Guest Linda S. Clare has faced countless family crises, and begged God for deliverance. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, as she puts it, “In my life, God hardly ever delivers me out of a problem, but He carries me through it.” Come listen in as she shares all she’s learned about family, faith, and God’s love in the deep.
About Linda S. Clare
Linda S. Clare is the author or coauthor of seven books, including her latest, Prayers for Parents of Prodigals, from Harvest House Publishers. A longtime writing teacher and coach, Linda also contributes to Guideposts, Chicken Soup books, MomPower.org and The Addict’s Mom. She lives with her family in Oregon.
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Erin: Hello, writers, and welcome to the deep. We are so glad you’re here with us. And we also have a guest. We have Linda S. Clare with us today, and I’m going to let Karen introduce her because she’s good at it!
Karen: I’ve known Linda for quite a few years. She was one of my clients when I was an agent, one of the first people that I signed, because she’s very talented as a writer.
If you haven’t read her books, get out there and read them. But she’s faced countless family crises, and she’s still been able to write books in the midst of all that. It’s been amazing to see what she’s accomplished in her life.
She’s been writing professionally since 1993, and she’s taught fiction, memoir, and essay writing for Lane Community College for more than a dozen years. So, she’s a prof! In addition to her published books and award-winning short stories, her articles and essays, she works as a writing advisor for George Fox University, which I think is very cool. She’s a frequent presenter at writer’s conferences with good reason.
In her spare time, all that spare time that she’s got, she dotes on her grand babies, collects too many cats, she gardens and walks on the beach. And Linda is a fellow Oregonian, so she lives in Oregon with her family and all those wayward cats. Linda, welcome to Write from the Deep.
Linda: Thank you for having me today, Erin and Karen. I’m so happy to be talking with you this morning because the deeper my writing goes, the better writer I am, so I know I’m in the right place.
Erin: Tell us, Linda, what does the deep mean to you?
Linda: The deep. Oh my gosh. It means everything to every writer, but especially to a Christian writer, because the deep is where you find him. That’s where Jesus hangs out. He hangs out in the deepest places. The places that hurt us, the places that make us say, “I can’t go on.” The places where we are so frustrated that we cry out for his presence.
That’s what the deep means to me. We have a little saying in the community college classes that I taught: crack it open. When I would teach, especially memoir writing about people’s lives, I would say, “This part is really good. Crack it open.”
When you crack something open, where does it go?”
It goes eventually––sometimes we have to have a few layers before we get there––but eventually we go to the deep.
Karen: Yup. Very good. Thank you.
Erin: Exactly. I love it. One of the reasons that we wanted to talk to you today is that you have some struggles that you face as a writer because of family issues and family members dealing with serious issues.
Talk a little bit about how you’ve written through that and how that affects your writing.
Linda: Even back in the 90s, addiction was already rearing its head in my family. I have a middle child who, I always say, is a beautiful boy, if there ever was one. He’s incredibly good looking. I mean, really.
When he began to show signs of addiction, even like in the sixth grade, then we were alarmed. At first we said, “Okay, it’s a phase. He’ll go through this and then he’ll be okay.” Just for the record, this child had had some mental health issues since first grade. So he had already been to social workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, you name it.
He had been on Prozac. He had been on all that stuff as a little boy. By 2000, around the turn of the century, he and his older brother, who was about two and a half years older, were still giving us problems. And we still believed it was a phase.
Two buddies of mine, Heather Kopp and Melody Carlson, we got together and we wrote a book called Lost Boys and the Moms who Love Them because we each had at least two boys.
I was the only one who has a girl. Because I have four children, not two like them. Anyway, it was going on even back then. Fast forward twenty years. At the time I thought that only one child had a problem, which turned into be a method addiction, which is one of the worst ones if you ask people.
Linda: No, it’s all three of my sons. I have four children altogether. Two of them are twins. I only asked for three, but I got four. I didn’t know I was having twins, by the way. All three of my sons have substance use disorder, which is the nice name that they give it now, instead of addiction.
Two are alcoholics. The middle son is still mostly a meth addict and he struggles mightily. All three of them struggle mightily against it. When I was having all three of my sons living with me about five years ago, my husband ended up in the hospital with a heart attack, and he received some stents. Those things that prop open your arteries when they’re all plugged up.
One of them blew during the procedure, so they had to rush him back in and do another. Somewhere in that big chaos, the plaque on the inside of his arteries caused something called a cholesterol embolism. Bottom line is that he’ll be on kidney dialysis for the rest of his life.
At that time, it was four days a week, and if you know anything about kidney disease, each dialysis time takes four hours.
Linda: In which they take all your blood out and cleanse it, remove toxins, and then put it all back in. Not all at once!
Erin: I’m assuming you’re the caregiver during this time.
Linda: I am the caregiver, and I had all three sons living with us. Boomerang kids. They’re all grown ups, but they were living with us. Different circumstances.
Erin: And you’re trying to write during this time?
Linda: I’m trying to write during this time. In fact, during that time, a friend of mine and four other editors put together––I wrote a once-a-month blog post that year for C.S. Laken and her Live, Write, Thrive blog, and then she put it all into a book and gosh, five years later, I’m still getting royalties off that.
Karen: That’s great.
Linda: It was. It was a wonderful way to put a lot of really solid writing advice into book form. I can’t believe how well that book has done. I think one of the secrets to it is that it has before and after examples for each thing.
Anyway, I was writing. I was also spending a lot of time at the hospital. My husband kept having crisis after crisis. I would come home at night from the hospital and expected my three grown sons to act like adults when I came home exhausted, knowing that their father was clinging to life.
No. They were out in my garage every night carrying on. Getting into arguments the way only Irish American people do.
I was flummoxed. I was so unprepared for that. And so what do you do with all that baggage? I think that’s where all that stuff, when we talk about writing from the deep, really comes in.
At the time I wrote about my experience as catharsis, as therapy for me. You’re going through a terrible part of your life. You know, somebody’s got cancer, somebody’s been cheated on, somebody’s kid’s got something bad wrong with them. There’s addiction. Whatever the issue is, even writing as a journal is a way for you to stay connected to God during that difficult time, just pouring out your thoughts.
But I also learned something. I wrote some pieces for Chicken Soup––different call out submissions. And they rejected every single one of them, because I was in this deep, dark place. I was in the deep. And of course those books are meant to be positive and optimistic, and I was just not there.
It taught me that maybe I didn’t need to be making money in that classical sense of the word at that time. I was writing more to God than I was as a professional writer for publication.
Karen: Right. When we were talking earlier, you made a comment that I think is so powerful. You were saying that, you know, you’d prayed for God to come and deliver you and your family from all these things.
You said, “In my life, God hardly ever delivers me out of a problem, but he carries me through it.”In my life, God hardly ever delivers me out of a problem, but he carries me through it. @lindasclare #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet
Linda: That’s right.
Karen: I think that’s such a powerful truth. That’s a truth that we all need to hold onto. We all want, and we’ve talked about this before in our podcast, we all want out of the deep as fast as possible, but sometimes God says, “This is where you need to tarry, and I will carry you through these struggles. I will be there and I will provide and supply for you.”
What were some of the ways that you saw God carrying you?
Linda: I saw God carrying me in all different ways. It was absolutely amazing, and it changed my life because I was so far in the deep, not only with my sons, but with my husband, whom I thought might die at any time. I was forced to really reevaluate, who do I think Jesus is?
Who do I think God is? What does that mean to me and why am I writing in this area? Why do I write as a Christian writer? It helped me redefine not only who I am, but who Jesus is for me. And it stopped being a, “Yeah, I believe in Jesus.” And I started walking with him.
And I noticed that when I would come home and have those horrible nights where the boys would be fighting, and I was all alone that there was somebody with me. It was almost as cheesy as those old bookstore posters of the footprints in the sand. You know? But it was real. It wasn’t just a poster anymore. It was something like, “Oh, he really is walking here with me.”
One of the things that has happened, although I’m sure it’s a little more slowly than God would prefer, is that I’m learning how to reject tough love when it means severing relationship with my sons, but I’m also learning how to create boundaries that are healthier for me.
I mean, just last week I ran into a woman who runs a ministry in Minnesota. She’s from Minnesota, anyway. I was asking her some questions, “Would you recommend my new book, Prayers for Parents of Prodigals coming out?” And she wrote back, “Yes, I would.”
Then I told her, “But my real book is called Not Tough Love, Just Love. That’s the one I get rejected all the time. She wrote back and she said, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe this. I have already set aside the domain name of just love ministries.”
Karen: Oh my gosh.
Linda: Now we are planning to collaborate on the book. She has the letters after her name. She’s a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. I have no letters after my name except D-U-M-B sometimes.
Karen: Oh, stop it!
Linda: Or D-O-H like Homer, “Doh!” But I can write. I don’t know if this is where God’s leading me, but this is where I’ve been carried so far.
Karen: That’s so much like what happened with Erin and me when we first realized that we both had this passion for being chaplains to writers and encouraging them spiritually. God just orchestrated it so perfectly and we look back on that, how long ago was that? Five years, Erin?
Erin: Oh, seven maybe.
Karen: Seven years ago and we look back at that, and we’re just amazed at the way that he does things if we look to him instead of looking and trying to figure things out ourselves.
That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my family crises and dealing with the things that we have is that it’s not my circus and not my monkeys, unless God tells me it is. It’s not my circus and not my monkeys, and he will take care of those details.
I just need to be obedient in the tasks he’s given me.
Linda: Yeah. And there is another thing that I really wanted the writers out there to hear today. One thing that I’ve learned as God carries me through all this is trust your gut. When you’re covering yourself, “Oh, I don’t want people to know that. I can’t let people see this.” Then you are not writing from the deep. I’m sorry.
You may have to be vulnerable, but here’s the thing. When Jesus calls us to follow him, he asks us to keep our hearts fresh and open and vulnerable. If you can’t be vulnerable in front of your readers, they aren’t going to see themselves. Because they are longing for somebody to see them.
They are longing to see themselves in what you write.
Erin: Linda, how did you do that? How did you come to that ability given the terrible things you were going through and the loneliness and the difficulty? What are some ways that you were encouraging yourself to open up when you had to have been so pummeled? How’d you open up?
Linda: I feel like it all started with a little memoir that I wrote a while ago that’s still not published. It’s called One Hand Clapping. It’s all about several visits to a Shriner’s hospital in Salt Lake city that I underwent from about age nine to about age twelve.
I’m from Yuma, Arizona, but the hospital is in Salt Lake city, so I always had to go by myself. You would stay for like three months without any kind of parental family around. I learned to be self-reliant.
I remember when I first started writing this story, I was trying to ask my mother––I’m a polio survivor, and I’ve been disabled most of my life, I use one arm––and I asked Mom for some details of that time of when I was a kid going to that hospital.
She turned around to me and she said, “Oh, but Linda, that’s all over now.” And I remember thinking, “Well, not for me, it’s not.” By journeying back to that little girl who was the scared little girl. In that hospital at that time, I mean, they didn’t hand out teddy bears back then.
They would only allow you to keep your shoes, two books, and stationary. Everything else was hospital issue. Your clothing, you went to school there, everything. You weren’t allowed to have toys. Nothing from home.
Linda: One of the things that was my precious possession was a little white Bible with a gold zipper on it and a cross for the pull.
Karen: I remember those.
Linda: Yeah. Jesus’ words in red letters, and I kept it under my pillow because I was so terrified. I was on a ward with 12 other girls. We all had major surgery. Major orthopedic surgery, I might say. They’ve expanded since.
But that experience I had sort of tucked away, and that’s what I’m getting at when I say, “Open your heart. Be willing to be vulnerable, because God says, ‘Love.'” God is love. And what is love if it is not vulnerable?
You have to be willing to open yourself. As I did that, all these memories came flooding back, and I had to deal with some stuff. I had to deal with the fact that I was in that place for three months and no one ever came to see me.
Linda: That I would sit on my bed every Sunday afternoon from 1:30 to 4:00 visiting hours and just sit there, you know?
I had to unpack all that. At first, of course, I was mad at everybody because I get mad easy. But now it’s part of the way that I understand how important it is not to hold back. How to reach other people.
I had a little saying when I taught memoir classes and it went like this: You say a memoir is about your life, but it’s really not about you.
It’s about your reader. It’s about what your reader sees in themselves as they’re reading and how they relate to what you’re saying and if you are holding back, if you are saying, “I’m only going to give you the nice Linda, the good Linda,” then you’re not going to be able to reach that place.
Karen: It’s authenticity, and we need that on the page. We need that in the church. We need that in our relationships. If you are hiding a part of yourself because you’re ashamed of it or because you’re afraid of what people will think, you’re cheating God out of being able to use that, not just to help others, but to help and refine you.
Karen: If you’re not going to be honest about the things you’ve gone through and the struggles and who God has been to you in the midst of it, then why bother writing?
Linda: I feel like it’s also a good thing to remember though, too, that when you are vulnerable, it’s okay to be terrified. I’m still terrified. But you go back to that idea that he carries me. He carries me through it so that I can afford to be vulnerable.
Erin: There’s a great Bible verse that talks about that. It’s Isaiah 46:4, and this is the NIV version. It says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
I can’t think of a better promise than that.
Linda: No, I can’t either.
Karen: It’s so easy for us, especially if you’ve been in the church all your life, to read over those things and to say, “Yeah, yeah,” and to quote it, but you don’t really understand it. You don’t really embrace it.
When things get hard, we freak out and we wonder where God is instead of remembering that he’s right there with us, and he’s carrying us like you’ve shown so clearly, Linda.
Thank you so much for being here and for sharing what you’ve learned about God and family struggles and faith in the midst of it all. I know that you’ll bless our listeners because you’ve blessed me, and I’m sure you’ve blessed Erin in the midst of it.
God is good all the time. That’s a catch phrase, but it’s true. Friends, God is good all the time. You don’t have to doubt it. You don’t have to wonder if he’s with you. He is, and he will carry you. He’s made that promise and it’s a promise you can count on.
Erin: Yes. Amen. Thank you, Linda. We will have the links for your books in the show notes. Prayers for Parents of Prodigals and some of the other books we mentioned. Everyone, there’ll be links in the show notes. Thank you so much for being here, Linda.
Linda: All right, well, you guys are doing a good job. I really love what you’re doing. I mean, I honestly want to say thank you. Not only for having me on, but also to say this is a message that writers need to hear. I’ve been teaching at Mount Herman the last two or three years, and that’s all I ever tell people is, you know, be who you are.
Erin: Yes. Amen.
Books Mentioned in the Podcast:
Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them by Melody Carlson, Heather Kopp, and Linda S. Clare
We want to hear from you!
Do you have a prodigal? What gives you encouragement as you wait and pray?
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Special thanks to our February sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! Tammy is a southern author and a speaker at women’s retreats. Her novel Blood Beneath the Pines is set mostly in the deep South and is a tale of prevailing justice. Find out more about Tammy at her website: Tammypartlow.com
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