Okayest Mom

When God's Plan of Adoption Doubled My Family


By Natalie Gwyn

Foreword by Ryan Hall

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Natalie Gwyn uses humor to brilliantly capture how God led and helped this mother of two to adopt four children from Ethiopia and successfully bond her blended family.

A happy, working wife, already birth mother of two healthy young children — a boy and a girl — doubled the size of her family by adopting four Ethiopian children. Why?
Her answer: “God.”

Popular blogger Natalie Gwyn has been cited widely for her candid, insightful, often humorous writing on cross-cultural adoptive Christian families (which number more than 4 million). HuffPo has linked to her controversial posts and celebrities like Kathie Lee Gifford have quoted and pictured her on social media. Here Natalie tells her whole mom story, including the only-God-could-do-this backstory.

Her lighthearted narrative begins with the nudge of God toward the uncomfortable. She and her husband are almost certain they have misunderstood what the Almighty is asking of them, and with self-deprecating humor Natalie allows readers a glimpse into the process by which this already imperfect mom agreed to transnational, transracial adoption of more children than she already has.

Natalie then takes the reader on her family’s adventure to Ethiopia to legally adopt the three siblings God has chosen to add to their family. With the skill of a detective novelist, she reveals their discovery of a fourth sibling, their critical decision not to leave this child behind, and their harrowing quest to find, woo and legally adopt her, too.

Similar to the laugh-out-loud humor of books on blended step-families, Natalie shares the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen scenes of this adoptive family’s huge adjustments. She brilliantly captures each child’s and each parent’s perspective and, in doing so, reveals God in their midst.



When my wife, Sara, and I were first considering adopting four sisters from Ethiopia (ages 5, 8, 12, and 15) we were trying to meet and get advice from those who had already walked that road. It can be hard to connect with an adoptive family that has taken on the challenge of adopting four older children all at the same time, so we were both surprised and excited that in our small town of Redding, California, there was a family that had done the very same thing we were considering. Anytime you face a big challenge in life you want to pick the minds of those who are living out and through the challenge. Talking with Natalie prior to our adoption decision really helped us to decide to adopt our four daughters.

What I still remember from our initial meeting with Natalie was how real she was. She shared all the good things that came with adoption and all the challenges along the way. Natalie is a very authentic, relatable, loving, enthusiastic, and vibrant adoptive mother. I could have listened to her stories and advice for days, as I was so hungry to learn from her experiences. What I remember the most from our meeting was her commenting that, without a doubt, it is worth it and she would do it all over again. To have someone who has been to the top of the mountain tell you that the journey is worth taking is all we needed to hear to begin our own journey. Now, we have had our four daughters home for over a year and have become close friends with the Putnams. We continue to learn from them and be inspired by their lives to this day.

If you are at all interested in adoption and want a fun yet informative and encouraging read on the subject, I strongly encourage you to dive into Natalie's book. You are sure to be encouraged, strengthened and prepared for whatever challenges lie in front of you.


—Ryan Hall, professional runner, Olympian, U.S. record holder in the half marathon, speaker, author of Running with Joy, and adoptive father



No! I no eat! I no like this!" my daughter yelled in her broken English.

Overwhelmed by the chaos around me, I stood in my pajamas and cried. My counters were sticky with syrup. A glass lay on its side, slowly dripping milk onto the floor. My children were arguing. One daughter was crying. Another glared in defiance.

It was not even eight in the morning, and I was tired. Tired of all the mess. Tired of the emotional drain. Tired of the needs surrounding me. Who were these children? Why did they ask so much of me? How had I ended up here? God, why did You think I could do this? Are You sure You chose the right woman for the job? I don't think I was cut out to be a mom to these six children. It's too hard.

On paper, I certainly wasn't the best applicant. My résumé included the character qualities of "selfish" and "impatient." My work history stated: "Plotted her own course through life. Self-sufficient. Doesn't need to rely on others to get the job done."

But God skipped over those qualifications and focused on the small print. He looked at me and saw instead "loving," "joyful," and "resilient." And most important, He saw the quality He seeks in every applicant for every task He has called us to. He looked at me and saw "willing." That was all it took.

He assigned me to be a mother to these six children, and with that and one signature from a judge in Ethiopia, my life was changed forever. Seemingly overnight, I had gone from having two children, who began their lives in my womb, to six, four of whom were born in a rural hut in Ethiopia and did not yet speak English. Six children with such different histories, now part of the same family. Six children who needed me to love them, even if I didn't always feel loving.

We had been together as a family for only a few weeks. It was not going well.

I somehow had to raise these children. Educate all six. I had to teach my new children English, the alphabet, and how to read. I also had to teach them how to use indoor plumbing and the value of toilet paper, but maybe I would leave that for tomorrow.

I turned my back to the disaster and reached for my phone. I had an incoming text from my friends. My dear, sweet, encouraging friends. They were inviting me to join their Bible study. They met every Thursday morning from nine to eleven and were working their way through the book of Matthew. Would I like to join them?

Their few words spelled out how drastically my life had changed. Tears and resentment overflowed as I realized I would have no more Thursday morning Bible studies. No more coffee dates. No more girls' nights out. My time was not my own. My life was not my own. For the foreseeable future, my life belonged to these children. These children who needed me more than they would admit. They needed a mother to be close, even when they pushed away with their words and actions. God had entrusted these six children to my care.

What in the world was He thinking?

As I stood surrounded by sticky countertops and defiant children, reading those words that signaled an end to my old life, I felt God remind me that my life is not my own. I belong to Him. In the years to come He would have to remind me of this over and over again as I began a daily, sometimes hourly practice of putting aside my own desires to run the race set before me.

Late in the book of Acts, Paul bade good-bye to his friends in Ephesus as he followed God's leading and stepped into a new ministry. Although he knew God was calling him to Jerusalem, he had no idea what the journey might hold:

But there is another urgency before me now. I feel compelled to go to Jerusalem. I'm completely in the dark about what will happen when I get there. I do know that it won't be any picnic, for the Holy Spirit has let me know repeatedly and clearly that there are hard times and imprisonment ahead. But that matters little. What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job the Master Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about this incredibly extravagant generosity of God. (Acts 20:22–24)

I knew what God was calling me to. He was calling me to be a mother. More specifically, He was calling me to be a mother to these six children. These six very special children He had given me.

But I didn't know how to do that. I didn't know how to meet each of their specific needs, how to help them heal from their traumas, how to navigate the tricky waters of loving biological children and adopted children in ways that would make them all feel equal and valued and worthy.

I didn't know how to create a family out of the chaos. I empathized with Paul when he said he was "completely in the dark about what will happen when I get there. I do know that it won't be any picnic."

For me, it surely wasn't going to be a picnic. That morning in my kitchen was the tip of the iceberg. We had been home for only a few weeks. We were still enjoying the honeymoon phase of our adoption.

That honeymoon was delightful while it lasted. Everyone was on their best behavior, and the novelty of being a family of eight was enough to temper my exhaustion. We had not yet encountered the rages that would last for hours, the words screamed in anger that cut to the heart. We had heard none of the shouts of "I hate you" and "I want to die" that would pepper later conversations. My husband and I were a team. Our daughter had not yet driven a wedge between us as she tried to pit us against each other in her battle for emotional control.

Yet I could feel the storm brewing. As I stood in my sun-dappled kitchen, I could feel spiritual forces at work. Darkness creeping in around the edges. Battles were taking place for the ownership of hearts. Little did I know those battles would become all-consuming as we fought for the future of our children.

Wouldn't it have been easier to confine my obedience to God to areas that would not so drastically affect my family?


It would have been easier. But it would not have been better.

Adoption is a thief. It robs children of their past. It robs families of their legacy. It robs hearts of their security. It robbed me of so many firsts.

I missed my children's first words. I missed their first steps. I missed their wrinkly, milky infant newness. I don't know what my children looked like before the age of five. We have no baby pictures. All of that is lost to another time and another woman. Their past belongs to her. Their future belongs to God.

Adoption is also a beautiful benefactress, bestowing gifts when you least expect them. It gives you a new perspective on everything around you. A new appreciation for the moments that might never have been. A newfound understanding of love and family. I found myself watching my children with fresh eyes, noticing the details that before had swept by in a blurry haste. And I was given other firsts, different kinds of firsts, to hold on to.

The first time my children saw the ocean. The first time they said "I love you." The first time they reached out to hug me.

The first time they rode an escalator. On our flight home from Ethiopia, we had a layover in Germany. We deplaned, eager to stretch our legs. The airport in Berlin was the largest building our children had ever seen. It stretched around them, all gleaming chrome and clean, smooth floors. We walked the mostly empty corridors at two o'clock in the morning and enjoyed the wonderment on our children's faces.

As we turned a corner, an escalator appeared in front of us. It rose only one story high, but to our children it looked like it went on forever. They stood at the bottom, heads tilted back, mesmerized by the moving stairs.

I went first, stepping onto the bottom stair and allowing it to lift me higher. I turned and waved at my family, gathered around the bottom and watching me rise. When I got to the top I turned around and rode the down escalator, watching my children laugh and point.

It was their turn. We held their hands and helped them onto the moving stairs. They were unsure, one hand gripping ours, one hand gripping the railing. But they did it, rising slowly to the second floor.

Except my middle daughter. She stood firmly planted at the bottom, watching everyone else ascend.

We rode back down to her and tried to coax her into joining us. She refused, watching as we rode the escalators up and down several more times. Finally, she gathered up the courage to try it herself.

She spread her arms wide, grabbed on to the moving railings, and didn't let go. The railings slowly pulled her forward, but she left her feet stuck to the ground until she was doubled almost in half. When she couldn't bend any farther, her death grip on the railings slid her feet forward just enough to land on the bottom step. She stayed in this position, bent from the waist, butt in the air, chin tucked to her chest, as she rode that escalator all the way to the top.

In the same German airport, after we rode the escalator far too many times, we took a bathroom break. The girls each went into their stalls. As I stood washing my hands I heard the toilets flush. Then I heard shrieks.

"Mom! See! Mom!"

My daughter opened her stall door and pointed excitedly at the toilet. Then, fully clothed, she sat down on the toilet seat.

"See, Mom!" she said as she stood up quickly.

The toilet flushed. She shrieked and pointed. I laughed.

She did it again. And again. I stood in that German bathroom and watched my daughter play with the automatic toilet. These precious firsts brought laughter and a joy that would help sustain me during the hard times.

God never promised us easy. But He did promise us beauty from ashes. He did promise us blessings overflowing: "God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done" (2 Cor. 9:8).

In the years to come, God's blessings would take many forms. Blessings in the form of hardship. Blessings in the forms of battles fought and demons overcome. Blessings in the forms of trials, storms, and tears. The tears were needed to wash away old wounds. The storms were needed to clear out the debris in our hearts. Through it all, I would learn to hold tight to His promise that He would make me ready to do what needed to be done.

I would not have to rely on my own strength. I did not have to count on my own understanding. He promised me strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

No, my life is not my own. For that I am thankful. If my life were my own, I would never have found the family God had planned for me.


Shukriya Means "Peace"

Shukriya opened her eyes to the dim morning light. The sun had not yet cast its blanket of heat over the dusty fields. As she lay on the hard ground, she pulled her single cover more tightly around her and enjoyed the last remnants of the cool night air. She heard her mother stirring and rolled over to face her.

She could barely make out her mother's form bent over the pile of baskets in the corner. The only light in their hut came through the cracks in the mud walls. In the early morning hours, she had to strain to see anything. She felt, more than saw, the shadows of her brothers and sister as they lay sleeping on the floor beside her.

Faint wisps of smoke rose from the fire in the corner and escaped through the straw and branches that formed their roof. Shukriya's mother hummed softly as she readied herself for the day. Soon she would be calling her name, rousing her from her bed to help with the morning chores.

Shukriya breathed a prayer in the darkness.

Good morning, God. Will You stay with me today? I need You here with me so I am not alone. Help me to not be afraid.

Shukriya did not like being left in charge every day when her mother left. She much preferred having her older sister to rely on, but since Hamdiya had started working alongside their mother, it fell to Shukriya to care for her little brothers.

She knew her mother and sister had to work so their family could eat, but she felt lonely when they were gone. And she hated that her mother locked them inside. She said it was to keep her children safe, but it made Shukriya feel trapped.

"Shukriya." Her mother's voice cut through the darkness. "Time to get up. The fire needs to be tended, and you need to go get the water for today."

Shukriya left the warmth of her blanket and stepped over her sleeping brothers. Little Eyob, barely more than a baby, lay curled into the warmth of his brother's back. She tried not to disturb them as she arranged her scarf over her dark curls.

She picked up the large yellow water container from its place near the door and stepped outside. Shukriya never minded the walk to the river in the early morning. The sky was painted pink by the rising sun, and the fields of corn all around her turned to gold. The birds whistled as they flew overhead, and Shukriya smiled at the picture they made against the clouds.

"Thank You, God, for the birds," Shukriya prayed out loud. "They make me smile. And thank You that we have enough shiro and injera for lunch today. I won't have to worry about Eyob and Eba crying about being hungry. Thank You that the river is full so we can have enough water to drink."

Shukriya liked talking to God as she followed the path to the river. It made her feel happy inside. She wasn't sure who God was, but she imagined Him to be kind and loving. She had heard about God from the pastor at church. Much of what he said was confusing. She didn't understand why God was so different from Allah. Yet she knew that He was. Most of her neighbors were Muslim and talked about how great Allah was. But Shukriya rather preferred the God their pastor talked about. He sounded like a God who would watch over her. She liked the idea of a God who was with her all the time.

At the bank of the river, Shukriya set down her jug. She tipped it on its side and let it fill slowly. She watched for just the right moment to pull it from the river. She wanted enough water to last them all day, but not so much that she couldn't carry it home.

Struggling to lift the heavy container, she balanced the bright jug on her head as she straightened. Her family wasn't rich enough to have a donkey, but Shukriya liked to imagine they were. How nice it would be to allow the animal to carry the heavy burden. The pastor had told a story about God riding on a donkey. She liked to imagine God doing the same kinds of things she did. But she doubted He ever had to carry water if He had a donkey.

Some families could afford a donkey, but Shukriya knew hers would never be one of them. Some people had enough money for extras like animals and schooling. Some families had food every day. Maybe her family would, too, if her father were still around.

After he had gotten sick, things got harder. Her mother was doing the best she could, but sometimes at night Shukriya could hear her crying. The other day her mother had talked about sending Hamdiya away to work in a bigger city. She worried about what that might mean. First her dad had gotten sick, then their family had to move from their farm to a tiny hut. Now they barely had enough to eat.

What would happen to her? It scared her, sometimes, when she thought about the future. Hers seemed to hold only pain.

Shukriya sighed as she climbed the riverbank. She did not like to complain, so she silently moved toward home. By the time she arrived, the ache in her lower back had begun. She knew it would grow worse for the rest of the day.

She placed the water inside the door and moved toward the fire. Her brothers were awake, Eyob sitting quietly in the corner playing with a corn husk, and Eba scooping peanuts into a basket.

"You are just in time," her mother said. "If I don't hurry, all the best spots will be taken and I won't sell any peanuts today."

Her mother gathered up the baskets of peanuts, the blanket she used to mark her space on the roadside, and one roll of injera for her lunch. She hurried Hamdiya out the door in front of her.

"Good-bye, children. Obey Shukriya while I am gone. Wudahalo." (Wudahalo is Amharic for "I love you.")

Then she closed the door, plunging the hut into darkness. Shukriya knew their eyes would soon adjust. By midday the sun would be high enough that she could see the food she prepared for their only meal of the day.

Shukriya heard her mother drop the heavy bar across the door and the jangling of keys as the padlock was secured. She felt a stab of fear. Once again they were locked inside. Alone.

Then she remembered God. The pastor had said God was always with her.

Thank You for being here with me, God. Thank You for always being with me no matter where I go.

As Shukriya talked to God, she could feel how much He loved her. She did not know much about this God, but she loved Him all the same. She knew He would stay with her no matter where she went. Knowing He was there with her in the midst of the darkness, she felt peace.


Broken Plans, Broken People

Before I sat down to write today, I looked over my to-do list. Tuesday: Bible time, reschedule doctor's appointment, write 500 words, edit blog post, put together playlist for spin class, prep dinner. Now, I prep dinner every single day of my life. It is a task not easily forgotten. And yet I still add it to my to-do list.

I have extraordinary list-making skills. I can write a list with the best of them. And do you know where I really shine? Crossing those tasks off my list by the end of the day. Laundry? Check. Email children's teachers? Check. Make doctor's appointment? Check. Prep dinner? Check.

I find great satisfaction in those check marks. The more lists, the better: to-do lists; honey-do lists (my husband really likes my keeping him on track); Saturday chore lists (my children look forward to these all week). And I'd sooner die than grocery shop on the fly.

Every Sunday I write my week's grocery list. I'm sorry, Pastor Bill, but it seems the best place to do this is in the sanctuary. I'm listening to you preach; really, I am. But when the Holy Spirit reminds me to buy milk and shredded cheese, I have to obey His prompting and write it down. During your sermon on grace, I was inspired to buy ingredients for mango chicken curry.

Once my list is complete, I'm ready for my weekly trip to the budget grocery store. If you're looking for me at 10:30 on a Monday morning, I'll be at WinCo. Every single Monday. It's part of my weekly plan. Plan-making is also one of my strengths.

I could teach a master class on making lists. I'm addicted to them. I've not always been that way. I don't remember being a list-maker in elementary school. Planning playdates and filling in my calendar wasn't high on my priorities then. This addiction is one of many results of my childhood pain.

My memories from elementary school are admittedly vague. I have a vivid mental picture of our family's Irish setter, silky ears hanging low, tongue lolling, sitting on the front porch in the sunshine. I can picture the daisies that grew in the field behind our house. In my mind I walk through the sliding glass door into the backyard, and I am instantly surrounded by white flowers, all nodding their heads in the wind. I see myself eating watermelon on a wooden deck, wearing not a stitch of clothing, sticky red juice making rivulets down my round belly.

I especially remember my fifth-grade teacher. Mrs. Surroze planted in my heart a love for words. She taught me to read simply for the pleasure, to sit in silence and let the stories come alive with pictures and colors on the life-size screen in my mind.

I can picture the skirt my mother helped me to sew that year. Pink and covered in a tiny floral print, longer than was strictly necessary, slightly crooked at the hem, but in my mind absolutely beautiful. I remember the night our family snuck into the community pool after closing time, giggling our way through the dark as we followed our father through the summer heat.

And I remember standing outside a McDonald's, squeezing tightly the handrail that led to the doorway, scuffing my toes in the dirt along the edge of the parking lot and willing myself not to cry as my parents told us they were getting a divorce. I cried anyway. To this day I cry at the most inopportune times. Especially when I hope to hide my deep hurt, the tears seem to come of their own volition.

I cried as my parents tried to decorate the ugly reality of our newly broken family with all the pretty words they thought I needed to hear. I can still smell the smoke from the hamburgers being readied for the lunch crowd. I can see the faded blue dress I wore. I can feel the sunshine on my hair and the storm in my heart.

Although both parents eventually remarried, and I was loved and cared for, my broken family provided the framework for the rest of my childhood. Weekdays in one home, weekends in another. Alternating Christmas and Thanksgiving. Feeling the pull to love everyone equally. And always monitoring my words so I would not say anything to one parent about the other.

My siblings and I divided our time between homes. We quickly learned to adapt to our environment. Here we are quiet and orderly and have a bit of spending money. Here we are loud and laugh a lot and sometimes don't have quite enough to eat. Here we get lollipops and lemonade. Here we search the couch cushions for enough change to pay for entrance to the summer swimming pool. It was not ideal, this new lifestyle of shifting between homes and expectations and personalities.

This childhood, though I did not know it until years later, would give me an insight into my children's brokenness. My children and I, we all come from broken families. And we have all, to varying degrees, experienced restoration.

The turmoil of my elementary years gave me a great love for order. My list-making, my desire to exert control, appeared in my junior high years. It was a symptom of a heart condition, my desire for security. I thought if I was organized enough, if I had enough plans in place, I could control my future.

I began making plans for high school (AP classes with an eye toward college); college (small Christian university with an eye toward a teaching credential); career (elementary teacher until I had children of my own, then I'd become a homemaker); and relationships (date only good boys who love the Lord and find someone who wants to get married young).


  • "OKAYEST MOM is outstanding. It is an honest, tears-and-laughter filled account of God's love weaving family members from two continents together when they have the willingness and courage to live by faith. It made me laugh and cry. Well done!"—Francine Rivers, bestselling author of Redeeming Love, Her Mother's Hope, and Her Daughter's Dream
  • "Gwyn, writer for For Every Mom, chronicles raising six children-four of whom were adopted from Ethiopia-in this enjoyable memoir. Although Gwyn had a tidy life plan that she was slowly moving through, her life course was thrown in a new direction after she and her husband decided to use their resources to bring more love into the world and adopt children. Gwyn's description of the chaos that comes with raising six children is funny and poignant. Consistent throughout is her belief that God is present in the midst of it all, directing and supporting her choices. She reports her exhaustion, uncertainty, anger, and frustration as she wrestles with societal expectations of mixed-race families and the nature of the relationship between adopted child and birth mother. Readers may question Gwyn's wisdom in writing some sections in the voices of her children, but her ability to weave her accounts of her adopted children's early experiences in with her descriptions of the challenges of making a new family drives the story. This fearless memoir will inspire readers." (July)—Publishers Weekly
  • "Natalie uses humor and transparency in a redemptive way, through the trials and challenges of the adoptive journey."—Andy Lehman, VP, Lifesong for Orphans
  • "Parenting can be a gigantic mess, and most of us feel like failures at it, at least once in a while. Try dropping four kids to your family, from another continent, with a kind of brokenness that makes you want to weep. In WORLD'S OKAYEST MOM, Natalie Gwyn tells the heart-warming, crazy-making, stress-inducing, laugh-out-loud-funny story of a typical family jolted by a four-sibling, international adoption. Along the way, she bares her soul, as pain from her own broken childhood makes her more like her adopted kids than she realized. How will this family of four-turned-eight navigate these epic changes? New noise levels. New messes. New toilets, language, meltdowns, culture shock, school, foods, beds... and new love. Perhaps God's grace will show up in unexpected ways.

    "WORLD'S OKAYEST MOM is one of those rare books that inspires hope for broken places in both our society and our own hearts. A must-read. Highest recommendation."—Dr. Bill Giovannetti, Pastor of Neighborhood Church, speaker, and author of Grace Intervention, Grace Rehab, Grace Breakthrough, and Secrets to a Happy Life
  • "If you are at all interested in adoption and want a fun, yet informative and encouraging read on the subject I strongly encourage you to dive into Natalie's book. You are sure to be encouraged, strengthened and prepared for whatever challenges lie in front of you."Ryan Hall, professional runner, Olympian, U.S. record holder in the half marathon, speaker, author of Running With Joy, and adoptive father
  • "Natalie Gwyn is an expert at showing how un-expertise is a crucial skill and that the best things in life come to those who are willing to be as okayest as God made them."—Rick Hamlin, executive editor of Guideposts magazine and author of Pray for Me
  • "Natalie's journey will touch and inspire you. As an adoptive mother I hear the label often, but it's not okayest, it is real. Are you their 'real mom?' This book will make those words catch in your throat. This is the stuff that turns a woman into a real mom."—Jami Amerine of the blog Sacred Ground, Sticky Floors, author of Stolen Jesus
  • "A heartfelt, encouraging & power packed book. Natalie's book will give clarity to so many people and encourage them to think about family in a whole new way."—Havilah Cunnington

On Sale
Jun 26, 2018
Page Count
256 pages

Natalie Gwyn

About the Author

Natalie Gwyn is a working wife and mother of six who lives in northern California. To keep from hiding in her closet, she writes what has become a very popular blog.

Learn more about this author