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Markwayne Mullin had just been elected to Congress when the father of three began another, even more important journey that would change his life. He met the twin toddlers, distant cousins, who would one day join his family as his daughters.
It was the fall of 2012, and he and his wife were already parents to three young kids. Their hectic life, filled with work and family, was about to get a whole lot busier with his new job in Washington.
When the twins paid a visit to the Mullin home, on a 1,000-acre horse and cattle farm in Westville, Oklahoma, to celebrate their second birthday a few weeks after the election, Markwayne was struck by the way his wife, Christie, and their kids took to the little ones.
And he sensed what was coming: Christie would suggest they adopt the girls, born to her distant teenage cousin.
“It wasn’t a good situation,” Markwayne said. The girls were separated as infants and being raised lovingly but apart, tended by Christie’s aging great aunts.
“My wife was loving on the girls. My kids were loving on them,” the now-second term Republican congressman recalled. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘There’s no way.’ Our life just got turned upside down by me being elected to Congress.”
“I literally put it out of my mind, but I could just tell,” he added. “My wife is the most loving person that you can ever imagine.”
Through prayer and the support of their children and their parents, Markwayne, 37, and Christie, 36, did adopt the twins, Lynette and Ivy, in August 2013. With those energetic little girls, now 4, plus the couple’s big kids, Jim, now 11; Andrew, 9; and Larra, 6, the Mullins became the parents of five.
Although it hasn’t always been easy since the brood grew, with two additional voices jockeying for attention and more logistics to consider when flying five kids to Washington, the twins immediately became part of the family.
“We were Mommy and Daddy from Day One,” Markwayne said. “And those daughters were our daughters from Day One.”
“There was an instant bond,” said Christie, the same sort of bond that would have been there had she brought them home from the hospital as newborns.
The big kids were excited to welcome them, too, sometimes lavishing a little too much attention on the little ones. And the girls, social and friendly, easily found their place in the family’s political life, Christie said, able to handle meeting lots of people who often want to hold them.
“They have done a great job fitting into our crazy congressional world,” Christie said.
The couple, who celebrated their 18th anniversary on Sunday, didn’t reach the decision to adopt hastily.
At first, Markwayne was reluctant, and felt scared and nervous at the thought of upsetting the balance of their life, already full with sports practices and homework, several family businesses and the farm.
“I was being real selfish,” he said. “I was trying to protect what we had.”
Markwayne and Christie talked about helping the girls financially, and discussed the adoption option for several months.
“She would talk about maybe we should think about adopting the girls, and I’d make up an excuse and make up an excuse, and she was very patient with me,” he recalled.
He worried about how the pair would affect their three kids, and whether he would be capable of loving the twins as he did his own children.
Christie shared with him that her great aunts, both around 70 at the time and living alone on fixed incomes, were worried they might not be able to meet the girls’ needs as they grew older.
“They just prayed they would live long enough to see them graduate school,” Christie said, adding that the women did a great job with the twins. “Markwayne and I felt like we were the ones who needed to step up.”
The question was: When? Christie felt that if something happened to girls’ caretakers, she and Markwayne would have taken the girls at any point. But why wait for them to experience grief or to be older, when integrating them into their family would be harder, she said.
Their Christian faith plays an important role in their lives, and Markwayne said his wife pulled “the ultimate trump card.” She asked him to pray about the decision.
After he came around, the next step was to win the blessing of their own children.
“When we sat down and talked to them, they just instantly said, ‘Mommy, they need a daddy and a mommy just like we do,’” Markwayne said. “They were so insistent on us bringing the kids in. It was just overwhelming.”
The couple recalled crying together afterward in private. “I was so proud of them,” Christie said of the big kids. “They were so mature and selfless.”
The adoption process moved quickly. And in the two years since those blond little girls moved in, the couple has been blown away by the togetherness.
“For about the first six months we had the girls, all the kids slept together in that one bedroom,” with bunk beds,” Markwayne said. “They did it all themselves.”
Now, he calls the twins a more of blessing on the family rather than the other way around.
“All of us have grown from it,” he added. “All of our hearts have gotten bigger. All of us understand it’s not about us. You live this life being selfish, you’re not going to enjoy it like you will when you open your heart and your home up.”
Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to TODAY.com, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.