Not Tough Love, just Love

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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. Look for updates here.

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


Welcome back Linda Clare. Her posts have us crying. They want us to reach out to help. They are inspiring.


Not Tough Love—Just Love

That Sunday in church, tears slid down my face. I was so close to hopelessness, I didn’t care if my mascara ran. The night before, two of my grown sons, fueled by alcohol and drugs, had argued and nearly come to blows. Again.

The son who was supposed to be getting sober had relapsed. His brother was tweaking on meth. Around three AM, old grudges and rivalry reignited as their shouts woke my husband and me. We’d managed to break up the late-night fracas, but nothing was resolved. I felt trapped in a cycle: hope’s birth, followed by hope’s death, hope’s rebirth and back to death again. Now, even as Deacon Ron (not his real name) read aloud the Gospel, I wondered if I had strength enough to ever hope again.

My heart was heavy. Any hope of escaping the cycle seemed impossible. I was not only discouraged and sad, I was angry. Angry at my sons for their behavior and their choices. Angry at myself for my failure to enforce Tough Love. Angry at. . .well, just mad.

Bad enough that I felt hopeless. Recently, someone had remarked that I also appeared helpless. Tough Love sounded like a logical solution to a thorny problem, but I couldn’t make it work. That made me seem like a toothless T. Rex, my mini-arms clawing nothing but air.  Why couldn’t I do what so many friends, relatives, counselors and clergy had suggested over the years? Why couldn’t I detach myself from the alcoholics and addicts in my life? After services, I avoided eye contact as I slouched along in the handshake line.

The problem for me, lay in the popular meaning of the term Tough Love. Whenever people advise me to use Tough Love, they usually mean, “kick out your addicted loved ones.” In twenty-plus years of dealing with their substance abuse, I’ve ordered my loved ones into treatment, set rules and drawn up code of conduct contracts. I’ve called police, obtained restraining orders and separated from my alcoholic husband for a time. But what I could never do was kick them out—especially if it meant, “Don’t come back until you’ve licked this problem.”

After services, instead of slinking off, I knelt at the prayer bench where Deacon Ron waits to pray for those who ask him. Ron’s also a Jail Chaplain, and has led a prison ministry for at least twenty years. He knows my family’s situation well. “Please pray for me.” I hung my head but he placed his hands on my shoulders. I glanced up and confessed. “I’m a terrible failure at Tough Love.”

What he said next made my jaw drop. “I don’t believe in Tough Love.”

I’d never heard anyone say that.  I thought Tough Love was the only way I’d ever convince my sons to go into recovery. The reason they were still using their drugs of choice was that I sucked at Tough Love. Unwittingly, I’d chained them to a life of self-destructive misery by not “kicking them out.”

I own a battered copy of the 1982 book, ToughLove, by family therapists and drug and alcohol counselors Phyllis and David York. After the tumultuous sixties and seventies, more and more teens were using tobacco and alcohol, and the crack cocaine epidemic was hitting youth hard. TOUGHLOVE was touted as the solution to restore parents’ control over their wayward youths. The book was a bestseller and changed many lives.

Somewhere along the way, though, TOUGHLOVE became Tough Love. While counseling professionals may still use the phrase to reference the Yorks’ program to establish control over wayward teens, most people today tend to think of Tough Love as, “kicking him/her out,” cutting off contact and withholding resources.

The idea works some of the time. I know several parents whose adult and teenage sons recovered after a Tough Love ultimatum. One friend’s son, in his forties, was a meth addict who recovered after his family said he wasn’t welcome at the family Christmas gathering. My own husband of forty years gave up drinking after we separated, and I’m thankful.

But not every family’s so lucky.  Sadly, addiction and mental illness are often tangled together. Too unstable to hold a job, find housing or pay for treatment, those with both mental conditions and substance abuse problems often self-medicate. Some are like my middle son, whose drug use and mental illness give him an emotional and social age of about ten years old.

Many alcoholics and addicts either cannot or will not get the help they need. Sometimes addicts are stubborn, but more often they’re destitute, physically sick, mentally ill or all three.  After the closure of most mental hospitals in the eighties, individuals once committed to institutions are now forced to live in the streets.  And what’s left for these people is more tough than loving.

My knees hurt as I knelt before Deacon Ron, but my mind raced. Why didn’t he believe in Tough Love? I remembered our own attempts to use Tough Love—we really did try. When our meth addict was not even sixteen, we “kicked him out.” Surely our son would feel the cold and wet from an Oregon winter night and beg to go to rehab. I packed my son’s belongings into a black trash bag, sobbing as I placed it outside the front door. We stood firm as he tried to talk his way back inside. We locked all the doors, only to find him asleep in his bed the next morning. This went on for days.

We finally gave up trying to kick him out, fearing he’d die if he had to live on the street.

Deacon Ron’s gaze drilled through me as I knelt. “Did you know that I lost a son to drugs?”

My eyes must have widened. Ron may have sensed I needed to know he wasn’t just opinionated—he’d already made the ultimate sacrifice. “No,” I mumbled. “I’m sorry for your loss.” I took a breath. “See, that’s why I fail at Tough Love— if I turn my back on them, I’m scared my sons will die.”

Ron smiled a little. “What does Jesus command us to do?”

“Ah. Love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself.”

“That’s right.” Ron bowed his head and asked God to give me wisdom, courage, to help me love not only my sons, but to forgive those who judge me if I can’t do what they suggest. My soggy heart felt lighter as I began to I understand that talking about difficult problems like substance abuse and mental illness makes people uncomfortable. People naturally want to do something—anything—to make the pain stop. Tough Love sounds easy—just remove the addict from your midst and the problem is solved. In our culture, hard problems like addiction, sickness and death aren’t discussed much, let alone embraced.

I’m as squeamish as the next person—I still can’t watch the part of the movie where the Romans flog Jesus. But God has provided me with the grace and enough hope to keep encouraging and yes, often nudging my sons to get clean.

As Ron prayed, I also felt more compassion for those who can’t tolerate the idea of suffering, those whose story must turn away from the Passion and always be tuned to the glory of Easter. I forgave myself for being so sucky at Tough Love. Slowly, anger was replaced by love.

That day, I arrived home to the sound of our lawn mower. One son had transformed our yard from a mess after the harsh winter storms to an emerald-jeweled landscape. Besides mowing, he’d hauled fallen branches, edged the planters, raked leaves and swept the driveway. He’d even mowed the neighbor’s yard. He beamed as I thanked him for his efforts. Inside, his brother had cooked a Sunday dinner fit for royalty, and the house had been tidied too. A bouquet of fresh daffodils sat on the dining table. Both my sons demonstrated their love by doing, without being asked, chores that for me are difficult. I hugged each of them, hard, whispering that I loved them to the moon and back.

By the end of the day, I had sore knees, a singing heart and a stronger hope than ever. I’ll keep pushing them (and myself) to lay down demons and hold them accountable if they fight those demons with T. Rex arms. More than anything, I will keep on loving without conditions. That’s the toughest kind of love there is.

Linda Clare


You are never alone.

You are never forsaken. 

You are never unloved.

And above all….never ever give up!

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Afraid of Tomorrow? Turn to God

 We are honored to have a return guest blogger. Linda Clare gives us great insight and messages  to encourage us. Thank you Linda for your time. We are all blessed.


God’s Area Code

          On a perfect October afternoon, Carol, a petite middle-aged woman, stood in the middle of a parking lot, clutching a trash bag full of second-hand clothing I’d given to her. We’d only been in the bookstore an hour or two. There Carol had zipped and unzipped her purse, trying to stuff a bunch of no-good-news mail inside, looking shell-shocked about her no-good life, explaining all these disasters to her mother and me. And now she’d lost her car.

          Indian summer lit up oaks and maples in Technicolor, ringing the lot’s perimeter. A uniformed security guard arrived and tried to help this pretty and desperate woman find her fire engine red sedan, which Carol swore she left “right over there.” I tried to decide if her car had really been stolen or worse, repossessed, in light of the unfolding tragedy she’d described earlier. I forgot to mention that her seventeen year-old cat was dying of a kidney ailment and that Carol had recently given up alcohol.

          A vindictive ex had taken away her only child, and then she’d endured around forty-seven surgeries, which left IV marks on her arms that made her look like a drug addict. Her collapsed veins were now so bad, she said, that nurses had to go for the jugular to establish a line.

          After the doctor ordered a drug screen to prove she wasn’t an addict she worried about other things that might be physically wrong. Rosacea, eczema, what was that red crease on her nose?  Of course, she wouldn’t seek medical attention for whatever it was since she owed the test-ordering doc several hundred dollars. Oh and her present husband’s unemployment was denied and she was turned down for culinary school and they had a dollar in quarters to their name. Plus the red car, now missing.

          Through the lament I’d felt like screaming or crying or rending my clothes, especially about the loss of visitation rights to her son. Now she stopped talking abruptly—her red, raw hands tight on the bag’s drawstrings. Out in the Indian summer Techicolor parking lot, the world paused. Head down, she let go tears and wailed, “Is God even in the area?”

          I scouted for the red car, keeping an eye out for God. How could God not be involved in such beauty as surrounded us? Asphalt notwithstanding, why did she think God was absent in her life?

          I could only hug her because I’ve lost things too, big things, things that I thought I could never survive. They say loss of a child is the heaviest burden of all and I don’t know that tune, but I know a lot of the variations. I know what it’s like to feel abandoned and unloved and I know how it is to feel ashamed of who I am.

          I know how it is to be destitute and afraid of tomorrow, afraid to answer the telephone or the door. That feeling that someone will judge me for buying Ho-Hos with food stamps, when Ho-Hos are the only food I can keep down. I know how it is to receive a gift of used clothing and try not to feel shame at my neediness. And I know what it’s like not to trust God to stick around when things are horrible.

          My head knows God is omnipresent, and all around, in and through us, twenty-four seven, 365. Because I’ve also known Jesus’ love, I’m doing better at trusting Him not to bail when my life turns sour. I wasn’t always so trusting, and it was obvious that Carol needed some sort of blessed assurance, and right away. She was hurting, which led to doubt, which led her to the notion that, just as He apparently did in the 60s, God had died or went on vacation to Venezuela. I pleaded with the air, asking, God to, “show Yourself, just a small miracle will do.”

          Her mother and I instinctively put our arms about her.  Our murmurs floated on the still afternoon air like a prose lullaby. “God loves you,” we whispered. “Something will happen, you’ll see.” Carol wept and we tried to comfort her. I closed my eyes in prayer but peeked again and again. If God was in the vicinity, how would I know? More importantly, how would this grieving and broken person know if God was around or not?

          I wish I had a warm ending to the parking lot story, one where we all went home singing praises that God finds red cars hiding in plain sight, heals kitty kidneys and restores unemployment benefits. The truth is that I had to go to the bathroom and my aging bladder couldn’t wait.

          While the mother, daughter and security guard roamed in search of the car, I drove home, praying hard, trying to keep my breaking heart intact until I got home and could fall apart. On the freeway I reminded myself how our God is awesome. Got a crummy life? No problem. Big or small, God fixes them all. Yet no matter how positive my thoughts, the picture of Carol, head bowed and sobbing, looped through my mind.

          By the time I got out of the bathroom, I was yelling at God. How much trouble would it be, I grumbled, to show yourself? Rain pennies from heaven, say, or turn water into wine. No wait, Carol wasn’t drinking anymore. But there had to be something. Something that would make Carol hope again.

          I’m only one imperfect person, but maybe I can be a part of that something, maybe this is one way God manages to be everywhere at once, by allowing people to fill in when He’s in Venezuela. By sharing Carol’s hurt, by however clumsily I wear her suffering, I share Christ’s suffering too, and with each stab of pain I come closer to understanding God’s love for me, for you, for ailing pets and distraught mothers. I admit that I wouldn’t go near this pain on my own, that God’s compassion forces me to stand in a parking lot and weep with one who weeps. But my small act also assures me of God’s presence where ever I am.

           The area code for God is a toll-free number that leads me out of a busy parking lot, past the search for everything I’ve lost and into the cradle of stillness. There, the only thing to do is let go and listen. Listen for the sound of someone singing, someone crying. Put your arms around the despaired, bang on heaven’s door and demand that something be done, and whisper that God loves them, proof being a perfect October afternoon.


The Fence My Father Built (Abingdon 2009)

View the Trailer!
Visit my Blog!

Making Peace With a Dangerous God
Revealed: Spiritual Reality in a Makeover World
Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them


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The Homeless Should Find Work and Leave us Alone!



Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover


I have been on the edge of being a homeless person. There were times that I was one pay check away from being destitute. But I never was homeless and my pride came to the level that when I saw a homeless person, I didn’t feel pity for them. I felt that should be able to do something to have a better life.


What follows is a description of something I actually went through:


I could smell his foul breath a block away. The stubble on his face was ragged and long. His clothes hung on him like moss on a tree. As approached him, he held out a can begging me to help him because he was homeless. The contempt and fear I felt at that moment was over flowing like lava from a volcano.


What made me feel this way? What made me think I was better then he was? Why was I afraid of him?


There are some who take advantage of their situations and play on the hearts of people just because they are lazy or too proud to work for a living.

However there are those who really need the help they are asking for. They may have gotten too far behind in their house payment. They could have been laid off from their job. They may be physically unable to hold a job, and can’t afford the medical cost.


In the present economy, there are thousands of people who are below the poverty level. They struggle each day to feed their children. They try to find a place for their families to sleep. They often sleep in their dirty, trash filled, cars.


They want to be self-sufficient, but they can’t. They want to fit in, but they won’t. They want to feel self worth, but they don’t. 

Is it our place to judge? Do we have the right to choose who we accept and don’t accept?

The Bible says in First John 3:17 “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need and has no pity for him, how can the love of God be in him?”

If we are to care for the least of these in need, doesn’t that include the homeless?

We do not know what they are going through. They may have had a tragic event to cause them to slither away from life like a frightened snake. They may have a physical ailment that will not allow them to work.

We must always remember that these unfortunate people were made in the image of God, just like we are. They are still God’s children, just like we are. They have the same dreams and needs, like we do.  

I now reach out to the homeless. When I am walking, I stop and hand them what change I have in my pocket. I stop my car and give them whatever cash I can spare. Often they say, “God bless you.”

So think on this……Is this really God testing you in a human form? Is the person you passed up an angel, seeing if you care for the least of them? It is not for me to decide.

I am sure that God cares for each of these people as much as He does you and me. For that reason I want them to know I care for them too.






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