Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

When Life Beats You Up

Hi Friends,

Sometimes it just feels like life is beating you up. And sometimes it feels like the choices of others are making it worse. And something it seems that God just won't make it stop. Here's some help from Reaching for Wonder (which you can pre-order now!)

Excerpt

Isaiah 28:28-29 says:

Bread grain is crushed, but the thresher doesn’t thresh it forever.  
He drives the cart wheel over it; he spreads it out but doesn’t crush it.
This also comes from the Lord of heavenly forces,
who gives wondrous counsel and increases wisdom.

Threshing is “the process of loosening the edible part of cereal grain (or other crop) from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. It is the step in grain preparation after harvesting and before winnowing, which separates the loosened chaff  from the grain.”

Threshing is difficult. Sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes it feels like a beating, as if the oxen have been stomping you forever or the threshing wheel crushing you over and over and over. And yet, Isaiah assures us that the threshing will not go on forever, because threshing is for a purpose. It’s to get rid of the chaff. It is to prepare the grain for making bread.

It’s not about blame. It’s never about blame. It’s not about excuses for staying stuck. It’s about the purpose of the threshing: to make something new, something useful, something good.

Psalm 104:14-15 says of God:

You make grass grow for cattle;
you make plants for human farming in order to get food from the ground,
and wine, which cheers people’s hearts, along with oil, 
which makes the face shine, and bread, which sustains the human heart.


Our God is the God of Bread-Making. He doesn’t thresh us forever. Instead, he makes us into bread to bless and sustain others.


We can only be all we need to be in Christ when we accept the God of Bread-Making. It’s not about who’s to blame for what happened before. It’s not about who’s to blame for what might come. It’s about what God is doing right before us, right now. It’s about him asking the question, “Do you want to get well?”

Do you want to be made into bread? 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Staying the Path ... What I Learned from Horses, Kids, & Trail Rides

Hi Friends,

I'm busy planning new adventures for at-risk kids at Wonder Wood Ranch for 2018. And as I do so, I remember this story from one of our previous events. Sometimes I wander off into poisonous thoughts, poisonous actions ... I stray from God's path. This story reminds me to walk with God. Perhaps it will help you too ...

A STORY FROM THE RANCH
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?”
            “Wolves?”
            “Zombies?”
            “Monsters?”
            “Snakes?”
            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!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What is Blessing?

Hi Friends,

This work I'm working on a new introduction for the Guideposts direct mail edition of Wrestling with Wonder. I'm so glad to be able to offer this book to Guideposts subscribers, but I need to think of a new way to introduce the concepts of this book that's so close to my heart.

Here's a bit from the current introduction (below). I wonder if I should keep this part ...

Excerpt:

I am like another woman who knelt in the darkness, waiting to be cleansed. A woman who wept and did not understand. A woman whom God called “highly favored” and yet who found herself at a cross, with all her dreams crushed, all her beliefs challenged.
            Did she kneel and weep and wrestle as I do?  Did she pound her fists as the sky turned black as pitch? Did she ask my questions as all hope died? Who is this God of promise and pain, who speaks of greatness then comes as a babe in a feeding trough? Who is he whose declaration of favor leads to the foot of a cross? Who is he when life goes awry and nothing goes as planned? Why is he not who I expected him to be?
            And that’s when I see it. I am Mary. The favored one. Not the cute little figurine in my Precious Moments nativity set. Not the peaceful-looking statue holding the form of a baby in my childhood church. But the woman for whom God’s favor looked like a stable, like rejection, like kneeling at the foot of that bloodstained cross.
            This is a love I hadn’t thought to look for. A love that defies my expectations that God’s favor should mean success, comfort, and prayer answered according to my wants. It should mean that life will go well and smoothly. But then, I will never become who he meant me to be.          
           After all, everyone wants to be highly favored by God. And yet everyone faces hardships, life’s unexpected twists and turns, and times when God seems absent. What do we do with this apparent discrepancy? Doesn’t God’s favor mean that he’ll do what we ask, grant us success, and make our way through life smooth and full of joy? Not for Mary. Not for me. Not for any of us.
            So, the questions change from the slithering hiss of “What if he doesn’t love me?” to an awed whisper ... “What if?”
            What if God’s blessings don’t look like good health, secure finances, and fulfilling relationships? What if his favor includes pain, poverty, sorrow, and even death? What if it’s about a hundred little things that seem to go wrong? What if favor is found through shattered dreams and on cold tile floors? That was Mary’s life. And it is mine.
            What if ...
            I am Mary.
           And God is more passionate, more wild, and more wondrous than I ever believed him to be. What if he is calling me, and you, deeper than our own dreams? What if he’s calling us to the foot of the cross?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

God, Is There an Easier Way? (Thoughts from a Journey to Bethlehem)

Hi Friends,

I wanted to wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS season! On the right is our tree this year. We love decorating the tree, making Christmas cookies, wrapping gifts for each other, playing Christmas songs in the background as we work.

But sometimes it strikes me that my Christmas is very different from Mary's, Jesus' mother. For her, what a journey! Difficulty after difficulty, hardship after hardship. There was no easy way.

Then I pause. Maybe our Christmases aren't so different from Mary's after all. Trees and cookies and music and gifts are all great, but they aren't the heart of this season. Some of us may have all those things, and yet our hearts hurt. We may be missing a loved one, suffering from a broken relationship, hurting from harsh disappointments, or dealing with the shards of dashed dreams and fragmented hopes. We may be, like Mary, traveling a difficult path. We be traveling the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

For Mary, I imagine it might have happened something like this:


MARY TELLS HER STORY (Excerpt from Wrestling with Wonder)
            They say he’s the son of god. They say it of Caesar Augustus, adopted son of Julius who they say is a god. Augustus. The Romans used to only use that name for their gods. But it’s the emperor’s name now. So they call him son of god, born in a palace in Rome, born to a king’s brother, born of royalty, wearing a crown.
            But my son, this one I carry in a womb now round and full, he is the true Son of God. He is the true Emperor, the true King.
            And yet, it is Caesar Augustus who reaches his will from Rome and sets me on a path I never wished for. A journey to Bethlehem. It is a long journey, taking us nearly a week. We travel south. I walk, well, waddle really. And I ride like a sack of squash on the back of Joseph’s old donkey. Months ago, I practically ran to Elizabeth’s. But now I go slowly. Oh, so slowly, with my belly swaying before me, my feet fat and painful, and my back aching with every step.
            Bethlehem.
            Because Caesar Augustus has issued a decree and the whole Roman world must be counted.
            The Roman world.
            Don’t they know it won’t be Rome’s anymore? It will belong to my God, to my Son.
            And yet, I waddle, I ride, I bump and bumble along, and wonder ... why now? Of all the times for Caesar to call for a census, why must it be when I am so pregnant that I can’t even see my toes?
            The baby kicks. His tiny foot smashes into my ribs, and I gasp. He’s a strong one, this boy. He turns and flips and rumbles, until my belly wobbles like a cup of wine in an old man’s hand.
            I glance at Joseph. He smiles at me, a sad but comforting tipping of his lips. He has done all he could to make this journey bearable. He is good man. A righteous man. He would have divorced me quietly, but God sent him an angel in a dream. The angel said not to be afraid. So he wasn’t.
            I am trying not to be.
            But I’m tired. My feet hurt. The journey is long. And now here we are, traveling this strange road to the City of David.
            Why, Lord? Why now? Why couldn’t I have stayed home where my mother could help me deliver my child? Where the midwife I’ve known all my life would have come to my side? Where everything is familiar, normal, easy? Why must I travel on this meaningless road, take this pointless journey, to a place I do not know and have never been?
            Dust billows up before me, sticks in my eyelashes, wiggles down my throat. I want to go home.
            But Joseph leads us on. Toward Jerusalem, and beyond it. Toward people I’ve never met, a place I’ve only heard about in stories. He leads me toward the unknown, and I stumble along, wishing, wondering, and hoping that my God will still be there when I get to the end of the journey. When I get to Bethlehem.
            The baby thrashes, and I press my hand against my belly. I suppose it is fitting that the Messiah will be born in David’s town. The Messiah in Bethlehem. There is perhaps a prophecy … But oh, the journey is long. It’s hard.

            Lord, couldn’t there have been an easier way?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Are You Settling for Less?

Hi Friends,

As we prepare for Thanksgiving this year, I'm thinking about how we so often settle for less than the full meal God is preparing for us. Here's an excerpt from my next book, REACHING FOR WONDER to contemplate as we seek to sit down at the table ...


Good Enough is Not Good Enough
         What do we do when all we want is healing, but the more we pray the worse things seem to become? Usually we convince ourselves to settle for less.
         I’m reminded of the many times my young children have tried to sneak a snack right before dinner. They’re hungry. They just want the hunger to stop. They want the immediate need fixed. So, Jayna (somehow it always seems to be Jayna!), tiptoes into the pantry and very quietly and unobtrusively, pulls out a bag of chips. Then, she opens them ever so gently and begins to nibble. And chips satisfy her hunger for a moment, but they don’t cure the real hunger within. They don’t nourish her deep inside, and they spoil her dinner.
         Meanwhile, I’m preparing a full meal for her complete with foods that satisfy, meats, cheese, bread, milk, vegetables, fruit, everything that will a body needs to be healthy and happy. I’m setting the table so we can sit around it as a family and share life and relationship. I’m planning not just an empty experience that satisfies the minimum need but, as a loving parent, I’m wanting and preparing to give more, to give a healthy, whole, fully satisfying eating experience.
         Jayna would settle for a bag of chips. I want to give her a whole dinner sitting around a table, enjoying each other and the meal. As C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. … like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
         So why do we a settle for a bag of chips when God is preparing a full meal? Do we think we are more likely to receive when we minimize our request? Just heal me, Lord, and I won’t ask for anything more. I’ll settle for the minimum. I think that way sometimes.
         But this isn’t what God wants. He’s not satisfied with the minimum fix that allows us only to go back to go back to what we’ve know. He is determined to give us a real meal. What he wants for us is something more, something new, something wondrous. An actual encounter with the living God!

         He will settle for nothing less. We shouldn’t either.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

When the Thing You Fear Comes Upon You...

Hi Friends,


We just finished up four (count 'em, four!) Haunted Trail events in five days at Wonder Wood Ranch. We had a great time and were able to bring fun and joy to a lot of kids (yay!). It was so fun that I just had to write about it in the chapter I'm working on for Reaching for Wonder. I thought I'd share a little excerpt:

Excerpt:
Every year we do a Haunted Trail event the weekend before Halloween at the charity ranch I run. We do it because in our lives, and in the lives of our guests (disadvantaged kids from all over the city), there are many things to fear. There’s a lot of failure. The trail begins with a sign from the book of Job that reads, “The thing that I fear comes upon me…” (Job 3:25, ESV). It ends with a sign saying “Who will rescue me from this … death?” (Romans 7:24, NIV). The final sign points to a huge wooden cross.
Unlike some, we don’t choose to ignore Halloween. We choose to transform it. Often life is like a haunted trail. The thing we fear comes upon us. Death comes, cobwebs invade, evil scratches at the corners of our lives trying to defeat us. Sometimes we have a child flirting with death and nothing we do helps. Sometimes we have a financial, health, relational, marital, spiritual crisis and all we can see are bones and scary glowing eyes along the path of our lives. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we fear. And that’s the trail we walk. But the trail doesn’t end with a graveyard. It doesn’t end with a skeletal horse and rider. It ends with the cross. It ends with hope. And sometimes, you just have to keep walking. You just have to dare to hope again, believe again. You have to hold to the wisps of faith you have and be honest about the faith you lack.
            So, the question is:  Do you dare to try again? Ask again? Hope again? Do you dare to be honest about the war within?

God does not scorn us in our failure and our desperation. He invites us deeper. He invites us to bring to him not only our faith, but our failures, in all their ignominy. Lay it all out before him, and then be quiet, watch, wait.