Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

When Life is Like Riding a Bike with Only One Pedal

Hi Friends,

I've been contemplating this story from my college days this week. So for anyone who feels like they've veered off track, here's some encouragement:

Pedal Problems
It was my first new bike ever.  A beautiful apple-red mountain bike, with a shiny black seat and real, honest-to-goodness gears.  Not many gears, but gears all the same.  Unfortunately, it was also the cheapest new bike I could find.  In the weeks before heading off to college, I had scoured the newspaper ads to find the very lowest price for a new bike.  Eventually, I found it. 
I didn’t realize my mistake until a few months later when I was late to Chemistry class.  I pedaled hard up the last hill.  Gears crunched, wheels turned, my backpack slipped sideways on my shoulder.  Then, it happened.  With a sharp crack, followed by a loud clunk, the left pedal broke and fell off my bike.  I swerved off the path, brushed against a tall pine, and finally crunched into an old wooden bench.  I looked down at the spot where the pedal should have been and at the fresh smear of grease on my pantleg. 
Then, I propped the bike against the bench and went back to retrieve the pedal.  Surely I could just stick it back on, or screw it in, or do something to make it stay put.  But it wasn’t that easy.  With the right tool, and a couple small parts, the pedal could be fixed.  But that didn’t help me now, on the side of the bike path, five minutes late to Chemistry 101.
So, I popped the pedal into a pouch in my backpack, climbed back on the shiny black seat, pointed the bike in the right direction, and pushed my foot against the one pedal that was left.  After two wobbly revolutions of the wheels, I quit.  Trying to ride a bike with only one pedal was not only impractical, it was impossible.  The bike was still apple red, the seat still shiny, the gears still working as they should.  Everything was just right, except for the one missing pedal.  But that’s all it took for the whole bike to be useless for its purpose.  So, there I was, with a perfectly good bike, minus one pedal, walking to class and pushing the bike beside me.
               I learned two valuable lessons that day:  First, cheapest is not always best.  And second, more importantly, both pedals need to be attached for a bike to go. 
The second lesson has come back to me often over the years since college.  I don’t ride a bike much anymore, but there still have been plenty of times when my daily life seemed to be veering off the path and heading toward the pines.  When, no matter how hard I was trying to pedal uphill, I just couldn’t get things to work.  And in those times, most of my life still looked right – the shiny parts were still shiny, the gears still worked as they should.  But something had gotten lost or loosened along the way.  Something had to be fixed before my life could pedal up the straight path again. 
Sometimes that something was a relationship that needed mending, or a habit that had to be changed.  Sometimes it was fear replacing faith, or a hidden anger that things hadn’t gone as I’d hoped.  Most often, something had gone awry spiritually.  I was too busy to take the time needed to maintain an intimate relationship with God.  So, the pedal of trust grew loose and my life wobbled into the trees.  When that happens, I’ve found that I need to stop trying to push forward, get off the bike for a moment, and see what’s wrong.  Then, it’s time to ask God to repair my broken parts and make me whole. 
In those times, I often pray the words of Psalm 51:10-12 (NIV):  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” 
And God is more than willing to replace my pedals and help me back onto the path He’s chosen for me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Preparing for Life's Storms

Hi Friends,

Ah, we're finally getting some good rain here on California's central coast! And with it, we're getting flooded roads, backed up pipes, and a lot of water everywhere (even where we don't want it.

So, as I was watching the rain pouring down today, I remembered this story - a good reminder for the beginning of a new year.

I was encouraged to keep my spiritual pipes clear in preparation for the storms that are bound to come. I hope you're encouraged too!

When the Rains Come

I gripped my umbrella in tight fists and stared through the rain that careened off the fabric above me.  Then, I took a few steps forward and waved at the yellow, husband-shaped blob that stood a few feet away, the image obscured by the water pouring between us.    
Bryan tugged at his mustard-colored rain slicker and didn’t wave back.  In fact, he didn’t even turn as he sloshed through the foot-deep water that threatened the foundation of our house. 
“Hey, you need help?”  I shouted the question over the roar of the rain.
He glanced back and squinted.  “Get a hose.”
A hose?  With all this water, it seemed that the last thing we needed was a hose.
Bryan waved his hand toward the garage.  “Get all the hoses you can find.  Hurry.”  He knelt down and starting digging into the hole where the drainage pipe was supposed to be.
“What happened?”
“Drains must be plugged.  We need to siphon off this water before it damages our foundation.”
I nodded and jogged to the garage.  There, I found three hoses and hauled them back to the ever-deepening pool over our patio.   
Bryan grabbed the first hose, shoved it under the water, then pulled the other end downhill to the lawn.  After a few minutes, he stood and strode back toward me.
I held out the second hose.  “Is it working?”
He grimaced and took the next hose.  “Yeah, but it’s slow.  We really need the drain pipes to work.”
“Why aren’t they?”
“I don’t know.”
Bryan set the second hose to siphoning while I worked on the third.  But even with all three hoses, the level of the water didn’t seem to be lowering.  And the rain just kept pouring down. 
For the rest of the afternoon, we labored in the pounding rain to keep the water from flooding our basement.  It was hard work with pumps and hoses, buckets and brooms.  We sloshed, we hauled, we siphoned, we swept.  We watched, we waited, we hoped, and we wondered what had happened to the drains.
In the months previous, when the sun was shining, nothing seemed wrong.  The patio was clean and shiny.  The drains looked fine.  But the first big rainstorm of the year proved that something had gone wrong.
The next day, after the rains had let up, Bryan came in from working in the yard.  He called to me from the front room.  “I figured out what happened.”
I peered around the corner.  “What?”
“Seems that a bunch of grass had grown into one of the pipes, plugging it.  The water couldn’t get out.  That’s why it backed up.”
“Guess we should have checked that.” 
“I didn’t even know that pipe was there.”
“Well, we certainly know it now.”  And now, we’d know to keep it clear.  But it was too bad we hadn’t paid enough attention to the pipes while the weather was good.  It took a storm to show us that everything wasn’t as clear and free-flowing as we’d thought.
Life is a lot like that, too.  When the sun’s shining and all seems well, it’s easy to think our faith is all right.  It’s easy to forget to keep things cleared out and the pipes flowing.  I miss my regular time of Bible study and prayer and think, “Oh well, I’ll just do it next time.”  Little issues pop up, and I simply deal with them, forgetting to cast all my cares upon God, because he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). 
But then the rainstorm hits.  Something hard and unexpected happens.  Fears, worries, doubts pile up and threaten my foundation.  And in the midst of the storm, it’s hard work to clear the flood.  Instead, it’s better to pay attention when the sun’s shining.  It’s better to keep the lines of communication open and flowing freely between me and God before the rains start to fall. 
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) tells us “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”

By praying continually, by being joyful, by giving thanks, I can keep my spiritual “pipes” open so I won’t be caught by surprise when life’s storms hit.  I need to pay attention while the sun’s shining so that when it rains my faith is ready to flow freely through pipes kept clear by prayer and faithfulness.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas, Mary, and the God of Mystery

Hi Friends,

This year I have so many who are close to me are facing serious health issues, some are dealing with the impending death of a loved one, some have lost jobs, some are lonely from lost or strained relationships. Even at Christmastime, sometimes especially at Christmastime, life is hard.

Why does it have to be hard at Christmas? That is the mystery I ponder, and as I do, I think about these words from Wrestling with Wonder:

Christmas, Mary, and the God of Mystery:

I Don’t Know.
Scary words. I don’t like to speak them. I don’t like to write them. I don’t like them at all. Instead, I much prefer:
I know.
I understand.
It makes sense.
I have the answers.
But the reality of life often is:
I don’t know.
I don’t understand.
It doesn’t make sense.
I don’t have the answers.
I cringe away from admissions like that. I want my world to make sense. I want explanations and reasons and a carefully constructed theology where all the i’s are diligently dotted and all the t’s carefully crossed.
I don’t want mystery.
And yet God is a God of mystery. He often refuses to explain himself and instead woos me to that uncomfortable in-between place where things don't make sense and I don’t have it all figured out. 
He beckons me there, and asks me not to understand, but instead to ponder.
To question.
To think.
To wonder.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the God who calls me to live in the tension between faith and works, between a loving God and a broken world, between justice and mercy. He calls me to wrestle with my questions, dance with my doubts, and live with not understanding all the whys and wherefores and what-does-it-all-means.
He calls me to ponder as he offers no easy answers, no pat theologies, no simple explanations to put on the bumper stickers of my life.
He beckons me to live with mystery -- the mystery of a Messiah in a manger.
Mary pondered the mystery of her God when scruffy shepherds showed up looking for an infant lying where the animals feed. She pondered as they told a strange story of singing angels who visited not a newborn messiah, but a bunch of sheep-herders in the fields. She pondered as they spoke. And she treasured the truths she could not yet understand.

May you embrace the mystery of a Messiah in a manger this Christmas!
Merry Christmas,

Monday, December 7, 2015

On the Difficult Road to Bethlehem

Hi Friends,

This week I'm pondering the long road to Bethlehem and how much Mary had to go through before she could hold Jesus in her arms. Sometimes you and I have to travel long and go through much before we experience Christ in a new and more vibrant way as well.

Here are some thoughts about that from Wrestling With Wonder:


Too often, I think, when we approach the Christmas story, we are caught up in the star, the angels, the babe in the manger. We forget that it took a nearly-one-hundred-mile journey, while pregnant, to get there. That could not have been an easy trip...
But at the end of the journey, Mary would encounter Christ in a way she hadn’t before. The Messiah would be born, and she would be transformed. She would hold God incarnate in her arms ... but only after a long and arduous journey.
Sometimes, it’s no different for you or me. Sometimes we have to travel a path we don’t understand to arrive in the place where God wants us to be.
And as s I recall my journey, and Mary’s, they teach me that even through hurt and discomfort, maybe especially in hurt and pain, God is leading to a place where I will glimpse his glory anew. He is saying to me that I must travel the path he has placed before me in order to get to the place he has planned for me since the beginning. 
So, when you’ve surrendered to God’s call and are suddenly thrust onto a road you never imagined and never wanted, remember, he knows the path you take. He travels with you, within you, and you will see him as you never could have before if you just keep going, trust, and persevere.
There, you will see the face of the Messiah. You will meet him in a new way. So, place one foot in front of the other, walk through your life day by day, know that this road, as pointless as it seems, is the only way to his will. 
Jesus must be born in Bethlehem. You must travel the difficult road at the worst time in your life to get there. Keep going, have faith, walk ... and you will get to that new place where you will see him in a new way. The place where you will be changed. Don’t give up. Don’t despair. 

This road leads to Bethlehem ... 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mary & God's Interruptions

Hi Friends,

So the Christmas season begins! And as you might imagine, I begin my season pondering an angel's visit to a young girl in Galilee, a girl who would become the mother of Jesus.

Here are some thoughts from the first chapter of Wrestling with Wonder that I'm thinking about this week, and I thought you might find encouraging too.

May God remind you, as he's reminding me, to treasure his interruptions, especially in this season, and to find his promises, plans, and joy in those moments when he interrupts my plans with his own.


Who is this God? Who is he who interrupts our lives with a call to the impossible?
He is the Dream Taker and the Dream Maker.
The Dream Taker 
“Follow your dreams!” says the world. 
“Die to self,” says God. “Die to your plans, your dreams, your tight-fisted grip on what your life should be.”
  “You can do anything you set your mind to!” says the world.
“I am God, you are not,” says God. “Submit to me, and together we will do everything I set my mind to.”
“Be somebody!” says the world. “Accomplish, achieve, fight your way to the top!”
“Be mine,” says God. “Stop striving and instead rest in my plans for you. Will you be my handmaiden?”
The Dream Maker 
Meditate on these verses. Hear in them God’s call to you:

  • “Delight yourselfTake delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, NIV). Not “Delight yourselfTake delight in the Lord and he will do whatever you want.” Instead, he will give you the desires themselves—new desires, new dreams, his dreams for you. His dreams will becomes yours!
  • “For we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has already prepared for us to walk around in” (Eph. 2:10, translation mine). He has already favored us with a plan and a call. It’s all prepared. You just have to let go and step forward.
  • I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV, emphasis mine). And they aren’t our plans. They aren’t our dreams. They aren’t our carefully scripted ideas for what our lives should be. Instead, they are a call to the impossible—to loss, confusion, difficulty, misunderstandings, ridicule ... and ultimately to wonder. 
            So in the great calls, and in the small: Rejoice, fear not, and submit. Whisper to God, “Let it be to me as you have said.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

When It All Seems Pointless - Plant Pumpkins!

Hi Friends,

Yesterday, my pastor talked about loving our community, loving those around us, with abandon. Loving as Jesus loves. He talked about how some plant seeds, some water, some even harvest, but it is GOD who causes the growth. We can't make things grow - that's God's job (just ask any farmer!).

When I got home, the rotting husk of Beanie's old pumpkin (from Kinderprep this year), reminded me of a story from a few years ago when we threw our old pumpkins out in front of our house.

I was encouraged to keep loving, keep planting, keep doing the right thing, even when I don't see the results I was hoping for. I hope you'll be encouraged too.

Here's the story:

It was the strangest sight – a lush, green plant growing in the middle of an expanse of bare dirt.  I stood there on my front porch and stared at it.  Wide leaves, a bright yellow flower, thick, healthy stalks.  It was perfect, beautiful, and clearly not a weed, even though it seemed to have sprung up overnight. 
            The plant wouldn’t have seemed so strange if it weren’t for its surroundings.  Around it, for a dozen yards in every direction, there was nothing but bare, dry soil.  Not a sprig of grass, not a seedling, not even a stray weed.  Nothing but dusty earth and this one perfect plant growing in the center.
            Months ago, my husband had graded the area in front of our house in anticipation of doing some landscaping.  The landscaping hadn’t happened and the area had been dirt ever since.  Until now.
            “Look at that.”  I called to my eight-year-old daughter, Bethany, as she zoomed past on her bike. 
            She steered her bike around and stopped in front of me.  “What?”’
            I pointed to the splotch of green amongst the dusty brown. 
            Her gaze followed the motion.  “Wow.  What is that?”  She parked her bike and trotted to the edge of the pavement for a better look.
            “I don’t know.  Should we go see?”  I stepped from the porch and made my way across the driveway, through the dirt, and toward the middle of what will someday be my lawn. 
            Bethany came up behind me.
            I leaned over the plant.
            She did too.  “Well, what is it?”
            I studied the flower and leaves.  “It looks like a pumpkin plant.”
            “But how did it get here?”  We didn’t have any other pumpkin plants, and we certainly hadn’t intended to plant any seeds.  Then, I remembered.  Last Fall, six months ago, we had thrown our old pumpkins out into the yard.  Bryan must have ground them up with the tractor when he was grading, then somehow moved one of the seeds out to the middle of the area, many yards away from where the pumpkins had sat.  There, it had laid dormant until the Spring.  And that’s how we could have a strong, healthy pumpkin plant where we’d never expected anything to grow at all.
            As I studied the plant, I realized that sometimes God’s Kingdom works like that too.  My actions can plant seeds even when and where I don’t expect.  Sometimes, just by doing what’s right, by making smooth places out of rough ones, I can spread seeds of God’s love that will sprout later and turn into new life.
            I thought about some things I had done over the past year that didn’t seem to yield any spiritual results -  simple acts, like making a job easier for a coworker, smoothing her way in a new task, or helping a neighbor move, or sharing a meal with a friend.  Those were times when I didn’t think I was spreading seeds, and I didn’t see any specific growth coming from my actions.  But just like the pumpkin plant, seeds may sprout and grow when I don’t expect, where I don’t expect.  Maybe my coworker will never acknowledge my help, but someone else in the office will be touched by what was done.  Or my neighbor won’t be changed because of the help offered, but a relative of hers may be.  The truth is, I don’t know.  I can’t always predict where and how new life will spring up.  Maybe that’s why Galatians 6:9 (NIV) says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” 
            All God asks is that I continue to do what’s right, continue to make rough ground smoother for others.  And even if I don’t see results now, or the person I’m hoping to help seems unresponsive, I shouldn’t give up.  It could be that there are a few pumpkin seeds caught in my tractor’s wheels, and as I go about making smooth paths for God, a few seeds will fall out where I don’t expect them and a new plant will grow, flower, and flourish in what was once a bare yard.

            And maybe I’ll even get to enjoy an out-of-season pumpkin or two in the process!