“Two Scoops of Ice Cream…Wait, I Mean ‘Grace’: a Book Review

In her book, “Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top,” Jeanette Levellie wants us to know right up front that God is a gracious God. He’s perfect, but not a perfectionist. He watches over us, but not with an abacus on hand, ready to count our failures. Her stories, told in devotion style, could be read one a day (so you can savor them slowly) or as many as you like at a time.

She’s an expert storyteller so it may be hard to put this one down.One thing I will say, Jeanette has a keen wit. It’s a gentle and kind wit. And it’s most often at her own expense because she’s learned to laugh at herself. She’s a mother of two children and a pastor’s wife. She has bright red hair which she claims can be as unruly as she is. That’s another thing about Jeanette, she’s honest about her failings as much as she is about her love for God. If I was a betting kind of gal, I’d bet she has oodles of friends who love being in her company.

In addition to the delicious fact that there’s ice cream on the cover, the book is full of stories to which we can relate. Even if we’re not a pastor’s wife or have children. Even if we’re brunettes or silver-haired beauties. I’m guessing the target audience is women.

But when you know men who occasionally wonder whether God is really there for them; whether His grace can forgive the messes they make; if the dreams they dreamed will ever come true; or the future holds any promise–Two Scoops of Grace is a book you might want to recommend.

Inside are 72 story devotions ranging from Drive-by Diapers, Culture Shock, A Pitiful Piece of Pie, and From Hair to Eternity. While the author insists we be gentle with ourselves and laugh a lot more, she also uses her stories and the Word of God to help us remember the path we’re called to walk. The devotions are comedic and convicting at the same time. And that can be refreshing.

The words ‘grace’ and ‘chuckles’ had to be in the title of this delightful book. Because, in this life, we desperately need them both.

With Graciousness and Kindness Toward All

Slowly, my mind is changing about judgement calls on people based on their looks, their words and actions, or their attitudes. For a long time I’ve believed it was okay to take notice and immediately place someone in a category. The categories were, of course, arbitrary, based on personal preferences, what I’d been taught was ‘correct,’ and a solid belief that I was probably always right.

What Changed? The Lord has shown me more of Himself. I see him interact with a variety of people in Bible stories and He never seems to judge the way I do. His judgements are true. Whether it’s a Samaritan woman sitting alone at a well, a group of Pharisees verbally abusing Him, a man sitting in a booth cheating his fellow Jews on their taxes, or a Centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant––the Lord sees what’s in their hearts.

I can’t see into hearts.

The best I can do, when I watch someone ‘acting out,’ as I usually describe it, is to pray for that person to find a better way of expressing themselves. Perhaps I will pray for them to find the Light of Jesus. Perhaps the person is already someone who claims to have a relationship with Him; yet they ‘act out.’

That could be me on any given day.

God’s word gives instructions for when we discover what we name as their wrongdoing.

“Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother” (Matthew 7:1-5)

The Apostle Paul makes another distinction.

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12).

In other words, how can we expect anyone who has not seen the Light, to behave as if they have.

Again…That could be me on any given day.

Nevertheless, as disciples of Jesus, we are given warnings and instructions about heeding the teachings and the fruit of those inside the Church.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

Ultimately, I can never know the motives of one’s heart. Only Jesus knows that. Since life experiences, ill health, daily stress, and any number of things can make me ‘act out’ even when I know it’s inappropriate, I long for the grace of Jesus.

And with the help of the Holy Spirit, I could offer that grace to others as well. To extend graciousness and kindness toward all. To pray for them as I would hope they would pray for me.

God Calling

reading-the-bibleWhenever I have questions about what it is God is trying to say to me (in any situation), God’s word is where I first turn for answers. However, the quote below from Michael Molinos often comes to mind. These words are simple and clear, like scripture.

They also seem to come from someone who’s believed God. Someone who has experienced His love. A love that is faithful and sweet no matter what the situation is at present.

In all Your Journey as a Believer,
You will have two kinds of Spiritual Experiences.
One is tender, delightful, and loving.
The Other can be quite obscure,
dry, dark and desolate.
God gives us the First one to Gain us;
He gives us the Second to Purify us.

          ~ Michael Molinos, 17th Century Writer

Conduits of God’s Love

Come Empty

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28, 29

Get Filled

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6

Go, Pour Out to the Worldfrenchpitcherw-bread

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35, 36

The Best Christmas Stories

Stylist magazine has put together a list of the 50 Best Christmas Books.
Today, to get a bit personal, I selected a few of my favorites. You can tell us in the comments which are your favorites. Were you surprised to see some titles were actually books before they became films?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This classic tale of how a miserly and grumpy fellow finds the true meaning of Christmas has been re-enacted on stage and screen for decades. Though I’ve read the book (which is surprisingly short) and seen several versions of the story, my favorite is the old black and white movie I saw as a child. Jacob Marley’s ghost appearing on that door knocker horrified me.christmas-stars-shine

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Even as children, we enjoy seeing a bad guy go right. The Grinch is another story about finding the simple meaning in the joy of Christmas. Seuss’ art captivates.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
While the story itself includes a single plot line, Christmas is suggested. One of the residents of Narnia describes it as a place where “it’s always winter but never Christmas.”

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
I read this short story while in junior high school as assigned reading. Suggesting the role Christ plays in our lives, the simple story tells of the sacrifice made by a man and a woman in love. They’re both poor but want to give the other the perfect gift.

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles Schulz
Here’s a book that was inspired by the Christmas TV special of the same name. With wit and wisdom, Schulz creates some unforgettable moments. The characters dancing to Schroeder’s tiny piano, Charlie searching for a tree for their play and Linus telling Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
One of my favorite sleuths once again solves a mystery even though he’s supposed to be celebrating the holiday. In all my reading and watching on BBC the stories about Poirot, it’s gratifying to know he is a man of faith. He is dogged in fighting evil and his faith is one of the motivators for exposing criminals.

The Greatest Story
Found in Luke 2 and Matthew 1 of the Holy Bible, the story of Jesus Christ being born is by far my favorite Christmas story. It’s the reason we have a “Christmas.” It’s the reason there are stories about people finding the real meaning of Christmas.

This is the story of hope. Jesus is the reason we celebrate. No one will ever steal Him away from us because nothing can separate us from His love. We don’t have to worry about a winter with no Christmas. We can always be sure He’s the best gift, the perfect gift. He’s conquered evil and that’s no mystery.

Tell the “greatest Christmas story” to everyone you can. Then tell them why Jesus came. That’s a gift you can give all year long.


God Calling

Whenever I have questions about what it is God is trying to say to me (in any situation), this quote often comes to mind. Of course I rely on God’s word to remind me, but these words, like scripture, are also simple and clear.

In addition, they seem to come from someone who’s believed God and experienced His love. A love that is faithful and sweet no matter what the situation.

In all Your Journey as a Believer,
You will have two kinds of Spiritual Experiences.
One is tender, delightful, and loving.
The Other can be quite obscure,
dry, dark and desolate.
God gives us the First one to Gain us;
He gives us the Second to Purify us.

          ~ Michael Molinos, 17th Century Writer

Be a blessing to someone today

What Do We Have To Sing About?

Praise and worship in the form of hymns and contemporary music are a long-honored tradition in Christian churches. Whatever style of singing a church offers, the purpose is always the same: to glorify God.

We worship him for who he is and praise him for what he does.all about him

Ever notice there are specific themes in the songs? Here are just a few.

Salvation The greatest gift of God is his Son, Jesus and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. God gave his Son to die for us and we praise him for giving with immeasurable love. Without salvation, we cannot approach God. Through our faith in Jesus, we have him as our go-between.

Dependence We wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything of value or eternal purpose without God. We are weak and tend to wander, but with God’s power and our willingness to surrender to him, all things are possible.

Evangelism Christ has given us a mission to make disciples. With so many who haven’t heard the gospel, it’s a big responsibility. It’s an individual responsibility. “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love” is a great attitude to have. Even better to put it into a loving action.

Suffering We all go through trials, but God provides strength to get through them even if he doesn’t remove them. We don’t praise God for the trials. However, lifting up his name as our source of strength is good for us. It helps us to remember his faithfulness.

Holiness In John’s revelation, he describes a scene in which creatures sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” God is holy; we recognize this and worship as they did. Our own holiness is another topic of many songs. God said because he is holy, we must be as well. Again, we can do it only with his power working in us.

The Holy Spirit When we sing “open the eyes of my heart,” we’re asking the Holy Spirit to help us see spiritual truth. We humbly ask for his aid because we can block God’s word through various means. Even standing in church with the body of believers all around us, it can be difficult not to let our attention go elsewhere. The Holy Spirit desires our hearts be open to receiving God’s truth and bearing fruit.

Peace and Joy Two things Jesus said he gives to us which are not of this world. His peace. His joy. When we’re worshiping God for who he is, we can’t help feeling the peace and joy he gives. Acknowledging all of his attributes–from his holiness, justice and sovereignty to his mercy, love and forgiveness–we know we have a God and Savior who can bring peace and joy no matter what’s happening in our lives.

cat singing worshipLove We sing about God’s love for us and we sing about our love for him. The former is praise, the latter is worship.

Gratitude Being always thankful to God is another excellent way to worship him. Gratitude doesn’t have to be sung, but when voices are lifted up to praise God with our mouth saying, “Hallelujah!” God hears and is exalted.

We have many things to sing about when it comes to our Father in heaven. Don’t have a great singing voice in your own opinion? Be assured that God doesn’t see it that way. He gave you that voice.

So lift it up in worship.

A Foolproof GPS

I pulled into the bank drive-through behind a car bearing a license plate reading WEARAMI.

Giving the motorist the benefit of the doubt on how to spell ‘where,’ I credited her with creatively conveying a message of confusion within a seven-letter limit.

Waiting behind her, I applied the question to my life in general and to my position as a Christ follower in particular. Here’s a list of proofs from scripture that show me where I am insofar as God is concerned. I am:

Close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11)
United with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17)
Connected to him by his love (Romans 8: 38, 39)
Seated with him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6)
Following close on his heels (John 10:27)
Upheld by his righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10)Sony gps

Perhaps if that woman had a global positioning system (GPS) in her car, she wouldn’t doubt her whereabouts. But even then, a GPS is a computer. Computers are only as intelligent as they’ve been programmed to be. For instance, a GPS doesn’t ‘know’ that the route for which it gave instructions has a detour now because of a barricade at an accident site.

While traveling with friends who relied on their GPS, it happened that every time we returned to the hotel, the GPS’s final direction led us into a hedge.

A GPS is not foolproof.

But God’s Positioning System is foolproof. When he says, “I will never leave you,” we can trust him.
Even better than knowing where we stand, is knowing God always has his eye on us.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

And if his eye is on the sparrows, I know he watches me.

Not A Unicorn

Advice to Young Poets
Never pretend
to be a unicorn
by sticking a plunger on your head
from The Republic of Poetry by Martin Espada

When I started writing this blog and was confronted with creating an “About” page for the blog and for myself, the idea was more than I wanted to consider. I played it lazy and kept it short. In fact, when I read them now, I sound silly to myself.

I’m like anyone else, I suppose; I can talk about myself all day long. If we’re honest, we can admit that we–or something about our life–are own favorite subject. Both of my “About” pages are as vague as can be. Now I give you Mr. Espada’s poem as an adjunct to getting to know me and as advice to follow. Truly.

I’m sincere by writing that in my blog I hope to share my journey in finding joy and contentment with Jesus Christ. I also hope to sometimes encourage, comfort, offer consolation, teach, break through spiritual obstacles or propel someone toward God’s purpose for them.

If a post brings someone closer in intimacy with God, that’s great too. I’d be humbled by that for sure.

But I haven’t been totally honest yet. I’ve been wearing a plunger on my head, so to speak. Unknown to some of you, I’ve been trying to be something I’m not and it’s time to reveal my secret. I have manic-depressive illness and it’s not totally controlled even though I take my medications as directed and also try to do all the things my doctor prescribes.

I know this revelation sets me up for criticism immediately. It’s okay. I don’t like being criticized for something I can’t help; but I think I can take it. Criticism coming from one of you, or a “follower” of this blog deciding to stop following will be fine. You certainly can’t call me anything worse than I’ve called myself.*

Life with manic-depressive illness, also called bi-polar disorder, can be devastating to the one diagnosed with it. Depending on the severity of our individual diagnoses–and there are many–it can also make life hard for the families of those with it. We don’t always act like we ‘should.’ We don’t respond the same way as people who have what I call “respectable” illnesses like asthma or heart disease or diabetes. People with those illnesses have some physical manifestations if things get out of synch. But with a mental illness the manifestations are behavioral. Always behavioral.

Maybe you’ve witnessed those manifestations. We just don’t act right. We can’t control our conversations (there’s no filter and we talk really fast). We get truly depressed, not just ‘having a bad day.’ We yell, have panic attacks and make you wonder what on earth you did to make it happen.

I’m not writing today to go into my story from the day I was diagnosed (and before) until now. This also isn’t a pity-party. Most of all, I can’t educate you in a short blog post. I decided to write for a couple of reasons.

  • If you decide you want to continue reading my blog, it should be based on my honesty. You don’t have to be honest, but I need to take the plunger off my head. Then you’ll see me as I really am.
  • Honesty about who I am in this regard will also help us both see how blessed I’ve been so far in my journey. God has been holding my hand through so many difficult times. Inpatient and outpatient.

And that’s something people who walk past me in the hallways at church aren’t even aware of. **

The Church–and our culture–as a whole is becoming more aware of its role in meeting the needs of those in their communities who are mentally ill. It’s encouraging to see this. Some of the awareness has come as a result of family tragedies that hit the news and our very own senses like tsunamis.

Yet, there it is. I don’t pretend to know God’s ways, but I do know he invaded my life like never before through manic-depressive illness. His voice has never been heard so sweetly to me as when he whispers, “I love you” when I’m crawling the walls or sobbing like a lost child.

It’s his voice that crowds out all the others. The lies, the taunts, the ones telling me to put that plunger back on my head.

Almighty Father, thank you that when we realize our identity in you we no longer need to pretend to be something we’re not. Grant us the ability to love one another no matter what physical, spiritual, emotional or mental affliction is with us now. Heal us and sustain us as you see fit. Extend grace to us in our weaknesses for your glory and in the name of Jesus. Amen.

*Although I have yet to call myself a unicorn.
**Until now.

For more information about Mental Illness awareness and diagnosis (your own or that of someone you love), contact National Alliance on Mental Illness or Mental Health America .

What’s Good For Me?

Little Keith’s mother told him to hurry up and eat his green beans. He answered, “I’ll like green beans when I’m twenty-five because that’s when they’ll be good for me.”

Keith, my grandson, was eight and he wasn’t usually a picky eater. Frankly, I’m not sure I understand his logic. But he’s been speaking precociously and using big words correctly ever since complete sentences began tumbling from his lips.

Naturally, all grandparents think their grandchildren are the smartest, cutest, etc. of all grandchildren on earth. I mention this particular episode of Keith-Wisdom because it gives me an opportunity to offer food (not green beans) for thought.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could decide on our own what’s good for us? Really.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, when we make a decision, we wouldn’t face negative consequences, even though with that particular decision everyone always faces negative consequences?

Maybe not so nice.

Writers can tell you it’s usually true that “bad decisions make great stories.” Even in a memoir or biography, bad decisions our heroes made liven the story up a bit. We like to see how things turn out. And I suppose we like to know our heroes are human just like us.

My favorite novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” includes more than one poor decision. For instance, when Scout, Dill and Jem decide to trespass on the Radley’s property. The consequences are dire, and we read with our hearts in our throats wondering what will happen next. (In its favor, the story includes some awfully good decisions too.)

In my second favorite novel, “Peace Like a River,” Davy makes a bad decision within the first fifty pages. The family’s response to it is the basis for the rest of the story: a search for the eldest son, now a fugitive in exile. Jeremiah Land takes his younger son, Reuben and his daughter, Swede into the Dakotas searching for Davy. Reuben would have us believe in miracles. Make of that what you will.

Books like these, with story lines that keep me turning the pages, are what I call “repeaters.” Call me nuts, but I’ve read each of them three times. I’d read them again.

God’s word includes an awful lot of stories about people who, like our modern day heroes, made some poor decisions when they thought they were doing the right thing.

Satan incited King David to take a census of Israel. His general, Joab, complied with the order even though he disagreed with it. What else could he do? David was king. However, the command for a census was evil in God’s sight. So the consequences were dire here too.

A plague. Not so nice.

You can read about it in 1 Chronicles 21:1-14. It isn’t one of the most well-known Bible stories of people thinking they know what’s best, but it’s a good example of someone thinking they know what’s good for them and finding out they were wrong.

The story’s also a good example of how we can be tempted by the enemy and how Bible characters are imperfect just like us. I call the Bible a “repeater” too. Sometimes I just can’t put it down, even though I’ve read and re-read the book. God would have me believing in his miracles as well.

So this would be a good time to tell you (and you won’t be surprised) that I’ve made some poor decisions too. With some accompanying bad results. I thought I didn’t need to eat my green beans even though God was telling me, “They’re good for you, Paula.”

“Sure, Lord. I’ll eat my green beans some other time, when I think I’ll like doing it.”

Doesn’t work out in the end.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

Instead of good old Keith-Wisdom, we all need God’s wisdom.

In my defense, I’d like to say I don’t as often tell my Father I’ll like my green beans in my own time. Those nudges from the Spirit are helping me to be more obedient. With much better results.

And I’ve learned that obedience needn’t make me feel like I’m following a mean old God. It’s actually quite freeing. I don’t have to worry that the consequences will be negative; God’s guidance always comes from his loving heart. If I acknowledge him in all my ways, he makes my path straight.

My life is becoming one with a great story line, and I can’t wait to see what happens next between God and me.

Cool beans.