“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.

Foodie, Zucchini and Grace

Playing Hostess

Several years ago, when I was a member of our church’s choir, I invited four of my fellow choir members over for dinner. The main dish was Chicken Breasts Diane; I tried my hand at twice-baked potatoes for the first time; the vegetable was steamed zucchini; and the dessert was a sugar-free, fat-free cream-pie-thing I whipped up.

Everything was going well when my friends began to show up. I’d coordinated the cooking so that the food would be ready to set on the table hot from the oven and stove. The last thing I did was to steam the zucchini so it would still be hot when I placed it on the table with everything else.

You know how steamed veggies seem to get cold fast, right? I didn’t want them to be cold.

Backstory

Rewind to a couple years earlier. I’d been in a near-fatal automobile accident and came out of it with numerous injuries. One of those injuries was a fractured sphenoid sinus. (Say THAT three times fast.) The sinus was supposedly healed, but one residual effect was that I couldn’t smell odors unless I was right on top of them.

It’s caused problems more often than I like to admit.

Dinner, continued

As the zucchini steamed away, so did the water in the bottom of the pan. Carol, who had been watching things progress, said, “Paula, your pan is on fire.”

Yep, it sure was.

The pan had boiled dry and, well, it was time to turn the burner off. “Oh, wow,” I said. (Or something like that.) I took the pan off the stove, put the zucchini in a bowl and set it on the table with the rest of the meal. We sat down, said grace, and began to eat.

Everyone took a little of everything, I guess, including the steamed zucchini. Dinner conversation was a little stilted after a few minutes until I took a bite of my green veggie.

smelly-zucchini-lady“This stuff is burnt!” I said. “Why are you guys eating it?” I scraped it to the side of my plate. I apologized to my friends and, you know what? They were so kind to me. I was so embarrassed. My smeller didn’t catch the scent of burnt zucchini and no one said a word.

Now that’s love in action.

“Foodie Fail”

They sat there eating that scorched zucchini and extended grace to me. Every time I think of this episode in my life––and believe me, with a nose that doesn’t work like it should, there have been many such episodes––I laugh.

In fact, I’ve been laughing out loud the whole time I’ve been writing this blog post.

But I also feel extremely grateful.

We’ve all had our cooking failures. I have some that have nothing to do with not being able to smell.

Since it’s the day after Thanksgiving, I thank Amy, Carol, Brooke and Carol for the gift of grace. You know, of course, grace is unmerited favor. I surely didn’t deserve what they offered, and friends who love like that are worth keeping.

Next time, though, I’m going to nuke the zucchini.

The Letter

As I begin work on a devotional book and a memoir, I’ll be spending more of my writing time on those works. I’ll still post original essays, Media Monday, Good News, and Foodie Friday, but you’ll occasionally see re-blogged posts like the one here. This story is from a couple years ago. What a difference it can make in someone’s life to write one letter.

This story is a version of what might have happened when the slave Onesimus returned to his master, Philemon. Purely conjecture, it is nevertheless partly based on facts. For the original letter from Paul, see Philemon in your Holy Bible.


I heard the door of the outer chamber open and close and went to investigate. Quartus stood with Onesimus kneeling next him. Onesimus stared down, holding out a sealed letter.

“Onesimus has returned, master,” Quartus said.

“I see that, Quartus; you may leave us.” I was full of conflicting emotions. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Mostly relief. “The letter, Onesimus; what is this letter? Hand it to me.”

He stood and handed me the letter. He remained standing with his eyes averted while I read the whole thing through. In fact, I had to read it twice. It was from Paul, the apostle, imprisoned in Rome. The letter was a plea on behalf of my slave–a request to accept him back now that he’d become a follower of Christ.

It was a good letter and he made good arguments.

“Do you know what this means, Onesimus?” I asked him.

Onesimus nodded, his eyes still averted. “Master, I cannot speak as Paul does. His words are much more convincing. Of course, they are or I wouldn’t be here. All I know is that now I belong to Christ Jesus. I was freed from the bonds of my sin to serve Him. I suppose you could say I’m a slave in two ways; first to God and then because I’m still bound to you. That’s why I’ve returned.”

Yes, he knew exactly what it meant.

“You may go to your quarters, Onesimus.” He left and I sat down heavily on the chair by the table.

He’d made it all the way to Rome! Somehow he’d found Paul and now he was a follower of Christ and a brother. Of course, he knew what could happen to a runaway slave. But he returned.

I got up and paced the room. I pounded my fist on the table where the letter lay. I don’t know why I was so agitated. Paul’s letter requested nothing more than what my Lord would do. But forgiveness is hard, even when it’s someone you care about. And I had always cared about Onesimus. Maybe we hadn’t always seen him as anything but a house slave, but we cared about him.

I put my head in my hands and I prayed. I thanked God that Onesimus had made it safely to Rome and found Paul. It was a blessing that he could be of use to Paul so I thanked God for that as well. Then I prayed that God would give our household the willingness to accept my decision because we are bound together in love with Christ as our head. I sighed deeply before calling him to me.

“Onesimus, come!” Once again he stood before me, eyes cast down. “Look at me.”

A man is what I saw through my eyes. But now, because of what had happened for Onesimus in Rome, I saw someone else in my heart. I put my hands on his shoulders and squeezed.

“Welcome home, Brother. It will be a pleasure having you here serving again.”

One Size Fits All

When it comes to God’s grace, don’t worry about whether you qualify.

Don’t worry about whether or not the things you regret doing disqualify you.

God’s grace is immeasurable and one size fits all.

grace changes everythingHow can I be so sure? Where do I come off telling anyone they can count on God? Believe me, I understand how someone would have doubts. I did.

In fact, I remember the day when I was having a telephone conversation with a friend and a light bulb went on, so to speak. You could say the light of Jesus shined into my life and I became aware of the darkness I’d been living in. I realized how many were the sins I’d committed. That was hard to admit and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to use the word “sin.”

But there I was, crying about it. And I felt dirty. I knew I needed forgiveness, but wasn’t sure God could forgive all the things I’d done. Or failed to do.

Furthermore, it sometimes seems God isn’t doing much to make this world a better place. How can so many terrible things be happening around us if God is in control like Christians claim he is? How can we trust a God who seems absent?

I wish I had an answer to that. The best I can do is point to history. Look at how people have been behaving–or not behaving–since the beginning of time. Things aren’t worse even though it may seem that way. People have been hating, terrorizing, killing, stealing, lying, gossiping and just plain acting out for several millennia. Do you feel betrayed right now? Alienated? Misunderstood? Left alone? Jesus experienced the same. He understands every trouble we can ever know.

All I know is what I’ve found to be true because of what God tells me is true in the Bible. He says his grace is there no matter who we are and no matter the size of our sin. Believe it or not, I also count on having personally experienced grace. Ask anyone who’s been walking faithfully with God for a while and they’ll tell you his goodness and grace never fail.

Not long after that disturbing telephone conversation, I made a decision to recommit my life to following Jesus. I read and re-read the Bible and became familiar with the gospel. Not just the Gospels, as in books of the Bible, but what the message of Jesus’ birth, life of ministry, death and resurrection meant. I joined a small group of women who met regularly to pray, study scriptures and talk about living life according to God’s plans.one-size-fits-all-T-Shirts

I then understood grace. With that understanding and the peace and hope I’ve experienced, I’m sure. God’s grace is big enough to cover my sin and the sin of anyone, no matter what it is.

Go ahead and put it on today. Come under the cover of God’s free gift of grace. You may not feel like it fits yet. But God will even appeal to your logic, telling you it’s all you need if you’re willing to believe him.

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18)

“Whatever”

A friend of mine once said that she didn’t believe her testimony would mean much to anyone because she’d been raised in the church and gave her life to Christ when she was quite young. She said there wasn’t any really “exciting” stuff to tell. I’ve also heard numerous stories of people who’ve come to faith in Christ when they’re older, having lived a pretty wild lifestyle.

One might say that my friend was saved ‘from’ a pattern of sin and the second person was saved ‘out of’ a pattern of sin.

Whatever.

Please don’t think I take my brothers’ and sisters’ salvation lightly. By saying “whatever” I mean that, although God is pleased that we are now his children, no salvation story is better than another. I say this for two reasons.

The first reason is that both people–the one saved ‘from’ and the one saved ‘out of’–were saved by the same grace and power of the very same God. His love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the basis for them both.

The other reason I say this is that both salvation stories can have impact and both glorify God.

I have friends who’ve seen family members come out of a wild lifestyle to become Christ followers and it convinced them of the truth of the Gospel. But I’m also familiar with a story of a man who wasn’t convinced even after hearing those testimonies. What convinced him was the power of God to enable a person to have no desire to ever enter into a wild lifestyle.

We all have a story to tell. Each one is unique and with value. We need to tell it.

When it comes right down to it, God says we have all sinned and fallen short of his glory. No matter what age we were or what we’d done or failed to do before we came to faith in Christ, we needed the grace he extended. So every testimony matters.

Are you sharing yours?

Choosing My Battles

david-goliathHow is a bathmat like the giant Goliath whom the future king David slew with a stone from his sling (1 Samuel 17)? A bathmat becomes like the Philistine warrior when it presents an opportunity to wisely choose which battle we’ll fight and which battle we’ll walk away from.

My battle of the bathmat taught me a good lesson one evening with what I’ll call The Bathmat Issue. What a silly thing I had been doing. I kept nagging my kids to put the bathmat back when they were done bathing so it could dry out. I would go in after them, pick it up, fuss at them and be irritated. In fact, after my yelling, everyone was irritated. One particular night, when I was picking up the bathmat, I had what could be called a “light bulb moment.”

Obviously the kids didn’t care about picking up the bathmat; it wasn’t a big deal to them. It was only important to me. Giving it more serious thought, harmony in my home was more important than how the mat made its way off the floor. God was pointing out to me in a gentle way what was really important. I decided to let go of The Bathmat Issue.

The apostle Paul advises us

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). We are to “seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34: 14)

So even when we find ourselves in a situation where we have to fight a “battle” for what we believe is right, a resolution of peace is the goal. It involves risk, but it will be worth it. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” for good reason.

In addition to learning how to pursue a peaceful resolution, I’ve learned something else from the bathmat experience. There’s a difference between picking my battles and picking fights. When I go into “battle,” I don’t have to be a bully.

With an eyeful of wisdom, and sometimes the eye of a wise friend, I can see whether I’m just being selfish and my attitude needs adjustment. I’m still learning how to choose my battles and how to behave when fighting them. I ask questions like:

“Does it make a big difference one way or the other if things turn out my way?” “Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?” “Will my actions in fighting this battle harm someone or harm the relationship?”

In all cases, I try to be discerning.

David, who fought Goliath in the familiar story, recognized that the giant was wrong to mock the army of the Lord of hosts. Depending on God, David knew it was a battle he was meant to fight. On the other hand, I was upset about a soggy inanimate object.

In choosing my battles, I try to also remember that the key to all of them is prayer. Because that’s how important is the end result.

Waiting: The Result Is Winning

“Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path” Psalm 27:11

My Own Little Book

Were you to read my journal, you’d detect several years of my spiritual journey reflected in its pages.

Recently I took a look back to some journal entries and discovered that for nearly two years I’d been on a journey of prayer, perseverance and waiting on the Lord. God was leading me out of a ministry I’d been involved in for several years. As I spoke to him through my journal, asking questions and sorting out my feelings, my faith was being tested.

I knew I couldn’t make any moves without hearing from God first, and that required patience. If I hadn’t waited and prayed, things might have turned out badly. When the answers to my questions finally came, I was at peace. It took time, but I finally got to the point where my prayer changed from “I don’t know what to do, Lord,” to “What would you have me do?”

For me, there’s a big difference in those two attitudes. I have a tendency to go ahead without waiting for his guidance. And God sometimes isn’t in a hurry to give it.

That particular period of testing could be called a journey within a journey. I believe it can happen when God wants to move us from one level of spiritual maturity to another. Following him is very much like taking a trip in which the Expert Travel Guide determines the itinerary.

A Classic Book

In John Bunyan’s classic “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Christian and Hopeful meet four Shepherds on the Delectable Mountains. They’re not far from their final destination. Like me, the two had been through many experiences that tested their faith. Would they persevere? The Shepherds asked the pilgrims three pertinent questions because so few people who had set out on the journey made it that far. They asked,

“Where did you come from?”
“How did you get into the way?”
“By what means have you persevered?”

Christian and Hopeful tell their tale with all its trials and how they overcame them.

The Shepherds–Experience, Knowledge, Watchful and Sincere,–asked for basic facts about their pilgrimage: What it was like before they began their journey, what happened, and what it was like now.

We can carry this same message of life transformation; and our stories of redemption–even of the darkness before being set free–are of value.

Christian and Hopeful received a document instructing them what they should do, what they should avoid on their journey ahead, and exact directions to the Celestial City. Then, standing from the top of a hill called Clear, Christian and Hopeful got a peek at the gates of the City.

Sharing the Greatest Book

I can record my story in a journal and keep it in the chambers of my heart. But sharing my journey of faith and pointing people to Christ counts for something. God is revealed as a faithful and loving Lord. He’s faithful to guide us through those times when we don’t know what to do. Then, as the Shepherds did, I can express hope of eternity in heaven.

“I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven” (Philippians 3:14 NLT)

When Christ sets us free, we are free indeed.

However, just as the pilgrims in Bunyan’s book weren’t promised an easy way, neither are we. Fortunately, we’re promised the power of the indwelling Spirit for guidance and comfort. God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves and when we realize the measureless grace he’s offered, there’s no experience on our spiritual journey that’s wasted.

Oh, God of grace, who watches every step I take, guide me into your will. Keep me safe in my trials and give me the willingness to follow the voice of your Spirit instead of my own fickle emotions. May I always keep in mind the prize that awaits when I humbly wait for your best for me. Amen.

Why Me?

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:4

Dear God:
Why did you place me in a family with parents who, though imperfect, were devoted to one another for forty-seven years until death separated them?
Why did you give me a childhood in which I regularly ate three meals a day, had pure water to drink, a safe neighborhood to play in and clean clothes to wear?
And God, why did you show your tender love to me through the example of one Sunday school teacher?

Why me, God?

When I walked away from you, why didn’t you walk away from me?
Then when I went away to college and my intellect became my god, why were you so patient?
Why did you give me two children who love and trust me even though I’ve failed them so many times?
Why did you spare my life when my foolishness or despair brought me so close to death?

Why me, God?

And why, after years of living my sinful lifestyle, did you welcome me back to the fold?
Why are you keeping all your promises to me?
Why do I have a roof over my head? Why do I have friends who stand by me? Why do I get to walk with two feet, see with two eyes and hear with two ears?
When my pain is such a burden I can’t bear it, why do you take it onto yourself?
Why, when I’m so imperfect, do you allow me to serve this world in your name?

Why me?

And why, oh why, God, when I was still an object of your wrath, did you die for me?

Oh, why, why me?

“For God so loved the world…” John 3:16

Being Found

“Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country to go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:4-6)

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

“Amazing grace–how sweet the sound–
That saved a wretch like Me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”

Being found. It implies that we must have been lost. It implies we might have been lonely. We don’t know which way to go. Maybe we’re in darkness and we’re frightened.

Imagine being found by Someone who loves you deeply; without measure.

The truth is, God seeks us even as we may be seeking him. In fact, his Spirit seeks us out when we may not be actively looking for God. He knows we’re lonely, frightened. He’s aware that we don’t know where to turn next. Like sheep who’ve gone astray, we wander without purpose.

Once the Shepherd finds his sheep, he rejoices to have it in his arms, taking it home to green pastures.

What joy should fill our hearts knowing that he celebrates in having found us. What joy should fill our hearts knowing that we no longer need to be alone. We don’t have to be afraid; we know the darkness is gone. Forever.

The Letter

(The story here is a version of what might have happened when the slave Onesimus returned to his master, Philemon. Purely conjecture, it is nevertheless partly based on facts.)

I heard the door of the outer chamber open and close and went to investigate. Quartus stood with Onesimus kneeling next him. Onesimus stared down, holding out a sealed letter.

“Onesimus has returned, master,” Quartus said.

“I see that, Quartus; you may leave us.” I was full of conflicting emotions. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Mostly relief. “The letter, Onesimus; what is this letter? Hand it to me.”

He stood and handed me the letter. He remained standing with his eyes averted while I read the whole thing through. In fact, I had to read it twice. It was from Paul, the apostle, imprisoned in Rome. The letter was a plea on behalf of my slave–a request to accept him back now that he’d become a follower of Christ.

It was a good letter and he made good arguments.

“Do you know what this means, Onesimus?” I asked him.

Onesimus nodded, his eyes still averted. “Master, I cannot speak as Paul does. His words are much more convincing. Of course, they are or I wouldn’t be here. All I know is that now I belong to Christ Jesus. I was freed from the bonds of my sin to serve Him. I suppose you could say I’m a slave in two ways; first to God and then because I’m still bound to you. That’s why I’ve returned.”

Yes, he knew exactly what it meant.

“You may go to your quarters, Onesimus.” He left and I sat down heavily on the chair by the table.

He’d made it all the way to Rome! Somehow he’d found Paul and now he was a follower of Christ and a brother. Of course, he knew what could happen to a runaway slave. But he returned.

I got up and paced the room. I pounded my fist on the table where the letter lay. I don’t know why I was so agitated. Paul’s letter requested nothing more than what my Lord would do. But forgiveness is hard, even when it’s someone you care about. And I had always cared about Onesimus. Maybe we hadn’t always seen him as anything but a house slave, but we cared about him.

I put my head in my hands and I prayed. I thanked God that Onesimus had made it safely to Rome and found Paul. It was a blessing that he could be of use to Paul so I thanked God for that as well. Then I prayed that God would give our household the willingness to accept my decision because we are bound together in love with Christ as our head. I sighed deeply before calling him to me.

“Onesimus, come!” Once again, he stood before me, his eyes cast down.

“Look at me,” I said. A man is what I saw through my eyes. But now, because of what had happened for Onesimus in Rome, I saw someone else in my heart.

I put my hands on his shoulders and squeezed. “Welcome home, Brother. It will be a pleasure having you here serving again.”