Four years ago, in partnership with a beloved, family friend, our families launched Operation Poinsettia.

We began with one simple mission:   Gift people who bless us in relationship, love and/or service with a holiday poinsettia.

The joy of giving these plants over the years has transformed our hearts, families, relationships, holiday traditions and pictures of what is possible during this season of Love.  I’ve come to consider poinsettias symbols of fellowship.  In a field of red, they stand as ready ambassadors of cheer.  White petals connect us to the innocence of possibilities as pink ones splash a blush of whimsy.  Year after year, as we have placed these plants in the hands of beloved family, cherished friends, respected care providers, and strangers, we have seeded memories, shed tears and harvested treasured stories we celebrate.

Such tales have come to be known to us as Poinsettias Stories.  We call each other to swap vignettes.  Each eager conversation begins the same, “I got a story for you,” without a hello or how do you do, as one decants the precious report of an exchange to another.  This year, we established the guideline that these tales should not be swapped while driving, as more than once, our tears have made it difficult to see the road. We each have our own favorite accounts, of course, and retell them to each other year after year.  As Poinsettia Stories have grown, I’ve been encouraged to record some of them to share with others.  In fact, this was the first year that it occurred to us that Operation Poinsettia has become such a key part of how we prepare our hearts and homes for the holidays that it might be a tradition that extends to the next generation.  As such, we thought it might make sense to archive some of this team’s Poinsettia Stories, so that, maybe, one day our own children can share with their own Poinsettia Stories from their childhoods as they create new ones playing it forward together.

With that intention, I share with you one of my favorite Poinsettia Stories:

Operation Poinsettia, Year 1:  Food Lion, December 8, 2006, 10:38 p.m.:

The giddiness of the evenings adventures had waned in the truck.  Having spent the entire evening delivering plants, our four children, 5 months, 4 years, 6 years, and 8 years-old were well past tired. Though it had been a magical night of giving, even Harry Potter himself could not have enchanted a spell to enthuse the over-tired children nestled safely amid blankets with cookie-crumb mustaches in the SUV.

Our procedure had been the same throughout the evening.  In pairs, or all together, the children would take a plant and card up to a recipient’s door with a parent standing by at the end of the driveway or walk.  It was the first Christmas our children were old enough in heart or feet to fully participate in the joy of giving back to others.  They took to it like elves, eager to jump out of the truck, laughing and leaping up to the doors, monitoring who’s turn it was to ring a bell or carry a poinsettia.  The reception of their unexpected visits was universal.  Doors were swung wide, hugs swooped up our children into warm arms, cookies were passed, and, in many cases, prayers shared and tears shed to carve Thanksgiving anew.  Often those poinsettias were the first vestiges of holiday color to blaze hearths or bless homes.  It was a merry night.

The kids were well spent and past ready to get home as we passed Food Lion.  Over the course of the evening, we had given plants both to people we had known and loved for years, and to those we did not know.  We had one poinsettia left for that night’s service, a big, beautiful, white plant.  As we were were about to drive past the store, I remembered a bagging clerk who I had chatted with often over the year.  He was a big, giant of a man himself.  His consistent personality was a constant source of warmth to me.  Usually when in a grocery store, I was with no less than four children, and often as many as eleven.  This man greeted us time after time with big, kind eyes and a genuine smile.  His eyes always shone with Light, and I sensed his that he was grounded in a Truth larger than his formidable 6’3″, 325 pound frame.  I very much wanted to give this man the last poinsettia.

I called, “Just one last stop,” and the kids who were awake, and even The Husband, my most benevolent driver, answered in a chorus of, “Awwww!”  The Husband pointed out that we could not be certain that the man was even working that night which, of course, was true.  However, as The Husband so often does, he read my eyes with love and said, “One last stop!”

We agreed that given the hour, and the neighborhood, the store closest to our home is known by locals as, “The Sketchy Food Lion,” because it serves a diverse intersection of communities, we agreed that The Husband would drive up next to the storefront windows.  This way, the children could see as I walked in and gave the plant, and I could get in and out quickly if the clerk was not working.

I was happy to see him as I crossed the entrance poinsettia in hand.  The registers are close to the doors, and he looked up as I entered.  He looked and beamed his signature smile at me as crossed the store’s threshold.  There were several clerks at other registers and lines of people waiting to purchase their groceries.  True to his indomitable work ethic, he went back to task, bagging items and sharing a word of cheer with the guest he served.

“Excuse me,” I said as I approached his aisle.  The gentle giant looked down at me.

He lifted his head from the boxes of cereal he was about to bag and gazed at me with huge, brown, teacup eyes and said, “May I help you, Ma’am?”  After a beat, recognition amplified the welcome of his warm regard, “No kids tonight?” he added with concern.

“Sir,” I began unexpectedly choked with tears.  I cleared my throat and began again, “Sir, this is for you.”  I handed him the white poinsettia with the innocent hope of a child.

He arced his brow in surprise as a smile painted his face bright like Christmas tree lights.  When he reached down to accept the plant his huge and tender hands dwarfed, I said, “This is for you, Sir, because of the consistency of your heart and service.  Every time I have been in this store and you have been working, you have greeted me with a smile.  You have been kind to my children, and time after time, shared a good word or encouraging nod.  That is a rare and precious thing.  I appreciate your kindness and want you to know how much I recognize your service.”

He looked at me as tears slid down his sweet face and began to open his mouth in response.

Before he could utter a word, the entire store errutped in an ovation of applause and cheers.  Fellow workers called out, “That’s right!”  and “That’s John.”  The manager on duty came over to shake his hand, but clasped his shoulder instead.

This kind, giant of a man had begun to sob.  He choked out through a tear flooded face, “No one’s ever given me a flower before.”

“Merry Christmas, John,” I said.

His eyes shone as he looked down at me, cradling his plant like a newborn.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Thank you, John.” I replied as he walked away, bear arms encircling his white flowers, to take a quick breath.

People continued to clap as I left the store.

When I returned to the truck, tears were on The Husband’s face also.  All the kids were up, faces bright, eyes alight with the joy of what they had seen.

“Wow!” the boy exclaimed as his eyes met my own.

Wow.

The six of us knew with certainty in that moment, from the source of Love itself that has grown deeper over the years, that Operation Poinsettia is a call over our hearts and lives.

Quite simply, we rejoice and dwell in its possibilities.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah!