I met Talena on a social site for writers called WANAtribe five months after the death of her youngest son. She was grieving, I was still sick with mast cell activation syndrome, and we were both participating in NaNoWriMo, doing what we loved but in desperate need of a touch from God. I quickly recognized in Talena a kindred spirit that went beyond our mutual passions for writing, nourishing foods, and a good cup of tea. As I've gotten to know her better, I've been amazed time and again at how often her words reflect my heart and resonate inside my soul.
You may remember that her newest novel, Finding Heaven, played a significant role in my healing from childhood sexual abuse. What may surprise you is that God also used her work to bring healing to her wounds, which are different than those of her main character, Sarah. I hope Talena's story speaks to you as much as it speaks to me.
Have you ever experienced a moment where your world just broke?
Most of us have, to some degree or another.
For me, I had two such moments very close to each other. They changed my world, redefined almost everything I thought I knew about God, and through that, changed me.
The first, unfortunately, is not a story I can share publicly, because other people’s lives would be impacted. It’s enough to know that the moment happened on February 11, 2015, and triggered the deepest grief cycle of my life up to that point.
A little less than four months later, I was still deeply in mourning when my youngest son (who had just turned three) was killed because he’d thought it would be clever to dash out behind Daddy’s truck to “hide” as my husband was backing up.
That changed everything for me. It was the beginning of the end of my spiritual adolescence.
I am convinced that grief is the single most powerful agent of change that God uses to reshape us into his image. I am also convinced that he never chooses grief for us—we experience it as a result of living in a sinful world, a world that functions by irrefutable laws.
Actions have consequences. Sin has consequences. This is a law that functions as surely as the law of gravity. And God doesn’t often circumvent the laws which he put into place for our benefit.
In other words, he rarely, if ever, shields us from the consequences of sin, whether our own or someone else’s.
This is a tough one to swallow, isn’t it? It sure was for me, as I cried out to the God I thought should have stepped in and saved my foolish son from himself, or prompted me to do so.
But he hadn’t. And I didn’t.
The hardest thing as a grieving mom is the guilt. And it seems that no matter what circumstances surround the death of one’s child or how old they may be, there is always guilt.
In an experience as traumatic as mine, there was guilt for not saving my son, plus a healthy dose of PTSD to boot. There was also anger at my husband, anger at myself, guilt that my other children experienced something so traumatic at such a young age (I have three other sons who were aged 12, 11, and 9 at the time, and who were all in the vehicle when it happened) . . . The list goes on.
But the guilt. That’s the hardest one to get over. Because obviously, since he was only three, it was my fault.
I’m not going to bother trying to explain all the whys and wherefores and the very complicated extenuating factors (other than to say that Levi had been adopted at age one in an open adoption from a family that we are close to), and I don’t need you to fill up the comments with assurances of my innocence. Our good, merciful God has already brought me through many of the steps necessary in my healing. I believe that the guilt that remains (because there will always be some) is about as reasonable as it can be, and it no longer consumes me. There are some parts of me that will always bear scars—but I now see those scars as beauty marks.
The night of June 2nd, 2015, was a very frustrating one for me. I had decided some time previously, through the constant encouragement of my mother, to take a novella that I had written and self-publish it, just to gauge response and see what I thought of this whole “writing” thing--and to see if self-publishing was a route I wanted to take to do it.
That night, I spent hours on the final stages of the process, troubleshooting error after error and floundering my way through the steps of uploading my finished files to my distributor. Finally, around 3 a.m., I had achieved my goal and went to sleep, knowing full well that I would need to be up early with my little guy and that tomorrow would be a “lotsa coffee” kind of day.
But at 8 am the next morning, my world broke.
Writing has always been my refuge when I needed to work through things. While growing up in a household where my parents were constantly at war, and then in the aftermath as a fifteen-year-old “child of divorce,” I filled up volumes of journals. Later, when my three oldest boys were constantly underfoot and I needed something just to keep me sane, I began blogging, and found the community and creative outlet I needed to maintain equilibrium.
But this. What could help me through this?
I still blogged, of course. A lot. And it helped, but there were some questions that were just too raw and private to throw out for public scrutiny.
Somewhere in the midst of that horrible, horrible season, God gave me the final piece of a story that had been brewing for several years—a story that I hadn’t thought I would ever be ready to write. But now I knew that I had to write it.
That story became my second novel, Finding Heaven.
Is it about child loss?
But it is about a woman who is healing from deep-rooted trauma and pain (though hers is caused by years of abuse). It’s about someone who doesn’t understand how a loving God could allow the tragedies of her past to happen. It’s about recognizing how our scars can make us beautiful. And it’s about hope.
Through all my grief and pain, I never let go of hope. And while I was writing about someone with a much more traumatic childhood than even I had experienced, God healed me.
I was looking for healing for Sarah, and God used the story to help me recognize the beauty in my own scars. He truly did give me “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.”
Before I published this book, God promised me that it would be used to help people heal.
He fulfilled that promise several times over before it even reached its release date.
In 2016, I decided that being a full-time writer was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I now use my blog to encourage and inspire others, and have already begun writing another genre-stretching novel that I pray will be a pathway to healing for at least one reader.
Jason Gray sings a song called “Glow in the Dark” with the line, “The more broke you are, the more the light gets through.”
We all have pain, friend. We have all, at one point or another, felt like our lives are shattered into so many pieces that we are broken beyond repair. I pray that, no matter how broken you feel, you let the Master Artisan put you back together. Because when he fixes you, your scars become the lines of a glorious stained glass image, lit from within by his light.
And then you, too, will glow in the dark.
What do you do when you realize that everything you are is a lie?
Sarah Daniels seems to have the perfect life--a successful career as an erotica author, a successful lawyer husband, thousands of adoring fans, and the freedom to do whatever she wants. Or does she?
Behind the façade, her marriage is in a shambles, she hates what she writes and the people who read it, and she feels trapped behind the masks of her own making. A cancer diagnosis has just dealt the final blow to the shaky foundations of her life.
A chance encounter with Steve McGuire--a man who gave up the rat race to help Mumbai's prostitutes, and who finds joy in every little thing--makes her question her priorities and wonder if it's time for a change. His example and friendship inspires her to start a journey to find God, healing, and her authentic self.
Can Sarah rediscover her passion for life with a death sentence hanging over her head? Can she conquer her personal demons and break free from her abusive past so that she can truly live?
Will Sarah ever know what real love is?
Finding Heaven is a gritty inspirational novel about healing from the hurts of abuse.
"A riveting, true-to-life tale of love's power to heal and redeem." - Melissa Keaster, author of Eleora
Content warning: Contains violence, intense scenes relating to sexual abuse, and themes not appropriate for young readers.
Talena Winters inspires with words, yarn, and food. Addicted to tea, chocolate, books, knitting, and silver linings. She is the author of Finding Heaven and The Friday Night Date Dress, has written several award-winning songs, and is a regular contributor to Move Up magazine. She currently resides on an acreage in the Peace Country of northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, three surviving boys, a Golden Retriever named Sunshine, and an assortment of farm cats and chickens. She would love to be a mermaid when she grows up. You can find her on the web at www.talenawinters.com or on social media @TalenaWinters