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Why did I go overseas to adopt? Because that's where my children were

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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. Unintentional subplots only serve to cause misunderstanding for everyone involved.

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. We are each playing different notes in a grand symphony composed by God. 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.”

Natalie Gwyn proudly claims the title of World’s Okayest Mom as she raises six children with her high school sweetheart. In between laundry and carpool, she is a contributing writer for Huffington Post, Guideposts, and The Today Show. Her first book, OKAYEST MOM, was chosen as The Today's Show's favorite thing in 2018. She writes about adoption, faith, and how to embrace our imperfect lives. This article originally appeared on

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