Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Are You Blessed This Thanksgiving?

Hi Friends,


As we think about Thanksgiving this week (at least for those in the US!), I'm thinking about what it really means to be blessed.  Here is something from WRESTLING WITH WONDER to ponder as we consider gratefulness and blessedness, especially when we're not feeling so thankful, not feeling so blessed:

WHO IS THIS GOD OF BLESSING?

So who is this God who takes what we think we know and redefines it? Who is he who calls the poor rich, the hungry filled, the mighty fallen, the humble lifted high? Who is he who calls us blessed not when life has finally reached perfection but rather when we are struggling along on the journey?
            This is the God of reversals.
            This is the God of upside-down blessings.
            This is the God who says:
                        —Blessed are you who are poor ...
                        —Blessed are you who hunger ...
                        —Blessed are you who weep ...
                        —Blessed are you when people hate you ...
                        —Blessed are you when they exclude and insult you ...
                        —Blessed are you when you’re rejected...
This is the new blessedness ... the reversal of all the world teaches, all our culture says is the way things are supposed to be.
            We think blessing is the arrival at the place where our troubles are gone and we are financially secure, well-fed, happy, liked, included, and spoken well of. Blessing is being accepted on the mountaintop.
            But Mary shows us that through Jesus God has changed everything. He has made the poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, rejected people blessed. And he’s done it by becoming poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, and rejected.
            Our world is turned upside down.
            And it is on the journey through the shadows that he calls us to sing.  It is there that he becomes more than the One who provides, but the Bread itself; more than the One who frees, but Freedom itself. More than a way out of darkness, but the Light.
            Because blessedness isn’t a feeling, nor a synonym for happiness. It isn’t having our lives conform to what we’d like them to be. Instead, blessedness is being chosen for a journey through deep valleys and scratchy underbrush. It’s traveling with the One who changes everything, and walks beside us in the dark. It’s singing, knowing the reversals are coming, knowing our world is being turned upside down. It’s supposed to be that way. We’re on a journey to the mountaintop.
            The only question is ...
            Will we sing along the way?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When the Journey is Long ...

Hi Friends,

As I look forward to a long surgery next Tuesday, followed by a longer and difficult recovery, I'm reminded that God is a God of the journey and in the journey.  So, for those who are facing their own difficult journey in life right now, here is a bit of hope from WRESTLING WITH WONDER:

GOD IN THE JOURNEY

If God loves us, if he’s called us, shouldn’t he smooth our path? Shouldn’t he make it easy to follow his will?
            Apparently not, because our God is the God of the journey. He is not the God of the easy way. He has no easy button.
            So why do we think things like “If only I learned faster,” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why is God punishing me?” or “I must be doing something wrong” when the journey is long and difficult, when we don’t arrive the moment we set out?
            We forget that he knows what he’s doing. He has planned our travels, foreseen our journey. And there is a purpose in it. He travels with us. Within us.

            Consider the journeys of the major players in biblical history:
            —Abraham travels to the promised land.
            —The Israelites travel across the desert, and wander in it, after the exodus from                     Egypt.
            —Ruth travels to Israel and becomes the great-grandmother of King David.
            —Daniel travels to Babylon.
            —Mary travels to Bethlehem.
            —Jesus travels from his throne in heaven to the dark, jostling womb of a woman.

            Because God is the God of the journey and in the journey.
So we walk, we stumble, we run ... and we remember: The journey matters. God is in it. He has planned it from long ago that we might come to the place we need to be.
            The journey isn’t easy, but we are not alone.
            God is whispering in our ear: If there was another way to get you to where you need to be, I would have taken it. This is the only path. This dusty, rocky road is my will for you. Walk in it. Trust me, and travel to your Bethlehem. I am the God of the journey. I am the God in the journey. Walk with me …

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Love That Broke Me - Love That Restored Me

Hi Friends,


I've been thinking about the love of God lately.  I've been pondering its fierceness, determination, passion.  I've been thinking about how it changed me.  So I thought, today, I would share my own story of the moment when God overwhelmed me with His love, when He captured my heart and called me deeper - called me to surrender to a Love like no other.  The moment when my life changed forever.  

This is from the first chapter of Wrestling with Wonder (which, by the way, has new DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR GROUPS (click for link) on my website -- please suggest the book for any group studies you're involved in!)

Here is my story . . .

I remember the day that God first broke into my life, interrupting my ordinary with a glimpse of wonder beyond my wildest dreams. For me, it happened in a dorm room at Stanford University. I lay on my rumpled bed with chemistry books scattered among great works of Western culture. A thin tome by Bernard of Clairvaux, a fat text with selected works from Martin Luther, a black paperback of the Confessions of Augustine. Chemistry and Confessions and Clairvaux ... and midterms the next day. I stared out the window and followed the dance of dead leaves over the brick walkway outside. I heard the rustle of them through the slightly opened pane. And then it came. An inaudible whisper. A flutter in my soul.
            I love you.
            God?
            And then came the tiniest glimpse in my heart of a love like I’d never seen, never experienced before. Sweet and piercing. Like the quiet whisper of a relentless wind. Like the powerful pull of the ocean’s tide. Like deep, rumbling laughter. Like thunder across the sky.
            God loved me.            
            With a love that broke me. Restored me.
            Called me to more.
            To surrender.
            So there, among books and papers and pencils chewed to a nub, I accepted the call of love. I gave my life to the One who loved me with that kind of love.
            I am yours, God. May it be to me as you want ...
            I didn’t speak those words exactly, but it was what I meant, an echo of a girl who had encountered God millennia before me.
            And like her, I knew some of what it meant to say those words. For me, it meant a new major (in chemistry, of all things!), digging deep into the Bible with friends, choosing worship over achievement. But, in truth, I had no idea what I was really getting myself into. I didn’t see years of infertility, miscarriage, disappointments, and doubts. I didn’t see failures in ministries, family and friends who didn’t understand, confusion and darkness.
            All I knew was that he loved me, and I was his. And that changed everything. I’d been called. Called out of my ordinary life, with my ordinary plans. Called to something more.
More wondrous? Yes. But also more painful, more confusing, more wild and unexpected than I could have ever imagined.

            Because that’s what it means to follow him. It means your plans are no longer your own. Your life itself belongs to him.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When Nightmares are Real

Hi Friends,

This week is Halloween, so I am thinking about those times we encounter when life seems like a nightmare-come-true.  Times of darkness and pain and doubt and fear and horror  when prayers don't make things all better and when what we were so afraid would happen, does.  I've been in that place.  You maybe have too.  You're maybe there now.

Mary was certainly there.  There, as her own son was condemned to die the most painful and horrific death imaginable.  There, as all her prayers were silenced, and God did not intervene to save her Son.  There, as everything she so feared became reality.  There, as her baby bled and died.  And she watched.

Here's a short excerpt from WRESTLING WITH WONDER about that time.  I hope it will be an encouragement to you in those times when the nightmares become real life ...

WHEN NIGHTMARES COME TRUE 
(Excerpt from Wrestling with Wonder)

Jesus had to die on a Roman cross for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God.
            There was no other way.
            Of course, Mary didn’t know that. But God did. And so do we.
            We know that the Messiah had to die a sinner’s death in our place that we might be free. From Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, we know that if there were an easier path, God would have chosen it.
            In Matthew 26, Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”
            And the soldiers, crowds, and Jewish leaders came and arrested him. They bound him. They beat him. They crucified him. And it was the will of God.
            There was no other way.
            The Messiah did not ascend to an earthly throne. The religious leaders did not recognize him. He was rejected, a crown not of gold but of thorns pressed upon his head, anointed not with kingly oil but with his own blood.
            There was no other way. 
            He was sinless, and condemned. He was lied about, and the truth didn’t prevail. He was accused, and said nothing. He was scourged, and not rescued. And then he died on a criminal’s cross.
            There was no other way.
            Because “it was the Lord’s will to crush him,” says Isaiah 53:10. There was no other way for Jesus to satisfy his Messiahship. No other way for the prophecies to be fulfilled. No other way for the promises to come true.
            No easier way for Mary to become who she was always meant to be—not just the mother of the Messiah, but the mother of the Savior.
            “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way,” says C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain.
            The God who called Mary to face her worst fears is the same God who calls us. He calls in those times when the worst happens, when what we feared might happen does happen. When it seems like life has gone from bad to worse and every time we pray something even more awful happens, that is when God is saying to us:
            There is no other way.
            No other way for him to accomplish his will in your life, to make you the person you were meant to be. If this cup could pass, it would.
            But it doesn’t.

            Because this is the way. And sometimes we must walk in it, with faith, with trust, with one foot in front of the other, even when all our fears come true.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Keep On Keeping On … Here's Hope from Wrestling with Wonder!

Hi Friends,

Hebrews 12 tells us to run with perseverance the race set out for us.  It tells us to move forward, keep going, looking to Jesus who perfects our faith.  A week ago, I wrote a post for the blog of my friend, Bonnie Leon.  She wanted me to talk about pushing through when times get tough and you feel like quitting.  And that's something I know something about!

Here's what I shared with Bonnie and her readers.  I thought you might be encouraged too . . .

DISCOURAGED, UNDONE, FEELING LIKE GIVING UP?  READ ON …

I hold a book in my hands.  It’s called Wrestling with Wonder, a Transformational Journey through the Life of Mary.  It released last week.  I hold it and I shake my head because I know there’s no logical reason that this book should be a book.  

But it is a book, and a story, and testimony, and a wonder.  A thing somehow born when I was done ... when I was undone.  It was born when I had just had it with writing, with life, with everything that made my days the crazy mess that they were.

Wrestling with Wonder was born on the day when another rejection broke the proverbial camel’s back, when I couldn’t go on, when I crumbled like a sad little rag doll on the floor of my laundry room.  

I share this story in the book’s introduction.  Here’s how it happened, when God saw me when I was done, and undone, and showed me the truth that kept me pressing on:

It happened like this:

My palms press into the cold tile of the laundry room floor.  Harsh, unyielding, the sound of my pain lost in the steady thumping of the dryer, the slosh of cleansing clothes, and the wicked whisper of words that for the moment, I believe.

I am Esau. Unloved. Unchosen.  
I am Cain. Rejected. Cast away.  

What am I doing here, a broken mess on the laundry room floor?  To my shame, it isn’t even tragedy that has driven me to my knees.  It’s not my 20 years of infertility.  Of discovering that despite all my prayers, all my hopes, all the long and painful procedures, I am not pregnant again.  I’ve been there.  But not today.

It’s not my six miscarriages.  Not hoping beyond hope, cradling a belly that’s supposed to hold new life, and losing.  Again.  I’ve been there too.  But not today.

It’s not a dead father, a difficult childhood, a death, a divorce in the family.  Those have brought me to my knees, made me wrestle, made me weep.  But not today.

Today, it’s nothing, really.  And it’s everything.  It’s a hundred little things piled up on a day my husband is away on business, my baby just threw up, the toddler is crying, and I received another rejection.  A small one, telling me I was unchosen. Unwanted. Passed by.  

I should be happy anyway.  After all, life is good.  It’s good enough.  But I’m not fine.  And I’m not happy.  Instead, I am on the floor, listening to the thump and slosh and crying out to a God who I’m sure doesn’t care.  And all the pain is back again.  Of miscarriage and infertility, of death and disappointment.  Of rejection, of hope lost.  I feel it all again, and I am undone.

Why?  Why am I a ragged mess, a broken child?  Why am I a woman weeping on the floor when I’m supposed to be writing a talk on the wonder of God’s immeasurable love?  When I’m supposed to know, supposed to believe, supposed to no longer doubt?  But I do doubt.  And wrestle.  Again.  Still.

Who am I?  Who is this God I say I believe, I say I trust?

Slosh.  I hear the sound.  And in it, a whisper.  Less than a whisper.  Only a wisp.  It is not easy to become clean.  You must be tossed, spun.  Beaten.  

Thump.  It is a long process.  Hot.  Harsh.  Unyielding.

And I see.  I understand.  A bit.  A glimpse.  A tiny glimmer of who I am.  Who God is.

I shudder and push myself up from the hard tile.  Cold on my fingertips.  Chilling.  God?  I watch the clothes rumble and spin.  I watch.  And breathe.  

Then, I glance left, to the changing table.  The place where baby often squirms and shouts, cries and struggles as I work to make her clean.  The place where she has grown from a tiny bundle that knew me only as a blur and scent, to an almost-toddler who can hear the whisper of my voice from the other room and know that Mommy is near.  

I step closer and run my hand over the terrycloth surface.  I love her.  But when she lies here, she doesn’t understand.  She knows she doesn’t want to be here, she wants to get down and play.  But I make her stay.  I hold her still.  I clean her.  I do it because she is my loved one, my daughter, my favored child.  But she doesn’t understand my love.

I don’t understand His.  But the glimmer widens.  

Perhaps I am not Esau.  I am not Cain.  Instead, 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.

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.  

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 not Esau.  
I am not Cain.
I am Mary.  


And that’s how God broke through to me that day.  That’s how this book was born.  That’s how I pushed through being done and undone.   I found truth in a laundry room.  I found that God was not who I expected him to be, that he never had been, and perhaps that was okay.  

So I got up, I tried again.  I walked forward one stumbling, unsteady step at a time.  And I told God that I would write what he would show me about Mary’s life.  I would dig, I would search, I would be faithful to the journey of her life, and mine.  

I would just be faithful.  That’s it.

The rest would have to be up to him.  If he wanted it to become a book, it he wanted that book to be published, if he wanted in the hands of others who could benefit by joining the adventure of Mary’s journey ... well then, that would take some kind of miracle.

And today, I hold a book in my hands.  I hold it and I shake my head because I know there’s no logical reason that this book should be a book.  But God has shown me that he is rarely who I expect him to be; he rarely does what I expect him to do.

But all I have to do is be faithful, one shaky step at a time.  The rest is his job.  

Maybe I like it that way.