Adoption: Hard to Start. Harder to Stop.

February 19, 2015 a father's perspective, adoption realities, large families, Mike 39 Comments

“When you go back…”

In the weeks before we left for China for our first adoption, Anne and I met with some family friends who had adopted three Chinese daughters. The goal of our time with Kevin and Vicki was to better understand what to expect on the trip and in the months to follow.

It was a really helpful visit that covered everything from haggling with street vendors to treatment options for scabies, but what stands out most from our time together that night is one off-handed comment from Kevin that started with, “When you go back to China for your second adoption…”

I quickly corrected his misstatement, reminding him that this was a one-time deal for us. We were only planning one adoption… ever. That was all we had to give.

Chinese Orphanage

This was one of the nicest orphanages we visited in all of our trips to China, but clean floors and colorful playgrounds did not replace their hunger for a family.

His response still rings in my ears after more than a decade, “I had the exact same plan until the moment I walked into an orphanage, and then everything changed for me. After seeing what I saw that day, I knew I would go back. After that, nothing was ever the same.”

Several weeks later, I stood in the doorway of an orphanage in FengCheng City. Although I would not admit it to myself or anyone else until much later, I knew at that moment that Kevin was right. I knew I would come back. I also knew that I would never be the same.

Over the next 8 years, we returned to China twice and brought home three more children. For most of the last decade, Chinese orphans and adoption have been the dominant storyline in our lives, and that is why I am struggling so much with what I am about to say:

At least for now, I think we’re done.


“I think we’re done”

The collective sigh of relief you hear right now is from our family, friends, and financial advisors.

As we have started to share this decision, we have received almost universal praise and support. We have been told that we are being wise; college is expensive and we aren’t getting any younger. We have been reminded about the importance of the six we already have (as if we forgot). We have been encouraged to think about new ministry areas to consider, from church committees to bible studies. We have been counseled that we can’t adopt all of the orphans in China.

Some of these are valid arguments from people who deeply care about us, but there is one fundamental problem: The arguments against a fifth adoption/seventh child are identical to the arguments I made against the first one.

Chinese Village

These families live on less a day than most of us spend on Starbuck’s or Coke. We fell in love with the people of China during our visit with them.

I shudder to think about our life today if my “rational” arguments had won out in any of the previous seasons where we debated this question. As long and compelling as the list of arguments against adoption were, they are dwarfed by the short list of arguments on the other side of the ledger – Mia, Will, Ellie, and Sam.

Because I have seen the inside of an orphanage and have held children just as deserving of a family as the four we brought home, I struggle with the idea of being done. I struggle to believe that any sacrifice of my comforts should outweigh the desperate needs of those children. I struggle to believe that God loves me and my kids more than them… especially in light of a gospel that seems to say the opposite.

To cite the oft quoted David Platt and his articulation of what Kevin expressed to us on that couch 10 years ago, “Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes…”


Adoption as a Selfish Act

While the above arguments are the more selfless articulations for adoption, I should be honest about some of the selfish ones.

Beyond the extraordinary blessing of four new family members, adoption has been the catalyst for most of my deepest connections with God over the last decade… and, frankly, in my life. Adoption has created a space where we needed the God of the universe to show up… and He has.

Some of the very few times I have audibly heard from God were about adoption. The only time I’ve ever been short on money in my life has been during an adoption journey, and that is also the only time I’ve had the mind-blowing and faith-multiplying experience of finding large amounts of anonymously-given money in my mailbox. He has spoken to us, provided for us, revealed his heart to us, unified us, provided real-deal miracles… all in adoption journeys… all because adoption allowed us to experience our need for him and provided such a sweet platform from which He could display His God-ness.


Mia joined our family from Jiangxi Province in 2007.

I have never felt more alive in Christ than when we are in the middle of an adoption journey. I have never felt the tension of fear and rising faith like I feel when standing outside of the door where I will meet my new children for the first time. I have never experienced greater community with the body of Christ than waking up in China to read encouraging messages from friends and family members praying for us from thousands of miles away. I have literally been asked about the God I serve because of the Chinese kid holding my hand at Target or the picture of my family on my computer desktop. My friendship with Jesus and the privilege to share about it have been multiplied because we said yes.

And our marriage. I’m not sure there is a more intimate connection than kneeling on filthy concrete together, trying to communicate with smiles, snacks, and a limited set of poorly annunciated Chinese phrases to a stunned, urine-soaked orphan that the strangest people they have ever met are somehow going to be their family. As strange as it may sound from the outside, we’ve never experienced sweeter oneness.

So make no mistake… the decision to adopt again would be far from a purely magnanimous or sacrificial decision. In some ways, there are as many selfish motivations in choosing to adopt as there are in choosing not to.


Same Question, Surprising New Answer

And so, we have gone to God with the question. Are we supposed to adopt again?

Having approached him with this same question in the past, the answer has always been clear and has always been affirmative. It’s felt as if He has been waiting for us to form the question, for the seeds of adoption to germinate in our hearts. All of our previous experiences created an expectation of the response we would receive this time.


Will was born in Shanxi and came home in 2009.

But much to our surprise, there is no quick “Yes” at the end of our prayers lately. Instead, we are surprised to be experiencing some silence and some sense that the answer may, in fact, be “No.” Or “Not now.”

And with this has come the appropriately humbling realization that we are not in charge. We have come to learn that we must be as obedient in “no” as we learned to be in “yes”… expectant that he will be as glorified in the former as he has been in the latter. If we aspire to do Kingdom work, then we have to be willing to listen to the King.


The Fear of Forgetting

As we start to get comfortable with this new direction, we begin to realize how our role in the Kingdom can shift without diminishing.

We do have a calling in our own home to disciple the six people whom God has entrusted to us. We do have a calling in our schools and in our neighborhood and in my office to bring the light of Christ to people who are lost… people who may actually be harder for God to reach than those orphans, because suburban comfort can mask our need for a Savior. Like Christ said, “It is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

But the idea of “suburban ministry” is scary for us… because again, the line between calling and comfort gets blurry in this part of the world. This place lacks the urgency and immediacy and intimacy I always sense so crisply on the steps outside of a Chinese orphanage.


Sam and Ellie were adopted from Hunan in 2013.

If we do not travel this road again, that will be one of the elements of adoption that I will miss the most. Adoption provided a consistent reminder that our 1% bubble is not the real world. Adoption brought us face-to-face with the poor and the Fatherless and the marginalized. It reminded us how much God loves these people and how often he warns the rest of us not to take any comfort in our comfort. These are truths we don’t hear as clearly over the background music in the local Gap or Starbuck’s.


If he asks, say yes.

For the 3 of you who have made it this far (Hi, Mom!), thanks for indulging me with this exercise of self-discovery… this attempt to crystallize some feelings with which Anne and I have been wrestling for the last few months.

One of my fears in writing this is that our decision not to adopt might add discouragement to someone else. I would hate if my articulation of our non-calling had a negative impact on yours… because if anything, we are jealous of those that are currently sensing a call to the high privilege of adoption… whether it is for the first time or the fourth time.


This may be a picture of ALL of our kids. If so, it’s a joyful stopping point, and we are incredibly thankful for the family God has built for us. I’m so glad we went.

So if you feel at all led to pursue adoption, DO IT! Don’t miss this! Do it because the grainy photos of stone-faced orphans turn out to be funny, beautiful, brilliant, irreplaceable children of God who have lost everything and who need you so very badly. Do it because watching the God of the Universe redeem a lost life is the stuff of miracles; I’m not sure I’ll ever stand on a higher mountain. Cut whatever nonsense you have to out of your life so that you can say yes to this.

And if they ask if you want to visit the orphanage, say yes. Say yes… knowing that this decision has consequences. Knowing that if you do, you’ll probably go back… maybe more than once.

Knowing that if you do, you will see things that you can never forget and that you will never be the same.

I hope I never do. I hope I never am.

Because if He does decide to call again, I want to make sure I already know the answer.

39 responses to “Adoption: Hard to Start. Harder to Stop.”

  1. Rachel says:

    This is so beautiful and well-written, and it really touched my heart. We are on our fourth adoption and recently said “no” to bringing home a second child at the same time, for many reasons. It was hard for me to realize that sometimes God’s answer when we pray about adoption is no. Thank you for sharing this – I know it will stick with me in the days ahead as we continue to wrestle with the “are we done?” question.

  2. Cynthia says:

    Beautiful article! Isn’t it true? Once you go and see that need….how can you not be changed? We are on our 5th adoption…and I wouldn’t change a thing. Each time God has stretched us, taught us and walked with us every step of the way! Yes, our children’s lives are changed….but I feel like my life is changed even more so…what a precious blessing adoption is! Praise God He adopted us! Thank you for writing this article!

  3. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this. My husband and I have the paperwork filled out to begin our first adoption and something in me has hesitated. I am so fearful of all that is ahead. The travel, expense, bonding issues, effects on our 4 biological children, being away from my kids during travel, etc. I can’t send the paperwork in until I feel right about going ahead. If you have any advice, I would be so grateful. Feel free to email me. Thank you!!!

    • ..Sharon A says:

      I felt the same way with our first adoption. I was so afraid of the “what if’s”. And we had so many negative people reinforcing the “don’t do it”. But remember, Satan hears you pray too. He knows what scares you and he plays on this fears. Adoption is NOT an easy road. It is scary and difficult and frustrating. BUT it is one of the most rewarding and wonderful things we have ever done and I can NOT imagine my life–my biological kids lives–without our China-babies.
      God is so good and he wouod never ask you to do something to harm you. And i can promise you one thing. The love you have for your adoptive child is exactly the same as for your bio kids. You feel no different. And it is a wonderful experience. So don’t miss out because you are a little scared. It’s likenthe first timenon a roller coaster. At first you re terrified and come up with every excuse not to ride. And the whole timenyou are in linenyou are thinking about all the silly things that could go wrong—the carts could come off the track, you could get sick, you could fall— and the closer you get to the front of the line, the more apprehensive you get. But you get on, and at first you stomach has those butterflies and starts to churn, but the ride starts and the longer you are on it the more fun you start to have. And by the end of the ride you are laughing and smiling and can’t wait to do it again because you realize that–although it was scary and hard to get on the first time—the fun at the end makes it all worth it
      Same with adoption. When your child is united with you the very first time you realize you are immediately in love and within a very short few days you question how someone who is niot biologically connected to you can have such a tight hold on your heats and before you know it you are scared again—not because you regret adding to your family, or having another college tuition to pay for, or another happy meal to have to buy…you are scared because you realize how close you had previously been to saying NO to this wonderful, amazing, blessing that Gid gave you. And you hold them just a little bit tighter
      Just do it. You won’t regret it..promise!!

  4. Randi Lanz says:

    I identify so strongly with the things you’ve written. Traveling next month for our 4th adoption from China. Yeah…. we were doing it ONE time. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Laura says:

    Beautifully written… Hoping to start paperwork for adoption two soon!

  6. Betsy (Gerhold) Willis says:

    Thank you Mike for sharing your experience. I had tears in my eyes many times reading about your journey. You and Anne are amazing people, and you have a beautiful family. Your witness written above may be one of the next ministries God is calling you into. Perhaps you and Anne can be the family who helps those about to start their first, second, third, etc…adoptions – just like Kevin did for you.

  7. Betsy (Gerhold) Willis says:

    Oh – and yes…I was one of the 3 reading to the end:)

  8. Kim Zim. says:

    Your words echo just about every feeling, emotion and truth we’ve also experienced in adoption journeys. Thank you for taking time to write – I’ll be sharing. May God always be the one who is glorified! Blessings…

  9. Jacki says:

    I’m single, turning 50, and starting my third adoption of boy number 3 from China. I’m not religious….. but so understand the “once you start, it’s hard to stop” reason. My 2 boys I have are wonderful… And I’m sure number 3 will be too.

  10. Shelley says:

    I can relate to your words about turning to a new way to serve in our own midst. It is scary but just as necessary. I also spotted one of our sons in your first photo. 🙂

  11. Rachel Mac says:

    This post spoke to me. We are on our second adoption. First aging out child. Terrified. That is the only word that comes to mind and yet as I struggle to reconcile my feelings in a completely illogical situation I can’t imagine God saying No to any of this. And yet, part of me wishes he would.

  12. Leslie says:

    We have three bio kids and seven that were adopted. I so relate to your post. We are now out of room in our house and are getting older, so we are done adopting. But we would do it all again in a heartbeat! It has changed us and our family in such a positive way. We are blessed!

  13. Anissa says:

    Thank you for this article. We have adopted 3 and were in the works for adopting 2 more, which would have given us 7 children (5 of them under 4 years old). My heart wanted to adopt all I could, but in the process of adopting the last 2, God made it clear that wasn’t His plan and it was time to stop adopting (at least for now) and focus on the ones we have. It was a hard decision, but I know God was in control of that decision just as much as when He placed it on our hearts to pursue adoption. God bless!

  14. Gail says:

    We have adopted three times and have a biological son. We adopted three years in a row from 03-05 and now the kids are teens (17, 16 and 14) and we have one biological son in college (19). It is funny financially we cannot pull it off but for the first time I actually have the time to do a dossier or help a new kid. I just retired from the Army. So I am focusing my energy on my teens helping them become independent adults and reigning them in when they fall. But I am so glad we were given the opportunity to adopt.

  15. Bess Beyer says:

    So encouraging to read as we begin this process for the second time!!! Thank you, Mike! God has used you and Anne to reach much farther than the 4 orphans you adopted! We are living proof of that!

  16. Brad Krinke says:

    Thank you for sharing. I was fighting back tears the entire way. My wife and I are nearing the end of our 3rd adoption (6th child) and wondering what God has next for us. Fearing the day when he’s tells us “No” because we know the need is so great.
    You have managed to put into words the feelings of my heart that I could not express.
    Again Thank you.

  17. Donna says:

    Mike, Mike — great message, but don’t worry about getting too comfortable yet. Our God is great and he has a sense of humor, too. After adopting 3 daughters as a single mom, I also felt that need to do more but the adoption doors were closed. So God sent me and my girls to China to serve those left behind (not for a week or a summer: we have been here for 5 years now). No worries about middle class comforts! Stay open to whatever he has, because it doesn’t sound like he is done with you yet.

  18. Stephanie Wright says:

    I often share these NHBO posts (I have written an article for NHBO ourselves about our daughter’ special need). When I do I always try to do an excerpt that gives the gist of the article without assuming someone would take the time to read it all. I must confess, I cannot condense this one! It is all our testimony and all I would want our friends and family and the world to hear!!! With 5 bios we were only going to adopt one……now we are at 4 adoptions and prayerfully considering another. You have been reading my mail and I love it.

  19. Donna Mangas says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your beautiful story. Isn’t it amazing how God provides if you are willing? We are in the process of going through our third adoption with China. We are blessed beyond measure and our stories are quite similar. Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts into these beautiful and touching words.

  20. Lucy says:

    This is so encouraging! Thanks for sharing! My husband and I are in the early stages of an adoption from India. So excited for the future!

  21. Deb says:

    beautifully written article – we adopted twice, which made us the parents of four wonderful girls, total. We would adopt again if we hadn’t “aged out”. Definitely can relate to how the experience of adoption brings you closer to God and your spouse. Our girls continue to bless our lives every single day.

  22. r.stout says:

    We adopted 5 times and then I went to a Haiti an orphanage to visit . I was sure I was called to adopt from there but instead heard no. We have spent the last 10 years raising our 8 daughters and taking mission trips. Last year we became foster parents and are considering adding to our family because our foster daughters need us. The 10 year break was what our family needed.

  23. Stacy says:

    This could not have been written more beautifully! We were also “one and done”. We are currently on our third adoption, our sixth child. Our house has never been more full of JOY. We will see what Gods plan is. Thank you for writing this and putting this into to the words my heart needed to SEE.

  24. Terry says:

    I came home with my third child a little over a year ago. I would have brought home a fourth child at that time if I could have. I feel God directing me to go again. Your article is beautifully written.

  25. Donna Schwartz says:

    Beautifully written and oh so true! My husband I have five children who have been adopted from China. The truth’s you spoke of absolutely resonate with me. I also have the feeling you may not be
    “done yet”.


  26. Susan Bardolf says:

    Wow Mike, this article has captured what I’ve been feeling for a while now. We’ve adopted twice (09-12) and each time we made the choice, God did open the door to funds we just did not have. My husband was also a one and done guy. Lately I’ve been praying for guidance on whether we go down this road again, or if God has a different plan. Thank you so much for writing this.

  27. Karen says:

    Thank you for articulating our journey – from the marriage to the money. We recently have brought home our 4th from China – and haven’t yet begun to ask “again, God”? , but I know we will ask – and we will be obedient.

  28. Teresa says:

    Mike, thank you so much for sharing honestly! We are a family of twelve, 8 biological and 2 adopted sons and daughters. We are just beginning our third adoption and feel strongly lead to adopting a sibling group. Your feelings mirror mine. We are excited going forward on this journey although not all who love us are equally as excited. We pray for God’s will for His glory. Thanks again.

  29. Donna Mangas says:

    Beautifully written!

  30. Deanna says:

    Great read! I completely agree. I was privileged to go to Xian to get my grandson with my stepdaughter several years ago and fell in love with China! I was able to go back in 2014 with my friends and will go back next year and many years to come. The people really grow into your heart. I say if you have the opportunity to adopt, and God says go, run! I would do it (if I were not well past the age limit) in a heartbeat!

  31. Dani says:

    Can anyone share with me what agencies you have worked with. We are hoping to begin the process in 2016.

  32. Melissa says:

    Know that in your obedience of God’s no; there is a family that is saying YES! We are so excited to be traveling this journey of adoption and cannot wait to meet out #5 (1st adoption)

  33. Heather says:

    I’ve had adoption on my heart for a while now…. the problem is that my husband doesn’t…AT ALL. I’m sort of at a loss for how to handle these feelings when my husband feels so opposite. 🙁 I will continue praying, and hope that God puts that nudge onto his heart as well. Thank you for writing this….beautiful family!

  34. Darrell Lowman says:

    Mike thank you for a well thought out and written post. Yes I too read it to the end. I am a father of 11 now, 2 bio, 7 foster/adopted, and now 2 from China. I am too worry about where the finances come from, but have found our God provides. The thing that always troubles me is the ones who are ignorant in their comments about “don’t you have enough” or “you can’t save them all”. The truth is we can’t save them all but we can provide a home to love one at a time. Remember your ministry for this season maybe to tell others so that they can open their hearts and find God’s blessing and provision through adoption. Gob bless you brother. Darrell

  35. Adriana says:

    Thank you so much I have been struggling with a no for an answer . I have nine children ages 35-15 and four from china. I am a single mom now. I have met wonderful orphans on adoption advocacy trips that I want to see adopted. I know they will absolutely flourish in their own family. I see how much joy and love these children are capable of brining into a family. I have experienced their love as I spend a week with them. Their generous, kind hearts, their gratitude for the littlest things. I have also seen first hand the sadness and fear of the older children who are getting close to aging out. The ones who wonder, ” will somebody want me? Will I ever be adopted ?” I want to gather them in and bring them home. I know they need a mom and a dad. So What’s is particularly hard is that I still desire
    To but adopt but the Lord is telling me at 56 years old, “no”. It is not what I want to hear but it is reassuring that He then bring me peace and tells me ” there’s is a family for them” .
    My role now is to help these special spirits, children in bodies (that are not perfect and need surgeries or therapy or medicines ) to find a mom and a dad who will not only love yhem but see the potential in them, see them as God sees them and help them to blossom.

  36. Nicole says:

    Thank you. We’re about to start our first adoption, of a 14-year-old girl from Ukraine. We’ve brought her to America for hosting visits and fallen in love. It’s scary, but when you love, by grace you just do what you have to do!

  37. Kristin says:

    Thank you for this! We completed our third China adoption about nine months ago, bringing our total number of children to eight. I have been saving as much money as I can because I feel like our family isn’t complete and that we are being led to adopt again.

    But you addressed a huge concern of mine – will God let us know when we are done and will I be able to hear that message? I sometimes fear my selfish desire for another child will blind me to God’s will for our family to be complete.

    While prayer is currently leading us back to China as soon as finances allow, I take comfort in knowing that through prayer, God will tell me when our adoption journeys are done.

    I can still see in my mind the children in the orphanage we left behind…

  38. Jessica says:

    I don’t know if you still read these comments but all I have to say is YES, YES, YES! We’ve adopted 3 beautiful boys from the Philippines, Vietnam and China. Hubby and I were on the fence about #4 and I think we both tried pushing the thought of it further and further away…until recently! Just as you wrote, I have never felt God speak to me so loudly as I have through each adoption, and this time it’s no different. I just don’t hear him saying No…I heard us saying NO, but I hear God saying, “YES!” I don’t want to miss out on another beautiful blessing. If there is a child God has chosen for us, then I know He has the perfect plan for our family. If we go through with this, it will be a leap of faith as we will have to depend on God to provide financially and otherwise!!! Thank you for writing this piece…even though it was written a couple of years ago, it is speaking volumes to me today!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2024 No Hands But Ours

The content found on the No Hands But Ours website is not approved, endorsed, curated or edited by medical professionals. Consult a doctor with expertise in the special needs of interest to you.