Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Finding God in the Dark

Hi Friends,

I wanted to share a little of the (in)courage devotional that was recently published. I thought this bit might be helpful to you if you find yourself in a dark place in life where it's hard to see the way forward.

In the devotion, I shared about our daily (and nightly!) 24/7 journey with Jayden (age 9) who has Type 1 Diabetes, and then this ...

Excerpt:

This is the pain I endure, the suffering I cannot escape. Day after day. Night after night. An incurable disease. A beloved son. 
            But my pain is not unique. It’s no greater, no less than yours. A lost job, a broken marriage, an estranged child, an untimely death, a scary diagnosis, an incurable disease. None of us get through life unscathed. None have life just as we wish it. 
            So as I stand here watching, waiting, hoping and afraid to hope, I wonder ...
What does it mean to encounter Christ in the dark? What does it mean to live a life of faith when life is scary and you can’t see you way? How do I walk through each day, each hour, each minute of a life that hasn’t turned out the way I’d dreamed?
            Sometimes I have no idea. But then I remember Bartimaeus (Mark 10). A blind man, sitting in the dark, on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. A man who didn’t let blindness, bad odds, a hopeless disease, scorn, fear, doubt, or despair stop him.
            From Bartimaeus, I learn five things about finding God in the dark:
            1) Listen for Rumors of God
            When Bartimaeus was sitting in the dark on the side of road, he wasn’t focused on his problems, his lack of resources, or his poor chances of being healed. He was paying attention to any sign, however small, of hope. When the crowd passed, he was listening so carefully that he heard the name of Jesus of Nazareth. It only took a rumor, a whisper, a hint of God coming near for him to begin to shout for mercy.
            2) Persist!
            As soon as Bartimaeus shouted for the Son of David to have mercy on him, the crowd tried to shush him. But - and I love this! - instead of being discouraged, Barty shouted all the louder.
            3) Throw Off Your Cloak - He’s Calling You
            Then Jesus called out to Bartimaeus, who leapt up and threw off his cloak, the very garment that he used to catch coins when he begged. He cast aside his security, his “back-up plan” and, even though he was still in the dark, he made his way to Jesus. 
            4) Know What You Want
            Jesus asked Bartimaeus a simple question: What do you want? And without hesitation, Barty answers do. He didn’t want power or prestige (unlike James and John, who were asked the same question just a few verses before Bartimaeus’s story). He just wanted to see. He wanted to see Jesus. Simple as that.
            5) The Right Prayer
            And Jesus opened blind Barty’s eyes, and the first thing Barty was the face of Jesus. Just Jesus. Because “Lord, I want to see,” is the right prayer for us all. 
            Lord, in my pain, in my fear, in my darkness and doubt, I want to see Jesus. He is enough.


Sign up here to receive free notes from (in)courage, delivered daily to your inbox!


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Reaching for Wonder When Life is Hard

Hi Friends,


Here are some responses to a recent interview about Reaching for Wonder. May they encourage you when life is difficult and you need more than "just have faith."

Interview:

1.    Why Reaching for Wonder? Why is this theme important to you?
When I first started to really grapple with this idea of Reaching for Wonder when life is at its worst, my family was in the midst of some of the most difficult and painful times we’ve ever had to face. We were going through betrayal, from both inside and outside of the family. We were being threatened by a stalker, so we were dealing with the difficult and scary process of getting and enforcing a restraining order. Our business also took a turn for the worse. The stress was causing health problems on top of marital conflicts, and everything else. Life hurt.

I had discovered when we had faced infertility and miscarriage in the past, that the idea of “just have faith” and “God won’t give you more than you can bear” is, well, a bunch of hooey. 

Life is HARD. Heartbreaking, soul-choking things happen to us. This life is not a walk in the park with daisies. It’s a journey that has peaks and beautiful vistas, but it also has dark valleys where we can barely remember what the sun looks like. Sometimes it seems as if those valleys will never end. This life is a battle for our souls. 

In my latest valleys, I started looking more carefully and deeply at the Jesus we see in the New Testament. I looked at how he interacts with those who are facing things that were more than they could bear. I found the real Jesus is not a “just have faith and it will be okay” type of God. He is a breath-taking, vivid God who meets us in the times of trouble and encounters us in ways I didn’t expect. In ways that shake me from my “just have faith” mentality. He’s not after a shallow Band-Aid faith. He’s after a life-changing, shock-my-soul relationship with the living God. And that matters. It matters to me. 

To me, that changes everything.

2.    What is something that surprised you the most while researching Reaching for Wonder?   

The miracle stories in the New Testament are not miracle stories at all. In fact, the miracles, the healings, even the resurrections, are written almost as an afterthought to the heart of the story. It’s the encounter with Christ, the internal transformation that comes from that encounter, that is front and center in these stories. It is this unexpected and out-of-the-box Messiah who takes center-stage. The changes of circumstance, the healings, are told in a “oh, by the way, the person was healed” sort of manner. And that changes everything. When I come to God when life hurts, when I’m praying and hoping that He will just “fix it,” God’s interest isn’t focused on my circumstances (like mine is), rather, it’s on me. His goal is that I encounter him face-to-face and see him for who he really is.

3.    What do you most want readers to take away from Reaching for Wonder?


I want readers to have encountered Christ in the their own difficulties. I want them to have discovered him a new, deeper, richer, more vibrant and more wonder-filled way … even if their circumstances haven’t changed. I want them to take away a new and vivid Hope.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

When All Seems Lost - Finding Hope on the Road

Hi Friends,

I've been thinking about the Road to Emmaus and how Jesus meets us when everything seems lost. I wrote a little about it in my last book, Reaching for Wonder. (And I have this picture in my home - it's one of my favorites!)

So, if you're in that place where hope seems lost, consider this:

Imagine . . .

Imagine that everything you’ve ever hoped for is gone. Imagine that your dreams for the future were stolen and crushed. There is nothing you can do to make it better. There is no song you can sing, no prayer you can pray, no hope you can cling to.
It is all dead. Gone. 
And you are leaving it all behind you as you simply walk away. 
You’ve been told there’s reason to hope. There are rumors, there are stories. But you don’t hope. Not anymore. 
Imagine that you’ve read through an entire book that beckons you to believe again, to trust again, to look for a God you saw die. And now you are reading the last chapter and the pain remains, no healing has come, no change at all in the circumstances that surround you.
And you are ready to close the book and simply walk away.
You head down the road, you argue with a friend. You discuss why hope is foolish and life simply is what it is and nothing will ever change.
But a third man joins you. You don’t recognize him at all. He asks you what you’re talking about and you shake your head. How could he not know, how could he not see?
So you explain your hope and what became of it. You lay out your dreams and how they died. You fight the tears because you’ve already cried too much, struggled too much, hurt too much.
You fling your story in his face, daring him to deny your pain, your hopelessness, the deadness of your despair. You tell him again. It is all dead. Gone. Done.
But then something unexpected happens. The stranger begins to explain everything to you, not just the circumstances that caused your pain. He goes back to the beginning. He shows you how it all fits together. How every single thing in your life comes together for good because you love God and you — you! — are called according to his purposes. It all fits together. It all makes sense. Nothing that has happened, no pain, no suffering, no disappointment, no failure, no death is left purposeless. It is all woven together like a beautiful tapestry, with dark threads and light.
So you ask the stranger to stay with you as the day turns to night. 
Imagine sitting with him at the table. He lifts his arms. He breaks the bread. And only then do you recognize this stranger from the road. It is Jesus who died for you, rose for you, and has come to encounter you when all you wanted to do was get away. 
You recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
And you realize that your heart is on fire within you.
Suddenly, you dare to hope again. And you turn right back around and head the way you came. You trudged on your way out but you run on your way back. 
You run back to hope, back to joy, back to faith.
All because Jesus met you when you were running away.
All because you encountered him on the road to Emmaus.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Come Out of Hiding!

Hi Friends,

Here are some encouraging words from Reaching for Wonder ...

Who Is This God?      
         Who is this God who does more than heal? Who is he who is not satisfied to repair the deaf and make the mute speak? Who is he who calls us to deeper listening, deeper speaking? Who is he who opens more than physical ears, untwists more than physical tongues?
         He is the God of Ephphatha. He is the God of aletheia.
         Aletheiais the Greek word for truth. It also means unhidden. Exposed. No longer in isolation. 
         When we can’t hear God or others clearly, when our words don’t rightly reflect the longing and need in our souls, the answer is not to pretend, to blend in with the crowd, to hide in plain sight. The answer is ephphatha. It is aletheia. 
         We have to step out of the crowd and encounter the living God. We need to stop hiding the truth about ourselves, our situation, our fears, hopes, failures, dreams.
         We need to declare with Isaiah: “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!” (Isaiah 6:5)
         We need to confess with David after his sin with Bathsheba, and his betrayal of Uriah, the Hittite: “I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me. I’ve sinned against you . . . I’ve committed evil in your sight . . . And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space . . . Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!” (Psalm 51:3-6, 10)
We need to sing with ex-slave-trader John Newton who wrote:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

         I was deaf but now I hear. I was mute but now I speak. Hear the truth. Speak the truth. Don’t hide any longer.
         As I write these words, my own soul sighs within me because there are people dear to me who need ephphatha, who need aletheia. I groan for those who want to hide and pretend everything’s okay, they’re okay, when everything is far from fine. I sigh for those who want to deny they even need real healing, that they need Jesus’ fingers in their ears, his spit on their tongues. They persist in deafness and muteness when their life is imploding. No matter how loud we shout, no matter how we crowd around them, they cannot hear, they will not speak. And their souls are withering beneath the weight of isolation and sin.
         And Jesus is calling out — Ephphatha! Open up! Just open up! There is healing, there is freedom, to be found in that simple, spoken command.
         Ephphatha . . .

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

When You Feel Helpless...

Hi Friends,


I've been pondering this excerpt from the chapter about the paralyzed man who was lowered from roof from Reaching for Wonder. If you're feeling like you just can't go on, you can't get yourself to Jesus, like it's all too much and your overwhelmed, maybe this will help ...

Excerpt:

Helplessness. A child . . . A spouse . . . A boss . . . An incurable disease . . . there are places in life where we are paralyzed. They make us doubt our worth, they make us doubt our friends, our future, our God. We want to either wallow in our pain or snap our fingers and make it better. But sometimes “you can do anything you set your mind to” isn’t true. Sometimes we are helpless. And helplessness hurts.
         Yet the man on the mat tells us that at times silence and stillness are just the conditions that Jesus needs to make us whole. 
         I am reminded of the day I found Smokey, my husband’s horse, standing still and silent in his stall. Smokey is never still and silent. 
         My daughter, Bethany, came into the barn. “What wrong with Smokey?” 
         Smokey stared at us from behind his feeding net. We stepped closer. He didn’t wiggle. He didn’t whinny. 
         Bethany moved toward him. “Oh, no.” She glanced at me. “His hoof is caught in the net. He can’t get it out.” She slipped slowly into his stall, hoping not to spook him. She took his hoof in her hand. “The fabric is wedged between his hoof and his shoe. I can’t pull it out. If he starts to panic, he’ll break his leg.”
         “Okay, you keep him calm. I’ll find something to cut the net.”
         For the next twenty minutes, we sawed and soothed and cut and calmed until Smokey was finally free. He couldn’t move, he didn’t speak, and he couldn’t help himself. He just stayed still and let us work. Sometimes, in our fear, in our helplessness, that’s all we have to do too. Sometimes God is whispering into our silence: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, KJV)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Fight the Right Fight - Lessons from Roosters

Hi Friends,


I'm tired. Tired of bickering, in-fighting, griping, and conflict between people who all really want the same thing. Good people, fighting common enemies of despair, injustice, hurt, discouragement, hopelessness.

Time to learn a lesson from my two roosters.

It happened like this:

 “Mom!”
I knew by the intensity of the shriek that something was very wrong. My six-year-old never screamed like that. She came bursting through my office door. “Mom! Help! Come quick!”
I leapt from my chair. “What’s wrong?”
She started to sob as she spoke. “The dogs are in the chicken coop. I couldn’t get them out.”
I ran for the door. She ran after me. 
“They pushed past me when I went in. I couldn’t get them out. Hurry!”
I was hurrying. I was sprinting out the front door, up the driveway, back toward the coop.
“Moooommmmmyyyy! They’re going to kill all the chickens!” 
Probably.
But I wouldn’t say that out loud. Instead, I just ran as fast as I could.
When I reached the coop, I burst inside. The hens were squawking high up in the coop while our white rooster flapped his wings at the two dogs and the red rooster lay, motionless, on the coop floor.
The two little dogs barked ferociously at the red rooster.
Oh no.Buffalo, the red rooster, was the favorite of all the kids.
I grabbed the two dogs and tossed them from the coop. They wagged their tails and scratched at the door to get back in. I ignored them.
Instead I knelt beside Buffalo, fearing the worst.
But he was still breathing. I helped him to his feet.
He shook himself and blinked at me. His entire, glorious tail had been pulled out and now I noticed feathers scattered around the coop. He had a few bare spots on his wings, but there wasn’t a bite mark on him. 
My daughter sidled up next to me. “Is he going to be all right?”
“I think so. Go get the wound spray from the barn. I’m going to spray him where his tail got pulled out.”
Jordyn brought me the spray and Buffalo held still while I tended to his bare back end. Then he fluttered up to his perch and checked on his hens. The white rooster turned around on his perch and I noticed that he, too, was missing much of his tail. I sprayed him too, checked the hens, then sat on the hay. 
The roosters stared at me. I stared back at them. “You’re war heroes, you know,” I told them. “You fought the battle so the hens could get away.”
They fluttered their wings, off balance without their large tails.
I smiled at them. Sometimes the roosters squabble with each other. Sometimes they peck the backs of the hens. But when the real enemy threatened their hens, the roosters worked together to protect the flock. 
That’s how we need to be too. In the church, in our families, in our circles of friends, we need to recognize that the enemy is not each other. There’s real enemy whose goal is our destruction, our death. 
Sometimes we’re too busy squabbling with each other to protect against the real threat. Sometimes we’re too busy pecking at those God has given us to protect. Paul says in Galatians 5:14-16 (NIV), “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
The roosters may occasionally be disgruntled with one another, but they don’t bite and devour each other. And when the real enemy sneaks into their coop, they band together to protect the hens. They know who the enemy really is.
And as I sat there, bemoaning the loss of Buffalo’s stunning tail (and most of Parmesan’s beautiful white tail), I started to see that losing a tail, even a gorgeous one like Buffalo’s, isn’t the worst thing that can happen.
God calls us to protect the weak, stand up for what’s right, lay down our lives, our tails, for others. He doesn’t call us to bicker and nitpick and peck at the very ones who we are called to protect. He doesn’t call us to bite and devour each other.
He calls us to fight the real enemy, the one who wants to destroy our souls. Together, just like Buffalo and Parmesan, we can defeat every dog who crashes our coop. Together, God gives us the strength to love others enough to sacrifice our tails so they can find a high place of safety.
Together, we can be who God created us to be, even if some feathers get pulled out in the process. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A Scary Evening in the ER: The Tension between Fear & Faith

Hi Friends,

Well, we had a super scary evening yesterday. Bria took her new horse to the round pen but before he got there, he freaked out, pushed her over, and trampled her as he ran off. Eek! And I got to put my own preaching into practice - yikes!

Scared, worried, wondering, not knowing how bad it was or what would happen next, comforting a bawling daughter on a hospital bed as the nurse inserts the IV for pain meds. Waiting, watching CT scans, X-rays, praying, hoping, fearing, pretending not to be afraid, praying some more, worrying, swallowing worry and smiling, telling her it will be okay.

What a night! (Spoiler alert: no broken bones, she's going to be okay ... just REALLY sore ... watching to make sure nothing weird happens like fever or vomiting now that she's home.)

And now we're home and I'm thinking about the war between faith and fear, between hope and failure. And I'm reminded again of the story of the man whose son was possessed by a demon. Wow, I can sure relate to this guy!

Here's a bit of what I wrote in Reaching for Wonder that I'm finding helpful today:

The crowd brings the boy forward when Jesus asks for him. As soon as they do, the evil spirit sees Jesus and immediately takes over. It throws the boy down; he rolls around stiff and foaming at the mouth. 
            What the father fears most happens right in front of him . . . again. All the failure, all the pain, all the horror hits as the son he loves falls and foams.
            And Jesus does nothing to stop it. He does nothing to prevent the man’s fear or hide the failure. Instead, he turns back to the father and asks a simple question, “How long has this been going on?” (v. 21)
            I am struck by the lack of panic, lack of hurry, in Jesus. While he interacts with the father, the boy continues to flop and seize. The tension of that moment must have been overwhelming, especially for the father. But Jesus is in no rush.
            The father is able to answer. “Since he was a child. It has often thrown him into a fire or into water trying to kill him.” Reviewing the fear seems to heighten it, for the man then bursts out, “If you can do anything, help us! Show us compassion!” (v. 22) I imagine he is shouting these words. 
            But Jesus doesn’t shout back. Instead, he calls the man deeper. At the height of his fear and failure, Jesus asks the man to focus not on his son who is having a life-threatening fit at their feet, but on Jesus and faith. “’If you can do anything?’” Jesus asks. “All things are possible for the one who has faith.” (v. 23) ...
And I love the man’s response: “I have faith; help my lack of faith!” or as it translates from the Greek, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (v. 24)
There is the tension we all experience - this war within between faith and fear, hope and despair, belief and failure.
Jesus honors the battle. Earlier, he expressed his frustration at the lack of faith of his disciples, the teachers of the law, and the crowd. But here there is no such condemnation. There’s no scorn, no rebuke, not even any disappointment from Jesus. 
Why? This father doesn’t have model faith, and he knows it. And that seems to be the key. Jesus words were never meant to shame him, to say, “Well, I could heal if you’re faith was just good enough.” Instead they were meant to gently invite him to confront his own inner war, his own tension between his faith and fear, and do it at the moment when his fear was strongest, when his son was in the throes of a demon-possessed fit. Jesus was giving him the opportunity to bring the inner war to Jesus and be freed. 
Because that’s exactly what Jesus does next. He doesn’t respond to the man at all. He simply casts out the demon, so violently that the boy appears to be dead. It’s a scary healing, a frightening freedom, but a full freedom. For both of them.
The son is freed from the demon. And the father is freed from his failure and fear. We know that because there is a final test for the father. The boy is still, several in the crowd start whispering that the boy has died. His son’s death was what the father most feared. It would be the final failure. And here his son lies. Still as death. Pale as death. 
And we don’t hear a single word from the father. 
I believe that's because Jesus not only freed the son from the demon but freed the father from the war between fear and faith.
The foolish crowd believes Jesus’ healing resulted in the boy’s death. The father knows better. He waits. He watches. He submits to whatever Jesus will do. Why? Because he’s not only placed his faith in Jesus’ hands, but he has also placed his lack of faith there. His belief andhis unbelief. He brings it all and gives it to Jesus with the simply cry, “I have faith; help my lack of faith!” And that is enough.
It’s enough for us too.

It's enough for me. Today. And last night. And tomorrow. Especially as my little girl curls on the couch today telling me how sore she is. Today, faith wins anyway.