Adopting Outside the Birth Order

“Sometimes what we call ‘wisdom’ is actually fear,” she said, casually, but carefully in response to the story I’d just told her.

Searing truth.

We’d been parents for under two years. We’d just begun to hit a stride with Eden and Caleb when we felt the nudge to say ‘yes’ to yet another paper pregnancy. We suspected it would be two, but felt for sure it would be children who were the same age or younger as our two now. “The paint is still too fresh on the walls,” Nate said when I told him about the older girl lingering around the orphan babies with new stories emerging, often overlooked. She haunted my waking hours. “Later, we’ll adopt an older girl,” was his response.

I agreed. The thing I wanted most was actually the thing I feared most.

Isn’t that how it always is? Fear forms a hedge around our greatest calling.

But then, through a circuitous series of events –one that,  in retrospect, was the undeniably kind and gentle way of the Father, we learned about her.

Nate’s heart changed. “We have to go after her, Sara” he said one morning.

Somewhere deep down I knew he was right, but my mind made a case otherwise. Fear wore the guise of reason.

And when I recounted to my friend, that afternoon over tea, all the reasons why adopting an older child, alongside another and outside of the birth order, at this time just didn’t feel wise, she spoke truth.

I had article after article and hours of classwork to back up my case. And, friends, I am a researcher by nature so my intent in this post is not to blow the research out of the water, but it’s to point to a Man who, at times, trumps both research and reason.

God builds the family.


I need to do what Lily does, Daddy,” she said. It was the first morning we saw significant progress in an issue on which we’d focused heavy attention, prayer and training weeks prior. Our “first” oldest child made a shift. Her newly-older sister’s example, the catalyst.

Eden was joyful and obedient. Her little-heart’s zeal for Jesus and His children was unquenchable, and she was about all-things-Mommy-and-Daddy. Her life carried the perfect mark of an oldest child, one that would set the pace for children to come after her. “We want to preserve her place in our family,” we told our social worker during our homestudy. Every time I said that phrase I felt a nudge, a check, as if maybe that framework was being checked by the true family Planner.

When we learned about Lily, all we knew of her was her picture and a few brief observations from her soon-to-be foster mama. On paper, she was foolish for us. Adopting a child who would be third or fourth in line seemed like less of a risk than this one (who could be as old as 10 or 11 for all we knew), after which all the others would now follow.

But He led. He confirmed. He gently course-corrected.

And we walked what felt like the plank, with no reason other than His.

At times while we waited — and even after we immersed ourselves in Africa’s dust — the fear felt unbearable to me. I would read an email, a post to an adoption forum, another research article and find myself shackled, again. What were we thinking? We’re nuts. Worst-case scenario thinking would rest over me like a cloud. Our first few weeks with her offered many opportunities for me to search for confirmation of those very fears. My perspective was horizontal, not first from His source, going out from me and back to me.

But then, beauty broke dirt’s surface. Early indications rolled in: His plan was better.

Her quiet, gentle spirit began to carry a mantle of leadership. She desired obedience, and they made her a role model. She looked for hidden ways to bless, and they stole her ideas. She giggled loud, and the joy that marked our family before she came only grew. She received, and they, too, sought to shed orphan-skin.

He sent us a first-born, late but just in time, who hungered for Jesus — my deepest heart cry for my children.*

We couldn’t have ever known. Our principles would have kept us from His perfect plan, had He not been so gentle to speak clear and consistently.

He showed Himself faithful to thwart our plans with a better one.

Just the other day Nate found this in his pocket.

Her own words, not copywork. She hid it in his coat. Full of surprises, our little girl, their big sister.

Full of surprises, this mysterious God.


*One caveat for those of you who have brought older children home and are in the midst of the inevitable intensity that comes with a life finding a new home in you: our highs with Lily are sometimes proportionate to our lows. But isn’t that so with life? We want her to soar with Him, but it’s in the lowest places where we find that we were made to soar the heights. Lest you read this post and think we drew a “lucky” card, Jesus is healer in our home. And He will show Himself healer in yours. Though you may not see it today, I pray my words might be the same signpost He’s flashed for me. (He continues to flash for me.) God always wins, their hearts are included in that promise. Part of the healing, for us — for our hearts, has been to set up memorials around beauty and make the decision not to see struggle as the final verdict, but a pathway. He is good.

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14 Responses to “Adopting Outside the Birth Order”

  1. Diana on

    We did, and we struggle. Thanks for the words of encouragement as our youngest often acts as the oldest, comfortable in his own skin and his ability to lead, while our oldest acts as our youngest; following, emulating, learning, and unsure of who he is. My prayer is that both of my boys will learn that they are His beloved and that I will not create a “box” that I expect either of them to fit neatly into as they grow and change. Adopting out of birth order has truly been life’s greatest challenge for our family.

  2. Judy on

    Oh, Sara. Oh, Sara. I’m not sure what else to say, but, “Oh, Sara.” That every daughter of the King would long to be His beloved! (I have a small white tattoo of “beloved” on the inside of my wrist for that very lesson). I am caring for my friends 3 kids in Orlando this week until they come home FRIDAY with their two Ethiopian sisters, Meseret and Kamise. The anticipation is killing us! Meanwhile, our dearest friend (who started the process long before these) is still in “not yet.” The agony. Living ALL the story at the same time, yes? With affection, friend.

  3. Megan {{Millions of Miles}} on

    I saw a link for this on FB. It is my first time visiting your blog, but I feel like God had my friend post it just for me! We have three children. Our youngest is adopted and we are paper pregnant again- this time through foster care. The sweet little girl that we are inquiring about adopting would disrupt birth order and is an older child. The fear that comes with this has been overwhelming, but I know that this child is the one that God is calling us to. Thank you for writing this. It has been received by my heart with so much peace- and that peace was so needed this morning! Blessings!

  4. Susan on

    Amen to all of that. While we didn’t adopt exactly outside of the birth order, we did add a sister who is almost exactly the same age as a little girl who had been the baby (in every sense of the word!) for five years. My heart has been broken in two many, many times as I’ve tried to make them both see that He calls them both lovely, and that they are both beloved to me as well. But I believed all along the He knew EXACTLY what they both needed (as well as what I needed). He chose just the right sister for our little diva (once the baby), and just the right sister for our quiet “people pleaser” (once an orphan). He has grown each of them through the other, and me right along with them. We still have hard moments, but oh so many more beautiful ones. So much more laughter than tears these days. 🙂

  5. Pamela on

    I’ve not adopted yet, but I’d like to one day and I’d thought adopting in birth order made sense. Maybe it does for us, maybe it doesn’t. Thanks for offering your perspective, to remind me to let God make that decision, not us.

  6. Courtney on

    thank you for this…ESPECIALLY for the caveat at the end. still in the very painful part…hoping upon hope for some glimpse of healing…i trust it will come. thank you for renewing my hope!

  7. Lara on

    I’m friends with your daughter’s foster mom and she shared this link. We also adopted out of birth order and artificially twinned after spending months on a waitlist for a healthy infant. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The healing in my child is so visible and stunning. He has filled a spot in our family we didn’t even realize was empty. It isn’t easy, but God has given us the grace we’ve needed each hard day.

  8. Amber on

    I love reading the truths that you choose to pass along. Oh that we would all know that we are His beloved and that we are lovely to Him.

    One of my resolutions this year has been to set aside time each morning to adore. Today has been about praising the One who establishes our steps (Prov. 16:9). I have felt Him calling us to adopt for some time, but He has spoken that the time is not yet. How wonderful it is that the God who planned your family (out of order to some but perfect to Him) has planned mine too, even in my not yet!

    Thank you for your honest words. I am praying for your daughters today, that He would continue to raise them up to be righteous followers of Him alone.

  9. Samantha French on

    Hi Sara,
    I stumbled across your blog a little over a year ago, and have been devouring it ever since! I’ve always felt called to adopt from Africa since I was a little girl, so how does God bring my husband and I our first baby? He’s our nephew, born in Pittsburgh!

    I have felt for a while now that we will still grow our family through African adoptions, but, nervously, I am thinking our next babies might not be babies, but older children. This post is fantastic and scary for me to read at the same time!

    Thank you so much for glimpses into your life of what it’s like. I’m sure God has many marvelous things to come for your family. 🙂

  10. Leighann on

    Thank you for this post. We don’t have adopted children… found your site through a friend who does, but your story is one of redemption and grace… touching on so many levels. The caveat at the end describes parenting no matter adopted or biological.

  11. Monica on

    These are exactly the words I needed to hear today. We just accepted a referral for our second “out of birth order” adoption, and to be honest I was panicking today, thinking through all the worst cast scenarios as I had done a little over a year ago with our now 12-year-old Ethiopian-American son. Thank you for reminding me of God’s faithfulness in the highs and the lows. We wouldn’t have it any other way!

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