Andrea and I were involved in a conversation at the dinner table. So, it was several minutes before we noticed Clara was no longer with us. She had pushed her chair back about 8 feet so that she was sitting against the wall lost in the shadow of our buffet table. Her food sat uneaten, cooling in the sun light.

We told her to come back and finished eating, but she didn’t respond. She looked down at her hands glancing up periodically with a funny anxious look.

“What is wrong?” I asked, “Is the sun in your eyes? I can close the shades.”

“No.” She shook her head.

Her mother and I exchanged confused glances, and waited. Finally the little girl found the strength to tell us what was going on.

“I disobeyed you, Daddy.” She began. “I’ve disobeyed you for 2 years and 4 years and just years and years and years I’ve been disobeying. I’m sorry Daddy.”

We chuckled a bit, knowing more than she did just how true her statement really was. But, we struggled to hide our amusement from our daughter because she seemed to be in some serious 5-year old turmoil.

She continued to stare at the floor.

“Clara, what did you do? It’s okay. You can tell us. I promise not to get mad.”

She stood up from the chair and led me away from the dinner table. I followed the little girl downstairs to the family room and watched as she knelt down and crawled behind the computer desk to a secret cubby hole she had created behind a shoe box on the lower shelf of a bookcase. When she came out she was holding a small container. Rattling inside of it were five or six tiny speckled jelly beans. Just days prior this same container of jelly beans had been sitting, more than half full, on the bathroom counter upstairs where we had been using them to encourage Lydia to use the potty. In less than a week’s time, Clara had secretly eaten nearly all of the tiny candies.

As she handed me the remaining jelly beans she began to cry. I watched as the shame and guilt of her secret actions drained out of her. It was obvious that she had carried the burden of these stolen treats with her all week. Just a few days of deceit and to her it felt like years and years and years. The weight of these small beans was crushing. I quickly took her into my arms and told her it was okay now. I made clear that what she had done was wrong, but telling her mother and father was the right thing to do and we were proud of her honesty. There was no punishment I could possibly give her that would be greater than what she was already experiencing.

I followed her back up the stairs and we rejoined the family for dinner, but I was lost in thought. The rewards of parenting far outweigh the overwhelming exhausting daily difficulties. But the rewards are not always the dizzy joy and laughter of innocence spinning magically in our outstretched arms. Sometimes it’s the gift of a front row seat to witness an honest heart traveling the curving path back to true forgiveness.

I have spent the past several days in reflection as I wander the downstairs halls of my own life searching for hidden jelly beans. They are there, as I’m sure they are in all of our basements, concealed behind dusty boxes, hidden in the dark, eaten in secret, waiting to be given up into loving arms. If only we didn’t spend so much time pushing our chairs back from the table and staring at our hands, and more time giving up.