Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

When a Big Bear Eats Your Lunch...

Hi Friends,

This week, I've been thinking a lot about what you do when you can't do anything. What do you do when you're out of options, when you can't "fix it," when all your own resources are useless? And I was reminded of this story of when a bear ate all our food (and we were out in the middle of nowhere). We were without options.  God wasn't.

This story encouraged me this week. I hope it encourages you too!

The Biggest Bear I'd Ever Seen

It was nine o'clock and barely dark yet in the Yosemite National Forest.  A few birds chirped sleepy "good-nights" to their neighbors as the first stars began to peek from the majestic blue cloak of evening sky.  I yawned and rolled over in my sleeping bag.  My husband, Bryan, flung his arm over my bag.  He was already asleep.  I smiled and buried my head into the pillow.
Just as my eyelashes fluttered down on weary cheeks, I heard it.  A slow clawing and a soft grunt.  I held my breath and listened.  The night air rent with the sound of ripping nylon.  
"What was that?" I whispered.  
"I don't know," Bryan whispered back.
"Here, you see what it is."  I huddled in my sleeping bag and motioned for Bryan to go out and explore the campsite.
He unzipped the tent flap, stuck his head out the opening, and flashed the light over the right side of the camp.  Before I could utter a word, he was sitting beside me again, the tent flap securely zipped, with his eyes like two gigantic hazel orbs.
"Well?" I asked.
He gulped and stared at me a moment longer.  "It...it's the biggest bear I've ever seen," he finally stammered, his eyes still fixed unseeingly upon me.  "Right out there eating up all our food!"
Now my eyes were matching his in size.  
"What are we going to do?" he whispered.
I clutched the flashlight and poked my head out the tent door.  There, not twenty feet from our tent, was a huge black bear.  My light shone in two gigantic luminous eyes above a muzzle covered with trail mix.  It grunted and swept its head down for another mouthful.
My head was back in the tent before I could think twice.  "What are we going to do?" I repeated my husband's question.  
"The paper, that paper they gave us at the ranger station, what did it say?" Bryan finally whispered, rummaging through his backpack for the literature we had stuffed there earlier.
"Yosemite bears are very timid," it read.
"Timid. Ha!" I scoffed. "That bear looks anything but timid."
Bryan nodded.  We kept reading.  "If you encounter a bear," the pamphlet continued, "scare it away immediately by yelling, banging pots together, and throwing rocks at it from a safe distance."  
I looked at Bryan.  He looked at me.  
"May as well give it a try," I whispered.  
We each took a deep breath and clamored from the tent, pots and pans in hand.  The bear hadn't moved.  We nodded at each other, then began.  I banged pots and pans and yelled.  Bryan blew his whistle, until the sounds slashed through the air with enough fervor to frighten the dead.
The bear just looked at us and kept on eating.
I frowned and picked up some a few rocks to throw at the creature.  The rocks landed a couple feet from the animal's nose.  It kept eating.  We threw more rocks, yelled, and whistled again.  Still no response.  Very timid, these Yosemite bears, I thought to myself.
Finally, the bear gave us one annoyed look, as if it disapproved of our company, grabbed the food bag in its mouth, and lumbered away into the forest.
Bryan and I sat down on a boulder and looked at each other again.  “There goes all our food,” he muttered. We went back to bed.  At least the bear was gone and probably wouldn't bother to return since it had taken all the food we had.  We climbed back into our sleeping bags, flicked off the flashlight, and proceeded to embark upon a long, restless night filled with dreams of bears in the tent.  Every creak of a tree, every falling pine cone, every moan of the wind, became the step or breath of a bear in my dreams.
At last, dawn peeked into the morning sky.  Slowly, we got up and made our way outside the tent.  There were no bears this morning.  Probably curled up comfortably asleep, with a full belly, in a cave somewhere, I thought.
Then, we were confronted again by our problem.  We had no food.  The enormity of the situation struck us.  
I turned to Bryan.  "What are we going to do now?" I asked, last night's fright becoming but a minor incident in the face of hiking for two long days without any food.  We were fairly deep into Yosemite's back country.  There was no turning back now.
"Guess we won't have to worry about bears anymore," Bryan quipped, attempting to mask the concern we both felt.  It didn't work.  "Don't know," he sighed.  He shrugged his shoulders, and I shrugged mine.
"We may as well pack up, though," he continued.  "Nothing else to do."
We had come to a situation where we had no answers.  We didn't even have any alternatives. The problem was out of our hands.
Just as we were putting the last items into our packs, still at wit's end as to what we were going to do, a woman sauntered out of the woods near our camp.  
"Say, we heard your whistle last night.  Have a bear?" she asked.
We nodded.  
"Did it get your food?" she continued.
We nodded again.  
"We have some extra food if you need it."  
"Really?" we choked, hardly able to believe our ears.  
"Yeah, some trail mix and dried fruit, and other stuff."  She smiled.  "Would you like it?"  We nodded our heads yet again, this time much more eagerly.  
"I'll be back in a few minutes," she stated pleasantly.  
True to her word, she was back almost immediately with the promised food, more than enough to sustain us for our journey, and better food than we had originally brought.
I stood staring at the food in my hand and smiling as the woman made her way back through the trees.  I chuckled to myself and thought about how God takes care of His children so much better than we can take care of ourselves.  Just when we think tragedy has come and we're at our wit's end, He finds a way to give us what we need.  And His gifts are better and more abundant than anything we can get for ourselves.  Somehow, He always finds a way to turn problems into providence, hopeless trouble into triumph.  

Now, whenever I am faced with a problem that seems insurmountable, I remember the biggest bear I have ever seen.  That bear has become a symbol to me of how God can take impossibility and turn it into blessing.  My wit's end is only God's beginning, His opportunity to shower me with His blessings and provision.  Problems in my life are not the end, but the forerunner of God's grace, the doorway of His love.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Packing a Load of Worry?

Hi Friends,

This has been a week of worry and niggling fear for me. As a writer, it's all too easy to imagine the worst outcomes for every situation and how finding "something" in a medical test could mean the beginning of a hard, drama-filled journey. After all, in a novel, nothing is ever "nothing." That would be boring.

So this week, as I worry, and try not to worry, as I imagine, and try not to imagine, as I tell myself that while God is indeed the author of my life, his concern is not so much in keeping a reader entertained as it is accomplishing his perfect will, as I tell myself not to watch the phone for the call I think will come … as I try not to live in fear … here is an article that I'm finding helpful. I wrote it waaaaay back at the beginning of my writing career and find that it is still speaking to me today …

Packing a Load of Worry

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."
1 Peter 5:7 NIV

"Ow!  Ooooo!  Ugh!  Ack!," I cried as my thirty pound backpack settled with ponderous severity on my tired hips and back.  I tightened the strap around my waist, feeling the nylon dig into my sides and shoulders, pressing unmercifully into the deep purple bruises that had formed during yesterday's hike.  How much more wonderful it would be to be able to backpack without having to carry anything!  If only it could be so!  If only someone else would carry the burden and allow me to bound along through the forest unhindered.  I sighed and looked down at my dusty feet, wondering if I would be able to move them at all with that heavy load on my back.
But, move them I did, trudging forth along the trail as playful wisps of dust rose up to tantalize my nostrils and settle quickly on my face and hair.  I sneezed and adjusted the pack as I made my way up the gentle, yet torturous, climb to my day's destination.  Thud, thud, thud, went my feet along the path, echoing with the weight of my body plus the backpack.  
After a few more hours, though, I no longer noticed the weight of the pack.  My feet still plodded heavily in the dust, but I had gotten used to the additional burden.  The thirty pounds weighing down my shoulders seemed almost natural.  I practically forgot about it all together.  I no longer remembered that it was the source of my weariness, even as my breath came in ragged gasps to my ears.  I had come to accept the burden, hardly being able to imagine hiking without it.  I ceased to wonder at the fact that simple walking had become such a chore, that even a flat path was a trial.  I forgot that there was ever such a thing as traveling without a burden on my back.
Living our lives with worries and fears is a lot like hiking with a heavy backpack.  When worry first comes upon us, we groan and cry out and wonder how we will ever get through the day with such a heavy burden weighing down upon us.  But soon, as worry becomes natural, we accept it as normal.  We put our worries on every morning like a great, heavy pack, and carry them through the day as if that was the only way we had ever known to live.  Soon, we forget what it's like to walk through life without our fears strapped tightly to our backs.  Then we wonder why we are so weary, so tired of the endless trudging from one day to the next!
Happily for us, there is Someone who has offered to carry the load for us, Someone whose hand is extended even now to take the burden of worry and fear and carry it Himself.  Peter tells us to "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you" ( 1 Peter 5:7 NIV ).  Jesus will carry the backpack for us, so that we can enjoy and relish the hike of life!  All we have to do is hand over the burden to Him, allow Him to unstrap the worry from our backs and free us.

Just like backpacking, life is much more fun without thirty pounds of fear strapped on our backs.  We can tread lighter, easier, freer, and, most importantly, travel much further toward our destination of Faith and Holiness!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Are You a Choked Oak? Finding Freedom to Flourish

Hi Friends,

It's been a crazy week here, with vet and doctor appointments, meetings, concerns, worries, obstacles, essential-items breaking and not being fixed on time (like my washing machine and the bobcat!), failures, frustrations, and unexpected wrenches thrown into already too-tight plans.

I'm feeling choked! So, I thought I'd share this story of an oak tree on our property from a few years ago. It helped me to get perspective today, and hopefully it will help you too. The pictures are of the oak tree(s) today - look how it's flourishing without the poison oak around it!


It was tall.  It was green.  It was bushy.  But something wasn’t right. 
I crossed my arms and looked up at the fat, green oak tree.  Beside me, my husband sighed.  I shook my head.  “I don’t want to do it.  Do you want to do it?”
“I don’t want to do it.”
I stepped back.  “Someone’s got to do it.”
“It’s an ugly job.”
“That thing will be right outside the window once we build the cabin.  We can’t have it looking like that.”
“I know.  But still . . . ”  Bryan crossed his arms over his chest.
I put my hand on my hips.
            For a moment, we both stared at the oak and didn’t say a word.  Shiny green and red leaves poked from all parts of the tree.  But they weren’t oak leaves.  Thick vines twisted around the trunk and branches.  Those didn’t belong to the oak either.
            I shivered.
            The green wasn’t the green of a healthy oak.  Instead it was a sign of poison.  A huge batch of poison oak had grown up into the tree and twined around every branch.  The tree was thick with it.  Lush and green, but with nasty poison.
            Bryan tugged on his sleeves.  “Okay, I’ll do it then.  But get the bleach ready for the laundry.”
            Four hours later, the laundry was in, Bryan was taking a cool shower, and the tree was clear.  I tromped up the hill and looked at it.  It wasn’t lush anymore.  And it wasn’t green.  Scraggly branches with a few sad leaves spread from the trunk and reached toward the sky. 
            “Ugh, it looks awful,” I murmured. 
            As I looked at the now-bare soil beneath it, I noticed there were no acorns scattered on the ground, and no little baby oaks growing around it.
            Then it struck me.  That big, strong oak was stifled by that little vine.  The oak was bigger, taller, thicker, and more established.  And yet, that small, thin, poisonous weed had nearly choked the life from it. 
            As I stood and gazed at the tree, I was reminded of Jesus’ parable from Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8.  In that story, seed fell on four different types of soil.  In the third, the seed sprouted among thorns and the life was choked out the plants, just as the poison oak had choked the oak tree.  Jesus likened the thorns to the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and desires for other things.
            If something as small as poison oak could choke the life from a big, strong oak, how much more vulnerable was I to worry and wrong desires?  After all, there are so many things in life to worry about – finances, schooling, job concerns, health, family crises.  It’s easy to allow those to twine around my mind and shove poisonous leaves through my branches until there are acorns of God’s word dropping into my daily life.  No little oaks springing up around me.  I had to ask if I was I producing any kind of crop in God’s Kingdom.  Was it growing stronger through me, or was I just barely getting by? 
            As I asked those questions, I realized that I had some poison oak in my life – worries that kept me from focusing on God, goals I was pursuing that were good but weren’t God’s plan, things that were distracting me from fully living the life God had for me.  And just like we did for the oak tree, I had to cut off the poison oak at its base and peel away all the vines from the branches of my life. 
Over the past few years, we’ve kept the poison oak away from that oak tree, and now the tree is full, healthy, and green with leaves all its own.  In time, it recovered from the stranglehold of the poison oak.  It became the beautiful tree God meant it to be.
And I know that if I, too, keep the thorns away, I can be full of the greenness of true life.  I can be all God intends me to be.  I can be a tall, strong oak in the Kingdom of God.

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; 
I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.
-Psalm 52:8

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Being You - A Lesson from Tea-Time

Hi Friends,

I'll be attending a fancy tea this coming Sunday as a fundraiser for the local Confidence Pregnancy Center, so I've been thinking about what a not-fancy-tea person I am … and figuring that God's okay with that, and I can enjoy the tea party anyway.

And I was reminded of this story from a few years ago, when God showed me the importance of just being me. I hope you find this encouraging too - whether you're the fancy-tea type or not!


It wasn’t the knife.  Or the bread.  Or the cucumber, or cream cheese.  It was me.  I knew it.  But I wasn’t ready to admit it.  At least not yet.   I can do this, I told myself.  I can be the fancy-tea-party hostess, just like Debbie!
I took a deep breath, placed the knife ever so carefully over the cucumber sandwich, and pushed.  Surely this time I would make a perfect, neat triangle.  But alas, my cut was crooked, a cucumber slipped out, and a bubble of cream cheese oozed over the side of the squashed-looking bread. 
The knife clattered into the sink.  Who was I kidding, thinking I could host a fancy tea party for the church?  To me, a sandwich was either peanut butter and jelly slapped between two pieces of bread, or a fat subway picked up from the local deli counter.  I’d never even seen a cucumber sandwich until I’d been to one of Debbie’s elegant tea parties a few months before.  So, how could I possibly turn myself into a Debbie-like hostess in just a few short hours?
My husband, Bryan, walked through the kitchen door just as I retrieved the knife from the sink.  He looked from me to the stack of coin-sized cucumbers beside me.  “What in the world are you doing?” 
I straightened my shoulders.  “Making sandwiches for the high tea I’m putting on this afternoon.”
“High tea?”  His eyebrows rose.  “You?”
I pointed my knife at him.  “Don’t you dare laugh!”
He made an admirable attempt, but in the end the laugh came out anyway.  “You’re kidding, right?”
“Does it look like I’m kidding?”
His gaze wandered over the pile of misshapen sandwich wedges.  “Are they supposed to look like that?”
I picked up a baking pan and aimed.
Wisely, Bryan quick-stepped out of the room.  I could still hear him chuckling as he opened the front door and headed toward the garage.
            I tried one more sandwich – and failed – before I, too, escaped outside.  There, a blanket of purple, red, and orange wildflowers bloomed over our property.  And mixed among the colors were graceful yellow flowers that looked like daffodils.  They would be perfect for a centerpiece bouquet for my tea party.  I trotted down the steps and began to pick a few of the long-stemmed flowers.  As I did, I noticed several dandelions scattered among the other blossoms.  I picked one and twirled it in my fingers.  It was yellow like the daffodil, but as far removed in elegance as I was from Debbie. 
And yet, as my fingers brushed the soft face, I saw that there was a beauty in the dandelion too.  God created it the way it was.  And if you turned it just right, it reflected the sun’s rays. 
I tucked the blossom into a buttonhole on my shirt and gazed out over the field scattered with flowers.  Each, I noticed, was just as God made it to be.  The purple flowers didn’t pretend to be orange.  The red didn’t masquerade as purple.  And the dandelions certainly didn’t try to impersonate daffodils. 
In that moment, Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV) came to mind:  “It was [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers . . . so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  It was then that I finally admitted that I’d never turn into a daffodil.  So, perhaps, I should just try to be the best dandelion I could be.  Maybe the important thing was that I, too, reflect the light of the Son who gave me life. 

            I gathered a few more flowers then returned to the house.  There, I arranged the blossoms in a vase, and, just for fun, tucked my dandelion inconspicuously into the center.  Debbie, of course, would never have a dandelion in her daffodils.  But I wasn’t Debbie.  And I didn’t need to be.  I just needed to be faithful to God and to the person he made me to be.  With a final look at my little dandelion, I headed out to the deli to pick up some less-than-fancy sandwiches for my not-so-high tea.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Don't Panic! A Horse's Lesson in Keeping Fear at Bay

Hi Friends,

Last week we were able to put on a fun horseback riding event for some kids from an apartment complex in town. We partnered with PAL (Police Activities League) and Sergeant Gray to give some great kids a great, horsie experience.  We rode in the arena, around the trail on our property, ate lunch, and talked about what our horses, Jewel and Biscuit, had taught me years ago about fear and panic.

Here's the story I shared with the kids. I thought you might be encouraged by it too!  And please pray for these kids and continuing opportunities to bring joy-through-horses to Salinas kids who won't have a chance to experience horses otherwise.

And now, here's the story I shared...

It was such a normal morning.  Quiet.  Boring, as I walked out to feed our two horses.  The air was crisp, the sun just peeking over the pines, the grass still sparkling with dew.  A regular morning.  Calm, uneventful . . . until I turned a corner and saw the horses’ pens.
            I stopped.  There, one of the heavy-gauge metal panels lay twisted and on its side.  The metal bars were bent and torn.  I ran forward. 
            The horse was gone.
            A moment later, I reached the smashed up mess that had been part of the horse pen.  Chunks of palomino fur lay on the dirt, the only remnants of the 1,300 pound gelding who had somehow crumbled the thick metal and escaped. 
            I glanced at our other horse.  She stood inside her pen trembling, her nostrils flared with fierce snorts. 
            “What’s wrong, girl?  Where’s Biscuit?”  I strove to keep the panic from my voice.
            She snorted some more, then raced around her pen and stared up into the hills. 
            I jogged around the pen to the far side.  I looked up into the hills.  And saw nothing.  I peered into the trees to the left.  Nothing.  Down the road.  Nothing. 
            Then I looked down.
            And understood.
            There, clearly pressed in the mud, were two huge paw prints.  Cat paws.  And next to them were two sets of smaller prints.  I shivered.  Mountain lions.  No wonder the horses were scared. 
            I bent lower and tracked the prints.  The cats, a mama and a couple cubs, had come down the hill and stopped fifteen feet outside the mare’s pen.  Then, according to the prints, they turned around and ran back into the brush.  They didn’t enter the pens or harm the horses.  They just stood there, then ran away.
            But that was enough for Biscuit.  Enough to drive him wild with fear.  To cause him to climb out of his pen and smash up the metal panel as he went.  Enough to make him run away from food, from shelter, from the ones who cared for him.
            We spent the rest of the day searching for our missing horse (and replacing the broken panel).  Hours later, we found Biscuit.  In the middle of the night, he had run off in a direction he’d never been before.  He’d traveled almost a mile down dangerous two-lane road, crossed it, then found his way to a barbed wire pasture.  He could have been hit, gotten cut, or been killed.  He hadn’t drunk any water, eaten anything but some snatches of grass, and had long tears where his back legs scraped against the metal fence. 
            As I led him back to his pen, to water, to food, to shelter, to safety, I thought about what drove him to escape.  Fear did that.  Simple, primitive, instinctual fear.  The mountain lion and her cubs hadn’t endangered him at all.  It was the escape that put him in real danger.
            And I wondered if fear does the same thing to me.  Something scary appears on the horizon of my life.  Maybe it doesn’t actually threaten me, or come into my space.  I just catch a whiff of it in the air, see a bit of tawny fur on the outskirts of my vision.  I see the possibilities, sense what could happen if the lion attacks.
            How easy it is in those circumstances to run, to panic, to do things that don’t make sense.  Fear is like that.  It can tempt me to hurt myself, put myself in danger, leave the place where I am fed and cared for.  Instead of trusting God’s care, I, too, want to scrape and scrabble, fend for myself, throw myself into desperate acts to get away from the thing that scares me.  And in doing so, I put myself in the worst danger of all.
            Maybe that’s why the command to not be afraid appears more than three hundred times in the Bible.  Hebrews 13:6 (NIV) tells how to respond when fear comes out of the hills and stares at us with yellow eyes.  It says, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.’"

            So, instead scrambling out of the fences in our lives and running down dangerous roads to unknown pastures, God calls us to stay calm, trust Him, and remain in his will.  He calls us not to fear the mountain lions, but to trust in the boundaries he places around us.