The Story Continues
Rachel Williams-Smith

There is no “easy” life

“The ants were my friends . . . I didn’t have much else to do – our main curriculum was, as my mother put it, ‘Bible and survival.’

— Dr. Rachel Williams-Smith

So began the article, written by the first reporter to interview me after reading my book, Born Yesterday.

As I was reading the article, I was surprised at the themes the reporter highlighted, the nuances that she pulled out which I hadn’t paid attention to myself. I cringed inwardly when I spied the word “cult.” When she captured the isolation and loneliness of my childhood by featuring what I had told her about making friends with the ants that scuttled around our school bus-converted-mobile home where we lived for a year in a state park, I was unnerved. Actually, she had simply listened to what I said. However, the view from within her article caught me completely off guard, evoking sudden emotions that surprised me.

The journey from cult to cultivation is a long and looping one, and I think that is the reason why I was surprised.  I’m thinking of cultivation in terms of being a process of acquiring or developing new qualities and skills, and cult as representing a narrow, limited place of origin, cut off from outside ideas, influences, and opportunities. In a way, we all go through this in growing up. We go back and visit a place from childhood and we’re surprised by how different it looks—often much smaller, less charming or less frightening than the way we remembered. That’s because we have gone through a cultivation process of being exposed to new, bigger, and broader things and experiences which have our altered views and changed our perspectives.

After we have been held down, abused, traumatized, or severely limited from opportunities, the journey from cult to cultivation also has to happen. It is a part of finally being freed, getting away, starting to grow and think and do for ourselves and developing a new and broader mindset. We finally start seeing where we came from for what it was, the way it was—without excuses, explanations, and modifying reasons to sugar coat it, making it less stark, barren, and painful.

In the process of writing my book, I experienced the revisiting of my past. But, as I said, the journey from cult to cultivation is a long and looping one—just because you’ve traveled the pathway once doesn’t mean you’ve finished the journey. A new loop began for me as I was reading that article about my book, inviting me to honestly open myself up to seeing myself through the eyes of others—which means getting a surprising 360-degree view! I got to look at my past experience from an outside, objective, and fair viewpoint. This reporter had truly listened and then captured the essence of what stood out to her in her own excellent, professional way. She saw me and my story in a way I was unable to see it myself. My story through her eyes looked and sounded different than it had inside my head, but it was insightful, fair, reasonable—and eye opening. And it started the process of changing the way I viewed my own story—a new loop, I discovered, of the journey from cult to cultivation.

This new looping of my journey is helping me to grow out of a narrow, possessive view of myself toward a deeper experiential understanding that our lives are truly not our own. A favorite verse of mine from the Bible says that we are epistles—open letters—for everyone to read and know. The process of being seen and interpreted through the eyes of others helps nudge us beyond guarding our pet viewpoints, hoarded memories, and cherished interpretations. It makes us grow so that when we look back at ourselves, we’re not as big or charming or terrible as we remembered. And then we begin to recognize that if God is writing the letter, we don’t have to cling to the pen! We can let go and allow ourselves to grow and continue the journey from cult to cultivation.

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