By Robin Saylor
Photography by Beth Dukes
Mike and Terri Matthews have faced their share of heartache. But a Christmas gift in 2001 tied a bow around their hearts that has brought a sparkle of joy to every day since.
The couple met at a singles retreat at a local church in 1997. Terri was a school teacher, and Mike was an accountant for Wolfepak Software. Both had previous marriages and spouses who left them, so when they found each other they felt they had been given a second chance.
Terri had two teenage children, and Mike had a grown son. “We brought our blended families together,” Terri said. “We felt like God had just blessed us so much with a second chance, so we decided we wanted to have a baby.”
It took Terri a year to become pregnant, and at 13 weeks she miscarried. “We were devastated,” Terri said. “I had never lost a baby. I know many women in their lifetime experience that, but I never had.”
The Matthews had a good friend who worked at Christian Homes of Abilene. She mentioned the possibility of adoption. Terri’s first response was, “Oh, we’re too old.” Her friend said, “You’re exactly the kind of couple we want.”
The Matthews discussed the idea and decided to take action. It was September. Their first step was attending an orientation weekend.
“You go and listen to birth moms, and you hear from a lawyer, and they walk you through the whole process,” Terri said. “At the end, they bring in a family and tell you their story.”
The Matthews met a family from Dallas with a baby named Molly. “She was 6 months old and was biracial,” Terri said. “Michael got a hold of that little girl, and they actually had to tell him to give the baby back to the mom. He fell in love with that child. So we knew. We knew that God was telling us this is the way we were supposed to go.”
They began filling out forms. “The paperwork is the most vigorous thing I have ever gone through,” Terri said. “You have to be fingerprinted. You have to be approved by the state. They want every record you can possibly give them. I now hold a record for returning that paperwork faster than any person ever has in the history of Christian Homes of Abilene, and that’s the truth. There were nights I didn’t go to sleep. I wanted to get it done. I think I turned it in two weeks after that, and we started to make plans. We started fixing up a nursery, buying a few things here and there, and thinking, ‘Well, we’ll just wait and see.’ ”
Two weeks into December, the Matthews received a phone call from Christian Homes about a pregnant 15-year-old in Paris, Texas, who wanted to meet them.
On Dec. 16, they drove to Paris and met the birth mother, along with the teen’s mother and sister.
“We connected instantly,” Terri said. “You could tell there was something there. Before we left that day, we knew she had made up her mind, and we knew she had chosen us.”
The baby wasn’t due until the second week of January, so Terri thought to herself, “OK, we’ve got some time to get ready.”
But Mike had another thought he says can only be attributed to God’s spirit speaking to him. He told Terri, “This baby is a gift from God, and she’s going to be born on Christmas Day.”
Mike was right. Hannah Faith Matthews was born on Dec. 25, 2001. Hannah means “gift from God,” and faith means “we had faith we were going to get her,” Terri said.
That Christmas was one the Matthews will never forget. They had a houseful of guests in Abilene that year: Terri’s parents and two children, Mike’s parents and his son, and family friends from Ohio.
“We had this huge house of people and had the turkey in the oven and stuff everywhere, and at 10 a.m. my phone rings,” Terri recalled.
It was a friend of the birth mother’s family, who told them the young woman had been in labor since 5 a.m. and that they should get to the hospital in Sulphur Springs.
At first Terri thought it was a joke, but Mike assured her it was not. They quickly packed their bags and headed to the hospital.
“We drove 4-1/2 hours without stopping,” Terri said. “We got there at 3:02; Hannah was born at 2:55.”
The road trip gave the couple time to absorb the experience. “We talked the entire way, and prayed and prayed, and it was a very special time for us,” Terri said.
When they arrived at the hospital, they were invited to see Hannah. “She was still covered in blood, and she had a head full of curly hair, more hair than I had ever seen on a baby, and was wrapped in a blanket,” Terri said. “And they put her in my arms, and that was it. I was in love. You could not have ripped me from this child. I was the first one to feed her; I was the first one to change her diaper. Michael was the second person to hold her. So she was ours from the beginning.”
Back in Abilene, the holiday dinner went on without Mike and Terri.
“My mom took care of everything,” Terri said. And much to their surprise, their friends – who were heading back to Ohio – were able to stop off in Sulphur Springs and bring them their own Christmas dinner, “turkey and dressing and fruit salad and all that yummy stuff.”
Hannah had jaundice at birth and was kept in the hospital for six days, while the Matthews stayed at the house of friends nearby. They went to the hospital every four hours to feed her and bond with her. The Matthews finally brought Hannah home on New Year’s Eve. And the holidays for the Matthews have never been the same.
“Christmas had always been my favorite time of year,” Terri said. “So to have her born on Christmas Day was extremely special.”
Hannah will turn 16 this December. She is a sophomore at Cooper High School, where she sings in the choir and is a member of the Cougar Pride pep squad. She loves science and talks about working for NASA someday, or becoming a forensic scientist. She keeps the Matthews busy with all her activities. And, says Terri, “She’s the joy of our lives. We can’t imagine life without her.
“I had friends who adopted when my [biological] kids were growing up, and they would say, ‘I couldn’t love this child more if they were my biological child. And I’d just smile and think, ‘How can you know?’ But now I know for sure. I’ve done it both ways.”