We walked into the store and settled the little ones in a booth. Sunday morning had dawned early so we packed up the three-year-old and ten-year-old and went into town for breakfast.
It was too late when I saw him, walking toward us with lollipops held out. “For the kids,” he said, his mussed gray hair falling onto his forehead. The wrinkled hands briefly touched the children’s outstretched ones as the lollipops were transferred.
I bit back irritation. When I looked at the lollipops all I could see was artificial color and flavor and straight sugar. Not exactly the right thing to start out a morning and certainly not a good thing for the already-bouncing ten-year-old beside my husband.
Don’t people know it’s best to check with the adults before handing out unsolicited candy? What if the kids had allergies? What if, like the little girl with us, they weren’t suppose to have sugar? Now it was left to me to be the bad guy and take the candy away before sugar-highs sent us soaring during church.
I forced a smile while my husband struck up a conversation.
“I buy boxes of those lollipops,” the man said, “just to give to all the children who come in. I’m here every morning, you know, to make the children smile.”
Then his voice lowered a bit and he winked at the two little ones, “I grew up in an orphanage and we never got lollipops. So I give them out to every child I see.”
And the ten-year-old, her eyes widened. She set the lollipop on the table, forgotten, and said, “I lived in an orphanage too!”
The two shared a look. The old, old man with the wrinkled face and the small girl with wide brown eyes.
And suddenly, it’s not a lollipop. It’s not artificial color or flavor or straight sugar. It’s the heart of a little orphaned boy who took a step past his circumstances, chose love over bitterness, and uses lollipops to demonstrate that love.
I left the red lollipop on the table and waited for the girl to notice it again. After a bit she picked it up carefully. “Are you going to take this from me?” she asked.
I looked at her, the way her eyes were happy, and said, “What do you think we should do with it?”
She thought a moment, tilted her a head a bit, and said, “I won’t eat it right now. I’ll just save it. Maybe I’ll eat it later if you say it’s okay or maybe not. But maybe I can keep it?”
I nodded and she tucked it away in her little Sunday purse, next to the crayons and coloring book.
Sometimes lollipops aren’t just lollipops, you know. Sometimes they are love.
May I always be able to tell the difference.