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.

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.