Today is Robbie’s thirty-fifth birthday! It is always a happy day for us—and a little bit sad, as well. Happy because we are so grateful to have our precious Robbie as our son; so glad to celebrate another birthday with him; so tickled at his excitement when he pulls the tissue paper out of a gift bag and peeks inside. A little sad when I shop for his gifts among the baby and toddler toys and know that there are very few things even there that he can do; feeling bad that he can’t have a birthday cake and candles since he can’t eat food by mouth anymore; melancholy knowing there probably aren’t too many more birthdays ahead.
We’ve sung “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to him already this morning (he doesn’t like the Happy Birthday song) and he opened one of his gifts (a Barney DVD and two children’s CDs.) Laurie and Julie and their families are planning to Skype with him this afternoon, and he will open his present from the Naranjos while they are on Skype. Julie’s family is coming next weekend to celebrate his and Benjamin’s birthdays together in person, the Lord willing. We’ll just spread the joy out a little!
Thirty-five years ago today, though, we didn’t even know Robbie existed or that our lives were about to change in a dramatic way. It was actually Valentine’s Day, 1976 when we received that little bundle of love wrapped up in blue. Robbie came to us straight out of the hospital—eight days old with a little round face that was definitely all boy! His single birth mother had a severe form of epilepsy and could barely take care of herself, let alone a baby, and so she had given him up for adoption. Although we had taken him as a foster baby, we knew immediately the Lord intended him for our family and applied to adopt him.
“What would you do,” we were asked during the following interviews, “if you found out he was handicapped?” We knew there was a good chance he could have epilepsy, but whether they suspected there might be other handicaps, no one ever said.
“The same thing we would do with our natural-born child—we would do our best with God’s help, day by day trusting Him,” we answered. “You don’t try to give the baby back!”
There were other handicaps. By the time Robbie was a year old we discovered he had suffered extensive brain damage before birth and was severely mentally retarded. He had inherited his birth mother’s epilepsy in its most severe form called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome which, although we did not know it at the time, continued to do more brain damage. He functioned at a two or three year old level, although he never talked or became toilet-trained. Through the years he went to special schools or special classes within the school system, and as an adult attended a workshop setting, although he could not actually work. In 2001, the day after Robbie’s 25th birthday—exactly ten years ago tomorrow—he suffered a medical crisis that suddenly began the physical downward spiral that left him the way he is today—with cerebral palsy, unable to stand or walk, tube-fed, and even more mentally disabled than he was before. He now functions at an infant to one year level, bedridden and homebound, unable to even tolerate being in a wheelchair long enough to get him out of the house much.
We could never have asked for a more beautiful, precious gift in this life than our Robbie. We are aghast when we hear some protest, “ But what value does such a life have? What can he contribute? He is a drain on society!” There is purpose to his life. His life has been a picture to us of the unconditional love and acceptance of the Lord Himself, for Robbie does not see the color of one’s skin, one’s status, wealth, cleanliness or talent—or lack thereof. He simply loves each person with whom he comes in contact just as he or she is. Over and over through the years we have had people tell us that knowing Robbie has been a blessing in their lives, and we have seen for ourselves how God has used him to soften hardened hearts for Him.
The Lord has used Robbie to teach us to be better servants—to be more compassionate, more humble, more giving; to be better counselors and encouragers. Having Robbie for their brother prepared our girls to be the nurturing, loving, responsible, beautiful women they are today who are being used mightily by the Lord in the many lives they touch. The joy and laughter, inspiration and blessing Robbie has brought into our lives have far, far outweighed the burdens, and we thank God for the precious gift, the privilege and honor to be chosen to be his parents.
The gift of life comes from God, and He makes no mistakes. The Bible tells us that before we were even in the womb He had a plan for each one of us. Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart… (Jeremiah 1:5) Then He Himself fashioned us in the womb exactly the way He wanted us. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13) He lovingly designed Robbie, making him unique and special and perfect for the plan He had for him. How can we then not accept and love and value him just the way he is?
Jesus said in Matthew 25:34-40, Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. If anyone is among “the least of these” in the eyes of the world, it is Robbie. By society’s standards, he has nothing material to offer, no contributions to make that can be measured in dollars and cents. Jesus likened him to Himself, however, when He said that when we show compassion upon Robbie and others like him, it is as if we are doing it unto Him, the precious Son of God. How much more valuable can that be?
Life is precious. Each life is precious regardless of how it appears to our human eyes, designed to bring glory to God. Those who would abort a less than “perfect” baby, or remove the feeding tube from a disabled person, or even simply mock the handicapped person in their class or neighborhood or workplace think they know better than God the worth of that human life. The lives of even “the least of these” should be honored, respected, valued, cared for as if we are loving Jesus Himself for He tells us that, indeed, that is exactly what we are doing. What a privilege and joy and blessing to serve Him in that way!
I always think of Robbie’s birth mother on this day. I wonder if she is still alive, and if she is, if she is thinking of him today. She was in her early thirties when she had him, we were told, so she would be in her late sixties now, and with the severity of her epilepsy, she may already have passed on. Someday in Heaven I hope I will meet her and be able to thank her for making the selfless decision to give birth to that precious baby, and then give him up so that we could have him. Today is a celebration of that day, a celebration of Robbie—a celebration of life.