“To watch those you love in pain is unbearable…parents of suffering children prayed that God spare their children and give them the burden to carry instead. Please God…let it be me, not my children!” – Henri Landwirth, Gift of Life
Loving parents of all children understand the heart expressed in this quote. Parents of ill children live this prayer. It was during that first meal in our Villa at Give Kids the World Village (GKTW) that we realized our son, Pierson, was sick. He had a temperature of 102 degrees and wasn’t eating. My heart sank. Of all of the places I would NOT choose to bring a sick toddler, it was into the miracle-village set aside for children already fighting life-threatening disease. Pierson’s illness was a complete surprise to us. Dan ran out to Walmart for medicine. I popped PJ in a lukewarm bath, where he perked right up and began playing with bubbles. I ran around our Villa, wildly unpacking. Mercy ran anxious circles around me, wondering if we’d be able to explore the Village that night, now that PJ was sick.
When Dan returned, he graciously offered to stay in with PJ, so I could take Mercy out to explore. Mercy and I washed thoroughly, lathered up in antibacterial, and set out. I began walking prayers that would continue throughout the week. “Please Lord, don’t let us be carrying whatever PJ has. Please don’t let us share any illness with any sick child here. Please heal PJ quickly. Please protect Mercy from this illness.” A parent of a child fighting life-threatening disease, I knew the terror of coming into contact with another coughing/sneezing/snotting child. What is an inconvenience to a parent of an otherwise healthy child is the stuff nightmares are made of to a parent of a child already battling disease.
As soon as Mercy and I walked into the Amberville arcade, I knew I wasn’t overreacting in my concern. There, a father watching over his five year old son struck up a conversation with me. His son was battling leukemia, he explained, though the child’s bald head had already announced his probable cancer status. Father to two other children, one an infant, he shrugged his shoulders at my comment over how busy their family must be and, remembering my comments about my toddler son, he said, “We’re keeping things real. You know how it is.” Yes, I knew what he meant, and I did know how it was. Our children battled different enemies, but I knew what it meant to chase doctors, appointments, tests, hospitals, and to still be chasing diapers, strollers, and toddler catastrophes all in a day’s work. And, that was one of the miracles of this Village: with little time to connect, this parent and I had formed a quick bond. This was an experience we’d repeat several times over before we left.
For instance, later that same night, Mercy and I met a family of five from the Middle East. Their six year old son was battling a different form of cancer, and had recently received what they hoped would be a life-saving bone marrow transplant from their oldest, teenaged son: their donor and hero. “Our sick child gets an ice cream cone, and our donor gets two”, joked the father. Mom laughed, but I could see the living prayer in her eyes: she would have rather been the one ill, or the donor herself, than to have watched her children endure this suffering. Omar, the sick child, wore a surgical face mask, in between licks on his ice cream cone, “because we still are nervous about him being out around anyone who may cough”, explained the dad. While they waited to find out whether Omar would successfully circumvent graft versus host issues, they were fitting in his Wish Vacation, believing his complete healing was around the corner. We clicked with this family of different heritage and faith immediately. They’d experienced the bond that grows naturally when family life becomes hinged upon the wellness of one child. They understood how pain and hope marry.
That first night, Mercy and I explored as much of the Village as we could, lit up in the darkness. It was truly magical: a child-sized garden and hidden mini house, home to life-sized rabbits – Mr. and Mrs. Clayton – the Village mascots; a magical night time carousel ride on a two-seated rooster; dairy-free ice cream bowls, while sitting inside of giant ice-cream bowl seats outside the parlor; a snack cart whose driver stopped to inquire whether we’d like some milk, lemonade or cookies; remote controlled boats; a model train set the size of our living room at home; arcade games; a rideable train; and more. I cherish the memory of this mother-daughter experience as one of the most special of nights. In the model train room, I walked to the door to see what new wonders might be outside for us to explore together. A minute or so later, I heard Mercy’s anguished, fear-filled cry, “Mooommmy?!”. She’d had an extended absence seizure, standing in the middle of the train room. Incontinence took hold during her seizing and she had just regained consciousness confused, embarrassed, weak and wet.
I ran to her, scooped her up in my arms, entered the bathroom and put her down gently. She was crying. As I helped her onto the toilet and out of her wet jeans and undies, I told her how much I loved her, and how proud I am of her. She rallied quickly as a new, comforting thought occurred to her. “You know what, Mommy? I bet no one here (at the Village) is surprised by this kind of thing! I bet they’re used to helping sick kids. I bet no one is upset. I’m not going to be embarrassed this time.” And, she wasn’t. I dried her jeans as best I could, packed away her wet underclothes, helped her with her new underdressing, and had a trolley called to take us home.
Because that’s how we rolled, in the Village.