kariskhaos


18 thoughts on your 18th birthday!

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Today is the day my youngest boy turns eighteen. I did not know him as a baby, he did not come from my womb.  I missed his first smile, word, and step.  I did not get up with him in the middle of the night to calm him or to change his diaper.  I do not have a baby album to ooh and ahh over with him as I do two of my other children.   I cannot tell him what it felt like to have him inside me, or where I was for the moment of his birth.

Our story begins in a bombed out, pepto-bismo pink house where behind a broken half wall, Christian peeked over and looked directly at me trying to hide his smile as he ducked down again out of sight. His white teeth and rich, dark ebony skin in such contrast that he seemed almost larger than life.  I was done for, smitten, completely in love, head over heels and a bit dumbfounded at my immediate unconditional love for this stranger whom I would now call son.

ry=400-5This sweet miracle of a four-year old in front of me was now my son, and I his mother.  God did that. No less miraculous than when I gave birth, and just as awe-inspiring. Christian turns eighteen today.  Today I share with you my letter to him as he reaches for adulthood peeking over the tumbling  wall of adolescence and hiding his smile as he takes on this new adventure.

My dear and precious Christian,

Happy Birthday! Eighteen, I am not sure either of us thought you would make it to this day! I love you so very much and am so proud of the person you are, and still becoming.  Here on your 18th birthday  are my 18 bits of advice and reflections, ( you know it was hard to pick just 18)

  1. You are my son, being your mom is more than a bloodline, more than the same skin color and certainly more than the word adopted.
  2. Your birth mom loved you so much, she chose to give you life twice, once by birth and the second time by entrusting you to our care.  How lucky you are to have two moms that love you and always want the best for you.
  3. You are black, you are African, you are Liberian, you are beautiful, never be ashamed of where you came from or the rich heritage of your ancestors
  4. Keep asking questions, your curiosity is one of your greatest gifts.  Even if it annoys me keep asking until you understand.
  5. Remember to keep your hands off your penis and fingers out of your nose
  6. Life is not fair, keep going
  7. Your sister is not the base of all evil (some, but not all)
  8. Bacon is the answer to almost anything
  9. A man who cooks is more desired than a man who orders out
  10. You will encounter prejudice, racial profiling, and discrimination, acknowledge it and move on.
  11. Try to remember to look people in the eye, and speak clearly
  12. Look before you leap, think before you speak, don’t do it just because your brother is doing it.
  13. You have amazing tenderness and a heart of Gold
  14. ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘ I’m Sorry’ are three of the most important phrases you will ever learn, use them often
  15. Your smile is infectious and will open many doors, share it freely
  16. Find your passion and make a living doing it
  17. Take care of me when I am old-which is now.
  18. You are a child of God, dearly loved, alive and on the earth for a purpose, never doubt your worth

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I Felt Nothing

Every child is unique and different, and every rite of passage a unique experience for the parent and the child. This past weekend Scott and I dropped our second child off at college. John is now a freshman at Seattle University. It was not a tearful goodbye, there were no long hugs, or emotional anything really. He said his signature “See ya” and we left knowing we won’t see him again till November.

I felt nothing, which if you know me, is very unusual. I did not feel sad, I did not feel pulled, or torn for his youth, or wonder if he would be all-right. I left, and in a small part of my heart I felt relief. Mothers are not really supposed to feel this way, your child, whom you have raised in most cases since birth, and in my case since John was five, are supposed to feel torn, sad, like a part of them has moved on and though excited for them, there is this sense of loss- at least that is how I felt when I dropped off Isaac last year. With John it was a non emotional relief.

disc2 340The thirteen plus years that have led to this parting have been an emotional roller coaster to say the least. The joy of expanding our family by adoption, the thrill of meeting John and Christian for the first time that April day in the slums of Liberia. The elation of coming off the plane to be greeted by 50 of our family and friends welcoming this new beginning for them and for us. The adjustment for all six of us as we settled in Bend. The devastation of finding out John had glaucoma, the hundreds of dr. appointments, surgeries, research, and grief as we realized the world we had dreamed of giving our son would be altered drastically.

John’s amazing determination, stubbornness, never quit, never compromise, never let them know you are different attitude was admirable, and in many ways a true miracle. He was legally blind, he rode a bike, played basketball, football, and learned in both braille and print. He is an intelligent, sarcastic, quiet, young man. To many he is a poster child for facing adversity. At home, with Scott and me it has been a different story.

They say the safest people will be treated the worst and that has been truer than true in our family. As Scott and I tried our best to raise these four beautiful children,(none of them, or us being perfect) was not easy. John’s betrayal of being given away by his birth mother, his frustration and denial at his lack of vision, his post traumatic stress, his attachment disorder created a very angry, sullen, volatile child. The best way I can describe it was living with a volcano, never quite knowing when and where it would erupt, but knowing it would.

Counselors, friends, pastors, family supported us and comforted me each time. The heartbreak of knowing you could not change the situation, I could not give John my eyes, and I could not break through his wall guarding his heart from further pain, was at times debilitating. The tears I have cried for him, and because of him would fill a small lake. Bitter tears, angry tears, helpless tears, tears of joy, elation and pride for his many accomplishments despite the odds.

Finally this Spring, tears of release, tears of grief for a relationship that will never be what I had dreamed, and tears of resignation. I came to the point where I had to let go and move on. John has never said “I love you,” never calls me mom, speaks mostly when spoken to and tries to live his life in our home like a guest. I let go of my search to find the answers by reading the right book, finding the right language to love him, the right advice to reach him, a new way to approach his heart. I let go of the need for my self esteem and value as a person and a mother to be defined by his actions, and indifference. I came to the freeing conclusion that I have done everything I could possibly do. John has been raised in a loving home, had opportunities many kids dream of, was graduating from high school with honors and his life long dream of being independent from Scott and me has come true.

It has been a very long road. John is a terrific young man with a bright future. John is now a freshman at Seattle University. It was not a tearful goodbye, there were no long hugs, or emotional anything really. He said his signature “See ya” and we left knowing we won’t see him again till November. I left, and in a small part of my heart, I felt relief, and it was ok.

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A Twelve Year Winter

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The Rose

 

Some say love, it is a river

That drowns the tender reed

Some say love, it is a razor

That leaves your soul to bleed

Some say love, it is a hunger

An endless, aching need

I say love, it is a flower

And you it’s only seed

It’s the heart afraid of breaking

That never learns to dance

Its the dream afraid of waking

That never takes the chance

It’s the one who won’t be taken,

Who cannot seem to give

And the soul afraid of dying

That never learns to live

And the night has been too lonely

And the road has been too long

And you think that love is only

For the lucky and the strong

Just remember in the winter

Far beneath the bitter snow

Lies the seed that with the sun’s love,

In the spring, becomes a rose.

 

Writer(s): Amanda Mcbroom

Copyright: Third Story Music Inc., Warner-tamerlane Publishing Corp.

 

I have always loved the song “The Rose” with its sad melody and haunting lyrics.  I sang it for a talent show when I was much younger, I found solace in it after a tough breakup, but until we adopted our son John I do not think I really had a grasp on the truth these simple words brought. 

 

When we adopted John and Christian in 2001 adding them to our family of four, my idealism was at an all time high.  We had struggles leading up to the adoption as anyone who has been through the process can attest to, but the day we saw our two sons for the first time is etched in the memory of my soul.  The dreams and desires of my heart for these two children was palpable.  The joy of knowing we were making a tangible difference in two lives as well as enriching our own families global perspective was intoxicating. 

 

Reality hit hard within weeks of their arrival to the USA.  John was diagnosed with Glaucoma, and every year seemed to get harder with him.  His anger at the world was focused directly on Scott and me.  His times of happiness were rare and short lived.  A river of tears, angry shouting matches with God, Scott, John, questioning my ability to parent, heart break for my son who has so much potential, so much to offer, so much life to live.  Sleepless nights praying for a miracle, praying for sanity, praying to get through the next hour.

 

Glimpses of hope, a wonderful Summer, an emotional break through, the volcano dormant for a bit.  Perfect in school and public, stubborn and fiercely independent, beautiful man-child with a world to conquer.  This roller coaster of hope, anger, heart break, frustration, helplessness, counseling, flashes of potential, and resentment, riding strapped in with a love that has not wavered but at times has remained only by the seatbelt of faith, friends, family and red wine.

 

Its been twelve plus years since the wonderful day we chose to grow our family.  John turned eighteen this past weekend.  He had a party with friends, his laughter and deep voice still sing in my heart.  He played his African drum that we brought home on the plane with him so many years ago.  The twelve year winter is over, the hopes and dreams lying dormant are budding into an award winning rose.  

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“See Ya”

He hugs me with his large hard arms and chiseled body, “See Ya.” I hold on just a second more, smile and watch him walk away.  I go back to my car that is still running, with Gus my dog now sitting in the front where John was. My stomach has nervous butterflies as  I slide into the driver’s seat.  I take a deep breath and say a quick prayer of safety for him.  I pull out of the departures drop off and weave my way back into the traffic flow.

My head is full of contrasting thoughts warring within my mind.  What kind of mother are you to leave him at the door of the airport? He is legally blind, what if he misses his flight? What if he gets lost?  Are you really letting him travel across the country without even a cell phone? He has always wanted to be independent.  He is very capable and if he cant do this how will he go to college in a year?  It’s John, he is proud and strong and will ask if he needs help. He has all he needs and he will text me, no worries, no worries.  What the hell was I thinking? What if he gets kidnapped, or off at the wrong place or … be serious Kari he is a sixteen year old, black male, who looks like an ox and has forearms the size of your thigh and thighs the size of a small horse, let it go.

John is off to Baltimore to join about fifty other blind and legally blind students from across the country for a program sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). STEMX which is:

Science, technology, engineering, and math to the extreme!

The following is an excerpt from the web site:

“The “X” in the program’s title draws inspiration from the aerospace community, where historically programs and missions have utilized the letter as an abbreviation for exploration, and as a statement that the effort seeks new solutions and new discoveries that surpass previously assumed barriers to scientific advancement. In this same way, the NFB STEM-X program challenges the notion that blind people are unable to pursue STEM fields, or on a larger scale, are predestined to a life of social welfare and government dependence.

Students will choose from one of five focus disciplines (chemistry, computer science, engineering, robotics, and space science) in which to specialize during NFB STEM-X. Students will spend half of each of the four instructional days engaged in their focus discipline, learning alongside fellow high school students with blind and sighted STEM professionals as their guides. All five focus disciplines will work collaboratively throughout the program, capitalizing on each other’s specialization to innovate creative solutions to complex problems.

Outside of their work in their focus discipline, students will have the opportunity to participate in enrichment activities that will provide them with authentic learning experiences in a wider variety of STEM disciplines. Evenings will be filled with activities that will help students develop their leadership skills and build their confidence while having fun and socializing with blind teens from across the country.”

This is an incredible culmination of twelve years of blood, sweat and tears for our family.  John has not been the poster child for adoption.  He has had a very difficult life and our journey with him has been far from easy.  His anger issues, post traumatic stress,  attachment disorder, stubbornness, on top of his vision issues are well documented, but his intelligence, sense of humor, determination, fearless attitude have made it possible for us to come to this point.

In choosing to apply for this opportunity he needed to admit he was legally blind, be willing to be with other blind students and acknowledge his need for help to make it happen. In a series of small miracles over the last five months everything fell into place.  In a rare moment of candid conversation before he left I heard words I never thought I would.  John called me “mom” for the first time in years and thanked me for all the work I had done to make this a possibility.

I drove over the mountains figuratively, and literally, with a renewed hope for our family and the world that is opening up to embrace our son John.



“Its not because I am black, its because I am a Johnson”

It is early in December, The basketball season is just beginning for my son Christian. He is a sophomore and is on the varsity team. As with most teenage boys, common sense is often out weighed by immediate desire. Immediate desire for Christian is almost always focused around food and sports.

At the high school he attends juniors and seniors are allowed off campus for lunch, freshman and sophomores are not. Most of his friends are juniors and can drive. On game days I have allowed him to come home with his brother and a couple of friends for lunch. Now in Christian’s mind I have just given him permission to go off campus to have lunch, in my mind I am avoiding him getting in trouble, giving him a home-made lunch on game days, and getting a chance to hang with his friends.

A couple of days later I get an email from his basketball class teacher (who happens to be my daughter Jessica’s JV basketball coach) informing me CJ was a half hour late for class because he went off campus for lunch and was late getting back. This was not the first time this had happened but because he was so late she questioned him further and he admitted to golifetouch_20120930113701ing off campus. She was letting the administration,and his coaches know of his rule infraction.

I calmly (read unbelief, anger, incredulous, sympathy, frustration) wait for Christian to come home from school. I ask how his day was and if he wants to tell me anything. He looks up at me, reads my body language and shrugs, “No not really. Did I do something wrong?” I bring him to the computer and show him the e-mail. He again shrugs, this is clearly not a big deal to him. “Christian, do you realize that the you broke school rules, could get suspended from school, and get benched from playing a game?” Now I have his attention.

Christian than babbled about how everybody does it mom, and its a stupid rule and I was not that late, and she over reacted and exaggerated the time and how many times I have been late. “Christian did you or did you not go off campus for lunch? Head nod, “Were you late for class because you went off campus for lunch?” Head nod. “Did you break a school rule?” Now I get a tirade of how nobody follows that rule, if he had not been late no one would ever have noticed, Nobody cares, mom seriously no body cares. As my blood pressure rises with his lack of concern, I not so calmly say “Somebody cares Christian, because I got an email and now you will be hearing from the principal.”

The next day I get a call from the vice principal and a friend of our family. So I have Christian in my office… he will have a in school suspension, his coaches will be notified and if he goes off campus again he will be suspended from school for two days. He informs me that Christian is a good kid, they love having him at school, kids are kids and if he is going to get in trouble this was the best way to do it. He thanks me and my husband for our continued involvement in the school, and knows he will not have any more problems with Christian in the future.
Christian comes home from school not contrite, but still adamant that the rule is dumb and he was un fairly singled out. Scott and I have now had enough of his denial of wrong doing. We want him to own up and take responsibility, so I try a different tack. “Hey Christian, who did you go out with to lunch?” Jaylin, Steffan and JJ, I am informed. Two of which are juniors and another sophomore on the basketball team. Now where we live is not exactly ethnically diverse. We can count the black, mixed race and Asians on two hands. Jaylin and Steffan are half black and JJ is half Asian. Christian is African, not African-American but very dark black beautiful African. I say well it must be a racial issue Christian. I will go to the principal and claim racial profiling and then… Christian’s face is mortified, he stares at me in un-belief. “MOM, it is not because I am black that I got caught it is because I am a ‘Johnson’.”

All I could respond with was laughter. Gee Christian, so sorry that you’re a part of a family that is involved in your school, and surrounded by people who are watching out for you and care about you. It’s tough being a Johnson, but I am really glad you are.135



Saturday Story Time: What’s For Dinner?

Saturday Story Time: What’s For Dinner?

“Mom, you know how people make fun of me because I eat so much?” Christian asked me. Well, I guess we do make fun of you a bit, you can eat a lot. “I know, I know, but you know how I always want to finish what other people do not eat? It’s because I hate to see waste, my friends may tease me, but they have never been starving. I remember not having food, I remember wondering when I was going to get to eat again, that’s why Mom, they don’t get it” I smile at my son and say you are right Christian, they do not get it, how could they?

In 2001 when we adopted Christian and John they were so skinny I thought they would break if squeezed too hard. Christian was just four, but he knew what hunger was, and he did not like the feeling. For the first five, maybe six years they had been with us Christian would wake up every morning and ask what was for dinner. He needed to know that there would be dinner. He needed to know he was going to get another meal. Even now he will ask me what is for dinner sometime during the day. It is a pleasure to be able to tell him food. You will always have enough food.

Christian loves hamburgers, I know he did not have any red meat before coming to be a part of our family, and chicken was a rarity in his diet. He has become quite the “foodie” willing to try different things, learning how to cook and coming up with interesting and inventive ways to make his favorite things. He has his own George Foreman Grill, a Quesadilla maker, a couple of cook books and real flare for spices. When he was in fourth grade he decided that after his NFL or NBA career he would open a restaurant. It would be called “OVER TIME” and would have burgers representing each of the franchise teams.

Now, he gets a bit embarrassed about his cooking dreams. Still, his love for burgers out weighs anything else. When his friends get dessert, he gets a hamburger. If we go out to breakfast at a diner, he always wants to know if he can get a burger instead of breakfast. Sweets he can live with out, but burgers, now that would just be cruel. For Christmas and birthdays he often asks for meat. Just some bacon or hamburger meat please.

Christian has always had a heart for the homeless and since he was just a kindergartener he has asked an incessant amount of questions about the people on the street, or what happened to that person, why are they begging for food. I am sure it is a constant reminder for him of the grace he is now living under. As a fifteen year old he is able to understand and have compassion for the hungry more than most kids in America. Christian gets it, because he remembers his own hunger very clearly. He does not remember very much about Africa, and that makes me sad. I can not give him memories of his birth mother and father. I can not tell him how tall he will be or if he looks more like his birth mother or his birth father. Thank God, I can tell him whats for dinner.



Saturday Story Time: A Country of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

Saturday Story Time: A Country of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

My life was forever changed eleven years ago when my husband and I went to Liberia, Africa to adopt two boys. We arrived in Monrovia at the end of the civil war that had been raging for ten years. Under Charles Taylor, this beautiful country had been destroyed, children drugged and told to kill their families, women raped and left to die. No one was safe unless you were part of his select regime. The war had left thousands of orphans, malaria rampant, and poverty greater than I had ever seen before.

We were told not to go. It was not a safe place. They could not guarantee our safety and it was not worth the risk. We got off the airplane and were met by soldiers with AK-47 semi automatic machine guns. It had been a long series of days and hours that had led up to this point. I was mentally and physically exhausted already. I looked at Scott and he grabbed my hand, we were where we were supposed to be.

Tomorrow’s blog is about our blessing of Adoption day. This story, is about the people of LIberia, and their incredible resilience. People who travel to third world countries often talk about their surprise, in the joy that fills the children who are in such desperate states. They literally have nothing, and do not know if they will have food or water the next day, and yet they laugh. They have joy, they sing, and dance. As a country they have seen more death, cruelty, and unspeakable crimes done against their own, by their own, than most Americans could imagine in their worst nightmares. Yet, they find ways to celebrate. The Liberian people found ways while survival was questionable, to choose joy.

When we had been there for about three days, and had just come back from visiting the boy’s mother in her “home” I completely lost it. I could not reconcile myself to the fact that I had been given so much, and could do so little for the immensity of this country in crisis. I could give every last penny I had and it would be a drop in the ocean of need. I was sitting out on a camp stool next to the woman who was doing our cooking and cleaning while we were at the orphanage complex.

Her name was Ma Mary, she was a small robust woman with a strong hand and loving ways. I was sobbing uncontrollably. The injustice of the world and the goodness of God had come to a visual reality in front of my eyes and my heart was torn to shreds. This is not a world that makes sense, this is not the way it is supposed to be. Ma Mary held me in her large bosom and stroked my hair. “You gosta stop crying miss Kari, you gosta, everyone in Liberia have a sad story, if we all cried for the pain we suffered, the ocean would take over the world. You gosta stop.” I tried to stop the flood and the hyperventilating. She went on all the while rocking me and holding me in her arms. “The world is an unfair, hard place, and no body cares about Africa. Your heart breaking is good, but you gosta stop crying and choose joy. Help us all to choose joy.”

As I write this eleven years later, I still cry. I am reminded of my wealth, and my incredible random gift of being born in the United States. I am reminded of a country of war ravaged people who found a way to choose joy. I can hear the laughter of the children on a dirt field. I can hear them singing and praising God in the chapel. I can see Ma Mary’s face and I know this is a country of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I will dry my tears, stand with my brothers and sisters of Liberia and choose joy.