A couple of weeks ago, on a lovely mid-summer evening, I was working in our front yard. The sun was tilted towards setting, shadows were lengthening from the birch tree’s tender arms, and a slight breeze was blowing.
Then, from just down the street, I heard the faint sound of carnival music and the bell
of the ice cream truck wafting through our neighborhood.
Almost instantly, I was transported back years to another yard, on another summer
night. I’m in elementary school, playing in the yard of our family home. Maybe I was creating roads in the moss next to the carport with my Matchbox bulldozer and earthmover. Makes no difference what I was doing, because when I suddenly heard the faint sound of music (Pop! Goes the Weasel?) and the bell from the ice cream truck, that was all I could think about.
Why? There were treasures packed in dry ice in the ice cream truck. There were Dreamsicles and Fudgesicles. Ice cream sandwiches. Popsicles flavored cherry, grape, and orange (which would stick to your tongue like the flagpole to that poor kid’s in A Christmas Story) Orange Push-Ups. Those little cups of vanilla or chocolate ice cream, with a wooden spoon. And the ever-popular Rocket, which was an icy wedge colored red, white and blue.
To fully appreciate this, you have to know that at that time, none of these was available at the grocery. You could only get them at an amusement park, the fair – and from the ice cream truck that at that moment was coming right down our street.
Now our ice cream man was a genius. He usually came in the early afternoon or the
early evening, around 6:30pm or so. Why was this genius? Because if he came in the late afternoon, every kid on the block would get the same response to our pleading: “Not now, you’ll ruin your supper.”
Neither did his arrival seem to be on the same schedule. He didn’t come every Tuesday and Saturday so you could plan for it and wait on the front steps. No, his arrival was always a delightful surprise.
But this was the perfect time. For one of these delicacies to cross my lips, all I needed
was a quarter. So can you guess what happened next? I popped up and ran into the house, breathlessly, rapidly, repeatedly pleading “Mom! The ice cream man! Can I have some money?”
Time was of the essence. I had to make mom aware of the ice cream possibilities,
convince her to agree I could partake, retrieve a quarter from her purse, and make the mad dash back to the street before the ice cream truck passed by. He never circled back.
Mom said yes, I got the quarter, and I waved the ice cream truck down right in front of our house. The man opened the cool windows on the side of the truck and asked what I wanted. The moment of truth had arrived. I was usually a Dreamsicle or ice cream sandwich guy. I handed over the quarter. He opened the dry ice bins, and the smoke billowed out as he reached deep to get my order.
I walked away enjoying my frozen treat, and he drove away to bring his surprising
joy to the next street in our neighborhood.
All that came flooding back when the ice cream truck came down our street last week. I stopped, smiled and waved as he drove by. It was all I could do not to run into the house for a dollar and try to catch him.
But you know, one more thought (beyond Dreamsicles) occurred to me in that moment. As soon as I hear the music and the bell of that ice cream truck, I stop and look up the street. It triggers attentiveness.
I think there are moments, almost every week, when the Holy Spirit prompts me to notice something of the goodness and sweet love of my heavenly Father. It might happen when I see something in creation. In a conversation with a friend. A phrase from the Bible. An opportunity to serve someone in need. A good meal. An enjoyable book. A good bike ride. The faith of a friend walking through crisis. The love of my family. Something that makes me laugh. Collaborating with my faith-family in ministry. Buying groceries. Strange peace in the midst of stress. Or a thousand other things.
These moments come at irregular, unscheduled times. There is a sense of surprise, a sudden awareness of joy in the midst of an ordinary day.
Here’s the thing: I think I may be missing a bunch of those signals. “Every good and
perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights….” (James 1:17) Every one. Every one of those moments is a bell to my heart, beckoning me to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). To stop everything and enjoy one little piece of His sweetness. To anticipate knowing more of “how wide, how long, how high, and howdeep his love is…. experiencing the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.” (Eph. 3:18-19) And I don’t have to scramble for money to pay for this treat. It’s all free, available by grace because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
My Father wants me to enjoy Him. He plans to immerse my life in His love.
So, I want to be more attentive. I want to tune my ears to listen more carefully for the music of heaven when it plays in the neighborhood of my heart. More and more, I want to be surprised by His joy. I want to be ready to drop everything to feast on His love and the promises of Jesus’ gospel.
But right now, I think I need some ice cream. That’s one of the Father’s good gifts, too!