This has been one of the most emotional blog posts I never intended to write.
Today, my eldest son, my firstborn, my namesake and first heir to the Spencer fortune (yeah, I couldn't write it with a straight face, either), moved into a group home in Federal Way, Washington.
This was the culmination of a process that began when Tim was 6 months old. He wasn't doing "stuff" a "normal" baby should do. He couldn't hold himself in a sitting position. He would roll over from front to back, but not back to front. In fact, he was probably 7 or 8 before he would lift his head first when getting up from a prone position. A few months of doctors, first reassuring us that he was just "a late bloomer," "some kids are slower," "he's fine," then, after we put our foot down, months of tests diagnosed him with Hypotonia ($1,000 word for weak muscles) and Developmental Delay. It's been easier all these years to just say he has Cerebral Palsy. No one asks for more of an explanation.
He didn't crawl until he was three, and only then to try to keep up with his little sister, Elizabeth, born 22 months after Tim. He's had very loose joints and no muscle tone his whole life. As he's gotten taller but without additional bulk, he began to suffer dislocations far too easily. But he's a stubborn one. He won't leave any kind of bandage, brace, or wrap alone if he can get at it. He's had at least $100,000 of surgeries, almost all of which were performed at no cost to us by Shriner's Hospitals for Children. We were told "he will never walk, get him his first wheelchair." Notice that: his first wheelchair, the first of a lifelong series of them. We refused. "He'll never talk." Well, I'm happy to say, he has about a 75-100 word vocabulary. He pronounces almost nothing correctly, but he uses the sounds consistently and can usually make himself understood.
He is one big bag full of simple pleasures. The pride at introducing everyone to his "Shirt!" He claps and laughs when you say "pants" after he introduces them. A bag of chips and a favorite DVD and he'll watch the same one 5 times a day. He can play "peek-a-boo" for hours.
He can also be more difficult to manage. He gets frustrated easily, doesn't like being told no, and has gotten increasingly combative. He is poorly coordinated, but can land a hard blow when he wants to. If you get control of his hands, he'll headbutt you. I once spent nine days with him at Shriner's in St Louis dealing with a post op infection. Every morning, they wheeled him downstairs, cut the casts off both feet, cleaned the wound, and re-casted him. Every morning, he fought like a tiger when coming out of anesthesia. That nine days, just me and him, are some of my fondest memories of him.
Yet it became increasingly unsafe in the home, for my other two children as well as Tim, and my ex-wife. As he grew harder to handle, it placed a strain on the whole family. Until we finally said "enough." I love Tim with all my heart. But I love Elizabeth and William, too. We had to think about everyone's best interests, not just Tim's. Today was the result of many hours and weeks and months of work, mostly by my ex.
It's sad, even sadder than I expected. But I choose to look at it this way: He can get more focused attention where he is now. This is the goal we've had for him ever since we got his diagnosis; that he'd develop enough to have some sort of life of his own. He beat their predictions by light years. His new home gives him the opportunity to expand his abilities, not just manage his disabilities. This is his way of "going off to college," or "getting a job and an apartment." In fact, it's better than going to college, because he's not going 2,000 miles away, we'll still see him.
This is not an ending, it is a beginning, for him as well as all of us.
So why the "Mephibosheth" tie-in? Admittedly, it's a little over the top. Tim's new home is fine, but it's hardly the King's palace and the royal dinner table. And yet, in some ways, it fits.
Mephibosheth was one of the sons of Jonathan, son of Israel's "king," Saul, and like a brother to God's anointed king, David. When Saul was slain and David took his rightful place on the throne, he wanted a way to honor the commitment Jonathan had made to David; to remember Jonathan's unshakable loyalty, loyalty that cost him dearly as Saul became increasingly mad with jealousy and rage over David:
David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” “At your service,” he replied. The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.” “Where is he?” the king asked. Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.” So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel. When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied. “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table. ” Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. 10 You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s[a] table like one of the king’s sons. Mephibosheth had a young son named Mika, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet."Don't rush past that last line. I've seen this passage for YEARS, and never til today made the connection with Tim. "He was lame in both feet." Years earlier as a child of 5, when Saul and Jonathan were slain, his nurse had taken him in her arms and fled the household, for fear of the king's enemies. She stumbled, and evidently the boy suffered some crippling injury. But what scarred him for life became nothing more than a footnote when the King showed him mercy.
Here is how Charles Swindoll describes it,
“The dinner bell rings throughout the palace and David comes to the head of the table.
Then Amnon-clever, crafty, Amnon-sits to David’s left.
Then lovely and gracious Tamar, David’s bright and beautiful daughter sits next to Amnon.
Then the brilliant, preoccupied, Solomon, the heir apparent, just coming from the library, perhaps even with his nose in a book, and sits at the table.
Next is Absalom-handsome, winsome Absalom with long flowing black hair down to his shoulders.
They all wait and finally hear the shuffling of feet and the clump, clump, clump of crutches.
Mephibosheth awkwardly finds his place at the table and slips into his seat.
His feet disappear.
They’re covered by the tablecloth."