Words
by Jen Hatmaker on October 19th, 2011

Some of you are lucky enough to know my dad. If you fit that category, you just started smiling/laughing/shaking your head. Larry is legendary; to know him is to love him. And to marvel at his ability to wield inappropriateness and godliness at the same time. You kiss your wife with that mouth? Yes, yes he does.

My dad thought me and my siblings were the most spectacular children ever born to humans. From the time we took our first breath, we were encouraged within an inch of our lives. In the throes of teen angst but with no genuine parental grievances to moan about, we complained about Dad's long, never-ending encouragement tirades. ("Gah! It's so annoying how Dad is always affirming us and validating our passions and loving us. This house sucks!")

According to him, we were smart, almost embarrassingly gifted, our athletic prowess was Division 1 material obviously, and our collective skill sets should've been harnessed for world domination. Also? We were first-rate spellers. We could and should be varsity starters, class presidents, Most Likely to Succeed candidates, Homecoming Queens and Kings, National Merit Scholars, and award-winning break-dancers.

This was all obvious to Dad.

Also clear was this: Anyone who failed to recognize our awesomeness - teachers, Drew's 6th grade baseball coach, my 12th grade Media Arts instructor, the registrar at OBU, head hunters, colleagues, a smattering of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, neighbors, youth pastors, arresting officers, principals - were not only imbeciles, but they were unfit for their careers and destined for personal ruin. They were, in fact, endangering civilized society. Can fresh water pertaining to your children and salt water regarding their enemies flow from the same mouth? Yes, yes it can.

What I'm trying to tell you is that I've been overvalued my entire life. My siblings and I grew up believing we were so incredibly important and special, that it wasn't until somewhere in our 20's that we realized we were just sort of medium. (Dad still refuses to swallow this pill and offers to contact my critics to "tell them a thing or two about what idiots they are." "Dad, I'm 37 years old." "Well, that doesn't make that guy any less of a fool. Fools need to be told they are fools.")
Dad is a country boy. He will be on Facebook the day Satan becomes a Christ-follower.

Say what you will about his tactics, but we grew up with a dad who had our backs, people. There was never any question where his loyalties rested. We were Club King, and he was our bouncer. Oppose us at your own risk; you will certainly pull back a nub.

Because of this, my sisters and brother and I were launched into this world loved. We grew up under the staggering weight of my parents' affirmation, and somewhere along the way, it accidentally made us secure. We never had to create enabling, pleasing personas because Dad battled injustices and taught us self-respect. We had no concept of the term passive aggressive. We didn't fall to (complete) shreds over every biting remark, because who cares what you think of me? Dad thinks I'm awesome, and he would never lie.

Along with a tangible love for Jesus, my parents gave us the gift of security - secure that we were loved and valued and precious and worthy of respect - and let me tell you, I'm not sure they could've given us anything more important.

And let me be clear: We didn't have cable, we didn't take fancy vacations, we didn't shop at the Limited. I had no idea kids my age went to Europe or had time shares. I often drove my mom's truly horrible station wagon (The Gray Ghost) to school because our family collection of Rabbits and Chevettes were all broken down. Our phone attached to the wall with a cord. We didn't consort with the famous or notorious or attend expensive concerts.

Folks, I got home perms.
We once walked outside and The Ghost was just sitting there, spontaneously on fire.

Do you know how often any of that mattered? Never. I didn't even know we didn't have money until I was an adult. What I did know is that my parents loved us; with words, with actions, with their presence. Dad covered us with encouragement in a near constant stream of words, then he lavished it after every failure or success. He spent copious amounts of time talking to us about our sports, our boyfriends/girlfriends, our clubs, our projects. Dad tried very hard to care about our stuff; before every single school dance, he told us we looked beautiful for "the prom."

It occurs to me now more than ever, as we have two children in our family now who've been wounded so deeply by words, that I have all the tools I need to become a healing parent for them. I learned the most important tricks of the trade not at an adoption conference, not between the pages of a book, but at 315 Basswood in Haysville, Kansas, growing up as Larry King's daughter.

I don't have to give my kids the motorized cars they've been begging for since arriving in America. (Thanks, All My Friends Who Own Them.) Because it's not the fancy cars that will heal. Nor must I ensure their playroom is stocked with hundreds of toys they'll play with for three days then forget because their choices are so vast. It's not the toys that will mend what is broken.

I don't have to be perfect or give them some perfectly controlled life. I don't have to wield adoptive phraseology with precision every time. I don't have to create the ideal environment where struggling is minimized and sanitized. I don't have to make up for a lifetime of their losses with a new world of unchecked materialism. I might not even need to make perfect injera.

My task is to tell my children they are beautiful and wanted, that God thought long and hard about how to create them exactly right, and the heavens burst into applause when they were born. I'll tell them that Jesus sometimes sent grown-ups away but always called the children right into his lap. I'll make sure they know being abandoned was not their fault; they are innocents in their trauma. They are good and precious and special and important. By gosh, they are first-rate spellers.

Like my dad, my job is to study Remy's artwork and act like Picasso himself would shrink in insecurity to compare his little silly drawings to hers. When Ben accomplishes the task of breathing deeply and controlling his anger, I will lavish praise on him as if he learned to split atoms. When my big kids show mercy as their moments are once again hijacked by the heavy needs of their new siblings, I will kiss their cheeks and hold them tightly and marvel at how proud I am to see so much Jesus in them.

I read this post by Christine Caine last week, and it really stuck with me.

It is the words we use that will raise our children out of the mire, healing words of love and belonging and affirmation. Similar words that God took great care to speak over us through Scripture, reminding us that even in our pain and sin, we are loved, adopted, important, valuable. It is not coming unglued over spilled drinks and lost shoes and daily mistakes, choosing not to further injure their little spirits over non-essentials.

This will never be encapsulated in one moment or even one year. It isn't wielding an adoption/parenting dialect better than the next frazzled Mama. It's thousands of ordinary sentences filled with millions of loving words spoken to our children while they live under our roofs. The collective impact of years of encouragement will imprint our children with ideas that will become so intrinsic, they will never question their truth:

You are loved.
We believe in you so much.
We are for you, always.
You belong with us.
You are valuable and important.
You are forever safe with us.

Will we raise little narcissists who think the world revolves around them and owes them a happy life? Listen, I'm not talking about neglecting discipline and allowing our cherubs to turn into miniature terrorists. Nor should we cushion every blow or clean up all their mistakes so they won't feeeeeeeeel bad. Believe me, we keep it real in the Hatmaker house. You open up a sassy mouth and you're gonna pay the piper. (When Gavin told me they were the only kids on earth who didn't get an allowance, I told him: "Listen, kid, I'm not going to pay you to live in my house. You want money? Get a job.")

But trust me, this world stands ready to criticize our children, mock their dreams, underestimate their potential, and pulverize their spirits. They have an enemy and he wants them destroyed. They will encounter antagonists and haters, and they'll be wounded by wounded people. They will get their fair share of humiliation. Our children will be betrayed and disappointed as sure as I'm sitting here. We need not worry about keeping our kids humble by withholding verbal praise or being stingy with affirmation and quick with criticism.

The world will do that for us.

Our job is to make sure our children know that no matter how messy life gets, regardless of how epically they fail, they will always find an open door at home. That family is forever, and our well of love for them will never run dry. And if along the way we accidentally make them believe they are the most gifted, hilarious, clever, wickedly talented children on the planet, well, perhaps it will just become fodder for their blogs one day, and they'll have to email us special links with instructions on how to open it because, BLAST IT, we can't figure out this newfangled technology these days on the internets and our laptops have scuff marks and dents where we banged them on the desk in frustration (hi, Dad).


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46 Comments

Jilt - October 19th, 2011 at 8:39 AM
I'm not quite sure how you could have the time to blog every 3 weeks, but I'm so glad you do. :)
Diane W Bailey - October 19th, 2011 at 8:42 AM
Oh sweet friend I love this post! Reading this took me back in time to my own childhood. My dad doesn't do the computers at all! Neither does mom. Thanks for sharing a picture of your sweet family. I have grandchildren and a son in law of dark complextion. My dad has been the best one in loving someone who was different from himself. Dads are the best.
Hidi Byrd - October 19th, 2011 at 8:43 AM
OMG, I so remember the station vacation!!! How about the little red convertable? I felt like we were going to school in a clown car!!! Love your dad and miss his sarcasm, but I do get to live it through you now!!! But I do have to say: Really, college division 1.......... Love you Jen
Denim - October 19th, 2011 at 9:20 AM
Jen, you know I love your entire family as if they were my own. Your dad was an inspiration for me when I really needed one. The timing could not be done by he, or I. It was certainly a divine gift from God for him to be introduced into the lives of Shawna and I.

I love reading about you and Brandon's family. I think of Ben and Remy frequently. How they could not have been given to a more perfect family. One that will help them heal their wounds. One that will have the strength and wisdom to take their past experiences in life and apply them to the development of these two pieces of Ethiopian clay.

Many blessings to y'all from the Jentzen's. Hope to see you soon!

Denim
Derek Simpson - October 19th, 2011 at 9:21 AM
Great post Jennifer. Pretty sure Drew's 6th grade coach should have received some kind of waiver though...
Aaron New - October 19th, 2011 at 9:25 AM
LOVE me some King-O.

He reminded me that ministers are real people - and I, too, would often "marvel at his ability to wield inappropriateness and godliness at the same time." He always had qualities that I appreciate: genuine, competitive, and loud.
Jerusha - October 19th, 2011 at 9:33 AM
Love, love, love everything you write. Thank you. P.S. My hubby grew up in Derby, Hutchinson, and a couple other random KS towns.
Jill VanDerGang Jefferson - October 19th, 2011 at 9:36 AM
crying... needed this oh so bad. blake has been struggling big time this year and this gave me perspective on how i should be handling it all. love you so much. and Lare Bear too!
debbie brown - October 19th, 2011 at 9:37 AM
so encouraging and perfect even if my kids are 25 and an e.r. trauma nurse in casper wyoming and 22 and fighting, for our freedom of words, in afganistan thank you
Nicole Quiring - October 19th, 2011 at 9:44 AM
Thanks for the encouragement!!! Makes me want to go check my kids out of school right now and tell them how amazing they are . . . . but I'll wait till after school.:))
Yvette - October 19th, 2011 at 9:51 AM
Awesome! Thanks for the reminder - cuz they all are amazing!
Jaime - October 19th, 2011 at 10:01 AM
As I read this I burst out into tears....you give me so much hope for my hurting children and make me even for a moment forget about the everyday life and obstacles. Thank you for the encouragement! I greatly appreciate it.
Bonar Crump - October 19th, 2011 at 10:08 AM
I have eyes full of big tears. I don't know why.

Please write more about your dad when you have the opportunity.

I feel broken by these words.

God is the only parent I've ever known and I want so desperately for my life to reflect that THIS description of your's is what God has always been to me.
Dawn - October 19th, 2011 at 10:09 AM
arresting oficers.....BAHHAHAHA!
Keri Freund - October 19th, 2011 at 10:11 AM
Wow! Love it! Am sending to my fam! :)
Darlene Whatley king - October 19th, 2011 at 10:30 AM
Thanks Jen. That brought back some great memories foe me. Working for you Dad was so much fun. He always kept me laughing. He was such a real person. He wisdom was unbelievable for over 20 years ago. Larry really enjoys life and it shows. I will always love your mom and dad no matter how many miles come between us. Your family has been a blessing and inspiration to my family. I will continue to pray for your babies. God is in control.

Crystal Z - October 19th, 2011 at 11:01 AM
Thank you. THANK YOU!!!!
Briana - October 19th, 2011 at 11:02 AM
I am always blown away by everything you write! Thank you so much!
Monica - October 19th, 2011 at 11:50 AM
Awesome! ...but don't bet the ranch on that spelling part! A's first 'word study' came back with a 'please study next time' scribbled across the top in a bright red pen. Dear teacher, it is HARD to spell in English. Words are rarely spelled as they sound and that is a huge problem for an 11-year-old new English speaker. Give him a smiley face, please!
Abbe - October 19th, 2011 at 12:41 PM
Wonderful, amazing post. Touched me very deeply as I both remember my upbringing and strive to cherish and build up my own children!
Marla Taviano - October 19th, 2011 at 1:18 PM
My dad's a lot like yours, and I'm so thankful. I also drove a beat-up station wagon Dad bought from a friend for $500. Pulled in the drive from cross country practice one afternoon and it went buh buh BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Three holes in the hood from where something exploded.

Each new post of yours is my favorite.
Schari Harris - October 19th, 2011 at 2:15 PM
You nailed it Jen, everyone who has ever had the opportunity to meet your dad, loves him! I certainly remember the station wagon, it was in that car that I made my first journey with you
Monica Dominguez - October 19th, 2011 at 2:49 PM
Not only did he encourage you all, he would always encourage ya'lls friends who came over. Your house was my second home and Lare was my second dad- another pastor dad at that! He always acted like he genuinely cared about me as if I were his own. Love you King-O!!
Anna - October 19th, 2011 at 3:27 PM
A friend recently sent me a link to your blog and I'm so glad she did. I grew up with a dad who told me daily that I was "perfect and wonderful in every way," and he maintains that position to this day. As a new-ish mom
Julie - October 19th, 2011 at 3:57 PM
Oh Larry! I will always be thankful for his perfectly timed and placed jokes in Papa's funeral. :) Who doesn't love Larry????
Kris - October 19th, 2011 at 5:38 PM
Love this. I remember my Mom the same way. I never realized we were dirt poor growing up. All I knew was that I was loved and happy. My mom, still to this day, better not find out anyone's said anything negative about me. She wrote my first boyfriend a letter when he broke up with me for my friend and threatened his life if she ever saw him again. I pray for your children to be healed with your love as I have prayed the same for my own (step) children to know my love for them and to be healed from the hurt others have inflicted on them. Thanks so much Jen for always being real!
Julie R - October 19th, 2011 at 8:27 PM
My hubby drove the family station wagon and it was named The Gray Ghost too! It was our first car in marriage. A 1984 Ford. Memories!
Thank you for sharing. How very very lucky you are to have a dad like Larry. I feel blessed to have my own Daddy, too.
Shannon - October 19th, 2011 at 10:37 PM
Thank you for this! Words-especially from a parent-are SO powerful. My prayer for my girls is that I am faithful to speak the words, but also that the Holy Spirit will stamp that truth on their hearts. Mamas and Daddies carry a high honor and huge responsibility to speak Truth over our kiddos. I needed this today.
Anna - October 20th, 2011 at 12:43 AM
Oops, I guess my previous comment got cut off... As a new-ish mom and a soon-to-be adoptive mom as well, so much if what you've written here resonates with me. I bet that scene in 'Hope Floats' where Sandra Bullock dances with her dad in the retirement home made you bawl your eyes out too, right? Yeah, dads are the best. Thanks for putting words to something so close to my heart!
mimi - October 20th, 2011 at 1:49 AM
Bless you for this. THANKS FOR HONORING THEM WHILE THEY ARE STILL LIVING. I have parents who are loving, encouraging, challenging, parents who laughed and played a lot with us. Parents who gave up everything for us children and we are their treasured possessions and riches. Their love has allowed me to recieve the Love of Christ so openely. And if God gave me a choice of choosing my parents: i would say your choice was PERFECT LORD!
Karen - October 20th, 2011 at 8:20 AM
Epically awesome.Bravo!
Lizzy Aranibar - October 20th, 2011 at 8:33 AM
Wow! Thank you for writing! I'm sharing again! Lizzy Gross- Aranibar
Anne - October 20th, 2011 at 2:20 PM
I love this post. I didn't grow up in a home like this. But I work really hard to pump my kids full of affection and affirmation....to the point that they just flat out don't believe me anymore. One daughter had something happen to her and chose not to tell me about it because "You'd just tell me how wonderful I am, you don't get it." I pray that one day she sees that I did, in fact, 'get it.' She really is wonderful. And so are you Jen. I hope to get to meet you someday soon! :)
Angie - October 20th, 2011 at 6:09 PM
Great article. Tell Gavin that Brock doesn't get allowance either so now there is 2 families that don't give their kids $$ to live in the house.
Jennifer - October 20th, 2011 at 10:28 PM
Let's hope that being a great adoptive parent does not rest on my ability to make great injera....have you ever really tried to make it? ...it is hard. I made it once and it was awful :)
Love this post!
Leslee Matthews - October 21st, 2011 at 11:03 PM
Jen, Can I just say that I had no idea that you were who you are? Wonderful, spunky, adoptive Mama, lover of Jesus, regular gal - I had been told all those things. But clearly you are so much more! Writer, Speaker, Radical Obedience, Pastor's wife, and Totally Cool! these were all new to me.....
Anyway, that being said, I just have to comment on this post...I did not grow up with this kind of love and encouragement and so this comes very hard to me. Lately the Lord has been putting before me a myriad of messages each saying "Make sure they know they are the most important person in the world to you." Thank you for your way of saying that too. I laughed, I cried and I am super convicted to love like Jesus. The whole praise thing has gotten a bad rap in recent years - I WANT to be known for my Love!
Kelsy Leyendecker - October 21st, 2011 at 11:31 PM
Love this!!! Thanks for the encouragement! And we have 9 kids total currently in our home from 2 years to 14 years. No allowance here either. ;)
Terra Doyle - October 24th, 2011 at 1:42 PM
Thank you Jen. I needed this post this week in particular and it just brought a big smile to my face thinking about Larry. He was important to many of us that that were never lucky enough to have the last name "King". What a special person. xoxo
Chris Clark - October 24th, 2011 at 8:35 PM
Thank you so much for posting your blog. It has been a huge blessing to my husband and I. We just brought home our 2 children from the Philippines in July and it is so refreshing to know that we don't have to be perfect. I have a blog I also have kept at www.clarkschoosingjoy.blogspot.com I have not shared the rough times but only the good times but I do totally relate to what you write. We feel like we are in the trenches everyday. Thanks for your encouragement.
Choosing Joy,
Chris
Dana @ Cooking at Cafe D - October 25th, 2011 at 11:52 AM
I've been trying to find the words for this kind of security this week....and failing.

Lord,
Please help me to be more like you.
(And, just a tiny bit more like Larry...)

If I could give them anything for Christmas...
It would be this.
~ Dana
Brandon - October 31st, 2011 at 11:00 AM
Loved every single word of this post! Thanks for affirming us as adoptive parents to keep on affirming our kids.
Teri - November 3rd, 2011 at 9:38 AM
On a post about words, I'm speechless. Thank you. What a gift.
Kelly Pichon - November 5th, 2011 at 3:55 PM
Thank you for this post. I have tears rolling down my face. This gave me some great healing words that I pray to share with my freshman in college when I go to visit him next week. You see, I did so injure my oldest son with words as his own mother. I cannot tell you how new realizations of this grieve my heart. I am deeply grieved because they have caused much grief to my son and have grieved the very heart of our Lord. Yet, the Lord and he have forgiven me and both remind me that I am still his mother and however many days I have left here, I can use my words for healing with him. I plan on using every single opportunity I am provided with to tell him just how wonderful he is and am counting on God's grace, mercy, wisdom, strength and discernment to help me. And, I am on my knees praying and speaking God's word over his life in prayer. Thank you again, it brought back great childhood memories, smiles, laughter out loud, and tears. And, this reminded me how much the Lord loves me in his forgiveness of my failures as a mother. I know he has my son in the palm of His hand!!! And, I have two other children still here at home...so, I am now carefully weighing my words, only by the grace of God!!!!
CPT - December 11th, 2011 at 1:01 PM
I am not an adoptive mother. I'm just an ordinary, run-fo-the-mill mother with four biological children. Your words are appropriate for all parents, particularly for me. Your words about your dad are touching. My ex-husband is not that dad. It breaks my heart when my children are so deeply wounded by his critical words and by his lack of unconditional acceptance...the very things you so treasured in your dad are the things I wish for my children to experience. As a mother, I try very hard to make up for this, and your words have strangely encouraged me. I feel at times that all is lost, that I will never be able to cover over their wounds that continue to come from their father. But reading this showed me that I can. I can because as I teach them about their Heavenly Father, I can show them the acceptance they crave. There is so much that has happened in my heart and my mind as I have read this post, I fear my words are a disconnected scramble, so I will close and simply say, Thank you. God bless you and your family.
Hobbsparker - December 21st, 2011 at 3:20 AM
Some tasks are time hassling and we always pushed them for next weekend, or keep on postponing them. For example I want to
Kimmellee - May 31st, 2013 at 3:46 PM
"arresting officers"? Buahaha!! I love it!! I'm falling in love with you... in a non creepy girl crush way. I hope you don't mind. :)
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