Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Monday, November 16, 2015

When It All Seems Pointless - Plant Pumpkins!

Hi Friends,

Yesterday, my pastor talked about loving our community, loving those around us, with abandon. Loving as Jesus loves. He talked about how some plant seeds, some water, some even harvest, but it is GOD who causes the growth. We can't make things grow - that's God's job (just ask any farmer!).

When I got home, the rotting husk of Beanie's old pumpkin (from Kinderprep this year), reminded me of a story from a few years ago when we threw our old pumpkins out in front of our house.

I was encouraged to keep loving, keep planting, keep doing the right thing, even when I don't see the results I was hoping for. I hope you'll be encouraged too.

Here's the story:

It was the strangest sight – a lush, green plant growing in the middle of an expanse of bare dirt.  I stood there on my front porch and stared at it.  Wide leaves, a bright yellow flower, thick, healthy stalks.  It was perfect, beautiful, and clearly not a weed, even though it seemed to have sprung up overnight. 
            The plant wouldn’t have seemed so strange if it weren’t for its surroundings.  Around it, for a dozen yards in every direction, there was nothing but bare, dry soil.  Not a sprig of grass, not a seedling, not even a stray weed.  Nothing but dusty earth and this one perfect plant growing in the center.
            Months ago, my husband had graded the area in front of our house in anticipation of doing some landscaping.  The landscaping hadn’t happened and the area had been dirt ever since.  Until now.
            “Look at that.”  I called to my eight-year-old daughter, Bethany, as she zoomed past on her bike. 
            She steered her bike around and stopped in front of me.  “What?”’
            I pointed to the splotch of green amongst the dusty brown. 
            Her gaze followed the motion.  “Wow.  What is that?”  She parked her bike and trotted to the edge of the pavement for a better look.
            “I don’t know.  Should we go see?”  I stepped from the porch and made my way across the driveway, through the dirt, and toward the middle of what will someday be my lawn. 
            Bethany came up behind me.
            I leaned over the plant.
            She did too.  “Well, what is it?”
            I studied the flower and leaves.  “It looks like a pumpkin plant.”
            “But how did it get here?”  We didn’t have any other pumpkin plants, and we certainly hadn’t intended to plant any seeds.  Then, I remembered.  Last Fall, six months ago, we had thrown our old pumpkins out into the yard.  Bryan must have ground them up with the tractor when he was grading, then somehow moved one of the seeds out to the middle of the area, many yards away from where the pumpkins had sat.  There, it had laid dormant until the Spring.  And that’s how we could have a strong, healthy pumpkin plant where we’d never expected anything to grow at all.
            As I studied the plant, I realized that sometimes God’s Kingdom works like that too.  My actions can plant seeds even when and where I don’t expect.  Sometimes, just by doing what’s right, by making smooth places out of rough ones, I can spread seeds of God’s love that will sprout later and turn into new life.
            I thought about some things I had done over the past year that didn’t seem to yield any spiritual results -  simple acts, like making a job easier for a coworker, smoothing her way in a new task, or helping a neighbor move, or sharing a meal with a friend.  Those were times when I didn’t think I was spreading seeds, and I didn’t see any specific growth coming from my actions.  But just like the pumpkin plant, seeds may sprout and grow when I don’t expect, where I don’t expect.  Maybe my coworker will never acknowledge my help, but someone else in the office will be touched by what was done.  Or my neighbor won’t be changed because of the help offered, but a relative of hers may be.  The truth is, I don’t know.  I can’t always predict where and how new life will spring up.  Maybe that’s why Galatians 6:9 (NIV) says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” 
            All God asks is that I continue to do what’s right, continue to make rough ground smoother for others.  And even if I don’t see results now, or the person I’m hoping to help seems unresponsive, I shouldn’t give up.  It could be that there are a few pumpkin seeds caught in my tractor’s wheels, and as I go about making smooth paths for God, a few seeds will fall out where I don’t expect them and a new plant will grow, flower, and flourish in what was once a bare yard.

            And maybe I’ll even get to enjoy an out-of-season pumpkin or two in the process!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Waiting for Wonder? Here's Hope!

Hi Friends,

I'm working hard on my new book, WAITING FOR WONDER, a Transformational Journey through the Life of Sarah, which is due just after Christmas and is currently scheduled to hit the shelves next November. (All prayers appreciated as I seek to delve deeply into the life and experience of a woman who knew what it meant to wait!)

So, I thought I'd share a short excerpt from the chapter I just finished (remember, this is just the rough draft!) in hopes that you will be encouraged by it.

For those seeking to be faithful in the waiting-times of life, here is hope from the chapter where God changes Sarai's name to Sarah … but first He reveals a new name for Himself. He tells them he is El Shaddai:


         God begins this newest exchange by revealing a new name, a new, deeper, identity for himself ... El Shaddai  The etymology and meaning of Shaddai is obscure. It is usually translated “God Almighty,” but in the Old Testament (Genesis 28:3, 35:11, 43:14, 48:3; Exodus 6:3 and Ezekiel 10:5) there is always a connection with the promise of descendants when using the name, a connotation of God being able to make fertile what is barren and overcome obstacles to fulfill his promises. There’s an idea of “God-Who-Is-Able” or “God-Who-Is-Sufficient” even in the face of seeming impossibility. He is God Who Is Enough. 
So when God reveals himself as El Shaddai, he’s not simply saying he’s a big, all-powerful God. He is wooing them with a picture of a God who is sufficient, who is enough, who can and will meet their needs. He is a God who makes the barren fertile, who desires and is able to bring life and beauty and wonder where there was once only death, dryness, and despair. 
In his very name, he is calling them to come. Come, to the One who will suffice, the One who can quench their thirst, the One who brings springs in the desert (see Isaiah 41). The One who must be enough for them before they can become who God has created them to be.
It is significant that before God calls Abram and Sarai to walk intimately with him, before they become Abraham and Sarah, he first reveals a new name for himself - he gives them a deeper more intimate glimpse of his character and being. We cannot draw closer to God until we see more of who he truly is. We must discover more and more of who God really is before we can become who we really are.
We must see him as El Shaddai -- as God Almighty, God-Who-Is-Able, God-Who-Is-Sufficient, God-Who-Is-Enough-For-Me -- before we can become who we are meant to be, and before he can truly fulfill his promises to us. 
After his wife died, C.S. Lewis wrote in his journal (which was later published in his book, A Grief Observed), “You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately... And so, perhaps, with God ... The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear. On the other hand, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?” (36-37)
         I’ve been there. So has Sarai. Maybe you have too. When we are desperate, when we are kicking down the door, when we’ll try anything, when we give our maidservant to our husband to have a child, then, our God is not enough. He is not enough for us. 
But after thirteen years of watching Ismael grow up, Sarai has discovered the God who is, who must be, Enough. He is enough to not only make her barren womb live again but her barren heart as well. It is God Almighty, the One who is sufficient for us, who calls us to become who he created us to be.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Grateful & Grace-Filled … Even on Bad Days??

Hi Friends,

Today as I was feeling overwhelmed, tired, and near my wit's end, God reminded me of this story of Jayden from last year. He reminded me that even on the hard days, I am called to be grateful and grace-filled … especially when I feel like it the least.

Here's the story of Jayden and his green shirt that helped me:

It was just a green shirt. A simple green, cotton shirt with the image of a football on the front and white stripes on the sleeves. The perfect shirt for a five-year-old boy to wear with khaki shorts and tennis shoes on a warm day in September.
At least I thought so.
But Jayden didn’t.
Not at all.
He pattered down the stairs in his pajamas and meandered into the kitchen. I popped a couple pieces of bread into the toaster and turned toward him. “Good morning, sweetie. Go get dressed. I put your clothes out for you.”
He grunted and ambled toward the clothes in the other room. Then, there was a moment of pure silence, followed by a caterwauling holler. “Nooooooo! No. No. No. No.”
I dropped the butter knife into the sink and ran to the other room.
Jayden lay on the ground with his school clothes scattered all around him. I didn’t see blood or broken bones or even a hundred spiders crawling over the floor. All I saw was a little boy with a red face, pounding his feet, squinting up his eyes. All I heard was another ferocious shout. “I won’t wear it. I WON’T!”
I skidded to a halt. “What are you talking about?”
“I. Won’t. Wear. That. Green. Shirt.”
I blew out a long breath. Oh great, it was going to be one of those mornings when he didn’t like anything and nothing was right. I squared my shoulders. Then, I tried reasoning. “I picked out that shirt for you because it goes perfectly with your shorts.”
“I don’t care.”
“It’s going to be warm today.”
“I won’t wear it.”
“You’ve worn it before without complaining.”
No answer. He flopped over on his belly and scrunched up his face. Then, he howled again. He kicked, he hollered, he refused to get dressed.
“Bryan!” I called for his dad.
And Jayden put on the shirt.
All the way to school, Jayden complained. And I fumed. I grumbled. I took deep breaths and tried to think calming thoughts. Silly, stubborn boy! What was wrong with that kid, throwing a big fit like that over nothing? He needed to learn a little bit about gratefulness, that’s what he needed. I sighed. He was only five, and he did get to bed a little later than usual. But still . . . 
And then came a quiet whisper in my soul. You know, he takes after you...
What?!!? I didn’t throw a fit over a green shirt! Did I?
I stopped fuming. I stopped grumbling. And suddenly I had a whole lot more compassion.
I maybe didn’t holler about a green shirt, but what about when God chose other “clothes” for me that I didn’t like very well? What about when He picked out a garment of praise when I felt like everything was going wrong? And what about when he wanted me to put on an attitude of thankfulness when I was tired and cranky? Or wear forgiveness on my sleeve when I was wronged and the other person didn’t seem repentant? 
Often, I didn’t like that any more than Jayden liked the green shirt. What if Jayden talked to me instead of pitching a fit? What if I talked calmly to God instead of complaining and whining? 
Jayden may be too little for that level of maturity, but I’m not. I’m old enough to know better. I’m old enough to know there’s a big difference between complaints and requests. When God chooses something for me that I don’t like, I shouldn’t kick and holler and sit on the floor with my clothes strewn all about me. I should simply share my heart and ask for what I’d like. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6 (NIV), “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Next time when God chooses something for me to wear, whether an attitude or a circumstance, whether sackcloth or fine linen, I want to take my own advice. I want to approach God, my heavenly parent, with thankfulness and a quiet request. “Lord, is there another shirt I can wear?” And if he says, “No, this is the only one that goes with what I want for you,” I hope I can accept his answer without yowling and complaining. 

I want to wear whatever shirt God picks out, with gratitude and grace, whether it’s the yucky green one or not.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Don't Cut Holes in Your Own Blanket!

Hi Friends,

This week I'm working on the chapter of Waiting for Wonder (the Sarah book) that talks about how Sarah treated the pregnant Hagar so badly that Hagar ran away. I'm thinking about how sometimes we do things that messes up our lives. We "cut holes in our own blanket" (see story below!).

I'm thinking about how Sarah didn't go after Hagar. She wasn't able to restore what she broke. But God did go after Hagar, and brought her back. He was able to restore what Sarah broke.

So, as I ponder and write, and ponder some more, I'm considering rewriting the following story from when Joelle was little. This story talks about how God gives us rules to keep up from cutting up our lives. But I'm also thinking about how he doesn't just leave the gaping holes after we've messed up.

The original story is below. I think I'll rewrite it to emphasize how God also repairs the holes we make, and he does it in ways we could never manage on our own.


I stood there with the blanket in my hands and tears in my eyes.  Light shone through a dozen great, gaping holes in the crocheted blanket.  I had made the blanket for my 3-year-old when I was pregnant with her.  It was to be a special gift, an heirloom, for her to keep into adulthood.  But here it was, filled with holes, with her standing beside me with scissors in her hand.
            “Oh, Joelle, how could you?”
            Her eyes slid away. 
            “You know this is your special blanket.”
            She sniffed and rubbed her nose with the back of her hand.  “I didn’t know.”
            I closed my eyes.  She was right.  She didn’t know.  She didn’t understand how special that blanket was, and that I couldn’t replace it, and it would be almost impossible to repair.  She didn’t understand what that blanket meant to me, and would one day mean to her.  There were a lot of things that didn’t know.
            But there were some things she did know.  One was that she wasn’t allowed to get the scissors out of the drawer.  The other was that she wasn’t to play with her blanket.  She didn’t like those rules, didn’t understand them.  But today showed the results of breaking them -- a blanket filled with holes.
            I took the scissors out of her hand and placed them high up on a shelf.  Then, I folded the blanket into a ball. 
            Joelle chewed her lower lip.  “Can you fix it, Mommy?”
            I shook my head.  “I don’t think so, sweetheart.  You did a bad thing when you cut it up with the scissors.”
            She took a big, gulping sob and then ran to her bed and threw herself into the pillow.        
            I stood there and didn’t follow.  Truth was, I didn’t know what to do or what to say.  Nothing could make it all better now.  She would just have to live with the consequences, now and into the future.  That’s just how it would be.
            I went downstairs, spread the blanket on a table, and tried to figure out how I make salvage the mess.  As I did, I thought about her words, “I didn’t know.” 
            How often do I say that same thing to God?  I didn’t know that little white lie would come back to bite me.  I didn’t know that if I just kept stubbornly pushing for my way, I’d end up regretting it.  I didn’t know that if I was rude to that person I would pay for it later.  I didn’t know a lot of things.
            But I did know that God calls me to the truth, all the time.  I knew that God wants me to submit to his will and leadership in my life.  I knew he asks me to be kind to everyone, whether I feel like it or not. 
            As it says in Deuteronomy 4:40 (NIV), “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.”
            Sometimes, God’s commands seem restrictive and no fun.  But he gives them to me all the same, and the reason he does is because I don’t know – I can’t see how everything will turn out.  So he gives me instructions in His Word so that it will go well with me. 
            And just like Joelle, I can ignore the rules too.  I can get a chair, get into the off-limits drawer, and pull out the forbidden scissors.  I can have great fun . . . for a moment.  But later, there’s going to be tears and things that cannot always be put back the way they were.

            So now when I read about God’s commands in the Bible, I remember that they’re there because I don’t know everything, and he’s just trying to keep me from cutting holes in my own blanket.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Hi Friends,

In honor of the first day of Fall this week, here's a story from Bryan about the grace of letting the dead things fall away in your life. I hope you find it helpful and encouraging!


I remember the smell, and the crinkle, and the varying shades of brown, yellow, and orange.  I remember the crispness of the air, and the scraping of the rake against dry leaves.  I remember a Nebraska autumn and a lawn covered in fall’s leafy quilt and my little brother and I leaping with reckless abandon into piles of musky sweetness.
            I remember a time when raking up the dead and fallen things in our lives meant not sorrow, but joy.  Not regret, not fear, but hope in what was to come.
            If I close my eyes, even now, I can see the sheen of sweat on my dad’s face as he leaned over the rake.  I can hear the sound it made as he pulled it over the dead grass toward him.
            “Bryan, grab the little rake from the garage and help me.”
            “Okay, Dad.”
            I trotted to the garage, pulled down a rake that was bigger than I was and dragged it outside.  Then, I swished the tines across the leaves to gather them into a tiny pile. 
            Dad added more leaves to my pile.
            A moment later, my three-year-old brother toddled out of the house.  He clapped his hands.  “Oh, yay! Can we jump in them yet?”
            Dad shook his head.
            The pile isn’t big enough.  Why don’t you gather some up with your hands and add them to the stack.
            Justin did.  Little by little, the pile grew, with Dad adding great bundles of leaves, me adding small bundles, and Justin adding a few here and there, as much as his little hands could carry.
            Soon, the lawn was clear, the pile a gigantic heap of potential-fun, and the rakes were safely stored.
            Dad sat on the steps and rested while Justin and I squealed and ran and threw ourselves into a mountain of fall colors.  Dad smiled as we played and played and played.  We tossed leaves, we burrowed in leaves, and we laid in leaves while gazing up at the gray sky. 
            And we never, ever wished that the leaves would turn green and go back onto the trees again.  We weren’t afraid of their falling.  We didn’t feel bereft. 
            Instead, we knew that fresh, green leaves would come in the spring, while these dead ones had fallen to bring us joy . . . and a little work.
            So why, all these years later, do I grumble and moan and fear when dead things fall away in my life?  Why do I clench my hands so tightly around things that no longer bring me life? Why don’t I let them fall and bring me a new kind of joy?
            2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
            When I hear this verse, I usually think about it as if it only means that sometime, way in my past, when I accepted Jesus I became a new creation in Christ.  But as I think of the falling leaves of autumn, I wonder if it doesn’t also mean that Christ continues to make me new, renew me . . . and cause the old, dead things to fall away like autumn leaves.
            And when they do, when the leaves scatter on the dry ground, I don’t need to fret about what I no longer have, what I no longer am.  Instead, I can look forward to new, green leaves in the springtime, and for now, find joy in the crinkly, brown piles in my life. 
            Now, as I gather dried leaves for my own kids, I think about those days long ago when my dad did most of the raking, the piling, the working.  I helped.  My little brother helped.  But I know now that dad did the real work.  And I remind myself that when dead things fall away in my life, it’s my heavenly father who is doing most of the work then too.  I help.  Others may help.  But it is God who is clearing away the crusty brownness of old habits, dead plans, and things that are no longer vital, living. 
            So, when dead things fall away, I want to stop worrying and instead revel in thankfulness for God’s work in my life.  I want to lay on the leaves in a heap, look up, and know that spring is coming.  I want to trust God enough to rake beside him and rejoice when the work is done.