Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Real Question When Life Goes Awry

Hi Friends,

Today, I wanted to share with you some thoughts on the story of Job, excerpted from my last book, Wrestling with Wonder

For anyone going through a Job-like season in life when everything seems to be going painfully wrong, I hope this will be of help ...

In Job, my favorite book of the Bible, we see this strange dichotomy between our “why” and God’s “who” stretched out into forty-two long chapters. Most people hate to read Job. Most think it’s a book about suffering. 
But it’s not. 
It’s about God being the God of “Who” and not the God of “Why.” It’s about being taught to ask the right question.
The book opens with a peek behind the curtain—a scene showing Satan presenting himself to God. Immediately, in chapter one, the reader is shown why all kinds of tragedy will befall Job. Job is never told, never shown, what happens here behind the scenes. Only we know that God himself brings Job to Satan’s attention. God brags about this righteous man who honors him. “Have you considered my servant Job?” God asks. “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8).
Satan is not convinced. He says Job’s righteousness is only a result of God’s blessing. “But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face,” Satan counters (Job 1:11).
God allows Satan to take everything—all of his oxen, his donkeys, his servants, his sheep, his camels, and finally his children. Job mourns, but he does not curse God. Then God allows Satan to take even Job’s health. He sits on an ash heap scratching his wounds with a broken piece of pottery. He sits and scratches and wishes he were never born.
And still, Job does not curse God.
But he does ask why. Five times in his opening soliloquy he asks God, “Why?” 
His friends, who had sat with him silently for seven days, are eager to offer their answers. For thirty-four long chapters they attempt to explain to Job why God has done this to him. And for thirty-four long chapters, Job knows their answers are wrong. You’ve sinned, you’ve done evil, you deserve this, they say. I have not, I do not, Job replies. But still, like so many of us, he continues to cry out various poetic versions of “Good grief, what did I do to deserve this? God, why is this happening to me?”
Then finally, in the midst of the final friend explaining why God is too grand to show up, God shows up. God speaks out of the storm, the whirlwind. 
The friends are silenced.
Job is silenced.
And God speaks. For four chapters.
In all those 129 verses, God gives not even a single hint to answer the question of why. He says nothing about the events of the first two chapters of Job. He gives Job no explanations at all. But in every single verse he does answer another question. He answers, “Who.” In some of the most beautiful ancient poetry that we have, God paints an incredible, amazing, vivid picture of the wonder of the God of all the universe. 
He says, here is who I am.
I am the God who ... 
—laid the earth’s foundations (38:4).
—shut up the sea behind doors (38:8).
—gives orders to the morning (38:12).
—shows dawn its place (38:12).
—walks the recesses of the deep (38:16).
—seen the gates of deepest darkness (38:17).
—owns the storehouses of snow and hail (38:22).
—cuts a channel for the torrents of rain and a path for the thunderstorm (38:25).
—fathers the dew (38:28).
—births the frost (38:29).
—binds the chains of the Pleiades and loosens Orion’s belt (38:31).
—brings forth the constellations in their seasons (38:32).
—wrote the laws of the heavens (38:33).
—covers himself with a flood (38:34).
—directs bolts of lightning (38:35).
—gives wisdom (38:36).
—hunts for the lioness (38:39).
—provides food for ravens (38:41).
—knows when the mountain goats give birth (39:1).
—watches the doe bear her fawn (39:1).
—frees the wild donkey (39:5).
—is served by the wild ox, who stays by my manger at night (39:9).
—gives speed to the ostrich (39:18).
—gives the horse its strength (39:19).
—gives the hawk flight and makes the eagle soar (39:26, 27).
—has a voice like thunder (40:9).
—is adorned with glory and splendor, clothed with honor and majesty (40:10).
—brings the proud low (40:11).
—tames Behemoth (40:19).
—makes a pet of Leviathan (41:5).
—I am the God who saves you (40:14).
—I AM more than you ever dreamed, more than you ever hoped, more than you can even imagine. 
And Job puts his hand over his mouth. No more whys, no more questions, just the wonder of an amazing God. And Job is satisfied ... because God never answered why, but God did show him Who. An incredible, amazing glimpse of a God who is so mighty and powerful and majestic that he created the earth and made the stars to sing, but is also so close and intimate and caring that he is there in the secret places where the doe gives birth, where the mountain goats bear their young. This One who tames the Behemoth and Leviathan can also tame our lives, our hearts. He is the Answer.
That’s the gift Job is given in chapters 38-41. A glimpse of the wonder of God, the true answer to all questions. And it’s our answer when life isn’t fair, when health is bad, when we grieve, when loss catches us by surprise, when the life we lead has lost its luster. The answer is the wonder of God, the reality of who he is.
Because all the answers to “why” will not satisfy the longing in our souls. They leave us empty. But God’s answer, the answer of “Who,” fills us with glory, amazes us with magnificence, and satisfies us with wonder.
In C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, the main character, Orual, says: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”
Because he is the answer.
He always has been.

Job discovered that. So did Mary. Will I? Will you? Will you stop asking why and instead discover the incredible Who that is our God?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Praying the Toddler Way...

Hi Friends,

I was looking through some of my old stories this week and came across this one from when Joelle was two. This little story helped me refocus my prayer life and realign my heart with God's. I hope it will do the same for you …

Praying Like a Two-Year-Old

I know how to pray.  I’ve been a praying Christian for years.  I’ve read all the books, I’ve studied all the greats - Augustine, Brother Lawrence, and a dozen others.  I’ve given talks and written seminary papers.  I’ve fasted, and prayerwalked, and read the Lord’s Prayer in Greek.  I’ve even written articles!  So, imagine my surprise when I got a lesson in prayer from a two-year-old.
It happened just the other night.  The food steamed on the table.  The silverware shone.  Our five-year-old, Bethany, squirmed in her seat.  “Who’s gonna pray so we can eat?”  She looked down at the spaghetti on her plate. 
I opened my mouth to volunteer, but before I could say a word, a little voice piped up from beside me. 
“Me do it.  I pray.”
I glanced at our two-year-old daughter, Joelle.  “Okay, you do it.  You know what to do?” 
She nodded. 
She’d never prayed out loud for a meal before, but she had heard us pray hundreds of times.  We always asked God to bless the food and thanked Him for it. 
Joelle folded her hands as we all bowed our heads. 
Then, we waited.  And waited.
I peeked at her.  “Go ahead, sweetie.  Pray.”
            She closed her eyes.  Then, came her prayer, loud and clear over the table.  “Jesus no cry.  Jesus be happy.  Amen.”
            We all looked up. 
            Bethany frowned.  “That’s a funny prayer.  Can we eat now or not?”
            I tapped her hand and shushed her.  “It’s a great prayer.  You can eat.”
            Joelle stuffed her fork into her spaghetti and ignored her sister.  “I pray,” she muttered.
            I smiled as I contemplated her words.  She prayed all right.  A prayer no one had taught her, a prayer that came right from her heart, a prayer that put all my grown-up prayers to shame.  In six simple words, Joelle had gotten to the heart of God-honoring prayer - not a rote repetition about the food, but a sincere desire for Jesus to be happy. 
            As I sat there twirling spaghetti on my fork, I thought about how my prayers compared with Joelle’s.  Sure, I knew all the right phrases and all the how-to’s.  Yet, as I contemplated her simple words, I saw how woefully self-centered my own prayers had become.  I asked for blessings on my family, help with my work, wisdom in dealing with people, and that all would go well.  Good things, surely, and things that God wants me to pray for.  But it wasn’t enough.  If I were to simplify my prayers down to Joelle’s language, I saw that they would sound more like “Marlo no cry.  Marlo be happy.” 
Where Joelle prays for Jesus, I pray for me.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:10 (NIV) to pray, “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  I’ve read those words so many times, but only through Joelle’s prayer have I seen their deeper meaning.  When we spurn God’s will, Jesus weeps.  When we do His will, Jesus is happy. 
            These days, Joelle prays that same prayer for every meal.  And as I listen to her, as I lift my heart to God with her words, my prayer life is changing.  Instead of only asking for God’s blessing, I’m focusing more on asking God to help me to be pleasing to Him.  As I ask for His help in my work and writing, I voice my desire for Him to help me to glorify Him in my life.  When I ask for wisdom, I also ask Him to help me honor Him in all I do and think.  And instead of focusing on my desire for all to go well, I ask Him what I can do to bring Him joy. 

In other words, I am learning to pray with childlike faith.  I’m learning to pray, “Jesus no cry.  Jesus be happy.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

When God's Lost His Mind...

Hi Friends,

I had an interesting conversation with a woman this week who is sure God hates her because she was unable to have children and her life-as-she-wanted-it has fallen apart. She insisted that if I hadn't eventually had children after my years of infertility I would also be bitter and would no longer follow Christ.

I disagreed. Because I've walked through the darkness, I've endured the pain, and I've made the same difficult choice that Mary, Jesus' mother, had to make … do you stand outside the door and tell Jesus he's crazy, or do you walk in and sit at his feet even though it seems he's lost his mind?

Here's an excerpt from Wrestling with Wonder that explores Mark 3:20-21, 31-35 when Jesus' mother and brothers go to "take charge of him" because they're sure he's lost his mind. I offer it as encouragement for anyone who feels like God just isn't doing what he's supposed to be doing in their lives…


Like he did for Mary, Jesus breaks in to shatter our old paradigms, to remake us. And life doesn’t turn out the way we expect. God doesn’t act like we expect. The promises don’t seem to be coming true. Our life looks like a crazy mess. We lose our job, we can’t pay our bills, a child rebels, a loved one dies, cancer hits, we face divorce, infertility, failure in ministry. Bombs fall into our lives and break us apart. We face the loss of what we expected life to look like if only we follow Christ, surrender to him.
            So we wonder ...
            Am I doing something wrong?
            Has God forgotten me?
            Has he betrayed me?
            Are the promises just not true?
            God, have you lost your mind?
            We wonder, we doubt, we worry. We question his goodness, we call to him from the outside. And all the time it is not us or God or the promises that have failed, it’s our expectations that have betrayed us. They have taken the truth and whispered lies in our ears. We operate in the paradigm we know—the world’s paradigm. We see the promises through the lens of what the world says is blessed—success, victory, being well fed and well loved. The problem is true success, true victory, being truly well fed and well loved looks little like we’re taught to believe. Sometimes it looks like failure, sometimes it looks like we’ve been abandoned, sometimes it looks like death itself.
            We’ve forgotten that we serve an unexpected Christ, we follow an out-of-the-box Messiah. We forget that every promise will be fulfilled ... but in ways we never dreamed. Mary would learn this. Every single line she sang in the Magnificat would come true, but not a single line in the way she must have expected. And in the journey, she would become who God always intended her to be. She would become mother of the Messiah by a means she never would have wanted, never would have dreamed. She would see victory beyond imagination. And she would see it when all seemed lost.
            So, the question is, when life takes a turn, when things are nothing as expected, will you still believe, will you still sing? Will you still say “My soul magnifies the Lord?” Because this is the Christ that comes into our lives, the One who fulfills every promise and defies every expectation. The One who showers his mercy, who lifts us up in our pain, who fills us in ways we cannot foresee. The One who remakes us ... beyond our expectations, beyond anything we could have ever dared to dream.
            Like Mary, we too must choose. When God seems to have lost his mind, will you still walk through the door, sit at his feet, and do the will of the Father? Or will you keep calling to him from outside the door? Will you cling to your picture of who God is supposed to be and insist he conform to your will instead of you to his?
            Or will you trust that he is truly your Messiah when he doesn’t behave the way you want? When life is nothing like you expect and prayers aren’t answered the way you’d hoped, when God hasn’t intervened, when the songs seem like delusional dreams ...
            Will you still trust him?

            Will you go in and sit at the feet of the Savior?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

When Your Plans Crumble ...

Hi Friends,

Endorsements have been coming in for my next book, Waiting for Wonder, which is on schedule to release in November. As I was reviewing the manuscript today, I came across this this little bit that I thought might be encouraging to you:


Who is this God who allows our plans to become like sand, running through our fingers? Who is he who stands by while everything we tried to build crumbles around us? 
He is the God who builds.
We work so hard. We labor, we scheme, we work, we plan, we scrape and toil. But sometimes, often, life goes awry anyway. The lives we live are not the lives we planned.
But sometimes the lives we planned must die before we can live the lives God plans for us. 
Sarai learned that the hard way.
So did Paul. 
The New Testament tells us that Paul built for himself the life of a respected Pharisee. His letter to the Philippians describes it: “I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee. With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church. With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless” (Phil 3:5-6). 
But after a single encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus (see Acts 22), all that came crumbling down. Paul lost the carefully constructed life he had built for himself. God built him instead a life with meaning. A life that changed the world. Paul’s God-built life still affects us to this day, thousands of years later. Had Paul’s plan worked out, he would have been nothing but a long-forgotten Pharisee. But the life God built for him blessed the entire world. He became a man who spread the gospel throughout the known world of his time. Thousands were saved because of him. He became a man who would write thirteen of the twenty-seven of books of the New Testament. We read his work today. Paul’s life is still changing lives. He mattered.
In Philippians 3:7-9, he went on: “These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him.”
That’s the kind of life to which God is calling all of us. He calls us to a life that matters in the kingdom of God. It may not look like it when everything crumbles around us, when our towers tumble, when the diagnosis is grim. But Sarai’s diagnosis was grim too. She was infertile and would remain so for decades to come. God built her life into one that changed the world in the great workings of the kingdom. 
He will build yours too. 
He is the God who builds.
So when plans go awry, when life falls apart, let God judge. Let God choose. Let God build.
Wait for Him. He will change your world, and because of that, you will change the world around you. 

Unless it is the Lord who builds the house, 
the builders’ work is pointless.

Psalm 127:1

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

You're Made to Fly!

Hi Friends,

A word of encouragement for when you've gone through a rough time, when you've been attacked, when you're scared, when you're still carrying the scars inside if not outside …

This happened a little while ago here at the Ranch:

I saw a flutter. A hop. And the cat pounced. “Nooooo!” I raced out the door. “Friskey, put that bird down!” I crossed the lawn and skidded to a stop in front of my bird-catching cat. “No birds. We like birds.”
Friskey looked up at me with big, blue eyes. 
I tapped his nose. “Let go.”
The bird lay motionless in his mouth, its eyes wide, its feet curled.
His whiskers twitched. Then slowly, he set the bird on the ground, backed up a few paces, crouched, and wiggled his back end.
I snatched up the bird. It lay still in my hand. I could feel its tiny heart pounding beneath my fingers.
“Not for you, Friskey.” I turned and walked toward the porch.
Friskey trotted behind me.
Once there, I carefully examined the little bird. It looked like some kind of sparrow. “Not one falls to the ground without God knowing,” I murmured as I ran my fingers over the wings, back, and stomach. I found no injuries. The bird seemed unharmed.
Friskey meowed.
“Go away, Frisk. Go catch me a gopher or something. We don’t like gophers.”
He made one trip around me, rubbing his sides against my pantlegs, then moved away.
I watched him go then placed an old towel on the porch, put the still-immobile bird on the towel, and surrounded it with an old piece of fencing, tall enough so Friskey could not get in if he should come back. 
The bird sat on the towel and did nothing but blink and breathe. 
I waited, and waited, and waited.
Still the bird did not fly away.
Friskey returned, glanced at the bird, and meandered away again. 
Still the bird blinked, and breathed, and did not use its wings. It sat there for hours, rescued, unharmed, and completely immobilized by lingering fear.  I spoke gently to it, I fluttered my fingers at it, I left it alone. Even when Friskey returned and stared through the fence slats, it did not choose freedom. 
It chose fear.
It took most of the day before that little bird finally fluttered out of its enclosure and settled in a distant tree, far from the threat of the cat’s claws. It took all those hours for it to realize the top of its cage was open and it could fly away from its fear, that it could use the wings that God gave it.
As I stood there, watching the tiny bird-figure in the far-off tree, as I watched it hop along a branch then take wing and fly off into the now-twilight sky, I wondered how often I lived my life just like that little sparrow. God rescued me from the claws of sin and death. He set me free and gave me wings. Galatians 5:1 (NIV) says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free ... do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Yet too often I remain immobilized by fear from the past. The great cat lurks around me, yet I don’t fly away. I don’t spread out my God-given wings of faith and hope to be free. I don’t even look up to see that there is no fence above me. And all the while, God is whispering to me, “Fly little bird! I’ve set you free. Come higher, and leave the cat behind you.”
He’s calling me to greater heights, to put aside sin and fear, to lay down the hurts of the past, that so easily entangle (Hebrews 12:1), and to find joy by flying where I really belong. Birds weren’t meant to be stuck in open-topped cages. They’re meant to fly free. They’re meant to give glory to God by using the gift of wings that he’s given to them.
I am meant to fly too. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline,” Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 1:17 (NIV).

Today, I want to use my wings to fly in the love and power of God, no matter how many scary cats have come my way.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Faith with Feet (or Hooves) - Asking for Prayer for Our New Endeavor!

Hi Friends,

I wanted to share with you the new flyer for Wonder Wood Ranch and ask you to pray that we will be able to reach kids with the hope and wonder of our amazing God through this new endeavor. We have our "Hope for the Homeless" event coming up in a couple weeks - please pray that many homeless kids (and their moms) will be able to come and experience the horses, trails, donkeys, miniature horses, bunnies, and yes, even the chickens! 

This week I've had wonder-FULL meetings with some fantastic people from the city's Community Alliance for Safety and Peace as well as a great meeting with the city's police chief who has connected me with the Police Activities League. God is moving, the need is great, and we look forward to bringing hope through horses to our hurting community!

Read more about it in the flyer, and if you're able to donate and/or volunteer, we sure would appreciate it! We are so new that we need SO many things to make the experience LIFE-filled and WONDER-filled for the kids. (The next thing I want to try to do is add archery for the kids to try! I can think of ALL kinds of life lessons I can share through archery analogies … you know me, always with the life-analogies!) 

Anyway, may your faith have feet in your own circles and communities, and may you bring life, light, love, joy, and WONDER to everyone and anyone you can! Hope and blessings to you, my friends!!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Stop Arguing About Who Matters and Love Like It Matters!

Hi Friends,

I've been troubled and challenged from all the arguments about whose lives matter and who's racist and who's marginalized and who's ignorant and who's this and that. And now, I've become weary of the talk and the protests and the pointing fingers. So I have one thing to say to you and to me:


If you say black lives matter, stop arguing, quit protesting, roll up your sleeves, and get out there and make a real, positive difference in the lives of real people of color. Help pregnant mothers and save unborn black babies. Their lives matter. Go into poor, hurting parts of your community and bring hope and healing, give, love, start programs that bring people together. Do something positive to promote healthy relationships between the police and the most crime-ridden parts of your community.  Support families and discourage kids from gangs. Don't wait for the government to fix it. YOU are the LIGHT of the world. Go and shine in the lives of those whose lives matter.

If you say all lives matter, stop arguing, quit posting trite things on social media, roll up your sleeves, and get out there and make a real, positive difference in the lives of real people. Help pregnant mothers and save unborn babies. Their lives matter. Go into poor, hurting parts of your community and bring hope and healing, give, love, start programs that bring people together. Do something positive to promote healthy relationships between the police and the most crime-ridden parts of your community.  Support families and discourage kids from gangs. Don't wait for the government to fix it. YOU are the LIGHT of the world. Go and shine in the lives of those whose lives matter.

1 Peter 3:8-16  has wise words for our time:

"Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days… must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.  … But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats]; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord ... keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."
And so in all the cacophony of rhetoric that threatens to drown out what's true and real and right, I cling to this one thing:  THIS is the time for the people of God to rise up, not with angry faces and loud, divisive words, but with LOVE in ACTION, with open hearts and spirits submitted to the One who gave Himself for us ALL. THIS is our moment to shine the light and love of an amazing, WONDERFUL, God!
What can YOU do????

That's a question I've been asking myself as well. While we don't have a lot of African Americans in my community (the vast majority of people are hispanic), we do have gangs, gun violence, murders, and distrust between certain parts of the community and the police. What can I do to help? Well, I've got some ideas just-brewing on how to use our new Wonder Wood Ranch to try to talk less, love more. To try to make a difference in some of these areas in my own community. To help create trust and relationships where they're most needed and hopefully make a positive difference in the lives of people, because they matter. They matter to God. They matter to me. Pray for me, friends! I am beginning to dream …