Everyone experiences grief, loss, pain and trauma in their lives at one time or another. For Bev Desalvo, author of “Return to Joy,” a NavPress publication, the trauma was so profound that it kept her in an emotional place of hiding for most of her life.
Growing up, Desalvo said she suffered and witnessed physical and emotional abuse in her home, abandonment, as well as sexual abuse by someone she trusted.
To survive, she learned how to tamp down the pain and wear a mask, a façade, and pretend everything was OK.
“When you do that, you have to protect your heart,” Desalvo said. “I was so afraid of being hurt I hardened my heart and lived behind a wall. I was unable to be close to God or other people.”
She met her husband, Gary Desalvo, senior pastor at Temple Bible Church, while they were both students at Louisiana State University. They raised two children together, but through it all she said her true self remained hidden behind her smile and aura of contentment; she was hiding the pain and grief of a lifetime, not knowing how to heal herself.
“It was very hard to do, very tiring,” she admitted.
Her journey back to joy didn’t begin, however, until her children were in college.
“I was busy taking care of other people, I didn’t need or take care of my own issues,” she said, adding that the busyness was like an anesthesia.
“Return to Joy” is a journey into the deepest part of one’s soul, a journey that can lead a person to a new beginning free from old wounds and suppressed trauma. Desalvo’s journey began when she heard God instill in her a passion to “get the word out to men and women that we don’t have to listen to the lies of the evil ones that say you are a loser, you are not special.”
“You have to work really hard,” she said. “It’s a really hard journey, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
The title of her book, she said, was inspired by a child psychologist who described what happens when a child falls and gets hurt. “Someone picks them up and cuddles them and they return to joy, like nothing ever happened. My journey was about learning that. I couldn’t believe I was special to any person until I knew I was treasured by God.”
In her book, some of the places Desalvo takes her readers include “The Valley of Weeping,” “The Gateway of Hope,” “The Secret Place,” and “The Place of Forgiveness.”
One of the most important things she said she learned, before embarking on her journey, was that she couldn’t do it on her own. She needed help, and the only true help she could find was in her faith and devotion to God and Jesus Christ.
“Return to Joy” is a journey for the person who is ready to admit their brokenness and let God in to “fill us up with his power so we can do it,” Desalvo said.
The 10-week Bible study can be done alone or in a group. So find a quiet place where you can focus your thoughts on what you are reading and have your Bible ready. Keep a pad, pencil or pen and highlighter close by. You may want to highlight some of the passages in her book for easy reference.
As you read her story, you may find some similarities to your own life. As you continue to read and work the exercises, read the scriptures and psalms she cites, you may find a path to self through a new relationship with God — a new beginning.
“I was hiding behind a mask. I couldn’t believe when someone said they loved me. It was hard in adult life. I attached to the Lord and experienced that he is with me always. That made a huge difference to know that I am not alone,” she said. “The King of Kings is with me all the time.”