Years ago, I joined the Redbud Writers Guild, a diverse group of Christian women writers who support, pray for and cheer each other on. This week, I was overjoyed to witness the release of fellow Redbud Judy Douglass’s devotional, When You Love a Prodigal: 90 Days of Grace for the Wilderness (Bethany House, 2019).

Douglass’s book has been decades in the making – not just the dozen years she took to craft it, but through the living, learning and loving that make this book a must-read for anyone who has ever walked beside a child, friend or family members who has followed a dark and broken path.

The book opens with a description of an experience no parent wants to face: the arraignment of Douglass’s teenage son in a courtroom after years of struggle, which she says included, “cars, girls, inappropriate Internet sites, drugs, alcohol, traffic tickets, juvenile detention, criminal mischief, job-hopping, stealing, serious accidents and gang fights.”

Sadly, her experience is shared by many. As if there weren’t enough ways for young people to get in trouble, prescription drug abuse is one of the fastest growing drug problems in the United States. Just this week, The New York Times reported that 1 in 4 adolescents has reportedly tried vaping, and alcohol remains one of the most widely abused substances by young people.

In addition to trying all of the regular channels to help their son, Joshua, who had joined their family at 8-years-old through Foster Care, Douglass and her husband, Steve Douglass, who is the global president of the Christian ministry CRU, called friends around the world to pray, an event that turned into “Worldwide Prodigal Prayer Day.” So many people reached out to Douglass for help, seeking advice for their own loved ones, that she wrote a series of mini devotionals, which became the soil from which this book grew.

“This is not a how-to book,” Douglass says in her introduction. “It is a journey-together book.” Included are ninety essays, encouraging scripture verses and questions that invite readers to respond and reflect on their own experiences. Throughout, the author points to God as the source of hope for families in crisis, and she’s honest about her own struggles.

“Often it is not easy to love a prodigal,” Douglass says. “How do we keep loving as the years unfold? What does love look like when our prodigals keep making bad choices?” God’s love is unconditional, the author says, drawing from I John 4:19, but in the midst of her family’s struggle, Douglass says that kind of love isn’t easy.

“This I know,” Douglass admits. “I am not capable of that kind of love in my own strength… So how do we love and keep on loving our often hard-to-love prodigals?” The ninety essays that follow are Douglass’ answer. For anyone on the difficult journey of loving and praying for someone who is making destructive choices, Douglass’s book offers hope and help. Included are a list of 13 powerful blessings to pray for someone who is struggling, such as, “May you rise when you fall and come out of the darkness into God’s light” (Micah 7:8-9). That’s a prayer we all can use.

For more about the book, visit Douglass’s website or view the book trailer.

As for Joshua? He’s now a happily married father, who is sober and free.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Lantern Hill Light Parade, the fourth book in her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith, is available now.