Adoption through the eyes of a once-orphan.

Joseph and Cindy.

My Aunt and Uncle and their ten children [yes, ten!] are adopting a precious, eight year old little girl named Nora Grace with some special medical needs from China. I adore them, because they live their lives with a profound sense that when Jesus commanded His church to care for widows and orphans, he was talking straight to them. I sat down with one of their adopted children, Joseph, to talk about why he believes that adoption is important.

“Before I went to the orphanage, I was just a normal boy who didn’t even know about orphanages.”

He says it softly, and the raw simplicity of it startles me. It reminds me that my Ethiopian cousin Joseph was not always an orphan—that he once had a house with mud walls and kind neighbors, a school he loved to go to and a very sick Mama before life as he knew it crumbled to dust and vanished. At the tender age of eight, I wouldn’t have known much about orphanages either—but that’s precisely where Joseph and his five year old sister Cindy found themselves. They held their breath and hoped against hope for a family for three long years before finally being adopted by my Aunt and Uncle. Three years of waiting, longing as they watched excited families waltz in and out of the orphanage doors to pick up babies and toddlers. As Joseph matter-of-factly tells it, they all just wanted babies. We didn’t have that much chance of getting adopted because we were a little older than they wanted.

Something fierce inside of me leaps up as I listen, wanting to shield the kid in front of me from the idea that he was ever unwanted.

His brown eyes soften as he says it. When I was in the orphanage, I prayed three times a day for us to get adopted. The words hang heavy, suspended in the air—and I cringe as I imagine the crushing weight on slender, eight year old shoulders, as a little boy desperately fought to keep the remnants of his broken family together. It’s no secret amongst orphans that with each passing birthday, the hope of being wanted and chosen by an adoptive family grows dismally slim. And when there are two of you asking to stay together? You are clinging to hope in the face of what seems impossible. As you might imagine, families aren’t lining up to welcome an eight and a five year old brother and sister into their homes.

My stomach churns, because I too am the oldest in my family. I can imagine how I would have fought, how I would have begged and prayed desperate, ragged prayers, pleading for an adoptive family that might want my brothers and sister as well.

Nora Grace. CAN YOU EVEN?!

I find myself uncertain as I look at Joseph. The word “orphan” catches in my throat—as though my questions might remind him that he once was one. As if somehow, he might have forgotten. His tender story feels precious to me, and frozen, I wonder what’s okay to ask. Sensing my hesitation, my Aunt Tina steps in. She is the keeper of Joseph’s stories, the one that he has trusted with the broken pieces of his history. Gently, she prompts him–what do you want Ashley to know about adoption?

He pauses, stumbling over the English. Adoption—it’s a miracle for the person you’re adopting. You know, there’s a reason they’re in the orphanage—something bad happened. When they get a new family, it’s like a gift from God. A big gift.

It’s a gift he wants to give Nora.  He leans in as he confides, You know, in Ethiopia, when you turn sixteen, you have to leave the orphanage.

His voice is steady, matter-of-fact as he tells me about kids turned out into the streets—kids often with little or no education, no family to go back to and no way of supporting themselves. He knows, because he watched it happen to his friends, and for several years he lived in fear it would happen to him. My heart leaps into my throat as I begin to understand that to Joseph, Nora isn’t simply a statistic or one more waiting child pictured on an adoption website. She represents each friend that he watched age out of the system with nowhere to go. She represents the little sister he fiercely fought to keep.

In China, children become ineligible for adoption when they turn thirteen. Orphans all over the world face grim prospects when being forced to leave their orphanages—many find themselves homeless, without the skills needed to find a job. Others are trafficked as sex workers or sold into slavery. You can imagine that for little girls with physical deformities, there are few viable options.

Joseph grins proudly as he talks about his families’ choice to adopt Nora. What Mom and Dad did that makes me proud–they didn’t look for the best girl to get, a girl that was cute, or smart. They just did what God wanted them to do. They looked for blind, the poor–even though she’s not actually blind, they looked for the girl that maybe nobody would want. When you adopt, you’re not looking for a child that you want–you’re looking for the child that God wants for you.

Click here to meet Nora [there’s a video! My HEART.], and to learn how you can be a part of bringing her home.


  1. “You’re looking for a child that God wants for you.” I think that’s the most perfect thing I’ve ever heard. Tell Joseph thank you for me!

  2. Actually, it’s at fourteen that Chinese orphans can no longer be adopted.
    (Just would hate to have someone see a 13yo listed and think it was too late)
    ^13yo girl about to run out of time

    • ashleypdickens says:

      Thanks for letting us know! It must be Nora’s specific program with high medical needs children, then. I’m glad that others have a bit more time–though goodness, I don’t understand why they cut it off at 14!

  3. Wow, this definitely hit close to home. I too was adopted but I was much older! He is SO right adoption is a gift from God, specially when you find the right forever family!

  4. This story made me cry. My twin brothers are in foster care right now, and they will probably never be adopted. They were taken by the state when they were 11 and they are now 16 years old. I truly advocate adoption because it can, in a way, save a child’s life. Thank you for sharing your story.

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