It was the end of another summer scorcher, and I took the long way home to stop by my studio and pick up equipment.
When I arrived at the door a FedEx package was waiting for me.
"Strange," I thought. There was nothing that I'd ordered recently. "What in the world could this be?"
Unlocking the door, I pick it up and then settle into one of the studio's couches. Tearing open the envelop reveals a letter, followed by nearly ten pages of stories.
It took me a few moments to process what I was reading, but as it dawned on me my breathing became shallow and the room seemed to tilt at a funny angle.
Someone who had made it out of the cult had found my blog, this blog, and had reached out to me.
Truth be told, I'm usually very circumspect in my writing about my religious upbringing here specifically because I haven't wanted to draw attention to my work from that corner.
Growing up I learned not to trust others in the church, especially "first generation." Many that I met in my youth tended to be unstable, others were outrightly abusive. More importantly, they were proponents of Rev. Moon's doctrine and members of his "heavenly army." As someone who consistently struggled with the ideology I was being raised in, I learned that they were not to be trusted.
So, did I read this letter? Would it be written to hurt me, to try pull me back in? Or would I find an abusive or unstable soul at the root of the letter?
Curiosity pulled me onward and I chose to trust and read. I sat, transfixed by the pages as the sun set a fiery red outside.
The author wrote:
"Is my story of any value? [...] All I know is that my creative voice - however muted, damaged, crushed, devastated, mocked, and compromised - it's still there. Incredibly it's simply not to be extinguished. It speaks to me now and I cannot ignore it."
I read the letter again several times; it detailed a young man's initial meeting with the Unification Church in the 1970's and the decades that elapsed before he was finally able to walk away.
As I read a business card dropped from between the pages. Scrawled on the back was a personal email address.
When I got home from the studio I examined my issue with trust again. If I reached out, who would I find on the other side? Checking my intuition, I decided that this was simply another vulnerable person who had ultimately had the strength to go through the journey of leaving this controlling group; I decided to email the author.
First I thanked him for writing to me, and trusting me with his story. Then I asked permission to share it with a wider audience, especially with the personal blog that I share with my sister that details our own stories from growing up in the Unification Church.
He wrote back, initially unsure. I understood and told him that it was ok to say no, and shared my own fears around bringing my work, both written and photographic, to an audience.
Eventually he wrote again, saying that he had felt compelled to share his story with me and that if it had the power to help others as well then he wanted it to be out there for them as well.
So I'm posting the letter on the blog I share with my sister, Summer of Cheesecake, as it is written specifically to share stories that will hopefully help others in their own journey in processing their experiences with the cult and in leaving.
I invite you to take a read other there, because perhaps this author has wisdom for you as well, even if your journey has nothing to do with religious trauma and abuse.
Take a read here: http://www.summerofcheesecake.com/2015/09/stories-that-come-in-mail.html
More than anything, I hope that your takeaway is that your story has value. Even if it has been dormant inside of you for decades, it has value and it has power.
Sharing your voice can be incredibly healing for you and for others. So I want to invite you to share, whether it's here in the comments, on my Facebook page, or in an email. I'm here and I'm listening.