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!”

Mindfulness.

Being present.

OK, yes, I’m listening.

 

Mixing Paint with Jesus

A friend of mine messaged me the other day that I should “write a blog entry on what it’s like to mix paint for Jesus.”

Now wouldn’t that raise some eyebrows at my work.

[Work?! Yes, a job! Something I did not have when last I posted here. I’m The Paint Guy at our local hardware store, which also includes straightening shelves, putting in orders, answering the phone, answering customer questions, running the charge desk, processing credits, lifting dirt/mulch/rocks into vehicles, and trying to remember innumerable codes for the products we carry. I also get reprimanded or shamed or exposed for my pure, plain ignorance about those products at a pretty regular clip.]

Now, it’s not that Jesus’ name is unknown where I work—it is a town with twenty churches, and a quarter of them large Catholic ones. In fact, I hear his name (some with “Christ” added) called out a number of times every day, usually with a “!” following it. But mixing paint with Jesus would definitely not fall under expected or normal usage. I might draw less eyebrows by positing I were Sun Tzu reincarnated (my China connection and all) than I would by claiming to be in the back paint room doing that.

But that is largely what I do. I need him constantly there. It’s not always jolly and fun being the new ignorant guy while doing a job not too many levels above my first job ever. The difference is I’m not fourteen now, and all life’s experience between then and now means I get new ideas all the time on how I would improve the running of the place. But those things aren’t what I was hired for. “Serve the customers—you’ll learn as you go!”

It’s a good thing that in my very first week Jesus gave me another phrase which I still wake up with and walk into work with each morning: “Serve your co-workers.” It’s helped me be able to overlook much of what comes my way, forgive the rest, and move on. Keep serving. (Interestingly, I’ve also seen ways I struggled to overlook offense with co-workers and bosses in my past.)

I clock in. I clock out. I work. I sit [oh, if only! I actually never sit, but live for lunch and the morning break when I can rest my poor feet—never have had good feet] and watch a world of broken people go by. As a broken person myself, especially coming off the 2016 we had, I know this job is right where Jesus would have me right now. My “good brokenness” standing in contrast to “bad brokenness” around me. (This phrasing is straight out of Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way, which I’ve just recently picked up, even though Ann put it in my hands last October. I have to admit I’ve done a lot more imagining about whether or not she’s read the book I put into hers.)

Not that I always feel great about the whole situation, don’t get me wrong.

I’ve still had times of questioning anguish.

Why even have us come home from China and leave all that was familiar to us all? 

It’s like we’ve lost everything, and for what?

Umm…the Kingdom? The pearl of great price? The field with the treasure? Himself.

OK. Worth it. 

But, still…

How long, then, Lord? How long will our family be unsure of staying here or moving again? How long will I work here? How long can we last?

According to upstate New York’s The United Way ALICE Study of Financial Hardship Fall 2016, we’re already an anomaly:

The average annual Household Survival Budget for a four-person family living in upstate New York is $X [same amount as our salary/benefits during our China life]—more than double the U.S. poverty level for the same size family.

We could easily make a life for ourselves on that amount, even here, and even though we’re double that number of people. But there’s an additional oops: My salary is but half that amount. And half of that goes just for health insurance.* (That will stop once my employer health plan kicks in). In other words, we don’t even speak about making ends meet—we can hardly get them to wave at one another—as the math is so far from sustainable it’s laughable.

Or is it?

We’re eating. God provides. I worked Memorial Day because I was given the choice to and it meant a little extra. Yet the same amount I earned in six time-and-a-half hours, God slipped to me in nary six seconds with a cash gift pressed into my hand. If not via such special people continuing to surprise us with special gifts, he’s also providing for us, really, because for years we had the privilege and the ability to build savings and retirement accounts and make investments (some of which went up and not down). Could I conceivably claim these financial assets as “rights?” God may not touch them? I must have bigger barns and a stockpile to live on when I am old? Even though my culture would say “Absolutely,” and my own Christian culture often acts like that’s true, of course not.

They might be blessings (I say might be), but they are not rights.

Of course, our kids say we’re “poor” because we never go out to eat except Little Caesar’s on a Friday or the occasional bag of twenty-five McDonald’s hamburgers if we happen to be out on the road together. Nor is there entertainment money—we’ve gone to one movie in our one year back and to other places of fun only if others have kindly paid. Even their sports participation has been on the coattails of scholarship generosity. I know what my kids mean, however, and don’t totally disagree with them, and yet—unless I had none of those previously listed assets, I don’t really know anything about truly being poor. Relatively speaking to lots of people around us? OK, sure. But can I say poverty? All I’ve really got so far is a rare opportunity for someone of my background and socioeconomic status to be in a  situation where I’m forced to trust God for daily bread and a privilege to be intellectually and emotionally wrestling with these kinds of questions on a more-than-theoretical level.

Now, before you laud me: I seldom feel the love for such “opportunity” and “privilege,” and I long for breakthrough and pray for greater provision all the time. But I’m not demanding them. They are not pre-requisites (though internally I deeply debated this) to confidence that He’s caring for me. The struggle does get emotional at times, as any of  you who’ve faced financial difficulty, even of a lesser degree, know. But, glory to God, our trust is growing. A year ago, if I could have seen this future, I’d have panicked and had no other word for these straits than “dire.” Yet we’re trusting with a daily, gritty steadfastness I would not have then predicted, either.

I’ve decided: I’m not going to shortchange the process I’m in. I don’t know all that he is up to. I can’t see around the next bend. I do know I have to clock in tomorrow morning, and I know that each co-worker was created by the same Creator who made me. And they will clock in tomorrow, too, and bring along with them their own worlds of problems and burdens and miseries.

And I think I have been put there to be ready. Ready to give an answer for hope that may be found.

Far be it from me to cry out for deliverance from a place like that.

And so, until he says otherwise—and though I may look toward “otherwise’s” arrival—you’ll find Jesus and me in the back mixing paint.

 

 

*Yes, we know about cost-sharing plans. They don’t help with adopted kids’ pre-existing conditions. 

Thoughts on 45

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?

-Luke 18:8 NASB

I lived the waning months of 2016 with more anxiety and fear than ever before. We were recently home from 13 years in China, and three factors conspired to create the perfect storm: our paychecks/benefits would end on December 31, I remained unsuccessful in my search for work, and I was the head of a family of eight.

Previously in my life, “Be anxious about nothing” had, for the most part, been a slap pretty easily delivered onto your face. I, with a personality bent towards “chill out, people, things’ll work out,” didn’t need a biblical command to help me get there.

Then in 2016, nothing, it seemed, was working out. A difficult adoption. An ended career. Transition home. But no home to land in while kids cried, “This isn’t home!” Looming unemployment. A difficult adoption. Suddenly things were “not working out” in what felt like very serious ways. And for panic-inducing long periods of time.

Anxiety grabbed me like it was looking for a new best friend. I couldn’t shake it. My brain never forgot the right statements, the right truths, or the right verses, but still I could not choke down fear. Not for long.

I quit writing in this blog. Went AWOL on social media (granted, not all that different from my normal). And concentrated on surviving. September, October November, December, falling into bed and with increasing frequency only able to say, “We made it through another day.”

I couldn’t imagine what The End might really be like if it actually came. I’d applied at the hardware store and at factories. I’d put in my name for pastorates in my own denomination, then in others. I didn’t even get a call back from the Diocese on my application to be their maintenance man. Weary from crying out to God and wondering when the answers were coming, I quit answering people’s “How are you?”s. Then I had to give that up and go back to saying “Fine” again. There are only so many burdens that acquaintances can help you shoulder. We’d been needy for so long we’d realized that even most friends cannot be bothered with the same troubles forever.

But there is a widow in Luke 18 who does not give up. Though she has no reason to expect anything from a judge who, quite self-consciously, neither fears God nor fears man, she persists. Keeps asking. The guy finally grants her request to get rid of her.

God, I dislike my reaction of you appearing to me as worse than this guy. What am I supposed to think when it says you will help “quickly”? 

Finally, a year and a half after knowing we’d have to come home due to adopted kids, the unimaginable End arrived. Paychecks ceased and I learned just how much our company had been forking out all those years for great insurance (enough to add another decent used vehicle to the stable if you wanted to every couple of months). That burden now fell to us, for we had just found all applicable doctors after months of work (so no plan-switching just yet), and medi-shares designed for healthy families weren’t a viable option for ours.

And then… we didn’t die. Thanks to a few generous Christmas gifts from family, then three astonishing gifts of four figures each by overseas friends [thank you again Cassia, GTG men, and you-know-who: you guys get it!], we found our former monthly needs basically covered by other means.

Oh, just great. Now I’ve got to wait a whole ‘nother month to see how this plays out? How can I shout, ‘Look what’s happened to us! with Him stringing us along like this?

An idiotic reaction, to be sure, however fleeting.

Then I began to see the idiocy of worry as well.

What, my problems are truly that humongous that the God of the Universe has finally been stymied and cannot be counted on to pull through?

Ridiculous.

We had come home depleted and desperate for Sabbatical but instead had found ourselves living through the most frantic era of our lives. Granted, life with Everett would have been traumatic anywhere, any time, but what if the rest (the unemployment, the mysterious landing in a place that we are not from, the enrollment in good schools that our kids like and have not had to switch from so far)… what if all that was gift and I wouldn’t see it? I had been too incapable of trusting God so completely. It was too tempting to fear I was being passive, maybe lazy? Surely I could not expect the world to fall in my lap and just rest with no employment! How was I to know what kind of provision lay ahead? 

I didn’t. Still don’t. But now that “the worst” had come to pass (oh, I know, life could get a lot worse), what good can I say my anxiousness did me?

Why not just choose to trust him, then? (Yeah, sounds easy from one’s chair.)

And so I have.

By the power of the Spirit, I’m no longer a slave to fear. And 2017—so far—has been a year without it.

Or income. Am I insane? Or am I finally reaching the heart-place he has been trying to get me to for months?

I’m still self-conscious about not wanting to live with my head buried in sand, but February, too, has seen us provided for. No big gifts, but lots of unexpected little ones, even groceries. We’re alive. Our family of eight hasn’t missed a meal. And—though we battle it back some mornings—we aren’t afraid anymore.

In the parable of the judge and the widow, the NIV includes the adjective persistent when Jesus asks his question about faith. First he asks three questions of the “C’mon, do you really think God is not going to pull through?” variety, and then:

How much of that kind of [the widow’s] persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?

-Luke 18:8 NIV

Persistent.

If the adjective were never-faltering or exemplary or unwavering I’d be sunk. But the word is persistent, and if it’s okay also to falter, and we don’t have to be out in front leading the pack all the time, if my faith can waver and I can ask hard questions in the low times… I’m still good. If it is persistence in faith He’s looking for, then I can take him at his word today even when I struggled to yesterday. He’s going to step in. He’s going to work justice. (How? I have no idea.) But Jesus says his Father is not going to drag his feet. I choose to believe it. I do believe it. 

I turn 45 today, and those are my thoughts.