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Thompson's Station Family Celebrates First Christmas With 10 Kids

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THOMPSON'S STATION, Tenn. (AP) - As dinner bubbles in a large stockpot on the stove, Hayley Jones sits between two of her boys, turning from helping one write numbers to helping the other with times tables.


Ten children from ages 4 to 16 fill the Jones table, with the older ones helping younger ones finish homework. As one draws the water cycle, another quizzes spelling words while another sing-songs the ABCs. The youngest, Tucker, 4, isn't in school yet, but draws at the table so he can be in the middle of it.


As they each finish, they take off in groups to pull out train sets and puzzles on the floor, to play Lincoln Logs and cars or with an Xbox soccer game until dinner time.


This is pure joy.


What many would consider too much to handle, Mike and Hayley Jones see as obedience blessed. "I don't want it any other way," she said. "I don't have words - I'm just so thankful. I get giddy thinking about it."


Nine months ago, Mike and Hayley Jones adopted Michael, Samuel, Gabrielle, Levi, Malachi, Judah, Isaiah and Zion from The Raining Season orphan center in Sierra Leone to join brothers Tyler and Tucker in their Thompson's Station home.


Hayley, a former teacher, runs an amazingly orderly household, deftly juggling the menu, doctor and dentist appointments, schoolwork, soccer practice and never-ending laundry.


Their life may seem chaotic, but the chaos for the Joneses was the three years after they say they listened to God's call to adopt the eight siblings. It took three years of heartache, waiting, praying, traveling back and forth and chasing paperwork to bring the kids home.


"So many highs and lows," he said. "We never dreamt it would be that hard."
So this Christmas, the Joneses celebrate. On paper, it never works, they say about the family budget. "God just gives us what we need each day," Hayley Jones said.


She tells about a time years ago when she cried because they hadn't started Tyler's or Tucker's college funds. "I used to be that person," she said, laughing.
As general manager of Milcrofton Utility District, Mike has to be a planner. But at home, beyond today's schedule, beyond bill-paying on Sunday nights, the Joneses live in the moment.


"I could sit there and worry all the time," he said. "I would be in the looney bin."
Dinner might be two Crock-Pots full of lasagna or, as on a recent Tuesday, groundnut soup, a Sierra Leonean dish that combines stew meat with a peanut butter sauce served over rice.


Groceries, by far the Jones' biggest expense, have become an exercise in finding the best prices, including 50-pound bags of rice and 10-pound bags of potatoes.


Shopping three to four stores for the best deals, the Joneses spend $600 to $650 a week on food. Once the shock wore off about adopting eight children, the family was all in. Friends and perfect strangers have also helped.


"I do have to admit, when Hayley and Mike first told us about the eight, I couldn't hear the rest," said Susan Drake, Hayley's mom. "At that time, it seemed so farfetched. Maybe I didn't have the faith she did.


"Just being around them now, it's like they've always been here," Drake said. "They so belong to us. They are family. We all loved them so much before they got here."


"They told my husband and I on Father's Day (four years ago)," said Cathy Jones, Mike's mom. "Michael started talking with tears streaming down his face." "God was saying this was the eight. It was just a sweet time when he told us. God had laid this on their hearts."


The Drakes, who live in Franklin, and the elder Joneses, who live two doors down from their son, stay involved.


Friends recently bought the Joneses a whole cow for freezer beef. A stranger from their church, Grace Chapel, gave them $500 to use toward a computer. In the three years they worked to adopt, they also renovated their kitchen and added bedrooms and a bath with the help of friends from Brentwood Baptist.
A dentist, who has seen all the kids, offered to cover what insurance doesn't.
And several times, random strangers will see the family out and about and give Mike Jones money.


"When those things happen, they've all said the same thing to Hayley and I, 'You did your part, and this is the least that we can do,' " he said. "That's the biggest confirmation that Hayley and I get to our walking in obedience to what He has asked us to do."


The kids started learning English in 2010 at Spring Hill-based The Raining Season charity's orphan center in Sierra Leone.


Lacking some everyday vocabulary might make a kid timid in school.
"Not the Jones' kids," said Bethesda Elementary ELL teacher Pat Seyb with a laugh.


"It's been a delightful experience with them," Seyb said. "They're very enthusiastic learners, not shy at all and what I hear from teachers, they seem happy socially."


All 10 played soccer with Williamson County Soccer Association. And Michael, 16, now plays travel soccer with Tennessee Soccer Club. The kids grew up playing barefoot street soccer, and now love to learn any sport.


Mike and Hayley Jones have explained American football while watching the UT Vols, where he was a wide receiver with Peyton Manning in 1996-97.
When football is on network channels (they don't have cable), they also watch the Denver Broncos and the Tennessee Titans. But soccer on TV still trumps football.


Six children go to Bethesda Elementary, and the three oldest are home-schooled.


"It's been the easiest transition," Bethesda Principal Steve Fisher said. "All these kids came in with manners and respect and as models of student behavior."


Fourth-graders Levi and Malachi proudly tell about their second- and first-place ribbons for their 4-H speeches. The topic both chose: courage.
"They are remarkable," said Cathy Jones. "So happy to be here, so supportive of each other. They want to learn and experience things.


"It's contagious, their joy of life."


As the Joneses sit down this Christmas, they will celebrate their best gift: family.
"Last Christmas, something was missing," Hayley Jones said.
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