Wheels of Freedom

A paralyzed girl gets the keys

The man shivers and leans heavily on his cane as he makes his way up the dark sidewalk. The suburban home is brightly lit and the driveway is packed with cars. Nearing the porch, he hears laughter and talking, and he pauses. As the Chief Elf of the Elves of Christmas Present, he doesn’t like attracting attention. Normally, he’s hidden away on Christmas Eve, orchestrating hundreds of Elves as they work their magic. But tonight, he feels the hand of God gently pushing him forward as he steps onto the front stoop and takes a deep breath.

Four weeks earlier, at Elf Central, the Chief was reviewing a file on Dane, a young man under hospice care, with three special needs children. As the Chief was deciding the ways he would help the family, something nagged at him. The man’s name was familiar, but Chief couldn’t figure out why. Throughout the week, Dane floated into his mind, but Chief couldn’t make the connection. Then, he had an aha moment. Dane had been Eloisa Sarol’s boss.

An Unexpected Reconnection

The Chief called Eloisa to make sure he was correct. Then he asked how her teenage daughter Anna was doing. Two years earlier, Anna had been paralyzed from the waist down in a gymnastic accident. The Elves had surprised her with an electric stimulation bicycle, which was essential for her maintaining health and muscle strength. Dane had worked behind the scenes with Chief to facilitate the gift, including arranging for Eloisa to get off work so she could witness the presentation.

“Anna is doing pretty well,” Eloisa told him. “But she’s had a big blow. Her father is leaving: we’re getting a divorce.”

Eloisa began crying.

“Are you okay?” Chief asked.

“Not really,” Eloisa said tearfully. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it all.”

As she talked, the Chief understood how overwhelming and heartbreaking this change was for her and for Anna. Since Eloisa often worked long 12-hour days., the father had frequently picked up Anna from school and driven her to various doctor’s and other appointments. How was Eloisa going to keep her job and care for her beloved daughter?

As the Chief listened, he wondered, “What are the odds that I would run into this family again? And how can we help them? ”

Answering Prayers

Chief Elf’s hands are numb with cold as he rings the doorbell. A family member answers the door. Eloisa hears the Chief’s voice and comes running to see him.

He smiles and she ushers him into the crowded living room. He greets Anna, who is sitting on a couch, and then he finds himself on a chair, literally in the center of attention. Eloisa introduces him and describes how he and his group helped Anna. Family and friends smile and reach out, touched by his work and his visit.

“I’m on my Christmas Eve route,” Chief told them. “I had a few minutes between visits and dropped by to see how the family was doing.”

Anna is on the sofa, with her cousins and siblings. She wonders why the Chief Elf has suddenly appeared. She can tell by her mom’s expression that she wasn’t expecting him, that she too is wondering. The Elf is chatting with everyone about the holidays. Then he turns to Anna and says, “Well, I’ve got to go. But Anna, elves never leave a home on Christmas Eve without leaving something behind. Will you follow me outside?”

As Anna put on a coat, one of her cousins whispers, “What if it’s a car?”

Anna shakes her head. Though she desperately wants a car, even tried to raise money to buy a specially-equipped vehicle, that dream is still totally out of reach. There is no way a car is outside.

“Those things don’t actually happen to real people,” she tells her cousin.

The Chief tells them to blindfold Anna. The family helps her down the front porch stairs and into her wheelchair.

“I was so confused,” Anna says. As she wheels down her steep driveway, she hears her mother crying.

“Oh my goodness,” she thinks. “If Mom is crying, something big must be happening.”

Seconds later, they remove her blindfold and she sees the reasons for her mom’s tears: a beautiful, shiny van with a huge red ribbon covering the windshield. Someone presses a button. The van lowers, a door slides open, and a ramp slowly folds out. Anna stares in disbelief, then starts laughing in pure amazed joy. An impossible dream has just come true!

Eloisa wipes her eyes and smiles. She has been fervently praying for help, yet she never imagined such generosity was possible. Her daughter has just been given the priceless gift of freedom. It was the greatest Christmas gift ever.

Recapturing Independence

Before her accident, Anna was just starting to drive and she loved the freedom of being behind the wheel, getting herself places. Driving was one of the many freedoms she had to give up when she was injured.

“For two years, I’ve had to rely on other people to go places,” she says. “This van restores my freedom, my independence. I can’t even begin to express how much it means to me.”

It means she can live a full and meaningful life, without having to fit into everyone else’s schedule. It means she can drive to school, then drive straight to her job as a mentor for preschoolers. Her freedom to go places helps her pursue her dream of becoming a videographer and fuels her busy social life. When she and her friends go out, she is frequently the driver.

“My friends like to ride with me,” she says. “They love my car, they enjoy seeing how it works, and they think it’s awesome I can drive.”