Natalie Gwyn - Author, Blogger and Okayest Mom
By Kimberly Boney
More Than Okay
Story by Kimberly Bonéy
Photos by Sunshine Rush
SOMETIMES, THE PATH we are supposed to walk is laid out before us early in life. At other times, it is revealed slowly but surely, amid time and circumstances. The latter is the case with Natalie Gwyn, Redding native, author, blogger, wife and mother of six. Gwyn, who had no previous writing background or aspirations of becoming an author, said it was her husband, Scott Putnam, who first broached the subject of telling the story of their family with his wife.
“When my husband first mentioned it to me, I thought he was crazy. I thought, ‘Who has time to write a book?’ I prayed about it for an entire year. During that time, I realized that our story was important and that I needed to make the time to write it,” says Gwyn.
Gwyn’s book, “Okayest Mom,” took about a year to write. In between caring for six children and her work as a fitness instructor at True Ride, Gwyn carved out time to write every day. Sometimes, she’d write while sitting in her car, waiting for her kids’ soccer practice to begin. Other times, she wrote her story when her kids went to bed and she could steal a few quiet moments at a coffee shop at night.
And did she ever have a story to tell. Gwyn and her husband, owners of Apex Technology Management for the last 17 years, sensing that there was something more on the horizon for their family, set out on a new life adventure with one simple prayer. “Scott and I asked God ‘to break our hearts for what breaks His.’ We were open to beginning our own ministry – but mostly, we were open to whatever God wanted us to do,” says Gwyn.
Fourteen years and two children into their marriage, Scott Putnam made the suggestion that perhaps they should adopt a baby. “But, there is a long line of parents waiting to adopt a baby and a long line of older children waiting to be adopted. We wanted to go where there was the greatest need,” Gwyn says.
After a year-long process, the couple was matched with an older sibling set of three in Ethiopia. What they learned after agreeing to adopt the three siblings was that life had one more beautiful surprise in store for them. The three-sibling set was actually a set of four. The oldest child in the family was not with her siblings at the orphanage. Because she wasn’t in the custody of the orphanage, trying to adopt her could delay the process of adoption. The agency didn’t recommend trying to adopt her. With the agency offering a bleak 50 percent chance that she could be brought back home with her siblings, the couple had a difficult choice to make.
“It was a big, scary step of faith for us,” says Gwyn. “It took us only a weekend to make the decision. When we left for Ethiopia, even after hearing that it would take two years, we were back home in Redding with all four kids in four months. It was miraculous.”
Leah, 15, Naomi, 14, Micah, 13, and Levi, 10, became a part of the Putnam family the moment the couple made the decision to adopt, but the process, like any large shift in life, wasn’t without some growing pains. Gwyn says the first year was undoubtedly the hardest on record for all eight of them. “Trying to blend two families, two histories, two cultures into one – well, it’s harder than you could ever imagine,” Gwyn shares. “Going through the process was like a refining fire. It was hard. It was painful. But we are stronger for it. I can’t imagine my life any other way.”
The biggest takeaways from that life-altering year, Gwyn says, were compassion and grace: “It really did teach us how to have compassion for people who are going through a hard time. Hardship can manifest in lots of ways. You never know what people are going though at home.”
Gwyn says welcoming the four siblings into their hearts and home has expanded their horizons as a family, but has had the most profound effect on their two biological children, Joel, 17, and Hannah, 14. “They have become so different because of it. They see beyond our city and our country to the entire world. Their hearts have grown exponentially because of their siblings.”
Naomi and Hannah, born six weeks apart on opposite sides of the world, have not only become sisters – they have become best friends. “I call them my twins,” Gwyn says.
As for Gwyn, she says their life experience has exposed areas of weakness, but it has provided the rich soul needed to become a more patient person. She has learned to extend grace, not only to her family and others, but to herself. The book’s title, “Okayest Mom,” was born out of a running joke that the family shares in their home. “I always joke with my kids that they have the world’s okayest mom,” Gwyn says with a laugh.
At its core, “Okayest Mom”- a Today Show favorite – is the story of one family’s journey to find each other. It is a reminder that perfection is not only unattainable, but perhaps even a ridiculous notion altogether. It’s an anthem that gives moms, dads and children the confidence to accept their imperfections with love and laughter.
“Perfection is hard,” she says. “Moving on, instead of beating ourselves up, is the best approach. Love is the most important thing. If nothing else, if I can say that I have loved well, I’ve done all I needed to do that day.” •