10 Things God Wants to do for Your Troubled Child

God's Incubator

Over six years ago my granddaughter was born 10 weeks early. Since she was a preemie, she spent the first couple of months of her life in an incubator. It helped sustain her until she could survive on her own. The incubator provided the environment needed to control her body temperature, oxygen levels, and the amount of humidity. While it was hard to see her in there, I knew that’s where she needed to be.

During those weeks I thought a lot about incubators and prodigal children. It occurred to me that our troubled sons and daughters are in God’s incubator.

The dictionary definition of incubator: An apparatus for maintaining an infant, especially a premature infant, in a controlled environment; a place or situation that permits or encourages formation and development . . .

Unlike preemies, our children have already been living in the outside world. But today they’re not well. Extra help is required for their formation and development to continue, so they can survive. They need to be lovingly cared for by the Great Physician in his intensive care unit.

In God’s incubator he wants to do these 10 things:

Former Prodigal Shares His Story to Encourage Hurting Christian Parents

Today’s blog is the story of a former prodigal – a drug addict. I know his parents and when his mom shared with melight1 what had happened to him I asked her if he would write something for my readers. This blog is his response. It’s his gift to you, hurting mom or dad. Why? Because he wanted to encourage you and give you hope for whatever you may be going through with your son or daughter.

“I’m writing this not as my story, for none of what happened I can claim as my own. For that I am abundantly grateful. This is God’s story.

I am addicted to heroin.

Love never fails

Sometimes we don’t like the person our child has become when they have been rude, disrespectful and even downright hateful towards us.  Suddenly we are the bad guy, the enemy.  Alcohol and drugs change them.  Depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses change them.  Time in jail or prison changes them.  Trauma changes them.  So much they have experienced changes them.   Before we know it they are no longer the person we once knew.  The sweet, innocent, son or daughter we  raised and have so many special memories of  . . . where did they go?  What happened?  It is so baffling and mystifying.   It hurts so badly.   But they are still our sons, our daughters.  Underneath it all is a frightened, lost soul.  Our precious child is still there, somewhere.

What can make a difference in their lives?  God’s unfailing love.  We sure don’t deserve it, yet His love for us never fails, no matter what we’ve done.   Think about that.  It’s unfailing.  It can’t fail!  It can’t wear out, give out or fizzle out.  It’s impossible – absolutely not possible – “no way, no how!” –  for it to stop or come to an end . . . ever!  It will never cease to exist.   The Bible tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love.   NOT A THING.

I found it so comforting to think of how much God loved my daughter, no matter what she did or what was done to her.  Somehow it gave me hope that if he loved her that much, then one day she just might be ok.  I could put her in his hands and entrust her into his care because of this unfailing love.  I could depend on it.  It was a sure thing.  It didn’t guarantee she would be ok, but I could trust that out of His love for her He would do whatever it would take to reach her with that endless, immutable love.  He is faithful and he could do it!

As I was thinking about this I was reminded of a song:  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, new every morning.  Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord.  Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord.  Great is thy faithfulness.”  The Bible sums it up quite well in Lamentations 3:21-23  “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope; because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” And also in Psalm 119:76a  “May your unfailing love be my comfort . . .”

Because God’s love never fails, there is always hope for all of us.  As a dear friend of mine says, LNF!

Difficult Father’s Day

When special days come I am always thinking about parents whose hearts are breaking and burdened, full of pain and worry,  fear and rejection.  Father’s Day is one of those difficult days you would just rather skip and pretend it didn’t occur.  Everyone is receiving cards and going out to do something together.  Your neighborhood may be full of family get-togethers.  Friends and relaties may be asking what your plans are.  Or at work the next day they will be asking how your Father’s Day was — which means you are supposed to brag on how loving and thougthful your children were, showing you how much they love you.  Not!  Maybe you just wish you knew where they were or if they are even alive.  It’s a terrible place to be.  I remember if we didn’t hear from our daughter (or maybe not until the end of the day) I would feel so bad for my husband.  It hurt me, too.

It’s just so hard!  You want to crawl in a hole and make it all go away.  It just makes your pain worse because it only reminds you what you don’t have anymore . . . .  it makes you long for when your child was younger and they actually wanted to be with you.  You were their hero!   What happened?

Drugs happened.  Alcohol happened.  Friends with negative influences happened.  Depression happened.  Self harm happened.  Anger and resentment happened.  Rebellion happened.  Lives changed.  Everything changed.  Nothing’s the same.

This message is to every hurting dad out there who feels their pain compounded on Father’s Day.  I hope your son or daugther will at least call you and say Happy Father’s Day, even if they aren’t ready to say,”I Love You” . . . but if not, remember this is just one chapter in their lives, it’s not the whole story.  It is very likely they will come around and eventually appreciate you again, even say, “I love you, please forgive me.  I’m sorry I was such a jerk”.

But that may not be today.  The wait may be long. Some say this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon!   You may wonder when it will ever end, but don’t despair.  Like my friend says, “As long as they are still breathing, there is still hope!”

Keep believing.  Keep trusting God.  Give thanks for all there is to be grateful for in your life.  Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to fret and obsess over them.  Get busy helping someone else.  I really like this bible verse.  It gives me such hope:

 “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of  Eden.”                                                                                                              (Ezekiel 36:35)

A great little book that gives hope in life’s severe trials is Holding onto Hope by Nancy Guthrie.

Spring’s Message of Hope

Springtime reminds me that there is always hope for anyone.  At the end of winter much of nature (trees, flowers, bushes) looks dead, even in Florida.  Leaves turn brown, dry up and fall off.  The plants and trees become dormant.  This happens to my Crepe Myrtle trees every year.  There are no leaves are on them anymore.  There’s nothing green anywhere.  They appear completely lifeless. But I know there is still life in them and they will come back like new in the spring.  If I prune them back, then they come back even more beautiful than the year before.  So, I always have hope for them!

In my back yard I also have a lot of flowering bushes that were damaged severely this year by the sub-freezing temperatures.  I was so sad.  I had really enjoyed an abundance of blue flowers on them most of the year. I could look out the window and see them from the kitchen sink whenever I was working there (quite often!).  But they had become nothing but lifeless sticks.  I was sure there was no hope for them.  I thought I should just give up on them, dig them up and plant something else in their place this spring.

Then I had this vague thought that just maybe I shouldn’t give up on them too quickly.  Just maybe I could prune them back, like my crepe myrtle trees  . . .  and wait.  . .  not believe how things looked, but wait and see what would happen this spring.  What could it hurt?  And if they came back, I would save myself a lot of work and money!

Well . . . .guess what happened?  About a month ago small signs of life began to be appear.  Little green sprouts were here and there all over them!  I was so shocked and thrilled at the thought that they just might make it!  And yes, as the days passed and I continued to wait, more and more green sprouts showed up until all the bushes were fully covered with all new leaves!  They were transforming into brand new bushes right before my very eyes!  It was so unexpected!

And then it hit me . . . that it is the same in our children’s lives.  God has given us the visual example in the season of spring to remind us of the promise of new life and the hope of re-birth.  What looks dead to your eyes isn’t dead to God’s eyes . . . it just looks like it is.  It’s all in your perspective.  God has knowledge we don’t have.  He has power we don’t have.
Father, do your pruning work in my child’s life.  Teach my heart the message of spring.  Remind me that you are working even when I can’t see any signs of it.  Help me hold on to hope and never give up.  Thank you for the promise of spring – – the promise of New Life and the very real Hope of a re-birth.  And, by the way, thank you for reviving my plants.  I can’t wait to see blue flowers from my kitchen sink again!
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . .”  (Eph. 2:4-5)
“. . . But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”  (Rom. 8:24)
“Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God . . .” (Ps. 42:5a)

Coping With the Holidays for Hurting Parents

The holidays can be so difficult for us if our children are engaging in destructive or unwise behaviors. We set ourselves up for more pain disappointment and heartache if we don’t think about this ahead of time. We can find ourselves quite depressed if we aren’t careful. The best thing we can do is to think about our “expectations”. The following 4 questions are very helpful for us to be better prepared for this time of year.

1) How do you think the holidays might be difficult for you?
Some are dreading it, wondering if there will be another crisis. It will be uncomfortable being around other family members. Will they be asking awkward questions? Realize we need to go with the moment and appreciate what you have with them now (or without them) and stop talking about how it once was. Don’t dwell on past memories (good or bad). Be thankful for them, but now focus on making new memories.

2) What might help? How do you need to adjust your expectations?

Focus on loving them and forgiving them just like they are.
Accept what is. Let go of the Walton Family Christmas “fantasy”. It’s not real.
Be flexible with your plans and expectations. Hold them loosely. Lower them. Change them. Consider doing things differently this year. Start a new tradition.
Look for a way to serve and give of yourself, your time, your energy and abilities to those in need. It will strengthen you and make you feel so much better as you shift your focus off of yourself! There are so many people who have much greater needs than we do. It reminds you that you are not alone in your struggle. Many others are struggling, too! It’s truly in giving that we receive. It’s also a natural way to feel better by releasing endorphins in your brain. So we can’t lose!

3) How might gift giving be different?
Don’t give cash or gifts that may be too easily returned for money, if your loved on is abusing substances.
Give less if it seems appropriate and gift cards are a good option. But be aware that some of them allow you to make a small purchase and get the cash back. Avoid that kind. Or you might shop at thrift stores where your gift can’t be returned.

Letting them shop for themselves also protects you from being hurt if they don’t like what you got. You might go shopping together then get coffee or something to eat afterwards.

4) How will you strengthen yourself ?

Listen to good music, especially praise and worship. It really lifts your spirits.
Read something inspirational every day; spend time in prayer and meditation seeking God’s help; hold onto His promises, reminding yourself of Truth. Go to a support group – I like Al Anon. It reminds me I’m not alone.
Keep taking one day at a time and be thankful for the little things. Make a “grateful” list. Add to it daily.
Take a nap if you need it! Get out and exercise! These things will relax and rejuvenate you!

5) What are my bottom line goals for this holiday time of year?
Decide what they are and focus on them. Remind yourself of them daily. Make notes to yourself and post them around to see and remind yourself of these goals. The birth of Christ is my main focus and all God has done for me through His son. I desire to show him my love and to show his love to others. My child is not the whole sum of my life. So I can be joyful and think more on what is really important to me about this holiday season! The choice is up to me. I can be intentional and not let the situation with my child ruin my ability to enjoy this season! I can still be joyful!

Let’s be prepared, think ahead and lower our stress level so we can enjoy the holidays!

Image used by permission of wikimedia commons


Insanity has been defined as “doing something the same way over and over again and expecting different results.” According to this, I must be insane. Are you? I have tried to control, fix, and change my daughter (and other things in my life) but I can’t do it! I simply cannot do it! Living with the pain and stress of having a child abuse alcohol and drugs, engage in self-harm behavior, struggle with mental illness and suicidal tendencies can make you a little crazy! No matter how hard I try I get the same results. We often try to control people, places and things, believing that our way is the right way for our child. Usually our way doesn’t work, yet we keep trying. Al-Anon says it’s an insane way to live!

In AA and Al-Anon’s 12 Step Recovery Program, Step 3 is: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God . . .” When I received Christ as my Savior and Lord I did this. I relinquished control of myself and gave it to him. Now I must do the same with all other areas of my life, including my prodigal loved one (s). I have to “let go” of my will, of the thoughts that I have any control or power to change them. This is choosing between an insane life and a sane one” — my will (trying to make something happen) or God’s will (giving it to Him and trusting Him with it).

In Courage to Change (pg. 316) it says, “Since my will had let me down time and time again, the real question was how long would I continue running around in the same circles before I was willing to admit defeat and turn to a source of genuine help?”

Let’s stop running around in circles, doing the same things over and over again. I’ve realized this only makes me dizzy and sick! I don’t know about you, but I want to exchange my insanity for the sanity God wants to give me by letting go of my will and giving my child over to His care. I hate feeling so helpless and powerless, but I need to remember, God is in control! He is working where I cannot!

“See I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the desert

and streams in the wasteland.” (Is. 43:19)

Part 2 Beauty From the Ashes of Having a Self-Destructive Daughter

Here are the next four “gifts” I feel I have been given from being the mother of a self-destructive daughter these last almost 12 years. Being her mom I have had to face many of my worst fears for my child. All the things I tried so hard to protect her from – addiction (alcohol and drugs), self-harm (cutting), depression, bi-polar, an anxiety disorder, rape, and attempted suicides. It has been a horrific nightmare, but I have come to see good come from it. In a previous blog i listed 4 gifts. Here are #5 -8.

5) The gift of deep, close friendships with those who accepted me and did not judge. A few friendships fizzled out – those people who couldn’t handle how hard this was. But I made many new, special friendships and even encountered some compassionate strangers. (God’s angels?) I have discovered there is a unique fellowship among parents who have suffered like this. It is very unique (like cancer survivors would have with each other) . All along the way I have seen my Heavenly Father continuously put just the right person in my path at just the right time to offer comfort and encouragement, courage and strength, hope and faith . . . exactly what I needed at the moment. It never ceases to amaze me.

Here are just a few I remember: The woman(a total stranger) I met in a public restroom who held me and prayed for me when I ran in there for privacy when I was sobbing uncontrollably. The dear friend who washed the blood off my daughter’s car (inside and out) and off the sidewalk (in a public parking lot) after one of her severe cutting episodes, while all I could do was sit and cry in her car nearby, totally incapable of helping with the task. The friends who brought food, flowers, helpful books, prayed faithfully, called frequently, emailed regularly and sent cards. One friend came from out of town just to ask how I was doing, then she simply listened while I shared, and cried (of course). Another person I barely knew made a notebook for me full of scriptures and appropriate prayers for my daily use. This became a priceless treasure to me over the next few years. I still have it.

6) I Developed a Greater Capacity to Trust. So many times we did not know if our daughter would survive. I never had any sense of security that she would live. Instead, I sensed God saying to me, “Trust me. Keep trusting me in this dark valley, in this desert place. I won’t leave you or abandon you. I will be with You and I will be with her, too. Even if the worst happens (she dies), I will help you and you will survive.” When you think you can’t go on, keep trusting. By His grace and strength I did and still am.

7) God took my greatest pain and turned it into my passion and a new work

When we were going through this we were desperate for support from others who understood. We looked throughout the community, calling all the large churches, searching the internet but found no help or support for parents like us. My husband and I promised ourselves then that when we were stronger and felt ready, we would start a support group. We did that about 2 1/2 years ago. After that my passion to help other parents grew more and more. It is now my work, my personal ministry – to offer encouragement, hope and help to hurting parents. From my pain God gave me something I am very passionate about. I found purpose from my pain.

I am now a volunteer with Campus Crusade for Christ with Prayer for Prodigals. I maintain the website, Prayer for Prodigals Anyone can become a member of this online community and benefit from it by posting prayers for their child, receive prayers from others for both their child and themselves and enjoy the many resources posted there – books, scriptures, devotionals, reflections, places for help and a message board. I am so blessed to be able to help parents who are hurting due to their children’s self-destructrive choices.

8) Learning to be Authentic and Vulnerable. I learned to take off my mask. It was too heavy and required too much energy to keep it on. No more pretending I am ok when I am not. I decided to stop hiding my struggles and chose instead to be open and honest. As hard and scary as it was at first, I decided it was worth the risk. I have found this to be quite freeing. It also opens the door for others to do the same. “What? I’m not the only one? You, too?” (I believe C.S. Lewis said this) This helps my relationships be more meaningful. We are able to go deeper. I ask hard questions. I listen with more of my heart. It’s scary at times, but well worth it. Authenticity puts me in better position to have my own needs met , as well as helping me more effectively meet the needs of others.

You never know what beauty may rise out of the ashes of your experience. Hold on to hope.

When You Hit The “Wall”

Runner at Heartbreak HillOver the last 11 years I have found that this journey of being the parent of a troubled child  is much like running a race, but this race is not a sprint, it’s a marathon!  I don’t know about you, but I am running to not only finish, but to win the prize!  My goal is to not give up or quit on the way, but to keep my faith to the end, in spite of my daughter’s trials with alcohol, drugs, self-injury, depression, sexual assaults and suicide attempts.

Sometimes I feel like I am hitting the “wall” in this marathon.  I want to quit, stop running and just  rest!  No more pain!I understand that when you run a marathon you have to prepare yourself for hitting this “wall”.  This tends to happen around the 20th mile, when you feel like you are “done”.  You think you can’t go any further. . . . not another step. You’ve got nothing left.  All your reserves are depleted.  Your chest is burning, your muscles are searing with pain and you feel like they will surely give out.

In the Boston Marathon this point is called “Heartbreak Hill”. The last 6 miles are a series of hills that steadily climb higher and higher.  To go on and finish the race looks impossible.  At this point you can’t look too far ahead, it’s too hard.  You’ll never make it.  You have to fix your eyes on the next step, and the next and the next.  With this strategy you can make it! And in this marathon crossing the finish line with your faith intact is winning!!!

What about you?  Have you reached your “wall”?  Have you reached Heartbreak Hill?

Don’t grow weary or lose heart!  When all looks bleak and you feel you can’t go on another step, remember, our hope is in God!  Keep taking One Day at a Time, One Moment at a Time.  Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the One who conquered Heartbreak Hill.  With Him you can conquer yours!

“”Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame;
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

(Heb 12:2-3)

Beauty from the Ashes of Having a Self-Destructive Daughter

Flowers growing out of the ashes of Mt. St. Helens

My life felt like ashes, ashes.  I wondered if I could ever laugh or smile again.  The ashes for me came from my experiences as the mom of a former prodigal daughter, Renee (now 23).

Renee kept me on my knees much of her young life as a stubborn, strong-willed child.  Even as a toddler there were many moments I found myself on my knees by my bed crying and praying desperately for wisdom and strength.  Many times I told the Lord He’d made a mistake – I wasn’t smart enough, strong enough or wise enough to know how to parent her!

Don’t get me wrong, there were many wonderful times and most of her childhood she appeared to be very happy.  Out of our three children, having genuinely received Christ when she was 4, she was the one who had the greatest spiritual depth and insight at a young age.   However, puberty brought a great sense of angst, an identity crisis and an irresistible desire to rebel.  Today Renee says she always knew “I was going to have to learn things the hard way and sometimes I would even cry over that”.  I was completely clueless about the storm that was brewing.


A glimmer of the nightmare ahead began when she was just 12 and cut herself for the first time.  She was upset about something we’d discovered that she had done, knowing she would be disciplined for.  She said the idea literally came to her out of nowhere. She’d never heard of it before and knew of no one who did this to themselves. She struggled secretly with extreme self-condemnation, feeling she had to be perfect. Unknown to us, she had also been plagued with a sense of evil and darkness all around her for years.  We now know it was a combination of depression and spiritual battle.  She thought this was “normal” so she kept it all to herself.  Even today, this still causes me pain.

Renee has suffered the ravages of alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm (cutting), rape, suicide attempts, hospitalizations in the psych ward, several near overdoses, and several stays in residential rehab programs.  She has also been diagnosed with depression, bi-polar, an anxiety disorder and an obsessive compulsive disorder.

All of this is quite depressing to hear, I realize. I share these things to give you an idea of what God has brought me through. Things I never, ever dreamed or imagined could happen to our family.  Not my little girl!  How could it be possible?  The pain so deep, so immobilizing and crushing.  My children had been my ministry, my mission, my focus.  I had given her my whole self.   I had done my very best to be the most godly, Spirit-filled mom I could be.  To love her unconditionally, without reservation, to teach her God’s Word and model living a purposeful, meaningful life for Christ, with great passion and enthusiasm.  So how could this happen?

I was full of so much guilt and self-blame.  What did I do wrong?  What should I have done differently?  How could God let this happen to my child?  I don’t understand!  I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide from the world.  I just wanted it all to go away, to have my sweet little girl back!

My journey as the mom of a child with these severe problems was typical of a person coping with severe loss, like a death.  For this was indeed a death of sorts, the death of my hopes and dreams for my child.  Much of what I experienced felt worse than if she had died, since it included rejection (when she left home at 18, 6 weeks before high school graduation, to pursue her destructive lifestyle) and my worst nightmares coming true.  It was a living death for me that I thought I would never, ever recover from.  I certainly felt like I aged rapidly during some of these episodes.   Shock, embarrassment, shame, anger, resentment, fear, denial, grief and bargaining with God were my constant companions. What good could come of this?   


So, how has God brought beauty out of these ashes?  In ways I never dreamed possible. “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.”  (Isaiah 45:3)  I would never have sought these treasures, but I am far richer today than before this trial began.  I have made many discoveries – about myself, about God, my relationship with Him and all my significant relationships.  This terrible experience brought me many gifts.  Author Sharon Hersch says (in her book, The Last Addiction), “I discovered the gifts of addiction.” So have I.  God’s gifts often come to us wrapped in mysterious ways.   Here are just a few that I have been given:

1 ) I have come to know my Creator on a much deeper and more intimate level than I knew was possible.  Pressing in closer for survival brought a greater sweetness to our fellowship.  I was amazed at the nearness of His presence through many sleepless nights and pain-filled days of uncertainty.  Sometimes His nearness was almost palpable.  While at other times He felt far away. I had to walk by faith and not by sight.  Often numb, He had to be enough, even if no other prayer I prayed was ever answered again.  Could I be content and rest in Him even if my prodigal never came home?

2) Scripture became even more valuable and precious. Knowing I couldn’t make it without strength from God forced me to spend much time in the Scriptures until I received what I needed.  I was constantly amazed at how God would give just the right thing each day! Some days I read a few verses before I would come upon “bread” for my soul.  During these years I discovered many “golden nuggets” that will always be precious to me for how they met my needs and gave me such hope – the Holy Spirit assisted me in “mining” them out of the deep, dark caverns of my affliction.  Here are a three of my favorites:

Isaiah 55:8-13  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord….. my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace…..instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.  This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”

2 Timothy 2:25b-26  “…in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do is will.”

Isaiah 45:3  “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.”

3) I experienced greater spiritual and personal growth. I am the kind of person who does not like conflict. I previously avoided it, but I learned to face it. Instead of run from it I am now able to be more honest about my feelings (though, I won’t fool you, it is still hard!).  I realized I was a rather fearful person.  Going through this trial I learned to face my worst fears, to accept unthinkable possible outcomes and find peace with an unknown future.  My prayer life deepened and I learned to pray more effectively. In short, I grew a lot.

4) I’ve grown closer to my husband and other children. Today we have a richer, deeper appreciation for each other and are able to discuss hard things a little more easily.  When you share so much heartache and pain together it can bring you much closer or it can tear you apart.  So, my husband and I chose to protect our relationship and make it a priority, being careful not to neglect it.  During one of our most difficult times he surprised me by whisking me away on a 3 day cruise, to celebrate our anniversary! We also put out extra effort to be sure our other children were not neglected and knew how loved they are.

In my next blog I will share 4 more “gifts” I feel I was given from being the mom of a self-destructive daughter.