Four Ways the Church Can Teach Compassion for Suffering

  • tear-stained-faceAccording to the CDC, as of 2012, about half of all adults—117 million people—have one or more chronic health conditions.
  • According to the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI), more than 26% or one in four adults over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. 
  • According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), one out of every six American women has been the victim of a completed or attempted rape in her lifetime and 3% of men.
  • According to a survey by the National Institutes of Justice, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and in 1992 the AMA reported that as many as one in three women will be assaulted by a domestic partner in her lifetime. 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
  • Almost ten percent of the general population is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder–not just returning vets. And the causes of PTSD can be any terrifying experience that overwhelms the brain. Now do the math–how many people does that represent in YOUR church congregation who may be suffering in silence?

With these realities in mind, our churches must be mindful of the suffering of those sitting in our pews. Every form of suffering we read about and see on the news is affecting our churches and homes as Christians.

Our kids our suffering.

Our marriages our suffering.

As men and women, we are often silently suffering.

And too many churches are preaching a theology that doesn’t allow us to talk openly about hurt, pain, and the realities of our lives. We’re taught to be “happy all the time”? But why?

We’re afraid we’ll give God or Jesus a bad rap. So we teach a shallow, false view of Christianity.

But Jesus was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” Scripture is filled with tough questions, lament, frustrated believers challenging God, and deep, authentic grief and sorrow.

So how can the church do a better job of teaching compassion?

1. Let us learn from authentic struggle. I’m grateful for my church, where most sermons are followed by an “application” time where members (as well as pastors and leaders) talk openly about how they’ve struggled through issues as wide-ranging as marital discord, battles with porn or other addictions, forgiveness, identity struggles, or other tough issues. We immediately recognize that, while truth is clearly taught in Scripture, church is a place where everyone is in the battle together.

2. Teach the importance and integration of mental and physical health. Too many Christians falsely believe that addressing health issues stops at the neck. The brain is an organ that operates under the same created biochemical principles as the rest of the body. Mental illness is real and needs to be respected. We need to stop shaming Christians for taking medications and seeking medical solutions. Of COURSE God is our healer–he’s my healer just as much when I go to a non believing cardiologist for medication and surgery as when I take a needed anti-depressant for chemical imbalance.

3. Make compassion ministries a priority. Teach about grief and suffering from the pulpit. Offer care groups. Hire a parish nurse. Create a health ministry or partner with other churches that are already doing these things. Yes, partner with OTHER churches and promote their health ministries to your congregation if you’re unable to create one yourself. Partner with inner city ministries to widen your perspective on compassion and community ministry.

4. Create a culture of transparency, accountability, and humility that flows from the top down. Compassion will seldom flow through a local body of believers if it is not modeled first by leadership. As a speaker and consultant, I am often horrified by the “rock star” attitude conveyed by some pastors. Look for pastors who speak openly about their struggles and create safe places for people to seek healing, comfort, and growth. Churches should be safe havens for the hurting.

What about YOU? How has the church ministered compassion to you in your suffering?

Someone You Know Has PTSD–and Might Not Know It

“I just finished treatment for complex PTSD. Nobody understands trauma, so I rarely talk about it.”

The woman sitting next to me on our flight from Denver to Seattle was an accountant. Confident. Self-assured. Professional. And a recovering addict who’d struggled for years with symptoms PTSD stemming from early childhood medical procedures.

It had taken her years to recognize that childhood medical procedures were at the root of the long list of symptoms that had taken her life hostage.


Sadly, most people don’t understand the cause-and-effect between trauma and the symptoms of PTSD and seek treatment for the underlying cause.

The reality is that life is a series of traumas that the brain processes as either “Big T” or “little t” events, depending on a number of factors. Any event that is so threatening that it (1) overwhelms our brain, (2) triggers a reactive chemical wash that shuts down one side of the brain and causes us to “freeze” initiates the Instinctual Trauma Response (Big T trauma with potential resulting symptoms).

In the past few years, my colleague Wanda and I have met dozens of men and women suffering from PTSD who never realized before meeting us that trauma was the source of their various symptoms: hoarding, self-abuse, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hearing voices (one of the easiest symptoms to treat), eating disorders, depression, suicidal fixation, and other symptoms.

Many people who have PTSD don’t know that their symptoms aren’t the problem; trauma is the problem, and trauma can be successfully treated.

This week our book Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life was released in bookstores and online. This book addresses the desperation and despair felt by those who suffer from PTSD. It gives a voice to those who often feel unfixable, hopeless, and isolated.

But more importantly, it offers hope. As women who have experienced PTSD, Wanda and I understand the desperation and the struggles. This is why it was critically important for us to write a book that honestly expressed the feelings of those dealing with PTSD, but also offered compassion, hope, and truth. This book also offers practical resources for family members and friends, as well as support communities, such as churches.

Someone you know has PTSD and may not even know it.

Learn what it feels like to walk in their shoes. Learn what you can do to help. And if you’re struggling, take the first step toward healing by telling a trusted friend or medical or mental health professional.

Crisis Hotlines


Love Letters from the Edge: Hope for the Hopeless

LoveLettersCoverFour years ago, forty-eight year-old Wanda Sanchez was clinging to a life without hope. Every day was a struggle to stay alive. She’d planned her suicide and had every intent to carry out her plan.

For decades she’d struggled with nightmares, flashbacks, addiction, self-abuse, compulsions, and other behaviors she simply couldn’t control.

Rehab was a failure.

Eating disorder clinics were a failure.

Counseling and therapy produced little change.

Year after year, her symptoms grew worse, and her prayers to be healed seemed to go unanswered.

Like most people, Wanda spent years treating symptoms, rather than treating her actual trauma.

The results? Imagine taking pain killers for your brain tumor. The pain might subside–for a time. But the tumor itself only continues to grow and the symptoms worsen. Wanda’s root problem–her trauma–was childhood abuse. repeated and horrific childhood abuse. But she didn’t know about trauma and PTSD. So she tried to relieve the symptoms–addictions, self-abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorders, nightmares, and flashbacks.

Like most people who experience trauma, Wanda struggled with guilt, abandonment, rage, despair, and other self-sabotaging emotions.

She felt ruined, unlovable, and was sure she was the only truly unfixable person in the world.

Until she went for ten days of out-patient trauma treatment that treated the root cause of her symptoms and changed her life forever.

Since leaving Intensive Trauma Therapy in 2011, Wanda and I (Shelly Beach) have dedicated ourselves to sharing our stories of hope and healing from post-traumatic stress disorder. We have both found life-altering healing from trauma symptoms that radically changed our lives. Wanda’s improvement was so profound that in the months following her treatment, therapists and organizations began to ask her to share her story. Our passion grew for helping people gain a practical understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder and pointing them to resources for hope and healing.

Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life is our first book together. It is an inspirational book of meditations for people longing to find hope and resources and who will benefit from a foundational understanding of PTSD.

Love Letters from the Edge will encourage those who’ve experienced suffering and who long to sense God’s presence and comfort.

Love Letters from the Edge has been endorsed by counselors and therapists, the directors of mental health centers and mission organizations (Wedgwood Christian Service, Dégagé Ministries, Music for the Soul, Hearts at Home, as well as media personalities and celebrities like Nancy Stafford and Kathie Lee Gifford.

Love Letters from the Edge may not be written for you. But it will touch the heart of someone you know who has experienced deep suffering in life and offer them hope, as well as practical tools for healing.

Who do you know who’s standing on the edge? Who do you know that needs to know they’re not alone?



I’d like to let my readers know about a second blog I write with my colleague Wanda Sanchez on the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder. Wanda and I launched PTSDPerspectives about three months ago because we saw a great need in professional circles, as well as the church, for a greater understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder from the perspective of individuals who live with the illness.

Since we have launched the blog and our consulting services for PTSDPerspectives, we have been inundated with calls, emails, Facebook messages, and appeals from around the world from people who are looking for resources on post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you know someone who has suffered trauma and is living with depression, self-harming behaviors, addictions, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms of PTSD, we want you to know there is hope.

Our free eBook The Truth about Trauma is available for download on the homepage of the PTSDPerspectives site. Just click on the link above to go to the homepage, and click on the The Truth about Trauma picture at the bottom of the page.

Wanda and I will also be releasing Love Letters from the Edge in 2014 with Kregel Publishers. This book of meditations and resources is written specifically for those who have experienced trauma, abuse, and other painful experiences. Those who sign up for our free eBook will become part of the Love Letters pre-release community and receive regular gifts of free resources and encouragement.

Thank you for helping us pass on the hope to the nearly 10% of the population who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mandy and Me


I put in long hours at my computer. And at the end of the day, you’ll often find me watching television as a means of winding down. I’m a fan of Antiques Roadshow, Wheel of Fortune, and Master Chef. But I also like a good detective show and was disappointed when The Closer wrapped up its final season.

But I have never been a fan of Criminal Minds. I find the show to be voyeuristic and almost celebratory in its exploration of perversion and evil. My spirit recoils at the sight of torture. I choose not to numb myself to the horror this show depicts. As someone who speaks in the nation’s prisons and to women who struggle in the aftermath of violence and sexual abuse with post-traumatic stress disorder (see the Trauma Queens website at, the realities of evil are personal to me.

This week Mandy Patinkin came out with surprising public statement. “[Performing on] Criminal Minds was very destructive to my soul and my personality.” (Huffington Post) In his interview, he talks about how immersing himself in a show that depicted the rape and degradation of women week after week nearly destroyed him.

A question we might consider asking is what effect does watching the rape and degradation of women week after week have on us as viewers? Does it somehow impel us toward justice? Or does it dull our sense of outrage for violence against women? Does Criminal Minds–or any other–build our worldview of truth and carry us forward in a positive direction, or pull us into the horror and make us a voyeur to evil?

Questions, I believe, worth asking.


Bringing Hope for PTSD: Why We Can’t Shut Up

This past week my friend and colleague Wanda and I spoke to therapists and administrators at one of Michigan’s top residential treatment centers for children about our experience with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our story is unique. A desperate woman from the West Coast who’d unknowingly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder all her life and had been through every imaginable treatment took an unexpected call from a woman from the Midwest who immediately recognized her symptoms as PTSD. The desperate woman is my now-best friend Wanda. The woman who surprised her on the phone that day is me. In one God-appointed call, Wanda and I bonded for life. Weeks later, I was on a plane to the West Coast to meet her. Within months, she and I were at a trauma treatment center that gave her back her life in just ten days.

I knew about this treatment center–Intensive Trauma Therapy (ITT) in Morgantown, West Virginia–because a friend of mine (Jolene Philo, author of A Different Dream for My Child) had taken her son there. He, too, had tried treatment after treatment over the course of his life with no results and was living on the fragile edge of despair. After five days of out-patient treatment, he’d left, free from many of the symptoms of PTSD and able to cope with life for the first time in years. Just a year later, he’d landed his dream job, married, and was delivering lectures in his field of work.

Wanda’s ten-day out-patient treatment at ITT accomplished more than the combined days, weeks, and months she’d spent in a numerous residential and out-patient programs across the nation, as well as years of counseling. A lifetime of symptoms melted away, and she left equipped to deal with the challenges and realities of life.

On day three at ITT, life-long nightmares and rages disappeared. Behaviors, fears, and battles that had been part of her life for as long as she could remember fell away each successive day. And in the time since she’s left ITT, Wanda’s continued to make enormous strides in physical and mental health, as well as in her career and personal life.

One year out from her ten-day treatment at ITT, Wanda’s speaking to counselors and therapists about her experience and delivering hope to PTSD sufferers across the nation. I accompany her as we talk about her journey from despair to hope and healing.  And while her recovery came through a specific treatment model–the Instinctual Trauma Response Model developed by Dr. Louis Tinnen, the founder of ITT–Wanda attributes her ultimate healing to God.

Those suffering from PTSD call us, write us, and seek us out almost every day. The millions who suffer with PTSD in this nation deal with ravaging symptoms and often suffer in silence. Faith communities often see a division between “secular and sacred” and are reluctant to point PTSD sufferers and those who deal with mental illnesses to effective therapies.

But Wanda and I can’t stop talking. We’re overwhelmingly grateful to God for pointing us to the right treatment at the right time to accomplish healing. We can’t point people to ITT fast enough. We know a growing number whose stories were like Wanda’s: people who were living on the ragged edge of despair, were misdiagnosed and sought every available treatment without success.

Most came to ITT as a last resort to suicide. Days later, they left healed and with their hope renewed.

Opportunities continue to open up for Wanda and me to speak to therapists, individuals, churches, educators, and health professionals about hope for healing from post-traumatic stress disorder. We’ll talk about our story and our hope as often as we can. The statistics are simply too staggering, and the realities too stark:

  • 70% of adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their life–over 223 million people. Over 20% of them will go on to develop PTSD.
  • An estimated 8% of the general population have PTSD right now. That figure jumps to 24% in the inner city.
  • An estimated 1 out of 10 women develop PTSD, compared to 1 out of 20 men.
  • 60-80% of those who experience severe trauma will develop PTSD.
  • 15-43% of girls and 14-43% of boys will experience a traumatic event
  • 3-15% girls and 1-6% of boys will develop PTSD

If you know a faith community, community organization, mental health organization, hospital, educational institution, or group that would like to hear our story of hope, feel free to contact us.

We can’t shut up.

A Simple and Effective PTSD Strategy

Expert traumatologist Margaret Vasquez recently shared a simple yet effective strategy for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder at our trauma blog at I’ve seen this strategy work, and it’s helpful for medical trauma, childhood trauma, and almost any kind of crisis where the brain has been overwhelmed and the trauma survivor gotten “stuck” in the past.

So take a gander at the blog. We’re placing many helpful resources there as we begin to build a community of support and encouragement for those who’ve experienced trauma, as well as their loved ones and family.

From My Soapbox

The call started out as a networking conversation. My business partner/best friend and I were chatting with a colleague about ways to help his fledgling media venture.

But within minutes, the conversation turned to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This young man’s father-in-law had recently returned from a war-torn nation where his life and the lives of those he loved had been threatened and ravaged. He was having flashbacks, was unable to sleep or focus on daily tasks, was experiencing symptoms that mimicked heart attacks, and was showing other signs of PTSD.

But, unfortunately, he was reluctant to seek trauma treatment. His beliefs as a Christian made him skeptical about “secular” psychology.

I understand his hesitation. I was brought up in a home where I was taught to regard the Bible as the final authority on all things. And I still believe the Bible to be the final word on all matters in life.

But I also believe that all healing and all truth are from God. I don’t believe in “Christian and secular” aspirin, “Christian and secular” surgeries, “Christian and secular” music, or “Christian and secular” anything. All truth belongs to God. All healing comes from God. And if I’m looking for a surgeon, I’m going to look for the best one I can find. If I’m going to look for a therapist or counselor, I’m going to look for the best one I can find. That will mean the individual I choose works within the parameters of my Christian worldview. But that goal can be accomplished with either a Christian therapist or someone who does not share my faith. No matter who I choose, I must always be discriminating.

When it comes to the brain, Christians often are reluctant to admit that the physical, chemical process that apply to our liver, kidneys, spleens, and hearts don’t stop at our necks. Those processes play a major role in trauma, mental illness, and the critical practices of psychology and psychiatry.

After completing dozens of treatment efforts in some of the best Christian and “secular” counseling, residential, out-patient, and inpatient programs in the nation, a dear friend of mine finally found successful treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at Intensive Trauma Therapy in West Virginia. The treatment changed her life in profound ways and gave her the healing she’d prayed for for decades. Other people I know have found tremendous help, as well, from therapy based on the Instinctual Trauma Response Model.

Trauma therapy confronts lies with truth. It tears down walls of deception that bind victims to the past. And it does so by utilizing God-given biological and chemical processes. Thank God for new breakthroughs in trauma therapy that can bring healing to those who often suffer for decades treating symptoms, rather than root causes.

My prayer is that Christians begin to recognize the growing epidemic of trauma victims in their families, churches, workplaces, and communities and embrace the healing that’s offered through trauma treatment: healing that comes–like all healing–from the hand of God.

New Trauma Blog Launched

This week several friends and I launched a new blog on the topic of trauma at Over the past two years, I’ve become increasingly interested in the topic of trauma, and I’ve been privileged to get to know some of the best trauma therapists in the world and see the results of their work in the lives of my closest friends.

And every day as I watch the news. read Facebook posts, talk to growing numbers of hurting friends and relatives, and listen to the sounds of emergency vehicles racing past my window, my sense of urgency grows.

An epidemic of untreated trauma has gripped our nation. We busy ourselves treating its symptoms–addictions, eating disorders, self-abusive behaviors, compulsions, etc. and entertain ourselves watching people on television struggle through the symptoms in endless cycles: Hoarders, Intervention, Biggest Loser, Celebrity Rehab, and numerous other shows.

But we seldom treat the root cause: trauma.

I invite you to join me and my friends (the Trauma Queens) and share your trauma story. Many of us have found hope and healing through effective treatments.

Some of us have walked through lifetimes of frustration seeking help for the wrong thing first in treatment centers and counseling that address peripheral issues. And many of us have been shamed for not “getting over” our trauma sooner and seeking treatment.

We’ve developed relationships with some of the nation’s top trauma experts. We’re making connections with organizations involved in human trafficking. Next week my associate and I will be speaking at a nationally-recognized agency that is launching an initiative for children who have been trafficked.

We invite you to become part of the community of hope on Facebook as well at PTSD Trauma Hope and Healing (

If you know someone who’s experienced a crisis where their life was threatened or someone they loved was threatened and they struggle with symptoms of PTSD, please tell them there IS hope.

If you know someone whose baby underwent invasive medical procedures as an infant before 1986 and now struggles with symptoms of PTSD, please tell them about our blog. The medical community did not believe that babies experienced pain before the mid- to late 1980s and often did surgery on infants without painkillers or anesthesia. Many of those children today suffer with symptoms of PTSD and are unaware of its relationships to their childhood trauma and, more importantly, that effective treatment is available.

Few things areImage as exciting as seeing someone without hope find it again. Those who struggle in cycles of addiction, self-abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other behaviors often live without hope.

The truth can set you free.