Twists and turns along the road

Pizza and catching up with an old friend – two rare treats that came my way last week. This friend, although absent from my daily life for years, has made significant impact on my life. Just been pondering where I would have been. Just been walking down memory lane.

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7 years ago (Could it have really been that long?) we were in the throws of adoption paperwork for our little Monkey. The process was taking so very long. We watched other families get approval and travel to their sweet babies while we waited…and waited…and waited. At the same time, a natural disaster had struck in the part of China where little Monkey was living. It was heart breaking, excruciating, mind numbing…and then some.

I remember venting all my woes to my dear friend over dinner in our home. She was the special education director at the orphanage in our city. She challenged me. “Do something while you wait. It will make it easier.” That is where it started.

As I waited for little Monkey, I taught one art class once a week. One class of 8 students. I thought it would keep me busy and give me something to do rather than check my email like a crazy woman, hoping for news about our adoption. Instead, the children in my class helped heal my broken heart; they taught me to serve and to love in a way I didn’t know was possible. It amazes me.

Our journey to adopt had begun as a seed in my heart as a college student. Hubby and I knew it would be a part of our family story from the beginning. What we didn’t know – that adoption would take us on a heart journey that didn’t end with our youngest two children. Our hearts and eyes were open to the world of orphans, children with special needs and we would be forever changed.

I shake my head and laugh as I look back on those times, 7 long short years ago. I thought it was about waiting for our daughter, Little Monkey, to join our family. It wasn’t about the wait at all. I was learning about the Father’s heart.

This was a pretty big twist in my life story. I had no idea the joy my heart would glean from painting with a child suffering with Cerebral Palsy. The surprise was mine when I learned to communicate with a non-verbal pre-schooler with Downs Syndrome. I didn’t know the peace that would wash over me while holding the hand of a child with Autism. I have learned that every life has value and my life is deeper when I see God’s image in each one of His children. Pretty big stuff. It has shaped me.

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The twists and turns that my journey with Jesus has taken – they take my breath away. It is easy to see how He was leading my heart as I look back. It gives me courage for the future. I am so sure that there are more bends in the road. He is leading us down a path and we can’t see the end. I want to trust Him. The lessons He has for me to learn…they are good. The road He is taking me down…will make me better. Even when I don’t understand the bends in the path, He is good. He is leading.

Recently, I was asked to share at a conference about how and why I work and live where I do. I laughed at the request. Seriously, I am the last person that should be inspiring others on knowing where God is calling them. As I prepped that talk with honest words of ending up in a place that I didn’t expect, I was reminded again that my story with its bends twists and turns probably isn’t that unique. When we make our own plan…it is just that…ours. He has so much more for us than we ever could hope or dream for. I am living His dream.

I was so desperate 7 years ago. I wanted my waiting to be over, to hold my precious daughter in my arms. What joy to look back and see how God used that time of waiting for so much more. In this season, I wonder again. What will I see with such clarity 7 years from now.

Trusting Him in the journey. Taking one bend in the road at a time.

And then he did a face plant…

My first mistake was telling Little Man he could ride his tricycle to the market.  An unseasonably warm day made me unusually optimistic on how much I could carry with a kindergartener and a tricycle in tow.  Lesson learned.

A box in one arm, several days’ veggies and fruit in a bag on the other with the tricycle slung over my shoulder, Little Man and I started crossing the road to start the trek home.  He was holding the hem of my jacket as we stepped off the curb.  I am not really sure what happened next.  It all went so fast and slow at the same time.  We had plenty of time to cross the road in front of the white car that suddenly seemed to be barreling down on us when Little Man’s leg came off.  Velocity taking over, his body kept going and he landed hard on the pavement near the other side of the road.

 

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You know those moments?  The moments when you are standing in the road deciding if you should let the car run over your son’s leg or scoop him up and comfort him — all the while trying to untangle yourself from a bag of broccoli, apples and tomatoes.  AND while doing all this, you are thinking in the back of your mind….”Wow, I guess his leg really isn’t fitting that great these days!”  See what I mean?  Never in my life did I think there would be such a moment.  I chose wiping tears and checking for broken bones and blood.  Little Man was not happy with that choice, and he began screaming even louder that his leg was about to be road kill.

In enters a stranger.

Just a little cultural context.  It is not common to help strangers.  Friends and family, absolutely. Strangers, no. It is culturally common to stop and watch, but not to help.  Let’s just say, in all of my years living in Asia I have been stared at A LOT more than I have been helped.

Wednesday was different.

A man stepped out into the road, rescued Little Man’s leg, retrieved the roll away tricycle and was at my side helping me steady a weeping boy.  He held a little hand while I checked for wounds (there were none) and slid an intact prosthetic leg back in place. When I finally had enough wits to look up at the man, I said.  “You are a very nice man.”  His reply was with typical Asian modesty, “No, not at all.”

And he walked away.

We made it back home with a story to tell over dinner.  All of the kids marveled at the nice man who stopped to help.  “I want to be a nice Chinese man like that.” Little Man exclaimed.  It truly is amazing how a few moments of help can make a deep impression on those around us.  It reminds me of a statement our pastor in Michigan used to say often, “Small things done with great love make a big difference.”  Okay, rescuing a prosthetic leg from being run over by a car actually was kinda a big thing.  But, the few minutes he took to help us…well that was a small moment from his life and I am very thankful.  It made a big difference to us.

I want to be that type of person…willing to stop for a moment and help.  We can make grand plans on how to live out our faith and how to love those around us, but if we aren’t able to slow down and embrace the unexpected moments – well, it is worthless.  I am striving to live a life of service that will encourage those around me and I am so thankful when the blessing is turned my way.

 

 

My Crazy Life – December edition

December is just one of those months.  Every year I get so homesick for my extended family and Christmas traditions that I could burst into tears at any given moment.  But, every year we have the privilege of celebrating Christmas cross-culturally, I am filled with joy at the opportunities to experience the true meaning of Advent.  I could explode over the wonder of it all.  My crazy life.

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This year was like the others, busy with open houses for students, story telling, cookie baking, Christmas art projects, frosting and sprinkles.  It has been breath taking…and so very fun.  I really think that this month will go down in the books as one of the best Christmas seasons ever.  It wasn’t perfect.  I burnt cookies, got overwhelmed by the number of guests that came through our home, and Little Man picked his nose through his debut in the Christmas play.  (Friend, that could be a post on its own.  My son dressed as a wiseman digging for treasure up his nose.  Yes, he saw me give him the “momma stink eye.”  Then says to me FROM STAGE,  “Just a second, I almost have it!” He then pulled it out and flung it.  True story.  Sigh.)

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So it wasn’t perfect, but there were moments that I will treasure for years to come.  I was able to be the first one to share the Christmas story with a student.  How perfect is that?  Decorating sugar cookies with all of my art students who called the frosting paint and couldn’t keep themselves from licking everything…Okay, a little gross, but oh so priceless.  My children hosting and helping.  I think that treasure is the one I will ponder the most.  Soccer Dude pushing a wheel chair and breaking off bits of cookies to put in the lips of children who are paralyzed.  That is a gift.

 

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There are many days that I long for Christmas of the past when I was at home with my parents and eating western food and attending a Christmas eve service.  But honestly, if next Christmas would find us back in the States, I would miss what I have here.  My crazy life.  True story.

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Back at it

IMG_1355If you don’t hear from me for the next 12 years it is because I am now homeschooling 4 children and it is kicking my tail!  I have now done Kindergarten several times and really thought it would be no big deal to add it to our daily school business.   Well reality has hit but we haven’t hit our stride.

All joking aside, we are working hard to get into a rhythm for the semester.  Hubby has two weeks of classes under his belt (they are mostly literature classes again with a fun grad class to boot) and I have enjoyed two art projects with my special students at the orphanage.  Play-dough and dot markers are a great way to start the fall.

On the home front we are tackling Kindergarten along with 3rd, 6th and 8th grades.  Little Man was thrilled at first to have his own shelf of books and to be a “real” student.  Three days in he was asking how many days we needed to do this school thing!  Reality hits.  The girls and I are digging in a bit deeper this year and exploring some creative elements in art and writing that have been over looked in the past.  Hoping we can keep up the fun.  Soccer Dude is testing the waters with online schooling and enjoying it even though there is a learning curve.  Never a dull moment when a notice is posted on the apartment complex door that we will have no electricity when we were scheduled for a Skype meeting with his teacher and he was to do an online math test.  In the end, we packed all the kids up and took the excuse to explore a newly opened Starbucks in our city.  The kids joked that they felt like they were going to school in the States!  I guess we don’t live in the backwoods any more if we are able to order a frappuccino!

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All in all – we might not have hit a stride for the fall, but we are slipping back into routine and slowly recovering from our crazy summer.   Soccer Dude even let me take his picture at Starbucks.  He is looking good (thank you to the plastic surgeon in Detroit!) and all of his stitches have fallen out making eating so much easier.  Now, if only we could find an allergy medication to help him with the hives he’s had since the dog bite.

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Many have also asked how Little Man is doing.  I sometimes forget he had such a major surgery at the beginning of the summer.  He is back to his old self running around so much that there already is a crack forming at the toes of his prosthetic.  I wonder if there has ever been a package shipped internationally with “foot” marked as it contents.  We might ask our team of doctors in Florida to give it a try before we have toes fall off again!

Thanks again for all of your support and prayers as we have transitioned into the fall.  His grace has been so real to us over the last few months and we know it will continue to carry us.

Home Sweet Home

IMG_9530Last night at dinner Soccer Dude casually mentioned, ” Hard to believe the last time I ate noodles at this table I didn’t have scars on my face from a dog bite.”  It struck me again.

I have joked in the past that travel week for us is kinda like living out one of those sci-fi movies.  You know, where you enter a time machine and arrive on a different planet and in a different dimension.  We leave a world of grandparents, bagged salad, dryers, large yards with trees (and speaking English!) — to enter a world of friends, noodles, apartment buildings, and a college campus where we teach English and art.  They are two totally different worlds and it can be unnerving to hop from one to the other.  We really fit in neither, but love both…I struggle to wrap my brain around that, not to mention help my children navigate our two realities.

This summer has been extreme. HA, understatement!  We went from our busy world in Asia to a world of hospitals, dentists, immunizations, doctor appointments — and did I mention doctor appointments?

In a way, it has helped us to be more thankful than ever to be back “home.”  Surgeries are behind us.  Little Man has a new prosthesis that fits and he is running again. (See photo of him during a walk through the woods!)  Soccer Dude continues to heal and the stitches are dissolving.  Life is moving on.  We are beyond thankful for Father’s healing and our ability to come back to our Asian home.

It never felt better to walk in our apartment door.  Starting the routine of homeschooling in our own space has been a comfort and facing a new fall has been a joy.  There is no way we would be back here without the pr.yer and support of so many of you.  It carried us.

A mentor always willing to take a phone call when we needed a sounding board, an ophthalmologist who fit Soccer Dude for contacts the last week we were in the States because his glasses were bothering the wounds in his nose, a pediatrician’s office willing to work us in to talk about hives and swelling, friends who drove an hour to play with us at a park and express their love and concern, friends in Asia calling and sending us gifts, a simple text message saying “we are pr.ying for you”….all these things (plus many more I could add to this list) carried us and reminded us of the love of a Father who provides.

So when we are weary from jet-lag, facing another busy semester after a crazy summer, when Soccer Dude breaks out in hives again…we have no doubt Father will provide.

Wow!  This post has been full of lists!  I am sure you could make your own list.  How is Father providing for you this season?

 

Thanksgiving in August

We ate turkey dinner with all of the trimmings.  Yup.  It was August 19th and we pretended it was Thanksgiving and it was so very yummy (mostly because it was lovingly made by my mom!)

Even though it was a fake Thanksgiving, I still paused over the gravy bowl and took a second to realize how many things I have to be thankful for.  Even just a week earlier I would have been hard pressed to visualize my whole family healthy and sitting around the dinner table.   I am one thankful mom.

Two and a half weeks ago Soccer Dude was bit in the face by a large dog – a large well trained dog.  It was a freak accident.  Really.  But as freak of an accident as it was, it landed our boy in the hospital for 5 days.  He needed two surgeries to repair the damage and in the process we discovered he is allergic to several antibiotics. As you can imagine, none of us were happy about this turn in events. We were supposed to be having fun at my parents home in Michigan – not sitting around a hospital in Detroit. Every time Soccer Dude would introduce himself to the nurse coming on duty he would mumble between the hundreds of stitches in his mouth, “this is the worst summer vacation ever.”

At about the same time, Little Man was struggling with muscle weakness and the process of making a new prosthetic leg was not going well.  The physical therapist who was helping us shook her head and told us he would need months of physical therapy.

So things haven’t gone as we planned this summer. It has been a ride.  But, we are amazed at how two weeks and a lot of prayer can change things.

Soccer Dude’s face is healing and he has had no infection in his wounds. He is still struggling with crazy allergic reactions that are causing full body hives, and he has some swelling in his face.  We are starting a new journey with him to figure out what all he might be allergic to…related to antibiotics, the accident and maybe even more.  Let the fun begin!  We would appreciate you keeping him in your thoughts.

Little Man –  He has worked hard over the past two weeks and his strength is coming back.  His story also is nothing short of miraculous. When the docs saw him Monday they were amazed and instead of recommending three months of physical therapy as they expected, they declared there no longer is the need.  We were able to move forward in the fitting process of the prosthetic and he gets his new leg tomorrow.

There have been times this summer that I wondered if we would be able to return to Asia this fall as we had planned.  We still have some loose ends hanging out there, but we are taking strides to be off this coming week.  We are taking it one step at a time and are thankful for each small victory that takes a step closer.

Virtual Gallery

IMG_0988-1When you pour your heart and creativity into a group of precious children it is so hard to see a semester come to an end.  I dearly love each of my students and I seriously hate to say goodbye to them, even for a summer break.

This is my last week of art class for the semester, so we are ending on a high note of puffy glitter paint.  I forget how much they love this stuff.  The autistic kids love squeezing the tubes of paint, the sensory challenged crew love smearing the paint around the foam canvas, my special down syndrome friends express utter joy at the gift of a paint set to themselves, the CP kiddos are proud to manage the project all on their own…you get the point.  Fun for all!

 

My sweet students were happy to end the semester with puffy paints, but for me…well,I am seeking a bit more closure.  I am proud of my students and their art work.  We have done some super fun projects, the kids have pumped out some amazing art, and I am thrilled that they have learned a few new skills along the way.  I want to share the joy of all of that with you.  Wish I had a gallery where I could proudly usher you around and tell you about each masterpiece and the amazing child behind it.  Since I lack that – how about you pretend and indulge me by peeking through this virtual gallery.


 

 

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Project: Oil pastel on black paper

Artist: a CP superstar who has mastered holding crayons and paint brushes this year!

Love doing this project with our kiddos who thrive in the abstract!  It might look like scribbles, but this really is a masterpiece of a child who struggles to use his arms due to CP.  There is victory in this finished product!  He was so proud of his color choices and doing this all by himself.


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Project: coffee filter butterflies

Artist: a creative thinking teen

Washable markers, coffee filters and a spritz bottle helped us to create butterflies after reading the “Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.  I am thankful that I found a bookstore that offers some of the classic children’s books I am familiar with in Chinese!  We have been reading the books together and using them to inspire our art.  During this project the kids felt like they were making magic as they watched the colors of the markers blend together as we sprayed the creations.  The teachers loved the cute finished projects which they used to hang from the ceilings to decorate the classrooms.


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Sometimes a blank page and a tray of paint can seem overwhelming, but with a stencil and a fun painting tool my special students feel free to dig in.  I love watching them choose colors and ask for more and more and more paper!

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Project: Stencil sponge painting

Artist: autistic sweetie who loves texture


The kids have been loving the Crayola watercolor trays that were donated for our classes.  Usually, I print off some “coloring sheets” for the kids to paint.  Then once they are “warmed up” I give them white paper and see what happens.  This student came up with the idea for this painting on his own.  He called it “Birds Flying on a Summer Day”  It is such a happy painting.  It makes my heart soar!

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Project: Watercolor

Artist: A 13 year old creative thinker


You can tell watercolor is one of my favorites too.  Here is another watercolor project – Crayon resist paintings.  This project was so super fun!  We drew on white paper with white crayons then painted over the drawings with watercolor paint.  The paint makes the crayons creations pop!  This was like magic for some of the kids!  I can still hear the oohs and ahhs!  I also was excited to see how clever some of my kiddos are as they tilted their papers to better see where the crayon marks were!

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Project: Crayon resist painting

Artist: A special DS sweetie who LOVES color!


If painting is a favorite why not take it outside?  We enjoyed a warm sunny day outside with our paint brushes and some cups of water.  The teachers enjoyed the simple no mess nature of this project.  The kids were thrilled with the endless canvas of the pavement.  I LOVE, LOVE these Melissa and Doug paintbrushes with super sized handles – all kinds of fingers can get a grip on them!

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Project: Outdoor water painting

Artist: A joy filled superstar with CP


We do scratch art about once a semester, but we could do it even more.  The kids love tracing hands, coming up with their own designs, or just spending a whole class period removing the black and making a clean colorful paper!  Each creation ends up so unique.

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Project: Scratch Art

Artist: 10 year old buddy with a muscular disorder.  He might walk slow, but his art work sure soars!


These are just a few of my favorites!  Thanks for taking a peek at our gallery.  I hope you see the heart of some special children in each of these creations.  Pretty amazing to be doing art with these little people.  I am truly blessed.

 

Encounter with a birthmother

A simple encounter at the bus stop that rocked my soul.

I was waiting with three of our kiddos.  Par for the course, they were playing and oblivious to all that was going around them.  Picture a lot of laughter, noise and a bit of running around my legs.  I was enjoying watching them play when I grew self-conscious that we were being watched.

Nothing new about that.

When out and about we are constantly watched.  We hear comments like, “Four kids?  Really?” and “Are they all yours?” and “They don’t all look like you.  Two look like you and two look Chinese.”  Usually I take it in a stride. I understand that for a population where one child is not just the norm but the policy, we are bound to draw out comments and stares.

But I had never heard this one.

A middle-aged couple was standing off to my left and I heard the woman comment to the man, “She could be our child.”

A wave of shock rolled over me and before I could think twice, I was starring into the woman’s eyes.   I am positive she assumed I couldn’t speak Mandarin and wouldn’t understand the comment she made.  To be honest, I wish I hadn’t understood her, looked up or reacted.  When our eyes met – both mothers who understand grief and pain that should not exist in the world – the understanding in our eyes was full and real.  She stepped around behind the bus stop and hid herself from me.  I asked the children to stop playing so as not to make her pain more intense.

There is no possible way this woman was connected to our Little Monkey.  Her birth place is hundreds of miles away.  We were simply a symbol to this woman.  Grief over what could have been?  Wonder over what is?  Hope that her child is in a family playing with siblings?  A memory that had been hidden and now was pulled forward?

The encounter brought forward some emotions that I can forget in the daily routine and joy of life.  My joy is someone else’s loss.  Just because there are so many unanswered questions surrounding the early years of our adopted children doesn’t make them not exist.  There are real people living lives with the memories of children who belonged in their arms.

Weekly, I see the reality of lonely hurting children who live their lives in an institution, and I want to question the people who chose not to care for them.  Daily I am blessed by the love of two children who did not grow in my womb and sometimes I lose sight of the painful reality that the people who could not care for the ones I love now may still be out there wondering about them — wondering what their lives are like.

But it goes even deeper.

In relation to the majority of the world, I am a rich privileged woman.  I have access to resources, health care, community support, and I have a voice.  It stinks that the majority of women…mothers…in the world don’t have all of that…which at times result in some painful realities.  It is injustice.  When my children are playing around my legs and filling my life with laughter, I want to rage against a world where poverty is real and an injustice.

The woman at the bus stop – she brought my privilege up close and personal.

Those of us who are rich and privileged (dare I say that would be everyone reading this blog) we can do one of two things.  Do something with our resources and ease the suffering of the orphans of the world and speak out against the injustice that creates orphans to begin with….or we can pretend.

Pretend.

I have looked into the eyes of orphans living in an institution.  I have looked into the eyes of a suffering mother who can not parent her child.

I no longer can pretend.

 

Some of our favorite things

We have used the last days of our holiday break to do a few of our favorite things…hot pot and ice skating ice sledding.  We might not have public playgrounds for kids or malls to walk around, but there are some fun things to pass the time in our city.  Sledding and bike riding on the frozen lake is definitely high on our list of fun things.

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Our family tradition is to eat hot pot on January 1st.  Everybody gets a tiny soup type pot sitting in front of them and you cook your food in that pot.  It is kinda like fondue, but even yummier!  It also is a bit exciting with an active four year old.  Little Man + a boiling pot + raw meat = entertainment that borders on danger.

 

 

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Ice sledding…you might wonder what that is.  In all my yankee days I have never seen anything like it.  Sleds are fit with blades (like what are on ice skates).  You use metal poles to push yourself around on the frozen pond.  They also have bikes that run on blades and are propelled forward by peddling.  Super fun but so hard to steer and stop.  There is a theme to the fun in our city.  It all tends to be border line on dangerous.  Just kidding.  Kinda.

 

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Our Northern peeps really should think of starting a business with these sleds!

Anyone who wants to brave the cold and visit us in the winter, we will totally take you for spin on this lake!

A crown on their heads

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”  Mother Teresa

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When there are children without families living in an institution, it feels ridiculous to think that some foam stickers can help.  But this week, the truth “small things done in great love” hit home again.

Honestly, I was looking for an easy-peasy craft to do with the kids this week.  There is a huge remodeling project going on at the orphanage and the classrooms have all been moved, combined, and packed up to accommodate.  I wasn’t sure what I would find or where my classes would meet, which meant a huge messy paint project might not be the best of ideas.

It was time to pull out a simple go to craft and use some of the super fun foam stickers some visitors brought us this summer.  I had no idea that foam crowns could be greeted with such enthusiasm.  I pulled out the crowns in my first class and the children clapped.  I was taken back.  Really?  The project I feared would take half a class period was met with great focus and concentration.  The kids dug through the stickers looking for the perfect ones and meticulously placed them.  The Chinese teacher ran for a mirror as I hot glued the completed creations.  That is when I was truly floored.

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I placed the crowns on the heads of my sweet students and watched their countenance transform.  They beamed.

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The children took turns telling each other how beautiful they looked and then they voted as a class on whose crown was the best.  We even used the last moments of class for the children to line up for a class photo.  The joy didn’t stop as class ended.  Foster parents came to pick up their charges gasped at the students who had been transformed into royalty.  “Wow! Who gave you a crown?  You look beautiful.”  As I took it all in, I realized that one of my heart felt goals was being accomplished…unintentionally.  The children felt special, worthy, valued and wanted.  I beamed.

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Later that day I was invited into the infant nursery.  A two year old boy, who is more like an infant due to his special needs, was placed in my arms.  He leaned his tiny head into the crock of my arm and my body instinctively bounced him gently side to side.  Within minutes he was asleep.  The nanny shook her head with a sad grin, “as soon as they are held they sleep.”

As I gazed into his sleeping face one of the foster care workers commented, “He is unwanted.  No one will ever adopt him.”

I wanted to argue with her, but deep down I knew the truth of her words.  His needs are severe.  He will never leave this place.  But it is only half truth.

I know the One who is Creator and Redeemer.  That baby boy is not unwanted or unloved.  There will be a day when a crown is placed on his head.  He will be whole, happy, healed and know the love of our Father.  Oh, what a glorious day that will be.

Until that day, rocking that sweet boy to sleep is like a bit of heaven on earth.