With Thanksgiving on our heals, we try to hold on to that atmosphere of gratitude and be thankful for what we have in our lives. But it is not a far leap to assert that most of us do not acknowledge how good we have it on a day-to-day basis. During the holidays we try to increase our giving to those who seem to be in need.
There are a few times when reality may smack us in the face and give us a humbling lesson in appreciation. One of the most heartbreaking experiences is when a child we love faces cancer. There is no way to explain sense into such an infliction. However, those who have to endure watching a child fight cancer know appreciation. They appreciate every day they get; they have to, even if that day is full of tubes, needles, treatments, and vomit. If they eventually get to celebrate a triumphant result, they enter back into life with a ferocious appreciation for all things.
Gordon Strauss was not a stranger to cancer when his granddaughter got leukemia about a decade ago. The same disease claimed his father’s life many years before. When he visited his granddaughter during her fight, he observed that small things would brighten the faces of the tiny patients in the cancer ward of Scottish Rite Hospital—anything to break the monotony of extended hospital stays. Gordon is a retired civil engineer. So it is not too surprising that when he retired, he built things. Gordon was already creating birdhouses for his enjoyment. The birdhouses that he now builds for the Scottish Rite children evolved over the years. At first, Gordon’s creations were just simple birdhouses made of plywood and painted. Then Gordon challenged himself and began adding doors; and if a birdhouse has a door, it makes sense that something needs to go inside as well. Children battling cancer are surrounded by harsh medical instruments and sterilized surfaces. Gordon wanted to give them something to hug when they needed a little comfort. A small, stuffed friend inside each birdhouse to have with them in the hospital may soften an otherwise harsh moment.
While the structure of the birdhouses indisputably needs planning, the rest of Gordon’s process is whimsical and serendipitous. Gordon now adds embellishments and small figurines to both the inside and outside of the birdhouses. Every side and surface has a discovery to encourage and entertain its eventual recipient. He also includes a penny somewhere on every birdhouse “for luck.”
Gordon works in his garage. Much of the process, getting the adhesive to cure and paint to dry properly, requires a specific temperature range. Therefore, since his garage is not temperature controlled, he has to complete all of his works for the year in the workable months of spring and fall. Gordon makes a delivery trip for the birdhouses about once a year and gives his constructions to a volunteer liaison who then distributes each birdhouse to appropriate patients who will benefit the most.
Once his annual supply of birdhouses is complete for the year, Gordon makes a single trip to deliver them all to Scottish Rite. However, this is not his only trip bearing gifts during the year. He also periodically stocks up on stuffed animals from the dollar store and takes a big bag of them to the hospital. Merely taking small toys to the hospital is also Gordon’s suggestion for a way that others can do something for the kids. “Besides donating money, if someone wants to help, just pick up a few stuffed animals and drop them off. Just that simple thing will make those kids smile.”
“I do it hoping to put a smile on their face,” Gordon explains. “Those kids are the strongest people I’ve ever met.” No one wants a child to have to demonstrate strength like that—we want our kids to be carefree. But children are often our best inspiration in dire times.They find peace about what happens to them. They don’t know the life ahead that is in jeopardy. We are the ones who mourn the thought of a disease taking their future from them. So when something brings an extra smile to the face of these sick little ones, the parents get a moment of relief as well.
As the holiday season continues, continue gratefulness in your heart. Search for ways that you can appreciate blessings in your life—even if there is struggle attached. However you are able, try to inspire a smile for someone who needs one.xxx