Monday, January 30, 2012

The story we hear over and over, but with a happy ending!

This is a reprint from Prison Fellowship's "New This Week" Stories. It's so good and full of hope, I had to share it with all of you. It's the story of a young woman and how she overcame great odds. As a volunteer with Hope Aglow, I do a Bible study in our local jail. I have heard this story so many times. Maybe as you read it you can pray for the women in our society who fall prey to the same mistakes. The best thing about this woman's story is how all things really did work together for her good.

Seven. The number of times Sheaveal Beasley turned in her street clothes for a prison uniform. It wasn’t the path she would have chosen. But when she looks back now, she knows that her life’s journey has only just begun.

Thirteen. Sheaveal’s age when she began taking responsibility for her five younger siblings. Growing up in Punta Gorda, Florida, “we cherished each other because we didn’t have much,” she says. Her parents worked hard when Sheaveal was younger, but they eventually started doing marijuana and the family was largely left in Sheaveal’s hands. Resourceful and hopeful, Sheaveal remained in school, graduating with a softball scholarship to attend Miami Dade College.

Sheaveal and her daughter Amber.
Three. The number of months Sheaveal completed at college before dropping out. It all happened because of a guy… a guy who did drugs. “I wanted to fit in,” Sheaveal admits. “I fell in love with him.” She began smoking marijuana and doing cocaine. Then she lost her scholarship and had to quit school.

Ninety. The year Sheaveal got caught the first time. She shoplifted to feed her drug habit and landed behind bars. First, jail. Then, prison. After getting out, she began writing bad checks to pay for drugs. She violated probation and found herself back behind bars. The cycle had begun, and it would be years before it came to a stop. “I couldn’t deal with the guilt and the shame after having [lost] all of the scholarship,” she laments. “I kept on [using drugs] to numb the feelings that I felt inside.”

Six. The number of children Sheaveal gave birth to while shuttling back and forth between cocaine and prison. Not long after getting clean and giving birth to her daughter Amber, Sheaveal fell back into a rut and went to prison for the fourth time. She had five sons over the next 11 years. A few of them were born cocaine positive.

Three. The number of family members who died in 1997: her mother, her father and her grandmother. While in jail in Charlotte , North Carolina, to be closer to her children’s father Leroy, she received word that her mother had passed away. Five weeks later, her father and grandmother died. “They were my backbone. They were always there for me no matter what I did.” Not long after, Leroy fell sick with cancer. He died in 2004, and Sheaveal was left alone with five of her kids and many financial burdens. “I felt myself slipping back into the old me,” she remembers. So she packed up the kids and moved back to Florida. Desperate for companionship, she began to date an old acquaintance. Not long after they started dating, he began to beat her. Sheaveal landed in the hospital with a brain injury. That’s when she decided to take matters into her own hands. She stole a gun and set out to execute justice. But she got caught before she could enact her plan.

Twenty-five. The number of years Sheaveal was facing when she went to prison the last time. That’s when she finally gave up and cried out, “God, I can’t do this again. If you don’t help, I will die out here!” God answered her by bringing Jeremiah 29:11 to mind: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” That promise gave Sheaveal hope that she could find life beyond self-destruction.

Four and a half. The number of years the judge actually gave her. “That was one of the times in my life that God showed me that He is true to His Word,” she said. During those four and a half years at Broward Correctional Institution in Fort Lauderdale, Sheaveal did everything she could to change the trajectory of her life. She began hanging around positive people, went to church, read the Bible and joined the choir. She was certified as a help desk analyst and became a peer facilitator for a drug rehab program. Still, she admitted, there was an emptiness. “No one in my family was talking to me. Everyone was disappointed because I went to prison again.” She needed someone to fight for her.

Two. Mentors. After attending a Prison Fellowship event in prison, Sheaveal learned that she could request a volunteer mentor to help her transition back to life on the outside. A year before her release, Prison Fellowship matched her with two women: Pat Kelly and June Nielsen. “I remember the first day when Pat and June walked in there. I smiled because I just knew that God had sent them to me.” Every other week, Pat and June showed up to encourage her and study the Bible with her. For Pat, mentoring Sheaveal was easy. “By the time we became her mentors,” says Pat, “she had already come to a point in her life that she wanted to follow God, and she was going to do everything she could to make that happen … We just came along in the process that God had already started.”

Twenty-nine. October, 2010 – the day Sheaveal was released from prison the last time.Pat and June met her at the gate and took her out to eat at Cracker Barrel. “After eating prison food for four and a half years, Cracker Barrel was like heaven,” Sheaveal admits. They helped her get settled into a halfway house, where she stayed for three months. During that time, Prison Fellowship also connected her with Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church – her “bridge church” –which had committed to helping Sheaveal with her basic needs. They helped her find a more permanent place to live with a woman from the church, and helped her get a job with a local ministry. “I realize that I’m not alone, that I don’t have to do it alone,” Sheaveal says. “I have all of these people I can call.”

One. The number of years Sheaveal stopped dating. Not long after getting out of prison, Sheaveal met a guy. “I thought it was real good,” she says. That’s when Pat and June stepped in. “They reminded me that my downfall was that I would get with a guy and forget everything else,” she remembers. So Sheaveal decided to make a commitment to herself to steer clear of romantic entanglements for a year, in order to focus on her relationship with Christ and make positive life decisions. She stayed true to her decision, thanks to support from Pat and June. “They’re like sisters to me,” rejoices Sheaveal. “They’re like glue. They make me feel like I’m normal. They have shown me how to laugh. They’re showing me how to live.”

Six. Her children. As soon as she got out, Sheaveal began working to regain custody of her children. Last November, she got a job at a beauty supply shop and is anticipating a promotion to assistant manager. She also began renting her own apartment – with assistance from Coral Ridge – and is in the process of paying back child support. She hasn’t regained custody of her children yet, but she talks to them on the phone frequently. Her daughter Amber is in college studying to become a dentist. And all five of her sons are doing well, most of them living with Sheaveal’s aunt.

Forty-sixYears of life. When Sheaveal looks at the past, she doesn’t despair. “I view the past as a shadow, a dark shadow. I view the present as a light … it’s light and joy and peace.”

Monday, January 9, 2012


Life has a way of layering.  Let me explain.  I used to live in Michigan where winters can be extremely cold.  When temperatures were going to drop well below freezing, it was not uncommon for weather reporters to caution us, “Be careful not to get frostbite.”  They suggested layering our clothing to keep in body heat and keep out the frigid temperatures.

We are born with a survival instinct that cautions us against mental and emotional frostbite.  We instinctively begin to layer protection against what we may perceive as a cold, cruel world, from an early age.  Psychologists call these layers, defense mechanisms.  Ways of thinking, behaving, and relating that help us survive as children but often become counter-productive, or even destructive as we grow older.
Let’s think about some of these ‘layers.’  I’ll name two or three that have been in my personal defense arsenal, and you add a few of your own.  Ready to work with me?  Okay…

I learned from a very early age that no one can be trusted.  So I became…get ready for it…”hyper-vigilant.”  I was ever on the alert, stressed out by the possibility that someone, anyone, might hurt me, or at least want to take advantage of me.  Hyper-vigilance can come across as suspicious, overly reactive, or even jealous.  It stresses us and defeats its own purpose because when you don’t trust anyone or anything, you may miss it when an actual threat comes on the scene and mistrust your perception. After all, you’ve been wrong before.

The foundation for this defense mechanism is underdeveloped trust.  Trust is the first stepping stone to human psychosocial development.  How do we free ourselves from this unhealthy ‘layer’?

 We do it by learning how to trust appropriately within the context of safe, healthy, relationships.  How do we find a safe place to work on this development?  The safest place I know is in a healthy church, small group, or mature Christian friend who has demonstrated loyalty and honesty in the past.  

You can test every relationship, every advice or counsel offered, and every principle taught by measuring it against the Word of God, God’s personal letters to you—letters provided to help you grow and become more like Him.

Another defense mechanism which helped me survive early years but became counter-productive later on was denial.  The human mind often refuses to accept that which seems to threatening or destructive for survival…so the person in denial may look right at something and not see it.  Block out the threat…  Sometimes we alter our perception of the threat to make it less intimidating.  We ignore or distort any reality we think we can’t survive.

I remember once, in junior high school, being asked by a teacher to write an essay on what animal I’d like to be if I could choose.  Some classmates chose a bear, some a lion, one wanted to be an eagle.  I chose the ostrich.  I didn’t have a clue about what my choice was telling me…and others.  The ostrich hides her head in the sand and pretends the danger doesn’t exist.  A perfect example of denial.  Denial may keep us alive when we are children caught in an inescapable web of danger…it may keep us sane, but the time comes when we have the power to take action, to remove ourselves from the danger, and get on with the business of living.  If we maintain our defense mechanism of denial, we won’t be able to free ourselves because we have accepted the false belief that “it isn’t so bad,” or “there is nothing I can do,” or “this will stop if I just keep hoping, or praying.”  It won’t stop unless you take action.  You have to stop it.  Denial is not your friend.  I had to take my head out of the sand before I could free myself from the abuse I grew up with. It is the truth that sets us free…Jesus told us that.  Denial distorts or denies the truth and keeps the soul in bondage.  It is a layer that keeps us in the darkness when life is meant to be lived in the light.

I’ve found over the years that books by godly authors can help me identify and deal with the multiple layers of unhealthy coping mechanisms that I adopted during the trauma I experienced growing up.  The measure of a books worth is it’s alignment with the Word of God, the absolute truth.

 Some books have been donated to this ministry that may help you identify and deal with your personal ‘layers.’  They are available (with a donation of whatever you can afford) from Hope Aglow Ministries, Inc..  Write or call us and request a book if you want help removing the layers that may be weighing you down with unhelpful or destructive patterns of living and relating.  We’ll accept a donation of whatever you are able to afford.  Scholarships are available for those who need them.  We hope to hear from you.

Hope Aglow Ministries
P.O. Box 10157
Lynchburg, VA 24506


Love in Christ,

Linda Settles