Beauty from the Ashes of Parenting a Self-Destructive Daughter

by | Oct 24, 2022 | hope | 12 comments

photo cred. Edward Kucherenko on unsplash

My life felt like ashes. Would ever be able to laugh or smile again? The ashes were from my experiences as the mom of a troubled daughter.

My daughter, Renee, kept me in constant need of prayer as she grew up. Even as a toddler there were countless moments I found myself on my knees by my bed in tears praying desperately for wisdom and strength.  Many times I told the God He’d made a mistake. I wasn’t smart enough, strong enough or wise enough to know how to parent this challenging, strong-willed child.

Don’t get me wrong, there were many wonderful times. Most of her childhood she appeared to be a happy little girl. She received Christ when she was 4 and had great spiritual depth for such 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”. But I was the clueless mom who had no idea what an intense storm loomed on the horizon.


A glimmer of the nightmare ahead began when Renee cut herself the first time when she was twelve. She was upset about something we’d discovered that she had done, knowing she would be disciplined. She said the idea to hurt herself literally came to her out of nowhere. She’d never heard of cutting 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 surrounding her for years. Today we understand this was a combination of depression and spiritual battle. She thought these struggles were normal so she kept them to herself. Even now, 0ver twenty years later, knowing she carried this secret for so long still causes me pain.

Renee has suffered the ravages of alcoholism, drug abuse, self-harm (cutting), rape, suicide attempts, hospitalizations in psych wards, near overdoses, and several stays in residential treatment programs. Diagnosed with numerous mental health disorders among them anxiety, PTSD, and an obsessive compulsive disorder, her struggles were on many levels.

I realize this is hard to hear. My story might be almost identical to yours. I’m sharing my journey to give you an idea of what God has brought me through. Experiences I never, ever dreamed or imagined could happen have happened to our family. Not my little girl. How could it be possible? The pain has been deep, at times immobilizing and crushing. Have you thought the same thing?

photo cred. Bruno Nascimento on unsplash

My children were my world, my sole focus. I gave them all I had. I tried to be the best, most godly, Spirit-filled mom I could be. My husband’s and my goal with each of our three children was to love them unconditionally and without reservation; to teach them God’s Word and model living a purposeful, meaningful life for Christ, with passion and enthusiasm. I wondered how could this be my life?

Full of guilt and self-blame, I tortured myself asking: What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? How could God let this happen to one of my children? I don’t understand! I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide from everyone. I just wanted it all to go away, to have my sweet little girl back. Is this you too?

To be honest, I felt as though my daughter had died. For this was indeed a death of sorts, the death of the hopes and dreams I had for her. When Renee left home at eighteen, six weeks before high school graduation, to pursue a destructive lifestyle, my worst nightmare came true. I told a friend, “I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from this.” Shock, denial, embarrassment, shame, anger, fear, and bargaining with God were my constant companions. What good could come from this?


How has God brought beauty out of these ashes? In ways I never dreamed possible.

During this time, I stumbled upon a Bible verse I’d never noticed before:

 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places (Isaiah 45:3) NIV

Treasures in darkness. Riches in secret places? How could that be? I couldn’t see it then, but now I can tell you that I am far richer for the discoveries I’ve made on this painful journey with my daughter than before this trial began. I learned more about myself, about God, about His Word, and each of my significant relationships. This terrible experience has brought me many gifts. In The Last Addiction, author Sharon Hersch wrote, “I discovered the gifts of addiction.” So have I.

God’s gifts often come to us wrapped in mysterious ways.

Here are a few treasures, “gifts” I have received. Beauty from the ashes:

1 ) I know my Creator on a much deeper and more intimate level. 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 presence was almost palpable. While at others He felt far away.

Walking by faith not by sight became essential. Often numb God had to be enough, even if no other prayer I ever prayed was answered again. Could I be content? Could I rest in Him even if my prodigal never came home? Can you?

2) Scripture became even more valuable and precious. Knowing I couldn’t survive emotionally without God’s supernatural strength forced me to spend a lot more time in the Scriptures. I was constantly amazed at how God would give exactly what I needed for each day. Some days I read a few verses before I would come upon bread for my soul. During these years I discovered a wealth of riches that will always be valuable to me for how they sustained my spirit, filling me with hope. The Holy Spirit assisted me in mining them out of God’s Word. Here are two of my favorites:

Isaiah 55:8-13 NIV  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 NIV  …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.

3) I experienced greater spiritual and personal growth. I don’t like conflict. Avoiding discord is my preference, but I’ve learned to face disagreements (at least I do better now). Instead of running from conflict, I’m able to be more honest about my feelings (though, I won’t fool you, it is still hard!). Before, I was an anxious, fearful person, but now I’m much more peace. I’ve learned to face my worst fears, accept possible outcomes and find peace with an unknown future. My faith has grown and my prayer life has deepened. I trust God more and rest in Him more fully. Bible verses often form my prayers and I listen to my heavenly Father more when I pray.

4) I’ve grown closer to my husband and other children. Today we have a richer, deeper appreciation for each other and we’re able to discuss hard subjects a little more easily.

photo cred Harli Marten on unsplash

When we share a lot of heartache and pain in our marriage, we either draw closer together, strengthening our relationship, or we withdraw and are torn apart, damaging our relationship. During times of crisis we need to give our marriage more care…our other children too. What will you do?

My husband and I chose to protect our marriage and make it a priority. We took steps to guard our relationship. During one of our most difficult times he surprised me by whisking me away on a cruise to celebrate our anniversary. We also made the effort to give our other children more attention, letting them know how much we appreciated and loved them. We were careful not to neglect them so they wouldn’t become resentful of their sister.

In my next post on Oct. 31st, I will share 4 more gifts I discovered from being the mom of a self-destructive daughter. Beauty can come out of the ashes of your life too.

**What beautiful gifts have you found in your ashes?

Please share in comments to encourage other hurting parents.



  1. Christy

    wow…I’m speechless… I feel like this was written for me. We’re going through the exact same thing with our daughter – the exact same.
    You have a wonderful way to express yourself! You helped me identify my biggest enemy with your story: FEAR. Now that I know what it is, I also know how to face it – with God, because He will give us the peace that surpasses all understanding.
    Thank you!

    • denayohe

      I am so sorry for what you are going through, Christy. I am so glad that sharing my story helped you recognize and face your fear. It is very hard to deal with, but recognizing it is a beginning! As you said, God is with you and will give you His peace that passes your ability to understand.

  2. Maryd

    This is wonderful, Dena, and as Christy said above, is so close to my experience as well. I never realized how my faith, which had seemed so strong before, was actually quite fragile. It had been based on performance and reward, even though I would have said I knew better. What I needed was to know God better, in all His sovereignty, wisdom and grace. This has been, and continues to be, a powerful experience, but there is so much I wouldn’t have learned any other way. God is good and our kids are in good hands while we wait.

  3. Lydia

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Your openness and honesty is very much appreciated. It is truly comforting to know that others face the same challenges that I do and that there is hope for a positive outcome. The entries you post bolster my courage and remind me to keep my focus God-centered. I sometimes forget Ephesians 6:13 when I become frustrated with my daughter’s actions. Reading your words, and those of other parents, strengthens my ultimate belief that God is sovereign–always.

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Thank you so much for your encouraging comments, Lydia! Parents like you are the reason I started writing a blog. It means so much to hear that you find my posts strengthen your courage and give you hope, keeping you focused on the Lord. How awesome is that? And boy, don’t we all forget the truth we need to remember when we’re going through hard times with our kids! I praise him, along with you, that God is sovereign – always.

      • Julie

        I have recently stumbled across your website, can’t even remember where I first saw it, but it’s been a blessing to me. Our daughter hasn’t yet attempted suicide, at least that we know of, but often, or so very often, had expressed that she ‘doesn’t want to do this anymore”. While she now lives on her own with a housemate, and has a job, there is always that waiting for “the call”. Along with the similar mental health issues your daughter has, extreme anxiety, OCD, unhealthy body image, she has also been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. It becomes a battle to have boundaries because I always feel if I shut her out because of her attacks on me, where does she have to go, and the worry about guilt if she decides to harm herself is so strong.

        • Tom and Dena Yohe

          Julie, we are so glad to hear that our website has been a blessing to you. I’m really sorry about the difficult situation you are in with your daughter. You’re right. Having boundaries with someone who struggles like your daughter does is super hard. Fear of the what ifs can prevent us from doing what we need to do for ourselves. Setting a healthy boundary for your own well-being is essential for your sanity. May God show you how you can step back but still let her know you love her, you’re not rejecting her. I hope you have a good counselor who can help you. Sometimes we all need that!
          In Christ, Dena.

  4. Carol

    Wow Dena I am so happy for you and Tom that Renee is doing so well! I can relate, it took me so many many years to realize my daughter has a mental illness, alcoholism, PTSD, anxiety, bipolar. I knew something wasn’t right for years but I didn’t know what until now and she is 50 years old! I’m not sure if I was in denial or truly ignorant! So many regrets for not knowing and helping her years ago! God is so good! Although I can’t change the past, I can with Gods help do better now! God is a God of 2nd chances, and more. My daughters illness has brought me to my knees and into Gods living word! It brought me to your book and website, God has truly used your story to help so many! When I found you on your website and read the 1st chapter ,of your book, I cried and knew there was hope! I learned that I am not alone. God has used you and Tom to give so many hurting parents hope! I am forever grateful for your love, support, grace and prayers! Thank you.

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Carol, we thank God every day for how well Renee is doing. I’m so sorry how hard those years were for you with your daughter. You did the best you could at the time. As someone has said, we didn’t know what we didn’t know! For me it was both ignorance and denial. Please go easy on yourself. Like you said, you can’t change the past and thank God He is the God of countless chances. I thank him he brought you to our ministry and my book too. Tom and I are humbled and amazed at how God has used us to help many others like you. Yes, there is hope. So much hope! Thank you for your kind and gracious comments.
      Love and prayers to you, Dena.

  5. Vicky

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am in the middle of this journey with our daughter. We have not heard from her in a year and a half. The last we knew, she was in a homeless shelter over a thousand miles away and we have not been able to find her. For a long time I felt like my husband and I were suffering in silence, alone. The shame and embarrassment is painful, especially when some people close to us have changed toward us, as if we have done something to drive her away. It is hard for me to go to family friendly gatherings, people there with their daughters enjoying themselves, talking about how their daughters are getting married, going to college, starting a new career-while I wonder if my daughter will even survive. But I am starting to find the beauty in the ashes. I am experiencing the 4 “beauties” you listed above and God has given me a peace that normally would not make sense. It is like you have written this for me, too. Thanks!

  6. Jenn

    A beauty I have been given is that of friendship. I’m so no longer judgemental of families who love an addict. And my children are now closer than they have ever been! There is hope! God is good.
    My friends are also parents of teens in addiction and life-harming patterns. Our teens are choosing to seek recovery through an Enthusiastic Sobriety Program. It’s a rollercoaster ride and I have other parents who love Jesus and we support each other.
    I no longer see homeless people as filth who should be jailed. My heart now understands many of our homeless have families who want them to be well. Now that my son is sober 3 years and my daughter 18months in her sobriety, they share love for each other AND us parents!!! My kids have wisdom from Sobriety meetings that many humans will never understand. I’m so grateful for our silver linings.

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Jenn, how wonderful your son and daughter are in recovery now and are so close. Understanding what life is like for someone caught in addiction sure does help us be more empathetic and compassionate. You are so right. We see them, including the homeless, with new eyes. Praise God there is hope in a God who is so good and loves them far more than we do.
      In Christ, Dena.