Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lessons from a Dog

Hello Friends,

Sometimes you learn things about God in the strangest places. For me, I learned something about His gifts from an ugly little puppy named Cisco. I got Cisco over ten years ago, and he died recently (just got old). And so, I reminded again of how I'd gotten him and what he taught me about God. Here's how it happened:

"Hey, you guys want a puppy?" our friends, Steve and Angela, asked one day after church. "They’ll be born in about a month.”

"Nah. I got enough work to do,” I said.

Steve smiled. “They’re boxers.”

“Boxers? Really?" My husband and I spun around. We loved boxers. But, they were hard to come by, and expensive at that, so we'd never gotten one.

"Yeah, purebreds." Steve’s grin broadened. "So, what do you say?”

"I’ve changed my mind. We definitely want one!” The words tumbled from my mouth.

In a month, right on schedule, seven little boxer puppies were born. With hearts filled with longing, Bryan and I leaned over the litter and eyed each one. Which would we choose? Six were just adorable, with their little black faces and pushed in noses. The seventh, on the other hand, was not. An ugly pinkish-white splotch spread over his entire face, making him look more like a rat than a dog.

"Yuck. What happened to that one?" I said, pointing at the white-faced pup.

Angela sighed. "We might end up having to keep that one. I can't imagine anyone picking him."

I shrugged and studied the cute puppies.

Bryan stepped next to me. "Which one do you like the best?"

"What about that one?" I pointed to a pup with a thin white stripe up his face.

Bryan picked up the puppy and handed him to me. "This is the one I like, too."

Steve smiled. "Hey, why don't you guys take two?"

"Could we?" Bryan turned to me. "Is there another one you like?"

"Well, let me hold me a different one and I'll see.”

Bryan headed toward the puppy pen.

"Any one but that ugly little white faced one!" I added as Bryan reached into the pen. Then, one by one I held the other five pups, but none seemed “just right.”

Finally, five weeks rolled around. Like new parents, we gazed down at the wiggling mass of puppies. There they all were, six little black faced cuties, and one . . . wait a minute! There was the white faced pup, and he was the cutest of the bunch.

We brought all the little boxers out to play on the mat, and the white-faced one played with Bryan and I, licked our faces, and wagged his little nubby tail. I couldn't resist. We claimed our second pup.

In the years to come, Cisco became a special blessing to me. He snuggled with me when I was sad, romped with me when I was happy, and sat curled at my feet when I watched television. Often, Bryan lwould look at us, shake his head, and say, "He's definitely your dog." And to think that I once said, "Any puppy but that ugly little white faced one."

Cisco made me wonder how many gifts from God I turned my back on because they seemed a little ugly at first, or weren't what I had in mind. Maybe it was that lunch with someone who sort of bugged me, or the Bible study I just didn't have time for, or the neighborhood get-together that I felt too tired to attend.

So, even now when he's gone, Cisco is a reminder to me to look beyond my initial reactions to see what God may have for me. I try not to say “yuck!” too quickly, but instead remember that the ugly, white-faced puppies in my life may really be special gifts from God, sent just for me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

When Life's a Puzzle

Hi Friends,

Lately, I 've been thinking about how my life doesn't always go together as I'd like it to. I hope and pray for one thing, and another thing happens. I pray for another baby, I get a miscarriage. And I don't believe that's because I didn't pray well enough or have enough faith or do everything just right. No, I believe that in my life, and in yours too, that God has his own plans that sometimes are different from ours. And I am reminded that sometimes life is a puzzle and only God knows how the pieces fit.

I'm also reminded of a story from a couple years ago when my daughter was two. It happened like this:

“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, like he's done in these last weeks, I need to trust that he sees the whole picture, and one day that picture will be beautiful. And one day, I'll see it too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

When Earthquakes Come

Hi Friends!

It's been a shaking week for me, with our 4th miscarriage in less than a year, and the end of my hopes to have another child. So, as I was looking through some of my writings from a few years ago, I found these thoughts on surviving the earthquakes of life. I hope you'll find these thoughts helpful as well:

The ground shook like newly poured pudding. A picture fell from the wall. Glass splintered. The floor creaked.

I raced into Bethany’s room and leaned over her crib. My hands gripped the wooden sides. Seconds tumbled by. A doll tipped on a shelf beside me. I glanced down at my daughter, wondering how she would handle her first major earthquake. Would she wake up and shriek? Would she cry for Mommy?

I held my breath. Two more seconds passed. Bethany sighed and rolled over. She didn’t wake. She didn’t even whimper. Instead, she slept peacefully on.

Finally, the floor stopped moving, and the walls stopped shaking. Silence descended. I waited, and breathed, and eventually released my white-knuckled grip on the sides of the crib. Then, I bent over and brushed Bethany’s hair back with my fingertips. She cooed in her sleep and stuck her two middle fingers in her mouth.

After a few moments, I picked up Bethany’s doll, gathered up the glass shards on the floor, and made my way back downstairs to where my husband had already turned the television to the news. Soon the reports were rolling in – a 5.2 quake centered just three miles from our house. A few phone lines were down, some homes had lost power, but no major damage was reported.

Bryan glanced at me. “How’s Peanut?”

“Didn’t even notice it,” I said. “She just kept on sleeping.”

“Through all that?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Yep.”

That night as I lay in bed waiting for aftershocks, I thought about Bethany’s surprising reaction, or I should say non-reaction, to the earthquake. How could she just keep on sleeping with all that rattling and rolling going on around her? I pondered for several minutes then voiced the question to my husband.

“I dunno,” he mumbled. “Maybe it was just because it was night-night time. Time to sleep.”

“And she didn’t want to let a little thing like a 5.2 earthquake deter her?” I joked.

“Guess not.” Bryan rolled over and ended the conversation.

I lay there and watched the ceiling fan make lazy circles in the dark. Was Bryan right? Was the answer as simple as it was nighttime, and so Bethany slept? If so, I wanted to be like Bethany. I, too, wanted to sleep peacefully when my world shook around me. I wanted to rest in the knowledge that God, my Father, was standing over my crib, protecting me.

I closed my eyes and recalled the serenity on Bethany’s sleeping face. As I did, a verse from the Book of John whispered through my mind. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27, KJV). That was the kind of peace Bethany had exemplified. A peace that defied the logic of the world, a peace that allowed her to rest without fear even as everything shook around her. And that was the kind of peace I wanted, the kind of peace Christ offered me, too.

I know that earthquakes will come (after all, I live in California!). And I also know that there will be day-quakes, times when my day is shaken from the path I’d planned, and life-quakes, times when my life feels like it might fall apart. But when my world shakes around me, I want to continue doing what I should be doing, just like Bethany. Rather than crying, “The sky is falling!” I want to just continue on with God’s will in my life. Jesus tells me, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33, KJV).

So, this week, when the ground is trembling beneath me, I'm remembering Bethany, and I'm trying to remember to trust the God who is leaning over my crib. Then, I am not afraid, and I can keep on doing whatever it is that God has asked me to do, even when the quake rates a 5.2.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

When You Can't See -- Faith in the Fog


On some days, I can almost glimpse eternity. It stretches outside my new office window (yep, that's my view in the picture), reaching down the green valley lined with oaks, touching the distant, snow-frosted mountains. On those days, I gaze out over the tall Monterey pines and search out that special place where sky meets earth in a blaze of blue glory. And I know that God is real, that He created all this beauty, and that He shares it with me because He loves me. On those days, I have no doubts, no questions, no fear.

Too bad every day isn't one of those days. On many days, I can see no mountains, no valley. Even the tops of pines are blotted from my view. Instead, fog is laced through the bottom branches and swirls in thick ripples across the ground. Grayness presses against my window and forms tiny water droplets on the glass. It covers the mountains, masks the oaks, camouflages the pines. On one of those days not so long ago, I sat at my desk and peered out into the day, and saw nothing but waves of thick fog.

“So, how do you like your new office?” My husband’s voice sounded from the doorway behind me.

I turned and smiled at him. “I love it. And the view out this window is incredible. You ought to see it.”

Bryan strode through the door and leaned against the windowsill. His eyes narrowed. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, really. Oaks and pines, and snow-tipped mountains kissing the sky.”

Bryan’s eyebrows rose to his hairline. “Very poetic, but it looks like a bunch of fog to me.” His voice lowered to a mutter. “Snow-kissed mountains. Yeah, right.”

I sat back in my chair and crossed my arms over my chest. “You’ll just have to take my word for it. On a clear day . . . wow, you can see forever.”

Bryan shrugged his shoulders. “If you say so.” He dropped a handful of mail onto my desk, then turned and left.

In the moments that followed, I shuffled through the mail then allowed my gaze to again travel out the window. The fog wouldn’t lift today. And maybe not tomorrow. It could be days, I knew, before I caught sight of the mountains or valley again. But the vision of snow-topped mountains and the deep green of the valley oaks remained fixed in my mind. I knew the mountains were out there, even though I couldn’t see them. I trusted that the trees remained as green and beautiful, even when they were lost to my sight.

As I sat and listened to the silence tangle with the fog outside, I was reminded of the Bible’s definition of faith. Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

I used to live as if faith was seeing the mountains. I believed that if I only had enough faith, I would see God clearly, I would always know what He wants, I wouldn’t have any doubts, any questions. There would never be any fog.

But these days, I'm beginning to see faith differently. Faith, I'm coming to believe, doesn’t dispel the fog, but is found within it. Faith isn’t about seeing the mountains. It’s about believing they are there when all my senses deny it. It’s about believing in that spot of blue glory when all I see is the persistent grayness.

There are times when I wonder if God really loves me, when hurt and confusion press against the window of my soul, when doubts creep in and twine around my thoughts as surely as the fog twists through the trees. That’s when faith flourishes. As surely as I can say I know the mountains and oaks and pines are there, even though I can’t see them, so I can say, I know God loves me even though I can’t see it now. I know that I am His and that He died for me. I choose to believe what I cannot see. For faith is not seeing, but believing, even in the fog. Especially in the fog.

And today, for me, the fog is thick indeed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Cleansing Power of FIRE in Our Lives

Dear friends,

I learned something about fire a few years ago that has helped me in times when it feels like parts of my life are being burned away. Today, I thought I'd share about that time, and hopefully you'll find these insights helpful in your life too, as I'm finding them in mine. So, here goes . . .

It was a cool autumn day when our tour bus chugged slowly up the road to Tuolumne Meadows. Majestic evergreens rose on either side of us and towered over the smaller bushes beneath them. I leaned over and opened the window, hoping to get a whiff of the sweet scent of pine. I took a deep breath and frowned. I didn’t smell pine. I smelled fire!

I stuck my head a little further out the window and searched the sky for the telltale smudge of smoke. There! A few hundred yards before us a dark plume rose over the trees.

I clutched the seat in front of me as the bus rumbled up the hill and headed toward the smoke. The road curved, and I saw it – a line of orange flames running low and fast up the bank to our right. The ground near the road was black and charred, and I knew that in minutes the entire hillside would look the same.

We pulled abreast of the flames, and I could feel the heat on my cheeks. My knuckles turned white on the seatback. Where were the helicopters? The fire trucks? The flashing lights that would tell me that someone was doing something to stop the blaze?

Then, I spotted something odd. Five rangers stood at the base of the hill not thirty yards in front of the bus. But they weren’t fighting the fire. Instead they were watching it progress.

I was about to shout to the bus driver when his voice boomed from the loudspeaker overhead. “Some of you may be wondering about the fire off to our right,” he said in the same calm, lackadaisical tone he’d used when pointing out a grove of giant sequoias ten minutes before.

“Why aren’t those rangers putting it out?” hollered someone from the back.
The driver smiled into the rearview mirror. “They aren’t putting it out because they’re the ones who set it.”

“What?” I, and about twenty others, gasped.

The driver chuckled and slowed the bus to a stop. “Yep, this here’s a controlled burn, folks. When the underbrush gets too thick the rangers burn it away to prevent wildfires later.”

So much for Smokey the Bear, I thought.

The driver continued his explanation as if reading my thoughts. “Not all fires are bad. This one will clean out the dangerous underbrush and return nutrients to the soil.” He pointed out the window. “If you look closely, you’ll see the big trees are unharmed. It may look bad now, but you just wait till next spring. This’ll be the most beautiful part of the forest.” With that, the bus jerked forward and continued down the road.

As the fire disappeared behind us, I sat back and thought about the controlled burn. I’d always considered fire a destructive force (unless of course, it was neatly contained within my fireplace!). But this was something entirely different. Here was a fire that cleansed the forest, nourished it, and prevented rather than caused destruction. Was this type of thing the Bible meant when it said “our God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29)? I’d interpreted that passage as a picture of God’s wrath toward his enemies. But what if “consuming fire” wasn’t an analogy for destruction, but for purification? Perhaps what Hebrews and Deuteronomy were saying was that God wants to be like the controlled burn – he wants to sweep through my life and burn up those things that are stifling my growth. Maybe the purpose of God’s fire was also to nourish me and to safeguard me from wildfires of temptation and sin.

As the smell of smoke dwindled behind us, I decided that I wanted to be like the forest. I wanted to stand still before God’s cleansing flame and let his fire do its work in my life, even if the process seemed painful, even if it was a little scary.

These days, when I see parts of my life withering away beneath God’s hand, I remember the fire on the way to Tuolumne Meadows. Then, I can trust that when God’s done, I’ll see that I, like the forest, will be beautiful in the spring.

To find out more about my thoughts on fire, see my new novel, VEIL OF FIRE, just released by Cook Communications. There, I tell the story of the great fire of 1894 in Minnesota, and the mysterious figure who appeared in the hills afterward. Filled with betcha-can’t-guess mystery and deep characterization, Veil of Fire, is a compelling tale of healing through the firestorms of life. For more information, click the "books" link above, which will take you back to my website.