Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When Life's a Puzzle

Hi Friends,

Joelle turns 12 this week (where does the time go???!!!), and in honor of her I wanted to share a story from 10 years ago, when she was 2. She's always loved puzzles.

So, for those times when life is puzzling, when the pieces aren't what you would have chosen, when the puzzle isn't so fun, here's a bit of wisdom I learned from my beautiful Joelle...

Life as Pieces of the Puzzle

“No, Sweetie, that doesn’t go there.”  I pointed my finger at the puzzle piece in my two-year-old daughter’s hand.
Joelle studied the bright piece and frowned.  Vivid reds and pinks splashed over the cardboard surface.  “Flower.  Go dere.”  She again pushed it into the open space along one side of the puzzle. 
“It won’t fit.  You’re not ready for that piece yet.”
“Fit.  Go dere.”  Her brows furrowed as she turned the piece sideways and tried again.  Push, turn, shove, turn, stare, frown.  And still the piece wouldn’t slide into place.
I tapped my fingers on the table and reached for the puzzle piece. 
Joelle hid it against her chest.
I had to admit, it was a beautiful piece.  Rose petals shone against the deep green background and created an enticing image of color.  But no matter how hard Joelle tried, it wouldn’t fit into spot she had chosen for it. 
I watched her struggle for a few more minutes, then searched through the pile for the right piece.  I finally found it – a piece covered in shades of ugly brown with dark knobs for the tree trunk.  “Here, love, try this one.”  I handed her the picture of the brown trunk.
She looked at the piece in my hand, then at the pretty flowers in hers.  She pushed my hand away.  “No.”
I wiggled my fingers.  “This is the one you need.” 
“No.”  She pointed at my hand.  “Yucky.” 
I looked down at the piece.  She was right.  It was yucky compared to the flowers.  But it was the piece she needed at this time.  The only one that would fit in order to make the picture complete.  
The difference was that I had the whole picture in mind, the whole puzzle.  She, only the piece in her hand.  It took Joelle five full minutes to finally put down the flowered piece and try the one I was holding out to her.
Not that I blamed her.  I prefer flowered pieces too.  In the picture of my life, I’ve often tried to shove in the pretty piece – something that looks good, seems appealing.  I want success in my career now.  I want my relationships to be easy and comfortable.  I want my children to always choose what’s right, and my health to be excellent. 
But sometimes God holds out a piece that isn’t nearly so attractive.  He calls me to a difficult task, to face failure or fear, to endure a painful situation, or to invest in a relationship that seems to bring only heartache.  At those times, the piece He’s giving me looks brown, gnarled, and ugly when I want bright and beautiful. 
And sometimes, I, too, want to hang on to my idea of how my life should be right now.  Sometimes I want to force a pretty piece, one I like better, when God’s giving me the less attractive piece because in the end that’s the one that will make the picture of my life right.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” God tells the people of Israel in Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  And the same holds true for me.  He knows the plans He has for me.  His plans, not mine.  Plans that take into account the whole picture of my life, the picture He is creating especially for me. 
So these days, as I watch Joelle put puzzle pieces together, I remind myself that God knows all the pieces of my life, where they fit, and in what order they must be placed. And when he hands me a piece that isn’t all flowers, I need to trust that He sees the whole picture, and one day that picture will be beautiful.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When Life is Manure and Mud

Hi Friends,

Well, this week isn't going exactly as planned. Case in point - yesterday Joelle and I planned on a nice little ride on our horses. Instead, our ride was cut short by a tumble into the mud and a face full of horse poop.  We were only 20 minutes into our ride when Joelle's horse got scared, scrambled sideways up a hill, and Joelle slipped off into the muddy puddle … a puddle which happened to form in the exact place where her horse poops in the pasture after a water pipe burst in the barn. Perfect timing, perfect placement, the perfect coming-together of accidents, mishaps, and brokenness to end up with a face full of manure and mud.

Sometimes life is like that.

Sometimes things go awry and we end up covered in mud (and poo).

So, for those times when you've landed in the mud and are covered in stink, here are a few thoughts from C.S. Lewis that have encouraged me:

1) From Screwtape Letters (remember this is the demon Screwtape talking to his nephew Wormword):  "We want him [Wormwood's 'patient' that they are trying to lure from his faith] to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear.  There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy [i.e., God].  He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.

2) From Mere Christianity: "We must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time.  When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected) he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly.  When troubles come along -- illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation - he is disappointed.  These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before.  It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us."

3) And my favorite, from Mere Christianity:  "If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a ... dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.  The process will be long and in parts very panful, but that is what we are in for.  Nothing less.  He meant what He said."

So, when you find yourself thrown into a muddy, poopy puddle in life, remember that mud (or even manure) is not permanent. God's got just the soap for that! You will be dazzling and radiant in His sight. 

May you be showered with the wonder of God's grace and love!

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