Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Wrestling With Wonder when Life Goes Awry

Hi Friends,

Some good news -- Wrestling with Wonder (my book that focuses on the journey of Mary, Jesus' Mother) has been selected as a Kindle monthly deal for May (yay!), so if you haven't gotten your ebook version yet, now's the time!! Looks like it's offered for $1.99 all month.  Great read for Mother's Day!

Here's the link: http://amzn.to/26MbGbY 

And below is an excerpt from the chapter when Mary takes baby Jesus to the Temple and Simeon takes the baby in his arms and says to Mary: "Look! this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that is opposed. And a sword will pierce through your own soul also. So the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2)  

This is what it meant for Mary to be a mother, for her follow in the will of God. I hope it encourages you, especially when you feel as if a sword is piercing your soul…

And yet ... Simeon is not finished. His blessing does not end with the sword. Instead, with a single, small word, he gives us new vision and a new hope. “A sword will pierce your own soul,” he says, “so that ...” In the Greek, it’s a tiny conjunction: hopos. Most simply, it means “in order that.” But in reality, it means so much more. It means that everything Simeon has spoken of—division, opposition, and the piercing of the soul—doesn’t happen for nothing. There is purpose in the pain. There is meaning in the suffering. And that matters. It happens not just so Mary can suffer, so we can suffer, but it happens “so that ...”
            So yes, Mary was called to suffer. But not for suffering’s sake, but for a purpose—for revelation. “So that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed,” Simeon says, using the same word that appeared just a few verses above when he sang that Jesus would be a light of revelation (apocalypto, in the Greek) to the Gentiles. Revelation: meaning something we cannot know unless God himself shows us. We can’t see it unless he pulls back the curtain with his own hand. This is a seeing, an understanding, that comes through the work of God himself, God alone.
            And according to the Spirit’s words through Simeon, revelation comes through suffering,
through the sword that pierces all the way to the soul. Through suffering, the thoughts of our hearts are revealed. Through suffering we see the hand of God.
            Our souls are laid bare in our suffering.
            And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
            There is purpose in the pain.

            So is Mary intended to suffer? Are you? Am I? Simeon says yes. It is part of walking with him, being his. Falling, rising, division, opposition, rejection, piercing pain ... leading to revelation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Need Joy? Try this..

Hi Friends,

We've had a couple hot days here this week, so one evening Jayden got on his swimsuit and spent over an hour running through the sprinklers. Of course his diabetes equipment got all wet (and his Dex was wiggy) and later that night his blood sugar went low from all the fun … but it WAS fun. He had a great time.

And the running-through-the-sprinklers laughter and joy reminded me of a story from a couple summers ago, a story I needed to hear again.

I want to be the type of person who runs through the sprinklers of God's grace, a person who laughs (even when my stuff is getting wet and my health goes low) and knows how to soak up God's love and joy. I want to be the kid He made me to be.

Maybe you want that too.

If so, here's the story that's helping me this week:

Running through the Sprinklers of Grace
I sat back in my lawn chair, closed my eyes, and listened to the steady chit-chit-chit of the sprinklers.  Ice melted in the glass beside me.  The sun warmed my face.  Tension oozed from my shoulders, and I sighed.  All was peaceful, calm, and ...
Then came a shriek.
A scream.
A shout.
A giggle.
A laugh.
A squeal of delight.  
I opened my eyes.  There on the lawn before me twirled six little swimsuit-clad bodies, their arms waving, their cheeks sprinkled with water.  
They stopped.  Chit-chit-chit went the sprinkler.  They positioned themselves. Three more chits, then they ran through the falling drops with their chins raised and their voices once more loud with joy. Sunlight glinted off the water in a rainbow of color.  Again they paused, again they ran, again they laughed and danced.
On the first pass, the water made a few dark spots on their suits and hair.  By the fifth run, they were completely soaked.
“Come on, Mom, join us.  It’s fun!”  Joelle raced on tiptoe through the falling drops, until her long hair streamed with water.
I watched her and smiled.  “I’m not wearing my swimsuit.  I’m fine where I am.  You guys play.”  I motioned with my hand and settled deeper into my chair.
The baby raised her hands and toddled through the spray of water.  The older ones followed, each laughing and squealing and shouting with joy.
Wetter and wetter they got.
Happier and happier they became.
Until I realized that I had chosen poorly.  Here I sat, comfortably on my chair, outside of the spray of fun and joy.  I sat.  They ran.  I sighed.  They laughed.
When did I get so dull and boring?  
I stood up and put my hands on my hips.  Was I like this with God, too?  Did I sit on the sidelines, in my comfortable chair, while God was sprinkling his grace and love with abandon just a few feet away?  Was I too comfortable, too tired, or even too lazy to run through the sprinklers of his grace until I was soaked through and through?
If so, I wanted to change.  If God’s grace was raining down, I wanted to be a part of it.  And not just a few dribbles, I wanted to be soaked through and through.  
Joelle’s voice rang out again.  “Come on, Mom, get on your suit!”
I grinned and turned toward the house.  “I’ll be right there.”  Moments later, I was dressed in my physical swimsuit, but what about my spiritual one?  What kind of “suit” would prepare me for running through the sprinklers of God’s grace?
As I thought about the question, Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV) came to mind: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  I pondered the last part of the verse until I began to glimpse the truth.  God had called me to be overflowing with thankfulness.  That was the “suit” I needed.  When thankfulness covers me, clothes me, I’m ready to receive the droplets of his grace, the pouring out of his love.  A thankful spirit is the suit that’s made especially for running through the water with joy.  
I jogged down the front steps and out onto the lawn.  Then, I raised my face, listened to the steady chit-chit-chit, and ran.  I squealed, I giggled, I laughed.  My kids laughed with me.  And that’s when I knew that I didn’t want to miss the fun anymore, not on the front lawn and not in life with God.  I needed to keep on my suit of thankfulness and see where God was sprinkling his grace -- in church, in books, in serving others, in reading my Bible, in quiet walks, in times with good friends -- so I could put myself in a position for the water to fall on me.  
       If I do that, then I can run with abandon.  I can shriek and scream, laugh and squeal. I can dance through the sprinklers of his grace again and again until I’m soaked with the wonder of his love.  That’s the way I want to live, everyday!