Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What Do You Want? - Being Like Bartimaeus

Hi Friends,


This coming Sunday Bryan and I will be preaching on the story of blind Bartimaeus from Mark 4. Bartimaeus may just be my favorite character in the Bible. There’s something about his tenacity, his audacity, and his fierce vivacity that inspire me. He lived in darkness, and yet he saw more clearly than any of his seeing contemporaries. He saw more clearly than I. A blind beggar sitting in the dirt alongside the road to Jerusalem knew what he wanted, and he couldn’t be dissuaded from it. 

What if I had his vision? What if, in my own darkness, I had his tenacity, audacity, and vivacity? What if all I wanted was to see?

Here's a excerpt from Reaching for Wonder to encourage you ...


What Do You Want?

Bartimaeus leaves behind everything he had counted on when he comes to Jesus. He comes to Jesus with nothing but his need. Nothing. Not his good name, not his good deeds, not  his good thoughts. Nothing but his need, and his faith. His tenacious, audacious faith.
            And Jesus asks him one simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51) A few verse prior, Jesus had just asked this question of James and John, two of his closest disciples. The answered by telling him they wanted to sit at his right and left hand in glory. They wanted position. They wanted prestige. 
            But what blind Bartimaeus wants is the very thing God longs to give. Bartimaeus wants mercy, and mercy is sight.
            In one of the most beautiful, simplistic answers in the Bible, Bartimaeus says, “Rabbi, I want to see.” (v. 51)
            I want to see.
            For every person sitting in their own personal darkness, or every one of us who feels blind and cut off, for all of us who are sitting in the dirt beside the road to Jerusalem, those four simple words should be our prayer.
            I want to see.
            I want to see Jesus.
            Nothing else we are asking for, hoping for, praying for, matters so much as seeing him. Seeing him on the road, seeing him on his way to the place where he will die and rise again, seeing him as he looks into our face and tells us “Go!” 
            And like Bartimaeus, once we see him, once we really see him, we will follow him anywhere, even to the cross.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Reaching for Wonder When Life Hurts

Hi Friends,


Here are some thoughts from the interviews I've been doing about finding God's wonder when life's at its hardest. I've been encouraged by this message this week (what a tough week!). I hope you'll find encouragement too!

Q: What compelled you to write Reaching for Wonder?

A:       When I first started to really grapple with this idea of reaching for wonder when life is at its worst, my family was in the midst of some of the most difficult and painful times we’ve ever had to face. We were going through betrayal, inside and outside of the family, we were being threatened by a stalker so we were dealing with the difficult and scary process of getting and enforcing a restraining order, business took a turn for the worse. And the stress was causing health problems on top of marital conflicts, and everything else. Life hurt.


Q: So how did the message of Reaching for Wondergrow from there?

A:       I had discovered when we had faced infertility and miscarriage in the past, that the idea of “just have faith” and “God won’t give you more than you can bear” is, well, a bunch of hooey. 

Life is HARD. Heartbreaking, soul-choking things happen to us. This life is not a walk in the park with daisies. It’s a journey that has peaks and beautiful vistas, but it also has dark valleys where we can barely remember what the sun looks like. And sometimes it seems as if those valleys will never end. This life is a battle for our souls. 

So, in my latest valleys I started looking more carefully and deeply at the Jesus we see in the New Testament. I looked at how he interacts with those who are facing things that were more than they could bear. And I found that the real Jesus is not a “just have faith and it will be okay” type of God. He is a breath-taking, vivid God who meets us in the times of trouble and encounters us in ways I didn’t expect. In ways that shake me from my “just have faith” mentality. He’s not after a shallow-band-aid faith. He’s after a life-changing, shock-my-soul relationship with the living God.  And that matters.


Q: Reaching for Wonderlooks at these one-time encounters with Christ in the Bible. A lot of us have heard these stories before.  How is your focus different?

A:       The things that I saw in these stories, and share in the book, changed the way I encounter Christ in my pain. For example, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well. Usually when we read that story we focus on how Jesus talks about living water or how we are to worship in spirit and in truth. But that’s not really what that story is about. It’s about how Jesus confronts and completely transforms a woman’s deepest shame into the very thing she uses to get a whole town to come and see Jesus. 

I am the woman at the well. You are the woman at the well. And God is waiting there to take the very things we most want to hide, the things that cause us the most pain and shame, and make them into the things that bring him glory. 

That’s who God is. And that’s what Reaching for Wonderis about – seeing God in our deepest pain in ways that do more than heal, they urge us to reach out for the wonder of what God offers, even, especially, when life hurts the most.


Q: Explain more about this idea of reaching for wonder when life hurts.

A:       The radical idea that I’m saying is true is that we can find the wonder of God in the place we least expect it to be: in the very places of our deepest pain and shame. And we find that wonder not by trying to do an end-around our pain, not by skirting the darkest parts of it, but by encountering Christ in it and through it. I’m saying that in the darkest, most hopeless-seeming times of our is precisely when God is offering us his most breath-taking wonder, and he’s calling us to hope one more time and reach for him.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hope for the Doubting Heart

Hi Friends,


The first chapter of Reaching for Wonder explores the story of the man in Mark 1:41-45 who says to Jesus, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Sometimes all we can bring to Jesus is our if.

Who is God in the face of our doubts? Here are some thoughts from the end of chapter one ...

Who Is This God?
         Who is this God who hears my doubt and offers not condemnation but more than I can even dream? I mull over that question as I drive away from the home of my friend with ALS. If you were willing, Lord, you could heal her. . .
         But he doesn’t. 
         Or does he?
         Her ALS progresses. Today she was surrounded with tubes to help her breathe and to pull the mucus from her lungs. Another machine pounded her chest to break up the mucus for removal. 
         She was able to speak only through the movement of her eyes on a computer screen. She asked how she could pray for me.
         I read to her from a book called Heaven.
         And my soul was filled.
         If you are willing, Lord . . .
         I am willing.
         And in that moment as I approach a stop sign, my mind still caught in the room where my friend sits in her wheelchair amidst the menagerie of machines, I know it’s true. God has taken my if” and transformed it to wonder.
         He is willing, not to cure the body (at least in this life) but to make my friend whole, and in doing so to touch me, make me whole, as well. With every labored breath, I see God with her, offering more than physical healing, offering himself – a close, intimate walk through her last stages of life, with him. I see the wonder of a God who can use even this awful ALS as a testimony to them” (v. 44b) and to me. 
         People ask me why I go visit my friend when she can no longer speak more than a few computer-generated words, can barely even breathe. They think I am being kind, they think I am faithful. They don’t know the truth. I go because there, in the eyes of my friend, I see the God who takes my if” and makes me whole. I encounter the God who is reaching for me.
         And I discover anew that my doubts are no barrier to God’s gift of his presence. I discover this God who is willing to give me what I truly need to become all he created me to be.
         I find the God of Gideon, who doubted that God was truly calling him to rescue the Israelites from Midianite oppression. Three times in Judges 6 Gideon brought to God his if” and asked for a sign.
But Gideon replied to him, ‘With all due respect, my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?’” (v. 13) 
Then Gideon said to him, ‘If I’ve gained your approval, please show me a sign that it’s really you speaking with me.’” (v. 17)
But then Gideon said to God, ‘To see if you really intend to rescue Israel through me as you have declared, I’m now putting a wool fleece on the threshing floor.’” (v. 36-37)
         Gideon doubted. God encountered. God led. And Gideon received more than a blessing; he received a purpose and the presence of God in it.
   
         That is the God we have. The God who embraces our "if" and changes it to glory. 
God is willing, not because of our perfect faith, but despite our stumblings. He loves you. And that is enough.
         So come, sit with me and with Gideon, waiting, breath held, our hearts whispering, Lord, if you are willing ... so am I.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Where's Your Focus When Life is Tough?

Hi Friends,


I'll be starting radio interviews soon for Reaching for Wonder and wanted to share some thoughts with you about where our focus is when life gets tough. Here are some interview questions and answers that you might encouraging and helpful during the tough times:

Q: What do you mean when you say our focus is wrong when life is at its worst? Doesn’t it make sense to focus on getting things fixed as soon as possible?

A: I was shocked to discover that while my focus is on healing during the hardest times of life, God’s is not. I grapple with the idea that his focus is on relationship, on revealing himself to us and drawing us closer to him at the very time when all we want is relief from the pain. Discovering the reality of this truth has changed the way I approach the hard things in my life. Now, I’m looking for that moment when he stops the clamoring and calls me daughter. I’m listening for the words, “Do you want to be healed?” I know that my doubts in the midst of my pain are something he accepts and doesn’t scorn. Focusing on him instead of my need for a quick fix has opened me receiving and recognizing what he’s doing both in me and in my situation.

Q: How does this focus on relationship make a difference in our worst times? 

A: It opens our eyes and allows us to see God where we would have thought he was absent. When life hurts, and we pray for relief, we tend to have in our minds a very specific picture of what our answered prayers should look like. Very rarely do those pictures match up with God’s plans. Opening our vision allows us to recognize where and how he’s actually working around us and in us. That’s where we can connect with the wonder of God even in the worst of circumstances.

Q: Now for the hard question: Why does this wonderful God who loves us allow these terrible things to happen in our lives? 

A: I’m sorry to disappoint, but I truly don’t know. However, I do know this: There is absolutely nothing in our lives that cannot be transformed for his glory. Nothing! When I doubt that, I look at the cross. In Jesus’ time, a cross was a symbol of the worst kind of guilt and shame and pain. There was no worse death. Yet today the cross is a symbol of hope, redemption, and salvation. Jesus turned the ugliest thing into the most beautiful, the most wonder-filled. That’s what he can do for us too. He specializes in taking the hardest, worst things in our lives and making them beautiful. I see it not only in the cross and the New Testament, but in the lives of the people around me. God’s wonder is found, somehow, in these places in life we least expect it to be. 

Q: What final words of encouragement would you offer to those who are right now going through the worst time of their lives?

A: One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 28:28. It says, “Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever.” Sometimes we just feel threshed, but this verse says that there’s a purpose to the threshing – to make something good and beautiful that will bless you and bless others. This threshing has purpose, and it won’t go on forever. 

So, reach for wonder. Dare to hope again. One more time, reach … not just for healing but for transformation, relationship, growth … wonder. He wants to give you more than the edge of his cloak. In the worst of times, the God of the Universe is longing to give you himself.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Words You Need When Life Hurts

Hi Friends,

REACHING FOR WONDER, Encountering Christ When Life Hurts released this week. I so hope you'll pick up a copy! It's available wherever books are sold. So, get the book, read the book, be encouraged by it, and I promise that you'll be strengthen for the journey of today and the journey ahead. This book really did become the book I needed when life got tough. I think it will be a helpful companion for you too!

Here's a link that will take you to various online bookstores (click the "Buy this Book" button): http://bit.ly/2GLFeiA

Here's the Amazon link: http://amzn.to/2uHAJy0

If you'd like to hear me talking about how much the book has meant to me and my prayers for how it will impact readers, here's the YouTube link to a video: https://youtu.be/wG1hb5fF9xg

And here is the original, unedited introduction to Reaching for Wonder:

INTRODUCTION 

The Bible gives us a single encounter, a brief moment in time in which a person in pain encountered a Messiah, a Savior. A single instance of what it looks like to see his face in the hardest times of life. A glimpse of a hand reaching, a heart touching, a God who beckons us to see him through our struggle. 
I ponder this God for whom simple healing is not enough. He insists on the encounter. He insists I see. When I am afraid to hope, afraid to reach, afraid to pray one more prayer. When I am mute and I am blind. What does it mean to encounter him then?
What does it mean to encounter him in the dark? I stand beside my son’s bed at two in the morning. He lies there, tubes attached, equipment in a pouch around his waist. Blond hair curls around his face, shadowed lashes touch his cheeks, illuminated only by starlight.
He sleeps. 
I do not. 
A breeze sneaks through the window, lifts the curtains. I adjust his blanket, watch for his chest to rise, to fall.
He is alive. For now. But there’s no guarantee. Not anymore. Not ever again. 
I pull out his blood glucose meter and shove in a test strip. I wait for the beep. Then, I take a sleeping boy’s finger and make him bleed. Rough fingers, calloused from poke after poke after poke. He does not wake. For him, it has become a familiar suffering.
For me, the pain will always be fresh. My son, seven years old, happy, innocent, beautiful, and diabetic. Type 1 diabetes, a disease that could steal his life in a single night, or steal it over years. A cruel disease, and a fickle one. 
I hate it. No cure, no cause, no prevention, and no life without the insulin that his own pancreas will no longer provide. I provide it now. If he has enough, he lives. Too much, he dies. It is a delicate dance, every day, every night, every minute, every hour, his life held in the tiny vial of clear liquid attached by tubing through his skin.
So I stand in the darkness and listen to him breath. I test. I hope. I fight the fear. Will the number be too low? Will it be too high? Will I be monitoring all through the night so that this otherwise healthy boy will greet me in the morning? Will I ever sleep soundly again?
I sigh. I will not cry. Not tonight. Not again. I gather his blood on the tiny test strip. I count to five. Five long seconds that feel like a spin of the roulette wheel. Five eternities because I am no gambler. 
And like roulette, there is a number. Seventy-five. Too low. I am not a winner tonight.
I shake him. “Jayden, wake up.” He groans but doesn’t wake. I pull out a piece of dried fruit strip and shove it into his mouth. He chews, eyes closed. I watch for him to swallow, to make sure he does not choke. Ten seconds. Twenty. His throat moves.
I breathe again. Constant vigilance. Constant concern. The life of my precious son, hanging in the balance of blood sugars.
This is the pain I endure. This is the suffering I cannot escape. Day after day. Night after night. Watching, waiting, hoping and afraid to hope. An incurable disease. A beloved son. 
But my pain is not unique. It is no greater, no less than yours. A lost job, a broken marriage, an estranged child, an untimely death, a scary diagnosis, an incurable disease ... none of us get through life unscathed. None of us have life just as we wish it. 
We are not who we wanted to be. Sometimes we are a woman who’s had five husbands and the man she has now is not her husband. Sometimes we live with shame. Sometimes we are a widow with a dead son. Sometimes we’ve lost everything we hold dear. Sometimes we’re sick, lame, and blind. And sometimes we’ve been that way so long we don’t know how to be well.  Sometimes our we want to believe, but our faith has failed us.  And sometimes, our hurt and hopelessness go so deep that all we can do is walk away. 
I’ve been there. Maybe you have too. Maybe you’ve stood in the dark and believed life is naught but a spin of the wheel. Maybe you’ve prayed until you cannot pray anymore. Maybe you’ve come to a point where all you can see is the pain.
And that’s where Christ encounters us. 
He encounters us in the heat of the day, on the dusty paths, in the crowds and the dark rooms, on the side of the sea, and on the road out of town when all hope seems lost. In our worst moments, he comes to bring living water, to break the darkness and break the bread.  He opens our eyes when we cannot see until all we can see is him.
So I invite you to walk. Walk through these stories of the New Testament’s one-time encounters with Christ. See the depth and purposes of a God whose plans and passion go far beyond our healing. They restore our sight. They restore our soul ... even, and especially, in those moments when life hurts the most. 

Come, dare to encounter the living God, and hope again ...




Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Are You the Woman at the Well?


Hi Friends,

Reaching for Wonder releases later this month! It's time to order your copy. You can get it on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

A couple weeks ago Bryan and I preached out of the second chapter of the book, the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well from John 4. During the sermon, we played a video that told the story of the woman. It went something like this:

Drama of the Woman at the Well (John 4) from chapter 2 of Reaching for Wonder:

I hate this life. I hate what I am. I hate this dusty path that leads to a well dug by my ancestor. Dug by Jacob himself. He was a deceiver, but God chose him anyway. I am much worse. So shamed, so pained, that I trudge to the well in the heat of the day with the sun beating on my brow and the jar rough in my hands. The jar empty. It seems always to be empty.
         And so the dust swirls, my feet plod, my fingers grip the emptiness.
         I hear voices, male and Jewish. I glance up.
         A small group of men come toward me. One drops coins into the money bag of another. “He said to buy food,” says one.
         “Don’t know why he didn’t come with us,” spouts another.
         “Who knows why he does what he does.”
         They walk past me the other direction toward town. And I don’t care. I cross to other side of the road, avert my face as if by doing so they will not see me. I am invisible. No one sees me. They never do.
         I continue to the well alone, happy to be alone. Unhappy. But what choice is there? The other women come to the well in the cool of the morning. They laugh and gossip and share stories of lives I don’t understand. I come now when the sun is at its zenith. I come alone. I draw water alone. I leave alone. Except for the company of my shame.
         But not today.
         Someone sits at the edge of the well. A man. A mystery. He looks at me and I tremble. Why is there a Jew at the well in the heat of the day? Should I turn back? Should I flee? I need water.
         I sigh. I need more than water.
         I avert my gaze and sidle to the far side of the well. I am invisible. He will not see me.
         A voice shatters the silence. “Give me some water to drink.”
         I swallow and for a moment, the whole world stills. Slowly, I lift my eyes to him. He sees me. And I am stunned. Words sputter from my lips. “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”
         Does he smile? What is that slight quirk of his lips? That crinkle at the sides of his eyes? “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.”
         Living water? Running water? He makes no sense. He speaks in riddles. But he speaks. To me. And that is something I cannot ignore. “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
         His gaze turns thoughtful now, as if he’s willing me to hear more than I can hear, see more than I can see. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”
         More riddles. And yet . . . yet . . . If only he knew the truth . . . “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!” For a single second, for the slightest breath, I envision what it would be like to be freed from my daily trek of shame. To avoid the whispers that still persist. To hide. From sun and dust and humiliation.
         To hide. But I don’t imagine what it would be like to be free. I cannot imagine that.
         Then he speaks again, his words dropping like boulders into my soul. “Go, get your husband, and come back here.” My husband, he says. His face is impassive now. His eyes keen. They watch me. They see too much. I cannot lie. I cannot hide. I should have known I can never hide, even at Jacob’s well in the hottest part of the day.
         “I don’t have a husband.” There, I have said it. Not a confession really, but the truth. The smallest bit of truth I can manage. I turn my head, willing him to silence. Desperate that he speak no more. Please, no more.
         Too late. “You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband. You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”
         And there it is. All my pain, all my shame, my hopelessness, my helplessness. EXPOSED. Laid bare before this stranger at the well. Five. Six, really. The number that defines everything that has gone wrong, that always goes wrong. This is my life, defined by a number twice what the rabbis allow. And the way he speaks it. He doesn’t sneer. He doesn’t accuse. He simply says it.
         It is what it is. We both know it.
         And I believe it’s all I will ever be. I cannot speak of this. I must not. Surely there is a safer topic, an old argument between Samaritans and Jews. Let us speak of that. It’s easier. Safer. “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”
         He answers me with more riddles. He speaks of the Messiah. He speaks of worship in spirit and in truth. Truth. Somehow this man IS truth. And I can speak nothing else when I am with him. “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”
         “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”
         His words bridge the gap between us, though neither of us move. I tremble. He has said more than I ever dreamed possible. More than I ever hoped could be true.
         I Am.
         He is.
         Could it be?
         What if . . . what if there really is hope in my shame? What if this man, this mystery, really is my Messiah?
         And what if that truth is the only thing that matters?
         I hear the voices of the Jewish men I passed on the road. They approach but say nothing to their companion at the well. I glance down at the jar that I clutch in my hands. It is empty. I am not empty.
         Living water. I am beginning to understand. I am beginning to believe.
         I leave my jar at the well and hurry toward town.
         I will tell them everything. I will tell them I met the Messiah. I will tell them we can all be set free.
         No.
         I cannot tell them that. They must discover it, discover him, as I have.
         Instead I will tell them what only I can say. I will speak of the thing that I have always most wanted to hide. I, who, snuck to the well at midday to avoid the uncovering of my shame. I, who have had five husbands and the one I have now is no husband at all. I, who carry with me nothing but guilt and an empty clay jug. I am no longer afraid of what they’ll say. I am no longer afraid  of the shame that has been all I’ve known.
         I will face it. I will face them. I will say, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?”

         And in doing so, I will leave more than just an empty water jar by the well.