Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Finding Hope

Every one of us has used the phrase "I hope so" at one time or another. And it has many contexts and meanings, from the inane hoping to make it through a traffic light to the critical hope that a loved one survives open heart surgery. There are as many uses of the word as there are situations we encounter.
Today I want to talk to you about the deeper hopes. You know, the ones that come from your passions and inner yearnings. This being the season of hope we encounter many folks trying to spread some along with a little joy. I'm particularly interested in joy...for obvious reasons. But, let's focus on hope for a little bit, okay.
Here is where my mind is on this topic. In Christian ministry I have had many opportunities to be with people in seemingly hopeless situations: hospital bedsides, gravesites, when someone gets bad news like a positive HIV report, and many others. Sometimes it is difficult to see the light in such darkness. It's there. I promise. Take a little trip with me to Orlando, FL. No, not to visit The Mouse, but to a place with much more meaning. In the Central Florida Reception Center, located at the southeast corner of Orange County, there is a unique place of hope. In 2006 the Florida Department of Corrections decided to establish a palliative care (hospice-like) unit for male inmates from all over the Florida DOC. I had the wonderful responsibility of establishing a chaplaincy for these end-of-life patients. After training the necessary corrections and inmate orderly staff in the spiritual and emotional needs of folks in this condition, we were ready to receive qualifying inmates. An internal physician had to authenticate the inmate's condition, the inmate in turn signed the proper forms and they were then transferred to the CFRC South Unit for palliative care.
So, where does hope come into the equation? These inmates, with their families present, were given a special opportunity to die, while incarcerated, with some dignity. I know, there are many who do not see the need for this type of care for these criminals, but as human beings, there is a need. As a matter of course, when the attending physician determined that the inmate's life was on "death watch", his family was allowed many more visitation privileges. Here is where Chaplain Joy (me) was allowed to witness a refreshing hope in a normally hopeless environment. It was in the faces of the family and of the dying inmate himself. During these last hours willing loved ones were allowed to stay in the medical unit with the inmate and offer comfort and familial care. I even saw a couple of inmates allowed to return home under the warden's Compassionate Release, to die surrounded by their loving families. Most often the patient lasted only 24 to 36 hours before they passed on, but the family members were given time that they normally would not have had. I saw hope dispensed...and even offered some myself. We spoke of faith matters, family matters and anything that mattered. There were believers, agnostics, athiests and folks from every faith represented. Each dying their own way. Some with more hope than others. They were either afraid or at peace, but each was glad to have had the privilege of present family members.
A strange example of hope you say? Yes indeed. But it comes in all forms. Like the guys on Florida's death row who receive home made cookies at Christmastime from Al Paquette of Al Paquette Ministries. Tough men who soften just a little at the gesture. Hope comes in all shapes and sizes.
I cannot close without letting you all know that the real hope of the world is the little baby born in Bethlehem, growing up to sacrifice Himself for our redemption. Just for the record, my hope is built on nothing less...than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
Here is hoping you have a great Christmas and a Blessed New Year.
Until next time,
Vinny Joy

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's The Most Wonderful Time of The Year! Really?

I know that this seems like a strange title/question. But, it's not really, is it. Did you ever notice that there are folks around this time of year that are really struggling to get excited about anything, while you are having a great time anticipating upcoming events? Or, have you noticed that you are the one struggling to get excited, while those around you are TOO happy?
While the majority of us see this season as a positive one, enjoying the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparation. There are a smaller number of people who cannot, no matter how hard they try, muster up even a little Christmas spirit. Now, all of us hopefully understand that family losses are magnified when there is a special time dedicated to familial gatherings. Christmas, Chanukah and New Years are three of those events. Personally, I lost my mom in January of this year. It was a result of many months of sicknesses and our family was somewhat prepared for her passing. But we, as a family, will most certainly feel that loss this holiday season. As a matter of fact I am already thinking about my mom's wonderful attitude that bubbled over during the Christmas season. She is missed.
A friend of mine shared with me that her family lost seven family members and close friends this past year! Do you think that will have an impact on their holiday celebrations? Of course it will.
My purpose of this topic is not necessarily for folks like my family and my friend's, but those of you that find yourself unusually down right about now. Just so you know, I am not an expert in this field, but as a therapist of many years (and a human being with real emotions) I can sympathize. My family and I will certainly celebrate Christmas and ring in the New Year effectively without out mom, but it won't be the same. I believe that the aforementioned friend, becuase of her faith, will also have a celebrative Christmas. But, for those of you who are struggling, I mean really struggling, I've included a link from WebMD for you to peruse. It's about Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD and is quite comprehensive. Please look it over and know that there are some things that you can do for yourself and your loved ones to assist you in your healing.

And, for all of my readers, may God bless you and remember to celebrate the birth of His Son, Jesus.
Merry Christmas and have a blessed New Year.
Until next time, God bless you.
Vinny Joy