In June of 2012, I kissed my sleeping 8 month old and walked out the door to leave him behind for an entire week. It was the first time I'd left him overnight since he was born. It was extremely hard, but I had no idea the experience that was about to unfold.
More than 20 youth and adults boarded vans and cars destined for Orlando, Florida where we planned to spend our week long mission trip. We were set up to volunteer at a 79 acre resort called Give Kids the World. This amazing place allows Make a Wish children who are facing life threatening diseases and their families to stay at their wonderful resort free of charge.
All of their rooms and facilities are hospital grade and they are prepared to handle many of the health emergencies that can happen with the array of illnesses that come through their facilities. They even provide these families with tickets to nearby theme parks to enjoy while they are there, but with all the amenities of Give Kids the World, I can't imagine how they have time to even leave the premises.
For example, they have a massive swimming and water activities area, a large carousel, and an ice cream parlor offering the children ice cream whenever they feel like they need some. Literally, you guys. "Have ice cream for breakfast!" is one of their catchphrases. They have cafeterias, a movie theater, amusement park style rides, a putt putt course, a train traveling throughout the resort and even a spa where the kids can get dolled up and pampered like a star that Give Kids the World truly shows them that they are.
Every single Thursday they transform their "Avenue of Angels" into a winter wonderland. They have a Christmas Parade which brings in the one and only Santa Clause. They do this weekly so that every child has a chance to celebrate Christmas while at the resort, just in case it may be their last. Yep. Every single week they transform their resort into a Christmas Dream for these dear children who know not what the future holds for them.
We were able to volunteer in all sorts of ways and at most of these different venues. We served meals in the cafeteria, scooped ice cream at all hours of the day, painted fingernails and fake tattoos in the "La Ti Da Spa" and even dressed as toy soldiers and elves for the Christmas Parade. I can't imagine how magical it is for someone visiting as a guest, because it was quite the enchanting experience as a volunteer.
But there was one event at Give Kids the World that was by far one of the most touching experiences I've ever known. This occasion takes place in the Castle of Miracles.
Every Make a Wish Child has the opportunity to come into the Castle of Miracles and write their name on a small shiny star. After decorating a star with their very own signature, they drop the star into a special box that delivers the iridescent object to a magical fairy who will, while everyone is sleeping, place this special star on the ceiling in the castle's tower. The families are then instructed to come back in the following days for a special presentation to reveal where their star has been placed.
Design students at a nearby college designed a special iPad application to be used for this specific purpose and occasion to show these children their specific star. I so looked forward to assisting families into the tower for their own private show and special moment together.
I followed the first family in that arrived during my shift at the castle. It was mother and father, followed by a teenage son, an adolescent daughter and the "Wish Child", a little girl no older than 5. I handed the iPad to the small little girl with straight black hair who, to the naked eye, didn't look to be "sick" at all. Her eyes were bright and filled with excitement as the fairy on the screen instructed this sweet girl to follow along as she would reveal where the star was located. She was in full concentration and did everything as instructed. As soon as the star was revealed and she zoomed in to see her very own handwriting on the iridescent star, the lights in the tall tower flickered with colors bright to suggest fireworks and magical music filled the space. She was beaming, her siblings were in awe and I was brimming with joy to be a small part in this beautiful event. I looked over at mom and dad and noticed that while they both wore smiles, their faces were also stained with tears.
All at once my heart realized that as joyous as this occasion was, it was ever so slightly wound with fear of the unknown. Sadness that their dear child's future is yet to be determined. The father had to turn away and leave the room as not to upset the children. I followed him out to see if I could get him anything and he gratefully declined. He went on to say, "This is so bittersweet- knowing that if my child leaves us on this earth that we can always come back to visit this star and reminisce of this special moment."
It took every ounce of will that I had to keep the tears from spewing over. I bit my lip, gave him a reassuring hug and left him alone to gather his emotions.
I've always felt for families that had to deal with awful things like cancer, illness and death. But to see it first hand as a new mother was more overwhelming than I could have ever imagined.
We weren't allowed to openly share our faith at Give Kids the World because they accommodate people from all over the world and want their time to be about the child and the family, not a battle of faiths pressed upon them during this escape opportunity- which we completely understood. There was, though, a chapel that we were able to go to and pray for these families. It was a growing opportunity for us because we were challenged and reminded that sharing Christ isn't always about our words.
Someone, a long long time ago, proved that light travels at a faster speed than sound. Sharing Christ is much like those beautiful stars that grace the Castle of Miracles and the star that brought wise men and shepherds to our newborn Christ. The light and presence are enough to fill the hearts of anyone who seeks them. Stars need not sing, dance or preach- they merely shine light to guide the way to the Savior and offer hope to those who follow them. The star of Bethlehem still hangs atop trees and in windows and homes guiding all to remember the Christ child that came down to rescue us, as do the stars of every child who has visited Give Kids the World, hanging high in the Castle of Miracles as a tribute that will last forever.
"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16
This month, instead of shirts, we are honored to offer beautiful and brilliant star pendant necklaces to honor and remember the real stars in our world. The children who beam brightly and fight for their lives showing us that Christ never leaves us nor forsakes us.
20% of the purchase of these star necklaces will be given to Give Kids the World, so that they can continue to give these magical and unforgettable experiences to children and their families for years to come.
PURCHASE a star pendant necklace to monetarily benefit Give Kids the World and their mission to bring joy to those in the scariest of situations. See them in the shop here.
WEAR the star to honor and remember those who are fighting for their lives while battling cancer and life threatening illnesses.
WANT TO DO MORE? Consider volunteering at Give Kids the World on your next family vacation to Orlando, Florida. Spend quality family time at the parks and then give a day or two back to this precious place. I promise it will be a highlight of your trip.
Love and Blessings,