In many ways, Daniela Patterson is like any other 3-year-old. She loves being tickled by her parents and her older sisters. She has strong opinions about the foods she'll eat peanut butter crackers, yes; chicken, no. She's cranky when she wakes up from her nap.
But some of the things that make Daniela a typical toddler also make her unique.
Her aversion to chicken has little to do with taste. Daniela spent 2Â½ years at an orphanage in Haiti, where she so rarely had meat that she never learned how to chew it.
She was so malnourished that when she was 4 months old, she weighed just 3 pounds.
In September 2009, Daniela was adopted by Michael and Tina Patterson of Buckley, Wash.
Now when Daniela wakes up from her naps, she is in
her own room, pink and frilly, in her own home that overflows with books and toys and love. Daniela wakes up to a life that is worlds away from the poverty and despair she once knew.
And she can do this because the hearts of two parents opened fully, at last, to adoption after powerful experiences with Compassion-sponsored children.
Michael and Tina Patterson had often considered adoption throughout their 22-year marriage. But for years, it was just a seed of an idea lying dormant.
Life in the Patterson home was busy as the couple raised their three biological daughters, Molly, Jess and Emily.
Along the way, they began sponsoring children through Compassion, including Yefredy, a little girl in
the Dominican Republic.
"It breaks my heart to say this, but for a long time, Yefredy and our other sponsored children were just a bill," admits Michael.
"We didn't really write letters. We didn't feel like we had time."
But that all changed the day Yefredy wrote in one of her letters:
"How come you never write me anymore? Please do not forget me."
A new perspective
Those words jolted Michael and Tina. They immediately wrote Yefredy back, telling her they loved her, would never forget her and that they were coming for a visit.
Michael and Tina took their first trip to the Dominican Republic in 2006. But Michael says even going on a Sponsor Tour was still "us doing something for her."
During the trip though, Michael watched children
serving the group, and boys and girls crowding close to hold the family's hands. And Michael felt his heart soften.
A change was taking place.
Tina remembers meeting a family in the Dominican Republic. The mother, just 14, handed Tina her baby to hold. For two hours, Tina held and rocked that child, wondering how this mother, this poor teen, managed in such terrible circumstances. And in Tina's heart, a seed was taking root.
Over the next few years, their family made more trips to the Dominican Republic. In 2008 they took all three of their daughters, and there they watched another transformation take place, especially in their oldest daughter, Jess.
"Jess was going through that sullen teenager stage," says Michael. "But I watched her transform. This teenager, who just a few weeks before, thought I was the stupidest person on earth, was hugging me and telling me she loved me. I believe our girls saw how much they had and learned to take nothing for granted."
Those trips affected each member of the Patterson family differently. Yet in each of their pliable hearts, a truth had taken root. They could see how richly they had been blessed, and with that truth came the deep desire to bless someone else.
In 2007, Michael and Tina decided to pursue an international adoption, largely because of their experiences with Compassion.
Upon learning, however, that an adoption in the Dominican Republic would require their family to move to that country for at least three months, the Pattersons decided on Haiti.
Michael still remembers the day he saw Daniela's picture on an orphanage's website. Over the next few months and years, Daniela's story unfolded. Her mother had died of AIDS, but Daniela was not HIV-positive. Her aunt had brought her shrunken body to the orphanage, hoping someone could make her well.
Bringing Daniela Home
The two-year adoption process was grueling, filled with overnight envelopes and lost paperwork. But when Michael and Tina finally flew to Haiti to pick up their daughter, that seed that had been planted so many years ago finally bloomed.
Today, Daniela is the center of attention in the Patterson home. It's easy to forget that she hasn't always been in their lives. But her transition has not been without difficulties.
Health and nutrition issues have plagued the petite 3-year-old, who weighed just 20 pounds when the Pattersons brought her home.
And they know that the emotional strain of spending
the first two years of her life as an orphan in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere will not be without long-term consequences.
But for now, they are simply enjoying life with this spirited little girl who loves her mommy, her daddy and her sisters. And peanut butter crackers.