Friday, January 01, 2016

Heredity or Environment?

Since my educational background is in psychology, sociology and counseling, I have been learning about this debate for decades.   And as adoptive parents it has always been something Bart and I have discussed.  We began our journey believing strongly that environment shaped kids -- in fact, this theory is one of the reasons we began to be foster parents.  We were going to bring in children who may not have great heredity and were in a bad environment, and suddenly we were going to "fix" them.  That didn't work out quite as planned.  :-)

We have been quite interested though, now that are children are adults and some have reconnected with birth family, to see the characteristics they share in common with their biological relatives.  Whether it is sharing physical traits or a connected belief that guns and mudding would be fun (when Bart and I never have thought either of those things are attractive), there are definite connections that heredity produces.  So is it entirely heredity that shapes us?  Or entirely environment?  Or a bit of both?  The answer for me changes on a case by case basis.

Today the question I am asking is with my own situation in mind.  Is it heredity or environment that has led me towards this bold decision to leave everything I know and love to come to a place where I know NOBODY.

Bart and I are unique in our family because we are the only ones who only have one set of parents.  When one of my sons was about five he asked me who my birthmom was.  He was quite shocked when I explained to him that most people only had one mom.   So those of us with only one set of parents who gave birth to us and who raised us have real difficulty in determining if something is heredity or environment.

Let me tell you about my parents (both pictured above with my husband about 6 months before my dad passed away and my mom with a couple of my grandkids).

When my mom was 13 and my dad was 20, he came to work for her father. My mom was lying in bed, as it was fairly late in the evening, but she could see my dad and his buddy through a crack in the door. Two thoughts crossed her mind, ”That man needs a haircut“ and ”I’m going to marry him someday.“   

It was also during those teenage years she first felt that God was calling her to work with the Navajo Indians. She dreamed of being a teacher. But each day she did what she believed God was calling her to do, even though getting married and being a missionary seemed to be more her dream than God's plan.

She went to a Bible school after high school that did not give degrees. She then served God through her church for years, working and living in a “deaconess” home as a single woman believing God had called her to be single. But by the time she was 33, she got God's green light and she was able to marry him.  She then gave birth to three kids and began a day care so she could stay home with us where she (and we) loved an extra 6 kids a day (with only 2 under 2). When we were all school age she got a job as a paraprofessional in our elementary school where she stayed for many years.  My dad pastored a church during that time as well until he retired.  
In 1992 she and my father went with their church in Denver to Sun Valley Indian School on a “Work and Witness Team.” They fell in love with the place and six weeks later moved (at the ages of 70 and 63) to volunteer their time. My mom did the laundry for 150 kids for 40 hours a week. They ended up selling their home in Denver and buying a double wide trailer so that they could work at the school as long as possible. After about three years of laundry, and at the age of 66, my mom told the administration that her back was getting too bad to hang out and fold clothes. She asked if there was something else she might be able to do.

At that time she was asked if she might like to teach. Since the school does not require a college degree, she would be able to do so there. A pre-first position was open, and she accepted it. So, at the age of 66 she began to work as a teacher to the Navajo (and other Native American) children. Her goal was to teach until she was 80 but she didn't quite make it because the year she was 79 they didn't have any kids that age at the school so she retired.   She began to live her dream at the age of 66.

My life is what it is today because my parents chose to do what God called them to do every day and leave the results with Him. If they would have done things differently or gotten in a hurry, life could be very different for me. For one thing, had they married out of high school, I would be over 70. No thank you. Also, had my mom decided that she needed to go to college instead of be home with us, the attention we received may not have been enough to give me the strong base I have. Or had she not done Day Care, I wouldn’t know it was possible for so many kids to be under the same roof peacefully for hours at a time.  

Fast forward a few years and my dear dad has gone to be with Jesus.  He entered heaven in May of 2013 and my mom joined us in Minnesota.  She is a constant inspiration to me.  I have loved seeing her at least weekly for the past two and a half years.

So when the email came in October out of the blue asking me to apply for a position at a place I had never heard of in Virginia, it didn't take my mom long to get on board.  At first she was worried I would ask her to move with us and she is very happy, at 86, in her assisted living facility.  But once she knew she could stay she was all for it.   "We settled this at your dedication when you were a baby" she said.

She really couldn't say much though -- because she knows that this is her fault.... she raised me to be a believer in a big God who calls us to do things people don't understand.   She sold my childhood home at the age of 63 after all and moved across the country.

Many people do not understand my choice to leave a job I loved dearly or to leave my grandkids or children or to leave my mom.   Some see it as selfish.  Others see it as me having gone completely nuts.  And others simply don't get it.   But the few who knew my parents well completely understand.  I was taught that when an opportunity comes my way I should walk through open doors until they shut.  And as my mom has said often the past two months, "the doors God has in front of you must be automatic they are opening so quickly!"

So the answer to my question about heredity or environment today my answer is "I don't know."  I do know that I have inherited genes that allow me to see possibility and to love change and to not fear the future.  I have been taught to have a faith that breaks the rules of society.  I have grown up in a home where following Jesus wherever He leads is the only thing that makes sense.

It is my current prayer that all of us can teach these concepts to our children whether or not they are our children by birth, by adoption, or even on a temporary basis as we care for them.   Because grasping that truth transforms lives and makes life a great adventure.

My theme song for this journey of decision the past three months has been "Beyond Me" by Toby Mac.  I leave you with these words in closing this quite lengthy post:

Anything that I got the strength to doIn over my head keeps me countin' on YouI'm leaving the sweet spot, sure shotTradin' it all for the plans You gotIs it so crazy to believe... 
That You gave me the stars put them out of my reachCalled me to waters a little too deepOh, I've never been so aware of my needYou keep on making me seeIt's way beyond me

You take me to the place where I know I need YouStraight to the depths that I can't handle on my ownAnd the Lord I know, I know I need YouSo take me to Your great …Take me to Your great unknown

(this post was copied from a blog that I had originally started in January 2016 called the Next Chapter.  It only lasted a few weeks, so I decided to transfer it's contents here so I would have everything in one place.)

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