Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

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 …

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When You Want to Go Back to the Barn...

Hi Friends,

I wanted to share some encouragement from our last event at Wonder Wood Ranch (before it was even Wonder Wood Ranch!). For those weary of the journey, for those wishing for a shortcut around the path God has you on, for those who want to go back to the barn … hang in there…


I put my hands on my hips and looked out at the sea of grinning-kid faces sitting on the stacks of hay before me. Nearly thirty big, wide smiles met my gaze. I grinned back. A few van-loads of kids had come from the local low-income apartments to spend the afternoon riding, grooming, and experiencing horse-life for the first time.
            “Who’s been on a horse before?” I asked.
            Three hands raised.
            My smile grew. It was going to be an interesting day.
            My daughters brought our horses from their pens as I reviewed basic safety tips. After the horses were saddled and ready, I pointed toward the narrow trail that winds through the trees around our property. “Okay, this is the important part. When it’s your turn, stay on the trail!”
            A boy raised his hand in the back of the group. “Why?”
            “If you don’t, guess what will get you?”
            I raised my eyebrows. “Worse! Poison oak!”
            “Oooooh.” Their eyes widened. 
            A tiny girl tugged on the edge of my shirt. “What’s poison oak?”
            I squatted beside her. “It’s a plant that looks like other plants, but it’s not like other plants at all. See all those nice red and green leaves growing on either side of the path?”
            She nodded.
            “That’s poison oak. It looks pretty, but if you rub against it you’ll get a nasty red, itchy rash. It’s awful.”
            She wrinkled up her nose. “I don’t want that.”
            “Nobody wants that. That’s why we stay on the path.”
            In the hours that followed, I led a string of horses around and around the trail. Two loops around, and kids would dismount to allow the next group to ride. Each time, we talked about poison oak. Each time, the kids kept their horses on the path. Until about two hours in.
            I heard a yelp behind me. “Help! Smokey’s going off the trail!” Sure enough, the gelding had spotted a patch of green and was heading right toward it. I ran back and grabbed his bridle, just as he reach a bush of shiny, poison leaves. I hauled him back to the safe path and walked beside him until he stayed the course.
            Two rounds later, I heard another yelp. This time, Valentine headed off the path, back toward the barn. After two and a half hours, she was tired. She wanted to be done. done. We brought her back to her spot and encouraged her to keep walking.
            Later that night as I thought back to the adventures of the day, I was reminded that we can stay out of the poisonous places in life if we just let God lead us on the proper path, let him dictate the boundaries and where we ought to walk. We must stay on the path God has for us. Otherwise, poison thoughts, poison actions, poison problems will rub up against us to make ugly, itchy rashes on our relationships, our work, and our witness.
            Sometimes there are green and red, shiny leaves tempting us off the path. They look pretty. We want to take a closer look. But they’re poison.
            Sometimes, like Smokey, we get hungry for things that are not for us and we veer off course. When that happens, it’s good to have God and wise friends to bring us back to the trail. And it’s good to allow them to walk beside us to help us stay the course.
            Sometimes, like Valentine, we just get tired and want to take a shortcut back to the barn. We want to be done. In those times, God says to us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
            As I sat, soaking my feet that night, I thought about the joy we find when we trust God to lead us where we need to go. The path may be long, we may get tired and hungry, discouraged and disappointed. But God knows there’s poison off the path. He says to us, “...ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16, NIV)

            Rest, not rashes. And maybe a good, epson salt soak for feet sore from the journey. That sounds good to me!

(REMEMBER: You can donate to Wonder Wood Ranch through check, cash, or PayPal. Use marlo@wonderwoodranch.com to donate through PayPal. All donations are tax-deductible. We would love your support!!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Life's Ups and Downs - Lessons from Wonder Wood Ranch

Hi Friends,

Here's another story I often share with kids who come out, to encourage them to not lose hope even when things go wrong:

I held my breath as my five-year-old trotted her horse, Valentine, toward the little goat tied in the middle of the arena.  Valentine hesitated.  Jayna straightened her shoulders and urged the horse on.  
A few seconds more, then, she stopped, jumped off, and raced toward the goat.  The goat skittered left.  Jayna grabbed for the ribbon on its tail.  The goat scampered right.  She plunged after it and raised her fist to show a bright red ribbon clutched in her fingers.  A moment later, she turned, ran to a barrel twenty feet away, and slapped the ribbon on top.  
The crowd erupted in cheers.  The judge grinned and gave her a thumbs-up.  I let out my breath.
She walked Valentine out of the arena and threw herself into my arms.  “Did you see, Mom?  We did great!”
I grabbed the reins and gave Jayna a huge hug.  “Of course I did.  And Dad got pictures too.”
“What’s next?”
“Cattle sorting.  You ready?”  That was an event she’d also never done before.
She gave me a nervous nod.  “Okay.” 
Twenty minutes later, I was holding my breath again as Jayna trotted her horse down the middle of the arena.  Only this time, six cows stood at the far end instead of one little goat.  
Jayna moved into the midst of them.  She reined Valentine around, then back, trying to separate one cow from the others.  At first, it seemed to be working.  A black cow ambled off to the left.  I let out my breath again.  Maybe she could do it.
But then, circumstances changed.  The black cow darted back into the herd.  Valentine spun toward the gate.  Then, the horse took off.  At three strides she started to hop.  At four, she bucked.   Once.  Twice.  And Jayna flew off into the dirt.  
I ran into the arena and scooped her up.  Sandy mud mixed with her tears as she spat out a mouthful of arena dirt.  
“Th-that didn’t go very well,” she wailed.
I sighed and brushed a clump of mud from her helmet.  “No, it didn’t.  Are you okay?”
She nodded.
“Come on, let’s go get Valentine and get you cleaned up.”
She sniffed and rubbed her hand over her nose as we made our way toward the gate where Valentine was standing.
In the days that followed, I thought about our time at the horse show and realized that life is lot like the show.  It’s a mixed experience.  Things go well.  Things go badly.  You succeed, you fail.  You win, then you lose.  One minute the crowds are clapping.  The next, they’re gasping as you take a mouthful of dirt.  
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Jesus knew all about life’s ups and downs.  One day he was riding into Jerusalem as the people cheered, waved palm branches, and cried out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9, NIV).  A few days later, he was standing bloody and bruised before the crowd again, and this time they shouted, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13, NIV).  One day he was eating a Passover feast with his friends (Mark 14), the next, he was hanging on a cross to die (Mark 15).  One day he was in the tomb.  Three days later, resurrection.
Up, down, up, down.  Life is like that.  So, how do I live through all life’s ups and downs?  How did Jesus live?
I think Jesus, and Jayna, had it right.  Jayna walked through the gate, faced the next event, and trotted down the center of the arena toward whatever goats or cows awaited her.  Jesus walked into this life, faced the will of God, and strode resolutely toward whatever His Father asked.  Both faced life’s ups and downs with trust and obedience rather than fear and what if’s.  Both rejoiced and wept and got a mouthful of dirt.  But they didn’t give up, they didn’t turn away.  And because of that, Jesus rose again.  And Jayna rode again.

That’s what God asks of me too, that I would continue forward in His will, that I would face every up and down by trusting him and walking forward in obedience.  And even if my face hits the dirt, I know God will be there to pick me up and help me wash the mud out of my mouth.  He will help me face the next event, so that I, too, can rise and ride again.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Conquering Life's Hurdles - Lessons from Wonder Wood Ranch

Hi Friends,

We've been working hard to prepare the barn, horses, critters, property, etc. for Wonder Wood Ranch's first official event. And I've also been thinking about some of the stories we've shared with the groups of kids who have already come out before we were official.

Here is a story we've shared that encouraging to both the kids and us. Hope you'll find it encouraging too:


I held my breath as my six-year-old, Joelle, rode her Paint mare into the arena.  The gate closed behind her.  She paused and glanced at the three short jumps of the Hurry Scurry race.  A small smile brushed her lips.
            Then, she urged the horse forward.
            I gripped the fence rail and watched Oreo approach the first jump at a gentle lope.  Closer, closer, up and over.  I let out my breath.
            Joelle and Oreo turned the far pole and headed back, over jump number two.  Clear.  Over jump three.  Clear again.  And through the timing poles, perfect.
            I whooped and cheered and pressed my hand to my thudding heart.  They’d done it, and done it beautifully.
            A wide grin lit Joelle’s face as she patted Oreo’s neck and guided the mare out the gate. 
            I rushed over to them, calling, “You did it, you did it, you did it!”
            Joelle turned.  “Oreo did it.”  She leaned over and hugged the horse’s neck.
            And she was right.  Oreo did it, but only because they’d practiced and practiced and practiced.  When we’d gotten Oreo just two months before, the mare was terrible at jumping.  She’d hesitate as she approached the jump, then she'd stumble over, her back feet banging the crossbar.  The jump was always jumbled up afterward.  It was ugly. It was awkward. 
But Joelle didn’t let Oreo quit.  She kept giving her chance after chance to figure out how to do it right. At home, they'd lope around the arena and jump and jump and jump, until Oreo hesitated less and less, until her legs cleared more frequently, until the awkwardness decreased with each try.  And Joelle didn't get angry at Oreo for not doing well.  She didn’t scowl or scold, punish or frown.  She just kept giving her chances to practice, and encouraging her with pets and praise for each improvement.
Later that day as Joelle went up to get her second place ribbon for the Hurry Scurry, I thought about how God’s interactions with me are a lot like Joelle’s with Oreo.  I too have things I’m not so good at.  Sometimes, it’s considering others first, or trusting him in difficult circumstances, or finding peace in chaos (that's a tough one for me!), or fighting fear in certain specific areas of life.  As I approach those hurdles, I often hesitate, I stumble over, I bang my feet, and it can be both awkward and ugly. 
Then, too often, my response to a not-so-perfect jump is to think badly of myself, to criticize and accuse and feel that surely God is scowling and scolding, punishing and frowning.  I condemn myself for not having enough faith, for not flying through a situation perfectly, or not being as good as someone else going through a similar thing.
But standing there, cheering for Joelle and Oreo reminded me of James 1:2-4 (NIV):  Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 
I used to read this verse as “be happy about your hardships,” which seemed crazy.  But now I believe James really means that we can be glad that we don’t go through trials for nothing.  God uses the hurdles of life to help us become the people he envisions us to be.  We just have to keep going, keep trying, because that’s what perseverance is. 

So, when I face the same tough hurdles of life over and over, it’s not because God is punishing me, it’s because he’s giving me an opportunity to practice, grow, and improve until I can jump smoothly. He's saying, "You'll get it.  Let's try it again. I'm giving you another chance, and another, and another." He doesn't expect me to be able to clear every jump the first time, or even the second or third.  Instead, he’s giving me a chance to get a little better, a little faster, a little smoother, until I’ve mastered the things I once wasn’t so good at.
            Perhaps, in time, I too will be like Oreo, flying over the jumps with my feet not even touching.  And maybe, someday when I reach heaven, there’ll be a prize for me too, and then even the angels will clap and cheer.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Life that Plays Beautiful Music

Hi Friends,

In honor of "Joelle week" (who just turned 13!), here's something I learned from her when she was little, about playing beautiful music in life. I hope it encourages you as it encouraged me.

Making Music With the Master
Small brows furrowed in concentration.  Small fingers pressed hard on guitar frets.  Small thumbs thrummed the strings. 
            And music filled the room – awkward, off-key, clashing music.  But to my mommy-ears, the sounds were sweet.  I smiled. 
            Bethany and Joelle, my two young daughters, were working so hard to learn how to play real music on their brand new kids’ guitars.  They sat on short stools in front of their dad, with their guitars on their laps and their fingers poised over the strings. 
            Bryan held his own guitar (adult-sized, of course) and strummed the chord again.  A perfect C warbled from his instrument.  He paused.  “See, like that.”  The sound died away.  “Now you try.”  He placed the girls’ fingers on the proper frets one more time. 
            The girls studied Daddy’s fingers.  They glanced at their own, then looked at his again.  Then, they took deep breaths, and strummed.
            Better.  Not good, but at least the sound didn’t leave my hair standing on end.
            Bryan adjusted their fingers again.  First Joelle’s, then Bethany’s.  “Try not to push down the other strings.”
            Bethany nodded and grinned.  “Okay, Daddy.”  She leaned forward. 
            Joelle stuck out her tongue to focus.
            I hurried for the camera. 
            They tried it yet again – studying the way Daddy did it, checking their own fingers, and playing the note.  Studying, checking, playing.  Boldly, joyfully, with Daddy’s help.
            It wasn’t perfect, but each time, the sound improved.  By the end, their fingers were dented by the strings, their picks were well worn, and they had almost learned to produce a decent C chord. 
            But most importantly, they were happy.  Glowing.  Why?  Because they were playing guitar, just like Daddy. 
            As I stood by and clicked pictures, I was reminded of how God, my father, asks me to imitate Him too.  1 Peter 1:15-16 (NIV), says “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;  for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”  And in Matthew 11:29 (NIV), we’re told to, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart . . .”
            I’m called to be like Him, to learn from Him.  Doing that, I’ve come to realize, isn’t a whole lot different from my girls learning to play guitar.  As God makes beautiful music, He asks me to join in – to try.  And though my fingers may be still a little small, and I might bump the wrong strings, still what’s important is that I study the way my Daddy does it and try to do the same myself.  Study, check, play.  Boldly, joyfully, and with my Father in heaven’s help.
            It doesn’t matter if my music isn’t always perfect.  What matters is that I watch, learn, and try again.  That I practice using my instruments like God uses His. The Bible, circumstances in life, popular culture, off-the-cuff comments by acquaintances, friends, or family – how does God make music from these instruments?  How does He work in people’s lives?  And how can I make music with those same instruments?
            The only way to know is to study the Master.  Study the gospels.  How did Jesus use scripture, culture, circumstances, comments, in the gospel accounts?  How does God work in my own life?  In the lives of the people I know?  We must study, watch, learn, and play. 
            God is making music all around us.  If we pay attention, we can make music too.  It may not be perfect.  It may a little off-key, a little awkward.  But if we practice and watch the master musician – if we allow him to move our fingers along the frets, we too can play the notes of heaven, and bring beautiful music into the lives of those around us.

            So, let us play.  Joyfully, boldly, with our gaze fixed on the Master who teaches us the proper chords.