Q&A With Journalist And Author Carrie Sheffield: ‘Abuse Not God’s Design For Your Life’

By Jovan Tripkovic

May 2, 2024


Carrie Sheffield is a policy analyst for the Independent Women’s Forum and a conservative political commentator.

Now, in addition to her list of accomplishments, the columnist and broadcaster can add the title of author to her resume.

In her new book “Motorhome Prophecies” (you can read an excerpt here), Sheffield writes about growing up as the fifth of eight children with a violent and mentally ill street musician father who believed he was a modern-day Mormon prophet destined to someday become U.S. president. She and her siblings were forced to live as vagabonds, constantly moving across the country.

While J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” gave readers insight into poverty-stricken Appalachia and Tara Westover’s “Educated” recounts her journey from childhood in a fundamentalist LDS family to the halls of Cambridge, Sheffield brings a unique story of motorhome family life.

Religion Unplugged’s Jovan Tripkovic spoke recently with Sheffield about her faith, healing journey and childhood memories.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Jovan Tripkovic: Why did you decide to write ‘Motorhome Prophecies’ now?

Carrie Sheffield: I wrote this book because we’re suffering historic levels of mental illness and depression in our country. We have suicide rates that are the highest since the Great Depression. It’s as if we’re facing a new Great Depression. The difference is that we don’t have the same economic catastrophe we had back then. Instead, we’re dealing with a moral and spiritual crisis, which is driving this great depression.

Tripkovic: What was the role of writing this book in your healing process?

Sheffield: Writing this book was helpful for my healing process as it allowed me to connect the dots and recognize some of the intergenerational trauma that had been passed down. I discovered ways that had previously been blind spots for me, which was personally beneficial. My prayer and hope in writing it are that it might have the same effect for people who read it.

Tripkovic: Your book was released recently and is already a big success. Now you are on a nationwide speaking tour. Does talking about the book make you relive terrible childhood memories? Are you able to compartmentalize them?

Sheffield: I think it was a lot more difficult early on, especially when I was recording the audiobook. My publisher requires an audition. You’re not guaranteed to read your own book, even if it’s your own memoir. Thankfully, I was able to pass the audition. There were a few times when I just broke down crying. I had a hard time finishing and had to take a break. I’ve been talking about this issue for a few months. I think at this point I am able to depersonalize things a bit more because I am seeing them in context. When I speak about the book, I see people come up to me afterward and share their very intense, deep struggles. It helps me to be able to talk with them. They tell me that hearing me publicly speak about these issues gives them courage and helps them with their struggles too. I’m gathering strength and courage myself as I continue this tour.

Tripkovic: Your book is a testimony to a series of horrific events: physical, mental, and sexual abuse. However, I would like to ask you, do you have any fond memories from growing up in your dad’s motorhome?

Sheffield: I talk about some of them in the book. We did take some pretty epic road trips. I gained my love of America from these trips and the stops along the way in America’s heartland. I like to joke when people ask me where I’m from; I just say I am from America. On one of these road trips, we drove down to New Orleans and had a really fun time. We toured a bayou swamp led by a family whose daughter could put marshmallows on an alligator’s head. We even got to try some of the Jambalaya soup. We took the motorhome up to Vermont, to the home of Robert Frost, the famous poet. Because of that, I have a lifelong appreciation for his work. We also took the motorhome up to Mount Rushmore. It happened accidentally that it was at the same time as Sturgis, the massive motorcycle rally with hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists. That was a spectacle that we found fascinating. There were some beautiful moments. It certainly fostered a love for this beautiful country.

Tripkovic: What do you have to say to individuals, especially women, who live in a similar situation to the one you grew up in?

Sheffield: For people, including women, who are dealing with abuse, that is not God’s design for your life. Even though in the Book of Genesis, Joseph had an abusive family, his brothers wanted to kill him but ended up just selling him into slavery. He had to deal with a very unjust boss and his wife, who tried to seduce him and felt angry that he wouldn’t cave in. Despite facing all kinds of injustices, he was able to turn his situation around through God.

That gives me inspiration. I mentioned in the book that if we’re in these situations, there is a way to get out. There are people who will help you to find those resources. Look for the helpers. Do not walk away from God, because that is not His design for your life. Anyone who uses the name of God to abuse you will answer for that.

Tripkovic: Childhood trauma pushed you away from God and faith. You wrote that for years you tried to escape into agnosticism. What was the moment when you realized that you were turning back to God and faith? Did it come gradually, or was it a sudden realization?

Sheffield: It was kind of a process of elimination. There’s an excellent book that I recommend by the late Pastor Tim Keller called ‘Counterfeit Gods.’ Each chapter focuses on a counterfeit god that we, as humans, put in the place of God. I tried a lot of those false idols, and it was only after trying them that I realized they would never bring me lasting happiness.

I tried things like my career. I threw myself into my career as a fault idol. Unfortunately, there was a management change and a bunch of us from the old management got laid off. I felt suicidal because my career was my false idol. Then I tried dating and relationships, pursuing marriage as another false idol. I ended up in some abusive relationships — mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In some cases, there was cheating involved (by the other party) and other abusive patterns. I would continually excuse it and look the other way because I was conditioned by the example of my mother to believe that I didn’t deserve better. I reached a point eventually, due to a relationship problem, where I felt suicidal again. Thankfully, I’ve gotten out of those situations. Eventually, after trying these false gods, through the gradual process of study and contemplation, I realized that the only thing that would actually bring me lasting peace was a relationship with God.

Tripkovic: In an op-ed for CNN, you wrote that God and science gave you a better life. How did you manage to reconcile these two?

Sheffield: I talk in the book about metaphysics and how, during my conversion process, I went on to study metaphysics and research more about creation.

Probabilistically and statistically, it takes a lot more faith to believe in random chance for the universe to be the way it is. It’s basically mathematically very close to zero that it just happened randomly. Learning more about that and how fragile our metaphysics are, I realized that the laws of physics are quite perilously balanced on a knife’s edge. They could all be true, or none of them could be true, based on a layperson’s understanding of it.

The way it was explained to me by various experts is that humans should have extreme humility when making scientific claims that attempt to eliminate any notion of God. Our physics only explains a small portion of our universe. About 96% of the universe is dark matter to which our laws of physics don’t apply. We have no clue how that works. Only a very small portion of the universe follows the laws of our universe. Yet, our laws are so perilously uncertain. It requires so much more faith to be an atheist who believes in scientific laws that are very uncertain.

Tripkovic: Out of curiosity, why did you decide to become an Episcopalian? What drew you to it?

Sheffield: I am not so stuck on denominations, just to be clear. My home church is non-denominational. I do play the violin and attend an Episcopal church in my area sometimes. I believe that in heaven, Christ is Christ. A big reason was the presiding bishop, Michael Curry. I knew about him and got to know his deputy months before this happened. He happened to be the preacher at the royal wedding for Meghan Markle. It was interesting that two billion people watched that. They got to see his sermon. But I was already familiar with his work.

He is African-American. He talks about how his family became Christian and Episcopalian. When his mother and father were dating during Jim Crow and segregation, his mom, a single woman at the time, was attending an Episcopal church, and they allowed white and black parishioners to drink from the same cup for communion. For his father, seeing that was shocking. He was black as well, and to see this black woman be able to drink out of the same cup as a white person was impressive. They’re actually putting the Gospel into action. The Bible says that there is no black or white, no slave or free, no Jew or Gentile. All of them are one in Christ. That really drew me to the Episcopal Church.

Canon Robertson, Michael Curry’s deputy, became one of my baptismal sponsors. I’ve always had a heart for racial justice and reconciliation. That was a big entry point for me. Today, I am not so stuck on denominations. I think there are parts of Episcopalianism, as expressed by the national church politically, that I disagree with. But Michael Curry is very well aware of that and he is still welcoming me.

Tripkovic: You formally left the LDS in 2010. Despite your experience, your criticism of the LDS Church was always balanced. You never became an anti-Mormon crusader. You wrote for The Washington Post that the Mormon Church is in need of reform. Do you still hold that opinion?

Sheffield: I wrote that piece in 2012 when I was agnostic. I was feeling anger toward the LDS Church at that time. I have certainly gone through that period of anger. I still have a lot of family members who are still in the LDS Church. I don’t have animosity toward the LDS Church. My book is certainly not an anti-Mormon book, although I am now in strong theological disagreement with some key Mormon theology. I consider Mormonism to be theologically wrong but culturally strong. There are some really powerful cultural traits within the LDS and the Mormon community.

Tripkovic: You write in your book that you still cherish some Mormon values. Can you tell me which parts of Mormonism you still carry within your heart?

Sheffield: Yes, I would say more cultural aspects. I think one big cultural aspect that I really appreciate is how committed LDS members are, especially considering the decrease in religious participation in America. Mormons have one of the highest rates of church attendance in the country. I’ve always admired that because it’s not just lip service. The same goes for volunteering. LDS churches are very successful in creating systems to take care of each other. They are not just helping Mormons; they have a very big relief operation globally. When there are natural disasters or floods, they’re very quick to help.

They also have a food welfare system to help provide food and massive food pantries. I volunteered in food pantries for other churches, but Mormons have the most organized food welfare system I’ve seen. My family also benefited from that free food. Mormonism offers a lot of support for single people. If you’re single within Protestant and Catholic churches, it’s not very welcoming for you. I’ve experienced this as a single person myself. There are congregations that you are not allowed to attend if you are married, so they are just for singles. Mormons promote marriage in a way that I haven’t seen in other denominations. There’s a lot to be learned from that.

Tripkovic: While you worked on Wall Street, you felt unhappy and unfulfilled. There are millions of young people experiencing the same feeling. What would be your message to them? What do they need to do to find meaning in their life and career?

Sheffield: I tell young people this book is my anti-resume. I did things that I was proud of, things that might be perceived from the outside as being successful. Working at Goldman Sachs, working at Moody’s Investor Service as a bond analyst, getting a full master’s scholarship tuition to Harvard, and being a White House correspondent. There are a lot of things on my resume that I was proud of. But this book is about the anti-resume, all the things that I was ashamed of, all the things that I was hiding. The things that were leading to inner depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

I wrote the book because I want young people who are feeling the same to know that it’s time to focus on that anti-resume. That is actually where you will find happiness. That’s where you will find your purpose and inner peace. You need to develop peace first, and then you’ll achieve it. I call it the divine order that you need. The divine order is to live life with God first, then people, and then achievement and material things. I was doing it in the opposite order.

When I was agnostic, I was living my life, putting people first, and then things. I was indifferent to God. I think that’s where a lot of young people are today. The way that I was living did not bring me happiness. It did not bring me understanding of who I was, why I was here, and who I belonged to. Once I learned those things, I had more peace in terms of understanding what the root causes of my mental illness were. I was seeking external things for my happiness, which comes from God. We are image bearers of God. We are made in the image of God. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He wants us to feel peace. When we’re living outside the divine order, we’re living a disordered life. It’s no surprise that we don’t have peace. God wants us to have that peace.

Tripkovic: Do you think that with this book, you are closing one chapter of your life? Are you ready to move on?

Sheffield: Yes. I’ve had some epiphanies about understanding behavioral patterns and generational curses. I do feel like I have been able to, in some ways, break generational curses. I am still struggling. I am not perfect. My life isn’t perfect, but I do know that I am in a much better place than when I was trapped in this abusive cult environment. I am committed to moving forward in a way that is in alignment with what I believe God actually wants for me. I believe that He wants joy, peace, love, happiness, and fulfillment in my life. My dad put curses on me, and God doesn’t want that. He wants the fruit of the Spirit for everyone. To know that and to truly believe in that is a breakthrough. I am excited to see what’s next.