“When you are told that your child is sick, shock is the first reaction…Next comes numbness. Right on top of that is anger and fear. One day, your biggest worry is the car payment, and the next day your child is fighting for her life. It is an awful, helpless feeling. The last year and a half, we’ve been fighting this thing and now we’re at Give Kids the World. Yesterday, I saw my daughter hugging Mickey Mouse and the tears just came.” – Father of a daughter with a brain tumor, Gift of Life
One of the much-repeated mantras at GKTW Village is that here the children can have ice cream for breakfast!! Having anticipated this fun treat for many months, we strolled down moss-lined streets toward the Ice Cream Palace on our second morning of Mercy’s Wish Vacation. We knew we could count on her morning seizures to be low, thanks to the rescue meds we’d had to administer the previous morning (here), and were determined to relax and explore. Mercy wanted a dairy-free ice cream shake, but while the Palace carried dairy free ice cream, there was no dairy-free milk. A volunteer immediately ran to the Gingerbread House (the Village cafeteria) to find soy milk for Mercy (GKTW Volunteer Angels do whatever is in their power to make the wish kids’ dreams come true), and our yummy shakes were blended and devoured!
Next, we strolled to the Gingerbread House for “real breakfast”, and on our way in, realized there were Disney characters visiting the children and signing autographs in the Hoppening Place. (The Hoppening Place is a large banquet-style room with a stage, used for meet and greets and large indoor events at GKTW Village and attached to the Gingerbread House.) Dan went to load our trays with gluten free waffles, eggs and bacon, while I took the children to meet Mary Poppins, Mickey Mouse, and Pluto. Having forgotten our homemade autograph books at the Villa, GKTW Angels scrounged paper scraps and napkins for the characters to sign for my children, while another volunteer photographed their meets, and a third volunteer took video of the children’s encounters on my phone. Pluto’s leg beat the ground wildly as the kids scratched his nose. Mary Poppins wore her beautiful white dress, carried her magical parrot umbrella, and spoke in her cultured English accent while posing primly, and Mickey Mouse hugged Mercy through her morning seizures waiting for them to pass and posing for big-smiled pictures. Pierson continued to feel intimidated by the characters, and clung to me, but Mercy dove right into hugs and conversations with them enthusiastically.
After eating our freshly made waffles at a child-sized table with embedded candy in it’s top, while surrounded by hundreds of toys on display at the Gingerbread House, we walked down the Avenue of Angels, crossed a small bridge, and opened the wide door for our first family visit to the Castle of Miracles. The castle’s knight greeted us, and it was time for Mercy to make a gripping life memory: creating her own star. Every Wish Child who comes to the Village is given a golden, sparkling star. The children decorate their stars, Stellar the Star fairy magically appears to take it away, and later in the week, the wish child can return to be shown where, amongst the hundreds of “galaxies” and thousands and thousands of stars, their own star has been given a home on the Castle ceiling.
While there are magical wishing wells, craft tables, talking trees that make each child a small pillow souvenir, and little fairy caves to explore inside the Castle, the feature which brings tears to every parent’s eyes is the stars that cover every surface above their heads. Knowing that all of the children represented by these stars fought life-threatening illness (some winning and many losing their battles) against epilepsy, cancer, down syndrome, AIDS, tumors, heart diseases, genetic disorders, etc, it is impossible not to let tears flow realizing your child’s name is joining this mighty, sparkling army of memorials to precious lives altered through childhood suffering.
I am sure Mercy did not completely grasp the momentousness of the moment, because she was enthralled by the enchanted fairy, wishing at a well that spoke to her, and waiting for a tree to gift her with a pillow. Pierson was only too happy to join in. And, that is how it should have been.
But Dan and I wiped away tears walking from room to room. We knew the meaning behind those stars. We craned our necks to soak them all in as we prayed for the children and their families, passing other parents doing the same. Then, before we were ready, we were looking back down at our living stars, the glowing children God had gifted to us, Castle explored, begging to go ride the carousel. Our special little girl’s mission was complete: Our child’s star headed home to rest amongst thousands of others.
Prayers for a miracle raised by their parents for each one.