Friday, February 26, 2010

Princes and Princesses

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Matthew 19:14

Engrossed in conversations of four-year-olds, a soft tap, tap on my back interrupted my listening. I turned and was greeted by a smiling, wide-eyed boy holding up a red cookie tin in my direction. Atop, it was adorned with three little "love notes" scribbled in his own penmanship, illustrations and all!

"These are for you Mrs. Aldrich," he proudly boasted. "Wow! Thank you!" I said. "May I share them with the other teachers, too?" He nodded his approval and gave me a great big hug around the waist before he toddled off to play. With a heart filled with awe at his thoughtfulness, my steps around the classroom were a bit lighter that morning.

It was also the last day of school for one of the little girls. At the end of the day we gathered around her, sang her our good-bye song, and wished her luck as she and her family moved south. The children, seemingly unaffected, skipped off to their familiar spots at the tables, anticipating the arrival of their parents. As the sea of faces poured into the room, the noise level elevated with squeals and cheers as each child found those familiar eyes of mommy, daddy and grandma.

Then through the noise, one dear little girl hushed the room with her whisper, "I need to give her a hug!" (referring to her classmate that was moving).

As she embraced her little classmate for the last time, one-by-one all 24 remaining classmates joined in, until she was surrounded by one enormous group hug! At that moment I lost it! My eyes filled tears and my heart swelled with awe at their overwhelming, impromptu expression of love.

Jesus challenges us to love like these little ones love; honestly, openly, overwhelmingly, purely, unconditionally because they show us what God's kingdom is like! (Matthew 19:13-15). They're the princes and princesses of His kingdom. Who would ever shoo the king's children away?

This story in Matthew tells us that his disciples almost did. And, dare I suggest, many of us would have done the same in Jesus' presence. But, this snippet of Jesus' life shows us that he welcomed the tap, tap of little hands on is back, the hugs and giggles of the wide-eyed children all around him that just wanted to give him a love note. He welcomes our shoulder taps, too and welcomes us to sit on his lap, whenever we need to. We need never fear rejection or delay. He's always there, beckoning us to come.

Friday, February 19, 2010


"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5: 1

It always amazes me just how little my husband needs to pack for a trip. Everything he needs, whether for a week or just a weekend, fits into a carry on bag. Me, on the other hand, needs the largest suitcase, an overnight bag AND a large tote bag no matter how long the vacation! That’s just the baggage I need to get to where we’re going. Heading back from vacation with all the souvenirs is an altogether different story! You see, I have a bad habit of packing for the “just in case” moments that rarely seem to happen. Maybe you can relate…I’ll pack that pretty dress “just in case” we want to go out to for a fancy dinner one night. This, by the way, also requires packing a special pair of shoes, an extra clutch, matching jewelry and perfume! I’ll pack a long pair of pants for a summer trip down south, “just in case” the weather turns cold. Has the south ever known a July day less than 85 degrees? Rarely! So, you can imagine how heavy my baggage is by the time the week is over!

I used to get weighed down by my emotional baggage, too. We all carry some. We can't help it. It comes with the territory of living in a broken world. Circumstances of life are never perfect and we get wounded; physically, emotionally or both. Whichever the case, our wounds cause pain and we pack our bags with things we think will protect us, "just in case" it happens again. We load up with things like fear, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and unforgiving hearts. The list is endless. Gone unpacked, the contents of our baggage gets heavier and starts to stink... so do we!

Take courage! There's hope for our future! Freedom is ours if we want it! We just have to give Jesus permission to open our bags and sort through the dirty laundry with us. It can be scary at first. Nobody likes to show off the dirty stuff. It's embarrassing, painful, and unpleasant. But once we get started, our baggage gets lighter, we get rejuvenated and can finally go places we never thought we could go.

Where do you want to go? What do you think God is calling you to do but you just can't seem to get there? Is your baggage weighing you down? Have you packed too much for the "just in case" situations that you can't event think of where your future might take you? If so, give Jesus permission to unpack your bags. Let Him do some laundry and lighten your load.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shoulder to Shoulder

"I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father, I have made known to you." John 15:15b

We didn't do anything or go anywhere special. We hung out by the fire, shared good food, caught up on our lives and at times we didn't say a word. Someone looking from the outside-in, might have thought we were bored or even mad at each other. They'd be wrong.

Our husbands have been friends since kindergarten and as couples we've shared 25 years of life's surprises. There's not much that we don't know about each other. There' s not much that would surprise us, either. Individually we're cut in shapes as unique as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle but when we're together, standing shoulder-to-shoulder our lives interlock and bring life into focus with a comfort that no words can express. There's an unspoken understanding, a unity, a strength.

It was that way with Jesus and his disciples too, I would guess. There wasn't much they didn't know about each other in the three years they hung out, broke bread and shared life together. Each one as different as the pebbles on the beaches they walked, yet united and strengthened by their friendship with each other, led by Jesus.

Jesus defined their friendship by how much he revealed to them... everything! He was fully transparent with them; held nothing back. And, when life got really tough for him, especially the night he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked his friends to stay with him. They didn't have to say a word, just stand with him shoulder-to-shoulder through that difficult night.

There are times when our own friends just need to know we're there. We need not say a word. Just stand with each other, shoulder-to-shoulder.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


"May you rejoice in the wife of your youth...may you ever be captivated by her love."
Proverbs 5:18-19

Love is NOT dead! I know it because I saw it with my own eyes!

At first it didn't register. There I was, ringing out my groceries at the local supermarket, paying close attention to the climbing numbers on the screen in front of me. I was totally self-absorbed in what was going on with my own order until this man behind me set down two bundles of red roses on the belt behind my frozen chicken.

Instantly, my gaze was drawn away from my order to the beautiful, velvety, red petals of his bouquets. Then, before I could compliment their beauty or his thoughtfulness, my eyes spotted another bouquet further down the belt, and yet another, separated only by the white grocery dividers. Beyond the belt was a line of even more men holding the same bundles of red love closely to their hearts. What a sight! I'd never seen so many men holding so many roses for so many lovers at one time! My heart was encouraged to see their affection so freely displayed!

Of course it's almost Valentine's Day... Hallmark's excuse to make money by guilting us into purchasing cards, flowers, candy and lingerie for that someone special... but, it was still nice to see them expressing their love in some way.

As I bagged my groceries alongside my husband, (who had already presented me with my own bundle of roses... lucky for him), my mind wandered to the women who'd be receiving those ruby petals. Would they accept them with grace? Would they receive them as a token of that man's love? Would they thank him with a hug, a special smile, a kiss? Would they feel full of hope for their future? More simply, would they love him back?

The verse I chose for today speaks of husbands rejoicing in their wives; being captivated by her forever. How does that happen especially today when over 47% of our marriages end in divorce? May I speak boldly, ladies? How we receive our husband's token of affection is as important as his offering of that gift. It's not the gift. It's not the delivery. It's the offer that's important. If our husbands love us so much to take the time to purchase us flowers, a gift, make a dinner or just offer us words from his heart then isn't it up to us to receive those tokens of his love graciously and affectionately?

I love flowers! My husband knows that's the nicest gift he can give me. But, more importantly, I love the giver of that gift. I love that he still rejoices in me, the wife of his youth. I love that I still captivate his attention and affection after all these years...gray hair, wrinkles, cellulite and all!

Happy Valentine's Day, my love.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Unfailing Love

"The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love."
Psalm 147:11

From the time I was in kindergarten, I remember having crushes on boys. My first was a boy named Ray. I liked him because he was kind and walked me home from school every afternoon. I had to walk through an old, old cemetery to get to my house and it frightened me. But, when Ray was there, he made me feel safe and it wasn't a scary place anymore. Then, he moved onto Catholic school and I never saw him again.

By sixth grade the crushes got more serious and puppy love set in big time! I remember this one boy, who I thought looked just like Donny Osmond (the heart throb of us '70's girls), sat right next to me in Mrs. Brown's class. He was cute AND funny but I don't think he could carry a tune like Donny. Anyway, by the end of the year we were voted class couple. It wasn't like we "dated" but we felt that awkward, sweaty nervousness that made us act stupid whenever we were around each other. Then, June came and he asked me to go to his church carnival! My heart be still! A REAL public! We rode the Ferris wheel, played some silly games and walked around the carnival grounds not really saying much all night. We never held hands and I never got more than a "see ya" when we parted. But, it was a REAL date.

That summer my family moved across town. The next time I saw him was on the first day of my freshman year in high school (except for the occasional glimpse of him piling out of his parents' 1970's VW Van at the local supermarket). I remember seeing him come toward me in the hall between classes. My heart was beating outside of my chest and my palms got all sweaty again. As we got in hearing distance, I smiled but he gave me that look of disdain and passed by without a "hello" or even a smile. My heart sank. What happened to that puppy love? (Three years of tween-ager hood happened, silly girl)!

I can proudly say I'm now well past that puppy love stage. I've been married over 25 years to my husband whom I met when I was twelve (not the Donny Osmond look-alike). When we were engaged we spent long nights talking about commitment. I was scared he'd bail or worse, cheat. That fear was unfounded but rooted in my family history of failed love. Even though my husband reassured me of his unfailing love, I needed his reassurance over and over again, for years, even after we were married. For some reason, I never thought I'd be enough for him for a life time and it scared me.

How we worked through my fear is a long story, but suffice it to say, I learned to trust him for his word as I grew more in love with my heavenly Father. Sounds weird, I know. But what happens when you spend time with God in His word, in prayer, in listening, in living, is you learn that God's love never fails those who put their trust in Him. You learn that you are enough for Him, without adding to or taking away anything in your life. You learn He's always there for you and never leaves you even though others might. You learn to see yourself through His eyes, the one who created you. You learn to see others the way He sees them, too.

So, whether you're in a long term relationship or a brand new one and fear that love may fail you, I invite you to get to know the One whose love NEVER fails. Watch was it does to your heart. You may find yourself falling in love all over again!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Heart Shaped Lunch

"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies."
Psalm 23:5

It's February and at preschool it's all about red hearts, white lace, pink glitter, playing post office and making heart shaped sandwiches!

Tuesday was "make a lunch for someone you love" day. It was the cutest thing ever to see their pudgy little fingers struggle, while spreading peanut butter and jelly on two slices of bread; to see the delight on their faces when they successfully cut them in the shape of a heart; to see them thoughtfully choose the right snack and wrap it all up in a white paper sack.

Then came the struggle. They had to give it away. They wanted to eat that special heart-shaped sandwich themselves! It took awhile but, they finally caught onto the concept that sharing their lunch was like giving a gift to someone you love. By the end of the morning their white paper sacks were adorned with pink hearts and lovingly addressed to Mommy or Daddy, Brother or Nana and even an imaginary friend!

More interesting was the reaction on parents and grandparents faces. Sheer joy and pride covered the mommies faces whose children addressed lunches to them. Snickers arose from those whose children chose to share with their daddies, disappointment from the Nana who's grandchild chose the "other" Nana and a grin from the one whose child chose the imaginary friend.

As the families left one at a time my mind wandered to Psalm 23 where David says, "You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies." I pictured myself in Jesus' banquet hall, reaching for a white paper sack among thousands that I hadn't addressed but Jesus had addressed for me. There was a heart-shaped sandwich inside that I had to give away. My pink heart said it was addressed to my enemy; someone I didn't like very much and didn't like me either. Jesus put that sacked lunch in my hand and said, "Go. I've prepared this just for you two."

Jesus is all about relationships and reconciliation. It's just like Him to give us a heart-shaped sandwich to share with the one we struggle to even like a little, isn't it? But He knows that when we break bread and share our hearts the walls between us will start to crumble and relationships will begin to heal.

In Matthew 5:44 Jesus challenges us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us as well. It's definitely a struggle to even think of being in the same room with an enemy let alone consider praying for them or sharing a meal. But the point is this: Jesus loves us both the same. If we call Him Father and he calls us daughter or son, then he asks us to emulate his actions and love.

Who do you need to share a heart-shaped lunch with this week?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No Strings

"In my anguish I cried to the Lord and he answered by setting me free!"
Psalm 118:5

Remember Pinocchio? He was that sweet, ambitious, wooden puppet whose only desire was to become a real boy. He wanted to walk and dance and run like all the other boys, with no strings attached. His father, Geppetto, was more than willing to see his wish come true but first, requested Pinocchio go to school with the other real boys and learn how to behave.

Like many of us, Pinocchio just couldn't seem to stick to the rules. All he had to do was to go to school, be brave, generous and honest. He ignored his conscience (Mr. Jimmy Cricket) so generously provided him by the Blue Fairy and kept getting mixed up with the wrong crowd who deceived him into thinking his father's rules and the Blue Fairy's virtues would just keep him tied up in strings.

In reality, his disobedience enslaved him more. It separated him from his father, gave him a horribly large nose that got in his way whenever he lied, kept him behind bars and eventually turned him into a worthless jackass who was thrown out to sea and swallowed up by a whale.

Fortunately for Pinocchio, his father never gave up on him. Geppetto called out his name while searching land and sea for his little wooden boy.

Like Geppetto, our Creator never gives up on us either. He loves us so much that He searches the ends of the earth, calling out our name, hoping someday we'll answer. But, it's our choice to answer his call or continue to be enslaved by the strings of our own desires. True, no-strings-attached freedom comes when we simply say, "I'm here, Father. Show me the way out."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Moving Forward

"When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice." John 10:4

Tomorrow I will have come full circle as I celebrate the one year anniversary of my children's book, "Auntie's House" by reading it at the CT Loves to Read Day in Waterbury, Connecticut for the second year in a row. As exciting as it is to see my book come alive in the eyes of children who listen to it for the very first time, it's time to move forward.

Continuing to revel in the magic of this year, without moving forward, would only be to pat myself on the back and point people to what I did, instead of using the gift God's given me to journey to the next step, the next level, especially in my writing and say "Look at what God is doing!"

I've been struggling with the next step as the doors God's opened are not what I expected at all. There's been a lot of distractions (good and bad) that have slowed me down since the fall and made me reassess my situation. Against all logic, I've slowed down just a bit to pursue God's voice and to make time to write again. Some say it's crazy while others call it discipline. I'd rather call it obedience. Discipline relies on my own will and my own pursuits. Obedience is aligning my will with God's and moving in His direction. Discipline comes in making sure I really save the time to write and not waste my time running unnecessary errands or doing unnecessary chores.

As I've slowed down, I must admit there have been days when I've felt pretty stupid! Why? Because I'm not hearing God clearly. I don't know which story to write. On the one hand, I have a sweet children's story that fell in my lap while on vacation down south last summer. You would think I could just spit it out but, until tonight I couldn't get past the first few paragraphs. On the other hand, I have three chapters of an adult, nonfiction book ready for rewrite. I've recently received some great critiques on these chapters so a rewrite should come easily. But, it hasn't. This one's tougher because it's personal, takes more thought, more time, more solitude.

Here's the deal. Until I hear God say "Stop!" I've decided to write in both genres. I've just got to get these stories out of my head and onto paper if for the mere fact that I can stop talking about them in the future tense. I think it's crazy but no matter which direction I take, I see people that God has put in place to help me navigate through these waters. I think He's just asking me to set sail.

Today I finally got to work and sailed past my "writer's block" with my children's book. At least now I'm past the beginning and wondering how to end it rather than how to begin. I took my own advice..."Writing a book is as easy as telling a story and everyone has a story to tell." Just tell the story and worry about the rest later.

So, Happy Birthday to "Auntie's House", my first born. Here's to moving forward!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Heard Above the Crowd

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
Matthew 5:8

To a stranger with no personal connection to the performance, a school assembly can be an excruciating experience. However, to a parent with a young child who's up on stage, that assembly is like watching a Hollywood premiere!

The stranger may only see is a small, stuffy, over-packed gymnasium smelling like rubber playground balls and #2 pencils. But through the parents' eyes it's the Grand Ole Opry House the instant their child walks out on stage. In the middle of the sea of 3 1/2 foot school-aged stars is the one that bears their name. With razor sharp focus they zone into that sweet, familiar voice of their child all the while ignoring the squeals and squawks of the school's microphones that threaten to drown it out. The last note of the final song is celebrated with the proud, roaring sound of applause from the parents now standing to their feet.

Every day we stand on the stage of the universe, one in a sea of faces with a song to sing. There's distractions, squawking feedback and we wonder, "Can anyone hear us at all?" While singing we constantly search the eyes in the onlooking crowd for the One whose eyes are locked onto ours; the eyes of the One whose name we bear. There's so many eyes! "Where's the One who knows me?" our hearts silently shout. Finally, our gaze is met. There are those eyes that show us how deeply we're loved and lift our hearts to amazing heights. Finally, our heart settles. We're no longer lost in the sea of faces. We've been found, loved just for who we are because we are His, celebrated and embraced.

* Disclaimer: photos taken from public files from the internet.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mercy and a Hug

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

I felt like I was in junior high all over again. The snickering, sneering, whispering, giggling, pointing of the girls in the corner of the school lavatory were targeted at me. I quickly looked in the mirror to see if I'd spilled paint on a precarious spot on my sweater or if my fly was down. Since I checked out okay I realized they were just being plain mean.

My heart sank to the soles of my penny loafers. Then it hit me. "They're only four and five years old...and I'M the teacher!" Rallying every ounce of patience inside my bones I quietly ushered the band leader of the little babes to the time-out chair. With the help of my friendly colleague I attempted to explain the art of respect and good behavior while showing this little heart that I still loved her and forgave her.

It was a difficult afternoon. I knew I should quack like a duck (figuratively) and let the whole situation roll off my back. Instead, I wove the yarn of this tale over and over again to those who would bend an ear in my direction as if I found someone as upset about this as I was, it would make me feel better. But, it didn't. Instead it started to harden my heart and make me feel worse.

Through the arms of a sweet little boy who'd arrived early for class the next morning, God started to soften my heart. His little hands wrapped around my leg during our prayer time before class and it felt as though God poured a hot cup of comfort directly into my soul.

I rode home on the warmth of his hug , opened my email where God introduced me to mercy. It's a simple word that's rarely used in the day to day encounters with injustice. Yet it seems abundant in times of catastrophic despair. Mercy is "a compassion or forbearance shown to an offender" (Webster Dictionary). Truly, God meant it to be a part of our character all the time, not just in the worst of circumstances. The author of my online devotional reminded me of this in her reference to Micah 6:8 "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

To show mercy to someone who has offended is a humbling experience indeed but to LOVE mercy?! It's not my nature to LOVE mercy. It's more my nature to want to hold a grudge and tie strings to my forgiveness. It takes a humble heart to truly let go of those strings, offer forgiveness freely, compassionately and mercifully.

Lord, may I show YOUR mercy, YOUR compassion, YOUR forbearance to EVERYONE in EVERY situation EVERY day as you do for me. May I be the cup bearer of your hot comfort and mercy to those who may not love me and show them your love through me.