Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Some Things Turn Out Differently Than You Might Expect

I guess that's one of the strongest learnings I have had as an adoptive parent. Because I am not a parent by birth I do not know if this is a similar experience, but I suspect that it is. I have listened to many parents by birth who speak of their children -- emerging from the same womb with the same DNA properties -- in this way. There is often surprise that given nearly identical origins (and I know that can be argued from a philosophical standpoint, because no two people truly have the exact same experiences in life), children can grow up to be so different from one another.

If you read my wife's blog you know that I am away this week on a personal vacation. I am in Old Dominion, the State of Virginia, where I am enjoying the historical sites (and there are many, many historical sites in this state which date back to the founding of Jamestown in 1607) and where tomorrow I will attend a genealogy conference. I have never taken a trip quite like this before, one that has no apparent "business" (read that church-related) or "family" (read that adoption-related) purpose. I have already had a remarkable two days, and I am expecting more intellectual stimulation before my return home in a few days.

In any case, I have most recently (today, in fact) been struck by two very interesting anomalies.

Anomaly #1: Thomas Jefferson. I spent a glorious morning at Monticello, where I had some time to wander by myself and explore this most interesting haven of our third president. I began my time at the cemetery (which seems ghoulish until you consider my genealogical propensities as well as my pastoral familiarity with cemeteries) in which Jefferson and a number of his descendants are buried. Jefferson, you may remember, defended the proposition that church and state must be separate. He was an acknowledged critic of institutional religion, and had little time for those who proposed that Christ was more than a good human teacher. (In fact, "the Jefferson Bible" was his attempt to excise from the New Testament all but those texts he felt appropriate; in effect he removed anything which made claims for Jesus Christ being divine). He spoke in Deistic terms (as many of the founding fathers) of a malevolent presence in the universe, but he was decidedly not an "orthodox Christian." His tombstone, in fact, records what he considered to be his most significant exploits:

"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the declaration of American independence, of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia. Born April 2, 1743 O.S. Died July 4, 1826."

Here's the anomaly ... in his life Jefferson could not accept statements about the distinctiveness of Jesus Christ, yet in his death he is winged with crosses on at least three visible stones nearby. Immediately to the left of Jefferson's burial site is his grandson, George Wythe Randolph (born March 18, 1818; died April 3, 1867). Prominently displayed on the stone are these words of resurrection promise from the New Testament: "And the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise incorruptible"! Among other citations on nearby stones: "In the sure hope of certain resurrection," "the Lord knoweth them that are his," "her children rise up and call her blessed." Some things turn out differently than you might expect.

Anomaly #2: James Madison. And then there's James Madison who had no birth children with Dolley (who had been widowed). She brought one child into their relationship. Madison, of course, is the Father of Constitution, one of the most venerable characters of the Revolutionary period. His work in recording the daily proceedings of those debating the merits of the constitution stand as historical testimony to his interest in future generations. Dolley was the one who saved important White House documents during the British burning of Washington in the War of 1812. She was recognized before, during and after her husband's two terms as president as one of the foremost hostesses Washington had ever seen. Her funeral, it is said, drew more people than any previous funerals in the capital city. One would expect that their son would follow in his parents' footsteps, offering himself for public service, distinguishing himself in his country's service. Instead he died a dissolute man, his life debauched with addiction, gambling and failure. Some things turn out differently than you might expect.

And so, if Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had posthumous surprises, I guess those of us living in the real world parenting children with challenges shouldn't be so surprised either. For better or for worse.

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