Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Silencing the Negative Voices Within

Hi Friends,

You know when your own worst enemy is yourself? Here's some help for silencing those negative voices that rise up within us sometimes and tell us lies:

Silencing the Negative Voices Within
(adapted from REACHING FOR WONDER, Encountering Christ When Life Hurts)

         Few stories in the Bible are more fascinating than the tale in Mark 5 of a man who had a legion of demons living in him. Sometimes when we speak of demons in the New Testament, people want to argue about whether demons are real or are forms of mental illness. Some want to debate how many demons can fit on the head of pin, or in this case, in one poor man. Others want to focus on the question of whether Christians are immune to possession. 
         But no matter the debates, none of us are immune to the voices in our heads. We all know the whispers that arise in our minds when life turns to dark, painful places. All of us can relate to the pressures of insidious thoughts that are not from God and mean only to destroy us. Thoughts that tell us we’re worthless, hated, unable, unfit, unwanted, abandoned, helpless, hopeless, and no one, even God, can redeem us. Thoughts that drive us to actions we despise and cause us to hurt those around us. Voices that build hate and fury, that break community, crush love, and leave us lonely.
         You know those thoughts. You know the chaos they create within you. I do too.
         So I look to this man with thousands of voices screaming for attention in his mind, and I wonder … what is it like to encounter Christ with when the voices are so loud you can no longer hear yourself think, or pray, or believe? Can Jesus reach through the voices within? Can he silence them? And in doing so, will we hear the very voice of God?
         Three things give me hope:

1) The Voices Make Themselves Known
         We know what the voices say. Perhaps those inside the man said, “You’re worthless, you’re an animal, you’re bad, evil, irredeemable.” So like the condemning voices in our own heads. “You’re not good enough. You’re so stupid. You’re fat, you’re ugly. Those people hate you… you’re shamed and despised. You’re less than. They’re less than. You’re different. You’re wrong. They’re wrong. You can never be free. You can never be who God created you to be.”
         But they will not be silent on their own. And sometimes that’s not a bad thing.
         Because there’s one thing about these voices in the demoniac’s head, in our heads, that lead to their ruin: they make themselves known. They don’t run and hide. 
         When Jesus arrived on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the demoniac didn’t hide in the tombs or in the hills. He didn’t run in the other direction. Instead, he, and all his inner voices, ran straight to Jesus (see Mark 5:2).
         The presence of Jesus brings evil to the light. And when it is revealed, Jesus calls it to come out, of the demoniac and out of us. 
         Every ungodly thought, every whispered accusation that comes from the evil one, every voice that does not reflect the truth of God, are exposed by Jesus. And when they are exposed, we can know them for what they really are: Lies.
         The voices only have power when they whisper within us. In an encounter with Jesus, when they’re brought into the open, they have no power over us at all.

2) God Knows Where the Voices Belong
         Jesus sends the demons into unclean pigs. The pigs all run over the cliff and drown in the Sea of Galilee. What the demons did to the pigs they intended to do to the man. Every whisper, every stealthy hiss, every sharp shout was meant to drive him to death and destruction. The voices that haunt us in our worst moments, the thoughts within that confuse and cause us to hurt others and ourselves – their goal is always the same - our death, to destroy us. 
         These unclean thoughts do not belong in a mind dedicated to Jesus. But we cannot cast them out ourselves. Others cannot bind them for us. Instead, just like the man, we must encounter Christ and throw ourselves at his feet. Only he can free us from the lies the enemy tries to plant in our minds and hearts. Only he can send them where they belong, into the unclean pigs. 
         So what more can we do? We can only follow Paul’s example when he says in 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV), “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Every thought brought to Christ. Submitted to him. Spoken aloud to him so that he can cast them out. That’s all we can do.
         But it is enough. Because Jesus is enough. 

3) In the Silence, We Become Who We are Meant to Be
When Jesus freed the man from his legion of demons, the man sat at Jesus feet and heardhim. He was restored. He became who he was meant to be. 
And that’s how it works for us too. When the voices of self-incrimination, doubt, hate, fear, despair, hopeless, and accusation are thrown out and driven away, we can finally hear God. And we can hear ourselves think.
I know because I’ve seen it happen before my very eyes. A close friend began to believe the lies and fears whispered in her mind. She believed she was less than, not good enough, unloved. Then a man came into her life who enticed and tempted and lured her toward destructive behavior and isolation from everyone who loved her. Her friends tried to help, but just like the demoniac, she broke the bonds that would have held her away from him. We were powerless to save her. 
         So we prayed. All we could do was pray.
         And one night Jesus showed up on the shore. In a scene reminiscent of Mark 5, the man blurted out his malicious intentions to isolate her and have her for himself. He spoke of his plans, his needs, his desires. And in doing so, Jesus revealed to her that all those things that had been whispered in the dark were not words of love, instead they were fit only for pigs. They were meant for her death and destruction. Their purpose was to take everything away that made her beautiful and unique, human, to separate her from her community, devour her and her future. 
         But in a moment, God changed all that. The veil was removed from her eyes and she could see the lies for what they were. She could see the man for what he was. She was in her right mind again. That night, Jesus cast out not only the unhealthy voices within her but also the man who had tried to enslaved her. He tried to come back, tried to lure her again, but he had no power. The pigs were dead. 
         When she was freed and restored, she became again the woman we all knew and love. The unique personality traits that God has created in her bloomed and came to life again, stronger and more beautiful than before. She became a witness to God’s mercy, and because of her, today my faith is stronger, my hope more resilient, my heart, like those in the ten cities, more ready to receive God’s truth when he visits again.
            The voices have no power when you kneel before Jesus. Our God is the God of the voices within.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

God is Willing to Make You Whole

Hi Friends,

As we begin 2019, I wanted to share some thoughts from Reaching for Wonder from the story of leper being cleansed. All of have places in our lives that are falling about, that are afflicted with a "disease" we can't figure out how to cure on our own. All of us have those places where we can do nothing but come to God and say, "If you're willing, Lord, you can make me whole."

I Am Willing
In the face of our doubts and fears, Jesus speaks not a condemnation, but instead two simple words (in the Greek) that dispel both doubt and fear. This first is, when translated, I am willing.” And the second is, Be cleansed.” 
         When we are at our lowest, when faith fails, when it hurts to try to hope anymore, God’s answer to us is not disappointment or guilt or shame. His answer is, I am willing.”  He is willing to make us whole. He loves us enough to not just heal, but to make clean. 
         I love the deeper meaning of the word to cleanse” in the Greek. It not only means to cure a person from an unclean” disease, but it also means to free from faults, to free from the doubt we see in if.” It means to consecrate, to dedicate, to make complete for God’s use.
         That is what Jesus intends to offer us. Not simply a cure for the external need, but a deep soul cleansing that takes our if” and transforms it into wonder.
         He is willing. The question is, are we?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Embracing the Mystery of Christmas

Merry Christmas, Friends!

Some thoughts on the mystery of Christmas from the life of Mary and my book Wrestling with Wonder ...

Living with Mystery
The encounter with the shepherds is told in simple terms. They hurry to Bethlehem to find Mary, Joseph, and the baby who is lying in the manger. And when they’ve seen him, they go off and tell everyone what they’ve seen and heard. People are amazed.
But they aren’t transformed. They are simply wowed by a wow-worthy story.
Mary, however, doesn’t say “wow.” Instead, she says, “hmmm …”
Because I think she sees the incongruities. 
She doesn’t just take a glance at a babe in a manger. She holds him, encounters him, and so is able to see the truth – that the angel’s proclamation of “a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah” (v. 11) does not sit comfortably with “you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (v. 12) There should not be a Messiah in a Manger. That just doesn’t make sense.
So she treasures up what she’s heard and seen, and she ponders in her heart. In the Greek, the word for “ponder” also means to bring together, to meet. So, we have the idea of bringing together disparate ideas in her mind and mulling over what they might mean.
            She grapples with ideas that don’t easily come together and make sense, because she encounters, as a babe in a manger, a God who does not always make sense. She encounters a God who asks her not to have it all figured out with tidy explanations and clear conclusions, but to wrestle with the mysteries of who this Messiah-God really is.
            Here are just a few mysteries to be treasured, to be pondered:
--Angels who don’t come to sing for their King, but show up to shepherds. Now that doesn’t make sense. 
--A Messiah lying in a feeding trough. Now that doesn’t make sense. St. Francis of Assisi wrote in a letter: “Though he was wealthy beyond reckoning, he still willingly chose to be poor with his blessed mother.” And we know that God intended it that way because the angel sent the shepherds not to a barn or a house or a street or an address. He sent them to a manger. “This will be a sign to you,” he said, “You will find a baby wrapped I cloths and lying in a manger.”
            --A Redeemer in rags. Now that doesn’t make sense. Seventh century English monk Bede writes, “It should be noted that the sign given of the Savior’s birth is not a child enfolded in Tyrian purple, but one wrapped with rough pieces of cloth …” 
            If, like Mary, we are close enough to Jesus to hold him, to be near him, to be in a real relationship with him over time, we too will encounter mystery. We come up against truths that are hard to reconcile but are true all the same.  We will have to wrestle, and wonder.  Treasure and ponder.
But if, like the shepherds, we only travel once to the manger, we take a glance to corroborate what we’ve been told, then leave to other tasks (even good ones), then we will see the baby. We will confirm what we’d hoped to be true. But we will miss the mystery. We will not encounter the deeper things of God. We will have no treasure to ponder.
So often we think that the closer we are to Christ, the more answers we must have. But Mary teaches us that is not necessarily true. The shepherds have no questions, no doubts, no wonderings. But Mary does. The one who has carried him in her womb, held him in her arms, is the one who has no answers. She is the one who ponders the paradoxes and treasures them in her heart.
She is called to live with the mystery of a messiah who is already so different from what she could have imagined. She ponders and treasures the mystery of things that cannot yet make sense.
            The question is, will we? 
Why is it that so often we feel we need to make explanations for what God is doing in our lives and in the lives of those around us? If the shepherds came to us, would we explain why the babe was in a feeding trough? Would we excuse the stink, the poverty, the rough rags and splintered wood? Would we spout platitudes or deny the strangeness of what is true?
Would we say:
It’s not really that bad. (It’s not really a feeding trough.)
I don’t mind. (I didn’t want a real room.)
God is good, so I have nothing to complain about. (These aren’t really rags.)          
What if instead we saw God for who he really is? The God who provides only a trough for his own Son’s crib. The God who sends shepherds to a baby wrapped in rags. The God who leaves heaven to become a baby in poverty. The God who does things in our lives that we don’t understand, that don’t seem to make sense, that aren’t supposed to … yet.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Wonder in the Barns of Life

Hi Friends,

Merry Christmas! Today I'm making final preparations for a talk I'll be giving at a local church, to their women's group. I'm so looking forward to sharing about finding the wonder of God in the Barns of Life, which to me is the message of Christmas. 

So today, I'd like to share a little with you about how it might have been for Mary as she gave birth in the place where animals lived. This is an excerpt from my book on Mary, titled Wrestling With Wonder:

Mary Tells Her Story

There’s no place for us.  No place for this babe, this Son of the Almighty God, that I bear.  
But the pains come anyway.  Sharp, insistent.  Not now, I want to say.  Not yet.  There is no place for you.  Nowhere for you to be born.
But my womb clenches again and I gasp.  The pains are more regular now, radiating into my back.  He will not wait, this divine baby of mine.
Joseph approaches me, places a hand on my tight belly.  He shakes his head.  
No place for us.
I nearly double over.  My breath comes quickly now, heavily.

“There is a place with the animals,” he whispers.
I swallow.  Hard.  Is it possible that this child, the Messiah, the King of all Kings, will be born in a barn?  No...
Lord, is there no where else?  Can You find no other place for your own Son?
But the heavens are silent.  No guest room, no spare closet, no private corner in a relative’s home.
And the pain comes again.  
Joseph takes my arm.  “We must hurry.”  
“Not the stable.”
“It’s the only place. I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry too.  Oh, Lord . . .
Step by step, stopping to breathe, to not breathe.  To groan.  I make my way toward the animals.
And then we are there.  In the rustling, the stink, the dirt, the mud.  No midwife.  No friend.  No mother.  Just me.  Just Joseph.  And them.
A donkey brays.  
A cow lifts its tail.
A horse stomps and spreads four legs.
No, not here ... 
I lay on the filthy straw.  I pant.  I cry.
A horse nickers, pushes at an empty feeding trough.  
I swat a fly.  And the pain comes again.
This time, I scream.  I wheeze.  I gasp.  And my mind floods with ripping agony.  Ten seconds.  Twenty.  Thirty.  A minute.  And more.  I breathe again.  I must breath.
Joseph grabs the rags. I am sweating now.  He wipes my brow.  But there is nothing he can do.  He cannot share this pain.
No one can.
My belly contracts.  Hard.  I clench my teeth. Bite back my shouts.  
It hurts.  Oh Lord, it hurts so much.  
My sweat, mixed with the smell of horse urine and cow dung.  The snuffling of a donkey.  The frightened glance of a husband who is not the baby’s father.
Help, Lord!
A rush of water runs down my legs.  Minutes turn to hours.  Hours of shocking pain and moments of panting relief.  On and on. 
The pain.  Mind-numbing.  Middle-ripping.  Pain.
And the pressure.
Finally, the baby is coming.  I scream at Joseph.  But he is ready.  
I am half-squatting, half-laying.  
“Push,” he yells.
I push.
I yell.
I breathe.  Breathe in the rank stink.  Breath in the smell of blood.  Breathe in the scent of things that no king should smell.
But this King will.  
Oh God, will He really be born in a barn?  Your Son?  The hope of all Israel?
I push.  And rest.  And push.  And yell.  And push.  And cry.  And push.  And groan.
It is no easy thing to birth a Savior.
I see his head!”  Joseph’s eyes are wide.  His hands ready.
I bear down.  Hard.
And the baby comes.  A King, sliding into this world covered in vernix and blood, and surrounded by animals as the only witnesses to this moment that will change the world.  
Joseph laughs.
The baby wails.
And I weep.
I weep for a Promise born in a barn.  I weep for a Messiah born in the stink.  I weep for King crowned not with gold but with blood.  Will it always be so?
Joseph cuts the baby’s cord.  He presses my stomach and the afterbirth spews from me.  
It is done, this birthing of a Savior.
Joseph wipes him with a rag and hands him to me.  I gather him in my arms.  He looks so normal, this Son of God.  So ordinary.  So small, this tiny babe, with a stock of dark hair, a red face, and wrinkled, old-man skin.  This, this is the One we’ve waited for.  
I close my eyes and kiss his forehead.
He squirms and squawks at me.
I wrap this ordinary, extraordinary baby in rags and place him in the empty feeding trough.  A box made for the animals to eat becomes his bed.  He looks around.  Dark grey eyes taking in a world gone awry.  
What must it be like for God to see through the eyes of a human babe?  To smell through a human nose?  To feel the scratch of the rags, the hardness of the board?
But he doesn’t cry.  Not at this moment.  
He just looks.
He sees.
And I catch my breath.
There is the King of all Kings, the Son of God Himself, wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding trough.  A Messiah surrounded by stink.  But somehow I don’t smell it anymore.
I laugh.  I laugh at the incongruity.  I laugh at the wildness of my God.  

I laugh, because the God of the Universe took my barn and turned it into a palace.  He took what should not be and filled it with wonder.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Are You Thankful for Fallen Things?

Hi Friends,

Since fall is upon us and the leaves are changing (well, some of them - I live in California after all), I've been thinking about the things I'm thankful for. And I wonder, am I thankful enough for the fallen things in my life? Am I thankful for the things that have dropped away, that I've lost? That's a little harder than thanking God for the obvious blessings.

So, as I consider thankfulness for the fallen things, I'm reminded of this story from Bryan's childhood ...

Let the Leaves Fall
by Bryan Schalesky
as told to Marlo Schalesky

            I remember the smell, and the crinkle, and the varying shades of brown, yellow, and orange.  I remember the crispness of the air, and the scraping of the rake against dry leaves. I remember a Nebraska autumn and a lawn covered in fall’s leafy quilt and my little brother and I leaping with reckless abandon into piles of musky sweetness.
            I remember a time when raking up the dead and fallen things in our lives meant not sorrow, but joy.  Not regret, not fear, but hope in what was to come.
            If I close my eyes, even now, I can see the sheen of sweat on my dad’s face as he leaned over the rake.  I can hear the sound it made as he pulled it over the dead grass toward him.
            “Bryan, grab the little rake from the garage and help me.”
            “Okay, Dad.”
            I trotted to the garage, pulled down a rake that was bigger than I was and dragged it outside.  Then, I swished the tines across the leaves to gather them into a tiny pile.  
            Dad added more leaves to my pile.
            A moment later, my three-year-old brother toddled out of the house.  He clapped his hands.  “Oh, yay! Can we jump in them yet?”
            Dad shook his head.
            The pile isn’t big enough.  Why don’t you gather some up with your hands and add them to the stack.
            Justin did.  Little by little, the pile grew, with Dad adding great bundles of leaves, me adding small bundles, and Justin adding a few here and there, as much as his little hands could carry.
            Soon, the lawn was clear, the pile a gigantic heap of potential-fun, and the rakes were safely stored.
            Dad sat on the steps and rested while Justin and I squealed and ran and threw ourselves into a mountain of fall colors.  Dad smiled as we played and played and played.  We tossed leaves, we burrowed in leaves, and we laid in leaves while gazing up at the gray sky.  
            And we never, ever wished that the leaves would turn green and go back onto the trees again.  We weren’t afraid of their falling.  We didn’t feel bereft.  
            Instead, we knew that fresh, green leaves would come in the spring, while these dead ones had fallen to bring us joy . . . and a little work.
            So why, all these years later, do I grumble and moan and fear when dead things fall away in my life?  Why do I clench my hands so tightly around things that no longer bring me life? Why don’t I let them fall and bring me a new kind of joy?
            2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
            When I hear this verse, I usually think about it as if it only means that sometime, way in my past, when I accepted Jesus I became a new creation in Christ.  But as I think of the falling leaves of autumn, I wonder if it doesn’t also mean that Christ continues to make me new, renew me . . . and cause the old, dead things to fall away like autumn leaves.
            And when they do, when the leaves scatter on the dry ground, I don’t need to fret about what I no longer have, what I no longer am.  Instead, I can look forward to new, green leaves in the springtime, and for now, find joy in the crinkly, brown piles in my life.  
            Now, as I gather dried leaves for my own kids, I think about those days long ago when my dad did most of the raking, the piling, the working.  I helped.  My little brother helped.  But I know now that dad did the real work.  And I remind myself that when dead things fall away in my life, it’s my heavenly father who is doing most of the work then too.  I help.  Others may help.  But it is God who is clearing away the crusty brownness of old habits, dead plans, and things that are no longer vital, living.  
            So, when dead things fall away, I want to stop worrying and instead revel in thankfulness for God’s work in my life.  I want to lay on the leaves in a heap, look up, and know that spring is coming. I want to trust God enough to rake beside him and rejoice when the work is done.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Word for the Weary

Hi Friends,

I was thinking this week about weariness. I've been weary. Sometimes life seems like too much. Too much stress, too much worry, too many problems, too much to do. So I've been thinking about the ending of the chapter in Reaching for Wonder about the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. 12 years is too much!

So, if you're weary, maybe this excerpt will encourage you as it did me:

Who Is This God? 
         So who is this God?
         He is the God of Face-to-Face Hope. He is the God of Unexpected Blessing. 
         He always has been.
         When we are weary, when we are terrified and feel trapped, when we’ve sent all our resources away in hopes of buying what we long for, when we are alone, that is the time to be like Jacob on the edge of the Jabbok River (Genesis 32). 
         In Genesis 32, Jacob was afraid that his brother was coming to kill him and take or destroy everything he had. He feared not only the loss of his life, but the loss of his possessions and family as well. He feared what the bleeding woman experienced.
         So in the middle of the night, Jacob took all of his family and possessions to the other side of the river. Then he was alone. But he was not alone. Verses 24-31 tell us:

But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke . . . The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel,because you struggled with God and with men and won.” . . . and he blessed Jacob there. Jacob named the place Peniel,“because I’ve seen God face-to-face, and my life has been saved.” 

         For Jacob there was never any “good enough.” He wouldn’t settle for less than a full blessing. He wrestled for it, and would not walk away. For him, there were no “justs” and “onlys.” He wanted the most that God would give. He often sought blessing deceitfully, but there was something in him that God prized, because God cannot be manipulated, and yet Jacob did get the blessings. 
         What are we asking God for? Is it enough? Is it relational? Are we asking to see his face, to know him better, to be a beloved daughter or son?
         In our weariness, in our desperation, when we’ve spent all, done all, and have nothing left but one last chance to grab to edge of his garment, remember, there is no sneaking away into the crowd. Our God insists on giving us more than just a healing, only making it stop. He insists on the face-to-face encounter that will heal more than our bodies. It will heal our souls. 

Lord, help me not to settle for “good enough” 
when I’m tired and broken and out of options. 
May I see you for who you really are — a God who loves me 
and longs to look into my face so that I might hear the words, 
“Take heart, daughter; take heart, son,” and be more than healed. 
May I always believe that knowing you more deeply
is better than just making the pain stop. 
Turn around, Lord. May I see your face today.
May I hear your voice speaking life in my weariness.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Calming Angry Kids

Hey Friends,

I wanted to tell you about a brand new resource, written by my friend and mom of 10, Tricia Goyer.  Got angry kids? Work with angry kids? This will help!!

Below are some words of wisdom from the book. I hope they help. Oh, click for the Amazon link (though it's available everywhere).