"Make a wish, Aunt Goldie!" Six-year-old Lizbeth jumped from her chair to nudge my wheelchair closer to the table. A multicolor pattern of festive balloons splashed across the tablecloth to set a party mood.
"Whoa, Lizzie! Any closer, I'll be on the other side!" I gasped. Lizzie giggled as she adjusted the birthday hat that had slipped down my forehead. My pink and purple cake glowed with thirty-two candles, challenging me to face desire head-on. Three hundred sixty-four days each year I worked hard to avoid it, but every blessed birthday, like a deer caught in headlights I was confronted. Somehow, I never was quite ready.
Thirty-two candles, twice sixteen. Sixteen -- that was 1989: Mom and Dad had pride for me then plus ambition -- now reduced to only gray hair. That year's wish was easy: to win the gold medal in figure skating in the 1992 Olympics. It overshadowed everything for me back then, but now to me it lacked importance. My reputation grew as I skated to the top in regional competitions, with my sights set on the U.S. Nationals. . . then the World. We coveted the gold as my coach and I slaved hour after grueling hour perfecting my program.
What a change a year can make. When I turned seventeen, life was so different. Mom's face was shriveled with worry and Dad worked hard to cheer me as I faced my cake that year. "Just make a wish, Hon," he urged. Make a wish? Such a small wish, but after the accident it seemed gigantic. Dear God, please let me walk again, I prayed. Then Dad blew out the candles, all seventeen.
"Hurry up," Lizzie pressed, "the wax is melting!" Her voice thrust me back into the presence of thirty-two candles begging attention.
"Be quiet, Lizbeth, give Goldie time!" Sharon scolded. Though four years my junior, since the accident Sharon seemed more like my older sister.
If only I could get it right. I wished they wouldn't rush me. Wishes were serious stuff for me, even if they never came true. No Olympics, no walking, no husband, no children. No independence. No satisfaction. Just this wheelchair, a poor substitute for ice skates, no matter how many wishes I'd made.
"Forget the candles -- the ice cream's melting!" Andy complained. At ten he had no right to eat like a teenager, but he did anyway. Fifteen minutes after four helpings of Grandma's lasagna, I imagined he was close to fainting.
I gazed at my family, waiting expectantly: Sharon and her husband, Keith, a man with a passion for Jesus. Not much to look at, but the first thing he observed when they wanted to buy a home was whether it had enough room for me. Mom and Dad were second-stringers now since I'd moved, but still ready to tackle the burden of caring for me when needed. And Lizzie and Andy -- the children I'd wished for but never could have -- they accepted me into their world without a trace of resentment.
It wasn't what I'd planned, nor what I'd dreamed: those things were past. The years I wished for recovery, willing to settle for just improvement -- long vanished in the smoke of birthday candles, stretched over sixteen years. Long enough. Time for a new wish, something different -- a new way to focus my life.
What was that verse in Hebrews? "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb 13:5 KJV). Suddenly I realized, when I was healthy my body was free but my spirit was bound. Then after the accident while coveting what I'd lost, both body and spirit were held captive. But there was a third option: even if my body was forced to remain in this wheelchair, my spirit was in bondage to it by choice.
For the first time, I felt exactly aligned with God's perfect will, matching my deepest longing to his own. And just as he promised in Psalm 37:4, I knew he would give me this desire of my heart -- his word is true. It was his wish; the one he'd been granting all along. Birthday candles weren't needed, but I didn't think he'd mind. Closing my eyes, I silently prayed. May I delight in knowing you, Lord: make me free indeed. Breathing deeply, I made that my wish, then blew.
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