The Lesson of the Poppy
by Janice Price
It was Buddy Poppy time again, a time when the VFW sells poppies made by disabled veterans to help raise money to assist local veterans. For the second time, I was privileged to be one of those who spend two days standing or sitting outside in the weather accepting donations for the poppies. I am falling-on-my-face exhausted and sunburned, but excited about what I learned from this experience.
I have found the response is better if I stand with a bouquet of poppies in my hand than if I sit in a chair and hold a basket of them. From a distance many folks see me holding the familiar Poppies and by the time they reach me their decision has already been made. Some are eager to support our veterans and they arrive with money already in hand or they are digging in a pocket or purse to find some change or a dollar bill. Some avert their eyes and rush past without acknowledging my presence. A few scowl and appear angry.
I try to give everyone a cheery greeting and ask, “Would you like a poppy?” The responses are varied.
“I bought one yesterday.” Or, “I just bought one at (another location).”
Quite a number reply, “I don’t have any cash on me. I’ll catch you on my way out.”
“Of course, I want one. I’m a veteran myself.” Or the person’s father, son or husband is a veteran.
“No. They never did anything for me!”
On the way into the store, a few would shake their heads, but as they exited the store, they would exhibit a change of heart. “I think I will take one,” each would say with a smile.
One woman responded to, “Would you like a poppy?” with “Yes, I believe I would.” I handed her one. She smiled sweetly, said, “Thank you,” and walked away. Although most Americans are familiar with Buddy Poppies, I realized this woman wasn’t familiar with their purpose. Rather than embarrass her in front of others, I moved on to the next donor, who was unaware the lady in front of her hadn’t contributed to our vets.
One mother and young daughter walked by me without a word and when they came out of the store, the mother was stony faced, avoiding my eyes. But as she walked past, the little girl stopped and quietly said, “I’d like one, please.” She followed her mother to the car, happily clutching her free poppy.
Some children handed me a coin or two, as did some who were obviously on fixed incomes. They reminded me of the story of the widow’s mite, every bit as valuable as the larger donations. More than one person handed me an overflowing handful of mixed coins, whatever change they had on them. Some gave a dollar, some more than a dollar and a few gave a larger donation.
Some would give a donation and hand the poppy back, telling me to resell it to make more money for the vets.
There were those who would say, “I bought one yesterday, but I forgot to wear it today.” Others would proudly point to a poppy in their buttonhole or wrapped around a purse strap.
As I watched the sea of faces passing, I realized people respond to the gospel in much the same way.
Some decline. “What did God ever do for me?” “I don’t believe in God.” “The Bible is a group of stories, obviously exaggerated or untrue.” “I’m just not interested.” Or, “Faith is for weaklings, people who can’t make it in their own strength and need a crutch.”
There are other responses. “I don’t need to hear it.” “Daddy preached it.” “Granny was saved.” “Mama sent me to Sunday school when I was small.” “I’ve walked down the aisle and answered the call eight times already.”
Some avert their eyes and close their ears as they rush through their lives, trying to avoid it altogether.
Some say, “Yes,” without a clue as to what the gospel is or why it is preached. Some respond negatively at first but then have a change of heart. Some embrace it with joy, while others react with anger, and others prefer to avoid making a commitment one way or the other.
Some hear the gospel and freely offer everything they are to God. Others offer a pittance of themselves. Some respond immediately and some use the excuse they need to sow their oats, become financially secure, finish their education, acquire a mate and 3.2 children, or finish whatever it is that stands between them and God.
I couldn’t accurately predict which ones would buy a Buddy Poppy or how generous each would be if they donated because I can’t read minds or hearts. God can. He knows how diverse our individual personalities are and that we are not all ready to respond positively at the same time and in the same manner.
God doesn’t sell the gospel. Jesus already paid the price for all of us. It’s free to anyone who will hear, believe and keep His commandments.
© 2005 Janice Price