December is a month of joy and giving.  The month is filled with many holidays of varying traditions but a central theme of each is the giving of gifts.  Both the giver and the receiver receive great joy in the process.

You might think that a children’s hospital would be a sad and lonely place during the month of December.  For children and families who are actively working beside a medical team to be healed and return home this is not that the case.  Although the hospital is not a preferred place it is far from what some might imagine. Gifts of joy are given every day in this place. 

Several departments keep their team in good spirits by sharing home baked goodies with each other.  Some teams share their good fortune by helping others through the benevolence program each year.  I get great joy each time I walk through the halls or venture across campus and see the Christmas trees, menorahs, bright lights and decorations or hear the music in the traffic circle. 

The community also shares its bounty.  Just this week, I have seen churches bring bundles of Prayer Bears, dance troupes entertaining our patients and families and musicians playing and singing to bring cheer. Each year professionals from the area come out to show their support and share their time just to bring smiles to the faces of small children.

Parents also want to get in on the act.  Baskets of fruit and bags of candy are dropped off at nursing stations.  Notes of thanks and Christmas or Hanukah cards are sent to a medical team that has provided care for their child.  One group even found a way to help other parents eat a needed meal when an unexpected injury or illness required a trip to the hospital. 

The most sacred gift of all is the giving of oneself.  This has also occurred during this holiday season as a kidney was given to a dialysis patient.  To free up three days a week that were dedicated to dialysis is a life change that I can never imagine but can certainly see in the faces of recipient and giver alike.  The donor’s first coherent words upon waking from the surgery were, “Is it working?”  What joy it was to say yes! 

Beauty and joy surround us if only we look and hear and become aware.  Inside the bright and colorful walls of Cook Children’s it is no different.  Children create gifts for loved ones with the help of a child life specialist.  They worship with the leadership of a chaplain.  They are healed through the help of doctors, nurses and so many more team members. 

It is the children that bring the most joy to all of us.  Be it video games, cars or dolls time spent in play is fun for both the child and adult sharing the experience.   Shared board games during long treatments are a good way to discover more about the child we are caring for. The children also love winning.  Storytelling or reading a book is also a good way to share time and show love.  Some of my daughter’s favorite times as a small child were listening to her grandparent’s stories from long ago.

I challenge you this holiday season; spend ten minutes a day in a new healthy activity with a child.  You will both be glad that you did.  Joy is experienced in the hospital and even more as a once again healthy child journeys home for the holidays.

Steve Irwin serves as supervisor of Pastoral Care at Cook Children’s.