They are not faceless.

IMG_0587So many sweet moments at the orphanage these past weeks.

I love seeing a child sprawled out on the floor coloring on newsprint.  It might seem small, but when the child struggles with autism, pushed through her anxiety to lay on the floor to be traced, and then stayed on task to color — It is miraculous.

I love hearing the responses of my students when I pull something unexpected out of “the big art bag.”  I carry all of my supplies back and forth from our apartment to the orphanage.  I must admit, the anticipation of seeing what will come out of the bag can cause some of my dear friends to come unglued!  This week, when I pulled out modeling foam, several children gasped out loud.  Pure joy.  I want to be more like my students.

I love seeing that children in the orphanage are normal kiddos.  We used a spray bottle to blend washable markers on a coffee filter.  Sounds random, but actually the process is simple for everyone and the results are amazing.  One of the kids turned that spray bottle on me and gave it a big squirt.  At my surprise the whole class roared in laughter.  Yes, a little water fight broke out.  We were damp by the end but feeling good after some belly laughs.  All kids are tempted by water mischief.

Many moments are filled with laughter, joy and victory, but there are moments of tears and deep grief as well.

I love talking with my students.  One class found out that a 13 year old boy has been chosen for adoption by an expat family who lives in our city.  They were full of questions for me about this whole adoption thing.  “Teacher, will he go to America?”  “Does the family speak Chinese?”  “Do you know them?  Are they your friends?  Do you have more friends who might adopt us?”  The conversation kept getting harder and harder.  Just when I thought my heart might break the conversation turned and they almost forgot about me.  “Why do you think they chose him?” One teen asked another.  “Oh, he is smart, short and can run fast.  That must be why.”   Tears came to my eyes as I saw the wheels turning in their minds.  They didn’t say the words but the silence in the air was thick.  They all wished they were smart and could run fast.

My students….they are normal kids who love to color while laying on the floor, enjoy a good water fight and get excited by something new to play with.  The difference between them and most children – People don’t see them.  So they are left to ask questions like….why do I get left behind.  Why doesn’t anyone choose me?  What is wrong with me?

Yup, I know this has gone from a sweet blog post to a downer.  Welcome to my life – joy and sorrow mingle in my heart as I look into the faces of each of these children.  Thousands of Chinese children are waiting, hoping and wishing for a family of their own.  They are not a statistic.  They are not faceless.  They are my students.  Let’s make sure they are not voiceless.

 

 

 

The best birthday gift would be….

IMG_1381I turn 40 this week. (My phone calendar even sent me a reminder just in case I forgot about it!  HA!)

I have given it a lot of thought and have decided exactly how I would like to celebrate getting old. Because, my head is not buried in the sand…I have a teenage son, a daughter who knows what is cool (and I do not) and I am pretty sure my body creaks when I get out of bed in the morning. I am not even going to tell you the story of when one of my dears during homeschooling asked if I knew any of the Pilgrims.  How old do they think I am? All that to say, I admit I am getting old.

 

I am embracing this birthday and I want to celebrate big.

How?

So glad you asked.

I would like my birthday gift to be a forever family for one of my favorite students.  His birthday is this month too.  He turns 4 years old.  This month also happens to be Down Syndrome awareness month and his super power is Down Syndrome. Finding out that he has a family and will be adopted….that would be the most amazing gift!  Would you pray that happens? Would you pass the word that he needs a family?

So let me tell you more about him….

He is beyond precious and may have one of the sweetest personalities ever known to man. He lives in a group foster home and attends kindergarten for special needs children.  He knows his numbers, enjoys finger painting especially with the color yellow and always helps his teachers clean up  after class.  Although he is non-verbal, he expresses how much he loves his teachers by blowing kisses and often claps for his classmates to cheer them on during a project.  He dances to music, is learning sign language and has a very large sweet tooth.  Not surprisingly, this little guy is an orphanage favorite and the staff hopes he finds his forever family soon.  

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I wish you could meet him in person.  The way he sticks his tongue out as he paints….well, it has captured this art teacher’s heart!

I would consider it a birthday gift if you would say a prayer for my 4 year old friend.  Pray this is the last year he celebrates his birthday without a mom and dad of his own.  Kids need families.


If you’d like to learn more about how you could adopt my 4 year old friend or other children like him who wait, please contact me.  I’ll be glad to put you in touch with the folks at CHI who can tell you how to get started.

Introducing….

As I was handing out high-fives and saying goodbye to my Thursday art class, one of my favorite students, a 13 year old boy, handed me a note.  It was a torn corner from a piece of notebook paper.  “Does your son read Chinese?  Please give this to him.”  So sweet, right?! When I delivered it to Soccer Dude at the dinner table, I had no idea what the words on that paper would do to my heart.

“May I come to your house to play and visit your family?” was the request scrawled across that torn paper.  As Hubby read the words out loud to our family, I began to cry sob.  My kids looked at me in dismay as I was loosing it over a playdate request.  But, it seemed like so much more.

By law in this country when you turn 14 you are no longer able to be adopted.  I thought of this sweet 13 year old boy who wants to “visit” our family and it hit me so hard that visiting is all he would ever do.  To him a family is something you visit, not something you have.  That my friends is something to weep over.  Something we need to fight against.

For the boy who handed me the note, it is to late.  But for many others there is still time.  Please pray with me for miracles.  The miracle of a family for Manning and for the two waiting boys I will share with you today.  “Jenning” an amazingly smart 10 year old boy who has overcome so many obstacles and 4 year old “Kipling” who seeps joy from his pores!

These children are able to be adopted through Children’s House International and the following information comes from CHI’s Waiting Children website.

Jenning_2_032715Jenning’s current obstacle is finding a family before it is to late and I tell you what, he will be amazing in a family.  There truly is something special about this boy!  He is a kind, polite, strong and eager boy who has stayed with his foster family for 10 years now. He is doing very well in school.   His special need is post-operative CHI, hyperdactyly of hands and feet.  After four surgeries on his legs he can walk normally now, but his protective foster mother says that he should not walk too long! She said that his legs grow tired and can be painful. However, Children’s House International’s own caseworker, lives in Jenning’s city, has seen him a few times and notes that he seems to be able to climb, walk, run, and carry on normally without complaint. He is healthy and seldom catches any illness; even colds are rare with this hearty boy! He likes to eat noodles, and he especially likes spicy food, but is very unique in that he doesn’t really like rice. His favorite fruits are watermelon, pineapple.

When the CHI team observed him playing with the other kids at the orphanage, he was very outgoing and willing to help the younger ones. He was eager to get people’s attention and showed a bit of a sensitive side. His foster mother said he feels a little nervous when he visits the orphanage because he doesn’t like where he comes from and doesn’t want others to know, especially those at school. He wants to be just like the other kids, and he feels pained that he is not. After the surgeries that at long last enabled him to walk, his confidence level grew greatly.  But he hasn’t forgotten the days when he could not walk.  When he comes to activities at the orphanage, he has been seen taking special care of the younger children in wheelchairs, pushing them into the sunshine and trying to make them smile.  I can just imagine how much joy and compassion will be added to a family when Jenning becomes a son!   His birthday is in April.  What a birthday gift to have a family committed to him when he turns 11!

 

Kipling_1_032615Kipling, is described by the Children’s House International social worker as “JOY in a 4 year old body!” Kipling has been fostered since he was 4 months old.  Kipling was born in May 2011 with a recessive cleft lip, brain scan difference and undescended testicle. His file doesn’t mention it, but he also seems to have low vision.  Although these minor needs put together might seem daunting, don’t let them put you off.  He is a laughing, smiling, singing, dancing bundle of lovable boy!  He has lots of energy and seems to very much enjoy being in the spotlight. This is part of the exuberant exchange between the CHI team and Kipling.  He came in to the room, greeted us warmly with a smile and a giggle, then set to work playing with blocks. When the team spoke with him to ask him questions, he would tread excitedly in one place, his little feet coming up and down in such joy that it was apparent he could hardly contain it!  He was happy playing and liked to throw things on the floor to make noise, and he loves music.  One of the orphanage staff played a very popular Chinese pop song, “You are my little apple” and Kipling was thrilled. He danced and sang the words of the song, missing very few. When cued by his foster mom he would shake his backside, and put his hands up in the air waiving them around in glee. He has two little cute dimples. When he was done performing he giggled and said, “Okay?” Our laughter only encouraged more dancing, singing and laughter.  The CHI team was smitten!


 

If you would like more information about adopting these boys or other children who wait, contact me and I will gladly put you in touch with the right person at CHI to answer any questions you might have.

Waiting Treasures

It has almost been two years since I returned to teaching art at the orphanage, and seven years since I began this journey. If there is one thing that I believe more today than I did my first day walking down the hall of the orphanage, it would be this: if everyone could look into the eyes of these kids, spend an hour coloring with them and hear their stories – there would be a line a mile long of folks begging to be the special, chosen, adoptive parents of these amazing kids.

Instead it is the other way around. We are begging people to take a look at a photo, a file, and to take a leap of faith to add one of these treasure to their families. Unfortunately, they are unfound treasures. Waiting.

Today I have hope.

I am so excited this paradigm could shift.

There is an American adoption agency, Children’s House International, who have started a relationship with the orphanage where I teach. They have a social worker who lives here, is updating adoption files for our kids and they are advocating for the future of my sweet little friends. How awesome is that?!!

They have seen the kids and seen what I have seen….their special potential.

This also means there is a way for me to advocate and I now can share the kids with you. Would you join me….advocate and give voice to those who are waiting and hoping. Look at their photos, take in their stories, consider adoption, give generously and mostly pray for miracles.

We need miracles – because the kids in my classes are not cute healthy infant girls who seem easy to adopt. They are older boys who need the second chance adoption would bring.

Let me share the story of one dear with you today that comes from the CHI website:

Manning_2_032615UPDATE:  Manning has a family!

At 6 years old “Manning’s” grandfather and father died. His mother ran leaving him to wander the streets until the police brought him to the orphanage. At 13 he still has never been chosen to be adopted because frankly families don’t want to risk taking in an older boy. He asks why families come for the young kids and not him. “I have waited longer. Why don’t they come for me?”

He is living in a group foster home on the grounds of the orphanage with three other younger children. His foster mother told us that he is the first one to get on his feet and help her when she asks for help. Because he is the oldest one in the family, he really works hard so as to take good care of the younger brothers and sister. The younger kids all love to hang out with him because he is so fun and so kind. He is a little introverted, gentle, and a bit shy. He loves art and riding his scooter around the orphanage grounds. Both socially and physically, he is a typical boy of his age. He is doing very well in school in all his subjects and recently received 4 medals in P.E; he can run fast! He likes Chinese class and art class the most. He is full of imagination and draws very well. He doesn’t like math. He doesn’t like “leftovers day” in his home, and always prefers noodles.

Upon entering the care of the Children’s Home he was found to have epilepsy, so he was given medication and now after 7 years, his medication is reduced to a half tablet each day and he has not had a seizure in over four years. He is small in stature, but mighty when it comes to responsibility, integrity, and personality.

The family who finds the treasure in this boy and adds him to their family will be blessed beyond measure.

If you’d like to learn more about Manning and the other children like him who wait, please contact me. I’ll be glad to put you in touch with the folks at CHI.

No one Reads Them Books

They thought I had lost my marbles.  I guess that isn’t anything new.  Many of the things I ask of my sweet students and the now trusting Chinese teachers make them shake their heads.  Did she really say…..?  They wonder if it is my bad Chinese or one of my crazy ideas.

“Yes, yes I did just tell the children they could use car wash mitts and loofahs to paint…but first let’s have a bit of sensory fun!”

Once little hands were coxed inside the wash mitts that seemed to dwarf their tiny arms the giggles did not stop.  Who knew a wash mitt could tickle so much.  Some were thrilled to then thrust their new toys into the paint, others were’t as sure.  The teachers themselves had their doubts and reminded me there would be a huge mess to clean up.  I had prepared for their doubts over our unconventional paint brushes.

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What I hadn’t prepared for…the blank stares when I pulled out a children’s book that had inspired our art lesson for the day.  I forget.  It isn’t as common for a Chinese parent to sit and read books to their children and for sure the children living at the Children’s Home were unaware there might be the luxury of a care-giver having the time and space to draw them into a lap for a story.

“They won’t listen.” one of the teacher’s told me.

“Then let them look” I defended.

“They can’t understand.”

“Then let us teach them”, I whined back.

I had similar conversations all week as I pulled out my book for each group of children.

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There are moments that I forget the children in my classes are orphans.  Seriously.  I know that sounds almost as crazy as using a car mitt for a paint brush, but it is true.  They are kids.  They are like normal kids that you might have in any classroom.

Then it will hit me.

I will pull out a book and their stark reality will hit me in the face again.

No one reads them books.

 

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Little Man’s favorite book at the moment is one of those “find the plane hidden in the picture” type books.  I have read it so many times since my mom bought it for him in September (Yes, that would have been 5 months ago.  Uhh, Thanks mom!  Thanks a whole bunch.) I read it on auto pilot.  I have gotten so sick of it.  “Honey,” I try to reason with him, “you already know where all the planes are on the page!! It’s not even a great story and you know the ending!”  See I am kinda crazy.  I try to reason with a four year old.  He will have nothing to do with it.  His fat little finger flies over the page pointing out each hidden image (in order I might add) as I read the words…again.

His big sister offered to read the book to him this afternoon letting me off the hook, but somehow the book isn’t so bad anymore. I get to be the one who reads him a book.  How cool is that?

 

 No one reads them books.  How sad is that?

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What are we going to do about that?

 

 

Four whole years

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I have been feeling like tomorrow is a big day for us, but I was hesitant to say anything to our girl.  Maybe it is just me.

But my doubts were put to rest as Little Monkey slipped her hand in mine while walking back from the market.  “It’s been four years, right?”  she asked me abruptly.   It took me a beat to catch on to what she was referring to, but then I realized. She had been watching the calendar and processing along with me.  As I nodded she said, “You know for four whole years you have stuck with me.  Now we have been together longer than we have been a part.”

It took my breath away to hear her say those words out loud.

It is a big deal.

 

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Crazy how life can change so much in four years.  Healing has taken place, love has grown, and now it is hard to remember life without our Little Monkey.  Maybe that is why four years seems like a big deal.  We now remember more togetherness than we remember apartness.  There are more memories as a family and pre-family memories (for good or bad) have dimmed.

I will never forget meeting our daughter for the first time.  She was scared to death of us; we were the first white people she had ever seen and she later told us she thought we glowed!  Such a brave almost four year old who was led into her new life that day.  I don’t remember her tears, but I will never forget how she stared straight forward with a determined look on her grim little face.  She looked so much older than her years.

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I thought again today how she seems older than her years.  I promised her brownies to celebrate the day we became a family.  She smiled and said, “Family is the best present of all.”

This marks four years from a birth….the birth of our family as it is now.  That is the gift we are celebrating tomorrow.  Without her, without adoption, we wouldn’t know the depths of love and what family really can be.

 

 

I can’t forget

Sitting here in my pj pants sipping strong coffee reflecting on the week.  Oh, what a week.  The first week of the semester always is a bit overwhelming, I must admit it and should be prepared for it.   But I can safely say this week was more intense than most.  Yes, Hubby had his first week of teaching with all the new student and textbook craziness.  We did start homeschooling and jumped into figuring out Chinese classes for the girls at the international school and I was at the orphanage setting up what my art classes will be.  All of that but more.

Trying to decide what to share and what should be left between me and my coffee.

But if I don’t share their stories…..

I had a few key meetings this week at the orphanage to plan our involvement for the semester.  So many opportunities have been mentioned and we really needed clarity and wisdom over what we should do.  Unfortunately, the need is just greater than OUR time and resources.  But, we happen to know the ONE who has no limits.  That was my comfort and peace as I was given a unique invitation to tour a facility outside our city with a special education director.

Let me back up a bit.

Children who grow up in the orphanage have two paths their lives might go down….1. to be adopted and set in a family  2. to grow up in the system and at age 18 they are released to be on their own — or sent to an adult institution.

(Can I just say again….please adopt!)

Three of my older students turned 18 and were sent to the adult facility this summer.  Saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.  When I was told they were moving to the adult institution I literally thought I was going to throw up.  I have heard stories and my heart couldn’t handle the thought of those horrors being a part of the future for my friends.  In that moment I clearly heard the voice of THE FATHER speak to me.  “They are not yours.  They are mine.”

This week, I was able to visit my three students in their new home….a facility for people with no place in society.  As I walked up to the compound that has bars on the windows, my heart hurt for the kids — kids who not only never have known the love of a family, but now are living like prisoners.

A non-profit organization, CA, has built a special unit at the facility for the teens coming from our orphanage.  The rooms are nicer with a private bathroom, there is a main living room and dinning area where the residents are able to eat together.  But life still is hard.  Our kids are used to classes, art and music, games to play, books to read, a caring staff and an area outside to walk. Now at the new facility, they have none of these things.  Without these, the days living within the barren walls of the unit must seem endless.

Twice a week two social workers from CA are now going out there to teach the residence life skill classes.  During our visit I got to see one of the classes.  It is a start.

I was thankful to see my former students, their new home and reassure them that they have not been forgotten.  But in a way I kinda do wish I could forget.  I didn’t even know this place existed a few days ago.  Now I have seen it and know the dear ones locked behind its walls.  One resident followed us around and with tears begged for attention.  That place, those people, they are burned in my mind.

CA has asked me to teach art classes at this facility once a week.  I am at a loss….feeling my heart moved and yet not knowing how to make it all work.  This facility is a 2 hour one way bus ride from where we live and is to far for a taxi driver to want to take me there.  On top of the issue of transportation, there is no help.  At the orphanage the nannies/teachers help me with the classes.  I provide the projects and they help with paintbrushes, scissors, tape….whatever I need help with.  At this facility there are no nannies or teachers to help.  I can not do this alone.

So that is what I am talking to Gd about over my coffee this morning.  Since I can’t forget they are out there needing help….I need a Chinese drivers license, a car, and a helper….and maybe a few more hours in my days.  That might just about cover it. Okay, I also could use a good dose of Gdly courage.

This is a Gd sized job so we are waiting to see how He comes through.  For now, we are buying books, paper, markers, DVDs and other items to send to the residence to use.  It is a start.

Not really sure where to go from here or how to close this post.  I guess if you will indulge me let me say it one more time…please adopt.  Anyone who is able – adopt.  If you can’t add a child to your family then donate toward the adoption of a child.  If you can’t donate then tell the stories of children who need families and spread the word.  

Dear Gd may you find families for these kids before they ever need to be move to adult institutions.

 

 

 

Happily Ever After

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He was one of my first students.  A tiny five year old who we all recognized as having potential – I mean look at those bright eyes!  He was younger than the rest of the class but was allowed to join us because of his natural artistic ability.  As I got to know him, I also was learning as an orphanage volunteer, about the world of adoption, and about kids with special needs – specifically boys.

I wondered why he wasn’t being adopted.  I was told he was un-adoptable.  My heart broke for him.

Two years later the orphanage director decided to give him a chance and began the process of preparing his paperwork.

It will be a sleepless night that I will never forget.  I got the email saying his paperwork would be done at the end of the summer.  I tossed and turned through the night as the grave reality hit me.  A seven year old boy finally given a chance, but how often do you hear of a family able and willing to take a chance on an older special needs boy.

Last night, I tossed and turned again.  It will be a sleepless night that I will always remember.  This time it was not prayer of anguish on behalf of a boy without a family, rather I was awake excitedly saying a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving.  I knew in the morning there would be less one orphan – and not just any orphan – my favorite student now has a family!!  Last night, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep giving thanks for what was coming.

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Can I just type that one more time….just so you understand the depth of my excitement, utter joy and unbelievable relief?!

HE HAS A FAMILY.

He was chosen.  He was adopted.  It is forever.

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Let me introduce you to Luke (his new english name!)  He is an amazing artist who is so very smart.   While living this past year with his foster family,who now is his forever family, he learned English and caught up to his peers at the international school.  Watching him roll and tumble with his brothers and running around at school, you seriously would have thought he has been there forever.  Now forever is possible.

Luke is the poster child of older adoption.

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I know you have heard the horror stories….and older adoption can be difficult, but today I want to tell you a story that has an incredibly happy ending.  This guy dove into family life and never looked back.  His mom exclaimed to me a few months after having him with them, “I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Is it supposed to be this easy?”

I stood in a governmental office taking photos of a family as they pressed their thumbs into a well of red ink.  They read the document they were signing out-loud to their boys.  “This means we will never abandon you.  We will treat you like a biological son.  We will give you a good education.”   Luke asked, “What does abandon mean?”  His mom pulled him into a hug and replied, “It means we will never leave you.  You will always be with our family.”

 

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You can not see my tears through the photos I took.  But they are there.  I couldn’t hold them back.  Just one or two slipping from the corner of my eye as I captured the grin of a boy who now has a last name and a family who has been blessed immeasurably by another son.  It will be a moment this art teacher treasures in her heart…right up there with my wedding day, the births and adoption days of my own four children.

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I think I might just carry this photo around in my art bag from now on as a reminder that there is hope.

When I returned to China to teach at the orphanage, I fell in love again – with a different seven year old boy named Renny.  I thought of him this morning as I took pictures of Luke.

There is hope.

Maybe you are a part of the hope that needs to be extended to Renny.   He is cute as a button, loves learning and has mild CP.  In China he isn’t allowed to go to public school because of his disability.  He needs a family so that he can have hope and a future.  His adoption paperwork is completed and waits to be chosen.  You can contact Annie Hamlin with Lifeline Children’s Services and ask to view Renny’s file to consider adopting him. Click here to email her.

Maybe Renny isn’t a match for your family, but God is calling you to be hope for one of the other 1393 boys who are right now on the waiting list to be adopted from China.  That isn’t counting the girls who wait…..in total there are about 1831 children currently waiting on the shared list which means anyone can adopt them.  (Did you catch that?! 1393 boys and 438 girls.  That is a sad statistic for a different blog post!)  There are even more children who wait in orphanages without paperwork and even more who are assigned to specific agencies.  It is staggering….but not hopeless.

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Happy family day to the Tompkins family!  Thank you for being willing to step out in faith and for giving this art teacher hope!  Look at the grin on that boy’s face.  Nothing else needs to be said!

 

Amazing, Awful, Adoption

IMG_4231I have had so many folks asking how art classes at the orphanage are going – I know this post is overdue – but I just don’t know how to put it all into words.  Shocking, I know!

I want to say they are AMAZING.  Well, because they are!  I have two classes of some of the best kids.  This week we created all kinds of magic with play dough and the next class we “painted” fireworks to get ready for Chinese New Year.  The kids thought I was joking as I handed out straws for them to blow the paint around the paper.   The first blow brought out gasps of disbelief.  So fun.  Their skeptical faces were soon transformed through laughter as they created all sorts of cool patterns.  One boy said, “It really does look like a “boom”!”

As I stood there and laughed with them, congratulated them on art well done, and watched them play with a novelty item like a straw….I thought again how blessed I am.  Blessed to have the opportunity to teach these amazing kids.   I was created for this.  Love it.

As amazing as it is…..

I also want to say that it is AWFUL.

Actually, awful isn’t a strong enough word.  How can I love on these kids for a couple hours a few days a week and then walk away knowing they are still there.  It is painful to cuddle a sweet five year old and teach him the names of the colors and realize he won’t be cuddled at bedtime.

My mother’s heart breaks for them and my heart’s cry is for them all to find families and to be given a hope and a future.

So how are my art classes….amazing and awful.  I am not sure how to reconcile that.  Well, maybe another “A” word could redeem it.  ADOPTION.