Making a Wish and heading to Give Kids The World Village

In summer 2015, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois called to tell us that Brenna had been referred to receive a Wish.

We initially were very hesitant, because like many people, we held the misconception that Make-A-Wish is for terminal children. But the staff member explained that for children to receive a Wish, they have to have a “life-threatening” condition. “Receiving a Wish is a special event for these children and their family members, a much-needed break from the daily routines of health care and medications, that allows the kids just to be kids,” she told me.

And so, the following year, Wish granters began working with Brenna to figure out her ultimate Wish. It took a while, because she was so young, but eventually, she landed on her dream: a limo ride and breakfast with Minnie Mouse!

On March 15, a long limousine showed up to our door to whisk us to the airport for Disney World!

We settled on mid-March for our trip, because we would already be heading to Orlando for the finale of Brenna’s Champion ambassadorship for Children’s Miracle Network. We figured it would be easier to travel once, so we ended up having a two-part trip… 5 days with CMN and 6 days with Make-A-Wish. It became one of the most unbelievably incredible trips I could imagine for our family!

When you head to Disney World through Make-A-Wish, you stay at the most magical place: Give Kids the World Village. This entire place is meant to make magic come alive for the children, and it was such a privilege to spend our time here.At GKTW, they have a carousel (the mushroom shown above), an arcade, miniature golf, an awesome pool and splash pad, movie theater and more. Most of the people working are volunteers, and since we went in March, there were many groups of college kids volunteering on their spring breaks. GKTW has great meal options in their dining hall and they even deliver pizza …which, as you can imagine, Brenna was pumped about!

We were especially thrilled because my parents made the trip with us and were able to experience all of our kids’ excitement (and, fun perk, offer some extra hands for when Evan and I wanted to steal away to ride Space Mountain!)dining Give Kids the World Village

Not only is it wonderful to have so much on site at GKTW because none of the attractions were ever crowded, but the Village also brings in characters from all of the Orlando parks to meet the kids here. When we walked in the first morning, it was starry eyes for Connor and Brenna… because, MICKEY.
They gave hugs, Brenna blew kisses, and Mickey signed the foot of Brenna’s stuffed Mickey. It was a spectacular way to start the week.

And then Brenna tried to grab Pluto’s nose 🙂
One of the most special treats at Give Kids the World is the Ice Cream Palace. Ice cream is available from morning until night, even for breakfast if you want! Everyone really loves their ice cream here. Instead of “enjoy your day” or “goodbye,” the common conversation closing is “enjoy your ice cream!”
Ice Cream Palace, Give Kids the World Village
Ice Cream Palace, Give Kids the World Village
Each villa here is 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms,  with a living room and kitchen, and one of those bathrooms is fully handicapped accessible. In contrast to most hotels, it was so convenient to have such a large tub and space to do Brenna’s bath routine while staying here.

The Village hosts all kinds of activities each day. There are games, events at the pool or golf course, character visits, and each week they do a Halloween party, Christmas party with Santa, and a birthday party for the village mayor, Mayor Clayton, who is a giant bunny (and perhaps, as we speculated, some sort of cousin to the Easter Bunny).

On our third day at Disney, we took a day off after two days at the parks and played at Give Kids the World most of the day. The kids went horseback riding, and it was Brenna’s first time riding on a horse.
Keaton's Korral, horseback riding at Give Kids the World Village
Keaton's Korral, horseback riding at Give Kids the World Village

Keaton's Korral, horseback riding at Give Kids the World Village
We also spend some time at Matthew’s Boundless Playground, which is a fully accessible playground here… the best part for us? It has a big covering to protect the playground from the sun! Yea shade! The playground is also home to a life-sized Candy Land game, which we of course had to play.

Matthew's Boundless Playground at Give Kids the World Village

Matthew's Boundless Playground at Give Kids the World Village
The pool was warm enough for Brenna, another huge plus since most pools are too cold for her. I can’t get over how adorable her new swimsuit and hat are from SwimZip. Let’s be real: even if she never ventures into the water, she’ll still be the most stylish one at the pool.
SwimZip, pool at Give Kids the World Village

Give Kids the World truly gave our family the opportunity to relax and enjoy 6 beautiful days of gorgeous weather with so much to do, see and experience. And eat. (ALL THE ICE CREAM.) What could be better? Tickets to the parks, obviously!

We took advantage of our long stay and all of the assistance provided by GKTW/Make-A-Wish/CMN to experience SeaWorld, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom twice, Epcot twice, the Wide World of Sports, Hollywood Studios, and downtown Disney Springs twice. Coming up next… our park days and breakfast with Minnie and friends!

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.

{Celebrating Beautiful} Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, by John Hambrick

In blogging for the last 5 years, I’ve written about many different topics, but one theme that has remained constant has been my focus of sharing about how our family is discovering the beauty in difference and choosing to celebrate the incredible beauty all around us, and how we want to encourage others to do the same. After connecting with and reading about so many amazing people and families doing so many amazing things, I started a guest blog series called Celebrating Beautiful, as it relates to beauty however it can be interpreted: motherhood, faith, your kids, an experience, home, and so much more.
I got to connect with John Hambrick when I reviewed his book, Move Toward the Mess, and really enjoyed it. He has a wisdom that comes with experience, both in living out Jesus’ calling for his life and within parenting, and his words today offer such encouragement, especially for those of us with younger kids who are looking toward the teen and young adult years ahead.
Here is John Hambrick on Celebrating Beautiful…

It’s a pleasant memory.

My wife, Patty, and I are in our Jeep Cherokee, driving down the road. It’s a gentle sunny morning. We’re on vacation. Our two kids, JD (age 6) and Carrell (age 3), are in their car seats. Sandi Patty’s music fills the car. At the end of one song, she recites the following:

For Thou didst form my inward parts
Thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise Thee for Tou art fearful and wonderful
Wonderful are Thy works!
Thou knows me right well.    -Psalm 139:13-14

JD and Carrell are smiling; in that moment, they get it. They know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Fast-forward 10 years. Carrell and JD are now in middle school and high school. It’s harder now for them to be confident that they are the wonderful creations of a loving God. I remember Carrell’s tears over a verbal slight, suffered at the hands of her peers. I remember JD coming home one afternoon saying he felt invisible. What happened?

I worked with church youth groups and Young Life for 18 years. Sadly, JD and Carrell’s experiences are too common. The sense of being fearfully and wonderfully made takes a beating when you’re an adolescent. Granted, some days adolescents feel great about themselves. But lots of days they worry that they are not smart enough, not pretty enough, not cool enough, not coordinated enough. A lot of days they feel like their hair, their face, their clothes and their personality are all wrong. How did our kids morph from the smiling little urchins in the back seat into angst-ridden adolescents?

Fast-forward another 10 years. Today, JD and Carrell are well-adjusted adults. They are college grads, gainfully employed and leading full lives. They emerged from that adolescent angst in tact. As I reflect on their teenage years, I am tempted to say, “Well, that’s just what happens during that phase of life. Most kids go through it. That’s just the way it is.”

Well, maybe that’s often the way it is. But Psalm 139 suggests that’s not the way it should be.I’m not in the “every kid should get a trophy regardless of how they played” camp, but there are some things we can do to reduce the number of days that our kids feel like they aren’t good enough…

First of all, be vigilant. This is not a new idea. We are vigilant about movies and friends, about music and the Internet. But we need to be vigilant about something else: what happens at faith-based groups and events. If you’re like me, you tend to relax your vigilance in this area. It’s church after all – that’s supposed to be the one safe place we can count on. And it often is. But not always. I’m not talking about anything spectacularly horrible here; it’s more subtle than that.

The concern can be summed up with a simple question: how does the church youth group make your kids feel about themselves? Do they come home lit up or put down? Granted, every kid has bad days, and youth ministers aren’t perfect. But if your kids consistently come home from the youth group feeling badly about themselves, then it’s time to dig around a little bit. Don’t go overboard – you don’t want to humiliate your kids. But a few gentle questions are entirely appropriate, and any youth minister worth his or her salt will want to help.

The second thing we can do to help our kids feel good about who they are is to challenge Madison Avenue. The meta-narrative that undergirds almost all advertising is this: “There’s something wrong with you. Our product will fix it.” It’s a very successful approach. But the sad thing is that once the doubt has been planted, we discover that the product doesn’t really help. An occasional session where you sit down with your kids and point out how silly this approach is will go along way towards helping them see through this clever ploy. I mean really . . . can shampoo change your life? Is toothpaste the key to happiness and success? Sheesh.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, take care of yourself. Kids’ self-image is profoundly impacted by their parents’ self-image. So, how are you feeling about yourself these days? Seeing and celebrating the way God made you makes it easier to see and celebrate the way God made your kids.

So, keep up the good work. Your ability to see that your children are fearfully and wonderfully made, especially when they are in their teens, can be just the positive influence they need to hang in there when the world is telling them they aren’t good enough.

Someday, when your kids become adults like my son and daughter, they’ll thank you for all the love you’ve sent their way. And those words will be some of the sweetest sounds you’ll ever hear.

John Hambrick is part of the leadership team at Buckhead Church, the urban campus of North Point Ministries. His book, Move Toward the Mess, is available on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.