Over the past 10 years, Guideposts has sent more than 160,000 comfort kits to sick children across the country.
Posted in , Jun 23, 2016
“Put your hand on your chest,” I tell the young patients in the hospital where I work. “Can you feel your heartbeat?” They nod. “Now, with each beat, you can say, ‘I am, I am, I am.’” That prayer, addressed to the great “I Am,” is at the beginning of the journal in each Guideposts for Kids Comfort Kit I give out, and I can’t begin to tell you how much comfort it gives.
I’m a hospital chaplain. I work with children at what is often a frightening and bewildering time. They’re sick or in pain, surrounded by strangers, and their parents can barely conceal their own fear. When I walk into the rooms in pediatrics, I want to be a healing presence. Comfort Kits are my ally.
Ten years ago, Pablo Diaz and Rhonda Neal from Guideposts visited me at the Westchester Medical Center, wanting to know how Guideposts and its readers could help hospital chaplains.
I talked about the challenges I faced helping sick children and their families. I showed them the makeshift journals I’d created, blank notebooks I’d bought at the stationery store and tied with ribbon. “I wish I had something nicer,” I said. “Something that feels more like a gift.”
All of a sudden, Pablo, Rhonda and I were tossing around ideas, imagining what a hospitalized child would like. A lovable stuffed toy, crayons, bright stickers, a bracelet, a stress ball (mostly for the parents), a prayer card and a journal, all packed in a little box. It would be a treasure chest of comfort and hope.
We tried out different things on the kids until we came up with what worked best. Comfort Kits were born.
Today, chaplains, nurses and caregivers have distributed more than 160,000 kits to kids in hospitals and clinics across the United States. I’ve probably given out a thousand myself. We’ve all had the same experience. You arrive at a child’s bedside, a total stranger. You can see the worry on the child’s face. Am I going to give him another shot? A pill that tastes nasty?
No, I have a present. He opens the box. The first thing he does is hug Sparkle, the star-shaped stuffed toy. Then he unpeels stickers and puts them everywhere, on casts, on bed rails, on parents’ foreheads. Now there’s something to laugh about, something to do that feels normal again.
He takes out the journal and the crayons. He goes to the page that says, “Things I really liked while I was in the hospital,” and starts writing. He also writes answers on the page that says, “Things I did not like while I was in the hospital.” Naming what’s scary is important. Identifying your fears is the first step to overcoming them.
My favorite page? The one that says, “If I could be any animal, here is what I would be.” I can understand so much from what the kids put down there.
They’ll draw a grasshopper that can hop right out of the hospital. Or maybe a huge elephant because they feel so small. Or a monkey that can leap and climb. A bird to fly free. A lion that knows no fear. What children might not be able to say, they can show.
Finally there is that moment of prayer, that small hand on the heart, listening to its beat, feeling the connection to God, to life. “I am, I am, I am,” they say. “You are loved,” I tell them. Because love is the biggest comfort of all.