4 siblings and adoptive parents nurture Christmas bond
Carrie, Carissa, Austin and Kali were first welcomed into the Patterson home in October 2013. These four years have been a time of growth and adjustment, yet the children "have changed our lives completely," Stephanie said, hardly remembering "what life was like pre-kids."
The family's journey was atypical from the challenges often involved in foster care and adoption, Stephanie acknowledged.
"I don't think that we had a normal experience. I honestly don't. Ours was the best possible experience we could have. They loved being in our home, they were wonderful children to take care of and we connected with them immediately.
"Within six months parental rights were terminated. Within one year they were ours. Adoption was final Dec. 18, 2014," Stephanie said. "That is not the norm. Normally it takes three years and for us it took one. So we're very, very thankful."
Despite how everything fell in place for the Pattersons, they are just like any other family. "We have ups and downs, it's not roses all the time," Stephanie said.
The day before she met their children for the first time, a friend asked Stephanie if she had any idea what she was getting into. To which she answered, "No, I sure don't." But the love and support they received from friends and family was overwhelming.
"One thing that parenting has taught me, in having four all at once, is that parenting is very humbling. When people ask you if they can help you, always say yes no matter what it is. ... People were so willing to help and I'm forever grateful for the help we received."
As the Pattersons approach the third anniversary of the adoption, they can't help but look back on how things have changed and how much their children have grown.
"It has gone by so fast ... they're growing up right before our eyes," Stephanie said.
Carrie, now 14, loves to serve others. "She will willingly do acts of service for you, she is kind of like that caregiver, being the oldest."
Carissa, now a lively 10-year-old, is said to be a princess who loves to laugh and snuggle. She is the leader among her friends and loves to plan activities with them.
Austin, now 7, is quite different from his sisters. He loves playing with trucks and anything with wheels, yet most of all he loves playing with his little sister Kali. "His greatest joy is making [her] laugh," Stephanie said.
Kali, now 5 and the youngest of the four siblings, has needed some help adjusting.
"She had some developmental delays," Stephanie said. "When we got her she could not hold her head up. She'd never been on her tummy and she had obviously been neglected. She goes to a specialty pediatric daycare and receives all the therapies [she needs] and she has improved so much."
Kali is the most stubborn of the siblings, Stephanie noted. "Her stubbornness is what gave her the strength to learn to walk, to learn to crawl, to learn to talk. ... She's a very happy little girl, and one of my greatest joys is listening to her laugh."
The journey through the foster-to-adoption process, and now adapting to life as a family of six, has been "wonderfully exhausting," Stephanie said.
"Even though I didn't physically labor for my children, believe me I labored for it. There's so many hoops to jump through.... We labored for our children, just in a very different way."
Despite the laborious times they have faced, the Pattersons have remained grateful that God brought them together.
"I have come to understand just how amazing God's grace is for us," Stephanie said. "Because as a parent it's not discipline all the time. As a parent you have to parent with grace because your kids make mistakes and it's your job to teach them. ... God's grace just pours over daily, and in return I need to show that grace to my children."
And at Christmas, Sam and Stephanie get to share precious memories with their children every year.
One of their favorite memories took place two years ago, when Carissa was in the second grade. Stephanie watched as her daughter and the second grade class got up to share what their greatest Christmas gift was. When it was her turn Carissa said, "My greatest Christmas gift is that my mom and dad took me in and adopted me, and now I have a forever family."