Gelsinger recounts joining a Pentecostal church as a teenager, marked by both ardor and doubt.
By the time she was 23, debut author Gelsinger kept a lid on her “fiery Jesus days,” when she “lived for mission trips and miracles, fasting and prophecy.” But it would be years more before she could overcome her fear and guilt over backsliding. Born in tiny Pine Canyon, California, in the 1980s, Gelsinger didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist family. Home-schooled, the author and her brother spent a lot of time exploring outdoors and seldom went to church. Nevertheless, she felt “an inexplicable draw to be near God from a young age” and joined the Pine Canyon Assemblies of God when she was 13. Although Gelsinger enjoyed new friendships, she at first felt anxious and suspicious about the holy frenzy of evening services. Eventually, Gelsinger made her own altar call, speaking in tongues and “soaring with Jesus,” and was asked to join the church’s worship team. Disaster struck when her family’s home burned down. Grieving and angry, Gelsinger got a church intervention for backsliding: “You have a toxic spirit, and everyone can tell.” Her mother told her she was brainwashed, but Gelsinger’s journey away from Pine Canyon and Pentecostalism would take years longer: “I wish I had a dramatic religious escape story, but the truth is my escape involved little choices each day.” Marriage, a master’s degree in journalism, children, and talking about her past all helped; eventually, Gelsinger found a welcoming home in the Episcopal Church. Today, she runs a consultancy for writers. Vivid and engaging, this memoir shows, with honesty and intelligence, the appeal of Pentecostal religiosity to a sensitive and searching teenager—a circle of friends, a sense of purpose, and answers for every question. Gelsinger’s excellent storytelling provides illuminating vignettes on her experience and how it was so often laced with doubt even as she sought certainty. Readers who see fundamentalist religion as a monolith will come away with a much more nuanced view.
A well-written, honest memoir that takes a multilayered view of revival.