It’s a story of faith, a story of timing, a story of toddler shoes left untouched in a closet for 24 years.
She was the prettiest woman George McSwain had ever laid eyes on, but it wasn’t until he spoke to Debbie Smallwood at a small prayer group in 1985 that the spark was apparent. Both were about the same age. Both had children from a previous relationship. Both led lives guided by a set of deeply held Christian values.
A few months after that first conversation, they married, joining their families together. Still, something was missing.
“We wanted a baby of our own,” says McSwain, an assistant manager at the Mid-Atlantic Division’s Berkeley Quarry.
After years of trying, the couple was frustrated but faithful in 1992, when during a flight to Jacksonville, Florida, they received a message.
“We were sitting beside a man who was returning from missionary work in Russia,” McSwain says. “We hadn’t been talking about children, but he looked up at one point and said, ‘I know you don’t know me, but the Lord has told me you’ve been praying for a baby and the Lord has told me he’ll give you one.’”
Renewed in their faith, the couple moved forward, certain a baby would come.
When they returned home, Debbie McSwain went to the department store and purchased a pair of shoes perfectly fitted to the plump feet of a young boy. They continued to pray and continued to try. Then months passed. And then years. And then decades.
“We had longed for a child, but for almost 25 years it just didn’t happen,” Debbie McSwain says. “But then one day – it was March – we received a telephone call from a relative in Texas who said, ‘There’s a little boy here whose mother is unable to care for him. She wants to adopt him out to a good home. Do you want him?’
“We didn’t hesitate. We knew this was the boy the Lord had told us about.”
While it may have taken a while, the event was well-timed. Weeks earlier, on Feb. 29, 2016, Martin Marietta’s Human Resources Department had announced a new program for company workers; open to all full-time employees, the Adoption Assistance Program provides reimbursement of up to $10,000 for adoption-related expenses per child.
“It’s amazing how the steps fell right in order. Martin opened the door in February and we received the call in March,” Debbie McSwain says. “It’s as though the Lord reached his hand down and said. ‘Here, this is what you’ll need.’”
The couple traveled to Texas to meet their new son. Naming him Nathaniel, which means “God-given,” the McSwains turned to an attorney to navigate the adoption process. They obtained the proper paperwork and made sure the young boy received all the necessary medical care – all costs that can be reimbursed by the Adoption Assistance Program.
In June, they took custody of Nathaniel. On Nov. 7, his adoption became official.
HR Generalist Angela Townsend says the McSwains were the first Martin Marietta family to utilize the new program.
“It has been a true pleasure to journey with the McSwains and to see the excitement and love they are so clearly willing to share,” she says. “The Adoption Assistance Program is about valuing our employees and helping them achieve their life goals.”
While few would argue that giving a child a fresh start in a loving home is anything other than spectacular, George McSwain says he and his wife – both in their early 60s – did receive push-back from some family and friends who initially believed the couple was too old to adopt.
“I don’t see it that way at all,” he says. “Some people retire to a vacation home or they buy an RV and travel. But houses eventually fall apart and RVs eventually rust. I’m going to spend my retirement following God’s plan, which is to raise this child with my wife and provide him advantages he might not have had otherwise.”
The family has been adapting to the change well so far. Nathaniel showed some early signs of a developmental delay, but has since returned to meeting age-appropriate milestones, the father says. He’s also a bit of a flirt, says the mother, adding that he often charms the college girls in their hometown of Athens, Georgia.
The McSwains say even those friends and family who originally doubted the wisdom of the adoption have come around, falling instantly in love with the boy after seeing his smile.
As they look to the future, the McSwains are keeping in mind the message they received on that plane to Jacksonville in 1992.
“That missionary returned to us later in the flight,” George McSwain says. “He said, ‘I know I told you the Lord would give you one child, but now he’s telling me he’ll give you a second as well.’”
In a closet in another room in their home hangs a dress. It’s more than 24 years old and ready to fit perfectly over the shoulders of a young girl. It’s a dress the McSwains expect to one day fill.