In this guest post, my long-time friend Jon Lindner gives some insight into his family’s adoption story. Jon teaches advanced mathematics and is the head track coach at Vinton County High School in southern Ohio.
As I stood in the parking lot of the hotel where my entry-year principal’s conference was held, I realized something. In 8 short years, my wife and I would be done as parents. Empty-nesters. At age 39. Oh, sure, parenting had its challenges. One strong-willed child will take care of the challenging part. But I thought of all the memories with our two older children. Trips to the beach, hunting and fishing together, time spent training lambs and goats for the county fair, and a huge family favorite, Christmas. An old Kenny Rogers Christmas song floated through my head:
Kids, kids, Christmas is for kids…
I wasn’t ready to be done. Not yet. Two months later, we were at a Christmas concert with our favorite artist, Steven Curtis Chapman. He and his wife had adopted several kids from China, and at the concert, they did a beautiful presentation about their experience and the great need in China for adoptive parents. And so it began…..
My wonderful wife and soulmate, Tamala, had been ready to adopt for a while. We had known for a number of years there would be no more biological children, and we had discussed international adoption as a possibility, especially after a couple at church had adopted three children from Lithuania. I just hadn’t made the plunge in my heart yet, because I knew it would be a long journey. But after some time considering the other option (empty house at 39), I decided I was ready.
Fast forward 10 months, and we were staring at the picture of a sweet little 2-year old boy from China. His Chinese name was Dang Xian Zhou. He went to a preschool operated by a special group of people that were from the United States. At the preschool, his English name was “Judah”. After a little research in the Bible, we discovered that Caleb was from the tribe of Judah. And so we had a name for our next son, Caleb Judah.
Caleb was born with an incomplete right ear, a condition called microtia. He still had normal hearing in his left ear, but fit the definition of a “special needs adoption”, which sped the process up tremendously. Instead of a 3-4 year wait, we could be united in one year. Caleb spent his first year in an orphanage before being placed with foster parents and attending the American preschool.
Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork, all with a fancy name – our dossier. The dossier was the required assortment of forms required by the Chinese government before the adoption would be approved. The stack of forms was literally about three inches tall. We had to prove in a hundred different ways we really were Jon and Tamala Lindner. And every document had to be notarized, county certified, and state-certified (which required a trip to the LeVeque Tower in Columbus, Ohio). Finally, in late spring, we received our approval, and the trip to China was scheduled for a departure of late July. But we had a couple of other things going on…..
Our oldest daughter, Megan, graduated from high school that spring. The adoption required over $30,000, most of which was raised through donations, but we still needed $12,000 at the last minute. Thankfully, a local bank extended us a short-term loan until our federal adoption credit was applied the following spring. Our oldest son, Curtis, was about to enter middle school and was playing on the 7th-grade football team, of which I was the coach. And both of our children were knee-deep in 4-H projects, Megan with a lamb, and Curtis with a market goat. Our scheduled departure date for China? Friday of fair week. Megan’s lamb show was Tuesday, Curtis’ goat show was Thursday, and we left for China at 4 am on Friday. Oh, and I forgot to mention we moved Megan into her room for college just a week or two before the trip.
The adoption required us to travel to China to be united with Caleb. The trip would last 16 days, with less than two days for Tamala and I to recover from jet-lag before we were united with Caleb. This was not a vacation – it was a mission. We had to carry $9,000 in American cash for fees in China. Passports, legal documents, clothes for Caleb, a stroller, and a thousand details all had to be in place. So we had some things on our mind, but we didn’t want to short-change our two oldest kids in the process.
Fair week arrived. Megan’s lamb show went well, and after Curtis’ goat show finished, we had family over to the house for a little time together before we left for China the next morning at 4 am. My dad served a number of years as a pastor and wanted to pray with us before they left. As my dad prayed, he asked God to “help us smell the roses” on our trip. If dad only knew how important that phrase would become in the years to come…
The China trip was difficult, at best. Homesickness took on new meaning, and we gained a greater appreciation for our troops who serve overseas. We were united with Caleb on our second day in the city of Zhengzhou, a city of about 10 million people. He had spent 12 hours on a train, had a dirty diaper, and was scared to death. Although we had spoken with him by phone in the months we were completing paperwork, we knew he did not know who we were. The whole first evening, he refused to eat, cried, and kept repeating “yeye, yeye” (Chinese for grandpa, but in this case, this was what Caleb called his foster dad). We truly believed we might have to go to the hospital because he would not eat or drink. Thankfully, Caleb slept well that night, and woke up hungry the next morning. Things began to improve from that day on.
The rest of the trip was spent completing legal work, passport photos, immunizations, and acquiring Caleb’s visa to enter the United States and become a citizen. Our relationship with Caleb continued to grow each day, and we had a lot of fun. Our second week was spent in Guangzhou, specifically on Shamian Island. Thankfully, there was one of God’s greatest gifts in a foreign land with foreign food and instant coffee, a real Starbucks. One day while there, we bought some coffee and a piece of cheesecake for Tamala and I to split. We let Caleb try a bite, and it was history. It was Caleb’s piece of cheesecake from that point on.
The trip home was brutal. A trip that was scheduled to be 26 hours turned into 34 hours due to delays and cancellations. We all were exhausted, and Caleb’s body was on China’s time zone, which meant sleeping during the day, and wanting to play at 1 am. But we managed, we adjusted, and life became somewhat normal again.
Three years later, we made another trip, endured the same struggles, and received the same blessings. Carter joined us in 2010, full of life, smiles, and energy. We would not have an empty nest until we were in our fifties, and once again, we would make our run through the speedy trip to high school graduation.
Oh, believe me, there were days we said “Are we crazy?!” But whether you make a trip to the hospital or make a trip to China, you will ask yourself those questions. The greater question is, “Can you stop and smell the roses?” as your kids move from pull-ups to the Pythagorean Theorem. I have always struggled with overwhelming to-do lists, accomplishment, and “getting it all done.” On a day between our two trips to China, I learned what my dad was talking about when he prayed for us to “smell the roses.”
We had just returned from the beach. Caleb was five, and Curtis, was 15. I was in “divide and conquer” mode. The grass needed cut, the vehicle needed to be unloaded, and it needed done NOW. It was steamy hot here in Ohio, and mowing our grass took a couple hours. Curtis, who by that time was my associate in getting the job done, and a great young man, decided that night to lounge in the A/C and not help. I went through the roof. He got a nice loud lecture from dear old dad, and he stomped outside and helped me finish. Later that night, I felt terrible. I went downstairs and apologized, and Curtis said, “Dad, sometimes you just try to do too much.” Yep. You hit the nail on the head, son. The next day on the calendar? Father’s Day. I didn’t feel like much of a father that night. But on Father’ Day, I got up and decided we would skip church and go to the lake, rent a canoe, and fish, just me and my two sons, the youngest of which traveled halfway around the globe to join us. And we created one of my best lifetime memories that day.
Jesus said, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” He got it right. It consists in the abundance of his relationships. And thanks to a couple of really difficult trips to China, we multiplied our relationships. I have believed for a long time that relationships are strengthened by shared experiences. Well, the trips to China allowed us to add rooms to our warehouse of shared experiences, and we learned that even struggling roses smell beautiful when you just take the time to stop and enjoy them. Looking back, I would do it all over again. Our home still would have had roses, but Caleb and Carter added two more roses to our already beautiful bouquet, and helped their dad learn to stop and enjoy the aroma of life abundant.