“Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make”
– “A Million Dreams” by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Our daughter’s Make-A-Wish trip was ending. Today was the day we’d pack up our donated van, board our donated flight back to our home state, and ride (hopefully) in a promised, donated limosine to our house. We’d wake up tomorrow, all the sparkles, snow, dreams, dances, hugs, golden stars, endless food, fantastic rides, games and play relegated to crystalized, if dulled with time, memories in our minds. My heart was both sad and lightened as I quietly closed the door to the blue villa we’d called home, careful not to wake sleeping children, and strolled solo through the early morning towards the House of Hearts to complete the check-out paperwork.
It was a gorgeous day, sunlight spilling through the leaves and southern moss hanging low, shadowing the sidewalk like a shy teenager shields her eyes with hair. I didn’t want to leave, but knew simultaneously that it was time. As I rounded the corner, volunteers were already working hard putting finishing touches on the brand new apartment-style, multi-leveled building behind our Villa: Banyan Park Villa. Next month, it would welcome it’s first batch of Wish children and their families to begin a journey of their own. I was thankful to have been on the receiving end of this miracle and wondered what the new families would experience, as I prayed God would let us come back one day to be on the giving end of someone else’s wish week too. At the House of Hearts, my tired-but-content smile introduced me to the front desk clerk as I explained I was here to check the Armstrong family out of Villa 118.
“Do you have a minute to talk? What time does your flight leave?”, the volunteer Angel asked.
We settled ourselves at a table positioned underneath a life-sized hot air balloon replica, a fluffy cloud-encased sky painted just above it to simulate the feeling of floating through the air in a basket beneath. Because every final Wish Trip conversation in the Village should be as airborne as the hope they intended to gift each suffering family. My volunteer Angel heaved a substantial folder onto the table and slid it between us, resting her hands on top. “How was your week?”, she leaned in and asked innocently. I smiled, meeting her gaze. I could tell that this intuitive and experienced Village Angel really already knew the answer to her own question.
“Well, my daughter cried herself to sleep last night, and my young son fake cried along with her. They don’t want to leave the Village. How can we blame them? Mercy said she felt like she belonged here, like she was a normal kid, not different from the others anymore. She wants to know if you’ll let her come back to volunteer, even though she’s under-aged?”
“We have a special program for Wish children who want to return and volunteer”, she answered beaming a thousand-watt grin.
“Of course they do“, I thought.
“Let me walk through this packet with you and I’ll explain more”, she said kindly as she began to unload the contents of our exit folder. Inside were the CD’s the tech department had made, compiling all of the photos from our phones and all of the videos we’d taken on the video camera they’d loaned us for the week. A digital copy of the Memory Movie we’d made last night sat on top. There were release papers to sign and initial. And, there were two, final, amazing, generous gifts: In association with IAPPA, they were issuing our family a pass to any participating amusement park or museum that we could get ourselves to in the next year. Any and as many. And, our Wish Child could return to the Village to visit every year for the rest of her life. I cried and and the Angel cried with me, as we hugged goodbye.
As I walked down that sidewalk, alone in the miracle Village we were preparing to leave, the brightest Floridian sun rays warmed me, like an extended bear hug from God as tears silently rolled down my cheeks. A million joyful thoughts gushed rivers through my mind. Memories of my child dancing in the snow and singing with a choir the night before; of my son bare-bummed and us all crying until our guts ached in a parking lot; sparkling hugs from a green-leaf-clad fairy and tickles from a honey-yellow bear; a ‘Music Man’ apprentice ‘selling’ his light up toys and a happy little accident turned into a treasured life memory; a bibbidy boppity boo transformation for both princess and family; ice cream palaces with allergen-free shakes, and singing ourselves to sleep with a life-size bunny; sunny skies, aqautic animals, splash zones, talented performers, musicals and plays. And, above all were memories of the faces of the people who’d blessed our week: winking airline attendants; volunteer angels in the kitchen; senior citizens delivering cookies and milk on carts; men driving jingling trolleys; my husband feverishly taking videos; Disney cast members delivering behind-the-scenes Genie Pass magic; Sea World stingray trainers orchestrating dolphin kisses; a teacher shouting blessings from God as we parted through crowds and a man with a trading pin book as open as his heart; and GKTW Village volunteer chefs delivering allergen-free meals like clockwork. My heart also embraced a thousand donors and volunteers we’d never get a chance to meet who’d provided the tools to plant thousands of smiles on my children’s faces that week.
Other memories, too, vied for equal billing in the replay reel fast-forwarding through my mind: my daughter curled into a ball on the carpet in our villa seizing non-stop and crying out in fear; me wrestling medication into her, both of us sweating; sleepless nights where tears rolled down my cheeks; my son’s fever and then his confused clinging to parents through the day that epilepsy stole as he watched the suffering; of my husband rushing back with meals to dump on the counter before he ran to his children to see how they were faring. There were memories of a bald little boy playing video games in Amberville, and Omar’s family hiding their pain through licks of ice cream. The girl in her wheelchair at the Gingerbread House and her parents’ tired eyes. Another Wish family exiting a Disney meet-and-greet with us, their non-communicative Wish Child lying in a gurney-style wheelchair. A father in the Castle of Miracles whispering a prayer over his son. A girl with Down Syndrome singing and dancing her way through a Christmas carol as tears rolled down her parents’ cheeks. An impatient dad in an airport who had so much more than he took time to appreciate. A worn-out mother who couldn’t see past her own situation in a long line. And, a populate mourning an election result they couldn’t control.
Swirling memories: good and bad, terrifying and precious, beautiful and ugly, bitter and sweet, heart-breaking and heart-warming. And, as they volleyed for attention, crashing into each other like waves on the sandy shoreline in my brain, I suddenly stopped still on the empty walkway. On impulse, I spread my arms wide, and began to twirl slowly, facing the perfect blue sky in our miracle Village, a prayer bursting from my heart to my Lord’s. “Oh Lord, they tried. They really tried! And they succeeded, didn’t they?! These people, Henri Landwirth’s dream, the dreams of all those who joined his to make this miracle week a reality for our us: their hard work fastened like wings to the body of their vision and love for suffering children. A million people and their dreams…and look at the world they made!”
“But, at the same time, it’s marred, isn’t it, Lord? The very best we can do is to ease the pain temporarily. Our best attainable dream is to mitigate suffering. Though we fight for cures, only You heal completely: body, mind and soul. Our best is a band-aid. Your best is total redemption. You are everything good.”
I stopped and closed my eyes, realizing the irreplaceable memories we’d made here in this Miracle Village and at this Magic Kingdom were only the palest of precursors to THE Real Miracle Kingdom. Not Henri’s dream, but Jesus’s. And where Henri’s power, and that of the volunteers and mine as a mother were limited at best: His. Was. Limitless. Where Henri’s dream had physical borders and time constraints, God’s would be world-encompassing and eternal. Where our love and endurance waned and tired, Jesus’s would never get so much as a miniscule cramp.
I’ll never forget the tears in my husband’s eyes as I showed him our exit packet. I’ll never forget my daughter’s joy when she was invited up to the cock-pit to sit in the pilot’s seat, after our flight home landed, to earn her honorary wings. I’ll never forget my small son climbing over the threshold of the limosine that DID, in fact, show up to drive us home, then roll and giggle through it’s stretchy interior as we laughed under the flourescent neon lights on the familiar roads home. Stepping out into the dark, cold night in our driveway, I could smell the frosty winter weather on it’s way. Home and all it’s familiar comforts and concerns. Floridian summer gone. Back to real life. Back to reality.
But, the memories we’d made would be ours for a lifetime.
Two years later, a movie would release entitled “The Greatest Showman”. I’d go with dear friends to see the performance, while on a totally different style of miracle vacation, months after my mother suddenly died. It was the first time I’d have the freedom to be more than a couple of hours away from my child with epilepsy in two and a half years: her healing journey finally progressed. Like many people, I would mull over the lyrics to many of the songs debuted in that theater for months to come.
One sunny day four months after its release, I’d be singing the chorus to “A Million Dreams”, written by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, to my children. And, thinking about those lyrics would take me back. Firing neuronal synapses joined the lyrics to my memories of that now long-ago moment alone with the Lord in GKTW Village, and I’d catch my breath. “I remember, Lord”, my soul sang! My heart amended the lyrics thinking of the way we’d spent so many nights since we’d left that Village, while we still waited on our Final Wish Trip to God’s Miracle Kingdom:
“Every night, I lie in bed:
The brightest colors fill my head.
A million dreams are keeping me awake!
I think of what the world [will] be,
Vision[s] of the [God Who sees].
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take!
A million dreams for the World [He’s] gonna make!”
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
We can’t wait.
“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
1 Corinthians 2:9
“The foundations of the… city were adorned with every kind of jewel… jasper…sapphire…emerald…onyx…topaz…and…amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.”
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:19-21 and then, back to verses 4 & 5)