Story by Karen Harper DeLoach (Author)
A woman told about her experience as a child when her efforts to bake a cake for her dad ended in disaster. Rather than berating her, her usually-less-than-diplomatic father praised her effort. It was a life lesson for that lady. It boosted her self-esteem so that she had the courage to try new things without the fear of failure.
When I read about that, my mind went back over four decades to a lazy summer afternoon. I was seven. Dad was in the Air Force, and we were stationed in Wisconsin for a year. My family lived in a big farmhouse outside of Madison. It was our first experience with country living. A local farmer worked the land and raised the chickens and pigs that were housed in the barn, and we rented the two-story house with its huge lawn and ready-to-climb apple trees.
Our family of six was enjoying the summer afternoon, lying on the grass out close to the road, watching the shapes of the clouds floating across the sky. A plane flew overhead, so high in the sky that it was barely visible. Daddy made a joke, and we all laughed. It was a time of lazy conversation and just being together.
Daddy glanced at me and said, “Karen, run up to the house and fix me a cheese sandwich.”
I jumped up and ran across our lawn that was the size of a football field. I went into the kitchen and gathered the ingredients for the “best-ever” sandwich, two slices of white bread and a thick slice of cheese. Feeling like a big girl, I ran back across the yard and proudly handed my creation to Daddy, who took a big bite. As he chewed, he asked, “Did you wash your hands first?”
“No, sir,” I answered. I hadn’t even thought about it.
He sputtered and spit the chewed-up food out onto the ground as he tossed the sandwich into the air. Cheese and bread flew everywhere. My brother and sisters rolled with laughter at the sight. I swallowed hard and blinked back my tears.
“Now, go back to the house, wash your hands, and fix me another sandwich,” he said.
I turned and walked slowly across the yard, struggling not to cry, torn between hurt and anger. The day no longer seemed so beautiful.
That was one of the first times in my life that my dad made me feel inadequate, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Many times through the years, when I failed to meet his standards, he would ask, “Are you stupid?”
On one level, I knew I was smart. I made good grades in school and was a member of the National Honor Society. But on another level, that little voice that said, “You’re stupid!” was always in the back of my mind, ready to accuse at the slightest mistake, instilling a fear of failure and rejection.
In his later years, my dad mellowed a lot. He was an affectionate grandfather to my sons. He supported me and showed his love for me in very tangible ways. But I wonder. What if Dad had used the unwashed-hands-and-cheese-sandwich incident in a positive way, like the father whose daughter failed in her cake baking? Perhaps that little “you’re stupid” voice that has plagued me all my life would never have had a chance to develop.
For some time, I based my perception of my heavenly Father on my experiences with my earthly father. God was someone to be feared and placated. I had to tiptoe around Him carefully. No matter how good I tried to be, no matter how many good works I performed, it would never be enough. I could never be good enough for Him.
I knew the truth of the passage in Ephesians 2:8-9 which says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Salvation is a gift of grace that cannot be earned. But on some level, I still thought I had to work to be good enough for God.
Then came a day when I was at a very low point in my life. I’d made a mess of everything important to me. Frustrated, I looked in the bathroom mirror and spoke harshly to the woman looking back at me, “You are so stupid!”
Head bowed and heart-heavy, I walked into my bedroom and turned on the tape player. I sat slumped on the edge of the bed and listened to the words of the song. It spoke of God sheltering me in His arms.
Suddenly, I felt as if my heavenly Father had picked me up like a little child and sat me down in His lap. He wrapped His loving arms tightly around me and spoke to my heart. “Karen, you’re My child. I love you! Your sins have been covered by the blood of My Son Jesus. Because of that, you don’t ever have to worry about being good enough for Me.”
My face crumpled and was washed in healing tears. I leaned back and rested in my Father’s grace.
What rest! What peace! By His grace, my hands are clean enough to serve Him!
“To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.”Ephesians 1:6
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