THE ICE CREAM SANDWICH
I remember the hot summer when we discovered ice cream sandwiches
in the bottom of the cooler at the corner store. They were ten cents
apiece, a lot of money back then. I don’t remember how we came to buy
one and taste the sweet chocolate graham crust and the melting vanilla
ice cream, but we were mad for them after that. Of course, none of us
had any money, allowances being unheard of on our side of town.
Whether we rode our bikes, or played ball, or sat and played marbles, we
talked and dreamed about those soft, creamy sandwiches. Within a week
we had tapped out our sources of money: mooching and pop bottles for 2
My dad worked nights, coming home to join us for breakfast, and then
sleeping till late afternoon. When he came home one morning I heard the
jingle of change in his pants and something ugly crept into my mind. That
change was just what we needed, what I had to have. All day long I kept
coming into the house and listening at his door. Sleeping sounds:
slow, even snoring. I cracked the door, and there hanging at the foot of
the bed were those pants, that change, those ice cream sandwiches; my
chance to be the big man in the neighborhood. I slipped in and took a
handful of change. We ate like greedy pigs, and I was a hero to my band
of friends as we sat in the shade of the corner store. They thought I was
rich. I told them it was birthday money I’d saved. I felt satisfied before I
ever ate them sandwiches. I was somebody.
That went on every day for about two weeks and what a time it was! I had
gotten good at slipping in and slipping out, and then ran to my buddies
and we headed to the store. One day there was no change in dad’s
pocket so I felt for his wallet, hesitated a moment, then took out two
whole dollars. I had been okay with taking the change, but those dollars
made my face feel hot. Even before we began gorging ourselves on ice
cream, my stomach felt sick. The importance and joy I had felt buying for
my friends was gone that afternoon. I realized I was in pretty deep. If dad
knew, he’d kill me, but worse, he’d have that look in his eye, that
disappointment he would get when I’d miss catching a ball or get a bad
grade. Now, I had stolen from my dad. I couldn’t face him, and didn’t
know what to do.
Early that afternoon, the sun high and hot, I grabbed my fishing pole and
walked down the tracks to the reservoir, wishing my stomach would quit
aching, and praying nobody would see me crying.
Sometimes we have sinned in our own eyes so deeply that we don’t
know how to return to God. Our sin seems so big we simply can’t face
Him. It isn’t so much that we don’t love God. In fact, it is largely because
we do that we cannot figure out how to tell Him about what we did. Our
betrayal of His love, our utter failure where we promised devotion,
makes us feel unworthy of Him.
Well, of course we are unworthy whatever we do, we know that
doctrinally, but now we feel it, and just can’t lift our faces to His. We go
away. We go fishing maybe like I did, like even the apostle Peter did.
Driven by guilt at his actions during our Lord’s arrest and trial, Peter
walked slowly into the shadow world of self-rejection. He buried himself
back in what he knew best — fishing. Peter felt remorse and despair.
Have you wept those bitter tears? Have you walked away from Him
because of your sin? Unworthy, unacceptable. God will use your failure
for your good, your instruction, your growth. Although just a little boy, my
dad taught me something about God that hot afternoon fishing in the old
reservoir, something you need to know, something your Father wants
you to discover today for yourself.
As I sat hurting that day, knowing there was no way to get right with my
dad, I saw him walking along the tracks. He was big man who sort of
swaggered like a sailor in a roiling sea, his arms swinging to the sides as
he went. But now he was walking slow and deliberate, looking somehow
as heavy as I felt. I couldn’t run. I just sat there, watching him come to
me, my pole motionless in my hands, barely breathing. I don’t remember
being afraid. No, it was more so feeling deeply sorrowful at hurting him.
My eyes were watery when he came up. He just quietly sat alongside me
and stared in the water with me.
After what seemed a very long time he asked, “How’re they biting son?
I couldn’t speak. I was too near crying, and he deserved me acting with
some dignity I thought. We sat quietly, a bird singing nearby, and I stuck
out my chin as best I could, willing to take whatever beating he thought I
needed, if he would only take me back.
In a moment I will never forget, he said, “Son, I’ve known since the first
day you took the money. I watched out the window as you and your
friends ate ice cream. I didn’t say anything, because I wanted to let you
come and tell me yourself. It hurt me that you were stealing from me, but
it hurt more you didn’t come and tell me. Son, you can always come to
me when you’ve done wrong. I love you son.” And with that, his hand
reached out, not to strike me, but to pull me to his chest, where I cried.
As I cried, my dad told me he trusted me, and that everything he had
would be mine some day. Because I couldn’t go to him, he came to me.
God is coming to you. It isn’t so much your sin that hurts Him, as your
reluctance to face Him and trust Him even in your failings. He is your
Father. His calling is unchanging. His love, unfailing. He has come
seeking you, true Shepherd that He is. Bury your head in His chest,
accept His embrace, and begin again, as at the first, to follow Him. There,
in His grace, you will find a firm foundation for serving others, your own
needs met. Jesus has work for you still.