more context in the world and a little bit more perspective. So. We love you and thanks for listening.

Emma: Bye

Elsie: Bye!

 

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  • elsie, all i can say is thank you. thank you for being incredibly vulnerable and sharing your story. we have so many things in common. as i was listening to your story this morning i was thinking “that was my experience!” i didn’t go to a christian school but my youth group was very very similar. so much shame. it makes my heart hurt for younger me. i’m 45 now and i’ve spent over half my life trying to deal with the affects of shame on my marriage and my life. it’s so sad to me that a place that is supposed to teach about the freedom jesus can bring ends up causing such extreme feelings of imprisonment. i cried with you as you cried about feeling stuck and i’m very thankful you had friends who said, you know this isn’t ok and you can get out. have you seen the movie “Saved” with mandy moore and mccauley caulkin?! it’s the perfect explanation of church kids in the 90s. lol
    thank you again. it was very brave and courageous of you to share. much love

  • Elsie, what an amazing episode and I loved hearing your story! First of all, I’m so so sorry that happened to you and happens to other people. I look up to you and Emma a lot and think your perspective is valuable. As a church going woman, I think it is critical to hear stories like yours. My church has so many problems and I’m trying to work on reform but it’s really hard. I work with the teenage girls in my congregation and your story has given me so much to think about in how and what we talk about. Thank you again for sharing!

  • Thank you for sharing your story Elsie. As much as I believe that someone’s story is nobody’s business (like the mean comments you would get for not sharing anything about your divorce when it happened), I think it’s important to listen and try to understand where someone is coming from and how their experience shaped them when they do decide to share. I want to try not to take away from your story in my comment but I must say your story is fascinating to me because I come from a completely different world and I feel like your story is what we think about, stereotypically, about super religious communities in the US. And the crazy part is, I’m not even that far removed from the US…….I’m French Canadian! So there’s definitely some more religious communities here in Canada (mostly in the prairies (our version of the mid-west I guess) but overall, we don’t have a lot of communities that live the sort of things you describe in your story (and maybe I’m wrong so I don’t want to diminish someone else’s experience). But I want to give you a perspective of how life was growing around the same time (we’re the same age so I also grew up in the 90s) but in Québec (the French province of Canada). So I was born in Montréal and in Québec, up until the 60s or so, we were a very, very, very religious population. The church (and that would be Catholic to be precise) controlled the family life and the English controlled the business. Québekers (as the Anglos call us ;p) had huge families and were kept largely uneducated and the ones who “made it” were the ones who learned English and could speak it fluently. For example, my dad’s grandmother was the mother of 14 children. Her husband was an alcoholic and abused her and the kids all the time. When she got pregnant with her 15th child (in the late 1930s), the doctor told her if she went through with it, she or the child would die. She talked to her husband about it and he said, you have to ask the priest. And the priest told her it was her duty to God to give birth to a healthy child and if he wanted to take her or the child with him, it was his prerogative. And so she and the child died leaving my great aunt in charge of the family at age 15, having her dead beat dad rape her whenever he felt the urge and taking care of all her siblings. She never married, she never had children of her own. My grand mother was the youngest (only a few months old when her mother died). And this was very common. My family didn’t have it worse than others…….that’s how life was in Québec then. In the 60s, things changed. Long story short, Québekers took a stand and decided to stick it to the man and become a secular province. When my parents were born they had to go to church as children and then around their teenage years (in the 70s) they just stopped going. And by the time my generation was born, we didn’t go to church as children. Only for baptisms, weddings and funerals. We didn’t talk about religion at home. And I remember my grand-pa being a big part of my life and he would kiss his little plastic virgin Marry every night before bed but that’s pretty much the most exposure of religion I got. And then I went to a French Catholic private school at around 7 years old (because private schools in Québec are usually Catholic) and I remember having to go to religion class (catechism?) where we would read the old testament and learn the prayers by heart and I didn’t get why I had to do this. It didn’t make sense to me. At 8, I learned that for the kids that were non-religious or those from another faith (mostly Jewish in Montreal), there was an alternative class you could be signed into. It was called Moral class. They taught you all the “good” stuff like, don’t lie, don’t steal, generally be a good person if you want people to be good to you but without the religious dogma. So at 8 years old, I went to my mom and I asked to be switched over to moral class and my mom said “no problem!” and that was that. My grand parents were very religious, my parents are mostly agnostic and as far as I can remember, I’ve always been Atheist (and I’ve always felt very happy and fulfilled with this, I don’t feel like I’m lacking anything and for those who believe that not believing in an higher powers means you don’t have a moral compass, it’s just plain wrong). And it makes sense you know. you often become what you are raised as. And I love the message you’re sending. It’s ok to change if you’re not happy with your experience and it’s ok to seek different opinions and one should always strive to become a better version of themselves if only to live the life they want to live (don’t live for others), I know religion can bring a lot of good and comfort to a lot of people and those who take its teaching and just use it for the greater good are wonderful people. But hate of any kind should never be part of the equation and I think a church that teaches through shame and teaches hate should not be condoned. I’m glad to see you’ve evolved into a better version of yourself and opened your eyes to a world where shame has no place. I hope this new church brings you positivity once you decide to attend it and I can’t wait to hear Emma’s story. Stay safe during these hard times and again, thanks for sharing.

  • Major props for recording this episode! Thank you for sharing your story. I thought your comments about shame were super interesting on point. I thought I would share a story which I think hits the nail about this. It talks specifically about the social justice sector, and how ‘shaming’ can turn even the best intentioned activists into what they’re protesting. Interested, if you want to give it a read (I’m from Canada, it’s from a Canadian news website).

    https://www.cbc.ca/radio/sunday/the-sunday-edition-september-17-2017-1.4291332/excommunicate-me-from-the-church-of-social-justice-an-activist-s-plea-for-change-1.4291383

    • Thank you so much Elsie, I stood in my kitchen and cried with you.

      @caroline I found those comments around shame and shaming very interesting too. The article you linked to was excellent.

  • Elsie, that was so brave, and so beautiful. Thank you for sharing with us. Sending you a huge virtual hug xoxo

  • I SO identify with your story. Shame and religion kept me in a marriage for 14 years and unaware that I was gay until I was 36. The loss of my whole life was shattering but I have 3 fantastic kids and slowly rebuilt my life. Still recovering from shame, but when it’s programmed into you from preschool on, its hard to shake..thanks for sharing..so brave and valuable

  • Thank you for opening up, Elsie. As someone from a western European country I can not relate at all, but it fascinates me. I’m a small decate younger then you but my nineties and nillies childhood was completely different. A few times a year I went to church with the religions class in school, but I don’t think I ever believed. I don’t know many people who believe in God, actually. I haven’t even spoke about the subject with my parents like ever. I don’t think they believe either, despite having a more religious childhood than I had. But even their childhood isn’t similar to yours, the closest one would maybe the childhood of my grandparents? It’s so strange that we are so similar on some topics but so completely different on topics like this. With the internet and al the globalization we tend to forget it sometimes. Or at least, I do.

    • I feel the same here! Sooo different.
      Thank you, Elsie, for opening up and giving us a glimpse into this world. I am glad you found your way. A big hug from overseas.

  • As a UK reader I found this fascinating. We don’t really have this kind of religion over here and most people are secular or very light touch Christian (Church at Christmas/Easter) and I’ve always found it strange how much a part of society as a whole it is in the US even on the left. Having said that I related to so much of this in other ways. I had really perfectionist ideals when I was young and ended up engaged to an abusive guy as a teenager thinking ‘well this is my future now because I can’t back out and break my promise’. I also had a similar right to left political journey to you and completely agree with what you both say about shame.

  • It was very moving to listen to you Elsie, the trust yo have in your readership is huge and I am sure (so sure), that this testimony will help many of your listeners. I had a very conservative, catholic, upbringing and I can definitely find some common pain. I could never go back to church, but it has nothing to do with my relationship with God or my commitment to my community. I really disagree with the way women are treated, and the the simple concept of sin has been so damaging to so many people. I am sure you will write a book one day, about your strength and your commitment to living truthfully. These very personal and honest podcasts are my favorite, thank you so much.

      • Very though provoking. I was brought up in a largely secular environment in the U.K and I find the whole religion thing very baffling. Sometimes I definitely tend to eye roll and be impatient about view points that seem odd to me. Your comments on shaming make me realise I need to be more patient about people struggling with things I have no experience of and simply do not understand – if I listen more and eye roll less maybe better understanding will come.

  • Thank you for doing this podcast. I had no idea you were raised this way and it’s enlightening to see where you are now. I can relate to so much of your story. I am 48 and it has taken me years of unlearning and relearning and I’m still doing it. I am so opposite of how I was raised now (and my viewpoints are nearly spot on to your current ones) and looking back at it all makes me see why I’ve always felt trapped within myself. I still feel that way many times and it’s a real struggle to get past that. I hate that many churches have been so opposite of where they should be. I, like you, have slid the scale with politics and the past 4 years has made it extremely clear to me where I stand on things and why. Stepping out of the “what I’ve always been taught to believe and think” has been extremely freeing and insightful. I often ask myself if Jesus were here now, where would he be? How would he engage and help? I don’t think it’s where many put him. Thank you for sharing your links in this post also. I’ve needed therapy for so long but have always been too afraid to pull the trigger on it. Emotions run wild. Maybe this is where I start. Thank you, Elsie. I wish you the best. xox, Michelle

  • While I did enjoy reading this, I feel like it’s more of the content I would prefer to read on your blog. It kind of disappoints me that you basically say how you were Republican but found the right path to being democrat. It’s as if it was wrong to be conservative but right to be liberal. I realize everyone feels this way, everyone feels like what they believe is right, and if you don’t think so, you are wrong. But with a platform as large as yours, it would be nice if you would try to at least bring everyone together rather than make half the population reading this feel as if their beliefs are wrong. It’s fine to be a Democrat and it’s fine to be a Republican. I think where it gets to be a competition is when extremist on both sides try to be the voices of each party. While I am a independent, I do agree with Republican ideals and Democrat ideals. We truly are not as divided as the media would have us think. And while I don’t particularly agree with Biden ruling with only executive orders, rather than working it out with both sides like he should be. I do hope he succeeds at making this country less divided, because that should be what everyone wants right? Regardless of who is in office. We should want them to make it better. For the life of me, I can’t understand this deep seeded hate for Trump. He was willed to fail before he even took office, the media made sure of that. I like to compare it to a airplane and donald trump is the captain and we are the passengers . Before he was even in office the media wanted him to crash the plane. But who does that hurt? It only hurts the people. It’s a good day for reporters when there is drama and division. Anywho, my whole point is, not to alienate part of your viewers who may be Republican. You are in turn doing the same thing the church did to you, shaming. I think if each side lays down their swords, and comes together and says “I hear you, now hear me” we would be a much better place.

    • This is Elsie’s personal story; if one political party better fits her values, it is absolutely right of her to say so here. Knowing more about her background and story makes me respect and value her views and journey so much! This kind of honesty and vulnerability is truly beautiful.

      As someone watching US politics from abroad; I don’t think it actually is morally equivalent to be a democrat or a republican right now. One party is literally okay with preventing people from accessing life-saving medical care, does not believe I (a gay woman) should be allowed to be married to my life partner or that my partner should be our extremely loved new baby’s legal second parent, has immigration policies that are flagrantly racist, and just weeks ago tried to violently prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Politics is personal, especially when the party in power can make life-changing decisions about your fundamental rights.

    • The media did not make Trump repeatedly speak racist, hurtful, and extremely sexist things in his various press conferences and other public appearances. She pointed out he did not act like a Christian which the way he communicated to the world that was made quite clear. That is why people dislike him. He is clearly not a compassionate decent human.

      • Thank you for sharing your story. My parents were not evangelicals but I attended a conservative Christian school just like you describe from daycare through high school. The guilt and shame over stuff that most 9Os teenagers would consider normal like liking the Backstreet Boys music (or Ben Folds in your case) is just so crazy. The summer before my senior year of high school I was at the beach and telling some college students about my school. They were in disbelief. They were like so it’s the school from Footloose? Haha! Yes, only Kevin Bacon never showed up and we didn’t get to dance!

    • Hi Janey,
      So, like I said in the episode this was difficult for me to share and I hope people will just let it be *my* story. I don’t agree with the equivalency that I am shaming Republicans. I am not anti-Republican and I hope that the future of their party will be much better than the last four years. I really mean that.

      Thanks for listening. 🙂

    • Thank you, Elsie! 💗 tears for your pain and tender, genuine heart. Your love shines through and this world needs more of that and of us standing in our power and truth.

    • Long time reader (started in 2010) and rarely comment. I love the creative content, project ideas, and learning about new products. However, I have to agree with this other comment – I was disappointed as I got into reading how it deviated into politics. It’s your story, this is your platform, and you made the choice to share it in your way. Comments are still open so it seems like it’s okay to share my opinion as well.

      I also feel alienated. I think it was this statement for me “understanding why Republican people are how they are and what it really takes to change”. Perhaps I’m reading it wrong, but it seems like you are addressing the transition between shifting political viewpoints over time and the level of growth it took you to get there which I get. But what exactly does it mean when you say how Republican people are? What do you mean? It kind of sounds like a generalization but I want to give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn’t mean to say that all people that associate with that political view are not good people or the same as the people from your church experience.

      I’m glad you shared your story, and that it wasn’t watered down. I appreciate the vulnerability and authenticity as I see mentioned in many other comments. It seems like it has fostered connection with others and opened an opportunity to learn. I think this is so important in our culture – the listening and learning which is why I like consuming content and following folks online that may give me a different perspective. In this case though, I just need some clarification on that statement.

      • Hi Erica! First of all, thank you for listening. As I’m sure you can imagine talking about such a personal subject and sharing these stories was difficult and painful for me. I spent a lot of time trying to get it right and form a story I could tell. I also went into it knowing that it wasn’t going to be perfect. After we recorded I felt that maybe I worried that the couple of political statements I had made were going to derail the whole story for some listeners- which is NOT what I want.

        I understand that religion and politics are not necessarily intertwined for some, but in my story they very much were and are. Seeing Christian leaders and the majority of Republicans supporting Trump was massively triggering for me. I could not believe what I was seeing because in my view his behavior, his words, his actions, his whole vibe is just not Christian. I think was very harmful to the many people’s view of what Christianity is and what is supports.

        With that said, I wish nothing but the best for the Republican party! I would love NOTHING MORE than to vote for a reasonable, experienced Republican someday if they happen to be running against an inexperienced celebrity who chooses to run on an an anti-immigrant platform. I would love to see more Christian values and morality in future Republican candidates. That’s what we are all hoping for!!!

        Please don’t take my story personally. It’s very tough to open up like that, and in doing so I knew I would upset someone but not what I wanted. XX!

  • Elsie, thank you for sharing your story! While it is uniquely yours, it is so nice to hear from someone who experienced similar things that I did growing up in the church. Makes me not feel so alone!

    I had a similar story to yours with the youth leader. In middle school, our youth group leader was caught cheating on his wife. It was very upsetting because we all looked up to him and his wife and their relationship. Looking back now, they seemed so old and mature to us but really they were in their early twenties. Not to excuse his behavior, but it makes sense looking back. They were married young and the church puts a lot of pressure on young couples.

    I also have struggled with a huge amount of religious guilt surrounding relationships and sex. My formative sexual years were during the mid to late 2000’s- starting around 2007. It was the days of the “Silver Ring Thing” and other purity rings. We made public promises at youth group events to wait until marriage….in middle school. It is was a destructive and shaming practice. I can recall girls only youth events where we were taught how to dress modesty as not to cause boys to sin.

    It’s so easy for the church to turn well-intended practices into destructive, life-altering events for children and adolescents. I think it’s good to discuss these things publicly because it can bring them to light when maybe they were denied for so long. So again, thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you for sharing, Elsie! I started typing out longer, but you don’t need to hear all of that. Just thank you. Thank you, thank you for continuing to fight to be the most authentic person you can be. You’re wonderful.

  • Elsie, I have followed you since those very early years and want to say how sorry I am you had this experience. You have been so vulnerable with your audience and it makes me love you even more. I applaud you for speaking up, speaking your truth, raising your daughters to love and appreciate the world around them, and for continuing to seek truth and love where you find it. I hope you find a faith community that repairs the damage done by the church of your childhood. And I hope you know what joy and fun and light you bring to people that you will never meet.

  • Rarely do I ever comment on a blog. I admire your candor and desire to grow and change in a positive way. And kudos to Emma for reminding us that we are all a work in progress!!! As a child of divorced parents, I commend you for not talking about it! Really well done ladies! Wishing you all the best.

  • Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your story. I can’t tell you how many times I nodded my head emphatically at what I’ve also had to unpack and process from my megachurch upbringing. Sadly, so many of us have been wrecked by the shame embedded in too much of church culture. I’m so grateful you shared. I resonate so deeply with much of your experience–and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Grateful Emma’s willing to share her story, too… looking forward to it.

  • Thank you so much for sharing, Elsie. I went through a similar process when Trump got elected. I think balanced perspectives like yours are what will make for a better world!

  • Janey,

    I also bristled a little at the Republican vs Democrat rhetoric. I think Elsie was coming from a good place and trying to talk about having a less biased perspective, but I do think we all need to be careful about alienating people. That’s what has gotten us into a mess of a political situation in the USA. I still very much appreciate Elsie sharing and understand it’s hard to always articulate things clearly with such an emotionally charged subject.

    • This is so beautiful and currently texting my husband saying how thankful I am that him and I get to grow up together. we have both grown up in conservative Christian families and communities, I currently still call myself a Christian (although it looks VERY different and more in the context of what you were describing in the end of your podcast) and my husband does not consider himself a Christian anymore and we’re both 100% ok with that and understanding of each other and our individual journey.

      With that said, I am a mother of a 5 year old girl and 8 month old boy and stumbling through how to raise them with religious open mindedness, and would LOVE to hear your thoughts on that or any resources you come across! Although I know this is super personal to each person and want to respect privacy and boundaries, so whatever you’re comfortable sharing is greatly appreciated! Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story as that is not an easy thing to do.

    • With all due respect, alienating people is not how we got into this “mess of a political situation.” A long history of enabling xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia by a loud minority of the country is how we’ve gotten into this “mess of a political situation.” Some things don’t require reaching out, holding hands, and making nice. They require accountability. Period.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I grew up in a very similar religious upbringing and cried with you so much throughout this episode. I’m so happy you’re happy and so happy we’ve both made it out of that experience stronger. Thank you for being vulnerable with us. I appreciate it so much. Much Love.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I had a similar upbringing. There’s been of a lot of shame, unlearning and unpacking that I have done and continue to do as an adult. I really appreciate you being open and honest. I know other people have has similar experiences and journeys as me, but it always helps and has an impact to literally hear about it. Thank you Elsie! Sending you so much love.

  • Thank you, Elsie, for sharing your story. And ouch, doesn’t this resonate with so many of us, including me. Like you, I grew up in a very conservative, non-denominational but Baptist leaning, evangelical church. I carry some of the scars and hurt that you do. And I’ve struggled for years, with unlearning and relearning what authentic faith looks like to me. I have struggled for YEARS to find a compatible house of faith that is more liberal leaning, not patriarchal, and welcomes people of all walks of life and doesn’t shun. Faith to me feels intrinsic. I do believe there is more to this world and I miss the family-like community of meeting needs and loving on people. I just wish being a Christian to most churches didn’t have to fit into a specific little box of requirements. I hope you and anyone else reading this who is searching finds or creates that church experience. One that is open, inviting, and centered in love.

  • Would you mind sharing how you found a non-religious therapist? I am from Nashville and here in the Bible Belt it is so hard to find someone who recognizes religious trauma. Also, as a Nashvillian who grew up deeply involved in a less oppressive, more liberal, church here: I just want to caution you that even in the more progressive churches here the toxic mindsets and behaviors still exist. They really messed me up and I know that’s not everyone’s experience, and you may find a church that fits you all well; but almost 3 decades in this city and that has not been my experience. Thank you for sharing your story and being vulnerable.

    • Hi! So I really believe in interviewing your therapist. It should be a good fit both ways. When I first started going I told her some of the stuff I wanted to work on to make sure she felt it was a good fit and I also listened carefully to see what kind of advice she would give me. I don’t necessarily think it matters if your therapist is religious or not, just whether they are giving you advice filtered through an extreme perspective or a more open minded one. Hope that helps!

  • I hadn’t listened to your podcast before this episode but I have followed ABM since you two had your brick and mortar shop. I really, truly admire hearing your history and your past with religion. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing something so personal.

    My mother had a traumatic history being raised catholic so I wasn’t raised religious. However, my best friend was. I would attend church services with her family on occasion and was always very surprised by what they taught. It was all just so foreign to me.

    As a young adult interested in building things and decorating my spaces in the early 2000’s, it seemed to me that all of the blogs back then were also heavily inundated with religious-related posts which I have never connected with so I flocked to ABM when I didn’t see that kind of presence. It’s very interesting to learn the history of why that is. Can’t wait to hear from Emma!

  • Wow. Wow. I grew up in a different Christian church and I loved parts of it and found other parts of it unhealthy, but I never experienced anything like you did. I still go to church and I find it is healthier now than when I was a teenager, which makes wonder if it was just my mom’s influence that was the problem. Because when I moved out, it all faded away. God wasn’t a judge waiting to drop the hammer, but a loving kind guide helping me through life. I love having the gospel of Christ as a foundation in my life. My church does it’s best to keep politics separate, even though it doesn’t always happen. I am realizing that I am largely unaware of how politics is connected to religion for some people. It doesn’t have to be.

    • Hi! I totally agree. I wish I could have told my story without saying anything political, but for me they are very entwined. I’m so happy for others if they aren’t for them!

  • Oh man, I get it now. I was raised religious and am still religious so I always wondered what happened and, dang, I don’t blame you! How crazy! What I’d like to know though is your parents’ perspectives. Like, were they lifelong Baptists? Were they damaged by this? Do they feel sorrow for subjecting you to this particular religion? I’m just curious if they have any hindsight thoughts and feelings too.

    • My parents are wonderful people and we never doubted their love for us. Although we don’t agree on everything, we’ve been able to develop habits of talking openly and honestly and accepting our differences, which is very valuable. My parents have definitely expressed remorse for raising us in such an extreme church. But I hope it was clear in the podcast that there were good and bad things about it and I never blame them (or any one person) but rather the whole culture which I hope will continue to change.

      • I was also wondering about the affect this had on your relationships with friends and family but assumed you would have got into it you had wanted to…so thanks for answering this question with a bit more insight. I really enjoyed listening to this on a human interest level – it’s very different to my own experiences, and I love hearing other people’s stories. Thanks for sharing.

  • Really incredible. I had similar experiences. Including a divorce. I’ve felt shame, guilt and like I ruined my life, for the decade since I got a divorce. Ahhh a decade of cold sweats in the morning wondering if I’ve ruined everything. Despite therapy and moving onto a different spiritual path other than the church. Hearing that you were too young period. That’s it. That’s the realist thing and same! B/c I still love and care for my former spouse. We were too young. Period. And I love and care for my partner of 10 years now. So thanks for sharing and providing a perspective

  • Thank you so much, Elsie for sharing your story! I resonated with it in so many ways– from the way you were raised to the way your faith fits into liberal beliefs today. It was very affirming for me to hear your take. <3 <3 <3

  • Thanks so much for sharing your story. My husband and I have experienced pain and disappointment from organized churches as well. It is something that hits so deeply. We still hold to our faith and we do feel a hole from not being involved but there is this fear about getting very involved again. It gives me hope that you are starting to get excited about the possibilities. I will be praying for just the right place for your family (and mine!).

  • Thank you somuch for sharing your story. I cried and simultaneously clapped as you detailed how you found a safe place to start anew. The trauma from church and youth group is something I am dealing with as an adult and your story assured me that I am not alone or worse, crazy. Thank you for being vulnerable. This episode means alot to me.
    Warmly,

    Mandy

  • Thank you for sharing! Your story is one that is extremely familiar, and hit very close to home in SO many ways. Working through similar trauma has been a lifelong project, and it is so good to hear my completely and utterly bonkers evangelical upbringing was not unique to me. <3

  • Hi Elsie,

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing your story. I have a lot of baggage surrounding my evangelical experience and while I have been away from it for several years, I feel like I’m at the very beginning stages of healing. Have you read the book Pure? I read it last summer and it changed my life.

    My husband and I found the sweetest liberal church in Portland and while I’m so grateful that something like that exists, it still is a little hard to be part of it. It’s like we’re redefining what spirituality looks like for us, and it is a PROCESS. Anyway, I hope that if you and your family decide to go back to church, you have a wonderful experience (and remember to be patient with yourself). 🙂

    Thank you thank you again for sharing!

    xoxo, Jenn

  • Thank you for this episode. I faced so much abuse in secret relationships with youth leaders when I was a teenager. When I finally told my mom a tiny (tiiinnnyyy) portion of what had happened after years of the abuse she tried to talk to the pastor but sadly they blamed me for “seducing” the leaders. It was so crazy and traumatizing for me. I had to leave the church. Like you I had grew up in that church and considered those people friends and even family. I was shamed in a big way and still when I run into some of the members of the church they are rude to me, act like they don’t know me, etc. This all happened 10 years ago and I still feel the effects of those few years of abuse as a teenager. This episode made me feel so much less alone and the other comments too. I just found out I am pregnant and hearing your perspective about religion and your girls is so helpful to me. Thank you so much.

    • Anna, what a lonely and painful experience. You were a child, you did not deserve it, and it is not your fault. I don’t know you, but I am sending you as much love as I can.

  • PREACH GIRL! 😉

    Reading through this, I think we lived the same life and probably have some of the same feelings. Sending lots of love and encouragement! There are wonderful (and liberal) churches out there and you’ll definitely find one you love. Being part of a like-minded faith-filled community has been so life-giving for me and my little family. (I also love my friends who are different-minded and from other faiths, but you know what I mean). It just took a bit of emotional and physical digging to get there.

    Obviously you’re not looking for advice, but I’ll just throw out that I’ve found that churches in the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) have aligned well with those liberal ideals of serving/giving/accepting/etc.

    Ps: I’ll admit that sometimes I still get feelings of nostalgia and need to listen to Relient K or the A Walk to Remember soundtrack. HAHA.

  • Thank you Elsie for sharing. You are so brave. I’m from a Nordic country and our family never discussed religion, so it was fascinating to hear. Aside from your personal experience (so sad and terrible not getting the support you needed!), I am horrified to learn about shaming young women and youth leaders marrying teenagers. It’s like the whole thing is set up just so men can groom young girls. Patriarchy SUCKS.

  • I’ve been enjoying and admiring your work for the last ten years or so and I’ve always been a fan, but I felt compelled to write in after listening to your story about your church experience. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I can’t relate to your childhood experiences because my experience in a Catholic but very blue family was quite different. I can imagine you might get some ire for sharing your story so publicly, but I believe that way more people can relate and will benefit from hearing your story than anyone who could be offended by it. And I want to tell you — it was truly helpful for me, as a lifelong, increasingly self-righteous liberal, to take a step back and hear you and Emma talking about how important it was to have people to talk to you without shaming you as your political perspectives expanded and evolved.  That is something that those of us who have NOT lived and experienced the “religious right” lifestyle firsthand really, really, really need to hear, and I have taken it to heart. Thank you for that.

    Your part at the end about wanting to find church again really resonated with me as well.  I feel alienated from the faith of my childhood because of a few of their hard-line stances don’t provide a big enough tent for how I want my life to be. In New England there are a lot of Unitarian Universalist churches — I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them, but they’re always on my short list for when I’m ready to explore again. They are very inclusive and very into service and loving your neighbor (which is how it should truly be).

    Much love to you both. Thank you so much for your bravery and strength, and I hope that sharing your stories is liberating and freeing, because I know it will serve as a balm to so many of your listeners and readers. <3

    • As a Kentucky transplant in Massachusetts, I second UU churches. Such an inclusive community.

  • Aww Elsie so brave of you to share. I agree with you guys that shame is NEVER a good way to change someone. Plus, it usually doesn’t work! Sounds like your church did a super bad job and well, being a church. I’ve been an evangelical Christian for over 20 years now, and I am praying for you as you explore that part of your life again! Oh, and I agree that Trump is the opposite of a Christian! I’m trying to understand why my fellow Evangelicals support him so much!

  • Thank you so much for this episode, I’m sure it wasn’t easy. But I related to SO much of it as I grew up similarly. Looking forward to hearing Emma’s perspective too.

  • Wow, thanks for sharing your story, Elsie! If the new church doesn’t work out, consider too that you & Jeremy are good people and are 100% capable of teaching your children to be good people too, in a caring community of friends, from real-world examples in lieu of biblical ones. Even at inclusive or community-focused churches, my experience has been that the good deeds are done to appease an underlying fear that if you don’t do them, you won’t get closer to getting your family into heaven, or you should feel guilt for not serving God the way he deserves. Organized religion is not a prerequisite or shortcut to leading a good life or being a good person, which it seems you may have deduced from your 14 years without it

  • You’re truly brave to tell your story! Not many of us would be willing to do that. I too was raised in conservative churches although not quite as extreme as yours. I still happily go to one of them today. I could relate to some things while others things were sad to hear.
    I was taught to try your best to be Christ like but because we’re born sinners were going to make mistakes. NO ONE is perfect. Sometimes as Christians we put sin into different levels. Big sin as being gay or divorced. Maybe then little sin being a lie or cheating. God sees all sin the same. They were wrong to put such shame on you. I wished they would have shown you love and compassion instead. I really hate that you had such a bad experience.
    I’m happy to hear that you’re ready to go back to church. Please open back your Bible and ask for God’s direction. That’s what I’ll pray He’ll give you in these days ahead.

  • Thank you, Elsie, for sharing your journey with us. I needed stories like yours in my early adulthood, and I’m so thankful you’re sharing your story for others who need it.

    I laughed out loud at the Ben Folds CD purchase. Great choice! My first secular CD was Christina Aguilera. I felt a mixture of rebellion and shame at the time, but looking back it’s a happy memory.

    I am excited for you to potentially reclaim attending church with your family. I believe in the power of taking things that have hurt us, healing the wounds, and bringing them back into our lives in a way that brings us joy. And if it doesn’t feel right – that’s OK too. I wish you all the best on your journey.

  • Elsie, thank you for your vulnerability and sharing your story. I’ve been reading ABM almost daily for maybe 7-8 years now, and I appreciated hearing this other side of you. I felt so sad that you were told that your life would be over at such a young age, but it made me feel true joy to hear that you found a support system that helped you see that wasn’t the case. It makes me so glad now to see your family with Jeremy, Nova, and Goldie and to learn that your life was far from over and the best was yet to come.

  • Thank you for your vulnerability! I can relate to a lot of what you experienced. I was totally a “Kissed Dating Goodbye” evangelist in high school. If you know, you know. The shame around physical touch/sexuality messed up mine and most my friend’s relationships. I have many friends who married too young and went through horrible divorce or affairs that I really think could have been avoided had they been “allowed” to date and grow up. One thing I’m curious about is how your parents reacted. Did they support you as you changed? Dealing with my parents disapproval when I moved in with my boyfriend (in my mid 20’s) was a huge hurdle for me. Now we are mid 30’s, married with kids- so they are over it and all is good, ha! But it was not easy.
    Also, I’m so inspired by you giving church another chance. I’m not there yet- but maybe someday.

  • Thank you for the balanced delivery of your story. So sorry you had to endure pain. Such a transition is never easy, and it’s not easy to share, either. So thank you. Not using shame and and accepting people as they actually are, are new ideas for many people. You highlighted the importance of listening and love. I think we all need to study Proverbs more, because it has more ways than I’ve ever seen anywhere. of telling us to shut up. I really needed to learn that.

  • Elsie, thanks for sharing your story. I have been following you since your scrapbooking days, and I remember reading about your prom, honeymoon, through your scrapbook pages. It makes me so sad that you were going through something so hard at a time when you should be enjoying the great success you achieved. You are so talented, and you did so much so young, with a line of products and a book, while suffering so much… I’m so happy you found your peace and love.

  • Dear Elsie, I listened through tears as I nodded along, relating to so much of what you had to share. I have followed your journey since the very very early days and want to thank you for the guidance you gave me when going through my own divorce. I remember when you went through your divorce how you never spoke about it online and I was just so proud ‘for want of a better word’ of you for being so mature and respectful. Fast forward many years later to my own divorce where I was blogging at the time and I too chose not to speak of my divorce online. I never have and never will. So I just wanted to say that from someone who has followed you since your marriage I wanted to say thank you for all that you have shared and if it’s OK to say, I am just so very proud of you. And when you were emotional during your podcast, I just wanted to reach over and hold your hand, and give it a knowing squeeze.
    Thank you Elsie xx

  • Thank you for sharing your story! I’m sorry about the pain and shame you experienced. I’m so happy for you that were able to establish a healthy, happy and inspirational life outside of that. I will say some about my own story in case others can relate and in hopes that it might also help someone else.
    I was raised in a cult. It was with much education, some therapy, and years of hindsight that I was able to finally understand and say out loud that it is a cult. In this organization, women are inferior. Homosexuality is a sin. Any political opinion or affiliation is prohibited. Those who sin and are not deemed repentant enough are shunned. As a youth, I was not permitted to have any “worldy” friends from school or outside of the organization. I could not participate in any extra-curricular activities. College was prohibited. People in this organization are trained to be very self-righteous and judgemental. Perhaps worst of all is that, since early childhood, I was always on high alert because the end of the world was coming at any moment, and when that happened I was sure to witness the horrible deaths of a multitude of unbelieving people. I spent countless weekend days of my formative years going door-to-door preaching . Members tended to marry young because any level of sexual activity was prohibited if not married (no holding hands until engaged, a chaperone present at all times while dating, etc.). My sister and I were both sexually abused by a member who was never reported to the police or even disciplined by the congregation elders. My sister eventually had a major mental health crisis and somehow, eventually, had the courage to walk away from it all. So then I mourned her loss as if she had already died because I couldn’t see her anymore and she most certainly would die in armageddon. It was years later, when I sat alone on one side of a table with three older men asking me icky questions about my body and intimate activities I may, or may not, have done as a consenting adult (!), that I finally got how crazy-making and horrible it all was. I was so grateful to have a sister who paved the path for me to exit. Leaving this cult was not easy and there were many difficult times of learning to exist in a world in which I had no friends and didn’t know how to navigate or relate to. I would not have made it without the love and support of my sister. I also want those in a similar situation to know there can be happiness, health, love, joy and release of fear when stepping away from a toxic ‘religion’. Like everyone, I continue to learn and grow but can cofidently say I am a much better person to myself and others since leaving that cult.
    I look forward to hearing Emma’s story!

  • Thank you for opening up about your experience with organized religion. There are a lot of common threads for me in your story – conservative Christian upbringing, bible college, shame and guilt to no end – and it is healing to hear your story and see how far you’ve come. It is especially helpful to hear how others frame their religious experiences to help me untangle my own. I was fortunate to be raised in church groups with good people and lifelong friends, but I’ve found it hard to pinpoint why I don’t resonate with the church as an adult. Thank you for your openness and sharing <3

  • Thank you for opening up and sharing your story Elsie! Although I didn’t have an Evangelical upbringing, I can definitely relate to a lot of your story. I appreciate that you shared it with all of us! xoxo

  • I really enjoyed listening to this. I know you didn’t have to share something so personal, but thanks for doing so ❤️

  • Elsie, congrats on your brave podcast episode! This comment is not necessarily meant to be published, I just would love to add to your feeling of freedom. I really enjoy reading and listening to your and your sister 🙂
    I am from Spain, culturally catholic, but undoubtedly and freely agnostic!! Church communities may do a lot of good, but the church has also done a lot of terrible things during the history, and keeps doing it nowadays. If you want to be a good person, you do not need to be religious to be so. Christians are just people with certain beliefs, and they can be good or bad, as all people can. Trump was the biggest jerk ever, and a person with no principles and no moral like him should (in my opinion) have never been allowed to become president…. but that is another topic!
    So, this is my (hopefully) liberating opinion: You can do great things for other people WHETHER OR NOT you belong to a church. Your children can be perfectly happy and full or joy WHETHER OR NOT they belong to a church. They will have lots of impossible-to-answer questions WHETHER OR NOT they are religious or have faith in any kind of god… simply because that is what children do.
    And as a rule of thumb: anything that represses other people’s right to be happy when what makes them happy doesn’t hurt anyone else (such as what you were commenting about the anti-gay behavior) is simply NOT GOOD. PERIOD.
    Have a wonderful rest of the week… and life!

  • Elsie, thank you for your bravery. I lived in the Caribbean until high school when I moved to the US and had extremely similar experiences (aside from getting married/divorced). I thought it was only a religious Hispanic thing, now I don’t feel as alone. THANK YOU!

    If you ever feel like it, I would love for you to share books that have helped you deal with the trama and shame imposed by the church.

  • Elsie…I loved listening to this. You are so brave to share something that is so personal. I just wanted to reach out and tell you I’ve been a BIG FAN of yours since your “Love Elsie” scrapbook days (I’ve been a designer in the scrapbook world for the last 18 years). I love that you found someone who gave you the courage you need to find peace with yourself/marriage/religion. I think you are one of the most beautiful person ever and the way you two are raising your daughters will bring such light and beauty to this world. Thanks for sharing and being so vulnerable.

  • Your strength and grace is such an inspiration. It is your story, and in telling it you are in charge of it – and your future. My upbringing was very similar to yours, but I am not as far along in processing it as you are. But reading your story gave me another step in the right direction, so thank you. I hope you’ll continue finding your way. Sending you love and gratitude.

  • Elsie – thank you so much for sharing your story. It was so brave of you. I’m actually horrified by how oppressive it sounds and also by how many people are commenting with similar experiences. Growing up in Europe I had no exposure to anything like this.
    I agree that Trump does not exhibit any Christian behaviours. I think he uses religion as a shield for his own ends. On the flip side there are so many athiest and agnostic people who have a strong moral code and are the nicest and most caring people you can meet. You truely don’t need religion to be a good person, you can just be one.
    I wish you luck on your journey back to church.

  • Elsie, I really felt your loneliness and pain when you talked about people telling you to remain in an unhappy marriage, and reinforcing that it was your only option, when it wasn’t. There are so many layers to your story. I think the support we offer to girls and young women is really important – that they do have agency and a right to expect to have equality and not accept double standards.

  • Oh my heart! I can’t stop thinking about your story. THANK YOU for your bravery and vulnerability in sharing. I can relate in many, many ways having grown up in a conservative church. My parents were missionaries with the Assemblies of God – we spent our US days in Springfield, MO – my huge connection to your life. 🙂 I’ve had to work through so much of my faith and the way I grew up… a process indeed. I’m a liberal Christian Democrat now who’s all the more broken ties with the Evangelical church for their Trump support. Ahhh so much to say… Most of all, may the Lord bless you and keep you and give you grace for it all. All the love in the world to you, beautiful woman! Eyes forward, heart open. God is for us!

  • This was such a touching, raw recording and so potentially helpful for those with their own stories. I wanted to share an experience for its sad and shocking bit of humor. About 4 years ago, so not THAT LONG AGO, I took my youth group on a summer trip and we made a stop at the Creation Museum. They have a section called “Sin”, and when we were walking through, the recording blasting over the speaker stated “Sixty-seven (might have that percentage wrong) percent of all young women confess to having had premarital sex.” As the mother of 3 daughters (1 son) and the leader of a group with several teenage girls touring, I could not STOP myself from shouting out in reply, “And who are they having it with?” I could not BELIEVE what I was hearing. Even my teenage boys on the trip were taken aback at how only the girls were “called out”. Your recollection of young women bearing the burden of shame and apology ALONE for a MUTUAL act is likely familiar across large areas of this country….ESPECIALLY the South. I also wanted to say this….research shows many young adults raised in church often leave the practice of their faith in young adulthood and don’t return until they are parents themselves. I wish you the best of luck as you navigate that journey as a young parent and explore options for your family and young girls that are healthier, more loving, and more inclusive than your own childhood experiences.

  • Thank you for sharing Elsie and for being vulnerable and for showing people that nothing is perfect or permanent and that religion is not the only guidance in a life. You are brave and good.

  • The song, “Dear Me” by Nichole Nordeman is all I will leave here. As a former evangelical myself, I found a LOT of healing there. Maybe no one else is still healing, but I am and sometimes I go back to this song, this apology to myself and to others for being wrong…..This isn’t a oh hey go check out this church it’s ok, but rather, the song perfectly encapsulates this experience…this a long time on the road…this realization we were wrong……and honestly, it’s hard to find something that feels somehow right for this experience. A balance between calling out our former selves and also offering up grace and understanding. I hope maybe someone else finds a bit of the healing I did through it. 🙂

    “Dear me, do you remember all the rules we made about the body and the blood, the hoops we made them jump through, though he offers it to everyone. I’m so sorry.

    Do you remember now the things I said I thought I deserved….the flag, my safety, a place to learn?

    Dear me, you’ll see….we’re gonna take the long way. And there is nothing you could do or say to separate you from the love of God who made you just as exactly as he meant to.

    And you cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus…and you’ll find him everywhere you thought he wasn’t supposed to go.

    So go and hold all the mothers whose babies bleed from bullet holes.
    And feel all the hunger, the bellies and the bones.
    Shout for all the prisoner, cry for justice loud and long,
    and march with the victims as Jesus marches on.
    Sit at all the tables, cause Jesus eats with everyone
    and dance to the music if you can’t sing it’s native tongue….

    And love, love, love, love like it’s your own blood.

    Dear me, you did not learn this in a day, or two, or three
    So ask a lot of questions.

    But Jesus loves us, this I know…
    and there are no exceptions.”

  • Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable! This is a really beautiful episode and I hope that sharing your story helped you feel some weight of it lifted. Looking forward to hearing from Emma’s perspective too, but glad you guys are spacing them out a bit. <3

  • Such a brave and hope filled podcast- thank you so much for sharing this extremely difficult story. It is so helpful to me, as a person and as a therapist to hear about people’s experiences- especially ones that are so different from my own! I found it particularly helpful from a therapist perspective, to hear how big of an impact the initial clinician you saw had on your journey. Thank you again for sharing your story, Elsie. xoxo

  • Elsie! Echoing what other folks have shared – thank you for sharing your story! Our stories are so similar. Youth group pastor having an inappropriate relationship? Check. Constantly being shamed about what I wore? Check. Girls and women having to publicly proclaim their “indiscretions”? Check. So many more similarities! But thank you. The more I’ve talked with friends the more I realize what a shared experience this is. My first “bad” CD was Coldplay. Which was discovered and then I was subsequently kicked off of youth group leadership for not following the rules. I have spent YEARS in therapy undoing so much of the shame around sex. Not realizing how much of it was impacting my own marriage (to someone raised not in the church). Now I’ve found my version of religion. One that doesn’t make me feel shameful. One that doesn’t hinge on a white bearded man in the sky telling me what’s wrong and what’s right. It’s been interesting to communicate this to my still religious parents but I think they’re getting it. Anyway, thank you for sharing your story. xoxoxo from Indiana!

  • Post-Mormon here, and so much resonanted! The sexual shame, the feeling of God talking to you and the messed up things that can cause. Funny how religions that look different to the participants can be so similar on the inside. Thank you for your courage and vulnerability! It’s so helpful.

  • Just another person chiming in to thank you both for being vulnerable on this episode. It really resonated with me, and it helped me feel connected to other “lost children” of evangelical 80s-90s. Hope you continue to heal and grow!

  • As a 57-year-old male, I am probably a bit of an anomaly for your site. I was simply here to “borrow” your Lemon Burst Crinkle Cookie recipe but listened to Elsie’s Evangelical Upbringing Story. From a father perspective, I was crushed by your story. I am so proud of both of you for finding your own way in this world.

  • Elsie, thank you so much for your bravery and vulnerability. I have had many conversations with friends about how the evangelical church culture hurt us growing up. I can only imagine that God was just as angry that these things were done in His name–really putting those walls between us and Him, the opposite of the church is supposed to do! After my preteen years, I never felt truly connected with church people, but am grateful now to have found a more open-minded, life affirming church. So much to unlearn and learn anew, as others have shared as well. I hope you continue to find healing.

  • Thank you, Elsie, for telling your story. It is important to hear all sides and how organized religion is helpful for some but hurtful for others. I had a strong conservative religious upbringing as well and I’m curious how you (and Emma) can reconcile your love for your parents AND the fact they put you into this lifestyle. I ask because I struggle with this. I love both my mom and dad but when I think about how messed up my upbringing was (and they disagree) I’m not sure where that leaves my healing process. A lot of what I read online, kids have bad relationships with their parents or none at all and that’s not what I want for myself. So I’m curious how you were able to overcome that aspect and still maintain a good relationship with your parents (if you did).

  • Thanks for sharing your story, looking forward to hearing Emma’s. I did not grow up evangelical but instead in an actual cult. I think the biggest problem with any extreme group is the isolation, us against them mentality. There is a big world out there and nothing wrong with being open and exploring. Glad you were able to walk your own path freely and good luck on the future.

  • Wow. This absolutely floored me Elsie, you are such an incredible, brave person.
    I’ve been reading your blogs since the scrapbooking days and you had mentioned at some point about a religious upbringing you didn’t discuss but I had no idea that it impacted your early adult life so much. I am so so glad you had that hot tub chat and moved onwards and upwards with your life! Jeremy and the girls were always your future <3

  • Thank you Elsie! I just want to give you a big virtual hug! I am so glad you made the brave decision to share your story, because clearly from the comments many can relate. You and Emma continue to inspire me by showing what it looks like to be strong, independent, caring, open (while holding healthy boundaries) and vulnerable women! Sometimes society tries to tell us we cannot be all these things at once, but we can and you and Emma are such powerful examples of that! Thank you!

  • Thank you for being so open and vulnerable with us in this episode Elsie. I found it fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time. You e overcome such a traumatic religious experience and I’m so happy to hear that you’ve found peace and help. I wonder if you or Emma can tell us about your family/parents and if they are still part of this evangelical church- and if you are on good terms with them now.

  • Thank you for being so vulnerable and also strong for speaking about this. I sometimes feel very alone being the only friend who grew up with a religious upbringing but chooses to still believe in some sense and align with the good. I no longer refer to myself as “religious or Catholic” but as someone who is spiritual. There are so many negative connotations with religion but I want to continue, like you were saying, helping others, doing good in our community and even believing in God.
    I’ve found it’s the trickiest road to navigate in life, having liberal views but still believing in God. Both sides don’t want to accept you, you’re either being “too religious” or “not enough”. But I’ve found happiness carving my own path. I will always advocate for women to be independent and choose what to do with their bodies, that LQBTQ people are not undeserving of the same rights as others and most of all that the teachings of Jesus was acceptance and love. It’s so sad that these religious institutions and a majority of conservatives alike, align themselves with so much hate in their hearts. and then try to push it on others.
    Thanks again for this episode, I look forward to Emma’s as well! Xx

  • Thank you for being so vulnerable and honest, I believe your story will be helpful and inspiring to many people. I would just like to point out that the “relationship” between your youth pastor and the high school student should be referred to as “statutory rape” or “sexual assault” as it is not legally considered a consensual relationship–nor should it be, given the power dynamic and grooming that must have happened in order for a conservative, Christian, teenage girl to engage in premarital sex with an adult. It’s a very important, distinction.

  • Elsie – I hope this felt as cathartic for you to share, as I’m sure if felt cathartic for so many to hear! Thank you for being so open and honest.

    My religious experience was nowhere near as embedded as yours, but I was raised Catholic: church every weekend, prayers before dinner & bed, CCD for years, completed all the sacraments and, (the worse part): Confession. (I also went to a Lutheran sleep-away camp and Sunday school for about 8 years). Today, I’m not religious, AT ALL, and it is because I associate religion with GUILT. I remember feeling so guilty & nervous as a child, to have to go into Confession and admit that I had said some curse words. When I was a teenager, I had pre-marital sex. I convinced myself that I would just marry my High School boyfriend, and then it’d be okay. Of course, I didn’t marry him. In college I was a (safely!) sexually-active young woman, but the whole time I carried SO MUCH GUILT & mental anguish over it.

    Guilt is such a common emotion for me, I always wonder if it’s my personality, or the fact that I was raised with it as an ever-present shadow. I envy people who were raised to see Jesus as someone who loved and cared for them. I think my church (perhaps Catholicism, in general?) focused too much on fear & constant condemnation.

    I really appreciate so many of the comments here. And I wish you luck with however you proceed, Elsie.

  • Hi Elsie! Thank you for being vulnerable in this public setting. I admire your courage and ability to turn the other cheek when people leave negative comments. I was raised in a kind of opposite setting, where my parents avoided organized religion because of their negative childhood experiences. As a child, I developed my own relationship with God. I eventually knew I wanted a spiritual community and sought that out as an adolescent. Because I grew up in the south, that meant attending events like revivals with evangelical church going friends and being made to fear God. In my 30s I was introduced to the Centers for Spiritual Living (CSL) and joined a local center (in California) about 8 years ago. I consider myself to be agnostic and feel comfortable there. Some folks who attend identify as Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. I love being in community with others who want to develop a spiritual practice that works for them. It may be worth a shot to check out the Nashville Center. Agape in LA is another spiritual center that has a great online presence and very inspiring message and music program. They are well known and have folks stream services from all over the world. In these COVID times many churches are stepping up their online game which makes it easier to check them out. Best of luck finding something that works well for you and your family!

  • Elsie, thank you for sharing this. I got divorced at age 25 and had a similar pivotal moment when someone told me the words I needed to hear that changed my life and my heart. I ugly cried through most of this episode. I felt so seen by this. There aren’t many resources for people under 30 going through divorce, it’s all geared towards couples later in life. This episode could provide that pivotal moment for someone else struggling. I’m remarried and don’t talk about my divorce often, but this episode made me feel that there’s a way to talk about my divorce without the private details that might help someone else who feels alone. Take care.

  • Man oh man. This struck a chord with me, because I grew up very similarly and feel like no one understands it in my adult life. Church/religion shaped a huge part of who I am today, but the last few years have felt a bit of discord with it all and questioning things I thought I knew. I’ll be so curious to listen to your next podcast – honest question, what has been the reaction or general feedback from your parents and family about all of this? Stay the authentic course. Solidarity from a fellow-conservative-kid-in-equally-conservative-bathing-suit. 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing such a vulnerable part of your life. I think that opening up yourself like this will probably help others to come to terms with difficulties they are facing with organized religion. I do not attend church but I have always been intrigued by the Unitarian church since it is a liberal organization that embraces all people and supports science. I will probably attend once the pandemic is under control because I am also becoming more curious.

  • Elsie- thank you for sharing this. I too grew up in a similar fashion. I kissed dating goodbye, got married at 19. Except, no one told me it was ok and I am still married, 17 years later with 3 kids and have finally got up the courage to ask for a divorce. Even though the only person supporting me right now is one of my sisters. This episode encouraged me that I’m not alone, and I’m not crazy. 😭 Thank you.

    • Your courage is shaping a new path for your kids. Much love to you as you take these next steps.

  • Elise, Thank you so much for sharing your story. I also grew up in an evangelical community and left the church in my early 20s. It’s unbelievable to look back at the absurdity of the rules and expectations of women (particularly adolescent women) and all I can think is how relieved I am to be out of it. After listening to this, I just want you to know that I really respect your self-compassion and honestly about it.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. I’m very grateful that I was raised by parents that encouraged my sister and I to explore and make our own decisions about religion and politics. I have always been grateful to them for this gift and your story reminded me again of my own fortune and of the hope that it’s not too late to change your life. Thank you for your vulnerability. Love you guys!

    • I find it interesting how our different upbringing and perspectives can completely change circumstances that seem to be the same. I was actually in the same youth group as you growing up (though not for as long). I looked up to you so much, but not because you were a “good Christian”, but because you were humble, kind, vulnerable, creative, loving, and whimsical. I didn’t see these as religious qualities, but Christlike qualities. They also seem to be the qualities that make you so great at your current job! For me, church was a place I felt safe, loved, and wanted and you were a huge part of that, and I thank you so much. I am sorry that I didn’t see how you struggled and wasn’t the friend/support that I could have been. I hope knowing that you made a difference during the time will give you some small comfort. Again, thank you.

  • Thanks for sharing, Elsie. I work in a liberal church in the midwest, and it is alarming how many people have been hurt like you have. This is a story that a lot of people need to hear. Know that you are not alone.

  • Following your blog since 2008 and had no idea of your upbringing. Some of the things you wrote reminded me a lot of my very short “visit” to an evangelical church in Germany in the 90th. I was not raised religious by my parents as they had their own unhappy history with church. But as a teenager I wanted to become “confirmed” (do not know the word in English) mainly to fit in with my classmates. The referent then preached about AIDS being the punishment from god for sins like homosexuality…I dropped out after that. There was also that atmosphere of fear and guilt. I guess I was lucky to find a quick end to this experience.

  • Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your experience. I had a similar church background growing up and as a 36 year old am still deconstructing how it has impacted me. Seeing my kids’ very different view of God (they say She! and I love that as girls they see themselves in the divine) and a faith community (where they’ve twirled with trans women in beautiful gowns and never been told terrifying stories of God destroying the world 🙂 ) gives me so much hope for not passing on that toxicity to them. Much love to you in your healing and hope for your beautiful kids.

  • I also want to thank you for naming the abusive behavior you witnessed in your church, like the youth pastors preying on young women, girls being told that our bodies cause men to sin, and the way other women in the church are often the enforcers of these patriarchal ideas. I remember as a young teen witnessing these things, too, and not feeling like I could talk to anyone about what seemed really wrong (and my dad was a minister).

    I stand with you in saying that it is abusive and harmful and not at all Christlike.

  • Hi Elsie,
    Not sure how deep into the comments you will swim, but I just wanted to say that I really appreciated this episode. Not everyone has the same upbringing you did, but I do think that many people have the experience of moving beyond the belief systems (religious, political, etc) and working to move forward to form our own. A good reminder that we are all works in progress, owe each other patience, and always have permission to change.
    I have a two year old and, like you, am trying to figure out what kind of religious experience I want my child to have. It is hard! I’m still not sure where I’ll land, but wishing you well on your exploration and journey.

  • Dear Elsie. You made me cry because although I didn’t went for half of what you went through, I know, I know that ALL of it is true and well thought through. I am European catholic christian and didn’t experienced such as restrictive religious upbringing as you did but I did, and still do, had my problems, lost friendships and I saw so many people go, so many people being ditched out just for being different: pregnant women, gay lesbians, people marrying other or no religious people, people not having kids, women who work, who don’t cook daily for their husbands, people having a cleaning lady! And then uplifting women who suffer permanently instead. Such a combination of ridiculous thinks that just don’t reflect any, any of God’s marvelous gifts. Don’t be afraid to enter a church again – you clearly are a believer and don’t let anyone say you aren’t; just be yourself, hear your intuition and don’t ever, ever let someone (not even the pope) say to you that your live is over: it never is, until the moment you die.

  • MERCI BEAUCOUP for your openness! It’s beautiful that you shared your story in a way that you felt you could, without having to give all of the details but still being honest. Big hugs from a native Nashvillian who moved all the way to France, in part to get away from the evangelical stuff. <3

  • I grew up southern baptist and also always felt shame for any mistake that I made. Felt unworthy. I was in my early 50s (just a few years ago) before I heard the words that God loved me…….period. I didn’t have to do anything or be perfect to “earn” the love of God. I was sitting in my new church when I heard those words and they changed my life FOREVER! Brought me such peace and I make sure my children hear this now.

    All this to say……God loves us just because we exist and we do not have to earn it. That is what should be taught in churches everywhere and I hate that it is not.

    My church is in Springfield, MO (shoutout!) and I love following your success story. Emma’s pregnancy podcast made me weep. So sweet to hear her excitement despite the challenges she is going through.

    Wishing you both all the best and much love.

  • We definitely went to the same Christian School,…having been a reader of your blog for like 10 years, that is kind of fun to know, or make that connection 🙂 Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Elsie,
    Thank you so much for your vulnerability!
    I grew up in a scrappy Catholic family. My parents cussed, my aunts and uncles got way too drunk at weddings, etc. However, I met my best friend in 2nd grade. She was smart, pretty, fun, hilarious – magnetic! But also raised evangelical.
    Her family started pulling me in and taking me to their church and youth camps.
    I started getting incredibly anxious because I thought my family was all going to hell. I watch the Kirk Cameron movie ‘Left Behind’ – and I literally walked around in constant fear that my family wouldn’t be in the ‘rapture’ – (They really should not let children watch that movie). My friend shamed me when my mom bought me Harry Potter for Christmas because it was ‘wizardry’ – I was so embarrassed. I felt guilt after a New Year’s Eve service because I had an *NSYNC album. So. Many. Little. Things.
    But basically I walked around from 2nd-10th grade in constant fear and anxiety. By 10th grade we drifted and I made friends that were less shaming/strict. However, I think my evangelical friend really shifted how I developed relationships with boys/physical intimacy. Even after we drifted apart I was so embarrassed/shamed/scared because of all the ideas implanted by her and her church.
    I cringe thinking about it. Honestly, before your episode I didn’t realize I probably need to work some of this out.

  • Elsie,
    Hearing you speak through your tears is so incredibly heartbreaking for me. I didn’t know any of this about you way back when we worked together. Your voice and opinions are absolutely valid. I am so glad you found love again with Jeremy. I am sorry that your experience with religion has been so awful, of course that’s not how it’s meant to be. I will pray that you will find a great church for you and your family. Thank you for being so raw and vulnerable.

  • Wow Elsie, I just want to put my arms around you and give you a big hug! I so relate to your divorce story, as I myself got married right out of Christian college where I felt pressured to get married and “go into ministry” together bc that’s just what you did. I was extremely young, insecure, and impressionable and I too got married to someone I wasn’t even in love with. I remember sitting on the bed on my wedding night weeping over the mistake I’d made and now it was “too late for me”.

    Even though I do believe you should try and make marriage work, I had just made a huge mistake and knew I was never going to be happy with that decision, so I got a divorce and it was ROUGH! I too had all the people calling me and even stalking me at my work to go back to my husband or else. I ended up losing my job bc of it. It was so traumatizing!

    All that to say, I now have a great relationship with God and am at a wonderful church. I still have people in my family and others who are extremely conservative and sometimes judgmental toward me because I ended up kinda in the middle of the road, BUT I know my relationship is right on and that’s all that matters!

    To those who’ve had bad experiences, I’m so sorry and I truly understand! Just know God does love you and what you see from “Christians” isn’t always representative of who God/Jesus is.

    Thanks for being so vulnerable Elsie, and I’m so proud of you for giving yourself the time you needed to heal and then make a decision to try again. I pray it’s all good things from here on out! XXOO

  • Hi Elsie,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I know that takes a lot to open up, and I was shocked to learn so many things about your Church. It was very eye opening.

    I am a long time reader, and I do have to say I was a little turned off how it came across that Republicans are not the way to be and Democrats are. I understand that your beliefs are shifting you to become more liberal, but it doesn’t mean that those who are Republican are in the “wrong.”

    • Hi!
      I didn’t mean to sound absolute for you or anti-Republican (which I am not). It is true ***in my story*** that I was taught my whole life that Republican values are more Christian. Growing up I never had a chance to look up to or really listen to or respect a Democrat. When I started to do so it was life changing for me and has brought so many positives into my life!!!

      I wish the best for the Republican party and I hope too see a lot more Christian values displayed in future candidates if they want that to be a part of their platform.

      I hope that clears things up and is helpful. I spent so long mulling over how to tell this story because I truly wanted to be heard. Thanks for listening. 🙂

  • I grew up a conservative Christian and still am one. I voted for Trump (twice) and I’d do it again but I still agree with much of what you wrote, and I want to apologize to you as a Christian for the ways the church misrepresented Jesus to you. I’m a teacher in a Christian school, and part of my job is to teach Bible. I’m teaching through the gospels and Acts to middle schoolers and high schoolers. Something that has really shocked me doing this study is to realize how appalled and angry Jesus was at the way the religious people of his day had completely missed God’s message. One of the main conflicts in the gospels isn’t between Jesus and the world (which is what I grew up believing and what the church often focuses on), but Jesus and the religious people. It’s the same way now. We want to take a relationship with God and tick the boxes. Requiring you to have a knee-length skirt and no spaghetti straps isn’t any different than all the sabbath laws the Jews created to keep themselves busy and looking spiritual. Many of the things you experienced were not Christian at all and were instead opposed to the gospel. The shame you experienced is a real thing, and something the church should repent of. And you’re absolutely correct in your comments about divorce. I too had no support until after mine was over. Then there was much more kindness and grace than I would ever have believed. Some of the church marriages that end in divorce actually could be saved if the couples didn’t wait to get help out of fear for what others might say, or if pastors and leaders would support women more. I don’t write any of this trying to convince you to come back to church, but I do think you might be surprised to re-read the Bible and see how much God hates religious oppressors and hypocrites. He’d probably be the first in line willing to help you get over religious trauma. Some of God’s harshest words throughout the Bible are to religious leaders who misuse their authority. He wants no part in it.

  • Elsie, I commend you for sharing your story. You are not alone in this “gray area.”
    I experienced an extremely similar upbringing, and have only realized within the past few years how much trauma I suffered as a child and young adult because of the church I was involved with.
    The election last year forced me to wake up and decide what kind of Christian I was going to be, and I voted democratically with kindness, love, and Jesus in my heart. Luckily, I have had a drastically different church experience as an adult which has led me to believe that true Christianity is not what Trump embodied as a leader.
    Thanks again for sharing!

  • Elsie, thank you for sharing your very personal story. I was crying with you as I listened. I am so glad you were brave and ventured out into this beautiful life you created for yourself.

    P.S. My youth pastor also had an affair with a high school student! I lost my faith for a long time over it. I now belong to a beautiful liberal church (ELCA Lutheran) and have an especially amazing group of strong women that I call my church sorority.

  • Oh sweet Elsie!!!! I’ve followed you for a really long time since you had your clothing store in Springfield and probably right when you started the scrapbook stuff. Hearing your story…crying with you as you poured your heart out with a broken heart made me love you even more. I see why you are so intentional and authentic! Praise the Lord for those kind people in the hot tub! I would have been that person if I was in that hot tub! What a heart wrenching start to your adult life. It is so sad when religious situations or people create such hurt that isn’t backed up by what God really wants for us.

    Sending you and Emma all the love and hugs. So excited for her journey!

  • THANK YOU, Elsie! I know this must have been so hard to talk about, and it was honestly so moving. I’m sorry that you were so hurt and struggled for so many years – no one deserves that. Hearing some of your experiences reminded me so much of stories my husband has told me of his extremely religious upbringing, and those experiences ultimately led him away from the church altogether when his sister came out and his mother would not accept it. Time and education was been able to help them heal as a family, but sadly that’s not the case for many people. I never grew up with religion, but I was always thankful my parents encouraged me to try attending church or learning about religious teachings and allowing me to make my own choices. 💗 Sending you lots of love and continued healing!

  • thank you so much for sharing, elsie! i truly appreciate your honesty & vulnerability. i am so sorry for those periods of hopelessness that the church left you with, truly heartbreaking. i am so so glad you were able to find hope & that you are in a better place now. as someone who grew up in the church & is still in it, your story gave me a lot to think about, such a good perspective. i’m so sorry that church/community failed you & hurt you. i’m glad you were able to break away from them and find your people. so much love to you!! xo

  • Hi Elsie! This episode was so good! Thank you for being so vulnerable. I feel we are similar personalities and on the surface we seem so bubbly and upbeat and happy (and we are) but we have real emotions, too, and it was really touching to hear your story. I don’t even know you and it made me tear up. I was raised Catholic and had a different upbringing, but lately I’ve been wanting to get back into church for a really similar idea – I want my daughter to have something to believe in and I want to be part of a community with this same purpose or reason to be together. It was great to learn more about your past 🙂

  • This was a great episode though I bet it was very scary to be be this vulnerable. Just checking in to see if you were planning to feature Emma’s story too? I had thought you mentioned it would be the following week but I haven’t seen anything yet! I’m so intrigued!!!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story Elsie. I’m so happy to hear you’ve found peace and that therapy has been a rewarding process for you. I imagine that making this podcast was emotionally laborious and that sharing it on the internet feels very vulnerable. I’m radiating good vibes your way and hope you feel supported and loved!

    I also REALLY appreciate how you began your episode by asking people to respect that your story is your story. I really really admire your honesty and willingness to talk about your own personal experience with the church and the evolution of your own political views. It made me stop and think about how important it is to allow people to voice their own stories without the audience immediately picking apart those stories and inappropriately interjecting when they don’t align with their own experiences. Your experience and your story are your own, regardless of who is listening and what their opinions may be.

  • I had a very similar upbringing and can connect with you on so many of those levels. I have missed church, but like you, I’m not interested in getting involved again unless they’re more open minded. I also live in the Nashville area and am very interested in learning more about the church you mentioned at the end! Can you tell me the name of it?

  • I felt this TO MY CORE, and based on how far I had to scroll to leave this comment, so did so many others. Thank you for being so vulnerable. I still have dreams about rescuing people from the evangelical cult I found myself in after high school. Faith after faith deconstruction is a bitch, but cheers to therapy! And cheers to you!

  • I loved listening to your story Elsie – I have been following your blog for almost 14 years now and it must be the first time I leave a comment just to say how much this story meant to me.

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