Heart Prints: Celebrating the Power of a Simple Touch
By Sandra P. Aldrich and Bobbi Valentine
Published by Livingstone Books
INTRODUCTION: To Make A Difference Lisa smiled at the four-month-old baby in her arms as he enjoyed a morning bottle. The church nursery was uncharacteristically quiet this Sunday. Normally, four or five of the infants would be crying as the attendants wound the musical swings, gave bottles, and changed diapers.
But now Lisa and Marilee actually had a moment to catch up as they rocked babies. Marilee, a likable, talkative woman, told Lisa, "I was at the women's prison again Thursday. That's such a big place, almost eight hundred inmates now. It breaks your heart to go there. A new woman who calls herself ŒCat' just sits there staring at me. She doesn't follow along in the text or join the discussions. I asked the chaplain about her, but he didn't have much to say other than she's had a rough life, like most of the others in there. So I'm asking the Lord to use me to make a difference in her life."
What a wonderful ministry, Lisa thought as she snuggled the baby in her arms. But I could never go to a prison and teach the Bible. I just don't have special gifts like Marilee does. What Lisa doesn't realize is that she is already doing something special by lovingly caring for the babies in the nursery two Sundays a month. The young mothers can enjoy the worship service and get the spiritual encouragement they need since they know their children are safe. Several of them even find themselves calmed by Lisa's gentleness toward their children and try to incorporate that attitude into their own responses at home. If they were to try to express that to Lisa, however, she undoubtedly would brush aside their comments, nor realizing what an important role she is playing in their lives.
To make a difference is our heart's basic cry, but it may take effort on our part to see that we do have extraordinary worth ‹ not only to God but to those around us. We are prone to think only a dramatic public act of service is important. However, it is more often than not the quiet kindnesses that leave their marks on hearts and lives. In these pages you will read about some of the extraordinary "heartprints" ordinary women have gently stamped upon others, usually without realizing their impact.
For instance, Jean, an executive in a large Christian organization, has made two moves within the past five years, but none of her town-house neighbors have welcomed her. She confesses that since she's not an outgoing person, she didn't knock on their doors either. So every night, like countless other people, she pulled into her parking spot, got her mail, and silently entered her home‹all without the greeting of another person.
This continued until Jean decided to watch for other newcomers to the complex. When a single mother and her two young children moved into the next building, Jean showed up at her door the following Saturday morning with a bright smile, a plate of cookies‹and her phone number in case the woman ever needed her help. What an impact that simple, friendly gesture had on the recent divorcee who felt as though she had been abandoned not only by her husband but by the world.
Trish understands abandonments. Often left alone during childhood, she gleaned her concept of femininity from the after-school "soaps." When a suicide attempt in college sent her to counseling, she had to face her longing for motherly direction. "When my counselor suggested I find someone to take my mother's place emotionally," she says, "my first thought was How do I do that? Go up to someone in the grocery store and say, ŒWill you be my mother?" My counselor finally suggested I move in with his family for a week so I could see firsthand how his wife mothered their children.
"That first night I listened to her going to the children's rooms at bedtime to pray with them and then to tuck them in. When she came into my room to say good night, she actually sat on the bed and offered to pray with me, too. My prayer was pretty short because I was so choked up‹nobody had ever done that with me before‹but when she tucked the blanket around me and bent down to kiss my forehead, I absolutely lost it. She did more for me in that one evening than all of her husband's counseling ever could."
None of these stories are parting-of-the-Red-Sea scenarios. Rather they tell about one women simply reaching out to another ‹ through a plate of cookies, a friendly smile, a kiss on the forehead, a prayer, a servant's heart. Every day women make a profound difference in others' lives through simple acts of sharing God's love. Our most artless action can become a profound, life-changing heartprint that will not only touch one woman's life but ripple out to others. And we don't know how far that influence will go ‹ perhaps even from generation to generation, as the women we influence then touch the lives of those around them.
If you were to ask the average woman what she could do to influence others, she probably would be astounded by the question and might even say, "Oh, I'm not talented. I can't do anything special." Often these are the women who sit in church week after week and feel that since they don't have a public ministry, they couldn't possibly make a difference. They think, I can't get up in front of people. I can't teach. I'm so busy just being a mother I don't have time to do anything for God. I don't know enough Scripture. God could never use me. I'm not a missionary.
But these same women ‹ women just like you ‹ already are being used by God every day! As you absorb the Word and spend time with God in prayer, you are empowered to be a friend, to care, to open your heart and home, to put an arm around weary shoulders. To leave heartprints wherever you go.
In the following pages, you'll read true stories about women who, often without being aware of it, deeply impacted others through their simple lives and deeds. May you come to recognize the incredible impact you, too, are having on those around you as you walk across their lives in love.
Chapter Three: Breakfast Riddles Sandra learned to look for each day's joy the morning she found another streak of gray in her hair. And she learned it all from someone who at first glance didn't have anything to offer other than an empty seat in her breakfast booth.
Early that Friday morning, Sandra had peered into the mirror as she brushed her hair. The wing of gray at her right temple had widened almost overnight. She tossed the brush onto the bathroom counter. It was definitely a day for breakfast at her favorite coffee shop.
The Coffee Shop in the middle of Mount Kisco, New York, was one of those narrow, 1950s style diners too busy serving breakfast to early morning workers to bother with the latest tile colors or soda machines. The five booths and dozen counter stools had been witness to almost forty years of World Series arguments, weather complaints and social changes. Through it all, the grill had sizzled with over-easy eggs and plump hamburgers.
The counter stools were always occupied first, so Sandra and her children, Jay and Holly, usually had no trouble getting a booth. That morning, however, even the booths were filled. The three of them stood by the door for a moment, surrounded by the combined smell of bacon grease, grilled bagels, and strong coffee, wondering if anyone was about to leave.
Suddenly an ancient woman in the back booth waved for them to join her. After their move from Michigan, the trio had quickly learned that New Yorkers are used to sharing their space, so they weren't surprised by the invitation. They smiled their thanks and moved to the offered seats. Holly slid into the booth next to the old woman, while Sandra and Jay sat down across from them.
Sandra thanked the woman for her kindness, then introduced herself and both young teens. The woman smiled and nodded but merely pointed to her ear and shook her head. Oh, dear. She's deaf, Sandra thought.
The three sat in uncomfortable silence while the woman continued with her breakfast. Her red, arthritic hands cut the poached egg on toast as Sandra stared at her own hands, knowing that someday they would be gnarled like hers. Wasn't it enough that I found the new streak of gray this morning? Sandra thought. Did I have to get this second reminder of my own mortality too? She looked at Jay and Holly and flashed her standard "It's okay" smile while the woman's hands continued to move in her side vision.
Sandra forced her thoughts to other details of the woman's person. The collar of her flowered, navy blue dress peeked over the top of her tightly buttoned maroon sweater. Tinted glasses sat on the end of her nose. Her hair was silver and covered by a bright blue winter cap.
What color had her hair been? Nondescript brunette like Sandra's? Or perhaps chestnut, its red highlights tossing bits of sunlight toward an admiring beau? Had her swollen hands once gently held babies who grew up and left for exotic places, remembering her only at Christmas and Mother's Day, if then? Had those same hands tenderly sponged the feverish forehead of an ill husband who died, despite her care, leaving her to grow old alone?
At last the woman put her knife and fork across the plate, drank the last of her heavily creamed coffee, and then leaned toward Holly. "Why do you go to bed at night?" she asked.
Because the three of them wrongly had assumed the woman was probably mute as well as deaf, her question momentarily startled them. Finally Holly shrugged and answered, "Because I'm tired?"
The woman, who had watched Holly's lips closely, leaned forward, the sparkle in her eyes suddenly apparent. "Because the bed won't come to you!" she exclaimed.
The three laughed appreciatively then, so she tapped the table surface in front of Jay. "If I put a quarter and a nickel here, and the nickel rolled off, why didn't the quarter?"
Jay and Sandra looked at each other in puzzlement. The women smiled as she supplied the answer with obvious delight: "Because the quarter has more sense!"
Her unexpected play on words was so comical that they all laughed. Sandra waited for another riddle, but the woman busied herself with gathering her newspaper and purse. Holly stood up to let her out of the booth. The woman smiled at Sandra, patted Holly's shoulder, gripped Jay's hand in farewell, and was off, her head up and her stooped shoulders momentarily straightened for the day ahead.
The booth suddenly seemed empty. Sandra's immediate sense of loss was so evident that Holly asked, "What's wrong, Mom?"
Sandra stared at her for a moment. Yes, what was wrong? Actually, nothing was wrong, but something was indeed gone. That dear, elderly woman had given the three of them a moment of unexpected joy, serendipitous encouragement, and Sandra wanted to relish it a little longer.
In those few moments they'd spent together, Sandra had seen no self-pity, heard no laments for what had been lost, and received no admonishment that Sandra enjoy these "best days of her life" with her children. The woman had merely invited the three of them to share her private joy and, in doing so, had demonstrated a more noble way to face life's challenges.
Sandra smiled at the memory of those sparkling eyes. And that memory helped her accept the new gray streak in her hair as merely another well-earned milestone. When I'm her age, Sandra told herself, I hope I'm also teaching others to grab today's joy. For now, Sandra decided, she would rejoice in what she had left instead of lamenting what she had lost. And that was a good lesson to have learned so early in life.
From outward appearances and actions, the elderly woman had nothing to offer but a seat in a dining booth. But from this unexpected source came a new perspective on life for Sandra. The woman could have quietly finished her meal and left, not reaching out nor revealing her sense of humor. Instead she chose to touch others' lives by focusing on the joy and humor in the moment.
As you focus on everything you have left instead of what you may have lost, God can use you. What opportunities do you have to express Christian joy in front of others?