What Neapolitan Ice Cream Taught Me About The Power Of Choice


I learned it from the Neapolitan ice cream. That was when it started.

See, my grandparents had a house on Lake Sinclair in Georgia, and my family would visit every summer. The drive out there was a never-ending reel of pine trees and inhalations of air thick with the humidity of a proper southern summer. But the moment I stepped into my Nana and Old Daddy’s immaculate home, I felt the temperature drop and a bubbling excitement take over.

Upon arrival, my three brothers and I would ditch our bags and quickly change into our swimming gear. Then it was a race to the docks—but not really, because my grandfather was fearfully strict about lifejackets and safety. Plus the dock was old enough that splinters were a risk, which resulted in a cautious enthusiasm when our feet touched the wood. But once the edge of the dock was in sight, it was difficult to keep from running before the jump.

It’s funny, because lakes are kind of like a cake when it comes to temperature. At the top, the water is murky and warm, but just underneath, it suddenly becomes cool and dark. So when I first jumped in, I would slip through the warm layer into the cool layer and then float back up into the sun. We would spend hours swimming at the dock, riding the jet ski or tubing behind the speed boat. Only when we were sufficiently pruned and the sun had kissed my nose with new freckles and added a dash of pink across my cheeks would we walk back up to the house.

If my mom was lucky, we’d immediately take a shower to warm up after being shocked by the glacial temperatures inside the house. Nana and Old Daddy made sure the climate of their home starkly contrasted the stifling humidity and heat outside. Then we would come upstairs with a little less energy than earlier in the day, and my Nana would already be taking out the Breyers Neapolitan ice cream. There she stood with neat little bowls and spoons stacked on the counter, just waiting for us to put them in front of her for the precious scoops of creamy sweetness.

Though our portions amounted to only a scoop and a half each, it didn’t really matter. Sitting at their wooden table, I looked down to find glistening chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream staring up at me. I always hoped I could avoid the strawberry, if I’m honest, but we don’t always get to choose what’s given to us. And there, with the ice cream already losing its shape to the heat, I would ascend the mountain of choice.

Would I first go for the neutral vanilla? Or the subpar strawberry? Or the mouthwatering chocolate? Was it best to just dig my spoon in and take what came out? Looking back, I see Neapolitan-ice-cream-choices throughout my life, and it all started there: Sitting at my grandparent’s kitchen table in my seven-year-old body, skinny and freckled and probably sunburned, I agonized over the order of how to eat my ice cream. Ironically, as I gingerly lowered my spoon in here and there, trying to figure out what would be the most pleasing way, the remaining ice cream would ultimately puddle at the bottom into brownish sugary syrup.

Now, as an older and wiser version of myself, I consider the Neapolitan conundrum as a wise hint for all of life’s choices. Because the thing is, my seven-year-old self intended to eat that entire bowl of ice cream. So what did the order matter? While I wanted to maximize the enjoyment, sometimes the decision-making (AKA fear of doing the wrong thing) ended up screwing me over in the end and I was left spooning a bowl of sludge.

Am I stretching this analogy a little far? Maybe. But I was recently left with a bowl of sludge after hem-hawing around a choice that should’ve been made a year ago. Instead of inhaling the damn bowl of ice cream and being done with it, I watched it melt like a painfully slow show and now I’m pouring it down the sink with tears in my eyes.

I now realize that I have to listen to what I know is right and go for it, even if it’s the hardest decision. Because ultimately, the ice cream will be gone, either by my enjoyment or by time passing. It is best to listen to Wisdom’s voice when it speaks and not second or third guess. Of course, life is thankfully much more complicated and generous than one bowl of ice cream, and choice is a gift if used properly.

There is a verse in the Bible right after the ever-popular John 3:16 that says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17, ESV). Case in point: Jesus made the most difficult choice imaginable, even in the face of betrayal and death. Yet His choice provided the solution to despair for many a person’s wrong or misguided choices, including mine.

I learned it from the Neapolitan ice cream. Or at least, that was where the lesson began.