I was very excited when I saw that this would be the book Bonnie’s Book Club focused on this month. I had always wanted to read it, so I rushed to the library to get it. And…I…devoured it.
I have not been that into a book in a long time. I wanted to read rather than sleep (and I needed sleep dealing with a boy who was having trouble sleeping through the night). I wanted to read rather than teach (and I read during my prep period!). I wanted to read rather than cook (I made Justin cook a lot). I wanted to read rather than put Rhys to bed (Justin did that a lot, too). And I wanted to read it more than blog! I actually finished it in a week–the fastest I’ve finished a book in a long time.
I remember in 2002 when I saw news of her kidnapping. I was 12 years old, living in Virginia. My naive mind was boggled–how could a young, Mormon girl from Salt Lake City be kidnapped! And, again, as a twelve year old, I didn’t realize that it was only 9 months! (Nine months is still a long time for a young teen to be kidnapped…)
I was shocked at how long she spent in the mountains…just miles from her home…just miles from where I live now! Every day as I drove home from work, facing those Wasatch Mountains, I scanned the tops, trying to imagine her there. And, when she was found… the Wal-Mart she went to is the Wal-Mart I go to! And the street where she was finally found and rescued is literally a few miles or less from my home! It astounds me the proximity to which I lived where this took place!
I also didn’t know the many times she went into Salt Lake City or that she was forced to go to California. I didn’t know she was forced to smoke or drink alcohol. Or that she was forced to go naked sometimes. I remember hearing that she had been raped and forced to marry Mitchell in a Mormon-esque ceremony. So, I had believed that he was just a Mormon who had been mislead by Satan. But, no. He just used religion to manipulate people and use as his excuse. He knew the Mormon religion and tried to use it on Elizabeth to persuade her that he really was a Prophet of God…he even kept a Book of Mormon in the camp. Then, when they would go to town, she and Barzee, Mitchell’s real wife, were covered head to toe, as if they were wearing an Islamic burqa! Mitchell used points of the religion to convince a detective to not look at or question Elizabeth–she was his “daughter” and it was “against their religion” for anyone but her father and husband to look upon her face.
There were a few things that stood out to me. First was her fear. I didn’t know just how many opportunities of escape Elizabeth had. But, she was 14, from a sheltered family. Mitchell threatened not only her life, but the lives of her family if she didn’t comply. I just think back to the Virginia Sniper–I was scared to death of my own life even though he was never anywhere near me. That’s also how she defends her little 8 year old sister who shared a room with her and witnessed her being taken. Her sister was frozen in fear for hours before going to her parents’ room to tell them what happened. If Elizabeth was that scared, imagine how much worse it must have been for an imaginative, naive 8 year old!
The other thing that stood out to me was Elizabeth’s faith. I belong to the same church as she does and have been a faithful Mormon my entire life. Never once have I doubted my testimony. But, if I was kidnapped, threatened, raped every day, and experienced what Elizabeth had experienced, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d still have faith in God–why would he have let that happen to me? Why wasn’t he helping me? But, Elizabeth never, ever lost her faith in God. She even experienced miracles when she was in real need–after days without water, she was granted a full cup of water out of nowhere when she woke up. Then, again, she was granted rain. What faith from a 14 year old! It just even more strengthens my testimony that 14 year old Joseph Smith was able to see Heavenly Father and Jesus if 14 year old (even more) modern day Elizabeth Smart kept her faith through her trials and was granted miracles.
The last thing that stood out to me was her ability to move on with her life. She says she has never gone to any professional therapy or been on any medication. She does mention that she used horseback riding and music to help her through tough times (which both have been scientifically proven to be forms of therapy). Justin actually met her once. Someone in his college congregation was also a harp performance major like Elizabeth and they gave a harp duet for his congregation. Justin says she seemed very nice and composed and the fact that she wasn’t afraid to be out in public was really great to him. What her mom told her really spoke to me and seems to be the forgiving source and the key for Elizabeth to move on: “Elizabeth, what this man has done is terrible. There aren’t any words tat are strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is! He has taken nine months of your life that you will never get back again. But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy. To move forward with your life. To do exactly what you want. Because, yes, this will probably go to trial and some kind of sentencing will be given to him and that wicked woman. But even if that’s true, you may never feel like justice has been served or that true restitution has bee made. But you don’t need to worry about that. At the end of the day, God is our ultimate judge. He will make up to you every pain and loss that you have suffered. And if it turns out that these wicked people are not punished here on Earth, it doesn’t matter. His punishments are just. You don’t ever have to worry. You don’t ever have to think about them again. You be happy Elizabeth. Just be happy. If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you dwell on what has happened, if you hold on to your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away. So don’t you do that! Don’t you let him! There is no way that he deserves that. Not one more second of your life. You keep every second for yourself. You keep them and be happy. God will take care of the rest.”
Elizabeth Smart is an astounding woman of God and faith. She is so strong and brave. I admire her.
I definitely suggest reading this book if you are a woman (or man) of God and need a testimony booster (regardless of denomination or religion).