Did We Make The Right Decision?

We had only known our children for three days when we asked them if they wanted to leave us.

We invested hundreds of hours in paperwork and social worker visits. Thousands of dollars in background checks and adoption fees. We lovingly prepared bedrooms: brightly painted walls, colorful new bedding, piles of clothing carefully folded in dresser drawers. We traveled halfway around the world to meet these beautiful children. And now we were asking them if they would rather be left behind.

It was a hard question for us to give voice to. It would have been easier to leave it unspoken. But we could not let poverty be the reason a mother was separated from her children.


This is too often the case. Poverty is a great destroyer: of hope, of life, of family.

And yet poverty is quite often reversible. It does not have to be a permanent condition.

Poverty can be erased by reaching out an open hand to our neighbor. Instead of clenching our fist and holding tightly to what we consider to be rightly ours, we need only loosen our grip. Let some love trickle through our fingertips.

Was this all that was required for our children to be able to stay with their mother? A looser grip on our love and our resources? We needed to find out for ourselves.

We went for our daily visit to the orphanage. Children called to each other as they raced back and forth across the dirt play yard. Little girls sat on the concrete wall and braided each other’s hair. The boys laughed as they kicked a soccer ball against a tin wall over and over again. Babies cried from their cribs inside the nursery.

We gathered our children and led them to a quiet corner of the courtyard. We sat down and told them we already loved them very much. We were so excited for them to be a part of our family. But if they would rather stay with their mother, we would do everything within our power to make this happen.


We asked them to tell us their story. Slowly, with words that carried the burden of heartbreak and pain, they told tales of their childhood. They spoke of family and of laughter, friendship and community. They haltingly shared about times of plenty and times of famine. Their memories included both love and loss. We listened closely, trying to hear their hearts.

Because after meeting them, after looking into their eyes and holding them in our arms, we needed to be sure we were doing the right thing. We wanted to do what was best for them. Not what was best for us.

After listening to our children we realized no amount of money would be enough. They needed more than what money could provide. They needed us just as much as we needed them.

We finalized our adoption. Our family was completed just as God had designed it to be. Whole. Perfectly imperfect. Magnificent.

And now here we are, four years later, back where it all began. We walk the dusty streets where they grew up. We tour the walled city and hear the memories come tumbling forth. We watch our children slip seamlessly back into their culture, their people, their heritage.


They come alive here. It is easy to imagine this is where they should be. To believe they would thrive in this world.

And yet there are glimpses of all that is not right. A hand slipped into mine that holds on tight. A small body pressed close to my side. Eyes searching for me in the crowd of family, looking for reassurance. A whispered question in my ear. “Is this okay, mom?”

There are so many layers to this story. The deeper we dig, the more history we uncover. And just like with any archeological excavation, the good and the bad are all mixed up together.

We spent today with family. It was a good day, full of laughter and coffee and many, many stories. We are making up for lost time, creating as many memories as we can in these few short days together. We must have posed for hundreds of family photographs, tangible proof of our time together.




We arrived back at our hotel tonight tired, dirty, and hungry. I was looking forward to standing under a hot lukewarm shower and climbing between my clean bedbug-infested sheets. We were walking to our rooms when Leah said, “Mom, do you remember that important question you and dad asked us? Right after you met us? You asked if we would rather stay with our mom or be adopted by you. I miss my family and I am glad we are here visiting. But I know for sure we were right.”

“We made the right decision, Mom.”



Haunting Prayers

I awake today to the sound of morning prayers. The haunting melody floats from the mosque and hovers over the sleeping city, intermingling with the mist rising from the fields. I hear a man outside my window calling to his livestock: loudly, persistently, in a language that means nothing to me. Even at this early hour I can smell the spices in the air. It seems no matter where I go in Addis Ababa, the distinct aroma of berbere and incense is there.

Ethiopia is a mixture of history and progress. The dirt paths lined with makeshift tent cities run right up against the concrete and metal of the high rises. Herds of cattle weave through the automobiles on the main road, all vying for the best position during rush hour. The farmer standing barefoot on the sidewalk with his piles of mangoes and avocados stares at his phone while he waits for the next customer. Every day, Ethiopia’s past and future press right up against each other.

Version 2And today my children’s past and future are going to meet in a dusty rural village on the outskirts of Ethiopia. We will stand together: my children, their little sister, their father, and both of their mothers. My hope is that love can fill up the space between us.

My children’s mother is a part of our family. Her picture hangs in a place of honor in our home. Her name is a part of our vocabulary. But if I am honest, I am most comfortable when there is distance between us. An ocean to separate us. Because as I move towards her, I am forced to examine my insecurities. My fear of losing something I treasure – the relatively new love from my children.


This love has been hard-won. The journey to loving two mothers has been a difficult one for my children. There was a lot of push and pull. Barriers constructed and then torn down one heavy brick at a time. The rejection of one mother in the quest to prove allegiance to another. The eventual realization that love is a vehicle strong enough to carry the weight of two mothers.

The love between my children and I was not the kind of love most women experience when they hold their newborn baby for the first time. There was not an instant connect between their heart and mine.

No, it took years to grow our love. Planted in the fertile soil of our family, watered with tears and prayers, grown with patience and intentional tending. Two years after I held my children for the first time, they finally gave themselves permission to feel and express their love.


While I do not feel our love is threatened by the proximity of their other mother, I worry that its strength will be tested today. I find myself reaching out and touching my children more often than usual, assuring myself that they are here and they are mine. I run my hand over their curls as if they are a touchstone for all we have built together.

As I pull them close, I remind myself that gold is refined in the fire. It is made pure and lovely by heat and pressure. I do believe our love will be better because of this journey home. Yet it will not be easy for any of us, this sharing of hearts.

I spoke about this very thing recently with a friend. He was adopted as an infant and did not have the opportunity to know his first mother as he was growing up. When he became a man he went searching for her.

He found her.

And he suddenly found himself living in the space between two mothers.

He told me how uncomfortable it was there. He felt hemmed in on all sides by the desire to please. He weighed his love and his relationships and always worried that one was lacking. Until one day he came to the realization that this was his story. It was not any better than other stories. It was not any worse. It simply was.

This is who he is: a child with two mothers. Once he accepted the fact that he did not have to quantify or justify his story, he found the freedom to live it.

This is the freedom I seek. The freedom to live our unique story without worrying if it is better or worse or different. The freedom to love with abandon rather than calculation.


[tweet_dis]I want this freedom for my children: to love two mothers entirely, with no portioning out of affection.[/tweet_dis] To embrace their story for what it is—a masterpiece written by God to include plot twists, unexpected characters, and a final chapter filled with redemption.

I want this freedom for their mother: to love her children without regret, to fully entrust their care to another woman. To believe this other woman is doing a good job raising her babies.

I want this freedom for myself: to know beyond a shadow of a doubt my children’s love is a permanent thing. [tweet_dis]No matter where we go in life, no matter who we become, we will always be mother and child.[/tweet_dis] I am theirs and they are mine and we are hers.

We are all better together than we ever were apart.



Adopted Children Are Not A Charity Case

My friend smiled condescendingly as he patted my shoulder. I was silent and angry, unsure how to respond.

We had known each other for years, meeting in our high school algebra class. Our lives had taken similar paths. University. Marriage. Children. Jobs. Living in the same small town.

Now he was moving on, answering God’s call to become a full-time missionary. He and his wife and two small daughters were diligently raising money to go overseas.

My husband and I attended the presentation because we wanted to support our friends. We listened to their hearts and silently cheered them on. We read their pamphlets and marked the box next to “we commit to pray for you.”

We left the box next to “we commit to financially support you” blank.

My friend pulled me aside and asked me to reconsider.

We already sent monthly checks to two missionary families, a sponsor child, a hospital in Ethiopia, and a homeless shelter in our own town. I knew we were putting our money towards the ministries God had asked us to support.

I did not feel the need to justify my decision to my friend so I simply said, “We will pray for you but God is asking us to put our money into other ministries at this time.”

My friend responded with, “I understand. Your ministry is to your own family. When you adopted those four kids, you brought the mission field into your home. You have done enough ministry for a lifetime.” Pat. Pat. Smile. Condescend.

What I should have said was, “You are right. My ministry is my family. Just as your ministry is your family. We all have a ministry inside our own homes.”

Instead I smiled on the outside and considered throat punching him on the inside. In Christian love, of course.

FullSizeRender (8)

I have a quote hanging on my refrigerator. I keep it front and center, a reminder every time I pour a glass of milk for a child or a margarita for myself. Both are frequent occurrences so I quite often find myself reading these words.

“You are as much serving God in looking after your own children, and training them up in God’s fear, and minding the house, and making your household a church for God, as you would be if you had been called to lead an army to battle for the Lord of hosts.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

AMEN, Charles!

Mamas, what we do matters. The cooking and the cleaning, the hugging and the laughing, the disciplining and the exhorting. It all matters. [tweet_dis]We can easily be distracted by the mundane tasks of motherhood, but let us never forget we are raising kings and queens.[/tweet_dis] We have a heavenly ministry within the four walls of our home.

However, while I believe this to be our most important ministry, I do not believe it to be our only ministry.

We can minister to our families and….

Serve in the homeless shelter.

Be an advocate for abused children.

Be a shoulder to cry on for a girlfriend.

Bake muffins for a neighbor.

Write a book.

Fulfill God’s individual calling on our lives.

We are each called to unique ministries, different ways to serve the world and our families. Both inside and outside of our home.

IMG_3491 (1)

When I read Proverbs 31, I read of a multi-talented woman. A woman who finds success in numerous arenas.

Home: “She provides food for her family” and “watches over the affairs of her household.”

Work: “She considers a field and buys it, out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”

Ministry: “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”

Mamas, don’t read this as a condemnation. We are all in different seasons. Maybe you are in a season of sleepless nights and poopy diapers and you have nothing left to give in the other arenas. Good for you! [tweet_dis]Tend to the blooms that need nurturing during each season of life.[/tweet_dis]

No, mamas. Read this as an encouragement. As permission. We CAN love our families. We CAN work outside the home. We CAN serve the hurting.

We CAN fulfill God’s unique calling on our lives in a variety of ways. It is going to look differently for each one of us.

My first priority will always be to my family. I would never chose to participate in a ministry at the expense of my children. Then again, God would never ask me to participate in a ministry at the expense of my children. But let me tell you something: my children are not a charity case.

[tweet_dis]I do not get extra ministry points because my family includes adopted children.[/tweet_dis]


[tweet_dis]I do not get an exemption from following God’s leading in other areas of my life because I followed His leading in the formation of my family.[/tweet_dis]


To assume otherwise devalues my children. It discounts the absolute privilege it is to be their mother.


My children are a blessing to ME. They are God’s gift to ME.

I am not doing charity work by raising these precious souls. Not any more than you are doing charity work by raising your children.

Sure, it is hard. And emotionally challenging. And quite often thankless. Any mom can tell you that.

But most of all it is a privilege.

I am a privileged woman because of the family God has designed for me. He showered His favor upon me when He gave me six beautiful children to love.

May we each willingly serve wherever we are called. Our children. Our neighbor. A stranger. The world.



Running The Race Before Us: Olympics And Adoption (Guest Post by Ryan Hall)

I live in a small town in Northern California. Nestled in the foothills and surrounded by breathtaking rivers and lakes, nothing much happens in our quiet little corner of the universe. We are probably best known for being home to Sundial Bridge, the largest working sundial in the world.

Photo by Dorotha Putnam

Photo by Dorotha Putnam

Imagine my surprise when I learned we have yet another claim to fame. Power couple Ryan and Sara Hall are our very own local celebrities. They are professional athletes, traveling and competing in races around the world. Sara is the US National XC Champion and Ryan holds the title of the fastest US Marathoner in history.


Shockingly, I did not meet Ryan and Sara on the running circuit or during our mutual pursuit of Olympic Gold. I met them through adoption.

Ryan and Sara adopted an older sibling set of four from Ethiopia.

We adopted an older sibling set of four from Ethiopia.

It seems there are not many families that fit these criteria. We are an exclusive bunch.

Our children have become fast friends: sharing a language, culture, and now a hometown.


I asked Ryan to share a portion of his story with my readers. I applaud what he has to say about living a life based in love and not in fear.

RYAN: In between training sessions we spent many afternoons in Addis Ababa visiting orphanages and other family-based care providers. It was on one of these trips that God truly broke my heart for older child adoption. After meeting and playing with the many, many older children in the orphanages I couldn’t help but feel that I would take any one of these kids home with me.

I couldn’t think of a reason to not adopt an older child that wasn’t driven by fear. I seek to make all my decisions in life with a love-based approach so rather than determining ‘I am afraid that I won’t be able to handle the challenges that adoption will hold’ I ask myself, ‘Do I have the love in my heart to love these kids?’ For me the answer to that question was yes. It was that simple.

During this time we began becoming aware (mostly via Facebook) of waiting kids in sibling groups and again my heart burned for these kids, being filled with love from the God who loves these children so deeply. I couldn’t find a good reason, besides fear of failure, to not step up and adopt a sibling group.

Being a professional runner taught me that if I was going to have a chance to win a race I had to take a chance and go out fast with the leaders. Once I committed to going out with the leaders, I couldn’t afford to let fear creep into my mind because it would weaken me. I knew that failure was a very real possibility (I failed a lot more than I was successful throughout my 20 year career spanning two Olympic Marathons, the American Record in the half marathon (59:43) and a 2:04:58 marathon best time), but I knew I could get through failure. What I could not accept was not trying to win.


I approached building my family the same way I approached races. I trained endlessly to exhaustion, learned from the best coaches and athletes in the world, and then went to the races believing anything was possible. I always liked to be prepared for anything I might encounter from the elements, the course, and my competitors, but at the same time expecting nothing. Meaning being open to however my body was feeling and being able to respond moment by moment accordingly.

So when it came to adoption I was a student, but then I was also not going to allow fear to creep in once I had committed. I knew I would fail many, many times as a father but knowing that I didn’t have to be perfect set me free to pursue being a good dad without fear.

During the adoption process I began to understand how aggressively God pursues us in the same way that I had to aggressively pursue my kids. I flew through endless stacks of paperwork, went to never-ending fingerprinting and doctor appointments, met with social workers, paid a large sum of money and patiently waited for that day we would all pull up in our driveway home at last.


God does the same for each of us. He pursues. He pays a great price. He longs to be with us. He patiently waits for the day that we make a home with him in our hearts.

Adoption is the greatest thing I’ve done. It’s sweeter than competing in Olympic Games and running American Records because it has increased the love in our house and in my heart.

Thank you, Ryan, for sharing your heart with us. You can read more from Ryan on his website at www.thestepsfoundation.org.

May we all run the race set before us with greatness.





When Your Convict Neighbor Shows Up Drunk To Church

Last month, I shared about the struggle that took place within my own heart when I realized an ex-con lives fifty feet from my front door.

Thank God for grace, huh?

We have been slowly making connections with Richard. A plate of muffins here. A dish of enchiladas there.

Fixing his computer.

Inviting him to church.

Sharing a cup of coffee.

One encounter at a time, we are loosely stitching together a relationship.

Richard has come to church with us several times since Easter Sunday. Each time, I silently pray that Jesus’ love would pierce Richard’s heart. And each time, I am reminded that we can not limit our witness to Sunday mornings. We can not place all of the burden on our pastor’s shoulders.

It is our responsibility – yours and mine – to witness to our neighbors. God placed us exactly where we are for a reason. He desires for us to share His love with everyone we come in contact with. And maybe that looks like inviting them to church.

Or maybe it looks like a plate full of muffins.

Click on this picture for a delightful recipe for muffins.










[tweet_dis]We can not minister to the soul of a man without also ministering to his body.[/tweet_dis]


It would be easier if this were not true. My life is busy. I have a lot of tasks on my to-do list. Baking muffins for my neighbor isn’t exactly my top priority. I would prefer to simply be able to extend an invitation for a Sunday morning service, sit silently next to him in the pew, and leave all of the hard work to my pastor.

But it is not my pastor’s responsibility. It is mine.

Because when Richard accepted yet another invitation to attend church with us, and then he showed up at our doorstep on Sunday morning reeking of alcohol, my pastor wasn’t there to handle the situation.

Richard slurred his words as he apologized for being late. He teetered unsteadily on his feet as we loaded our family into the van. He sat in the front seat next to my husband while I sat in the back with my children. He used colorful language and laughed loudly at his own jokes.

What should we do? Should we turn the van around and go home? My kids were hearing four-letter-words on the way to church. Would Richard behave himself once we got there? And how was he going to navigate the stairs up to the balcony in his condition? What an embarrassing situation!

What a perfect opportunity to show grace.

[tweet_dis]Because who needs to be in church more than a drunk ex-con? Besides, of course, a judgmental mom.[/tweet_dis]


We stopped and bought Richard a coffee, strong and black. We turned up the music in the van to drown out some of the curse words from the front seat. We held Richard’s elbow and helped him climb the stairs to the balcony.

And we sat side by side in a sanctuary full of sinners, some of us better at hiding our sin than others, while we listened to my pastor. [tweet_dis]My pastor preached from the pulpit. We preached with our lives. Working together to share Jesus’ love with those who need it most.[/tweet_dis]



Of course, halfway through the sermon Richard had to stumble down the stairs to use the restroom. Too much alcohol and coffee will do that to you.

But he made it back in time to hear the most important part of the message. The part about God sending His only son to die for each one of us. The part about grace for sinners: for me, for you, and for Richard.




A New Song

I heard a statistic today that made my heart sink: Children’s brains are 80% developed by the age of three.

The radio announcer was encouraging parents to begin reading to their children at a young age. He spoke of how those early years are so critical in the formation of who our children will become.

I wanted to cry.

I was not a part of those formative years in my children’s life.

I felt like the radio announcer was telling me that someone else gets to determine 80% of who my children will become.

We love my children’s parents. They are a part of our family. Their pictures hang on our walls. Their names are a part of our vocabulary. These two people gave me one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given.

And yet.

They also wrote the music that is permanently engrained on the record player of my children’s mind. Because no matter the details of the individual story, adoption is always born of loss.

My children have a track that plays over and over and over. It sounds something like this: You are not wanted. You are not loved. You are not worthy.

This is the background music to their life.



It is always playing, barely beneath the surface, just loud enough to permeate their thoughts. I can hear it break through at times.

When I ask my son to stop talking back disrespectfully and he responds with, “I feel like I can’t ever talk in this family. You don’t ever want to listen to me.”

When my daughter finishes her meltdown and finally allows me to wrap my arms around her in an embrace. I say, “Thank you for letting me love you.” And she responds, “I can’t make you stop loving me, can I?”

When my daughter says, “The only reason you adopted me is because God made you.”

I can hear the music. It isn’t pretty.

The sounds of our everyday lives usually covers it up. The love we have worked so hard to grow in our family is often times sufficient. Love is powerful enough to drown out the tune for a while.

Until something happens to turn up the volume on their own special music. Suddenly it is all they can hear.


The volume was turned up recently when we made the decision to take our children back to Ethiopia to visit their mother and little sister.

This is something we need to do. For them and for us. This is something God has asked us to do. This is not something I particularly want to do. But [tweet_dis]I have learned that some of God’s greatest blessings are born from life’s biggest sorrows.[/tweet_dis]

When I am willing to surrender my own desires in order to follow God’s leading, there I will find joy. Even in the midst of the pain.

We leave in four weeks.

The emotional upheaval will be impressive. It has already begun. They are listening to their track: You are not wanted. You are not loved. You are not worthy.

This music is infecting our family.

[tweet_dis]God holds the antidote. He is the only one who can re-write our life song[/tweet_dis].

And today He is gently reminding me that He is the one who determines who my children will become.

Isn’t this a glorious promise, mamas? Our children will not be broken or healed because of us. Oh yes, we will play our part. What happens within the walls of our homes will greatly impact their hearts. And yet we can rest in the assurance that God is the one who formed our children from the inside out, who designed their lives from the beginning to the end, and who holds their future in the palm of His hand.

[tweet_dis]God can write a beautiful song with each of our lives. May I be His instrument today.[/tweet_dis]




I Like Big Butts

“I can tell you gained about ten pounds,” the participant in my cycling class said to me.

Actually, it’s closer to twenty, I thought as I pasted a smile to my face.

“Well, I guess that means we will have to work harder than usual in here to help me lose it.” I said.

I had recently returned from three months in Africa. We had gone overseas to adopt four children from Ethiopia. The foreign food, the lack of routine, missing out on teaching my fitness classes, and the stress of doubling our family had worked against me. My butt was bigger than normal and this member had noticed.

“I can give you some fat blasting workout ideas,” my frenemy continued. “It will help you get back on track,”

“Oh, thank you but I am too busy right now to add in extra workouts. I will just pray the fat away.” I said.

There was a time in my life when this conversation would have crippled me. I would have revisited it time and time again in my mind. I would have doubted my ability as a group fitness instructor because of the extra ten (or twenty) pounds on my hips.

I had been overweight my entire childhood. I grew from a chubby grade schooler into a plus size high schooler into a genuinely obese college student. When I was twenty years old I decided to take control of my health.

I began attending Weight Watchers meetings and hanging out with Richard Simmons in my living room. One year later, I was 70 pounds lighter.

I was also a fitness instructor.


I had found my passion – group fitness. I loved everything about it. The music. The choreography. The camaraderie. The spandex. Thankfully I missed the years of thong leotards and leg warmers.

I taught my first fitness class when I was twenty-one years old. I have been teaching ever since. This makes eighteen years as a group fitness instructor. (This also makes me nearing forty, for those of you keeping track.)

And still, over all those years being involved in the fitness industry, I struggled with my weight.

Whenever I birthed a baby or adopted a big kid, my weight went up.

Whenever I cut out all carbs, sugar, Starbucks, and margaritas, my weight went down.

But who wants to live their forever days without margaritas? Not me, that’s who!

I decided there had to be a balance. I don’t want to be a fitness model. I want to be FIT[ish].

[tweet_dis_img]Education is the most powerful weaponwhich you can use to change the world.[/tweet_dis_img][tweet_dis]FIT[ish]: Semi-fit; Kind of fit; Someone who likes the idea of being fit but equally likes food.[/tweet_dis]

Fitish for me is enough whole foods to keep me healthy. Enough exercise to keep me strong. And enough margaritas to keep me happy.

Everyone has their own fitish guidelines. Find yours. Don’t let the false ideal of perfection keep you from doing something good for your body. We don’t have to be Olympians to run the race. We don’t have to be professional athletes to play the game. And we don’t have to have a six-pack to be fitish. Hallelujer!

Speaking of Olympians, I read a quote from speed skater and eight time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno. When asked about his diet regimen he said, “Not one almond more. Not one almond less.”

He. Counts. His. Almonds. <—–That’s no kind of life for me.

I decided a more appropriate quote for my fitish revolution would be the famous words of daytime talk show host Rosie O’Donnell, “Move more. Eat less.”

I am at the place in my life (nearing 40 brings everything into focus, it seems) where mediocre is good enough for me. I am never going to run the fastest mile. I am never going to lift the most weight or complete the most push ups on my toes. I am never going to break up with margaritas.

But I am going to be the most fitish person I can be.


And you can too.

May we all strive for fitishness together.




Why You Should Not Adopt

I stood near her at Starbucks, this woman who was so well-dressed and well-combed and well-showered, and I tried not to think about my own ensemble of dry sweat and yoga pants. She crossed her legs and I noticed that her thighs barely touched each other. One of her high-heel-clad feet swung gently back and forth as she smiled. She lifted one perfectly plucked eyebrow in query as she waited for my answer.

I inhaled, then quickly wished I hadn’t as I caught the faint whiff of my still-damp sports bra. I tried to tuck my scuffed sneakers under the edge of her table. How to answer? What should I say?

It had started innocently enough, as most of these conversations do. She noticed the size and color variety of my family and struck up a conversation. We visited while we waited for our coffee. She seemed genuinely curious and kind-hearted. We chatted for a few minutes and then she had asked The Question.

“I was a social worker for thirteen years.” she said. “I worked with hundreds of foster kids and foster families right here in America. Why did you decide to go overseas to adopt?”

Her tone was warm, but in my mind I added context and texture until her question sounded more like an accusation.

Maybe it was an accusation. Maybe she meant it as such. Or maybe she didn’t. I don’t really know for sure. I try to avoid adding subplot to conversations. [tweet_dis]Unintentional subplots only serve to cause misunderstanding for everyone involved.[/tweet_dis]

But this particular question has always been a sticky one for me. It triggers something inside my own heart. I can’t quite identify the emotion. It might be defensiveness. It could quite possibly be guilt. Maybe it is simply the desire to be understood.


When we were beginning the adoption process, all options were on the table. Domestic. International. Foster. One child. Four. Healthy. Special Needs. Everything was open for discussion.

There is an immense need for foster families here in America. An overwhelming shortage of families willing to adopt out of the foster care system.

There is an immense need for adoptive families internationally. An overwhelming shortage of families willing to adopt out of the orphanages.

Which need was greater? Neither.

To which did I want to respond? Both.


In the end we followed God’s leading to Ethiopia. To our four beautiful children who were there waiting for us. And ever since we brought them home, I have been asked this question by strangers.

Why did you choose to help with one problem and not the other?

The thing is, these are not separate problems. It is the same issue dressed in different clothing. I don’t look overseas at the orphanages and think, Those children are more desperate. They need our help first. I don’t look at the foster care system and think, These are our own children. We should help them first.

No. I look at the entire world. All of the hurting and broken. The foster children, the orphans, the homeless living in shelters, the Syrian refugees without a country, the victims of sex trafficking, the child crying in bed at night because of the indignities she suffers at the hands of an abuser.

I don’t see “your problem” and “my problem.” I look at them and see “our children.”

These are ALL our children. They ALL need our help.


We are a part of a global community, something I think is too easily overlooked. Hurting children care little about borders. The country in which a child lives does not quantify their need.

We need people willing to stand up and fight for the future of ALL OF OUR CHILDREN.

One of God’s marvelous attributes is omniscience. He sees all. He knows all. He looks down on His hurting world and He loves all. He orchestrates our lives according to His master plan.

God has given us each a part to play. [tweet_dis]We are each playing different notes in a grand symphony composed by God.[/tweet_dis] If we all played the same note, the world would never hear the beautiful music God’s people are capable of producing.

Here, He says to some. Right here is where I want you to help.

There, He says to another. Right there is where I want you to help.

He distributes His greatest asset – HIS PEOPLE – to the entire world. He calls us to be His hands and feet for all: for our neighbor, for our fellow countrymen, for our enemies, for a stranger. Isn’t it incredible that if we each do our one small part, together we can change the entire world?


No, You should not adopt. And You should not foster. He should not be an overseas missionary and She should not be an advocate for the homeless. Why? Because that is not your job.

Find your job and do it well. Learn how to interpret your own musical score. Don’t play the part written for another.

If you play your notes and I play mine, together we will make beautiful music.

I looked at the woman sitting across from me. I picked up my coffee and gathered my family close. I held my messy-hair-in-a-top-knot head up high and smiled as I said, “I went overseas to adopt because that is where my children were.”




My Neighbor Is A Convict

An ex-con lives 50 feet from my front door.

He has been my neighbor for two years and I never spoke to him until last month.

Richard* (not his real name) has always seemed slightly odd. He keeps to himself and I rarely see him outside. Every now and then I watch him climb into his old, rusted-out truck and drive down our dirt road. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of him walking to the mail box. If I happen to be outside when he is pulling his trash cans to the curb, I always wave. But the truth is, I didn’t even know his name.

I could tell he was uncomfortable around people. I could say that the reason I never went over and introduced myself was because I wanted to respect his privacy, but really I was just too busy to be bothered.

Last month Richard wandered on to my property. He held an empty leash in one hand and seemed a bit confused. I thought it was strange he was roaming my property looking for his dog when one quick glance was all he needed to realize there was no dog to be found. I watched as he walked up my gravel driveway. I quickly called my kids to come inside.


That evening I was unloading groceries from the back of my van when I heard his voice directly behind me. Startled, I jumped and turned around.

“Have you seen my dog?” he asked.

“No.” I replied. “Your dog isn’t here.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Richard said. And he continued to stand there in the rain. He shuffled his feet and looked around. His eyes were a little glazed. He seemed unaware of the water dripping from his unwashed hair onto his dirty t-shirt. It was disconcerting. I grabbed my groceries and hurried inside.

Later that night my doorbell rang. It was Richard. I opened the door with a feeling of unease.

“I just saw you down at my house. What were you doing there?” he said.

“What?” I asked him. “I wasn’t just down at your house.”

“Yes you were. I saw you down there. I knew it was you right away. And you were wearing that same brown shirt.” I glanced down at my pink t-shirt.

“Richard, I wasn’t just at your house.” I said carefully. “I have been inside making dinner. Maybe you saw someone else.” I firmly closed my door and clicked the dead bolt into place.

The next morning we awoke to sirens and lights. Two police cars and an ambulance were outside of Richard’s house. My husband walked over to see what was happening. No one would give him any information besides the fact that Richard was being admitted to our local hospital.

Later that day, my husband called the hospital. He was connected to Richard’s room. Richard’s sister answered the phone. After explaining we were concerned neighbors, his sister told us what had happened.

It seems Richard has an ongoing medical condition and he had been attempting to self-medicate with a special home remedy. This home remedy had caused disorientation and hallucinations. He was being admitted to the hospital for a day or two while they cleaned out his system, and then he would be released to go home.

Then Richard got on the phone. He apologized to my husband for bothering us. He said he now realized he had been acting odd. He hoped he hadn’t scared us. And then he told my husband his story.

Richard was recently released from prison. He had been in prison for more than thirty years. He shared all of the dirty details from his past; his family, his history, the specifics of the crime he had committed. You don’t go to prison for thirty years for something minor. Richard’s conviction was for something major.


My husband pressed the phone to his ear and listened. He said all of the right things. He encouraged and he calmed and he told Richard that when he was released from the hospital, we would come over and check on him.

And when my husband hung up the phone, I did a google search for “houses for sale” in other parts of our city.

I am not proud of this, but it is the truth. I searched the MLS listings for new homes. If one of the search criteria could have been “not next door to Richard,” I would have entered those words. My gut reaction was that I did not want my kids to be living near an ex-con.

Richard came home from the hospital the next day. My husband went over and invited him to go out for lunch. These two men, from the opposite side of the tracks in every way possible, went to our local diner and talked. They had a cup of coffee. They got to know each other.

And I googled prices for “installing a fence around your property.” Yes, I really did. Complete with electronic gate.

no trespassing

The next night my husband loaded up our leftover dinner and carried it across the driveway to Richard’s house. He sat down and visited with Richard while he ate. And then he came home and told me that Richard said I made the very best chicken pot pie he had ever tasted.

I googled “when your neighbor is your BFF.”

Okay. Not really. But I was starting to soften.

You see, the more we learned about Richard, the more we realized that he was just another hurting person: scared, lonely, unsure of his place in the world. He sounds an awful lot like most of us, doesn’t he?

Richard is truly remorseful for the things he has done. More than anything, he wishes he could go back and un-do his past. He beats himself up for the mistakes he has made. This also sounds like a lot of us, doesn’t it?

After getting to know Richard, it was obvious we were more alike than I wanted to admit. We are both broken people, a little bit weird, making a lot of mistakes, and hoping others will still like us for who we really are.

The following weekend was Easter. You guessed it–my husband invited Richard to church. Richard eagerly accepted and showed up at our home ten minutes early. We loaded up the van–my husband, six kids, an ex-convict, and a woman with a heart condition–and we drove ourselves to Easter service.

We sat side by side in the second row, all nine of us desperately needing to hear the message our pastor preached that day. A message about God’s abounding grace for sinners.

Thank God for grace. God saw my google searches and my sinful heart and He loved me anyway.

Last night I pulled our dinner out of the oven. Three perfectly-browned, fragrant and delicious chicken pot pies. I wrapped one of them in foil and walked it across the driveway to Richard’s house. He saw me coming and stepped outside onto his porch. He smiled as he walked to meet me halfway.



I Don’t Love You In A Creepy Way


My long lost friends!

I haven’t written a blog post in over a year. OVER A YEAR! During my year of non-blogging I learned a few things.

Number One

I like blogging. I miss blogging. I am officially returning to blogging and re-launching my stories into the world. I know, SO EXCITING! (I say with great hope you feel the same.)

Number Two

More than blogging, I like YOU. I am officially returning to YOU, my online sisters. I have missed interacting with all of you in this way. I read each one of your comments and emails. I laugh at your stories. I cry at your pain. I pray for you guys. It gives me great comfort to know you are praying for me and rooting me on in my journey. I think about you all, probably more than I should. Not in a creepy way. But in a loving way. I promise.

Number Three

I needed this past year to realize exactly who I am.

In 2010 we started the adoption journey. Paperwork and home studies consumed us. We talked about, dreamed of and planned for our coming children. We painted bedrooms, passed background checks, raised money. Our entire lives revolved around four children who we had never even met. That was who I was–an adopting mama.

In 2012 we brought our children home. Trauma and bonding consumed us. We were deep in the trenches–fighting for our family, getting bruised and bloody on all of the broken, figuring it out one day at a time. Our entire lives revolved around six children who we loved with all of our hearts. That was who I was–a trauma mama.

In 2014 we turned a corner. We finally found the new normal that we had been promised all along. My days went from counseling appointments and therapy sessions to soccer practice and play dates. I realized that my children did not need me quite as desperately as before. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was still BUSY. But I was not as CRAZY. I suddenly had a little bit of extra emotional energy to invest in myself. I remembered the girl I used to be, the one who got lost somewhere amidst the all-consuming job of building our family. And I remembered that I love to write. This is who I am–a writing mama. A writing mama who more than anything desires to share my gloriously messy life with all of you. Not because my life or my family is somehow more special than yours. But because deep down, we are all the same. We are all living messy lives. Together we can champion each other. We can find joy in each other’s stories. Solidarity, messy sisters!

Number Four

I am working on a book manuscript.

It is still under construction and is itself very messy, but glory be do I love my baby book. I nurture it and I coddle it and I gaze at it with starry eyes. I spend a lot of time figuring out how to turn it into the best possible book it can be. One day it will grow up to be a real life, fully developed, ready-to-be published book. I don’t know when that day might come, but I hope you all will join me on this journey. I promise to do my best for you.

Number Five

I love my life.

This is not the life I had dreamed of. THANK GOD! My dreams were all about sunshine, cute shoes and really good hair days. They included a husband, two point five children, and a golden retriever.

I don’t have a golden retriever. I have a little mutt of a dog. Her daddy was a Jack Russell. Her mama was a Shitzu. I think this makes her a JackShitzu.


We call her Miracle.

I also don’t have two point five children. I did end up with the husband and a handful of really good hair days. Other than that, my original life plan has been re-written. God offered me something better. He offered me something so all-consuming that it burned away the chaff in my heart. He gave me something so heavy that it required me to lay down my own idols; the idol of security, the idol of family, the idol of happiness; in order to have my hands free to hold His gift.

God made me a mother to six beautiful children.

I'm back

Some of these kids aren’t mine. And one of my own children is missing. Close enough. You get the idea.

“God’s plan is bigger than your dream.” ~ Christine Caine.

[tweet_dis]My dreams + God’s plans = tomorrow’s hope.[/tweet_dis]

God planned for me to be a mama to six. He planned for me to be an adoptive mama. A trauma mama. A writing mama. Who knows what else He has planned for me? I am going to continue dreaming while leaving plenty of room for God’s plans.

One of my dreams is to create a place for us to be authentic with each other. A little community where we can encourage, motivate, and champion each other. A place to live out our stories together. Where love flourishes BIG and we can all be BRAVE.

This little community includes my website. Come on over and check it out at www.nataliegwyn.com.

Our community includes this blog and all of you darling blog readers.

It includes social media. Here’s a secret. I actually love social media. Love. Love. Get annoyed by. Love. Where else can we quickly connect with so many other interesting people? Peek into their lives? See pictures of their children-pets-dinner-unidentifiable rashes? You will find the occasional weirdo (present company excluded, of course) and it is easy to stumble into sensitive areas if we don’t watch ourselves. But usually I love it over there. Find me on FB, IG and Twitter. I look forward to seeing pictures of your children-pets-dinner! (You can keep your unidentifiable rashes to yourself, please.)

This community will one day include my book(s). Oh I love you, my baby book. Even when you misbehave and keep me up at night. I can see your future potential.

I am excited about living life in community with all of you. Laughter, joy and plenty of hot messes will be found here.



(More blogs are on the way soon. Can’t wait to swap stories with you, my messy friends.)