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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 details about the new book. Doug just interviewed a WWII veteran, for the book. Fascinating! Look for updates here.
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.
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.