Seeking Help for Renee
About the Guest
Tom and Dena YoheDena Yohe (pronounced YOY) has been a social worker, pastor's wife, and Cru staff member. She is the mother of a formerly troubled daughter, Renee´Yohe. Renee´ was the suicidal, addicted, depressed, self-harming girl whose situation led friends to start the well-known nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms. Renee´’s life was also portrayed in the 2015 Sony Pictures release by the same name. Dena is an avid blogger. She and her husband, Tom, have three grown children, enjoy being grandparents,...more
As their daughter, Renee, continued to spiral out of control; Tom and Dena Yohe knew that the Word of God was their food and prayer was their lifeline. So, they asked friends to pray.
Seeking Help for Renee
Bob: By the time she was a young adult, Renee Yohe’s life was centered on partying, drinking, drugs. In fact, it became so severe that Renee’s counselor believed she might try to take her own life. Here’s Renee’s mom, Dena Yohe.
Dena: The counselor had told us what to do to be sure she was alive, because we couldn’t really tell. We had to get in her face and try and check her pupils and her breathing. When I bowed over to check her pupils, and could smell the alcohol, then immediately, it was like someone flipped a switch. I went from being on the verge of losing my mind with grief to so angry: “How could you do this?! You don’t know what you put us through tonight!”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey; and I'm Bob Lepine. How do you manage the emotions you’re feeling, as a parent, when you feel hopeless, trying to help a son or a daughter who may not even want your help?
We’ll hear more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We have spent enough time talking with enough parents to know that perhaps the deepest grief a parent can experience is the grief that comes when a son or a daughter heads off in a direction that is—not just a different direction than you would point them to, as a parent—but a destructive direction, one that can have life consequences that are—are frightening.
Dennis: Yes; you think about a child—when they place a child in your arms—the Bible says that a child is a blessing. Blessed is he whose quiver if full of—of children. I mean, parents want to delight in a child.
Then, when they raise the child up to end up becoming a prodigal—and maybe one that rails against everything that they were raised to do and be, as a young man or a young lady—it’s hard for that not to, first of all, be such a disappointment it completely craters the parents; but secondly, it can be a personal rejection of the parents—because they’re rejecting you, and your values, and what you’ve tried to do for the child.
We’ve got a couple with us who have started a ministry called Hope for Hurting Parents. Tom and Dena Yohe join us on FamilyLife Today. Tom/Dena, welcome back.
Dena: Thank you, Dennis.
Tom: Thank you. Thank you again for having us.
Dennis: Tom and Dena have been married since 1978. They have three adult children now. Dena’s written a book called You Are Not Alone: Hope for Hurting Parents of Troubled Children.
Earlier, Tom/Dena—we shared about your daughter—how she started cutting, actually, at the age of 12—how you tracked that all the way through adolescence into some very troubling years in high school, where she finally began to abuse drugs and had a bigger problem with cutting.
You got some counseling / you got some help; but ultimately, she faced a desperate time when she was 23. She had moved out of the house, and you all were away from town. You received the call that every parent—especially the parent of a prodigal—is so fearful they’ll receive.
Tom: Yes; we had planned a weekend away. We weren’t that far—we just went to Daytona. We were there, actually, to pursue some direction for our lives. We were praying, and we get a call in the middle of the night from her counselor—he says: “I’m really concerned about Renee. I’m afraid that she’s going to take her life. I’ve called police and asked them to go to your home. They’ve gone, and they’re not getting any response.” He said, “You need to get home as soon as possible.” We checked out, and hopped in the car, and began driving through the middle of the night.
Tom: It was one of the most difficult drives we’ve ever made.
Dena: He went on to say, “Picture—it’s like she’s sitting in a building that is doused with kerosene, and she’s holding a lit match, and she’s about to drop it.” He wanted to impress upon us how dangerous the situation he felt she was in and that we needed to go home as fast as we could.
Bob: Let me step back, for a second, from this moment—which is catastrophic. You had been aware—while your daughter was in high school—that she was drinking, that she was smoking weed, she was taking pills, and she was with the wrong crowd. You’d tried to get help and get counsel. Between 18 and 23, what had happened with Renee?
Dena: She had had many mental health diagnoses: anxiety disorder, depression, some thought it was bi-polar.
Also learned that she had a sensory processing disorder, where she was overly sensitive to all external stimuli, which created a lot of this internal angst that was really behind a lot of things. Those were some of the things.
Tom: Well, then, she had about six weeks left before graduating from high school and she had turned 18 in December. She just knew that, legally, she didn’t have to be here; so she informed us: “I’m moving out.
Dena: —tired of our rules.
Tom: “I’m tired of the rules—not going to be grounded anymore. I’m moving out. I’ve got a friend who’s going to allow me to come and stay with them.” The parents consented without ever talking to us about the situation. They were going to come and rescue her.
Tom: We said, “Okay, if that’s what you want.” She left; and within weeks, both of those girls were out of the home because they were—
Dena: —kicked out.
Tom: —drinking and skipping school. Those parents kicked them out. After about a week, their daughter returned home. Renee didn’t—
—she was too strong-willed and just determined that she was going to stay out.
Bob: Had she ever—as a child, growing up—articulated anything about faith to you guys?
Dena: Oh, yes!
Tom: Very much so.
Tom: She came to Christ at an early age. She loved Jesus, and she was a flaming evangelist when we were in Russia.
Dena: Quite a missionary.
Tom: There was one time she came home—practically in tears—because she handed out a tract to somebody, and they looked at it, and threw it down on the ground, and stepped on it. That crushed her.
Dena: Couldn’t understand it.
Tom: She couldn’t understand why anybody would want to do that.
Dena: As a matter of fact, when she was only three—and I was quite ill this one day—she came into my room. I still remember it as clear as could be—she put her hand on my head and she asked Jesus to take Mommy’s headache away. [Emotion in voice] Immediately, it was gone. God’s hand was on this little girl from the time she was very young, and it really broke our hearts when she began to move away from that.
Although, she would tell you today: “I never rejected my faith. I never stopped believing. I just wanted to be the one in control.”
Dennis: That’s what a lot of people don’t understand about parents of prodigals—is the parents may have seen a heart that wanted to be spiritually-receptive to God and to obey Jesus Christ and follow Him. Yet, now, they’re seeing this behavior that’s self-destructive. It’s terribly disorienting—you’re trying to fit it all together. It’s hard not to take all the responsibility on yourself for some problem, or some mistake, or some error, or something you didn’t do for this child.
Dena: Yes; yes.
Tom: Yes; we look back—we say: “What good did I not do enough of?” or “What were the things I should have taken / removed from that that would have made the difference?” It’s just an endless cycle.
Dena: We’re fortunate in that we’ve been able to have a conversation with her since then and ask her some hard questions.
We said, “Feel free—tell us—what do you think we should have done or not done?” She has said very strongly: “Mom/Dad, it wasn’t you. It wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do. It was me—I wanted to do these things.”
Dennis: So back to the mad dash back home.
Bob: Yes; what did you find?
Tom: We went in and surprisingly—Dena’s father was living with us at the time, in his own room—he was not stirred by anything.
Tom: And we had a dog that we expected would have been barking. The dog wasn’t barking at all. We went in and discovered Renee in her room.
Dena: And I couldn’t—I couldn’t go in. I had to hang back.
Tom: She was alive. She was very drunk and had passed out, and that’s why there was no response.
Dena: The counselor had told us what to do to be sure she was alive, because we couldn’t really tell.
We had to get in her face and try and check her pupils and her breathing. When I bowed over to check her pupils, and could smell the alcohol, then immediately, it was like someone flipped a switch. I went from being on the verge of losing my mind with grief to so angry: “How could you do this?! You don’t know what you put us through tonight!”
Tom: Yes; there was both that—that celebration in the sense that, “She’s okay,” / there’s that relief, and we were so glad—but then, at the same time, we were so mad at what you [she] put us through.
Bob: I have to ask, here, because, at this point, you’ve been battling this for five years with your daughter. Was this having a toll on your marriage? Was this driving a wedge between the two of you?
Tom: It started to. There was a lot of potential—there’s more angst / there’s more tension between us—
Tom: —more disagreements between us. Fortunately, when I was in college, I was studying for a pastoral ministry. The professor in one of the classes told us: “Crisis of any kind—guard your marriage—
Tom: —“could be financial, could be health, could be whatever—guard your marriage.” Fortunately, God brought that back to my mind; and we began to be very intentional with our marriage.
We had a book—actually, Dennis, written by you and Barbara—it was Two Hearts Are Better than One. We used that for our date-night conversation. It was a good book for us to get away from the angst, and away from the conversations about Renee, and be able to just focus on us. We declared that date night as a “No Prodigal Zone.”
Tom: There was not going to be a conversation about Renee that night. This was our night to build—there were a number of other things we did.
Bob: So important for listeners to hear you talk about that because, in the midst of the grief, it’s so easy to turn on the other person.
Bob: It’s so easy for this to become a wedge, and now the process is a whole lot more complex—because it’s not just a prodigal—but now, you’ve got a marriage in crisis; and that’s a downward spiral.
Dennis: There’s one other key element in this as well—that’s the other two children. They really suffer in a way that is totally different than the parents or the prodigal. They’re observing all this, and they’re undoubtedly dealing with anger toward their sister and the chaos she’s brought to the family. Talk about them for a moment.
Tom: Her older brother, Michael, is four years older; so he went off to college. While he was informed and knew about things, he wasn’t present in the home. April, the younger sister, is only two years younger—so she saw both sides. She saw what was happening with Renee and their relationship and then she also saw what was happening with us. She was angry with Renee. There was a time, when Renee was in a treatment center—they had family time together—and April was able to tell Renee about the anger she felt.
Tom: Renee said, “April, I deliberately tried to make you hate me; because I did not want you to follow my path.”
Tom: It was a tremendous time for them just to be honest and have reconciliation together. They were very, very close.
The other thing with April—from parents—we tried to explain to her that: “Renee is getting a lot of attention right now, but it’s like a broken bone in the body—like you broke your arm,”—and both of the girls had. So we said: “This is—this arm is getting a lot of attention / it’s broken, it’s wounded, it’s hurting; but it doesn’t mean that the rest of the body is loved any less; and it doesn’t mean it’s always going to be that way.” We tried to help her see that and that there would be time when we would be able to give her more focused attention. We did do deliberate things to make things special for her when we could.
Dennis: There’s another illustration that I use to talk about what happens to a family in the midst of a prodigal—it’s like the solar system—instead of revolving around the sun, starts revolving around Pluto. [Laughter]
Dennis: It wasn’t designed to revolve around some planet at the outskirts, pushing the outer limits. It was meant to be near the sun, where the heat and the warmth come from. You really have to be careful to protect the spiritual life—first of all, for yourself, as a man/woman, husband/wife, mom/dad—but also of your children so that they don’t grow cynical about God—that God’s not hearing their prayers.
Bob: So, finding your 23-year-old passed out in your home, non-responsive. Is that the point where you said: “We’ve got to do rehab—we’ve got to get you in. We’ve got to get some help / some professional treatment”? And was Renee open to that?
Tom: It took a while for her to get to that point. She was out on the streets, just right after high school. She had gotten to the point where things were pretty bad. I was down in West Palm Beach with my son, shopping for a car after he had graduated. One of those other calls came in from the police department that Renee had been Baker Acted and was in the hospital. The police told me that I—I should go back.
Bob: Tell our listeners what being “Baker Acted” means.
Tom: At least, in Florida, if somebody is a danger to themselves, people can call the police and report that. They have special officers that are trained to go out and evaluate the situation and, if it warrants, they will take them, in the police car, to the hospital and check them in. They’ll be admitted to a psychiatric ward for 72 hours.
I had gotten the call that Renee was in the hospital—she had been Baker Acted. I was driving home at night and just praying the whole way, wondering what to say: “How do I react? How do I respond to Renee?”
The Lord just seemed to tell me, “Tell her how much she’s loved.” When I walked into the room—she was still not into the psych ward yet—I looked her right in the face / I got close to her—I said: “Renee, nothing you have done or has been done to you, will ever change our love for you. We will always love you, and you can always count on it.” That seemed to, I think, made a switch in her; and she was willing to get help. We were able to find a treatment center for her that she went into.
Dennis: And upon coming out of the treatment center?—we’ve talked about the statistics here, on FamilyLife Today, 80 percent relapse.
Dennis: Did that happen with Renee?
Dena: Yes; it did.
Tom: Yes; unfortunately, she—it was a 90-day program. She completed the whole 90 days—had gone into the half-way house to step into maybe finding employment, what have you—but in front of the half-way house one evening, [she] and one of the other residents—a girl/woman—were beaten and mugged.
Dena: —by three men in ski masks.
Bob: Oh my!
Tom: So we had to go back and get her. She couldn’t stay—she said she was traumatized—couldn’t be in that home and in the front of that home. We told her: “We will bring you home for healing, but know that it’s for healing. If you decide that—otherwise or other reasons—the consequences we had spoken about before would come into play,” which basically, we had told her before and explained, “If you choose to drink, you choose to live somewhere else.”
Bob: You saw her starting to drift in that direction; and it did come to a head, where she came home and said, “I’m not done partying yet”; right?
Tom: Yes; exactly. She had been with us for several days and was feeling okay—had been invited to a birthday party. We gave her permission to go. She called about 11 o’clock that night and she goes, “Dad, I want to stay all night at the party.”
I asked her—I said, “Are you wanting to stay all night because you’re having fun—that much fun—or because you’re drinking?” She goes, “Dad, I’m drinking.” I said, “Okay, you know what that means”; and we hung up.
She came home the next day, late in the afternoon, grabbed her things, packed up and walked out. We had a porch at the time—the three of us sat on the porch that night and had one of the most honest, adult conversations I think we’ve had. She says: “Dad, in the treatment center, the men—the people who are done—said they knew when they were done.” She says, “I don’t think I’m done.” I said: “But Renee, you don’t control what ‘done’ means. ‘Done’ can be dead; ‘Done’ can be hospitalized; ‘Done’ can be maimed; ‘Done can be—
Tom: —“so many other things. You don’t control it.” She goes, “I know Dad, but I don’t think I’m done.” We stood up, we hugged / we embraced, we wept; and she walked off the porch.
Dennis: What did it take to ultimately be “done” for Renee?
Tom: Well, it was still a longer journey. There were other things—there were ups and downs—
Dena: —more rehabs.
Tom: There were periods of good recovery, followed by relapse. When she walked off the porch that night, she had made friends with some solid people in recovery—strong Christians—and they had Bible studies, and they had church services for the twenty-somethings at our church. She would occasionally attend those Bible studies, and the person leading it would keep tabs of her. He watched her, and he knew things were starting to get bad again—really bad.
Bob: Dennis, talk about the emotional roller coaster that this is for parents—and how you survive one day, feeling hopeful, and the next day feeling hopeless again—and the constant cycle that you go through in that situation, as a parent.
Dennis: The roller coaster is a good illustration, because there are some high points of hope and then there is a fast descent into despair. This is where you were not designed to go through this ride alone—you need to be tight with God / you need to be in the Book—because I don’t know how somebody would go through the experience with a prodigal without allowing the truth of Scripture to speak hope to the soul, because the soul despairs at a level you cannot even imagine.
I’ve experienced all kinds of hurt in my life / in our marriage in 44 years, betrayal with friends / family members. There’s nothing like having one of your sheep go astray—one of your children that you have poured your life into—who is not choosing to follow Jesus Christ.
You want them to have the very best; and when you see them choosing the very worst, it is an agony that is beyond description.
Parents, who are listening to us, you have to let other people into your lives. You have to be a part of some kind of on-going encouragement group that lifts you out of that despair and reminds you of the truth of God—who He is, that He’s not left you nor forsaken you, and that you have to persevere in well-doing.
Bob: Dena, one of the strategies you employed, as a couple, is—you had six couples / six friends, who had said, “We will pray regularly”; and you didn’t take that casually. You went to them with very specific prayer requests every week; right?
Dena: Yes; I knew that prayer would be our lifeline and that we needed people to stand in the gap with us.
I went to six of our closest friends that I knew really cared about us / loved Renee, and I asked them if they would be part of a prayer team for her. Once a week, I would send them specific requests—how to pray for her / how to pray for us—and then, the next week, another one. It did grow to almost 50 people over the years.
Bob: —and went on for years.
Dena: Yes; yes. Those people were a huge blessing to—to all of us. The Word of God was just our breath, and food, and sustenance. The fear that was so great during this time—the Lord gave me so many verses—but a real favorite is Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you.
Dena: “Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
Bob: That sounds like you are not alone. [Laughter]
Bob: Of course, that’s what you titled the book that you’ve written for parents to help them if they find themselves in a situation like the one you guys were in. The book is called You Are Not Alone. It’s a book we’ve got copies of in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order a copy of the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
We also have a link on our website to the Yohe’s website if you’d like to know more about their ministry and the resources they have available. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link; or order a copy of the book, You Are Not Alone. You can also order by phone at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Well, we are down to the last couple of days of the month of May. This has been a month where our goal has been to raise $1.1 million this month. The reason for that goal is because, as we head into summer, there are some critical projects we’re working on, including a new video series for parents called, FamilyLife’s The Art of Parenting. We’re hoping to be able to continue, full speed ahead, with the development of that and other resources during the summer.
In order to do that, we needed to raise some necessary funding. We set the goal of $1.1 million for this month. We’ve heard from many of our listeners this month: “Thank you,” to those of you who have gotten in touch with us and made a contribution. There is still time to do that and still a little ways to go, I think. I haven’t seen the latest numbers, but I think there’s still a little ways to go before we reach that goal. You can find out exactly where we are, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also donate when you’re online, and we hope you’ll do that—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if that’s easier—donate over the phone.
Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about what a husband and wife can do to make sure their marriage stays strong even when they’re going through a difficult time in their parenting. Tom and Dena Yohe will be back with us tomorrow. Hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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