Reba Riley tells a story. Tell it again he says. And again. And again. Five times she tells the story. The sixth time she starts and something happens. Here’s what she says:
The discomfort of the memory was replaced with calm.
Al noticed. “What just changed?”
I answered honestly. “The memory isn’t forgotten; it’s just … different. I can see through it to the before and after. I see it made me stronger.”
~ from Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome
My friend recently read this book. Then promptly said, “You need to read this book.” It took a couple weeks but finally last night I began to read the book. Within the first few pages I text my friend, “I’m already wanting to throw things.” To ease my discomfort I joke about needing a drink…or two. I’m not sure what the problem is. It’s not like Reba and I have the same story. After all, I didn’t grow up in a fundamental evangelical church.
Denial runs deep.
I text my friend again, “I’m not a fundamentalist. I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.” My friend just laughs. “Keep reading. You’ll love the end.” The husband comes home and asks what I’m reading. I tell him it’s a book about a funny author trying to recover from her traumatic church experience. I tell him the only thing we have in common is a good Christian school. The one where five offenses merited a spanking. I bitterly comment, “In my case, seven offenses gets you hit with a 2×4 thirty times.” Clearly I have some issues lurking in there.
I want to put the book down and read something else. But I don’t. I keep reading. All evening long. Late into the night. I cannot quit reading. And eventually I begin to understand why I’m reading this book. As Reba visits 30 different religions or sects of Christianity she begins to wrestle with her PCTS. She begins to realize that God is outside of all the religion. She writes:
“Was I like that? Did the beliefs my parents taught me about God, the ones stacked one on top of another Jenga-style, have to be destroyed so something stronger could take their place? And what about all the anger and bitterness I’d stacked on top of those beliefs?
I don’t like the question. I answer her. I’m not angry. I’m not bitter. I’m not hurt. I’m not upset. I’m not even a recovering fundamentalist evangelical. I’m fine.
Lies.All these lies I tell myself because they make me feel better. I start asking myself questions. What if I AM angry, bitter, hurt? What if the reason I am is because my parents taught me a broken faith and now I have not a lot of faith but a lot of brokenness…and I’m angry? And I allow myself to say out loud what I feel … I don’t believe. The whole. Entire. Christian. Thing.
Which leaves me quiet. Because I do believe. I believe my Jesus loves me and never leaves me. I believe Abba is trying so hard to show me that I can trust him, that he is enough. I can feel the Holy Spirit daily, changing my life. I know those things are as real as my family. But I can’t let go of the fear that it’s not enough. That I need to do more, be more because I am not enough for Him.
I sigh. Return to the book. I have moments where I feel the Holy Ghost goosebumps. In the strangest places He talks to Reba. In a Scientology audit. A group of atheists. A tattooed teacher. Synagogue. Even a LDS church. My mind is being stretched. I KNOW the voice of my Jesus. He speaks through the stories in this book. I can see the hand of Abba as he takes her step-by-step to the answer that she already knows, but has forgotten. I recognize the sweet move of the Holy Spirit as she goes in places I’d never go. And I realize, that somewhere in the back of my mind things are going to have to change. I’m going to have to let go of what I know, to get what it is I need. I’ve gone as far as I can with the old ideas, I need to move forward or stay here and live with my doubt.
I can’t put the book down. The husband comes to bed, smiles at me, closes his eyes and falls asleep in 5 seconds. (I so hate that he can do this!) I still can’t put the book down. I read and read. Until I get to the end. I try to not wake the husband with my crying. Reba is in the place of her origin. She testifies. She says three little words, “I am free.” I thought that would be the best part. But it wasn’t. The best part is when she talks about brokenness, a state I know all too well. The whole part is so beautiful. And I realize that I read this book, because I needed to know the truth.
I used to think that I went through all these painful things because God wanted me to learn something or even so I could be able to help someone walk through the same thing. How wrong I have been.
Those things happened to me. And they are horrible. And they should make me angry. And they broke me. But my brokenness, as Reba put it, is given birth to ME.
I keep thinking about the scene where she tells the story over and over and over. I’m not done telling my story. I’m not done taking it apart, dealing with the pain, putting the emotions into perspective. I’m wrestling with my doubt because I must. Because eventually I’ll see through from the beginning to the end. And I’ll be stronger.
Thank you Reba. For the courage to walk through the PCTS. For persevering. For accepting your call to be a healer. It may not be what you thought it would look like but it is exactly what Abba knew it would look like.
About the Book
An important inspirational debut, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome is much more than a memoir about reclaiming faith and overcoming chronic illness. Written with humor and personality, it tackles the universal struggle to heal what life has broken. This is a book for questioners, doubters, misfits, and seekers of all faiths; for the spiritual, the religious, and the curious.
Reba Riley’s twenty-ninth year was a terrible time to undertake a spiritual quest. But when untreatable chronic illness forced her to her metaphorical (and physical) derriere on her birthday, Reba realized that even if she couldn’t fix her body, she might be able to heal her injured spirit. And so began a yearlong journey to recover from her whopping case of Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome by visiting thirty religions before her thirtieth birthday. During her spiritual sojourn, Reba:
-Was interrogate by Amish grandmothers about her sex life
-Danced the disco in a Buddhist temple
-Went to church in virtual reality, a movie theater, a drive-in bar, and a basement
-Fasted for thirty days without food—or wine
-Washed her lady parts in a mosque bathroom
-Was audited by Scientologists
-Learned to meditate with an urban monk, sucked mud in a sweat lodge with a suburban shaman, and snuck into Yom Kippur with a fake grandpa in tow
-Discovered she didn’t have to choose religion to choose God—or good
For anyone who has ever longed for transformation of body, mind, or soul, but didn’t know where to start, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome reminds us that sometimes we have to get lost to get found.