Your Story: The Power to Set the World Ablaze

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I was 19 years old the night a serial rapist crawled through my parents’ kitchen window and attacked me in my bed.

The perpetrator–a man named James–had raped more than forty women and been prosecuted seven times.

Each time, he was freed to rape again.

And again.

And again.

My parents were shocked. Unthinkable things like this didn’t happen in their world–certainly not to their children. My father instructed me not to talk about what had happened. He perceived my assault as shameful. Talking about it was simply beyond his reach.

My dad had Asberger’s (although I didn’t know it at the time). God was good–all the time (which he is). But to Dad, acknowledging anger, grief, questions, and doubt was an abandonment of faith, not an acknowledgment that God is there for us in our worst moments. Later, as my father grew into his senior years, he forgot my assault ever happened.

I never forgot. My memories had taken me hostage.

I struggled for two years–haunted by memories, flashbacks, fear, depression. The churches I attended viewed depression as either a sin or a mark of spiritual weakness. No one knew about trauma or PTSD. And Christians were overtly and subtly fed the message that they were supposed to be “in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time.”


So I denied my anger and questions–for a while. Until I decided that I was only fooling myself. If God really was love, he had to care about me in the most painful times of my life. God must care about my anger and my questions and my

doubts–perhaps more than anything about me.

In my questions, I discover who I believe God really is and face my self-deceptions.

And like the psalmists who expressed pain and questions and doubt, God wants me to come to him in my suffering.

In his book To Be Told, Dan Allender tells us, “So take seriously the story that God has given you to live. It’s time to read your own life, because your story is the one that could set us all ablaze.”

Two years after my assault, God brought me face-to-face with my bitter, unforgiving heart toward the man who’d assaulted me and so many other women. God taught me what it meant to forgive our worst enemies and those who despitefully use us. God showed me my own murderous heart and that the ground is truly level at the foot of the cross.

As I discovered forgiveness and gratitude, I was overwhelmed with the desire to tell my story.

Not because my story is important–but because we are all connected at the soul level through our stories. When we see a glimpse of ourselves in someone else’s story, we begin to believe that their healing, their grace, their miracle is also possible for us.

We have the power to set the world ablaze as we share our stories of hope and healing.

And as we give to others, we receive–healing, renewal, and actual rewiring in our brains. “Stuck” parts of our stories are healed through the power of truth. They become integrated and appropriately filed into memory. And we experience the “renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:22)

Your life is a flickering flame…waiting to ignite hope in others. Tell your story.

Whose story has inspired your life? In what ways have they influenced you?

A Letter to Jackson’s Mom

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I was in a hurry to get home.

I’d just gotten my hair cut and picked up a few groceries.

It had been a rough week. My best friend Wanda’s mother had died. That same day, we’d learned that while Wanda and I had been in California the week before at her mother’s bedside, Wanda had been dropped from her critically-needed health insurance. My ninety-three year-old father had been hospitalized with a stroke. And my daughter had given birth in a C-section marked by traumatic complications. Baby Josiah had been born early and tiny, but not without drama.

So I had reasons to rush home and attend to a list of priorities. I was exhausted beyond words as I slowed to stop at a traffic light.

A thin young man in jeans and a faded tee shirt sat on a backpack at the curb beyond the entrance to a local superstore. He held a cardboard sign angled at oncoming traffic. I couldn’t read the words.

I needed to go home and check on Jess, make calls for Wanda, hear my father’s voice. I needed a nap, for heaven’s sake.

But there he sat, head down, silently calling me.

The light turned green, and I circled through the gas station behind him so I could pull beside him on the exit drive from the store and read the sign.

“Hungry. Need food. Grateful for anything.”

Grateful–the word pulled me back into traffic, then into the parking lot of the gas station.

I turned off the car and headed into the convenience store and filled my arms with bread, peanut butter, fruit, a few sandwiches, and two bottles of water. The man at the cash register questioned me. I bought gas there often.

“No gas today?”

“No. Just a few groceries for the guy on the corner.” I pointed up the knoll to the busy corner.

“I didn’t even know he was there.”

“Yeah. He’s there,” I said as I took my bag. “Looks like he could use a little extra help today.”

“That’s pretty kind of you.”

“Not really. Not if you’ve ever loved someone who hasn’t had enough to eat or a place to live. You’re just grateful if you ever find them again. And if you don’t, you hope someone is feeding them for you.”

I called out to the young man as I climbed the grassy hill behind him. He walked over to me quickly and took the bag. His name was Jackson. He was headed to San Diego. He’d hitchhiked to Michigan from California and learned that Michigan winters can be hard. He was heading back. He told me the route he’d planned, and he let me pray for him.

Later, as I drove away, I regretted that I’d forgotten to ask if I could call his mother or a loved one for him. If there was someone who needed to know he was safe. I promise I’ll ask next time, Jackson.

Dear Jackson’s Mom,

I met your son yesterday. He had kind eyes. He was gentle and polite to me–you would be proud. He’s headed back to California to be with people he knows. I pray they are good people who are kind to him. I’m a mom who knows what it’s like not to know where her son is. Today, know that your son has food. That a mother cared for him and gave him food and is praying for him. I’ve been praying for Jackson every day since I met him.

God is taking care of your son in ways you can’t see. Don’t give up.

A Grateful Mom


Moving Past the Pain: How to Help Someone in Trauma

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The call comes in the middle of the night.

A tragic accident.


The devastation and betrayal of domestic violence.

Sexual assault.

In one stunning moment, your friend, colleague, church member, or loved one’s life has changed forever. And they’re turning to you for help. What do you do?


It can be difficult to establish priorities in the pain and chaos of the moment. But professionals who deal with trauma tell us that it’s important to establish priorities for healing for those who experience devastating life events. The simple acronym PTSD can help you remember what those priorities should be.


Your first goal for someone who’s experienced trauma is to reinforce their shattered sense of safety. Reassure them that their fears, confusion, and anxiety are part of the trauma process, and provide appropriate measures for their comfort and safety.

Someone who’s experienced trauma will have difficulty managing the normal routine of life. Encourage them to maintain as much of their routine as possible–eating, sleeping, and caring for themselves. It’s natural that they may need time off from work or other responsibilities, but encourage them to engage with life.


Someone who’s experienced trauma will be triggered by the environment where the trauma occurred, as well as sounds, smells, images, objects, and people who remind them of the event. Triggers can cause wide-ranging symptoms: reliving the event, nightmares, anxiety attacks, loss of appetite, nausea, headaches, dissociation (zoning out), obsessive-compulsive behaviors, insomnia and other symptoms. As much as possible, reduce exposure to triggers, but understand that it’s impossible to control triggering events. Triggers are part of PTSD. Here are a few suggestions for managing them:

  • Comfort techniques: pet your dog, listen to music, curl up with a blanket, take a bath, pray, call a friend,write or create art, go to a favorite place
  • Distraction techniques: read a book, watch tv, call a friend, watch TV or a movie (calming or uplifting), exercise, take a walk, clean

Someone who experiences will also dissociate, or “zone out” to escape flashbacks or troubling memories and emotions. Sometimes the person will feel numb, as if the world is floating past them. To help ground them and keep them focused on the present, ask them to: Name five things in the room. Suck on candy or drink something cold. Stroke something with texture, like a pet. Sniff pleasant scents. Repeat words or phrases.


The second important stage of addressing trauma is helping the person process their traumatic memories and story. The memories have become “stuck” in the right side of the brain and need to be delivered to the left side through trauma treatment. One means of doing this is by having the person create a written story of the event, accompanied by drawings. This helps the person produce a unified narrative of their experience that becomes filed in their brain as an event that happened in the past. Trauma stories are also processed using other methods.


Once the trauma has been processed, the final stage is for the individual to deepen understanding of themselves, of their experiences, and richer understanding of life as they gain wisdom and resilience from the experience. This is done as the individual as the person re-evaluates their story in light of new knowledge and wisdom. For the Christian, this means apply the perspective of the Word of God. Writing and meditation on Scripture can often be a key component of this process.






Love Letters from the Edge Free on Kindle Today!


LoveLettersCoverLove Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling from Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life is FREE on Kindle today.

Realities Regarding PTSD and Trauma

  • One in four women will experience sexual abuse in her lifetime.
  • One in four women will experience domestic violence.
  • An estimated 70% of adults have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lifetime, and 20% will go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • An estimated 1 out of 10 women will develop PTSD in her lifetime. 13% of police and 15% of firefighters develop PTSD.
  • 25% of women who suffer breast cancer and those who suffer heart attacks will experience PTSD.
  • More than 33% of youth who witness community violence will develop PTSD.

Simply stated, trauma is any event that overwhelms the brain’s ability to cope, is perceived as a threat to one’s safety, and causes physical, emotional, or psychological distress or harm. PTSD is triggered by a terrifying event. The event becomes “stuck” in the right side of the brain when the left side shuts down in response to the trauma. The traumatic event can’t be completely processed and replays, leaving the person in the fight-flight-freeze mode, which produces trauma-related symptoms.

PTSD in the Pews

Someone you know is suffering from trauma. In an average rural or suburban church of 200, nearly twenty members (approximately 8%) will be suffering from PTSD, many in silence. Most won’t know that their symptoms are related to trauma or that treating symptoms isn’t the same as treating trauma.

It that church is an urban church of 2,000, the statistics for the occurrence of PTSD are the same for soldiers returning from Afghanistan–more than 30%. That means that over 600 people in the congregation are suffering from PTSD. What is equally significant is that studies now tell us that the effects of PTSD become passed down to our children.

No matter what many roles you may wear–mother, father, pastor, community leader, business owner, medical worker, educator, friend, mentor–you need to know about PTSD. Why? Because people you know are suffering. Many don’t understand why. And many don’t understand that hope and healing are available.

Who do you know who needs a love letter from God?

Love Letters from the Edge is recommended by The Gathering for Mental Health in the Church at Saddleback.

For more information, download our FREE ebook The Truth about Trauma at




Healing PTSD through Writing

Photo Credit: Photo by anankkml. From

Photo Credit: Photo by anankkml. From

On June 1st, my friend Wanda Sanchez and I launched our first co-written book together, Love Letters from the Edge. We wrote this book as two women who’ve experienced abuse and trauma, as well as undergoing successful trauma treatment. Our goal is to provide encouragement and resources for women who have suffered from the devastating effects of wounding life experiences.

One of the most life-changing elements of our trauma therapy was engaging in writing that helped us bring significance and resolution to our traumatic experiences.

In fact, we found writing to be so important to our healing that we incorporated focused writing activities into Love Letters from the Edge. Many of those activities include incorporating Scripture passages as the reader is encouraged to confront negative patterns of thinking with the truth of God. Many of the lies women struggle with (men as well) find their roots in painful and traumatic experiences.

Jan Fishler, author, speaker, writing coach, and creator/presenter of writing workshops, tells about the role that writing played in her recovery from trauma.

Fishler states, “I’d repeated my adoption story many times without the benefit of healing the abandonment issues that were the foundation of my trauma. It wasn’t the act of putting pen to paper either (actually spending hours at the computer), recalling memories as they came up, and turning them into scenes. The real healing didn’t begin until my older, wiser self began to make sense of my situation, filling the gaps between scenes with a perspective that comes only from wisdom and age. In my case, this happened quite by accident.”

One of the most healing aspects of therapeutic writing is the process of transformation and resolution that comes when incomplete, unprocessed, and unresolved traumatic experiences are given new significance by a wiser self that speaks a new ending to an old story.

For the Christian, that healing comes as we gain God’s perspective of ourself and begin to live in that reality.

So where can you begin?

Wherever you may be on your journey through trauma, begin by journaling your experience. Take on the role of a reporter and get down the facts. The goal is not to re-experience the event, but to observe it from a distance. The goal is to record, not to judge or evaluate.

When you and your therapist feel you’re ready, take your writing to a deeper level. Look for significance. How did the experience leave you “stuck”? What effect did it have on you? Allow the voices of maturity, perspective, and truth within you to speak to these broken places. The goal is to show compassion,affirmation, understanding, and to unburden these broken parts of yourself through written dialogue.

As your story is transferred to the written page and then back through your eyes and into your mind, your story is reprocessed by both the right and left hemispheres, helping your brain to heal and your trauma experience to be “rewired” with a beginning, middle and end. This same process is often true when trauma survivors create art and music.

Writing is accessible to almost anyone. For more information about writing as a path to healing, visit James Pennebaker’s website.

What about you? Have you incorporated writing in your trauma therapy? Share your story with us.

John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Love Notes from God’s Heart: #1 I See and Know You


On June 1st, Love Letters from the Edge releases. Over the next ten days, Wanda and I will be posting notes to the brokenhearted from God taken from Love Letters.

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Have you ever wondered where God is when all the horrible things in life happen to you?

Have you ever felt abandoned and alone? Have you ever prayed a thousand times for the torture of your life to stop until your prayers seemed to stick in your throat?

If you’re like most people I know, the answer is Yes.

Here’s God’s love note to you.

My Beloved Child,

I understand why the world doesn’t make sense to you, and I understand your rage and pain. As you come to know me better, you will recognize that trying to understand answers beyond your comprehension is less important than trusting my character.

Rescue is not always about taking out and taking away. Rescue also comes in gifts of presence, endurance, and purpose.

You didn’t see me. You didn’t heart me. And you didn’t feel me in your pain. But I was beside you, holding you close to my heart, loving you, and wiping away every tear. I came for you, and I have never left your side. –Your Loving Father

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How Trauma Taught Me It Can Be Right to Be Wrong


For most of my childhood and teen years, no matter how loudly I spoke to my dad or how many words I poured out, I felt unheard.

My opinions didn’t matter. Sharing my ideas with my father felt like trying to set up patio furniture in a hurricane. I could barely get a thought out of my mouth when Dad hurled it into oblivion.

My father was R.I.G.H.T. All of the time. No questions asked.

This past year I went for trauma therapy. As my team of therapists evaluated my history, I was certain they’d focus on my two sexual assaults, the deaths I’d witnessed, and other significant traumatic incidents in my life.

Instead, they focused on my relationship with my father. The truth was, that even though my dad had provided well for me, protected me, cared for me, and loved me to the best of his ability, his inabilities to communicate safety, love, compassion, and acceptance had a profound impact on my childhood.

I grew up feeling abandoned, isolated, alone. I longed for my father’s approval and became a slave to performance, always with one eye on what other people thought of me. Unfortunately, I became a wife and mom who was driven to be R.I.G.H.T. All of the time. No questions asked. Until I admitted that I, too, needed help.

Trauma treatment, I discovered, isn’t only about sexual abuse or the tragedies of war. It’s about  the deep hurts that stop us in our tracks and keep us stuck in the past.

Getting unstuck takes courage and work. It’s worth every bit of investment we make. And healing IS possible, no matter what form our trauma takes.

I now understand it’s a terrible thing to be right–only (in the words of my pastor). It is far better to admit that we are broken and on a journey to wholeness. My journey began when I admitted my need for treatment and trauma that was rooted in childhood–even though I grew up in a home with two well-intentioned parents who loved me very well in many ways.

Admitting we have been hurt and that we have hurt others is not an admission of failure. It is an admission of our humanity and shared need for grace. And it is often the first step in our healing.


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Ripping Off the Wallpaper

wallpaper-removalFor most of the years of our marriage, Dan and I have lived in fixer-uppers.

Much of our marriage has consisted of tearing down and rebuilding–usually one room at a time–until we finished an entire house. The thought of taking on an entire 2,400 hundred turn-of-the century farmhouse overwhelmed me. But I could handle the thought of taking on one room at a time. So that’s what we did–demo-ing and renovating our way through room after room, house after house for more than thirty-five years of marriage.

A lot of that demo began with a scabby patch of old wallpaper that just had to come down before something new could replace it.A rip of the wallpaper was always my first act of commitment to the task. After that, there was no going back.

A few months ago I finished trauma treatment. A lot of stuff in my life has to be torn down before the new can take its place.

I can spend days and hours stuck in fear, wondering if the task is too big and whether or not I should just keep on living in the musty vestiges of an old life.

Or I can peel up that corner of paper and commit to tearing up just one wall today and taking on just one room. Because if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that God calls me to a hope and a future.

What’s God called YOU to today? Rip off some wallpaper. Commit. Tear out something old so God can create the new things he envisions for you.

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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?

What Writing My First Novel Taught Me

My thanks to Donna Winters for inviting me to guest blog for her at Great Lakes Romances. Visit her blog to find great books by Michigan authors.

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Hallie stuck her head of tangled red curls around a corner of my mind when I was twenty-two years old. She was just fifteen, and for the next ten years she refused to leave me alone until I finally sat down and told her story in my first contemporary Christian novel, Hallie’s Heart and the sequel, Morningsong.

Hallie blames herself for the drowning death of her little sister. She accuses God of being a monster who watches his children suffer. After struggling for two years with her guilt, she steals her father’s Harley and heads off to the scene of the tragedy–her Aunt Mona’s Lake Michigan beach house to face her demons. What unfolds is her story of confronting God in the rubble of her guilt, anger, and feelings of abandonment.

Why did I write Hallie’s Heart and the sequel Morningsong?

I grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, alone the Lake Michigan shoreline. I wanted to write a novel that incorporated places and experiences that had influenced my life. The book is set, in part, on the grounds of Maranatha Bible conference and in other locations in the West Michigan area, such as the Cocoa Cottage bed and breakfast.

I was attacked by a serial rapist when I was nineteen years old. I wanted to write a book that honestly confronted questions about God’s goodness and sovereignty in tension with our suffering.

What would you like readers to take away from your book?

God is good, all the time–no matter what circumstances look like to us. Life is hard and sometimes just plain awful, but God’s love never fails, and his goodness never changes.

What did you learn writing Hallie’s Heart?

This book was my opportunity to ask God tough questions about my own abuse and horrible circumstances my dearest family members had struggled through. I found hope and strength through my characters. I learned it’s okay to question God and bring him our anger. That’s not something I was allowed to do when I was growing up and that I felt I was allowed to do even as a young adult Christian.

I also learned that faith often grows in the darkness and the silence, when we may not sense the presence of God at all.

What was your favorite scene in the book?

Hallie's Heart cover smallerIn one critical scene in the book, Hallie and her Aunt Mona are having an argument on the breakwater at Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon as a storm comes in. This key scene changes the course of the book. And I found that at the end of the chapter, I’d written a scene totally different from what I’d planned. Sometimes your characters simply take on a life of their own and surprise you.

What’s the toughest test you’ve faced as a writer?

Although I write fiction, I also write nonfiction. My writing always flows from my own conflicts and personal and spiritual growth. I’m a consultant on post-traumatic stress disorder. This means that my “research” has included painful trauma and PTSD treatment for a number of kinds of traumatic experiences. I’d rather do research that takes me to the south of France, but I love knowing that my writing has impact. Check out In June Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Suffering from Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life will be release with Kregel Publishers. I wrote this book with my best friend and colleague Wanda Sanchez.

Where do you write?

Typically, in my living room. Our house is small. I do have an office, but it’s crowded with bookshelves and office equipment. I prefer sitting in my living room so I can look out the front window at the bird feeder and the horses across the street.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hallie’s Heart won the Christy Award for contemporary Christian fiction. I’m the author of ten books and co-author of a number of others. I served as managing editor for the Hope in the Mourning grief Bible (Zondervan 2013) and contributed to the Holy Bible Mosaic (Tyndale), as a contributing editor to David Jeremiah’s study Bible What It Says, What It Means, What It Means for You.

I’m a co-founder of two Christian writer’s conferences: the Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I’m also an expert consultant for, writing to an audience of two million caregivers across the nation.

I have two adult children and live with my husband Dan in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. shellyI can often be found in the nation’s prisons speaking to women with Daughters of Destiny women’s prison ministry with my friend and colleague Wanda Sanchez or consulting on post-traumatic stress disorder as the co-founder of

I’m also a proud Harley-riding grandma in search of the nation’s best cupcake and looking for the next place to tell someone about my great God.