Guest Post: Lindner Family Adoption Story

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.

Watching planes at the airport

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.

Guest Post: Reed Cabin Restoration 2008-2019

*In this guest post, my good friend, Andrew Lloyd, gives us a glimpse into the history, motivations, and philosophy behind a decade-long restoration project. I’m privileged enough to get to spend time in this lovely place a couple of times per year and it has inspired me to consider my home and land carefully.

Every day in the late 80’s, I walked the sidewalk from the main Jackson High School building, past a mobile home that hosted a cutting-edge word-processing class, and into a very plain concrete building. There were a dozen large drafting tables inside that were manned by a dozen mullet clad students under the supervision of Mr. Sites, an old-school paddle-wielding teacher of mechanical drawing and architecture. The final exam for architecture was to build a model of the house we had spent all semester designing. Despite waiting until the last minute to finish it, I absolutely loved doing this. The designs weren’t really anything special, but the details in my models were amazing. I remember staying up all night with my dad, cutting black sandpaper into shingles, landscaping a pond filled with clear Jell-O, and making an electric meter to scale—similar to the ones Dad read as a meter reader when I was growing up. Something about surprising people with such small creative details gave me a huge rush of adrenaline.

At the same time, thirteen miles down a rural highway road from the school, the last known occupant of an old, dilapidated house had shut and locked its door, never to return. Its outside was covered in rolled asphalt siding that was supposed to look like brick; a thick cluster of vines had begun to work their way up the sides. Inside, there were six layers of wallpaper covered in soot. Worthless junk was everywhere though, unbeknownst to most, was intermingled with priceless treasures. Inside, there were over a hundred years of memories starting in the 1880’s when Philip Reed, my great-great grandfather, built the house that fourteen people once called home all at the same time. Inside, there were also the logs of a cabin that wasn’t ready to die.

Philip Reed

They say time flies when you are having fun. Nearly twenty years flew by – college, marriage, job, family, becoming a homeowner. I didn’t notice it at first, but my practicality had caused me to buy a house with no soul. I began to dream of not just a place with more character, but also of a creative outlet and the adult equivalent of that architecture model from high school. Most of those years were before there were good design ideas online so I collected books – about 60 books covering all styles from rustic to modern. I was particularly intrigued by one book called The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka which focused on quality over quantity and described ways to add comfort, beauty and inspiring detail to a home. I wasn’t sure what style of home or retreat I wanted yet, but I knew it would speak to the soul in the ways she described.

Time passed for the old Reed homestead too, but it wasn’t having as much fun. The vines engulfed the walls and infiltrated every crack much like the six-foot black snake we later found living in the wall. A storm blew off a corner of the roof and for years water leaked down one wall through a bedroom and living room taking its toll on the logs and floor. A white goat, appropriately named Billy, mercifully kept the high grass at bay, but could not keep the outhouse from nearly falling in the creek. The situation, quite literally, did not look good.

“They are going to burn the old homeplace down,” my dad called to tell me one summer day in 2005. A Reed cousin owned it and their intent was to eliminate the eye sore and make room for a new barn. Dad wanted to know if I’d help him tear it down and move all that was worth salvaging down the road nine miles to his farm. Now, most people would think this was a crazy idea, and well, they would be absolutely correct! However, in our case it was not without precedent. Twenty years prior, he meticulously tagged and moved three different 1800’s log structures, combining them into a home located just a few miles away. The result was gorgeous, but to say it was a huge amount of work would be an understatement. So, I did what any rational person would do and, along with my two brothers, agreed to help with the project.

Cousin Philip, who was named after the cabin patriarch, and his green John Deere tractor with two big protruding hay forks were a life and back saver. It was filthy work and we’d never been dirtier than we were that hot summer, sticky and covered in the dust of our ancestors. In all, we loaded over two hundred tagged logs, hundreds of mostly oak boards as wide as 24 inches, six amazing hand-made doors, hand-hewn foundation stones around which my 96 year old grandmother had crawled as a child, and well-worn green antique furniture onto an old hay wagon destined for a barn on dad’s farm.

While the work was noble, we were all glad to be done and more than happy to take a break – a three-year break to be exact. However, none of us were getting any younger, so in 2008 Dad offered me a plot of land to stand the cabin back up on and restore its family legacy. Enough time had passed that I’d forgotten how much work it was, so happily accepted. I had a design epiphany at work one day shortly afterward and left early to draw up plans for a three-year project that ended up being an amazing 11-year journey. The irony is not lost on me that I started this in my mid-thirties, the same age as my father and my great-great grandfather when they built their cabins. It must be that sweet spot between being young enough to have the energy to tackle it, but not yet wise enough to know better.

I ended up designing around many of the key concepts in Susanka’s “Not So Big House”. There is shelter around activity on the wrap around porch and fire ring. There are interior and diagonal views that make the small cabin feel bigger than it is. There are a variety of ceiling heights from the open gabled kitchen to the cozy living room with original exposed rafters. There are framed openings, honest materials, a light filled kitchen, repeating themes, built-ins, it’s rooted to the ground and more. To top it all off, just like my high school architecture model, there is detail everywhere – copper accents, well-lit antique bottles, restored newspaper articles found in the cabin, old floors as good as new and new floors as good as old.

I’m always happy to discuss the project, how we did certain things, or what we learned. Not all the learning was about the design or building, but much about ourselves and our family – past, present, and how it is helping to shape our future. It’s a place I’m proud of and I know my dad is proud of it as well. I like to think my great-great grandfather would be too, although I’m sure he’d wonder why we chose to invest so much in such a poor old house. Enjoy the Reed Cabin restored 2008-2019, but over a century in the making.

Review: A Place On Earth by Wendell Berry

*In this guest post, David J. Ballenger reviews Wendell Berry’s novel A Place on Earth. David is an author and happens to be my brother (don’t hold that against him, he’s suffered enough for it).

A Place on Earth begins with a group of men playing cards in the empty back room of Jasper Lanthrop’s empty store. Jasper, like many of the town’s young men, is off fighting in World War II. The war plays in the background of the novel; news from the European and Pacific theaters trickle in by way of radio broadcasts and letters from the front lines, but the town is always listening and waiting for news. While they listen and wait, life proceeds but always in the shadow of the absence of sons, brothers, nephews, and husbands.

Berry does not give the reader a romanticized pastoral setting in which to escape and feel better. He tells the story of a place. In this place there is suffering. A child dies in a flood and a man takes his own life. There is drunkenness and sloth. There are also moments of levity and there is plenty of love, love for people and this place.

Over the past month, most of us have been forced to stay at home, and some of us have found a new appreciation for our place and others are dying to get away, to get back out into the world. There is a mix of both in Port William as well. While a character like Jarret Coulter keeps his nose to the grindstone and his mouth firmly shut, his brother Burley finds time to seek out the companionship of friends and writes letters to his nephew Nathan. At their best, the characters in A Place on Earth cope with their losses and the cloud of an international crisis through work. Good work. Work that brings about new life and orderliness in this place. Celebration and death will come, but in the meantime, a supper needs to be cooked, a grave needs to be dug, a head needs to be barbered, a field needs to be plowed, and a lamb needs to be birthed.

In one of the final chapters of the book, family and friends sit in their home with the body of Ernest Finley. While a group of men sit on the porch, neighbors begin flooding from their doors celebrating the end of the war. The contrast between the two groups is representative of the novel. In the same place, there is a time for mourning and a time for celebration, and sometimes those overlap. However, they are all interconnected. The best of them know that what is good for their neighbor is good for them. It is the international crisis that is abstract and difficult to fathom. The crisis is not what defines them; they are defined by their work and their shared lives, their love for the place and the people there.

Surfing – Guest Post

*This is the first of what I hope to be a long running series of guest posts. My friend, Mark Carter, opens this series with a meditation on the healing power of water. Mark is co-owner of Zen Soul Balance in San Diego, California.

Ten years ago, I stepped into the liquid and was pushed into my first wave at a beach break in San Diego.  It took only one wave for this Indiana farm-boy to experience first-hand the sublime words of Jacques Cousteau: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

Duke Kahanamoku, Native Hawaiian, five-time Olympic medalist swimmer, and the father of modern-day surfing, once said, “Out of the water, I am nothing.”  Rather than being melodramatic, The Big Kahuna understood that water is the foundation of life and in a sense, he was right – we are nothing when water isn’t present.

The human body is comprised of 60-70% water by weight and over 90% water by molecule.  Dr. Wallace Jacobs, in his seminal work, Blue Mind, reminds us that “the human body as a whole is almost the same density as water [and] in its mineral composition, the water in our cells is comparable to that found in the sea.” 

Our planet, which is covered in 70% water (96% of it saline), should not be called Earth, writes Arthur C. Clarke, but rather should be called Ocean. Over half a billion people owe their livelihood directly to water-based industries, with 80% of the world’s population living within sixty miles of coastline, rivers and lakes.  W.H. Auden was right, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

I am happy in the brine; surfing 7-days week during the summer and 3-5 days a week in the winter.  Each time I paddle out I engage with the primordial force of creation, sometimes lulled by its playful undulations and other times, scared shitless at its raw and relentless power.  Surfing is a kaleidoscope of emotion and experience.  It links you to the nostalgia of heroes and legends like Miki Dora, Dale Velzy, Hap Jacobs, Greg Noll, and Skip Frye, while allowing you to draw your own lines, your own style, your own legacy.

Surfing is a spiritual act of transcendence and immanence.  It is being surrounded, immersed and grounded in the here and now.  It’s the playful innocence of kids draining the last bit of light from an endless summer.  It’s the act of conversation with friend, landscape and ocean-life.  It’s the practice of patience and gratitude, riding only the waves that wind and sea serendipitously offer.  It is the Aloha-spirit. 

Phil Edwards, 1960’s surfing icon, once said, “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.”  I think that pretty much sums it up.

photo credential:

A little help from my friends

Friendship has been one of the enduring values of my life. From middle/high school to college to grad school and on into my professional career, I’ve been privileged with deep and impacting friendships. I can trace three of these relationships all the way back to the 8th grade (1985 or so – our lives were much like an episode of Stranger Things).

These people have wide ranging interests and opinions. I’ve not made a friend yet with whom I agree in total. Some of my friends disagree with me significantly in areas like education, the arts, religion, politics, use of technology, and so on. Their interests, passions, and (yes) even their opposing opinions have been deeply important and generative for my life. All the varying perspectives have expanded my capacity to think and imagine and act in the world.

The poet Christian Wiman has said, “…we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.” I think we can make the claim that friendship, at its best, helps us to live more fully. At the least, I can make that claim for myself.

All of that to say that I’ve started to ask some of my friends to guest post here from time to time. In the spirit of knowing What Work Is, I’m asking them to post about things they find admirable, interesting, life giving, and worthy of their affection. The posts will cover a wide range of topics: film, home design, theology, music, community involvement, surfing, and much more.