Rediscovering the Heart of Mercy

We are so  honored to be with you each day sharing hope. Our outreach has grown at a tremendous pace. We are averaging over 100 new subscribers a day. We just past 104,335 in followers. That’s because people are searching for hope and we provide it.

We are in a new promotion. The person who is our 105,000 will wins some nice prizes. We are only 665 away from our next goal . It goes very fast so don’t miss out. 

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Doug Bolton, the founder of Signs of Hope, is writing  a new book, “Signs of Hope for the Military: In and Out of the Trenches of Life.” It reaches out the military and veterans who may be battling anxiety, fear, depression, addictions, rejections, PTSD, and many other usual suspects. There are 22 military connected suicides every day. That is almost one every hour. We need to help stop those statistics. Be looking for more updates about the new book. 

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+ Update! The book has been sent to my editor recently. Now I wait and see how many red marks she will have in it. 🙂

There will be some incredible interviews with veterans in this book. Up to twenty different veterans agreed to let me ask them some very personal questions. Some answers will have you in tears.  Some are actually humorous. 

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Glad to have back Linda Clare. She speaks from the heart, and sometime it is gut wrenching such as today’s post. Learn from a mother who has addicted children. 

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Rediscovering the Heart of Mercy

Linda S. Clare

When my son, who’s been a meth-addict most of his adult life, burst into the kitchen, the pot of water for spaghetti noodles was already at a rolling boil. He was boiling mad. Only a kitchen island lay between him and his younger and shirtless brother as they traded insults. The kitchen knives gleamed ominously in their block, as if waiting for one of the boys to snap. It was the hottest day of the year and the most violent behavior I’d ever witnessed from my meth-addicted son.

What they were fighting about, I didn’t know.

I kept my gaze on the boiling water, as my middle child threw food, shoved the toaster off the counter and ranted at his brother. We’d had trouble with fist fights before—mostly late at night when younger bro was drunk and his older sib was high—but this time was different. Meth can induce psychosis, but in the past, he’d always stopped short of attacking me. This time, if he pushed the pot of water off the burner, his brother and I would have serious burns. I prayed the knives would stay in their slots. I was petrified of my own son.

The cords of his neck bulged as he literally foamed at the mouth. We each told him to leave several times, but he wouldn’t back down as he screamed obscenities. No amount of pleading or negotiating seemed to help. My husband finally locked himself in the bathroom and called the sheriff. It was a pretty bad day.

For decades now, I’ve been astounding my friends and relatives by my repeated failures to use Tough Love effectively to drive my three grown sons to recovery. I know I can’t change their minds, and believe me, I’ve tried. Pros call me an enabler and codependent and it’s true. I can’t seem to “kick them out to the streets” so that they can hit bottom, any more than I can take my misbehaving pet to the pound. If I’m responsible for “crippling them” as one friend put it, I am guilty of lots of other no-nos too.

Part of my reasoning has always been that my addicts/alcoholics also have mental health issues, which complicates everything. But more importantly, until now their violence stayed in the realm of sibling rivalry. This time, psychosis and violence teamed up like the New Testament demon who caused that poor guy to fall into the fire. To keep calm, I tried to remember Bible verses.

Over and over again, Jesus asks us to love. To forgive seventy-times-seven. To turn the other cheek. Show mercy and we will receive mercy.  No condemnation. Love not punishment.

How do you show love, forgiveness, or mercy to someone who is psychotic? He wasn’t even making sense. He ran out as the law arrived.

The policeman who responded was courteous but emphatic. We were to toss both these guys out on their ears—today—and go to court for a restraining order in case they weren’t happy about leaving. The cop advised my husband and I to go live our lives and to let our sons go work on their problems any way they could.

I objected, citing their clear need for mental health services, next to impossible to get without a pot of money at the end of the rainbow. Social services strained beyond belief are why so many mentally ill wander the streets unless they go to jail. Self-medication is often the result of untreated mental illness. But this cop insisted the mental problems would go away if my sons got clean.

I wasn’t so sure. Questions rolled through me: What would happen to him on the street? He has little in the way of education, job skills or ways to take care of himself. But if he stayed, what about the feud with his brother? More violence? I couldn’t let that happen.

My psychotic son finally left with nothing except the clothes on his back. He needs help desperately. The system has failed him and millions like him, abandoning sick people to die a slow death from drugs, alcohol, unemployment, homelessness, hopelessness. That day, I felt pretty hopeless too.

But my stance on Tough Love also got an education. I’m pretty sure God’s plan for my life doesn’t include getting scalded by boiling water thrown by a psychotic meth addict. If he is this violent, he cannot stay. If he refuses or cannot gain access to drug treatment and mental health treatment, I can’t trust that another episode won’t happen. I am so sorry. For now, this may have to be the only love, forgiveness and mercy I can offer to him.

This side of heaven we may never know why such things happen. Evil wants to scare the love right out of me and you and anyone who tries to thwart its agenda. I have to stay safe but I won’t stop loving my sons. Or praying for their healing. I pray for wisdom yes, and courage. Courage to do the right thing, courage to stick to my decisions. Courage to keep loving my sons and my God, when a pot of boiling water or a butcher knife might be the last straw.

Today, as far as I know, my son is still alive. The situation breaks my heart but it could lead him to seek help at last. I have no optimism of my own—down here in the pits, everything seems miserable. My heart is a gaping wound.

But a broken heart is tender, fertile ground, where God’s mercy can take root. Mercy then picks up the shattered hope I’ve dropped and lovingly pieces it together again. Pieces me together again. Because He lives, as the old song goes, I can face tomorrow.  Yesterday, hope took quite a beating. But thanks to the toughest kind of love I’ve ever had to give, today it’s coming back strong.

 

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Hope of Kindness: The Jesus Place

We are so  honored to be with you each day sharing hope. Our outreach has grown at a tremendous pace. We are averaging over 100 new subscribers a day. We just past 103,200 in followers. That’s because people are searching for hope and we provide it.

We are in a new promotion. The person who is our 105,000 will wins some nice prizes. That is only 1,800 away It goes very fast so don’t miss out. 

_____________________________________

Doug Bolton, the founder of Signs of Hope, is writing  a new book, “Signs of Hope for the Military: In and Out of the Trenches of Life.” It reaches out the military and veterans who may be battling anxiety, fear, depression, addictions, rejections, PTSD, and many other usual suspects. There are 22 military connected suicides every day. That is almost one every hour. We need to help stop those statistics. Be looking for more updates about the new book. 

________________________________________

+ Update! The book has been sent to my editor recently. Now I wait and see how many red marks she will have in it. 🙂

There will be some incredible interviews with veterans in this book. Up to twenty different veterans agreed to let me ask them some very personal questions. Some answers will have you in tears.  

___________________________________________________________________

I am very happy to see Linda Claire back as our guest blogger. Her posts are dynamic, gut wrenching, and full of true. Thank you so much Linda for opening up your heart to us. 

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The Jesus Place

By Linda S. Clare

I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonably kind person. I’ll hold open doors for wheelchair users. I smile at an elderly man on a park bench. I brought home every stray cat I ever saw. But put the same old man in front of me at the grocery store, counting out his bill in pennies, and my saintly kindness melts into impatience and even indignation.

When I was around twelve, Mom worked so I had to babysit my younger sister all summer. Sis was pretty typical for a second grader—she loved to play with her Barbies, her friends and since we grew up in Phoenix, she loved to swim. I was not especially kind to her and more than once lost my temper, swatted at her and then for several hours had to plead with her not to tell our parents.

One day, when I just didn’t feel like watching her and her gabby second-grade friends, I was extra mean. I locked her in the bathroom and then went to my air-conditioned room to read. Not exactly the picture of virtue. Big Sister Fail.

For that and many other sins, I doubt I’m winning the Good Girl Award any time soon. Then and now, it’s too easy to stay safe, to be cocooned in the familiar, to resist any push to step out into nothing. Supposedly, this desire for control over our lives goes way back—to that Tree with the fruit and Eve, who didn’t know a serpent from a stick. Any way you slice it, we’re stuck with sinful natures that get us into trouble and lock true kindness in the bathroom.

As my own family has struggled with addiction and mental health issues, I’ve been told to get some Tough Love so many times. My friends don’t like to watch me suffer and others just wish I’d shut up. Tough Love seems like the perfect answer to a really terrible problem.  Most people who see our circumstances from the outside think my addicted/alcoholic sons are simply playing me. Why, they’re having the time of their lives, sponging off mom and dad, getting drunk or high without consequences. I should tell my sons to get out, grow up and by the way, get a job. Right?

Well, hallelujah, you nailed it. Except that life is never so simple.

Fear of threats to our beings and our cultures is a natural human response. When we face a dangerous animal, natural disaster or in times of war, our fight or flight response kicks in to help us survive.

But at times, we trick ourselves into self-serving misperceptions of danger, and it is then that we cling to baseless fears that only hurt us. The early Christians had every right to fear the Romans and others who were trying to kill off the early Church. Over the millennia, we’ve made laws and statutes to keep our ways of life intact. Yet again and again in the New Testament, we are reminded to be kind to one another.

As in the early Church, today it’s easy to slip back into the clutches of the Old Covenant—the Law. The only way to grow in faith is to “long for the pure milk of the word,” which tells us to be humble, not thinking ourselves more than we are. The first step in growing a Just Love is to stop finger pointing and confess our own shortcomings. We can love the Law but we don’t always have to enforce the Law—especially when it comes to those we look down upon. This is grace.

So with my sons and their addictions, I’m compelled to extend to them the grace God freely offers to me. Every day I see my grown children’s brokenness adding up. The scars of addiction, as well as poverty, under-employment, mental health issues are etched deep into their expressions, like crevasses carved by glaciers.

I know this sounds odd, but I genuinely believe my sons hate what they’re doing. Life has become a vicious cycle of mental illness compounded by drug and alcohol use that only temporarily eases the pain.

Every day, the only truly kind act—that mercy thing God is so famous for—stares into my soul. Mercy, compassion, lovingkindness—call it what you wish. It dares me to love my boys again, by yes, first offering a way out. I say, “You’ve been trying things your way for a while now. How’s it working out for you?”

Some days they answer. Other times, they duck their chins and slip out of sight. On days they stay, I can say, “If you want to try treatment, I’m here for you.” On the days they run, I pray for them to run—straight into God’s arms.

Either way, I cannot change their minds. But what I can do no matter what, is treat them with respect. Look them in the eyes. Remind them how very much they are loved. This is the kindness I am learning from Jesus. Trees and serpents aside, I am so much less apt to sin again when I stay in the Jesus Place.

For me, the Jesus Place is about the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus reached out to the poor, the disabled, the ones more successful people looked down upon. When He modeled for them the Lord’s Prayer, he was showing everyone, at any time, that we are so much more than our latest screw-up.

When He said, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” He was tapping into much more than the problems we have if we max out the credit card. In biblical times, if you were a subsistence farmer, one bad harvest might not only result in you losing your land. You could wind up an indentured servant (slave) until you repaid your debt. The ones Jesus spoke to were the most vulnerable in that society. The ones living on the edge. Those with little or no hope.

The Jesus Place promotes mercy because it hands out mercy. Mercy is getting a break when you don’t deserve it. In turn, compassion upends cynical stereotyping and replaces it with hope. Hope we desperately need.

I know. It isn’t easy. Giving undeserved passes to rule breakers is really really hard. I’m not good at it either. But love is dangerous, people. It asks you to put your very tender heart out there on the altar when you know full well some bully is going to stomp on it.

But because Jesus was tempted in all things and yet did not sin, He could take all my stinky socks and my catalog of dumb, dumb moves and hang it all with Him on the Cross.

I used to think that made Him seem like some awful Poindexter—teacher’s pet who always knew the answer. My reaction was a little bitter, like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady from old SNL. Isn’t that special?

Trouble is, I wanted to sit in judgment of everyone else (because I’m almost always right) but run crying to God when someone dished garbage back to me. I didn’t see the connection between blue-eyed movie Jesus being annoyingly preachy and the actual Son of God, who is very serious about bringing Light into the world.

For me, His light used to be made of being nice to kitties and old grandpas and kid sisters—but only if they didn’t interfere with my day. It was like earning a Gold Star from the Big Guy if I held open the door for some poor wheelchair user, which by the way, is required by Jesus and not optional at all. Real compassion asks for real love and real hope that love wins.

You don’t have to listen or do what Jesus says. That’s not how He rolls. But He reaches out to those of us who aren’t so tough anymore, those for whom life and awful things like addiction have locked us in the bathroom. He promises that if we are merciful, we shall receive mercy. That if we show mercy to others, we are actually blessed. Blessed! Just for being truly kind, for merciful acts big and small. We don’t even always have to be in control, which is OK although some days, I’d still rather drive than ride. And even then, Jesus is really patient with me. Mostly.

I have to believe He is patient with my sons, too, and doesn’t wish for them to suffer. Tough Love says they deserve to suffer, and maybe that’s right in some cases. But Just Love keeps pointing me back to the Jesus Place, a place where the downtrodden, the forgotten, all of us debtors can find comfort under the Yoke of Love.

And in modern times, if we run up a big bill, we aren’t thrown into debtor’s prison or enslaved, at least not yet. We can, however still be financially ruined for a few bad spending decisions or an unexpected health crisis. The serpent is alive, I’m afraid.

Yet Jesus calls across millennia, looking us in the eyes and saying, “You’ve been trying life your way for a while now. How’s that working out for you?” Hang out at the Jesus Place for a while, friend. You’ll find it full of mercy, love and hope.

 

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Hope is Still Alive if You embrace it

We are so  honored to be with you each day sharing hope. Our outreach has grown at a tremendous pace. We are averaging over 100 new subscribers a day. We just past 97,800 in followers. That’s because people are searching for hope and we provide it.

We are starting a new promotion and the winner will be the person who is the 100,000 subscriber will win some nice prizes. That is a huge milestone for us. More details later. 

______________________________________________________________________

Doug Bolton, the founder of Signs of Hope, is writing  a new book, “Signs of Hope for the Military: In and Out of the Trenches of Life.” It reaches out the military and veterans who may be battling anxiety, fear, depression, addictions, rejections, PTSD, and many other usual suspects. There are 22 military connected suicides every day. That is almost one every hour. We need to help stop those statistics. Be looking for more details about the new book. Doug just interviewed a WWII veteran, for the book.  Fascinating! Look for updates here.

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Welcome back Linda Clare who has another inspiring post for us all. Linda has been through the gauntlet of life, and she shares her experiences to help us grow, and be stronger.

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Hope’s White Teeth

This past week, I’ve been in a heated battle, trying to hold onto my tattered hope—the same radical hope I proclaimed joyously only a few days before. But life is like that, isn’t it? You swell with victory after you’ve run the gauntlet and emerged riding high on God’s shoulder. But then, stuff hits the fan from every direction. Again. How do you stay fixed on hope? Through your fears? Through your tears? When every verse feels hollow and every moment explodes with grief, with loneliness, with numbing terror?

These last few days have reminded me that keeping hope alive is hard work.

I’ve already told you about the addiction and mental illness my three adult sons battle. The nightmare of their substance abuse and mental problems has kept me awake during verbal and physical fights, broken or stolen property and even a suicide attempt. But a couple months ago, one of these sons confessed that he, “couldn’t do this anymore.” He was worried about his looks. Would I help him get his teeth whitened? As with many addicts or alcoholics, he hadn’t seen a dentist in years. I said, “Maybe we should get you in for a checkup so we’ll know if you’ll still have teeth to whiten.”

The conversation was like opening a window in a very stuffy room. Suddenly he was willing to change, if only to keep his smile bright. I didn’t care. In my mind, I turned to Jesus and said, “Wow, thanks for carrying us both to this place.”

My son and I agreed to a plan. Thanks to severe anxiety and panic disorder as well as agoraphobia, he doesn’t do well in group settings like AA or treatment. His dad and I would be his support as he took the hard road to sobriety. As he took his first steps, my hope for his recovery grew strong deep roots and began to bud after what seemed like an eternity of winters.

My radical hope in God probably made my own smile brighter. That same week, I counseled another mom in the depths of grief surrounding her son’s drug use and mental issues, and I felt guilty that finally—finally—my own hopes had begun to crawl out of the pit. My friend tearfully related the things only another mother can understand—how they tried toughness to keep him on the straight and narrow but ultimately, they lost control. How they’d driven nine hours to rescue him after he called home, sounding as though he’d lost touch with reality. How her and her husband’s resolve for tough love meant that if he was using, he couldn’t sleep in their house—but that she’d take extra blankets out to his car, where he spent the night.

I cried as she sobbed into my shoulder. Whispered, “Jesus is carrying us all.” Meant it, too. But at that moment hope didn’t ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Hope, even radical hope, was scourged and beaten and dragged through the streets with a heavy cross on its back. Hope was about to be nailed and die, and it wouldn’t matter who spoke encouragement to this weeping mother. Her grief and fear were like the sudden darkness of Saturday, as Jesus breathed his last. All I could do was cry with her and cling to the truth that God loves her and her son and me and my son. Before we parted, my friend asked if her mascara had run and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be OK.”

I went home from that meeting feeling guilty. My son was standing up for his life and starting down the perilous sober road. She didn’t even know where her son was at. My other two sons still needed the same deliverance, but having even one glimmer of possible success made me more grateful for God’s mercy toward my son. I prayed for the same grace to visit the other mom and my other boys before praising God for my son’s courageous progress. Whenever I thought of my son’s determination to be drug and alcohol free, my face light up like Sunday morning.

Except that in life we seem to go from Sunday back to Friday and through the cycle over and over. The next evening, my son’s outlook had changed once again. He came to me, begging for one more drink. He called it his “sweet nectar.” A chill ran down my neck and my hopes took a giant step back.

The sturdy optimism about my son that I’d shared with my friend only a day earlier now crumbled into a swirling sinkhole of broken pieces. Hope had no real footing, even as Jesus stood by and let me cry into his shoulder. I was still certain of God’s radical hope in Jesus but less sure that I was ever going to make it out of the valley of the shadow of death. All I could think of was that the table was prepared for me—cup running over and everything—but that it wasn’t yet time to lay down that armor of God. Saturday was back and meaner than ever. I admit that I was ready to chuck hope into the lake for good.

I sobbed and asked if the darned cup of my loved ones’ addictions and mental issues could please pass from me—pretty please?—but Jesus didn’t say much, just held me closer and breathed love and life into my soul. In that moment I understood more about the mystery that is a loving God, as Saturday gave way to Sunday. Again.

This radical hope is hard work all right, and sometimes it’s all you can do to hold on as Jesus does the heavy lifting when life is awful. But I think God asks nothing more from us than to keep our eyes on Him when we’re too numb or hurt or grief-stricken to do much radical hoping. Those are the times when I have to believe He will catch me as I fall, just as angels keep us from dashing our feet against stones. That His grace really is sufficient even if it doesn’t feel nearly enough. That God is not required to take the thorn from our sides.

The next day, my son apologized. Was eager to get back on track. Eager to get his teeth looking brilliant again. He sounded more like the courageous son and less like the defeated son jonesing for a drink. Hope took another baby step. “I guess I’ll have ups and downs,” he said.

“You all right?” I tried not to sound too eager.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be OK.”

I cautiously hope for him, while remembering all those whose grief is pure and raw and deep. Sometimes, OK is the best you can be.

Linda Clare

 

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There Are Threads of Hope if You Look

Threads of Hope

Linda S. Clare

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” –II Corinthians 12:9 NIV

 

I’m acquainted with a wonderful mother who recently posted on Facebook that she’d goofed, big time. A devout Christian, she’d mistakenly outlined her son’s latest substance abuse crisis in a public rather than a private forum, embarrassing all involved. In her apology, she begged those who’d read the post to forget, it or at least refrain from discussing it. I never saw the post in question, but I sensed her humiliation at exposing her not-so-perfect life. This mother’s pain was palpable and familiar. Although I wept with her, it’s shown me again why the strongest hope is often made of the worst weakness.

I know how it feels to show your strong side to the world while some calamity threatens to swallow you whole. For those of us with addiction or mental health issues—our own or those of loved ones—we not only ignore the elephant in the room, we tell ourselves that elephants are overrated. We say, “Stand back! I got this,” even if we’re marching into battle feeling very alone. In our culture, admitting weakness often gets you punched in the nose.

Sometimes God gives us super human strength. That’s grace in action. Other times, we go it alone. We pray for protection, for healing, for blessing even as we present our “game face” to the world. We “battle” cancer, as if willpower can beat the big “C.” We present the perfect picture, even when we’re falling apart.

The poor mom who posted the private info must have worried about looking weak. She’d placed her family in the cross hairs of a judgmental society, inviting strangers to shame, blame or even claim her faith was insufficient. I don’t blame her—it’s happened to me.

I once worked in a Christian bookstore, restocking everything from Bibles to greeting cards. I was grateful for the job—in addition to supporting our family, my left arm’s lifelong paralysis from childhood polio made some simple tasks a little trickier for me. OK, a lot trickier. Still, I never called attention to my disability and always wore an “I got this” face to customers.

One day two women came into the bookstore, where I was straightening greeting cards. After I asked if I could help them find something, one woman leaned closer. She whispered, “God would heal your arm—if you had more faith.” The women left the store while I stood there, waiting for my head to explode.

Later in the breakroom, I cried hot tears of anger and confusion. I railed at God. On the job, I’d never asked for any special treatment. At work, my daily attitude was “I got this.” I had no idea how to make my faith the size it needed to be.

I never saw those women again. But for years after, I couldn’t give myself a break. Then I developed the late effects of polio. Pain and fatigue dogged me, yet I kept overworking my sore muscles. When family members developed substance abuse and mental health problems, I was as determined as that mother on Facebook to show the world how strong I was.

Then one night I dreamed of an abyss, with a single gossamer thread stretched taut across it. The hole was the blackest black, a velvet chasm of despair, while the thread glimmered in the low light. My thread of hope was so fragile, so bare, it would surely break under the weight of the disasters in my life.

Too terrified to say, “I got this,” I stood at the far end of this yawning chasm. I was naked and afraid, all right. Tattered hope stretched out before me but the thread slipped my grasp. The black hole snapped its jaws.

I know better than to put a lot of energy into interpreting dreams. Yet in this one, a hand suddenly appeared, a hand of light and pure love, if that’s possible. Discouraged by broken hope, I stood before this Love-light.

Darkness sneered at me. Fool—all is lost. For proof, just look at your addicted family members or that withered arm. Why bother to hope at all?

I understood that some hard things might never be healed this side of heaven. Why God allows suffering on earth is an age-old mystery. Darkness again whispered, “Abandon hope.” In that moment, I had to choose either my own strength or God’s weakness. The outstretched hand waited.

I chose weakness.

As feeble as I was, I reached for that hand of Light. Something—Someone—transported my failing body across the canyon, fortifying hope as it went. I had the sense I was being carried through the pain and mistakes and dumb moves of my life—and I need not claim any strength of my own.

When I awoke, nothing had changed. My body still ached. My family’s battles with substance abuse and diseases and mental health were as real as they’d ever been. The mother from Facebook no doubt still agonizes over her precious son, and if I were still working at the bookstore, those same women might still scold me for the smallness of my faith.

But everything had changed. Despair can wear hope thin, but God’s grace gives hope its strength—power perfected in weakness. To get past life’s pain, I must stand at the chasm’s edge every day. Learn to let go of the “I got this” mentality that keeps me from recognizing God when He offers me His hand. Threads of hope get stronger as Jesus carries me through, and as I lay aside my strength, He gently allows weakness to prevail.

The trials you face may be far bigger than mine. Maybe you’re much better at surrendering to God than I’ve ever been. But real strength is perfected in weakness. If you need a thread of hope today, put your hand in His hand and He will carry you through. “Trust Me,” He says, “I got this.”

 

Linda Clare

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