Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Worshipping When You Can't Stand the Style

Hi Friends,

We had our community group here at our house last night, and we were talking about Philippians 2:1-11, particularly about considering others, esteeming others, and following Christ's example of having an "others-first" mindset. Then, the discussion moved to worshipping God and music styles. I was reminded of something that happened at a previous church and how it taught me that I needed to look beyond music style to focus on God in worship, not on myself and my preferences.

Anyway, I thought you might appreciate this story as well, so here it is:

It was the cowboy hat that did it. I would’ve been okay if not for that hat. At least that’s what I told myself.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary that Sunday morning as my husband, Bryan, and I walked into church and settled into our usual seat. I laid my bulletin beside me and prepared for a good time of contemplative worship. It would be a nice mix of hymns and choruses, with a touch of guitar and a sprinkling of piano - just like always. Maybe the microphones would be turned up too loud, and maybe the leader would sing a bit off-key. But that wouldn’t matter. I was used to it. And that Sunday, I was especially eager to meet God in worship.

A side door creaked open, and I looked up to see the biggest, whitest, ugliest cowboy hat ever made. The brim was pulled low over the brow of a woman I’d never seen before. I stared at the guitar slung over her shoulder, the microphone attached around her ear, and the ten-gallon smile on her face. “Just what I need, a guest worship leader,” I murmured.

Bryan frowned at me. “Maybe it won’t be so bad,” he whispered.
He was wrong.

“Okay, y’all, let’s sing!” the woman yelled. Her guitar twanged. The drums ker-thumped. Then it started – a good old-fashioned country western sing-along, complete with hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’, and a guy on the banjo. I hated it. Not only was this not the quiet worship I’d hoped for, but it was country music. I couldn’t stand country music.

Yee-haw, I thought, and crossed my arms.

After three songs, the woman tipped back her hat, grinned, and said, “Now for one of my favorites. Y’all should know this one.” Then, she started How Great Thou Art, country-style, in a Dolly Parton voice that I couldn’t hope to sing with.

Minutes crept by like ants laboring under a heavy load until finally the woman swung the guitar strap over her head and walked off the stage. A moment later, our pastor stepped behind the pulpit. His next words put a chill in my heart. “I’d like you all to welcome Ellen Mae, our new worship leader!”

I groaned. Was it aloud? I hoped not.

The pastor smiled as he continued. “As you may know, Pete’s leaving at the end of the month for seminary. Ellen Mae here has volunteered to step in.” His smile widened. “This will be the first time we’ve had a real professional leading us in worship.”

“Professional?” I hissed under my breath.

Bryan frowned at me. “I think she’s in a local band."

“Ugh.” I rubbed my temples and tried not to look as horrified as I felt.

Then, for the rest of the service, I sat and wondered what I was going to do. I loved worship.

But how could I ever find God in the midst of a country western jamboree?

All the way home that day, and every Sunday for the next three months, I complained. Finally, Bryan had heard enough. We’d just left the church parking lot when I started in with the usual: “How’s anybody supposed to worship with that? It’s bad enough that it’s country, but she doesn’t even know the difference between worship and singing! If I just wanted to sing, I’d stay home and put in a CD. At least then I’d be singing to good music!”

Bryan scowled. “You didn’t seem to have any trouble worshiping in Madagascar. And they didn’t even sing in English!

My mind flitted to the short-term mission trip we’d taken just last year. “That’s different.”

“Is it?” Bryan answered, then said no more. The rest of the way home we rode in silence.

For two weeks, I thought about Bryan’s comment. It was true that I’d enjoyed the worship in Madagascar. But this was different. This was “my” church, and I wanted it be the way I liked it.

But what if I took Bryan’s advice and considered the country western style a “cultural experience” as I had in Madagascar? What if I sought to find God and worship Him in new ways despite the style?

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if the key to worship was not so much style, but desire. If I truly wanted to worship him, wouldn’t He help me to find a way to do so, even with all that hand-clapping and banjo picking?

The next week, I decided to take the “cultural experience” attitude, which meant I stopped complaining and instead attempted to find something to appreciate in the musical style. And while I didn’t start to actually like the music, I was able to appreciate a few aspects that I hadn’t noticed before. There was a joy in the music. People smiled a bit more. Psalm 100:2 (NIV) says, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” And I supposed even country western qualified.

Over the following weeks, I learned a few tricks, some simple, some silly, that helped me focus on God even in the midst of the hoe-down.

First, I determined that I would utter not one more word of complaint. Griping had done nothing but harden my heart.

I purposefully began looking for aspects of God that became clearer through certain types of music. During hand-clapping choruses, I thought about the joy God brings. During hymns, I focused on God’s holiness, his majesty, the wonder of His presence. With slower songs, His love for me was often central.

I began to pray before the service that I’d somehow see God in a clearer way through the worship time.

On the way to church, I read a psalm aloud and spent a few minutes meditating on what it said about God.

On Saturday nights, I started to spend a short time listening to music I liked and singing along. Having this private worship time with a music style I preferred helped me be more flexible on Sundays.

During corporate worship, I started to sing “you” instead of “him” or “he” to remind myself that I was singing to God.

For songs I really didn’t like, I used the time for silent prayer, or I changed the words and quietly sang “holy, holy, holy, is the Lamb on the throne,” or “thank you Jesus,” or something else that meant something to me.

Bryan and I changed seats. I sat behind tall people so I wouldn’t be distracted by that huge, white hat.

And if all else failed, I closed my eyes or focused on something (like the cross at the front of the church) that helped me think about God and meditate what he’s done for me in Jesus.

Over time, I’ve found that it’s getting easier to find God and worship him in whatever style of music I encounter. And I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that our worship leader is getting a little less “Dolly.” Sometimes, I even catch her worshipping too. But I have to admit, I still don’t like that hat.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Parking Lot Prayers

Hi Friends,

I've been thinking a lot about prayer lately, especially as I've been hollering out to God for help and mercy during the especially-awful periods of kidney-stone pain. And to tell you the truth, screaming prayers for relief didn't seem to be answered as I would have liked. The pain kept on, often getting much worse before cycling back to bearable.

So, as I've been thinking about help-prayers, and desperation-prayers, and convenience-prayers, I'm reminded of something that happened not so long ago. It went like this:

Rain, like the thundering of a mighty army, pounded on my windshield and drummed over the roof of my Ford Explorer. Puddles danced along the roadside as fat droplets plunged from the sky. I shivered and turned the wipers on high. The squeak of rubber on glass shot through my nerves. I squinted and leaned forward. There! The entrance to the grocery store parking lot loomed in front of me.

I sneezed as I guided my car into the lot and between two long rows of cars. It had been a bad day already. The milk had spoiled, I’d forgotten my umbrella, and now I felt a cold coming on. And worse yet, the parking lot was full. The last thing I needed was to get soaked on my way into the store. “Oh God, please find me a parking space up close,” I prayed. “I don’t want to get all wet.”

I had scarcely finished my prayer when red taillights flashed in front of me. There, at the front of the row, a tiny VW Bug was pulling from a prime spot. “Thanks, God,” I sighed and stepped on the accelerator. But before I could reach the empty space, a pea-green pick-up zipped around the corner and into my spot. I slammed on the brakes and threw up my hands as a man in his forties jumped from the truck, pulled up his jacket’s hood, and ran toward the store. He didn’t even glance my way.

A few choice words skittered through my mind as I stepped on the gas pedal and began a slow crawl through the rows of cars. Up and down, back and forth I went, each row taking me further from the sheltered front door of Nob Hill Foods.

Eventually, I gave up and parked on the far edge of the lot. Huge droplets splashed on my glasses as I open the car door and stepped out. I hunched my shoulders and raced toward the store. By the time I got there, my coat was soaked, my shoes soggy, and my hair straggled down my forehead like tiny tributaries racing toward the sea.

As I headed up the fruit aisle, irritation surged through me. Why couldn’t God just answer my prayer? If the God of the universe couldn’t even find me simple parking space, how was I to trust him with my larger hopes and dreams? After all, it was such a small request!

After a few minutes in the store, followed by another mad dash back to my car, I arrived home wet and grumpy. Slowly, I unpacked the groceries for our evening meal - Pre-made salad, pre-cut vegetables, pre-marinated steaks, and a bottle of sparkling cider. I stared at the items - convenience items, all of them, things to make my meal preparation faster and easier.

As I put the steak in the refrigerator, it occurred to me that my recent prayers had been a lot like my groceries. They were convenience prayers - quick requests to make my life easier. As my days had grown more complicated, as the pace of life increased, I’d begun to just pray for my immediate needs and wants. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d prayed for God to make my heart more like His, or to help me to see His will in my life, or to show me what it meant to love Him more and more. Somehow, in the busyness of life, I’d forgotten the greater things of God. Had I been asking for pre-cut veggies when God had a banquet in mind?

James’ admonition struck my heart, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3, NIV).

Perhaps my prayers had become too much about me and what I wanted. In the next few minutes, with my refrigerator door half open and a cold piece of meat in my hand, God reminded me of what he offers me – not a parking spot close to the store, but place close to His heart. And that was far better than dry shoes and a coat.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Surgery is Over

Hi Friends,

Just a quick personal update - had surgery yesterday for those awful kidney stones and they came out just fine. Recovery is tough, but not so tough as all the pain caused by those awful stones. Got stints put in, but they'll come out next week. Also, baby boy did fine through it all and drank out of a bottle when needed. I was able to nurse him again by the evening, so that was good.

So, eventually, I should be feeling like a normal human being again. It seems like it's been a long time! Thanks for all your prayers!

Meanwhile, be watching for new website features on my website (hopefully they'll be up by next Friday or so) next week, in preparation for the release of my next novel: IF TOMORROW NEVER COMES. So, keep an eye out!

:-) Marlo

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kidney Boulders

Hi Friends,

Thanks to those of you who have been praying for me with the kidney stone issue that started last Sunday. Today, I got the results back from my cat scan – a HUGE 14mm kidney stone on my left side (that’s the side that’s been hurting so badly) and probably another 11mm stone on the right side. These are massive stones. No wonder I’ve been hating it. And there they are, stuck. So, surgery for me. Not sure when yet as the scheduling gal hasn’t called. I hope soon because this pain is no fun at all.

So, I’d really appreciate yours prayers for:
1) Surgery sooner rather than later.
2) Surgery to go well and the stones to break up and pass and not sneak back up into the kidney (that would be bad)
3) For the doc not to have to put stints into my tubes (he won’t decide until he gets in there)
4) If he does do stints, for them not to be a problem (half the time they cause problems for the patients – I’m not liking those odds!)
5) For me to figure out how to keep baby Jayden (coming up on 6 weeks old) fed during all this, while protecting my milk supply. Sigh.

So, that's the latest. Hopefully I'll have something more interesting to post later in the week!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Falling Apart

Hi Friends,

Well, I'm still hurting from my probable kidney stone incident on Sunday. Tomorrow I have a doc appointment, so we'll see if more is going on than just the kidney stone or what. So, I've spent this week so far trying to manage pain and figure out how to get by. I've not written the article that's due on Monday, not written my book that's due April 1, not worked on business taxes that are due at month's end, not put away Christmas decorations, not cleaned out my files for 2008 ... not done a single thing on my to-do list of very-important-things-to-do.

So, while bemoaning that fact and trying to figure out how to make the pain be less painful, I've remembered a story from college. And I'm thinking that maybe this story has something to say to me now, and maybe will be helpful to some of you as well. It's certainly something I'm thinking about as I'm falling apart this week.

Here it is:

It was my first new bike ever. A beautiful apple-red mountain bike, with a shiny black seat and real, honest-to-goodness gears. Not many gears, but gears all the same. Unfortunately, it was also the cheapest new bike I could find. In the weeks before heading off to college, I had scoured the newspaper ads to find the very lowest price for a new bike. Eventually, I found it.

I didn’t realize my mistake until a few months later when I was late to Chemistry class. I pedaled hard up the last hill. Gears crunched, wheels turned, my backpack slipped sideways on my shoulder. Then, it happened. With a sharp crack, followed by a loud clunk, the left pedal broke and fell off my bike. I swerved off the path, brushed against a tall pine, and finally crunched into an old wooden bench. I looked down at the spot where the pedal should have been and at the fresh smear of grease on my pantleg.

Then, I propped the bike against the bench and went back to retrieve the pedal. Surely I could just stick it back on, or screw it in, or do something to make it stay put. But it wasn’t that easy. With the right tool, and a couple small parts, the pedal could be fixed. But that didn’t help me now, on the side of the bike path, five minutes late to Chemistry 101.

So, I popped the pedal into a pouch in my backpack, climbed back on the shiny black seat, pointed the bike in the right direction, and pushed my foot against the one pedal that was left. After two wobbly revolutions of the wheels, I quit. Trying to ride a bike with only one pedal was not only impractical, it was impossible. The bike was still apple red, the seat still shiny, the gears still working as they should. Everything was just right, except for the one missing pedal. But that’s all it took for the whole bike to be useless for its purpose. So, there I was, with a perfectly good bike, minus one pedal, walking to class and pushing the bike beside me.

I learned two valuable lessons that day: First, cheapest is not always best. And second, more importantly, both pedals need to be attached for a bike to go.

The second lesson has come back to me often over the years since college. I don’t ride a bike much anymore, but there still have been plenty of times when my daily life seemed to be veering off the path and heading toward the pines. When, no matter how hard I was trying to pedal uphill, I just couldn’t get things to work. And in those times, most of my life still looked right – the shiny parts were still shiny, the gears still worked as they should. But something had gotten lost or loosened along the way. Something had to be fixed before my life could pedal up the straight path again.

Sometimes that something was a relationship that needed mending, or a habit that had to be changed. Sometimes it was fear replacing faith, or a hidden anger that things hadn’t gone as I’d hoped. Most often, something had gone awry spiritually. I was too busy to take the time needed to maintain an intimate relationship with God. So, the pedal of trust grew loose and my life wobbled into the trees. When that happens, I’ve found that I need to stop trying to push forward, get off the bike for a moment, and see what’s wrong. Then, it’s time to ask God to repair my broken parts and make me whole.

In those times, I often pray the words of Psalm 51:10-12 (NIV): “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

And God is more than willing to replace my pedals and help me back onto the path He’s chosen for me. This week, I hope that will happen soon!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Please Pray & Elvis Takes a Back Seat by Leanna Ellis

Hi Friends,

Well, I spent all night last night passing a kidney stone - OUCH. So, that on top of the Vikings loss made yesterday not such a good day. :-(

Then this morning I talked to a broadcasting person at Focus on the Family on the topic of infertility (wow, do I know a lot about that!). We were wanting to see if I might be able to meet some of their broadcasting needs, in conjunction with an article that they've already accepted and scheduled for print in the magazine for April. So, anyway, all prayers appreciated!

Meanwhile, I have another book to tell you about this week, and here it is:

Elvis Takes a Back Seat
January 2008
B&H Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-8054-4696-8

A young widow, determined to fulfill her husband’s last request, hauls a three foot bust of Elvis strapped in the back seat of a vintage Cadillac from Texas to Memphis to return it to its rightful owner. The road trip with her eccentric aunt, who knew the King of Rock n’ Roll, and a temperamental teen, hits roadblocks and detours as the three women uncover pieces of their own past along with the bust’s mysterious history. The discoveries change the course of their lives forever.

Winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award and Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award, Leanna Ellis writes women’s fiction for B&H Publishing. Her latest book, Lookin’ Back, Texas will be released September 2008. Visit her website at http://leannaellis.com.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year! & Baby Picture

Hi Friends,

Today I want to wish you a HAPPY NEW YEAR filled with the wonder of God's love for you. May you see Him in new ways in 2009 and plumb new depths of awe in Him! May God bless your 2009 with fresh beauty!

And now, here's a prayer that I and my church family are praying for 2009. Maybe you would like to pray this for yourself as well:

"Father, thank You for another year. I commit this year to You and ask You to help me always see how You are using the circumstances of my life to make me more like Your Son. Help me to see all of my life from Your vantage point. Give me a strong desire to live not just for temporary resolutions but eternal goals. I want to bring Your kingdom into my little corner of the world - in my family, my school, my workplace, my friendships, and in my church. Help me to see where You are already working and jump in to serve alongside You with joy."

And last, but not least, baby boy is now 4 weeks old (where did that month go??), so here's the latest picture of him (Note: That's Jayna holding the plastic frog up to his head for the picture - ha!):