“Give Joanne a bite of your ice cream.”
My best friend and I sat at her picnic table as she pointed to the cottony swirls in the periwinkle sky, claiming to have learned in Catechism that God speaks through the clouds. My father had offered to buy Joanne a Good Humor, too, but she said she didn’t want one.
“Wow! Sure, here.” I obediently lifted my Toasted Almond and Joanne took a huge bite. “You sure you don’t want some more?”
Vanilla ice cream dribbled down her freckled chin. She wiped it with the back of her hand. “No, no. It’s just what God is saying.”
I was raised as a secular Jew in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood. With two Catholic best friends, I was the odd one out, excluded from the mysteries of Catechism and holy water. My other best friend was Susie. Her father, whiskey in hand, a Camel bobbing from his lips like a buoy, would croak in a Popeye voice, “A nice girl like you oughta be a Catlick.”
“Hey, you know what that one says?” The summer wind tousled Joanne’s Buster Brown haircut as she pointed to a long, fluffy cloud.
Wide-eyed, my eight-year-old reverence held me captive. “No, what?”
“That cloud says…” Joanne squinted, her tongue sticking out in concentration, “…to give Joanne your whole ice cream.”
Without hesitation, I handed over the dripping bar, wishing that Jews could hear from God, too.
Fast forward fifty years.
The words were clear, but confusing. A strong cup of coffee, a cat on my lap, pen and paper and a slew of books and Bibles were splayed around me. It was my usual devotional time, before anyone else in the house was up.
Led to the Lord through my brother’s death a few years earlier, I’d become a born-again Christian. Or, more accurately, a messianic Jew. I was learning to discern God’s voice from my own thoughts, and one way was when thoughts came out of left field. And Joanne certainly had not been in my thoughts that morning – or any time close to it. We’d actually kept in touch sporadically over the years through Christmas cards and occasional emails and phone calls. We also lived only thirty miles apart and had met for dinner a few times with our husbands.
Following what I believed was the Holy Spirit’s lead, I went to my desk, leafed through the phone book and called her. It was early, so I’d decided if she didn’t answer on the first few rings, I would hang up. But she picked up right away. “Hi Joanne. It’s Gail. I just got the thought to call you.”
“Oh, that’s so weird! I’m getting my car serviced not too far from you today. Maybe we can meet for a drink.”
“I’d love to see you, but I don’t drink anymore.” The few times we’d gotten together through the years, drinking had been the focal point. Joanne had mentioned more than once that she knew she had a problem.
“It’s a long story. But something happened after my brother died that led me to find out who God was. And He helped me to stop drinking.”
She paused. “I’d really like to hear about that. What if I come by when my car’s done?”
Joanne was rapt as I told her about how a lifetime of mental illness was lifted from my brother just before he died. About how I knew I had witnessed a miracle, and determined to find the God Who had performed it. And how, through Jesus Christ, I had found Him, and how He was scrubbing me clean from the inside out. And how He would do the same for her, all she had to do was ask.
“I can’t believe it’s that easy – I just have to ask?” Mascara-streaked tears ran down Joanne’s still freckled face.
“Yes, that’s it. But there’s one catch.”
She pulled a Kleenex from her purse, wiped her cheeks and blew her nose. “What?”
“You have to do it with your whole heart.”
With the same innocence I handed my ice cream over at her picnic table, Joanne handed her life over to Christ at my kitchen table. We hugged and cried, and before she left, I gave her one of my Bibles. Our teary eyes locked, and she smiled. “You mean I can stop reading the clouds now?”
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