S: Michael and Jessica
FC: Our Family Story | Michael & Jessica Austin, Noel, & Susan
1: A Letter to You | Dear Birth Mother, This book is for you. You may be meeting us through the pages of this book... But we have been praying for you for a long time. We have been wondering what you are like and keeping you in mind as we pulled together the photos and information that make up this little snapshot of our lives. We hope that you can get a sense of what we are really like from the pages. We know that for you to be at this point means that you have spent months thinking and praying about what will be best for your baby, and that you are facing difficult times ahead. We pray that you will have the courage to deal bravely with these times, and that God will be drawing you closer and closer to Himself. On the past six years of our adoption journey, we've grown close to two birth mothers, and we have listened to them grieve for the sadness and brokenness they saw all around them. It was so encouraging to see how God brought "beauty from ashes" as they walked the road of adoption to meet us. Sometimes God brings us to a point where all we can do is throw ourselves in faith on his promises, and then he heals our pain and makes us new. Sometimes all we can see in ourselves is regret and despair, when God is already making a plan for our lives that will bring us great joy. We've witnessed this joy three times, through the lives of three beautiful babies. Now we see that God is drawing us to look for one more baby to complete our family... Like a pearl that is formed from great adversity for good. We claim this promise of joy for you... And we can't wait to meet you and hear your incredible story!
2: Noel, age 5 AKA "Ellie" The Family Crafter | Meet us... | Austin, age 6 Expert on all things Superhero
3: Suzie, age 2 Our little firecracker Full of joy and determination! | Jess, age older than Mike by a whole year (and we don't let him forget it) Expert at wiping things | Mike, age 30-something Brings home the bacon - Because everything tastes better with bacon!
4: When I think about my childhood, the biggest thing that stands out in my mind is my family. My brother Paul is only 21 months older than I am, and was only one year ahead of me in school, so naturally we spent a lot of time together. My mom never worked outside the home, so she was always around to keep us in line. She even home-schooled us for several years when we were young. My dad left the military when I was five and became an accountant, which meant that he worked regular hours, and I remember him spending a lot of his free time with Paul and me, playing ball in the yard, or playing board games, or just horsing around. Spending so much time together helped us to be a very close-knit family. Of course, my dad working regular weekdays left lots of time for my other big childhood memory: church! As a child, I didn't always enjoy going to church, but looking back, I am very grateful to have had parents who taught me faithfully about Jesus and made church a high priority. I first thought about becoming a doctor during biology class in the 10th grade. I had a great teacher who let us dissect all sorts of things, and at one point during a dissection lab, she said, "If anyone from this class will end up being a doctor, it'll be Mike." I doubt she realized what an effect that little comment would have on my life. Ever since that class, I haven't wanted to do anything else for my career. I started college as a biology/pre-medical major, and during college I volunteered at a local hospital and earned an EMT license, which I used volunteering at a county fire department. Then, during the summer after my junior year of college, I got to see what being a patient was like when I was hospitalized for over two weeks after my appendix ruptured. Needless to say, I didn't like that side of things nearly as much! Still, that experience affirmed my desire to pursue a career in the medical field, and has an effect on the way I treat my patients even now. Growing up, I don't think there was a year of my life I wasn't involved in one sport or another. I especially enjoyed playing little league baseball and youth soccer. I still love sports now, though I am starting to enjoy them more from the couch than from the field! | All About Mike...
6: One of the things that I love about Mike... is that he would NEVER brag on himself. I guess I will do that for him! The last fifteen years of Mike's life have been challenging ones. When we were first married, he was surviving his first year of four in medical school. Then we spent an additional three years in residency, at the same time exploring | Spilling the beans on Mike... by Jess | Giving a heartfelt toast at his brother's wedding | On the field at a training exercise in Germany | infertility treatments and starting to look at adoption. The next four years, we lived in Germany as Mike fulfilled his commitment to the military. We lived through several short deployments and the stress of living far from family and of military life. Now that we have finished that era of our lives, I'm so glad that Mike can actually enjoy being a doctor. He's really very good at what he does and has a passion to help those in need. He has been to Africa twice over the past few years and is planning to lead a medical mission from our church to Uganda over spring break, 2012. Although I admire Mike for his professional accomplishments, living with him as a husband and father has made me respect him even more. Mike is the epitome of a family man. As I write this at my computer, he is out in the barn, fixing one of the horse stalls along with Suzie. Although he has many hobbies and gifts, his favorite downtime is spent at home with us. He's the kind of man that makes my girlfriends jealous - changing | diapers, doing dishes, bringing us donuts for breakfast after a night shift. As I watch my kids interact with their daddy... whether he is tickling them, or reading their nightly Bible story, or even disciplining them, I'm so thankful that God has given us Mike.
7: Graduating from residency in 2006 with brand-new baby daughter Noel | Friends and patients in Ethiopia | This artwork, by Austin, commemorates the night Daddy killed the copperhead in our driveway! | What man wouldn't be thrilled to sport a new tool belt emblazoned with the name of his favorite NFL team? | Man of a million hobbies: home improvement projects, gardening, hobby farming, wood-working, fantasy football, making his own cheese, scrabble, movies, eating out, rainwater collection, church softball, church small group leader, fishing, soccer, travel, quoting movie lines, giving gifts, playing guitar on our church's music team...
8: All about Jess One of my earliest memories is from the small town in Delaware where I was born. We had a large jungle gym in our back yard, and I would climb to the very top and belt out "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" for the whole neighborhood to hear. I was born into a Christian family. In fact, my Dad has been a pastor all my life. When I was five years old, he took a church in a small town in Texas, where we lived until I left the state for college. My parents are pretty conservative, and my childhood was different from that of other kids on my block. We didn't watch a lot of television, we attended a Christian school, and we had dinner and family devotions together each night. I'm so thankful for my simple and secure childhood. I was able to cultivate my imagination and creativity, and I became an avid reader. One summer I blew through the entire Nancy Drew series, and another summer I wrote and acted in my own play. Music continued to be a big part of my life, because my Mom taught me piano and I was able to help out at church by playing there. | I'm not sure how I got my brothers to go along with this plan, but apparently we were playing settlers of the Old West, complete with hoop skirts and bonnets! | Russ and I usher in the Christmas season last Thanksgiving with a piano duet.
9: I was the oldest of four children in our family with three younger brothers. Stephen is four years younger than me, David is six years younger, and Russell is eight years younger. The boys laugh at me now, because while I was the ringleader and boss when I was younger, they are now all taller than me and certainly don't do what I say! Being the first child in a large family meant that I had to take on more responsibilities at a younger age, including baby-sitting, helping with chores, and even changing the occasional diaper. Those years prepared me for responsibilities down the road like the babysitting that I did in college, teaching Sunday School, teaching middle school, and eventually having children of my own. | Almost all of my family on vacation together in Colorado. | My Dad holds me on my very first Christmas.
10: The day I first met Jessica, I thought she was beautiful. Of course, that day I mostly recognized her outer beauty. Since then, I have come to appreciate her inner beauty as well, and the longer I have known her, the more beautiful I find her to be. We've been married almost twelve years, and I am still discovering new things to love about her. Jess has the kindest, softest heart of anyone that I know, and she never seems to run out of kindness - whether it's directed at our children, her friends, our animals, or even the varmints that sneak into our barn! She is very hospitable, and never hesitates to do what she can for people in need - even if it means sacrificing her own time and energy to get it done. In fact, I'm not sure where she gets so much energy, but she never seems to be running out of it! From getting the kids ready in the morning, to exercising, to housework, to working in the yard, to helping with homework, to cooking dinner, to volunteering at church, to reading bedtime stories - Jess is always up for the task. I especially love to see the way she interacts with our children. She has immense patience with them, and loves to play with them and read them stories. During the days when Austin and Ellie are in school, Suzie just follows Jess around the house, no matter what she's doing, just to be near "Mama." And lately she's been teaching the girls to help her cook... they LOVE rolling dough into cookies! Not only does Jess possess all the cooking talent in the family, she is also the artistic one among us. She enjoys (and is very good at) decorating, and Christmas has become my favorite holiday because of the way Jess gets so excited about turning our house into a winter wonderland. I recently had the idea to paint a mural on the girls' bedroom wall, but I kept getting frustrated that I couldn't produce on the wall the picture that was in my head. Enter Jess: while I was at work one day, she fixed the whole thing! That's just Jess: AMAZING | Culinary artist | Loyal friend: This is one of several friendships almost 20 years old | The Pied Piper of children's books | Faster than a speeding bullet | Lead singer for our church's "Vacation Bible School Band" | Mike gives the scoop on Jess...
11: Among Jess' other talents, she is also very musical. She grew up playing piano, and has played for every church we've attended. In our first year at our church here, Jess has played for the worship team, the men's choir, and the children's choir. She has also led music for Vacation Bible School, sung in the church choir, and performed special music in an acapella trio. Needless to say, we enjoy hearing her practice at home! In addition to Jess' musical interests, she also enjoys photography, traveling, reading, cooking, gardening, and her most recent hobby - horseback riding! In the short time we've had Lexie living with us, Jess has progressed from being absolutely terrified of her to riding her bareback down the road. That's just Jess: AMAZING | "These are a few of my favorite things..."
12: Growing up "Coram Deo" - in the presence of God | Because I grew up in a Christian home, I was exposed to the truth of the Gospel from a very early age. I can't remember a time when I didn't believe that it was true. Although I went through a rebellious time in high school when I was ready to move out of the house, there wasn't any time that I tested what I already knew: that Jesus died for my sins, in my place, and that I will someday be in heaven with Him. I do remember one time, when I was about eight years old, that I questioned whether Jesus had really died for me. It seemed as though my sins were so great that there was no way I would escape hell. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to talk to my parents about it. My dad asked me if I believed the truth, and when I said that I did, he said that I must be a Christian. "For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved!" I have resolved to believe in Jesus, whatever my circumstances, and remember that my life has been ransomed through his death for me. As I graduated from high school, I had my sights set on a small Christian college that was out of state - far enough away for me to establish some independence! I was ecstatic when I was accepted. Everything clicked with college; I loved my classes and professors, I was in a Christian environment where I could think seriously about my faith, and I met some great Christian friends that I still keep in touch with today. College became a proving ground; it gave me a firm foundation for the things I already believed, and showed me that there were great guys and girls out there that were just like me (including one very special guy!). | Mike and I were both friends with Heather in college. We still keep in touch with her, and were able to take a trip to San Francisco to go to her wedding last summer. | Jessica's story:
13: Growing up in a Christian family and going to church regularly don't make someone a Christian. I am thankful that God gave me faith at a very young age. Although my faith has certainly matured over the years, even my earliest memories involve my personal relationship with Jesus. That's not to say I haven't had difficult times, and at various points in my life, I struggled to make sure my beliefs were my own, and that I did not believe things just because that was what I had been taught growing up. But even when I have felt lost and confused, God has always been faithful to me, and looking back I can see how God has used many of those hard times to bring me closer to Himself. One of my favorite passages is in Genesis, when Jacob was faced with having to send away his son Benjamin, thinking that he had already lost Joseph and Simeon. He cried out, "Everything is against me!" What he didn't know was that his entire family was on the verge of being reunited! That passage reassures me that no matter how desperate my situation seems, I can have confidence that God is working good for me beyond what I can understand at that moment. Going to college was the first time I spent a significant amount of time away from my parents, and although my brother attended the same school, it was my first real test of independence. At times it was a difficult transition, but even from a distance my parents were always supportive and helpful, and when I graduated, I felt ready to start a new life of my own. Of course, that was until I moved back home shortly after graduation! The time I spent in the hospital having abdominal surgery was the exact time I would have been applying to medical school, so I had to delay my plans for a year. In hindsight, I am thankful for that year without school, since it gave me extra time to save up some money for school - and to work on a special relationship that was just beginning. It turned out to be a great example of how I've seen God use those difficult times for my ultimate good. | Mike's parents gave him this Bible for his 8th birthday. He still uses it today. | Mike's story:
14: Mike and I went to the same Christian college, but we were just friends. During my senior year, we became closer friends, and we even went to the senior banquet with two other friends that year. One of the event photographers snapped us dancing together. Romance didn't really blossom until after I graduated and moved to Florida to teach. Mike and I started talking over the phone and our relationship grew from there. The phone bills were pretty astronomical! Then it got to the point where we needed to see each other, so we started paying some pretty hefty travel costs! By the time we finally started dating, I figured I was probably going to marry Mike. Mike was so easy to date. I guess if I had to summarize his courtship, it would be in the word commitment. There wasn't ever a time that I didn't absolutely know that he loved me and would wait for whatever I needed. I struggled a lot with the idea of settling down - at the time I was really enjoying the independence of my job and sunny Florida, and I knew that getting married would mean I would have to follow Mike to medical school and I knew there would be tough years ahead. I wasn't sure what it would mean to be a godly wife. Through the whole time, Mike just walked alongside me. By our wedding day, my doubts had evaporated. I was ecstatic to walk down the aisle to meet Mike at the front of the church. All of our closest friends were there, and they were so happy for us. It was a true celebration. | I remember the first time I saw Jessica. My first semester of college, she and I both worked part-time for the school's maintenance department. I was walking through the office when I saw her, and I remember thinking, "Man, is she cute!" She was a year ahead of me in school, but at a small Christian college, we had mutual friends and saw each other fairly often. Our first date didn't come until Jessica graduated, during my last semester. We kept in touch after I finished, and started dating that August. From there it didn't take us long - in February, we got engaged, and were married in November, over my medical school's Thanksgiving break. In spite of dating long-distance (she was in Florida teaching and I was in North Carolina applying for med school), having been friends for such a long time made things easier for us. | MICHAEL..........&............JESSICA
16: From the very beginning of our adoption journey, we learned that adopting not only grants a family a child, it grants a family a whole new set of relatives. And when we met our children's birth parents, it was easy for us to "adopt" them too. We have covenanted with Torie and Elizabeth, not only to raise these precious children to know the Lord, but also to keep in touch with them. We take lots of picture and videos of the kids, so that their "extended" family can track their growth too! We've been so privileged to have our children's birth parents correspond with us. These letters are treasures that we will keep forever for them. Talking about adoption is something that happens almost every day in our house, and it's thrilling to be able to answer the kids' questions. Ellie especially has been interested in her adoption recently, so we've been pulling out the sweet letters and pictures from Elizabeth to show her how much she is loved and cherished. | This photo was taken at the Living Alternatives annual banquet. Mike and I are sitting with an incredible young woman - the birth mother of our girls. We've been able to keep in touch with Elizabeth for the last five years. She is just the most amazing person - we are so blessed to have her in our lives. This night was even more special because Mike and I were able to share our adoption story during the banquet, AND because Mike's parents came to Tyler with us and got to meet Elizabeth for the first time. | It has been an exciting path that brings us to the point where we are hoping for a fourth child. First we started pursuing foster care. We were even signed up for the training to become foster parents. It was a toddler in an airport that changed my mind. I was watching this adorable little boy running around, being small and busy and not listening to his mother at all. The realization hit me: "If I had to foster a little boy like that, I would not be able to give him back to the State! I don't think my children are prepared to deal with that heartache - and I believe there is still room in our family for another child - one that would stay." Although we care deeply for the children that are in the Texas foster care system, foster care is not the best fit for our family right now. We can't wait to see what God has in store for us, down another road. | ...by Jess
17: "See what kind of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called children of God!" I John 3:1 | I have always wanted to have a large family. As a child, I wished I had more siblings, and as I became an adult, I envisioned adopting as well as having biological children. Having been unable to conceive naturally for several years, it became clear that God was leading us to adoption. I believe that adoption is a practical, visible picture of our relationship with God. The Bible speaks volumes about our status as God's adopted children, about our being part of His family. Even Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers. Part of this picture is that God accepts every race into His family. Based on our looks, people often assume that Austin and Suzie are biologically related, and that Ellie is our biological child. While we understand these superficial differences and respect the unique cultural heritage of each of our children, it is love, not genetics, that binds us together as a family. (In case you're curious, Suzie and Ellie are biological half-sisters, and although Austin is trying to convince us that his genes were altered in a nuclear accident which led to his superpowers, he doesn't share them with any of us.) | ...by Mike
18: "My name is Austin. I like to read. I like to play. I was adopted when I was a little kid. My birth mommy was Torie. My favorite color is blue and my favorite book is Narnia. I like to play with my action figures. I like to work at school. I love Jesus. I worship Jesus at church. I love Mommy and Daddy and Suzie and Ellie." | Austin's life verses come from Psalm 145. These were precious promises for us during Austin's hospitalization his first week of life. The Lord is faithful to his promises and loving to all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time... The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
19: All About Austin Andrew... | We received a call the day before Thanksgiving to let us know that a birth mother had chosen us, and I can't describe the excitement we felt. Three weeks later we met Austin's birth parents, and within six weeks from that first call, we were driving to the hospital to meet him! It was nerve-wracking, especially because Austin wouldn't eat after he was born, and had to stay in the nursery the first week of his life. We didn't know what was wrong with him, or how serious it was, but it was wonderful to be able to be with him during that time and see God's faithfulness in making him well. I must admit that I was not expecting my first child to be a boy. I grew up wishing I had a sister, and somehow that became an assumption that my first baby would be a little girl. God clearly had different plans, and I was nervous and even a little scared on the way to the hospital to meet him. But the first time I held Austin in my arms, all those fears instantly vanished, and I knew that this was the child that belonged in our family. I can't fully explain it, but the bond I formed with Austin in that moment was unforgettable. Watching Austin grow up these past six years has been a thrill. Besides his obvious physical growth, it has been wonderful to see him develop mentally as well. He is currently infatuated with anything superhero-related, and has deep conversations with his 1st grade classmates about who is, in fact, the best superhero of all. He is learning to read and do simple math, and apparently his tastes are being refined also. He told me at lunch recently, "Daddy, I'm a big boy now. Big boys like hamburgers." I love that he shares my affinity for sports, and he loves to play ball of any kind out in the yard. He's even started watching football games on TV with me, which is a big deal, since he doesn't often sit still for nearly that long! Jess and I have noticed a softening of his heart as he is growing spiritually also, and we have been pleased to see him develop an understanding of who God is and what Jesus has done for him. He is just beginning to grasp concepts like faith and forgiveness, and we are excited to see God's ongoing work in Austin's heart as he continues to grow. | ...by Mike
20: A precious baby girl; soccer practice; first day of kindergarten | We had such a positive experience through Austin's adoption that it wasn't long before we started thinking about and praying for another baby. We were overjoyed when Elizabeth chose our family for baby Noel. We weren't sure just how God would work out the details, because Mike had to move to Germany a month after Noel's placement to start his 4-year military commitment. Also, Noel's birth father was vehemently opposed to her placement and threatened to get his lawyer involved. Although I'm sorry to say that my own faith wavered during this time of testing, Elizabeth's did not. She was resolute, and knew in her heart that all would work out. After placement, when we were overjoyed in the wonder of a new baby, it would be a time of testing for Elizabeth. Her grief was over-whelming. I truly think she would have lost her way if she had not had the loving care of the counselors at Loving Alternative. During those first few months, we sent many packages and pictures. She told us later that they helped her the most. | From the very beginning, Ellie has been our child of joy and enthusiasm. We aren't ever surprised when we see her going to the extreme! What surprises me and brings me to my knees is when I see in her compassion and love for the lonely and friendless. It's Ellie that loves our animals the most, who takes the bunny for "walks." And it's Ellie who befriended a little girl with developmental disabilities in her preschool class last year. We laugh and say that someday Ellie will be president with her Type A personality - but the truth is that we know God will use her in amazing ways. At the moment she is excelling in kindergarten and can't wait to start reading. | ...by Jess
21: Noel Elizabeth | "I was a little, little tiny baby and then I got out of my birth mommy. Elizabeth fed me out of a bottle. Mommy got me and then it was fun and fun. We had fun at our house when I was a little baby. I like to play princess games and my favorite color is pink. I like to read princess books. I love to play with Hannah. My favorite movie is Charlotte's Web. We sing to Jesus at church and we sing 'Holy Holy.'" | Ellie's life verse is an adoption blessing that we took from the Old Testament and adapted for a baby girl. The original blessing was a prayer that Jacob prayed over his grandsons, whom he adopted so that they could receive a double portion of their father's inheritance. God, before whom our fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed us all our lives long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed us from all evil, Bless this child; Let our name be named upon her, And the name of our fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let her grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
22: Suzie was born with amniotic band syndrome, and has had many procedures to correct abnormalities with her hands and foot. The surgeons are satisfied that we have done everything we need to maximize her finger growth and reduce scarring. Suzie will always have hands that look a little different from everyone else, but she is not handicapped in any way. As we think of ways to prepare Suzie for her life with these hands, we like to think of the Bible verse that promises, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news." Suzie is a messenger for God, not in spite of her hands and feet, but because of them. We know that her hands, when they serve God, will be perfect and will bring God even greater praise than hands that were made like everyone else's! | "I the baby. My favorite color is owange. I like to eat cheese." | Suzie's life verses come from Psalm 139: I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made... My frame was not hidden from you When I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me Were written in your book Before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
23: Sweet Suzie-Q ...by Mike | We were living in Germany while I was in the military when we felt led to pursue a third adoption. Because of the seemingly insurmountable hurdles of adopting in the states while living overseas, we had begun to pursue international adoption through Ethiopia. That is, until one day when Jess found this in her email inbox: "Ellie's birthmom wanted me to let you know she is pregnant." Suddenly we had new incentive to mount those hurdles, and we clearly saw God's hand at work as one obstacle after another was overcome. | Suzie's overflowing personality more than makes up for her small size. She has an expression for every occasion, and a laugh that is just infectious. She is very independent, I think in an effort to keep pace with her older siblings. For instance, she just decided one day that she wanted to be potty trained, and | started going into the bathroom when she needed to go until Jess and I figured out she was trying to tell us to put her on the toilet! When Austin and Ellie started school this year, Suzie would initially tell us she wanted to go, too, and would cry every time we would drop them off in the morning. But being too smart for her own good, she's figured out the benefits of being an only child, and now insists that she will never go to school! | One of Suzie's favorite things is to sing as loudly as she can. She often makes up words, if there are any actual words, to no particular tune, instead of singing more recognizable songs. She has been overheard singing everywhere from the breakfast table, to the potty, to the back seat of the car, to the sand pile in the back yard... well, you get the idea. Other things Suzie loves: Waking me up by jumping on me Swimming in the bathtub Co-piloting Ellie in the Barbie Jeep Gathering eggs from the barn Sweeping the floors Riding piggyback Crafts of any kind Animals, stuffed or real Making noise at the quietest point during the church service "I love my mooomma!"
24: Family Ties | After living for four years in Germany, we know exactly how blessed we are to live near family. Mike's parents, "Neeni" and "Papa" to the kids, live only about an hour away from us, and we are able to see them about once a week and on most holidays. We've spent many happy hours in their pool! | Mike's brother Paul lives in Charlotte with his family. One of the highlights of our summer is for the kids to visit with their cousins Zack, Lanie, Brendan, and Andrew.
25: Mike's grandmother lives about two hours away from us. The kids call her "Great" - short, of course, for "Great-grandmother." | My grandmother loves to tell us that she is 89 years old. The kids have named her Gigi. We love that they have a heritage of a praying great-grandparent - dear Gigi spends her first hour of the day praying for her loved ones. | My mom takes the kids for a hike in her very favorite place in the world: her family's ranch property in the Yampa Valley of Colorado. | Suzie talks business with my Dad. | Jess says: I hope you can see from these photos just how much love there is in our family for our babies. When we told our parents on both sides that we were going to pursue a fourth child, their reaction was amazing and affirming. These grandparents are thrilled at the thought of more babies! And because my own personal experience with my Gramma and Grampa was so wonderful, I'm very thankful that our children are able to form solid relationships with their grandparents.
26: When we were looking for a house we would settle down in for a while, Mike and Jess were looking for different things... Jess wanted to be close to town, but Mike wanted to be in the country, with enough land to raise some animals and grow a garden. We found this 4-bedroom house online while we were still living in Germany, and it was the best of both worlds! We have enough property for Mike to have a little mini-farm, but we are only a five minute drive from the grocery store, ten minutes from church and Mike's work, and fifteen minutes from the kids' school! We were so excited that we bought it without having ever actually seen it! Of course, Mike's parents had made quite a few trips to see it and had taken over 200 pictures, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting into. | Mike's first attempt at a real garden. We grew... well, we planted... blackberries, potatoes, okra, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, beans, peppers, and the kids' favorite - WATERMELON! It was a fairly successful experiment, but there is lots of room for improvement. | Our House
27: One of the reasons we love this house is because it's so easy to have people over. We have hosted several big gatherings for church friends in the past year. This was our Memorial Day crawfish boil. | Here is the view of the front yard from an upstairs window | The windows beside the fireplace are two-sided corner windows - the perfect place for Christmas trees in winter! | We recently repainted the girls' bedroom, complete with flowers and dragonflies fluttering across the "sky" | Austin's bedroom
28: E-I-E-I-O! | Little Gary isn't that much bigger than Fletcher! We affectionately call him Pico de Burro. | Currently we have about twenty chickens. We let them free range around the yard during the day, and they roost in the barn at night. Some of them are tame enough to pet.
29: When we moved to our home in Texas, Mike was really hoping for a property that would allow us to experiment with hobby farming. We started with some guinea hens and moved on to chickens. Word got out around our church, and soon one of the college students that attends asked us if we could board her horse and miniature donkey. Jess is learning to ride Lexie the horse, and hoping to teach the kids how to ride as soon as she feels more confident. Gary the donkey is too small to ride, but we have dreams of teaching him to pull a small cart full of happy kids. Inside the house, we have Fletcher, our Old English Sheepdog; Pixel the cat; and Bill the bunny. | Fletcher is surprisingly well-mannered around his small friends, including three very bossy children that like to lead him around the house on a leash. | Our friend Dianna is quick to teach us all she knows about her horse. And the kids love to get rides! | Guinea hens caring for a newly hatched chick
30: Enjoying a rare snowfall at our house in Texas! Date night at a football game with Mike's parents (right) Christmas Eve eve bowling with friends Youth choir Christmas program at our church | Family Activities
31: Suzie and Ellie at Palo Duro Canyon. We took an RV camping trip to Colorado last summer. (left) The kids and Jess at a park in France, only about a half hour away from where we were living in Germany. Some of the second cousins at Jess' family's reunion in Colorado. Mike, in Germany, on a friend's tractor. His friend loves Americans, if you couldn't tell from the flag proudly flying on his front porch! | Family Travels
33: Christmas is our favorite time of year. It's so much fun now that the kids are enjoying the decorating, baking, and gift-giving. Christmas is even more special at our house because two of our babies came into our family at Christmas time. We remember their adoptions with great thankfulness.