It was the night before Christmas, 1992, and I was alone in Atlanta, Georgia. Two hours earlier, the florist had delivered a massive
poinsettia plant dotted with more than twenty vibrant red blossoms. Lacking a signature, the card simply read “Have a Merry Christmas.” I stared at the magnificent gift and for a few minutes-- felt sorry for myself. I would be the only person on
Christmas Day to enjoy the beautiful plant and----just before my sadness took root---a voice inside said “pick up the telephone.”
I heard myself ask the operator about a nursing
home I’d seen several blocks from my house but didn’t know how to find in the phone book. The operator, kind and helpful, not only provided me with the name of the state-supported facility, but offered to connect me with it too.
When the receptionist answered the phone at Sunset Assisted Living, I introduced myself and asked if any resident living there would be alone for Christmas. She answered almost immediately with the name,
“Miss Emma Stewart.” I explained 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 in her home. Miss Emma spent a lifetime teaching first graders; she spent more than forty years building a solid foundation of love and learning for life’s new beginners.
Unfortunately, Miss Emma never had visitors. Proper, well-spoken, and always pleasant, Miss Emma was liked by everyone at the facility but, nevertheless, was alone on weekends, holidays, and special
occasions. Each year Miss Emma watched as other residents displayed Christmas trees, enjoyed visits from relatives and family members, and opened Christmas presents.
I told the
receptionist at Sunset Assisted Living to expect me the next day, Christmas Day, about ten o’clock in the morning. Before ending the call I said “Please don’t tell anyone; I want to surprise Miss Emma.”
The next day, carefully packing the large and somewhat-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, poorly-lighted 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, smiling sweetly, as she watched the activities across the room.
With help from the receptionist, I placed the magnificent 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 and 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 of happiness, Miss Emma,
eyes glistening, took my hand. She continued to hold my hand 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 began wandering over,
a few at a time, to admire the Poinsettia and make small talk. Mostly, they seemed interested in learning about the relationship between Miss Emma and me-- her visitor. Gradually, word 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 beautiful flowering plant and--- her visitor.
Evening came and it was time for me to leave room
113. Looking around, I was touched to see the large gathering of people, sharing Christmas food and engaging Miss Emma in lively conversation. The look on Miss Emma’s face displayed the happiness in her heart.
For the first time in eight years, the former school teacher---with no family or visitors---was the center of attention. The Poinsettia had--indeed-- delivered its message—“Have a Merry Christmas”---to Miss
Emma, everyone at Sunset Assisted Living, and, most-especially, to me.
Acts 20:35 says: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Thank you, God, for speaking to
my heart---on-- your birthday.