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Learning resilience in the most unexpected way

Sometimes innocence is the source of resilience
Sometimes innocence is the source of resilience

We’re supposed to be teachers to our children. But when it comes to facing adversity and persevering, there is actually quite a bit we can learn from our younger peers. My son, and his unique view of the world, have taught me invaluable lessons in learning how to keep on keeping on.

One of the words I’d use to describe my son is “resilient.” I’ll never forget the day that we first met him. It was at a group home in Camarillo. That day in of itself was intense.

Apparently, there was a man on campus with a knife, so we were on lockdown.

What was supposed to be like a 30-minute session turned into a two-hour ordeal. Everything was sorted out and we were able to finally meet this boy that was going to be a temporary part of our lives.

He sauntered into the room everyone was waiting in, holding his blanket in one hand and a stuffed animal in the other, wearing clothes that were two  sizes too big. From the moment he walked in that room, he smiled this smile that won my heart over immediately. He couldn’t stop smiling. I don’t think he had a clue of what was going on, but he couldn’t stop smiling. And that smile lit up the whole room, and everyone else’s spirit.

There were more delays that day. We were supposed to go pick up the medication he was on. The social worker said it should be an in and out thing; no more than 10 minutes. She was off about an hour.

But this kid was just happy to be alive. Smiling. Taking all the new sights and senses in. We assumed he was hungry (because we were hungry). There was a Foster’s Freeze next to the pharmacy and I witnessed for the first time someone using chicken strips as a spoon for the ranch dipping.

It was going to be about a 40-minute drive from the pharmacy to our home — a beautiful one at that, since it was on the 101 from Oxnard to Santa Barbara. My wife would look into the backseat to just make sure he was okay. I tried to see his face through the rear view mirror. He never stopped smiling.

About two years later, we finalized our adoption of him. What was supposed to be a temporary journey with our family turned into a permanent one. When we signed the final paper work, we received stacks and stacks (and stacks) of reports that described his life before he met us (apparently, you can’t receive the medical and family history until you finalize adoption...). I read through, like, 3 reports and I couldn’t handle it anymore (my wife read everything). It was so heartbreaking.

And I couldn’t believe the things that he was forced to experience. No kid — no person — should have to endure such experiences. Which made that first day we met even more remarkable.

This kid, at the age of 3, had witnessed and experienced more trauma than I had in my 34 years of life (... in the 41 years of my life...). I had a hard time reading through the events of his life. He lived through it and still smiled a smile that continues to light up whatever room he is in and continues to lift up the spirits of those around him.

And he continues to show resilience to this day. I dubbed his smile as the “Unbreakable Smile.”

I think part of his resiliency has to do with how he views life. My son is also on the autism spectrum disorder. So, he sees the world in a different way. I’m convinced that he sees the world with joy-tinted glasses because he finds joy in the things we, typical, humans always overlook.

He gets excited (and I mean excited) over a bowl of cereal — or any meal for that matter. When we go out to eat and the server brings his food, he gets so excited that we feel a little embarrassed and because I am who I am, I always make this stupid joke like, “I promise, we feed him plenty at home” because he acts like he’s never seen food before.

Pointing to New Perspective

This one time, my son came home from school with a couple of scratch marks on his arm and a note from the teacher. He told us that his friend Abby (name changed) scratched him. The note the teacher sent told us that it’s never intentional and that Abby is a non-verbal classmate. The following week, he came home with another scratch mark on his arm along with the news that Abby screamed and scratched her teachers as well. So, my wife and I were trying to teach him — I don’t know — self-defense of some sort.

We told him to always let his teachers know that Abby scratched him. We told him to make sure he tells Abby firmly “no” and “please don’t touch me.” And that if she continues, to put up his hands and put distance between the two of them by slightly pushing away from her (or pushing her away) — something so that he doesn’t come home with scratches.

We went over all this with him and asked, so when Abby scratches you, what do you do?

His response? “I’ll give her a big hug.”

That’s what I mean — he looks at the world differently from my jaded point of view.

The Resilient Point of View

I have — and continue — to learn a lot about life and faith through my son.

He certainly inspires me to keep on keeping on. One of the ways is to change my perspective: How I see things and what I see.

I see bubbles. He sees wonder. I see the meal that should’ve come to our table a while ago. He sees joy that food is here.

The truth is, we find what we are looking for. If you want to find faults in someone, you will find fault in them. If you want to find things to hate and/or fear in our world, you will find them.

But if you look for the things that are good, that which brings joy; that which harbors hope — you will find those things too. Admittedly, it’s easier to look for the negative. But that doesn’t mean that our lives, our community, our city, our world is devoid of good.

It’s there. It’s always there. Because God is good. And God is always there. God is always here.

Knowing that helps me to keep on keeping on; it helps me be resilient. It instills in me hope that good and beauty is all around us.

Joseph Yoo shares TikTok tips on Pastoring in the Digital ParishJoseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at

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