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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Would You Turn in Your Child to Police?

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Doug Bolton, the founder of Signs of Hope, has written a new book, “Signs of Hope for the Military: In and Out of the Trenches of Life.” It will be reaching out the many military and veterans who may be battling anxiety, fear, depression, addictions, rejections, and the many other usual suspects. There are 22 military connected suicides ever day. That is almost one every hour. Doug wanMants to help stop those statistics. Doug sent off his mini proposal, this week, to an agent who is very interested in his concept. We will update you when we hear more.
It has been over a week now since the mass murders of nine innocent people in Roseburg, Oregon. People are still searching for answers, but the shooter took his own life so we may never know what his motives were.
Things found in his apartment shows he had hatred for just about everyone. He was bitter, because he was alone. He planned to do the shooting in advance.
Why do we keep hearing about people like this from others who say they were mentally ill. They say they were angry and wanted to strike back at the world. Why didn’t these people who knew this killer alert the police?
There was even a warning on Facebook the day before for the students to stay home and not go to school. They went anyway.
Are we ignoring the obvious signs that are there, and paying the price? Do we not turn someone in who is irrational just because they are friends?
I know it is hard to turn your back on friends or family who are fighting mental illness. I know you want to help them in any way you can.
However, isn’t getting the help they need BEFORE they blow a fuse more important?
If one of my children was ranting about wanting to die. If they are saying everyone has turned against them and they want to get even, shouldn’t I be a good father, and call for help wherever that may be for the circumstance? In everyone one of these cases, the parents are heart broken of what their child had done, but even more devastated because their child is dead.
Wouldn’t it be better to have tough love and call the police, or call the mental health center to come and get them, and give them a chance to survive, and also save a lot of other lives?
This is a hard topic, at best, to talk about, but remember, God loves even those who are mentally ill. He doesn’t want them to harm others. He doesn’t want them to go through the daily pain they are going through. He wants people around them to step up to the plate and get immediate help when there are signs of danger. Even if the person involved will hate you for doing it.  If the therapy works, they will thank you many times over after they are well again.
You are never alone.
You are never forsaken.
You are never unloved.
And above all…never, ever, give up!
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Holy Recklessness

Holy Recklessness 

By Linda S. Clare

If you know an addict, someone who’s mentally ill or just have a difficult person in your life—and chances are, you do—you might describe that person or persons as reckless. I’m trying to live in a manner that’s pleasing to God, and here comes this addict, this depressed or delusional person, this person who is a bear to get along with. He or she storms into my life and never considers the collateral damage. It’s upsetting, to say the least.

If only this reckless person would stop messing with our lives! If only that reckless person would stop using. If only that reckless person would stay on meds! I don’t know about you, but I like my life to be predictable. Reckless people are rarely predictable.

The funny thing is, I think God wants me to be more reckless; to embrace a holy recklessness.

God doesn’t run from those who sometimes make life challenging. Jesus reached out to the lowly and down-trodden, the sick and the weak. While I doubt God wants me to be irresponsible or inconsiderate, He urges me to be reckless. How reckless?

Consider these role models of holy recklessness.

Some of Jesus’ miracles involved those with “demons” or as we might say these days, addictions, illnesses or attitudes that separate us from God. He was able to save these folks from themselves, and in so doing, convinced them to begin living the reckless life of the true believer. And Jesus did little to protect himself and the disciples from the wrath of the Romans and Jews who were threatened by the message of eternal life in Him.

The apostle Paul recklessly persecuted Jews before his transformation on the Road to Damascus. Afterward, he just as zealously and recklessly spread the Good News of Christ, not willing or maybe even able to restrain the glad tidings. Through the ages, saints who were martyred for the faith weren’t looking out for numero uno. They could have led more ordinary and probably longer lives had they just kept their opinions to themselves.

So how does God ask us to live recklessly?

Creative thought, whether artistry, problem-solving or any other fresh original thinking comes from a certain willingness to allow the new and unproven into our minds. As a writer, whenever I’m between projects I worry that I’ll never have anything else to say. That I’m a failure at communicating original ideas. Until I open my mind to possibility, a failure is where I’ll stay.

I must embrace the recklessness that comes with creative endeavors, or I really will never have another creative thought. If great inventors such as Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton or Bill Gates hadn’t dared to think in new and creative ways, we might all be pushing our wooden carts to work by candlelight. Creativity depends on reckless thought. Holy recklessness means allowing God to channel His creative power through me.

Holy recklessness means being a friend. In holy reckless living, we can be God’s hands—yours and mine, offering the same grace we ourselves have received. People have problems, sure, but rather than stigmatizing and shunning, we can extend reckless grace to those who struggle. Whether we give a hopeless person a smile, a cheeseburger or a place to lay his head, it’s reckless. Some will whisper that “they” will only take advantage; that these folks are beyond help. Hello? Are we Christians? We’re all beyond help, but for the grace of God. Be bold enough to give what you can without judgment or pity, but with a reckless love of your fellow man.

I think God wants us to be reckless in our relationship to God, too. He has plenty of fair-weather friends who want from God only what they can receive. I wrote a book called, “Making Peace with a Dangerous God,” and that’s the way I mean reckless—it can be dangerous. Safe Christianity cannot bring me to love in the way God loves. Only a reckless devotion helps me stand in the place where God wants me—listening to broken hearts, seeing worth and beauty in the most down-trodden among us, daring to think of new and original ideas to write about. Daring to be hurt by love.

Maybe reckless isn’t the way you describe yourself. I admit it’s a word I often use to express my frustration at a loved one with problems who’s hurt me in some way. Holy recklessness is where the talents we have been given intersect with the God of all compassion; where our wobbly attempts at charity and kindness are empowered with the Love and Truth of our Creator. Where we are allowed to deliver the Good News without regard for how it makes us look to others.

Every person who’s marginalized because of addiction, mental illness or some other issue is meant to know God the way we do. Perhaps it’s time that we who love those with problems need to redefine the word reckless. Instead of meaning endangering others, we can use holy recklessness as a tool to dream up prose or some invention that edifies, to extend Christ’s love to the least of these, and to throw ourselves headlong into the arms of God, not counting the cost to our daily lives. Got holy recklessness? There’s plenty available at the foot of the Cross.


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