How did Stranger Things Point to Adoptee Things: 5 Illustrations

Anyone reading this live in Minnesota?

One of the perks of living here is the blizzards.

During these snow days, you can either get nothing done and binge on your favorite Netflix show…

…or get lots done, move every single item you own from one space into another. I’ve done both.

Getting this UHaul unstuck was no joke. April 2018.


The week before our daughter was born.

(no complaints, thankful we’re blessed with things to put inside a UHaul!!)

Prayer and patience, salt from the hardware store, and waiting overnight ūüôā



Anyway, if you happen to be looking for a good story mid-winter (or spring if you live in Minnesota), check out Stranger Things!



Okay so I’m really nerding out on this right now, I’m having a lot of fun sharing it with you! I believe these topics are essential for navigating the complexities of adoption. I could write about it for days because there are so many nooks and crannies embedded in both seasons… I might need a Part II & III someday to cover everything!

We’re gonna zoom in on¬†5 Adoptee Experiences Illustrated by Stranger Things.

Naming and understanding these things helps us serve, love, comfort and exhort each other during conversations and seasons of support. That’s why I’m here.

So let’s jump right in!

  1. Ambiguous Loss
  2. Homeland Journeys 
  3. Third Space
  4. #Demogorgon_Problems
  5. Gospel Things* [long-read alert; this could have been a separate post but I’m including it as bonus!]


Season 1: “When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.” -IMBD

Season 2 “Despite returning from the Upside Down in season one, Will Byers has been unable to shake his connection to this shadow dimension.” -The Hollywood Reporter

1) Ambiguous Loss



She’s a Jesus-figure.

Through her sacrifice and supernatural powers, she saves Will Byers and Hawkins, IN, from the evil smoke monster super boss (yes that’s what we’ll call it for now) and all its demogorgons.

She’s also a person with a complex history of loss (of her mother), trauma, violence, and all kinds of vile abuse from her remaining caregiver(s). There’s a whole episode dedicated to her exploring all of that. And meeting others like her.

There’s a common experience I’ve heard about (and felt myself) when considering or wondering about our birth families. Pauline Boss wrote about it in Ambiguous Loss, and JaeRan Kim unpacks it a bit more in her article: (click and read, it’s super helpful for anyone on the adoption spectrum!!):

physical absence coupled with psychological presence and physical presence coupled with psychological absence. Examples of physical absence with psychological presence include divorce, parent incarceration, soldiers missing in action, foster care and adoption. In these examples, the ‚Äúlost‚ÄĚ person is not present on a day-to-day basis, but the person suffering from ambiguous loss is thinking about and grieving for that person on a regular basis. Examples of physical presence with psychological absence include relationships with persons with mental health and chemical dependency issues. The ‚Äúlost‚ÄĚ person is physically available but is not emotionally or psychologically available to others in their lives. ”¬†

If you’re connected to adoption in any way, how have you experienced those?

Where’s my birth mom? Dad? Can I talk to them? What do they do now? Are they still alive? What do they look like? What are/were they like as people? What was important to them? When can I meet them? Why don’t they want to meet me? Why can’t they meet me?

These are real questions and I think Stranger Things did a solid job of exploring those through Eleven’s character.

Ambiguous loss is about naming all that confusion, the unknowns and uncertainties, the unstructured boundaries associated with the loss of critical relationships.

Boss proposes, “the more ambiguous the loss, the harder it is to master it.”

Kim’s article provides practical things to do: identify and give voice to the feelings and questions, ask adoptive parents to be open and honest about the information they do know, consider creating a ritual or script to honor or recognize the loss.

2) Homeland Journeys

Here’s Will held hostage in Upside Down before he was rescued:

Will Tied Up.jpg
pc: Black Girl Nerds

For some transracial adoptees, our adoptive families and the communities into which we were placed felt like the Upside Down. Or it still does. 

Discrimination. Prejudice. Racism. Judgment. Abuse. From those in your classrooms or the random drive-by yelling a hackneyed comment out of their vehicle, perhaps even from within your own immediate or extended families. Can’t escape. You’re stuck there. Just gotta deal with it.¬†

[I do wonder if asking everyone in our communities to respond to people of color with kindness and warmth might have been like asking this baby to drive; it’s something that’s learned, she needs motivation, help, grace, favor, lessons, education, assistance, modeling, coaching, etc. she can’t do it on her own, perhaps she wasn’t meant to; ultimately I would desire for everyone to learn truth and compassion and not just people I like or get along with, but this is easier said than practiced]


But it’s difficult to just “brush it off” isn’t it? In times of vulnerability and fear it might feel impossible to buy the idea that ‚Äúhardship makes you more resilient, so be thankful.‚ÄĚ

For adoptees, some of us felt as if real life, the real world, the place where I’m supposed to be, the true place where I might become fully alive and safe and myself and where people aren’t trying to kill me or hurt me or threaten me and call me unspeakable things… for some, you might feel like you do need to go back to where you came from, because maybe that place would be different and better than this upside down world, upside down small town, upside down family. 

So, I did go back, to Korea. To see where I was born, to breathe the air there and taste the food, hear the language, stand in places where I might have stood had I remained non-adopted. I cried a lot. I had a lot of feelings about it.

There’s a crucial spiritual component I’ll share later, but for now I’ll let you know¬†I appreciated and soaked in every moment of my experience. There are great organizations like Adoptive Family Travel that provide support for this.

I’ve been back a handful of times on my own or with my wife.

And, each time of go I feel like a foreigner.

3) Third Space

That foreigner feeling, I think it’s pretty common. Which is why it‚Äôs important to understand if we want to hold a position of empathy for our adopted brothers and sisters, supporting each other and helping others along the way.

It’s like that demogorgon Dustin keeps as a pet… he named it Dart.

Dart Stranger Things.jpg

Even if¬†Dart turned out to stay with Dustin and was raised as a precious member of Dustin’s family, it would not fully fit into Dustin’s family, his friend group, or the town of Hawkins and beyond.

Tobias H√ľbinette described Third Space in his article regarding a specific group of transracial adoptees (2004):

‚ÄúDashefsky‚Äôs (1975) classical model of identity construction focuses on two aspects: an objective side made up of society‚Äôs norms and values and a subjective side consisting of an individual‚Äôs self- perception. For an adopted Korean, those two aspects clash violently in a Western society, being Korean by race but Western by culture‚Ķ Adopted Koreans are for me truly a unique group transgressing categories of race, citizenship, language, religion and culture.‚ÄĚ

Rachel Rostad (remember Letter to JK Rowling) addressed part of this in her article Musings About Language and Loss.

How about you? How have you experienced Third Space in your own life?

I wrote a bit about my experience related to identity a few weeks ago. It’s also addressed some in my post about Awkwafina.

For me, third space means I have a hard time fully connecting with a culture into which I was adopted (American), and I struggle to fully connect with a culture from which I was adopted (Korean). I say “a” because I want to leave space for the most important culture (coming soon).

4) #Demogorgon_Problems

As soon as that demigorgon was developed enough to individuate and leave the house independently it was gone!!!

I can relate!

I mean it seems like it’s first natural inclination, DESPITE all the love Dustin gave to it, was to return to it’s group of demogorgons and do what everyone else in that group was doing.

These kinds of identity seeking (or avoiding) behaviors are also common with transracial adoptees. Adoptive parents might not understand this. They might even try to dismiss it or do what they can to stop it. They might feel scared, or super confused about it or they might dive all in and support every step of the way. It can happen in a thousand different directions (multi-finality).

Main point here is that there is a natural pull for transracial adoptees to figure out how people who look like them live and exist in the world. We get messages from all over the place that tell us all about it. Right now your job is to figure out which ones to trust and apply. It can feel really confusing and frustrating and intimidating and scary. It’s not really miserable and magical. Mostly miserable for some of the adoptees who’ve shared candidly with me. It was miserable for myself at times. Which leads me to our 5th illustration.

5) Gospel Things*

Jim Hopper, the sheriff, rescues Will from being held hostage. He enters into the darkness of Upside Down, to seek and save Will, and bring him back home. I mean c’mon man this is Jesus entering into the world to do what we cannot do on our own!!!!

Jim Hopp 2.jpg


Okay so this final point is for “believers.” If that’s something new or strange to you that’s totally cool. You can feel free to high five me and I’ll see you next week! ‚̧

I think seasons one and two together illustrate our need for rescue. But hmm I wonder if it’s more than just an allegory for the Gospel?

What about here-and-now kind of help?

We live in a messed up distorted upside down world. Today we do. The misuse and abuse of everything. Objectification of people (this video helped me rethink pornography). Human trafficking. Slavery. Discrimination. Murder. Rape. Elected officials with questionable character. Corrupted authority. Systematic oppression. Un-checked structures of power.

That’s what we see when we look outside. (Psalm 119:161)

Stranger Things 4.png

After we watch the news, when we’re done scrolling through feeds, credits finish rolling after a video linked on social media… what remains is our freedom and responsibility to look inside. (Psalm 119:11)

We need rescue. Today. In the moments of my darkest struggles.

“For¬†I delight in the law of God,¬†in my inner being,¬†but I see in my members¬†another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” -Romans 7:22-23

To close, here’s one example from my personal life. There was a season when I was driven by the pleasure of “substances” (a looooong season, over a decade worth of friends who I continue to miss and love and enjoy and respect!). Jackie Hill named it for me and the message pierced my heart when I heard her speak.



CS Lewis would have said my desires for pleasure weren’t too strong… they were too weak. God replaces pleasure with deeper pleasure. Himself.

From another angle, a pastor once said you can’t behave your way into trouble, you worship your way in.

Similarly, we can’t behave our way out of trouble, we worship our way out.

We’re all worshippers.

Here are some common objects of our worship: control and power, wealth, status, love from another, money, sex, physical gratification, immediate gratification, elevated reputation, revenge, a sense of belonging, fame, respect, achievement of some standard (thinking about turning horizontal measurements into vertical ladders).

Cognitive behavioral therapy can only take us so far. It’s like stapling oranges onto an apple tree, as Paul Tripp would describe it. Behavior is fruit. We must address the root. Increasing adaptive behaviors and decreasing maladaptive behaviors is like turning off the check engine light without cracking the hood open. Some ideas from the book How People Change by¬†Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane:

Going to every church event won’t save us (Formalism)

Following a list of dos and don’t won’t either (Legalism)

Neither will emotional highs and mystic experiences (Mysticism)

Fighting for the right causes can’t save us (Activism)

Knowing a ton about the bible and theology won’t save us (Biblicism)

Having all my emotional needs met won’t work either (Psychology-ism)

Even community alone wouldn’t rescue me (Socialism).

These are all good things, but they’re not the Creator of those things. They’re created things meant to point us to the Creator. The only hope in the here and now is Christ. You gotta get this. You gotta taste this. I wrote on this regarding depression but it applies to every situation and relationship in your life.

Three closing ideas from your bible (which is probably one of the strangest things on the planet in terms of what it actually is, does, points to, offers, and enables us to do):

“I have been crucified with Christ¬†and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.¬†The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God,¬†who loved me¬†and gave himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20

“And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” -1 Corinthians 15:19

“For the love of Christ¬†controls us, because we have concluded this: that¬†one has died for all, therefore all have died;¬†and he died for all,¬†that those who live might no longer live for themselves but¬†for him who for their sake died and was raised.” -2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Because we’re ambassadors of another world, I’m now freed up to love in response to being sinned against. We’ve been freed. This is a promise alive in John 8:31-38¬†(although I recommend reading the whole chapter it will set you on fire).

For transracial adoptees currently dealing with trauma, loss of birth family, marginalization, hatred… there really is a place where you can taste¬†real life, the real world, the place where we’re¬†supposed to be, the true place where we might become fully alive and safe and ourselves and where people aren‚Äôt trying to kill us or hurt us or threaten us and call us unspeakable things (yes some churches are better at picturing this than others; and yes there will be suffering and perhaps even more but for a better reason, 1 Peter 4:12-19). Instead of division and fear there’s nourishment, encouragement, patience, kindness, joy, mercy, favor, challenge toward growth just as athletes challenge each other, solidarity against death just as soldiers fight alongside each other; hope for future and strength for now. In some ways it’s the ultimate return back to where we came from, the truest refuge from the Upside Down and the kindest calling toward growth and grace:¬†

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” -Psalm 139:13

Okay so zoom out…

We looked at 5 Adoptee Experiences Illustrated by Stranger Things.

  1. Ambiguous Loss
  2. Homeland Journeys 
  3. Third Space
  4. #Demogorgon_Problems
  5. Gospel Things*

I’ve been talking to a handful of adoptees lately. You all are going through a lot. If anyone every needs to talk or ask questions or say things out loud, please feel free to email me at or through this page.

You can also connect at my facebook page and send messages at Plus follow @therapyredeemed on Instagram for more content related to adoption, theology and psychology!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these illustrations. What did I miss, what would you add?? Leave a comment or email!

Naming and understanding these things together helps so much!!! Peace!!! ‚̧


Dashefsky A, ‚ÄėTheoretical frameworks in the study of ethnic identity‚Äô, Ethnicity 2:2, pp 10‚Äď 18, 1975

H√ľbinette, T. (2004). Adopted Koreans and the development of identity in the ‚Äúthird space.‚ÄĚ Adoption & Fostering, 28(1), 16‚Äď24.





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