Either there is a plan or there is chance. There can’t be both.

When my daughter and her husband adopted a little girl from China, the Chinese adoption officials told them they had selected a baby for them who looked like them. I envisioned a big wide table with photos of all the adoptive couples arranged, pair by pair, and a matching specialist putting one baby’s photo next to one couple, then another, until something clicked.

It seemed so odd an approach. These were Caucasian adoptive parents and Chinese babies after all. What was the likelihood that anyone could discern a new family resemblance and then decide a child’s fate on that glimmer? It was a method, though. If I had to make that choice, I would want to have a method, too. Any method.

It’s a powerful thing deciding who goes where.

Many adoptive parents will tell you that their match was made in Heaven. I used to believe that. Now I think the people who were matching children with new parents just tried to do what they thought was best at the time. It didn’t always turn out to be best, but those were the intentions.

This afternoon my younger daughter, now an adult, who herself was adopted from Nicaragua (she is the little girl in the back row wearing a red shirt), messaged me that she had found another friend from the orphanage, a girl she had last seen when she was six years old and the found girl a bit younger.

She had already found two other girls, now women, two other orphans who were adopted and grew up in families, not in the U.S., but in Belgium and Spain, and now have children of their own. And the obvious question to me is how did they end up there? Why aren’t their pictures hanging in our hallway? How come we’re not their parents? Why did we get the child we got?

It’s weird to think this way, especially after having spent so long in the land of God determining all of these things, making those matches in Heaven. It probably isn’t entirely random, certainly there were issues of timing and resources, but, really, many people could have been our daughter’s adoptive parents. And any one of the children in the picture could have ended up sitting at our dining room table eating pizza with her brothers last week on Mother’s Day.

The people choosing had their reasons. That’s what it comes down to. The Chinese officials looked for a physical resemblance. The Nicaraguans focused on which orphan needed to leave the country first. It was a time, in the 80’s and 90’s, of terrible scarcity in Nicaragua and great peril for ill children. Their priority was on which adoptive parents could handle the medical emergency or disability at hand. And which were willing.

That last question shortened the list.

Yesterday, I posted a story about a woman who was asked to adopt a different child from the one she had expected to adopt. It was fiction but based on reality, a situation where the chooser decided, on the spot, that a different child needed that mother more. So what should the new mother do? Decide that she will only take the child who was promised or accept the chooser’s view that a different child needs her more?

The new mother might think: How does the chooser know that I am who this other child needs? Maybe I am who the first child needs. Maybe I am not up to either task. Maybe it’s unfair that I’m here and subject to this random assignment. Maybe the chooser is no more capable than I am of choosing one child over another. Maybe the chooser is being guided by something I don’t understand.

We have no way of knowing.

We can only look at 25-year old pictures and wonder.