TO EXPERIENCE LOVE---YOU MUST GIVE LOVE.
It was December 24th, 1992. One day earlier, my daughter and her husband left Atlanta--and me-- to spend Christmas in Arkansas. Like so many Christmases-past, I was alone.
Two hours earlier, a Floral Delivery Truck Driver presented me with a massive poinsettia plant dotted with more than twenty vibrant red blossoms. The inside card, lacking a signature, simply read “Have a Merry Christmas.”
I stared at the magnificent gift and for a few minutes—felt sorry for myself. I would be by myself for Christmas; I'd be the only person to enjoy this beautiful plant. Shortly before my sadness took root, the voice inside me said: “Sally, pick up the telephone.”
I heard myself ask the operator about a nursing home I’d seen several blocks away but couldn’t recall its name. The operator, kind and helpful, not only provided me with the name of the state-supported facility, but offered to connect my call.
When the receptionist at Sunset Assisted Living answered the phone, I introduced myself then asked if any resident living there would be alone for Christmas. Almost immediately the receptionist answered with the name, “Miss Emma Stewart.”
I briefly described what I wanted to do for Christmas. The receptionist responded by telling me a little bit about Miss Emma. A former school teacher without family or relatives, Miss Emma had checked into Sunset eight years earlier when she could no longer climb the stairs inside her home.
Miss Emma never had visitors. Proper, well-spoken, and always pleasant, Miss Emma was liked by everyone at the facility but, nevertheless, on weekends, holidays, and special occasions, she was always alone. Each year, Miss Emma watched other residents display Christmas trees, enjoy visits from relatives and family members, and open Christmas presents.
I told the Sunset receptionist to expect me about ten o’clock the next morning, Christmas Day. Before ending the call I said “Please don’t tell anyone; I want to surprise Miss Emma.”
The next morning, carefully packing the elegant—and heavy --Poinsettia in the back of my Jeep, I marveled at the plant’s beautiful blossoms and bright greenery. I felt excited—like a child about to unwrap a great adventure.
The receptionist walked me down a long hallway crowded with empty wheelchairs to a room marked 113. Stepping inside, I was surprised to see people crowded around two hospital beds on one side of the room... laughing, eating, opening presents, and enjoying a holiday celebration. On the opposite wall, in a single hospital bed sat Miss Emma, alone, but smiling sweetly as she watched holiday activities taking place across the room.
With help from the receptionist, I placed the Poinsettia on an empty table next to Miss Emma’s bed, pulled up a chair, and sat down. “Merry Christmas, Miss Emma, my name is Sally. I came to spend Christmas with you. God arranged for the two of us to be together today so we could celebrate his birthday.”
After her initial surprise and a few tears, Miss Emma took my hand. She continued to hold my hand throughout the day as we talked, shared memories, and nibbled on the holiday cookies and candies I’d brought with me. At some point in the day, visitors from the other side of the room wandered over-- a few at a time--to admire the Poinsettia and make small talk. They seemed especially interested in the relationship between Miss Emma and me... the stranger beside her.
Like a rumor mill, word quickly spread among the facility’s other residents and staff members and they too came to visit Miss Emma. Everyone was curious about Miss Emma’s gorgeous Poinsettia and—her visitor.
Evening came and it was time for me to leave room 113. Looking around, I was impressed with the large gathering of people sharing Christmas food and engaging Miss Emma in lively conversation. The look on Miss Emma’s face documented the happiness in her heart.
I’d begun saying my “goodbyes” when a gentleman in the crowd suggested we join hands and honor the season with a Christmas Carol. Soon, everyone was singing, including Miss Emma. “Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, o come ye, o come ye....” Joyful, I sang too.
For the first time in years, the former school teacher, without family or visitors, was the center of attention. The Poinsettia had successfully delivered its message, ”Have a Merry Christmas,” to Miss Emma, to those at Sunset Assisted Living, and—most especially—to me.
Follow-Up: Acts 20:35 says “It is more blessed to give than to receive." Through the years, I’ve learned that the true meaning of Christmas can be found in the most unexpected places. The “Miss Emmas” of the world are everywhere.... they are all around us. When we reach out with love to touch them--love touches us back.