Faithful Living: Hopes don’t always match the reality


By Joan Bay Klope

Over the years I’ve learned that what I hope will happen, and what I view as a reasonable possibility, may have little to do with reality once it all plays out. As I face another round of holidays, I’m reminding myself to cool unnecessary expectations. If I don’t I’ll become frustrated and grumpy; someone even I would not choose to spend time with.

The perfect example is my idea of a family-based holiday activity: Decorating the house. In my mind, it would be wonderfully fun to bake Christmas cookies, brew coffee, put on Christmas music, and gather my husband and kids for an afternoon of stringing lights and setting up the Christmas village we’ve been collecting over the years. The boys would happily voyage into the attic and retrieve the Christmas boxes. Bribed with cookies, they’d do the muscle work and the girls and I would turn the house into a wonderland.

Then reality steps in. My kids are older and mobile. They’ve got friends and phones and cars. They like to be home, but they want their nest to be clean and decorated by the Christmas elves. That way they’ll have time to enjoy with each other and make plans for the really important things like meeting friends for coffee, playing Guitar Hero, watching movies, and eating at will.

And did I mention that my husband hates bringing down the Christmas boxes? The moment he’s deposited them into the living room he heads for his shop. The number of random items overwhelms him.

It’s for this reason we’ve designated a plan for Christmas 2007: If it doesn’t have a memory connected with it or a strong Christmas association, it won’t come out of the box this year. I will set parameters for happy decorating and those who wish to participate are welcome.

The plan faced its first test this week when I picked up a beautiful poinsettia plant at a local store and my husband gave me the cynical eye. I knew he’d react this way so I arrived prepared. The poinsettia not only has a story, but he and I were both born and raised in Ventura, Calif., “The Poinsettia City!” My find passed muster and I quickly placed it in the cart.

And here’s the story. Native to Central America, the plant flourished in an area of Southern Mexico known as Taxco del Alarcon. Called “Cuetlaxochitl” by the Aztecs during the 14th through 16th centuries, the milky white sap was used to control fevers and the bracts (modified leaves) were used to make a reddish dye for cosmetics and textiles.

The poinsettia may have remained a regional plant had it not been for the efforts of Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779 – 1851). The son of a French physician, Poinsett was appointed as the first United States Ambassador to Mexico by President Madison and later founded the organization we know today as the Smithsonian Institution. Poinsett had attended medical school himself, but his real love was politics and botany. Poinsett maintained his own hothouses on his Greenville, S.C., plantations and while visiting the Taxco region in 1828, became enthralled by the brilliant red blooms he saw there. He immediately sent cuttings back to South Carolina, where he began propagating the plants and gifting them to friends and botanical gardens.

Among the recipients of Poinsett’s planting gifts was Robert Buist, a Pennsylvania nurseryman. Mr. Buist is thought to be the first person to have sold the plant under its botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima (“the most beautiful Euphorbia”). At that time Mr. Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, had just published a book called the “Conquest of Mexico,” in which he detailed Joel Poinsett’s discovery of the plant. Prescott named the plant the “poinsettia” in Poinsett’s honor.

There is also a delightful legend surrounding the poinsettia. The story tells of a poor child in Mexico, having nothing to give the Christ Child on His birthday, who decided to gather roadside weeds into a bouquet on her way to church. When she approached the manger display, to offer her gift, the weeds transformed into brilliant red poinsettias. From that miracle the flower is now known as the “Flower of the Holy Night.”

Perhaps I’ll rethink the value of simple gifts. I’ll focus on ways to honor God this holiday rather than worrying about setting the perfect holiday table scape. It is this filling up of one’s spirit that moderates our tendencies to hurry and worry, and makes room for God’s gentle lessons, sometimes experienced through something as simple as a poinsettia.