What is Christmas about to you? Is it the gifts, unending holiday food, being surrounded by family or snow? When I think of Christmas, it requires snow (even though it’s cold and no fun to drive in); when on vacation in FL last week with my favorite twin, my mind was boggled by the fact that there was Christmas music and lights but no snow—rather 80° weather. My favorite part of Christmas, however, is not the snow, chocolate, or even the gifts but the undeniable joy and hope radiating throughout the atmosphere, amidst the normal chaos and hatred. In my eyes, Christmas is about giving hope and spreading joy, which is why I give up Christmas Eve with my family to spread love and cheer to the exceedingly vulnerable—those who need it most. No, this is not an easy task; in fact, nearly no one is willing to do it because it is not all “fun and games” as it looks on the outside but is instead, behind the scenes, consumed by stress, sore muscles and excessively tired bodies. Here is an inside look at my favorite part of Christmas: serving those who need it most—those intubated and/or surrounded by IV pumps and catheters, heart monitors and medicine of all kinds—most unable to survive on their own. Christmas isn’t about getting but giving.
This morning, as I was getting ready to be an “elf”, otherwise known as “Santa’s helper”, my heart leaped with excitement at the thought of doing what I love most—spreading contagious joy merely by serving. Nothing is more rewarding than a life fulfilling its purpose—a life created to serve the King. This year, unlike last, I was not going alone but with another “elf”—my little sister. Honestly, I couldn’t have been more excited to have someone following in my footsteps, so to speak, and experiencing the atmosphere I love most: Akron Children’s Hospital.
Once we arrived at the hospital, surrounded by endless donated gifts as well as chocolates and other goodies, we headed out to the Atrium desk I normally run, in order to get a good view of Santa arriving by Air Bear—the hospital’s very own helicopter, which landed right above my room in ICU after my spinal fusion four years ago. As soon as Santa was spotted, amidst the Air Bear, people went crazy and lined up along the fence, only to be viscously sprayed with cold snow from the helicopter. As soon as he stepped one foot onto the once snow covered grass, cheering and screaming filled the air and smiles consumed each face. Wherever he went, a crowd seemed to follow which certainly didn’t change the entire day, requiring absolute patience—in fact, we had to sneak him into the hospital so we could get started passing out gifts to each patient, both young and old. As soon as we arrived on the floor and sorted the gifts according to age and gender, as well as each room’s specific patient characteristics (which changed often throughout the day due to discharges and admissions), one “elf”, arms piled high with gifts, stood outside each occupied room awaiting the presence of Santa. Despite small hallways and unlimited medical equipment, the media (yes, I felt like a superstar which ended suddenly as my annoyance sky-rocketed) bombarded every corner with cameras literally right up in our faces as we only tried to get things done. Questions were thrown one after another and recordings of which required special sound equipment we had to put on were endlessly taken. Honestly, it may have been the most awkward time of my life (and I’ve had many of those) due to the endless on-the-spot questions, cameras literally inches from my face (exaggerating every flaw) and 24/7 surveillance, catching every move. One hour or more behind schedule, we finally arrived to our destination, after the media had gotten all the coverage they needed. Once there, everyone was “thrown out of whack”, so to speak and the process was a “hot mess”, to put it bluntly. Since the “main elf”, who’d organized this event for countless years, moved out of state, I was voted to “get things flowing” despite the fact one “elf” had already made herself boss. If there was one thing I learned from today, it was that organization and pre-planning is essential to this process in order for a timely delivery to be made and stress minimized; despite the fact that leadership is at the far opposite end of my comfort zone, I will do it if it means more children can receive hope and joy.
At each floor, an accurate census must be received in order for us to be able to pull appropriate gifts for each patient in the hospital; every year I am absolutely blown away by the generosity of average people, who selflessly donate enough gifts that we can administer at least one to each patient and have a six foot cart overflowing with extras for the emergency room. These gifts are not just stuffed animals and blankets but iPod Touches and American Girl Dolls, as well as countless other prized possessions. My personal favorite part of the day was when a young boy who’d been waiting after discharge to see Santa said, with eyes as big as the moon, “Santa, how did you know?! How did you know I wanted this? How did you know?! YOU must be the REAL Santa because the one at the mall had pimples!” Kids never cease to effortlessly paste a smile on my face and consume my lips with laughter by their hilarious comments as well as loving hearts—I can feel my heart melt in their presence! Every year, as well, I look forward to visiting the NICU(neonatal intensive care unit) where infants as small as one pound are taken care of; the miracle of life abounds in each corner, as tiny cries escape the lips of premature infants whose survival denies nature. The joy of serving is what Christmas is about for me.
My Christmas Eve may not have been stress-free but I wouldn't change a thing because through it God is preparing me for my future and teaching me to accept leadership, whether I like it or not. Merry Christmas everyone!