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

Surprised by Love

It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t remember a day I hadn’t thought, “Man, I can’t stand this kid.” Or cried out to God asking why He had to give him to us in the first place.

“Jesus, I just don’t want Everett anymore…  I can’t take this.”

It was Unpleasantness never going away. Never, ever affording us a break.

That can wear on a soul.

My only feeling prior to a most recent three-day weekend? Dread.

Not that he was, in the big scheme of things, a shoe-in to rise to that status of “top stressor. We’ve had our share of other common major stressors of late.

Any one of: cultural re-entry OR endless living out of suitcases OR moving (four times) OR enrolling one’s kids in three new schools OR starting over in a new state OR switching careers OR looming unemployment could have risen to the top. But they didn’t. (Our life has that whole list, by the way.) Even concurrently they failed to ever oust Everett from the top.

He was more difficult than everything else put together in an unusually difficult summer.

In a season of tears, nothing had brought more tears than he had.

Finally, this past weekend, a break.

Not a long one, mind you. Not even the whole weekend. Just a one-day conference, six-and-a-half hours. Three speakers and a musician talking about the Deeper Life. The registration webpage had called to us so loudly we knew we had to go, even at five-and-a-half hours away.

It was too short a trip to be called a getaway, but it felt like one to us just the same. Long enough to take a few deep breaths. A chance, after running, running, running since spring, to renew a bit. Recharge some. Rest from Everett and retreat from the grind, if only for some hours.

“God, please meet with us.”

“God, restore us.”

The only problem with prayers like that is that I never know what God might decide to bring up. It might not be what I expect or want (case in point).

Sure enough, God spoke—gently, subtly, constantly—but (at first to my disappointment) almost exclusively about Everett.

My “love” for Everett was exposed as no love at all. I’d always been patient with him, sure. Good to him. Kind. Helpful with all his needs during emotional outbursts. Protective, insulating him from the harm that his tantrums directed even at his own self.

But I saw that for weeks I’d been insulating him from something else, too.


I wasn’t for him. Not fully, not really. I said all the right things, but I wasn’t deeply hoping and longing for him to be put back together, I was secretly longing for my pre-Everett life and wanting that back.

That isn’t love.

Then, in contrast to my weak shortcomings, I saw God’s love for Everett. His desire for redeeming all the trauma. For healing and binding up that broken heart. Restoring shatteredness.

And the vessel for His love?


All along it was supposed to have been being me.

I’d become more of a reservoir for resentment. Openly bemoaning the weight of his existence on my life as his exhaustless neediness pushed my despair ever deeper.

I may have known truths in my head, but I’d proven powerless, not to mention disinterested, in scraping up any better.

Frankly, I needed rescuing.

And that’s what I got.

Coming back from that conference, I saw him with new eyes. I could now see this much truer version of someone I’d quit trying to see through God’s eyes at all.

A week ago I was failing absolutely to love him, but now I am not. I actually want to love one very unlovable (in my strength) kid. And, color me shocked, he himself IS so much more lovable, dare I almost say easy to love? I wouldn’t have expected that part. I truly was handed a supernatural, kingdom, other-than-me love.

Everett is not beyond hope.

And neither am I.