Tough as nails

In words and deeds, Mama and Daddy taught us that love is tough as nails. June 2007

In words and deeds, Mama and Daddy taught us that love is tough as nails. June 2007

“Love is not warm and fuzzy or sweet and sticky. Real love is tough as nails. It’s having your heart ripped out, putting it back together, and the next day, offering it back to the same world that just tore it up.”Glennon Doyle Melton

Very few writers are able to cut through the muck and tell it straight better than Glennon, and she is right on target here.  It’s one reason we all struggle so much.  We are sold an overly-sentimental hearts-and-flowers image of what love is supposed to be, and then we get disappointed or even devastated when reality turns out to be quite different.

Have you ever noticed that it’s the people we care about most who also are the source of our deepest sorrows?  We may have to watch them suffer from illness, or stay beside them through their struggles with anger, addiction, anxiety or depression.  We may find ourselves the unintentional object of their frustration and fear.  They may wound us, leave us or nag at us until life becomes miserable.  And we may burden them with the same sorts of sorrows.

I don’t believe there is wisdom in having a victim mentality, but I do believe that love often chooses to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things” (as stated in I Corinthians 13, NKJV).  Those of us who have friends and family who go back for years and years with us can look back and see many times when we had to bear with them, or they with us.  In fact, those times aren’t exceptions; often they are every day.  They are what love looks like in real life.

It isn’t just the ones closest to us who hurt us, of course.  The world can be a cruel place, and it’s difficult to keep getting up every day and choosing to love no matter what.  But the alternative is ultimately more difficult, and ends in destruction.

There’s nothing wrong with sentiment.  It’s delightful, like whipped cream on top of hot chocolate.  But it’s an extra, not the substance.  I love romantic surprises and sweet cards and kind words and smiley faces (have you noticed that?) and I would never want to be without those charms that decorate our everyday world.  But I know I can’t expect a never-ending stream of them, from anyone, no more than I can manage to give others such happiness constantly.

We build our lives as if we are building lovely earthly homes, customized and adorned with all that we cherish.  But regardless of the superficial decor, we all know that the unseen foundation needs to be rock solid, tough as nails, able to weather storms and catastrophes.  I wish for you, and for all of us, the grace and faith to experience that sort of love every day, as both givers and receivers.

One year ago today:

Let us love


  1. raynard

    Julia what was that old commerical that said” you come a long way baby? I think it was a cigerette commercial. Gone are the days of ” soap operas( daytime and nighttime) Mary Tyler Moore,( and the spinoffs Phyliss and Rhoda) That Girl. I promise not to ” go on a O.C.D Tangent about what passes for Music and Entertainment these days. I think they said it on Star Trek, ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before”. Deep love to me will ” test your nerves and patience” if the love boat is taking on water or sinking. It can ” be righted”. It takes alot these days for me to” speak and not lecture “.. Very humbling when you realize” you dont know everything, dont have all the answers and ” can’t fix every problem.( wait this sounds like a political commerical for office or a ” public service announcement lol be blessed

    • Raynard, I agree that true love will definitely test your nerves and patience, not to mention your stamina and sense of humor. But it’s such a relief to admit that we don’t have all the answers and can’t fix everything. As my friend Ashleigh Brilliant has said, “I feel much better now that I’ve given up hope.” 😀 Of course we never give up hope around here. Keep on bailing out that Love Boat when it springs a leak here or there.

  2. Judy

    Your portrait of your parents is beautiful! To my eye, it captures your mother’s grace and strength and your father’s gentle kindness, and they’re looking at the person behind the camera with deep love. It’s really a captivating photo and speaks to my heart even though I’ve never met them. Lovely, lovely people. How blessed you are have them for your parents.

    As always, your gift for combining a photo with wise commentary touches me in places within myself. You help me grow in understanding or appreciation, filling in my areas that were unknowingly incomplete. Your insights this morning on love, disappointment and endurance were exactly what I needed to hear today. Sometimes I tend to let myself get bogged down in negative musings about relationships that are less than what I hoped for in life. I’ve been in one of those bogs lately. Thank you so very much for giving me a fresh perspective and lifting my spirits. I now feel stronger again — reconnected with my own firm foundations. And I hope that I can give my loved ones the same tender strength, kindness and love that I see reflected on the faces of your parents.

    • Judy, this is one of the very nicest comments I have ever received here. Thanks so much for your heartfelt words of encouragement. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. As you describe, I get bogged down with negativity more often than I care to admit. Sometimes (as this week) it’s due to relatively minor irritations and inconveniences that pile up at a time when we can ill afford them. Other times I just seem out of sorts for reasons I don’t understand. In any case, your words have given me at least as much as mine have given you – thank you!

      Thanks also for your kind words about Mama and Daddy. I have always been a child at heart where my parents are concerned; I never really outgrew my tremendous love and admiration for them, nor my dependence on them, despite having lived thousands of miles away from them for most of the past 40 years. I know that there are some who probably see this as odd, but I have felt so lucky to have them, and especially to still have them with us, giving us strength through all the good and bad of the past few years. It’s a blessing to know that we never grow too old to be important and needed! Thanks again for your lovely comment, which truly made my day!

  3. singleseatfighterpilot

    Julia, you have never written more “right on” than in today’s blog!
    (not that it is necessarily related, but “tough as nails” is one of my favorite phrases)

    • Thank you Eric. We know the truth of Glennon’s words so well, because we had the same teachers. 😀 All four of us kids have heard Daddy say many times that “love is an act of will,” and have watched him and Mama live that out time and time again all these years. Lucky us! It’s no accident that “tough as nails” is a favorite phrase for you.

  4. bobmielke

    There are plenty of famous quotes I could write down describing what love is and I certainly have had my heart ripped out by people I love the most but love heals those wounds like nothing else could. To love is to forgive, to put difficulties behind you and move on. I’ve been married 3 times and could write a soap opera of my life yet each marriage was special and I’ll always cherish the good memories.

    • Bob, one of the nicest surprises for me as I grow older is how much of the bitterness goes away with time. I haven’t had any romantic or marital heartbreaks, but being a sensitive person, I have had friends and loved ones hurt me deeply over the years, and I’m a bad one for carrying a grudge. Yet as you say, the good memories are lasting and a true blessing that nothing can take away. When I went to my 20th high school reunion way back in 1994, I wondered how I would feel about seeing the people who once made fun of me, but to my surprise I felt nothing but joy and excitement to see all these people who were, after all, like family; the people I grew up with. As many people have said, “Love wins.” It really does.

  5. Julia I so needed that today. Love is tough and like you Gods love surrounds me 24/7.

    • Renee you are one of the shining stars of tough love for me to look up to. Shine on my friend! Your strength and boldness will always inspire me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – AMEN!!! Love you.

  6. Carlyle

    Great Blog today Julia ! Eric was most complementary. I can only add a point that I have repeatedly stressed in the past. Love is not an emotion. Love is a command. ” Love one another.” It is a command one chooses to obey or to disregard. Love requires action. Love is not what we feel it is what we do.

    • Thank you Daddy. I heard it from you first!!! And saw it too, from you and Mama both, all my life. When I look at your children and grandchildren (and even great grandchildren) I can see the fruits of this spirit, as each of us in our own ways have had to learn this truth firsthand, again and again. Thanks for showing us the way. We love you!

  7. This is just the message I needed to hear today. I know Ron and I need to be tough as nails in our love to get up each day and love each other through. Thank you, Julia. I am keeping you and the family in my prayers and thoughts each day.

    • Thank you Cherie, I pray for you and Ron daily too, and wish I had more time to stay in closer touch. Thanks for being with us on this journey as we travel the rough roads and keep looking up in hope. Thanks for helping us to defeat despair, in words and example! We so appreciate your prayers and thoughts.

  8. Carolyn

    What a great picture.. How are you all doing? My appointment is tomorrow and will let you know how things are. Hugs and love to all.

    • Hi Carolyn, we are all doing OK. Jeff is still having side effects from the Avastin but he is unbelievably tough, and we hope for some new ideas from Sloan Kettering in a couple of weeks — we’ll let you know what the doctor there says. The doc Jeff is to see specializes in lung tumors, including metastatic ones, so maybe he will have some possibilities for Walter Reed to try. They are very supportive of Jeff going there for a consult, for which we are grateful. Do let us know how your appointment goes. I still have such happy thoughts of our brief time together recently! Love to you and Terry!

  9. No truer words can be said about love. The reward is; Family, children, grandchildren, friends, holidays, summers at the beach and a host of other things. It’s worth it. :o)
    Well done.

    • Thank you, Patricia! When our first child was born I said “there is nothing else on earth that could be this hard and still be worth it!” That was after many months of 24-hour “morning sickness” AND an unbelievably rough childbirth — but I had no idea that was just the beginning of “hard” and also “worth it!” Thanks for being here!

  10. Spot on, Julia. Love is not built on emotion, it is an act of the will.

    With all the curves and bumps in the road that come into our lives; for those who live by emotion, will find that the emotional swings caused, are responsible for broken relationships. How often have we heard the phrase:”I have lost feelings for him/her.”

    Relationships are like a piece of cake. Icing, like emotion, the colorful confectionary delight, draws our interest, but does not sustain. If the substance of the cake underneath is good, then one will enjoy it all, and not toss it aside, having consumed the icing. A strong relationship sees beyond the emotion. Love is found in substance.

    • Alan, your words echo those of my father which he told us all for years: “Love is an act of will.” The interesting part is that emotions come and go, and after awhile we learn that it’s all coming around again, as the Carly Simon song says. It’s much the same with depression. I have learned to tell myself, no matter how hard it is to believe at the time, that things will get better again. “Don’t mind if I fall apart; there’s more room in a broken heart.” 🙂 Thanks for being here!

  11. Connie Reed

    Really enjoyed you blog tonight. So very true! I write a newsletter for our shut- ins at church. Would you mind if I borrow the Glennon Doyle Melton quote? I just love it! It is so very true. Hope all is going well with you all.

    • Connie, I’m so glad you liked the post! I am honored that you want to borrow Glennon’s quote, and I bet she would be too. I think it’s great that you write a newsletter for the shut-ins. What a perfect idea! Bless you for sharing hope and love in this way. We are all doing OK and hope you are too! ❤

  12. Amy

    Beautiful photo of two people you are very sentimental about. God bless them and God bless you.

    • Thank you Amy! You know how I love my Mama and Daddy. That is something we have always had in common, I think. Love you.

  13. Julia, I’ve come back to look at the photo of your mom and dad many times since yesterday morning but couldn’t find the right words without feeling so emotional. They radiate love for each other, a wonderful life together, the family they’ve raised to be proud of, and strength and wisdom beyond words. Their “tough as nails” had to be laced with “warm and fuzzy”!
    I love the family stories that you share and the comments from family members (you know who you are) make me smile. 🙂

    • Hi Sheila – well as you figured out from my email earlier today, I am late getting to my comments. Thanks so much for your kind words about Mama and Daddy. I have appreciated so much your sharing with our family. You feel like an honorary member of the family – maybe someday we can all meet in person in GA. Thanks for being here!

      • Oh, Julia! Here I am all emotional…. AGAIN! It has happened so gradually, so caring, so comforting! God gave me you and your family! I love y’all…. 🙂 Sheila

        • Sheila, you are such a sweetheart! God gave us YOU, too – isn’t it nice how it works out that way? ❤ Love you too!

  14. Michael

    That’s a great picture. Some of the comments about love reminded me of what Ben Affleck said about his marriage on a recent SNL monologue. He talked about the,” work of marriage.” That did not go over too well with the media. He took a bunch of flack-but I think he was in part expressing the need for a conscious will – that is in it for the good times and the other times as well.

    • I can’t believe anyone actually gave him flack for admitting that marriage is work – that’s a pathetic sign of how disconnected from reality a lot of TV is, which is why I can’t really enjoy it. I’m all for a good fantasy as long as it doesn’t try to pass itself off as literal reality. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc. where the symbols represent truth. But anybody who gets upset at the notion that marriage involves work is seriously out of the loop. These probably are some of the same people who want to get rid of Barbie because supposedly she builds unrealistic expectations of beauty in young girls’ minds. Apparently they aren’t worried about the expectations built by the Barbie dream house, the Barbie car, the Barbie extensive wardrobe and the whole romantic Barbie fantasy. Perhaps the lucrative wedding party industry is funding some of these shows. It’s in their best interest if people keep bailing out of relationships and starting over, complete with “the beautiful wedding(s) you DESERVE.” OK, enough ranting for now…

  15. Michael

    This was part of his monologue for SNL when he hosted last year. Actually I don’t watch much T.V. now that we dropped Cable and are off the grid. We get two free stations- but only one comes in clearly. But I have Netflix and there’s much on that venue.
    So should I keep my granddaughters away from Barbie? Having raised two boys- I am limited on experience. Should I buy them bows so they can be Kandiss the huntress from “Hunger Games.” I always like Sheena. That was quite a rant. Have you seen the human Barbie on U tube -Ilena Oskaya? Now that is weird.
    Heard an interesting talk on local station by Dr. Monica Coleman from Claremont school of theology. She is giving a talk tonight on faith and depression at PLU -Pacific Lutheran University. She is bi-polar. Not sure I can make it tonight but she has some talks on U tube. She sounded very engaging and not a little brilliant.
    She is a professor of religious studies there-at Claremont. She has a book out -“Alone”

    • No, I don’t think you should keep your granddaughters away from Barbie and her friends. I have many happy memories of playing with all sorts of dolls, including Barbie, Skipper and Midge, and I don’t think it warped me in any way (other experiences are to blame for that! 😀 ) Today’s female children live in a way, way different world than where I grew up. I don’t think there’s much danger of any girl feeling as if her only real option for acceptance or happiness is to marry and have children. The fact that so many women still choose that role freely tells me that there’s far more to it than cultural conditioning anyway. I do caution against anyone (including Barbie) training kids, male or female, to expect nothing but privilege and attention and success. I’d much rather they learn a healthy concept of themselves through love shown in non-material ways, such as the teaching of self-discipline and persistence. If they want to learn archery, that’s a great skill with which to practice these traits. I haven’t seen the human Barbie but I’ll have to delay that experience as I don’t want to provoke another rant from myself here. Dr. Monica sounds much more interesting to me.

  16. Michael

    Hey -has Ashley always been brilliant?

    • Yes, he has – I know because I have read his childhood and young adult journals, which detail his experiences growing up in Britain and the U.S.A. during World War II (he had to move to the US because of the attacks on London). His real birth name truly is Brilliant – he has photos of his birth certificate to prove it. 😀 Though his early life was in England, he is now a true American treasure, in my opinion. I was so happy to be able to see him in person again when we went to CA in 2011. Talk about survivors! He was badly injured a few years back when he was hit by a car (careless teenage driver) but has recovered remarkably well, all things considered.

  17. loolamay

    You know I love this family and that I, too, have been raised on the doctrine of “tough as nails” love. There’s a lot of truth to it. I also think, though, that sometimes the concept here gets twisted, and we begin to believe that IF it doesn’t hurt it’s NOT love. Or if it doesn’t hurt it’s not right or good or maybe even possible. It can become an addiction to expect love to hurt. Not ALL love is tough as nails – or at least not all the time. I know what you mean in the post – that love is not fluffy – it’s a slog. But, coming from this same wonderful family, I worry about our getting trapped into thinking that everything that is hard is worth doing simply because it’s hard. And that love is not love if it is NOT constantly ripping at you. Sometimes if it hurts constantly, and deep down you kind of like it that way… that’s an addiction to sadness, not love. Love you all. 🙂

    • Loolamay, I SO agree! Let me count the ways! Too often, we confuse “tough love” with “harsh love” or even “mean love” (and if that’s not an oxymoron, what is?). I appreciate your making the distinction. There is nothing inherently sanctified about needless suffering, and I think we choose gratuitous suffering as an option in some cases where it’s far from the right path.

      I myself have had a hard time with certain individuals I love deeply, who seem to think there’s a sort of double standard at work for those we love: “I love you, so I expect you to be better and braver and stronger and more perfect than I expect others to be.” WOW, is that one difficult to get past. Not that I don’t fall for imposing it on others sometimes myself. But I have actually had people tell me that sort of higher level of expectation should feel like a compliment. For a long time, I even believed it. It has taken me years to realize it’s only another form of insecurity; put differently, it might sound like this: “I love you, so I worry about you and feel more need to control you, so that you won’t be hurt.” One thing I can say is that I’ve NEVER, (as far as I can tell) even deep down, liked the hurtful kind of love. That refusal to accept negativity and/or other driven behaviors has sometimes put me at odds with loved ones, or with things I once believed. But I refuse to be addicted to sadness! That’s what this blog, and much else in my life, is designed to counteract. Thanks so much for bringing up a very important part of this whole concept. I would hate for someone to falsely conclude that I think love is ultimately supposed to be something that tears down instead of building up. There is nothing tougher than unalloyed kindness.

  18. Michael

    I thought Dr. Monica had some good things to say in her talk on depression and faith- about mental illness She is bi-polar. She talks about how we can cast out a demon by naming a hurt it and speaking out about it. One line that stuck with me was when she said,” I thought if people knew how sad I was under the surface they would reject me.”
    Her ideas on mental illness align closely with my own in that I see it as a continuum. It is not them and us. Every sane person has a little mental illness and every person with a mental illness also has a degree of sanity. I only bring that up after my year at Hawaii State hospital- which was an eye opener. Along this line per Monica- perhaps if you admit your despair- you defeat it.
    Hey I just arrived at Yuriatin, however I just got side tracked by Christopher Hitchens of all people. Reading his little memoir” Mortality”.

    • Hi Michael, I agree with you totally about the continuum. Mental health is definitely a continuum and it changes somewhat from day to day for all of us, I believe. There are definitely days when I am more sane than on other days. For that matter, I see intellectual ability as a continuum as well, with multiple levels. There are actually a few levels where Matt often seems more functional than I am, even from a purely cognitive point of view (such as memory of certain details, or noticing certain details — he will often find our car in a parking lot by the license plate number, of all things! He will catch me starting to get in the wrong car that is the same make/model/color as ours, and usually he mentions the license plate number being wrong). I have read just enough of Christopher Hitchens to have no desire to read more of him. I’d rather read Nietzsche, which is to say, I REALLY don’t want to read either of them!!!

  19. Michael

    Probably the only book of his-Hitchens- I will read though I do admire his facility with the written word. However, I am intrigued by his comments on Kissinger-whom he considers one of the most evil persons of the century and he has a book out about him-“The Trial of Kissinger.” As I lived through that era- I was not a little intrigued- the bombing of Cambodia etc. Hiitchen’s say Kissinger is rewriting history. He wanted to outlive him.
    Wow- that’s neat about Matt’s acuity with license plates.
    I don’t know what to say to my son about his current work situation. It is hard to see someone get into the “golden handcuffs” at such an early age. He could retire in seven years and would be 44- not unlike some military positions.

    • I wasn’t aware of Hitchens’ comments on Kissinger. Did he also go after the Kennedy/Johnson cabinets that got us into Vietnam? Sometimes I think writers like Hitchens are just out to stir the water and create controversy. After all, he has also gone on the attack against Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton. Not to mention God.

      Early retirement can be a blessing for some and a curse for others. Most of the people I know who retired early went on to second and even third careers. Is there any possibility he could transfer to another location where he might be happier?

  20. Michael

    The problem is if he moves to another fire department- he will lost like 5 years on the total retirement – year accumulation so he wants to stay put.

    • Wow, I don’t blame him. Maybe things will get better with time. I hope so.

  21. Michael

    YEs he -Hitchens -certainly loved the heat of debate. Not sure about the Kennedy- Johnson attack. I seem to remember some of his attack on Mother Teresa and the very find rebuttal of Ron Rollheiser.

    • I’m glad somebody wrote a rebuttal!

  22. Amen!

    • Thank you Barb. ❤

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: