7 Things I Say Over and Over to My Adoptive Child That I Just Might Need to Hear Myself

The following are seven things I say repeatedly to our adoptive child. Recently, I began to notice how much I could probably use hearing some of them said to me:

Don’t be afraid—there will be enough.

This is something we say to our son throughout the day every day. “Buddy, you don’t need to be afraid. There will be enough dinner. There will be enough time; you can finish, or you can finish tomorrow. There will be plenty of candy. There will be enough of the dog for you.” The problem is that he lives in constant fear that there won’t be enough, not enough of anything. Always, always is he driven by this fear.

I’m not handicapped by fear like he is, but I’ve struggled, too, especially since our careers in China came to an end.

Lord, will there be enough? God, you know my current salary, there is NOT enough—I am afraid!

To which he always replies, “Look behind and see how I have provided for you. Look to my word and see my promises to care for you. And look to my characterI am enough. There will be enough for you.


You are a good kid.

Over and over and over we tell our son this. When we first brought him home, he would beat his head against concrete out of the blue while crying, shocking us, frankly. Over time, he began to be able to put words to his rages, and together we pulled back some of the first thick layers covering a deep self-loathing. Today, after nearly two years of growth and progress, he still needs to hear it all the time: “Son, you are a good kid.”

“No! I’m not!”

“You are. You are not a bad kid.”

“I am. Send me back! You’re getting angry…bwahahaha! Aaargghh, you should kill me. C’mon, hit meeee!!!

“Nope. You are a good kid.”

Of course, we say this in spite of whatever behavior is coming out of him, because it’s a crisis of identity, not about his failures to measure up to “normal.”

He’s good because we say he is, and someday—every day, in fact, a little bit more—the behavior follows.

Does not our goodness in Adam go back earlier than our fallenness in Adam? God’s original design for us was Goodness. Yes, we were born sinners in desperate need of salvation by grace alone. But my original design? My deepest, oldest identity? A child of Creator God.

Because of Christ, I’m a good kid.


I’m in charge.

Everett needs to hear this from us big time. He constantly translates his lack of felt safety into a need for taking control. Of everything. There does not exist a family situation that he cannot ruin at any moment by attempting to be in control and then getting angry and stuck when he doesn’t get to be.

“Hey, little man, listen: I’m in charge. It’s safe and it’s good for Daddy to be in charge. I’m doing the job God gave me, and doing my job is for your good. Everett being in charge isn’t safe for anybody, especially Everett. Can you think of anything good that ever came from you trying to be in charge?”

Thankfully, there is an ever-growing and always-recent body of evidence that helps him see that we’re right.

Do I see that God’s always right?

Sure, we’re far too sophisticated to ever really say we should be in charge and he shouldn’t. But what about when we’re confronted with deep pain? Or unrelenting suffering? I must admit that I haven’t been above questioning: “Wow, are you sure you know what you’re doing? Can you not see how your children are feeling here? Aren’t you paying attention? Are you ever going to intervene?”

But nothing good would ever come from me trying to be in charge.

He’s in charge.


You’re safe.

I say this the most to Everett right as he’s teetering on the edge of a rage. Sometimes I reach him, other times we’re doomed to soon be on the floor with me trying to keep him from throwing anything else, grabbing anything else, or hitting or kicking or biting. But even with the rest of the family off to their safe place, this creator of the unsafe for some reason needs to hear me say:

You are safe. You don’t have to rage against the world. You don’t have to hurt yourself or me. Daddy is not going to hurt you. No, I’m not going to hit you. We’re not going to leave you. You’re safe.”

He needs to hear it. It’s beginning to get through.

I have doubts for my own safety in life, too, though certainly more philosophical:

Will I ever get to have a job that I look forward to getting up in the morning to do? 

Will joy and peace ever return? Will suffering along with this kid dominate our lives forever

Will we be able to dream again? Are we doomed to retire having never done any one thing more than a few years at a time?

How are we going to live in our old age? How are we going to be safe?


It’s Daddy.

With a rage in full tilt, I’ve come to the realization fairly recently that nothing is more worthwhile to say to Everett than truth about our relationship. When we first got him this would have been meaningless. Everett has had to learn that “Daddy” is a good thing. He didn’t know that from having a biological father who was bedridden, didn’t seem to treat him with any kindness that we can tell, and then proceeded to “abandon” him simply by dying. But now, with months of the cycle of need being met and of laughing and playing and tickling under our belts, me as “Daddy” has great power in breaking through to his true self. He has begun to be able to rest in, to lean into, the fact that he can trust me.

“Everett, wait. Everett, listen. It’s me!”

“I hate you!!! You’re a monster! You hate me!”

“I don’t hate you. You know I love you. And you don’t hate me. Look at me…it’s Daddy.”

And he knows me. And who I have become to him has begun to carry some weight, so I don’t bother anymore trying to say much else to reach him when he’s far away like that.

“Everett, it’s me. It’s Daddy.”

My far more normal childhood means that my difficulties in hearing God say “It’s Daddy” aren’t about anything negative in the term, they’re about disbelief that Almighty God would actually act like that to me.

However, and thankfully:

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15 NIV


It’s not your fault.

Everett is always remorseful after a tantrum, with a spirit like putty in our hands in the minutes following. The first thing he often needs to hear from us is that it’s not his fault. [à la this scene from the movie Good Will Hunting. Warning: language. To avoid, don’t click.]

It’s simple fact: abused people often blame themselves for their abuse. “But, Everett, all this giant, huge piece of ugliness that just came out of you is because of what they [and we name some of them] did to you. It’s not your fault. This junk is everything the Enemy wants, and they [and we name some of them, and pray over him] want to never let you go free.”

Growing up, I don’t recall much struggle with thinking about things being my fault. I was more likely to think pretty highly of all I’d gotten right. Nowadays, though, I’m no stranger to the fight against feelings of failure about what I seem to have gotten wrong. And I can’t help but wonder if somewhere, sometimes I, too, need to be told: “You’ve done what you could with the abilities you were given and the heart you had at the time to do them with. Yes, you’ve made some messes along the way and life doesn’t look the perfect picture that your ego would have preferred. But you have an Enemy, too, and not everything that hasn’t gone right needs to be chalked up to ‘your fault’.”

So I think what I’m mulling over is this: I’m wondering if (or when) it’s possible for Yes, everything is my responsibility and No, it’s not my fault to be true concurrently.


Enjoy the moment.

And so life gets back to normal (well, our-family normal) and the cycle of fear and fight for control begin again. And over and over we bring him back to earth. “Enjoy the moment, Everett. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen an hour from now. Don’t worry about what’s for supper (go read the chalkboard). Don’t compare yourself to what the others may or may not be doing…enjoy what you are doing right now!”


Being present.

OK, yes, I’m listening.


Faith Is a Wing Suit Jump

Listen, GOD! Please, pay attention! Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries? King-God, I need your help. Every morning you’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.

Psalm 5:1-3 MSG

Faith is a wing suit jump.

Or can be. Yes, some times life is not terrifying. Or anything like an adrenaline rush. Yes, those times can still be faith-filled.

But this kind of faith—this faith that we are living (namely eight people on a poverty-level-for-two-people income and no government support?)—I say is a wing suit jump. It’s downright emotional. By the way, I don’t mean some wing suit jump by a pro who designs his own suits and maybe teaches others. I mean like this is your very first jump or flight, and the only thing you can see is the next ridge or tree rushing at you, and the only sounds you can hear are the wind in your ears and your screaming. And (let’s say, just for kicks) it turns out no one has bothered to confirm whether or not your suit even came with a parachute for your final approach. I mean, it was supposed to, someone promised it would, but…did it, truly?

It really is too bad that I forgot what my own blog entry exactly previous to this one was about. I read it over just today and would have been well-served by going back to read it sometime earlier this week. For yesterday, especially, I was really emotional all day. [And all of this stuff is layered on top of the emotional exhaustion we live with all the time from grafting an advanced-age adoptee from trauma into our family.] This time around it was self-pity, some mild levels of desperation, and sadness. Most of all, I felt alone.

I was so hoping He would come through for us this month.

At night I learned that Tammy had been choking back hurt anger all day herself.

Rewind to two weeks ago…

We’d just been wrapping up the last home improvement project there was money for: painting the outside of our house. Originally we’d procured an estimate for work we knew we could pay for. But as the job progressed, problems popped up, much of the house needed re-pointing, and rotting porch boards/roofs couldn’t just be ignored.

So we knew the real final bill was probably going to be a shock, and I warned the painter ahead of time:

“Matt, we need to sit down and deal with that final negotiation carefully. These are the kinds of things where even friends can part enemies.”

Well, the final number shocked us more than we even feared. So I invited him over to come sit around the backyard fire and answer all my questions. We talked for a couple of hours about other stuff, and then began the money discussion after praying out loud for grace and help.

My number-crunching had left me with this: if we kept back enough money to pay our visa bill at the end of the month (a huge one with medical and dental bills, annual insurance premiums for home and auto, and paint and lumber for the house job), we had only one thousand dollars left. Oops, $700 had been mailed off that day for school taxes.

“So, basically, Matt,” I said as we sat there watching the fire die out, “for the $4300 I’m still going to owe you after today, I’ve got…$300!”

I couldn’t help but laugh hearing myself say it. How embarrassing. Could we have appeared to budget the final use of “the rest of our money” any more poorly? All I could say was, “God is going to have to provide for this one, Matt. I don’t know where it’s going to come from.”

Though I had shared with him my odd and spottily lucrative sideline of “checking the mailbox” (amazing him and rightly so), it hardly served as proof that God was going to foot this bill. But, to his credit, he said he wasn’t worried. We worked out dates for a couple of payments (I would go on to meet those, thereby transferring my unknowns to the visa bill) and set a deadline for final payment before Christmas.

But where was $4000—from our current vantage point a pretty big number—going to come from? In terms of our forecasted income, it was an unimaginable number, one at which a whole pile of generous people could throw $100’s (and be loved and appreciated for) and hardly make a dent.

But we were going to trust anyway. Wheeee! right?

And we did.

Until we weren’t. Feelings, the Enemy, whatever it all was, struck us down, and hope flickered out.

The final straw for me, I think, was, oddly enough, a blank check my parents had just left with us when they drove off home this week. (They were aware that we’d reached the end of our resources; they’d offered to make a loan, and they were simply leaving the final amount up to me.)

“And how might that be a burden?” you ask.

Believe me, I see it for the blessing it is. But we’d been hoping for God to pull through. We needed to feel (once again) not forgotten and not alone on this difficult path he’s set us on.

“But maybe this check IS how he is going to pull through, silly!”

I suppose, maybe. But it didn’t feel miraculous; it felt “nice.” Nice of them, not of him. But with the visa due date a week off, there was no choice but (short of dipping into retirement investments) to take the loan.

I had hoped so hard for something better.

I guess I just couldn’t help getting discouraged.

I guess $4000 was just kind of too big to expect anything.

But oh…I was so hoping…

And then this:

I opened an email from our CPA. He’d finished preparing our taxes. I was half-expecting a penalty because I’d procrastinated and wasn’t even sure our extension lasted until October like it had when we were living overseas. As our paychecks never even had taxes withheld, I had no thoughts of a refund. [And I can see why, as after looking up the eight other years this CPA has done our taxes, I saw we had to pay once, got a refund twice (including last year at $549), and all five other years leveled out at a $0 liability.]

But this year, he said, there was a refund:

Four thousand dollars.


If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

II Timothy 2:13 NIV


And now, God, do it again—bring rain to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest. So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Psalm 126: 4-6 MSG

Will I Allow Myself to Be Swung?

Perhaps like your dad may have, my dad used to swing us when we were little. He’d make a swing seat with his arms and begin that slow increase of motion until… WHEE! In a woosh of release, out goes the body and I’m shooting towards space. Dad’s got my ankles, and after I go vertical, there’s the rush back towards earth and through his knees.

Then, wooWEE! Back up again.

I find this life of faith akin to being swung like that. 

I don’t know how long it will last, and I honestly can’t say I’m dying for it to last at all (though I see it’s where he wants me for now, and, who knows, perhaps for always).

I doubt anyone who has not experienced “not knowing where money will come from next” will have a clue what it’s truly like. Just as I have no clue what it is like to not know where my next meal is coming from. My situation hasn’t gotten that dire, therefore I haven’t experienced the corresponding feelings.

But I find that, in difficulty, I can’t help but mine for truth. It’s not complaint, and it’s not a a lack of gratitude. It’s processing. And it is probably the “Thank you’s” I get for being honest that keep me writing. Perhaps, in some small way, it’s a piece of what I have to offer.

Tammy and I are so tired. Often one of us falls asleep (for the first time) on a kid’s bed during putting them down. But the other day I fell asleep on my steering wheel in the driveway after getting home from work. It’s a too-little-gas-for-too-long-a-time-yet-here-comes-tomorrow-look-out!-you’ve-got-teens-and-little-ones-and-you-gotta-get-up-anyway kind of life, that’s all. Millions have worse.

Do you remember being swung as a kid? It was fun.

And, if you can recall, if it was someone other than Dad offering the swinging, it was never quite the same, certainly not the first time around. Sometimes that first time never took place, as kids have second thoughts about risking so much with just anyone.

Some aspects of our family economics in 2017 I would compare—to continue the metaphor—to what it might feel like to be swung against my will by a stranger. In other words, not fun at all.

Not that God is a stranger to me, certainly not. But that requirement to trust so fully with so little beneath me has been frankly that new to me. Most of our closest friends, other international workers, probably learned to walk these paths years ago, but we’d always belonged to an organization where you didn’t raise your own support. And I’ve found my feelings stuck and unable to follow what I said I believed. They’d never acclimated to having to have that much real, practical, grocery-money faith. 

Oddly, our “swinging” first became more comfortable when we lost our paychecks on January 1. I guess there was no longer any future kaboom to be afraid of. That loss was upon us.

And then we saw him provide. Miraculously. For the whole month. Big gifts.

Well, here goes. Eight people is still a whole pile of people to be responsible for, and next month is coming. I’m holding on white-knuckled here, but maybe this won’t be the total end of me. 

Like a new family friend had me. I accept the swinging, but I’m apprehensive and waiting for it to end.

February we were provided for in littler ways, but still provided for.

Wonderful. Perhaps a little less of a shock. Like a familiar uncle had me, now.

Thanks, Uncle, for the swings. But just sit-swing me, OK? I’m still going to hold on to my ankles.

March came and not much else—some of the former fears rose up again.

But then, a job.

And five months, now, I’ve been there (long enough to have health insurance, yay). And we’re pretty clear on its inadequacies to put enough groceries on the table. [In fact, I just figured out: since my start date, 2/3 of the money that’s come in our door has been from paychecks, and 1/3 has continued to come from God’s provision through people, with the balance of our needs covered by savings.]

Someone mailed us a check for almost as much as my job provides in a month. We’d just made a trip to speak at their church after many years away, and they wrote a sweet letter reminiscing about Enoch (now 17) and Haddie (15) in their church nursery.

“God told us to make a provision for these children.”

Wow, God.

Then someone gave us $500. We got gift cards for groceries. Others have given $100 or $50, $20 or $25, all summer long. Sprinkling joy over dread and difficulty (what life with a kid coming out of trauma can feel like every single day, though our whole family knows absolutely this is what God has called us to). A Mainland Chinese friend (not wealthy in the least) truly humbled us with a gift of $1000. Someone else gave more.

Wow, God.

Then a guy gave me his motorcycle. Someone gave me a motorcycle.

Now, a motorcycle is not a need. Not even close. But owning one has been a dream of mine since I sold the last one, and it touches core values deep within me like freedom, independence, adventure, solitude.

WOW. GOD! You’re providing wants?

And what’s happening is this: I find my feelings catching up with what I’ve always said I believe:

There Has Never Been Anything to Fear.

Even when Fear knocks on the door yet.

Will these gifts stretch enough to pay this massive family dental bill?

How much of that special summer money is going to get siphoned off by these hearing aids?

Do we ever get any mail that is not a medical or other bill?

Will this kid’s fears drive him to eat 3x the amount of an adult man forever?

Wait A Minute.

Dann, it’s Me. You’re not being swung by some stranger. Yes, all these people showed you kindness, sent you money, but it’s not friends or family running this show. I AM swinging you, don’t you know?

It is beginning to get drilled down. I’ve always known it, of course, but deep down, now, it’s becoming enough to affect me at the knee-jerk level. My first-response thoughts.

This life of faith is the best way to live. Though clearly in the world and to the world it makes no sense. It’s nonsense. But it’s…dare I say, fun? It’s life.

The hard and the harder. The bad and the good.

And if that’s true, doesn’t that mean I want more of it?

I want to not know how he’s going to pull it off?

I want him to build in me more and more and more and more and more trust?

So…even though I’d pick stability (if I could pick such things) and a salary that feels like a better match to my age/education/experience/abilities/whatever (or at least one that could support my family)…I find this competing desire within me as well. At least sometimes. At least when I started writing this entry. I think.

‘Cause—however rapidly towards earth I hurtle—I really do know who’s gripping my ankles.

It’s Dad.

So…more, Dad, more! Swing me more.