My favorite dessert in the entire world is vanilla ice cream. If I had to name a favorite brand (aside from homemade), it would be Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla.
But there was one day the vanilla ice cream tasted bad.
From the time I was six or seven to the time I was 13, I spent a week each summer with my grandmother in Shreveport. She lived on the western side of town, in what would then have been called a middle- to working-class neighborhood “out the Greenwood Road.” Church was an important part of her life; she would play piano and sing both with the choir and solo. She even sang a solo on her 90th birthday.
I loved being with my grandmother, but the neighborhood was largely devoid of other kids. One boy my age, named David, lived next door to my grandmother, and his family was as active in the church as my grandmother was. David and I always paired off whenever I came to town.
The church pastor lived a block away. He and his wife had taken in two foster children, brothers just a year or two younger than I was. For some reason, they always looked like they had been rolling around in mud. But they were friendly kids in a neighborhood where three boys were the entire universe of children.
It was always hot in the summer in Shreveport, and many homes didn’t have air conditioning. My grandmother had a window unit that she used for her bedroom and the one I slept in next to hers. Next door, David’s family hadn’t gotten air conditioners yet, but they did have large electric fans.
The four of us boys had been playing; it was early afternoon and blazing hot. We all likely smelled rather poorly. David had a brilliant idea – to get some ice cream from his freezer. He went inside to his kitchen and we waited outside.
A few minutes later, he called for me to come inside. I went into the kitchen, and saw two bowls of ice cream on the table. And I turned and saw two faces peering through the kitchen’s screen door. I asked David where the other boys’ ice cream was. “They don’t get any,” he said. “They’re foster children.”
We sat at the kitchen table. David began to eat, and I stared first at my bowl and then at the screen door. “Can we give them some?” I asked.
Clearly aggravated, David stomped to the freezer atop the refrigerator, got the ice cream, and scooped out small portions in two bowls. He brought it to the two boys at the door with a rather superior “Here’s yours.” He came back to the table and rather glared at me. “They’re dirty and no-account,” he said. The boys heard him but in the joy of eating the ice cream, even outside in the heat, they didn’t seem to care.
It was the one time in my life I can remember thinking the ice cream tasted bad.
This came to mind while I was reading Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God. “In human beings,” he writes, “love is a quality, a high-prized virtue; in God, love is His identity.” We humans desperately want to be loved; we have a more difficult time with being love.
I wasn’t a hero the day the ice cream tasted bad. I was motivated by guilt; how could I enjoy something when it was being denied to those two brothers right in front of me?
The two boys were likely used to this kind of treatment; they didn’t seem surprised by it, nor did they protest. They were going to sit there outside the kitchen door and watch us eat our ice cream, like we deserved it and they didn’t.
The joy on their faces because of two small portions of ice cream was itself something miraculous to behold.
And the ice cream suddenly tasted remarkably better.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing The Furious Longing of God. To see other posts on this chapter, “Unplanned moment of prayer,” please visit Sarah at LivingBetween the Lines.