Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Newsletter

Hi Friends,

If you missed my Christmas e-Newsletter, you can find it here:

Here's a snippet from the newsletter:

Here's an excerpt from WRESTLING WITH WONDER from the chapter on the birth of Jesus. . .

The angel’s words to the shepherds echo down through the centuries to us.  God whispers, “You will find a Him wrapped in cloths and lying in a feedi
ng trough.” (Luke 2:12)  Because Jesus is born where life stinks.  He comes to us not in our palaces but in the stinky, smelly, dirty, unadorned places in life.  And there, only there, do we discover something deep and wondrous about the God we follow.  We discover that He is the God who takes our life-yuck and transforms it.  He takes the places in life where nothing is as we wanted it to be and makes them the very place we encounter the Messiah born in us.

In life’s stink, mess, noise, dirt, and poking straw . . .
--He is the God of Stink 
--He is the God of Mess
--He is the God of Noise 
--He is the God of Dirt 
--He is the God of Discomfort
--He is the God of the Barn ...
This is real God -- born in the stink, in the noise, in the places that are not as they should be.  Born to transform them in you, in me.
So, come, the angels are singing.  God is calling.  You will find Me in the stable . . .

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reaching for a Christmas Bulb

Hi Friends,

I've decorated the lower half of our Christmas tree about ten times this week (oh, the joy of plucking off ornaments and running off with them, stuffing them under the couch, hanging them on our ears . . .).  And as I diligently re-hang the gold pinecones, the plastic sleighs, the cloth snowmen, I remember this story that happened when Bethany was a baby (and pretty much recurs every year . . . this year, with Jordyn).

So, if you're wondering why God is not giving you all the bright, shiny things you're praying for, maybe this will help.  Read on . . . 

My one-year-old daughter stood on her tiptoes and reached for a glass bulb halfway up the Christmas tree. Her fingers wiggled as she struggled to grab the bright red orb.

I leaned back on the couch and shook my head. The tree looked silly this year, with the lights and bulbs reaching only partially down the branches. Everything glass I had carefully hung out of the reach of tiny hands. Other decorations were placed differently this year as well. The ceramic old-fashioned Santa was now on top of the bookcase. The green candles sat high on a shelf. And the coffee table, usually decorated with my Precious Moments nativity, was completely bare. Instead the Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, and the wise men crowded on top of the television on some cotton “snow.”

But none of those things interested Bethany now. All that mattered was to get her hands on that beautiful, shiny ball that hung just beyond her fingertips. With a grunt she reached higher, then toppled backward.

“Waaaaa!” came her frustrated cry. She pointed to the bulb, looked at me, then let out another indignant shriek.

“No, Bethany, you can’t have that.”

Her lower lip trembled. Great tears welled in her eyes and tumbled down her cheeks. She pointed at the bulb again. “Ma-ma-ma-ma-maaaa…”

“No,” I repeated. “It’s not for you.”

She pushed herself to a standing position, stomped her feet, and cried all the louder.

I handed her a stuffed reindeer.

She promptly threw it on the floor.

I sighed, picked her up, and took her to her crib. A few minutes there and she’d remember how to be a good girl and take “no” for an answer.

I returned to the family room and glanced at the offending bulb. It really was beautiful, with swirls of deep red and a two silver stripes made of glitter. I removed it from the branch and held it in my hand. In a few years, Bethany would not only be able to touch this bulb, but she’d probably be helping me to place it on the tree. But for now she wasn’t ready. I’d heard stories of babies breaking ornaments and putting the shards in their mouths. Just the thought made me shiver. Bethany, however, didn’t understand that she wasn’t old enough to be trusted with a glass bulb. To her, it was something good, something desirable. So, why would I not allow her to have it?

I turned the bulb over and place it on the back of the tree, even further out of Bethany’s reach. Then, I went to get her from her crib. As I did, I realized my daughter’s actions weren’t so different from my own. I, too, stomped my feet and cried when God didn’t give me the good things that I wanted. I thought about the new book contract I was praying for, my hopes for new members for our small church, the house we’d put an offer on but weren’t able to buy. Good things, all of them, as good as a shiny red Christmas bulb. But for me too, these bulbs were just out of reach.

As I put Bethany on the floor to play with the stuffed reindeer, I wondered if God was also saying to me, “You’re not ready yet. Wait.” What if He was simply letting me “grow up” a bit before he gave me the good things that I wanted? If so, I needed to focus on growing in him, and trusting him to know what’s best for me in this particular place in my life.

For me, like Bethany, that’s been a difficult thing to do. It’s hard to trust. But God says to me, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV) And so, when those good things I want are just out of reach, I have to remind myself, sometimes it’s right to wait. Sometimes, I may just need to grow up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Where is Your Heart This Christmas?

Hi Friends,

As I begin to prepare my heart for Christmas, and also write the chapter of my new book on Mary that looks at the birth in the barn, I consider this:
I am reminded of this:

Jesus is not born in our pastel palaces ... He is born in our life-barns -- in the stink, in the noise, in the places that are not as they should be.  Look for Him there.

And I am also considering the message of this poem that I wrote a few years ago -- where am I, where is my heart and focus, this Christmas?


Where was I
When the King was born?
Was I at the inn,
Too crowded for Him,
With packages, boxes, and bags?

Where was I 
When God became man?
Tending sheep far away,
Lest one go astray,
Blind to even the angels?

Where was I
When Christ first wept?
Was I on the road,
Rushing to and fro,
Too busy to notice the star?

Where am I
This Christmastide?
Am I in the stall,
Forsaking all,
To worship the King of kings?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's Wound Around Your Soul?

Hi Friends,

This week I've been thinking about the consequences of having the things of the world wrapped too tightly around my heart.  When life doesn't meed my expectations, when I face loss, when I'm afraid . . .  I wonder if that's God telling me that He wants to set me free.  

And as I pondered, I was reminded of this story:

A breeze drifted through the open window and settled into the nooks of my living room.  Outside, twilight deepened into a velvet night. The soft symphony of crickets mixed with the far-off rumble of a delivery truck and the gentle rustle of oak leaves in the wind.

I sighed and settled back into my chair.  The kids lay snuggled in bed, the dishes were dried and put away, the laundry folded, the toys picked up.  There was nothing left to do except relax with my tall glass of lemonade and listen to the quiet sounds of the night.


A high-pitched shriek tore through the crickets’ symphony, steamrolled the rumble of trucks, and blasted across the rustle of leaves.

It didn’t stop.

I jumped out of my chair and raced upstairs to my daughter’s room.  The screams grew louder.  I flicked on the light.  

There sat Bria, yelling at the top of her voice, her covers thrown aside, her hands clutching one foot.

“What’s wrong?”  I hollered to be heard over the ruckus.


“Is it a bug?”


“What is it?”

She pulled in a rattling breath.  “My toe!”

I rushed over to the bed and grabbed her foot.  Her big toe was bright purple, with a skinny, elastic hairband wrapped tightly around it.  I slipped a fingernail under the band, snapped it in half, and pulled it off.  The screams settled into deep sobs.

I threw hairband away then sat on Bria’s bed with her foot in my lap.  “What happened?”

She sniffed and rubbed at her nose.  “P-put it around my toe.”  She drew a shuddering breath.  “Went to sleep.  Then, then, then –“

“Then woke up with it feeling like it was going to burst, right?”

She nodded and sucked in another quavering sob.

I rubbed her toe gently with my fingers.  “That’s why I tell you that you shouldn’t ever wrap things around your skin like that.  By morning your toe could have fallen right off.”

Her eyes grew wide.  “Really?”

The hairband cut off the blood supply that keeps your toe alive.”  I kept massaging the purple-turning-back-to-red appendage.  

“Is it going to be all right? It still hurts.”

“It’ll throb for a while, but it will be fine.  Now don’t ever do that again.”

Her lips trembled.  “I won’t.”

I smiled and hugged her.  “It’s a good thing it hurt so bad.”

“I don’t like to hurt.”

“No, but it woke you up and let you know that something was wrong.  If it hadn’t hurt, you wouldn’t have known that you were cutting off the blood supply.”

“I guess hurting isn’t so bad then, huh?”

I laughed.  “I guess not, even though it doesn’t feel that way.”

As I tucked Bria back into bed, I thought about how pain isn’t pleasant, but it’s often a good warning.   For Bria, and for us, it can be a wake-up call telling us that something’s not right, something is wound too tightly around us, cutting off the life-flow from God.  In that case, pain is gift.

Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:18-20, NIV)

When we allow our hearts to be bound by earthly things – jobs, relationships, money, possessions, positions, titles – those things, though not bad, will squeeze the life from us if we let them twist around and take God’s place in our lives. Then, worry, fear of loss, or the inevitable disappointment when our earthly treasures don’t bring the contentment and joy we believed they would bring end up choking us and causing pain.

They make us hurt, and the only remedy is to allow God to pull the hairband from around our toes – to loosen the grip of the thing that’s wound itself around us.  Sometimes that means loss.  Sometimes it means breaking a hairband and throwing it away.  Always it means we have to keep crying out to God until He sets us free from whatever has bound us.

So if a shriek of pain interrupts the quiet of your life, call out to God to break whatever hairband has wrapped itself around your heart.  Ask Him to help you store up treasures in heaven, where the blood supply is never cut off by bits of elastic stretched too tight.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Strange Thing about Giving Thanks

Hi Friends,

We'll be having 24 people here for Thanksgiving tomorrow, so I've been cleaning out a few areas.  Today I discovered a sheet of paper titled "2011 Thanks" that lists a bunch of things our family was thankful for in 2011 (we'll probably make a similar list this year).

Here's a small sampling of the things we were thankful for last year:

--Grandma Noma's recovery
--The kittens
--Getting Mugsy
--Bethany's room
--Ruby learning to trust Joelle
--A new school for the girls
--Bethany and Rusty's gymkhana improvement

As I read through the list, it struck me how very many of the things we were thankful for started with something hard, difficult, scary, or unpleasant.  For example:

--Grandma Noma's recovery started with her being very, very sick, having several surgeries, and a lot of concern when things seemed to be going from bad to worse.
--Getting the kittens started with a pregnant stray cat showing up on our doorstep
--Adopting Mugsy started with him being born in a feedlot, with he and his mother about to be shipped off for horse slaughter.
--Bethany's new room came about because we simply didn't have any more room to put kids and had to convert a loft area on top of the bathroom (!)
--Before Ruby learned to trust Joelle, she was bucking her off
--The girls went to a new school because the previous school decided not to have kindergarten anymore, so we had to figure something out for the twins
--When Bethany and Rusty first started gymkhana, Rusty was terrible at it.  He mostly refused to do the patterns and they often got last place.  It took a lot of time and work to get him running fast and well as he does now.

How strange that the things we were thankful for began with things we weren't happy about at all.  And I wonder if life is often like that.  I think about those things that seem like THE WORST THING EVER or EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what I want.  Maybe God is on the verge of transforming them, too, into things that I'll be giving thanks for next year.  Maybe next year, those things will top our list.

So, I think this year as I focus on thanksgiving, I'll take a new look at the things in my life that I feel the least thankful for.  I think I'll look at them in a new light.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll let myself be a little grateful for how God will work in those very things in the coming year.

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Life Not All You Expected? Read This Excerpt!

Hi Friends,

I've been working on the second chapter of Wrestling With Wonder, my nonfiction book about Mary's journey with God.  This week, I'm thinking about how Jesus fulfills all the promises of the Old Testament and at the same time shatters the expectations that came with those promises.  I've been thinking about how He keeps His promises in our lives, and yet our lives don't match up with our expectations of what ought-to-be either.

God is both the Promise-Maker and also the Expectation-Breaker.  And I find that paradigm explains a lot of the disappointments and doubts that I have in life.  And it helps me to know, in times of darkness and confusion, that God is faithful, but my expectations of life are not his priority.

Here's a little blurb from the rough-rough-rough draft of chapter 2 that I'm thinking through -- what I learned in Bria's baptism and what life is really supposed to be like . . .


What do we do when what we know is true clashes with our expectations? We glimpse God’s dream for us, we surrender our own, and then our expectations paint a glorious picture of everything wondrous that life will be.

Except it isn’t.

But wait a minute! We believed. We surrendered. We know what is true. And yet life looks nothing like we thought it would.

What then? What do you do when truth and expectation conflict?

For me, it’s been an ongoing battle, one that God brought to mind again recently when my my seven-year-old twins were baptized. The water sparkled as brightly as their eyes as they crossed their arms, plugged their nose, and prepared for the moment of submersion. Each were a little scared, a little nervous, but eager to commit their whole lives, surrender their whole selves, to their Savior. It was beautiful moment, a beautiful decision, and their faces glowed with the wonder of it.

Afterward, one of our pastors leaned over and looked into little Bria’s eyes. “Do you think it will be easier to follow Jesus now?”

A grin split her face. “Oh, yes!” She said the words with such enthusiasm, her voice alight with the wonder, the hope, the expectation of a songs-and-daisies walk with her Lord.

It broke my heart.

Because yes, it is easier to follow Jesus when you’re fully committed to him. It’s easy to grasp the hope and wonder when you’ve obeyed, when your heart is His. It’s easier. And yet, it’s not.

Because I know enough of the road ahead to see that her life with God won’t be all songs-and-daisies. Even though I’m sure that Jesus loves her deeply, that He died and rose again so that she might live with Him, I know that life won’t look anything like she expects. It won’t even look as I expect for her.

It will be filled with some glorious moments, some moments when Jesus is so clear, so vibrant that her faith with soar. But, it will also be filled with other moments, moments of confusion, heartache, when Jesus looks nothing like she expected him to be.

There will be times she weeps and wonders why God hasn’t intervened like she believed he would. There will be days of intense doubt, heartbreaking disappointment, broken despair. There will be seasons when her walk with God is anything but easy.

I know all this because I learned that lesson myself. I learned it the hard way. I know, because I’ve been to the mountaintop where I look out on life and see the breathtaking wonder of God in my life and see it shimmering with nothing but joy. And I’ve been to the valley, to the dark places, where I cannot seem to see at all. Where Jesus is unrecognizable, where my expectations lay in tattered ruins at my feet, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find a way to believe again.

I know what it’s like to look for God and see only shadows, to choke on songs of praise that I once sung so easily, to sit in a crumbled heap with the bits of my belief slipping through trembling hands.

I know what it’s like to know all the right things, to proclaim them, and still wail in the darkness ... because expectations have betrayed me.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

When Times are Tough ... Do Right Anyway

Hi Friends,

Last week Bryan and I participated in a "Hungry for Change" eating experience in which we ate rice, beans, and oatmeal for 5 days in order to identify with what much of the poor of the world eats (or doesn't eat) every day.  In doing that, I began to think about how God wants us to respond when times are tough, and I thought about the widow in 1 Kings 17.  Below are some thoughts that I think apply to us whether no matter what kind of tough times we face.  God asks us to give, to be generous, to not "pull in" and look out for number one, but to open ourselves to the needs of others.

But what does that look like in real life?  How does it apply in all kinds of tough times?  I think the story of Elijah and the widow from 1 Kings 17:7-24 can shed some valuable light.  

In 1 Kings 17 (NIV), Elijah tells King Ahab that there will be no dew or rain for the next few years, except by Elijah’s word.  The lack of rain causes a drought, which causes a famine.  Hard times, indeed. 

When Elijah’s brook dries up, God sends him to Zarephath, a town on the Mediterranean, outside of Israelite territory.  There, he meets a widow, the poorest of all society, and asks her for water and bread.  

She responds, "I don't have any bread-- only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it-- and die." (v. 12)  She has nothing saved up, so how can she be expected to give to Elijah?  Surely God would want her to take care of her child first.  

Yet, Elijah says to her, “Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.”  (v. 13)  He asks her to serve first, before she takes care of herself and her son.  He asks her to believe that God’s word is true not only in good times, but especially in bad ones

And the widow, despite her circumstances, despite the fact that she’s a Gentile and he’s a Jew, chooses to serve.  The Bible tells us, “She went away and did as Elijah had told her.” (v. 15)  She chooses to not worry about tomorrow but obey for today, before she sees God’s provision.   Only after she obeys do we discover that, “there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.” (v. 15) 

Like the widow, God also asks us to serve first, even in hard times.  So, what might this look like for us? 

First, like the widow and Elijah, instead of pulling back, we can seek to invest more deeply in relationships.  In our personal lives, we can invite more people over to share meals, share times of entertainment, and give our time more freely to help others in our areas of expertise.   Can you help solve someone’s computer problems?  Can you help clean their house?  Can you advise them with financial issues?  How can you use your particular skills to serve others?  

In tough times, God calls us not draw back into ourselves, but to give more, care more, and invest more in relationships with those around us.  He calls us not to worry about tomorrow, but instead to love our neighbors as ourselves, to put others first.  Only then will we have the opportunity for our oil to be replenished by God Himself.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Embracing the Impossible Dream - A Word from Mary's Story

Hi Friends,

I'm sitting here in Starbucks working on the new book about Mary, Jesus' mom, WRESTLING WITH WONDER.  I am amazed at how deeply her story speaks into my life (and hopefully will speak into yours!).  By looking at God through her eyes, I'm seeing Him more clearly, and in more surprising ways, in mine.  

So, I thought it would be fun (and hopefully encouraging for you!) to share a short excerpt from chapter one.  If God is calling you deeper, if you want more of Him in your everyday life, then read on . . .

“Nothing is impossible with God,” Gabriel says, echoing the words of the angel to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18:14 (NIV):  “Is anything too hard for the LORD.”  God kept his promise to a long-barren couple and so the nation of Israel was born.  He will keep his promise to Mary as well.  And to you. And me.

And Christ will be born in our lives, in our circumstances, in our every-day encounters.  Because Gabriel literally says, “For every word will not be impossible with God.” Every word.  That means everything God says, everything he plans, everything he dreams, is now possible.  Even a nation being born from a barren woman.  Even a young virgin giving birth to the savior of the world in a backwoods, out-of-the-way village in Galilee.  Even God transforming your everyday, sometimes-boring, sometimes messed-up, sometimes-confusing and frustrating and doubting and imperfect life into something amazing, for his glory.

God has revealed himself to Mary, and also to us.  He is the God of the impossible, he always has been.  He is the God who calls us to joy, to abandon fear, to release our dreams to embrace his.  

So what will be our answer?  Mary’s was a resounding, “Yes!”  “I am the Lord’s slave,” she said.  “May it be done to me according to your word.”  She proclaimed herself fully belonging to God - his slave, his servant, his handmaiden, one with no rights of her own, no separate life, no eight-to-five job and the rest of her time was her own.  She chose to be a person who fully, wholly, belonged to her Master.  

She surrendered.  And she didn’t need great understanding, or to have everything all figured out, or to see God’s plan from beginning to end.  She had no idea what her surrender would really mean.  She didn’t know it would lead to a manger, to a cross.  But she did know that God called her to lay down her dreams, her plans, in order to embrace His. 

Will you lay down your plans too?  Will you embrace the wild, impossible dream God has for you?  Will you surrender?  Do you dare . . .

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Good News! A New Book!

Hi Friends,

I just got off the phone with my agent, Steve Laube, who was telling me that Zondervan Publishers is very excited to publish my new nonfiction book, Wrestling With Wonder (the book that will take a deep look at the life of Mary, Jesus' mother, to explore the character of God and His workings in our lives).

I AM SO EXCITED to be writing this book under contract and partnering with a company who seems to have caught the vision for it.  YAY!

Anyway, I just had to share the good news and ask you to be praying for me over the next 10 months as I write this book.  God has given me such a beautiful vision for what this book could be, so I'd ask for you to pray that I will find the words and those deep truths that God wants me to express, and then express them in a way that touches hearts and minds in a real way.  And pray for the insights, the time to write, the connection I need with God to make this book come to life.  Thank you!!!

Meanwhile, here's a bit from the book's proposal so you can see what it's supposed to be about:

The life we live is not the life we dreamed.  Instead the dreams, dresses, and dances are swallowed by difficulties, disappointments, and doubts.  Where is God’s favor then?  What does His favor even mean?

For Mary, the mother of Jesus, it meant an unexpected pregnancy, a difficult journey, a son she didn’t understand, and a moment at the foot of the cross that was so dark, so terrible, that it takes our breath away.  For her, it meant a life that didn’t make sense, but did make her into the woman she was always meant to be - the mother of our Savior.  Only through hardship could she become the woman she was created to be.  It’s no different for us.

Because Mary shows us God -- Passionate, breath-taking, and unpredictable...

Who is this God?  For us, like Mary, His favor isn’t about our happiness.  It isn’t about a life of ease, of every-prayer-answered as we expect, or easy faith.  It’s about His tireless commitment to make us into the unique creation that He envisions us to be.  It’s about standing at the foot of the cross and seeing our dreams die so that His dreams can come to life.  It’s about finding Him and being amazed.

Mary’s story illuminates all of our stories because it shows us the depth and purposes of a God who is often not who we expected Him to be.  By traveling with her through the pages of this book, readers will find their perspective transformed from discouragement to hope, from fear to deep joy.  By wrestling with wonder from the manger to the cross, they will find a God who takes their breath away ... even, and especially, in those moments when life seems to have gone awry.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Walking in the Dark

Hi Friends,

These last few weeks for me have been a strange contrast of darkness and light, confusion and clarity, discouragement and hope.  And as I've faced each extreme, I've been pondering what it means, in a practical sense, to place my hope fully in GOD -- not in circumstances, not in these ups and downs, not in trying to make sense of things that don't make sense.  I've been thinking of what it means to walk in hope and light even when life is discouraging and dark.

And while I've pondered and grown in my understanding, I found this story that happened a few years ago to be helpful in my journey.  I hope you'll find it useful too as you walk in whatever darkness is before you, and learned to trust the light even in the dark.

It happened like this:

The house shuddered. The wind rattled against the windows. Outside, lightning flashed against a pitch-black sky. I huddled beneath my blanket and flipped the television station to the news.

The TV flickered.

So did the lights.

Then, everything went dark.

My husband, Bryan, shifted in his chair. “Power’s out.” He got up and turned the television to “off.” Then he flipped the light switches. “Guess we should just head to bed. Good thing we got ready early.”

I gripped by blanket tighter and squinted into the darkness. I could almost make out the outline of his chair. “Do you have a flashlight over there?”

“What for?”

I huffed. “So I can see where I’m going between here and our room, of course.”

Bryan sighed. “Come on. Just get up and go. It’s not that far.”

“But it’s dark.”

“You should be able to get between here and there with your eyes closed.”

“Yeah, but…”


I tossed aside the blanket and stood up. But the shadows didn’t become any lighter, or clearer. “Oh, okay, you’re right.” After all, I told myself, I’d walked between here and the bedroom hundreds of times before. Still, I wished there had been a little more light.

I took a step forward, then another. A moment later, I navigated around the coffee table, around a chair, through the doorway, skirted the dresser, and reached my side of the bed.

Bryan was already on his side. I could sense him grinning in the darkness. “See, told ya.”

I crawled into bed then glanced back into the shadows. I could nearly see the outline of the dresser, but not the chair on the far side of the door. There, it was completely black. And yet, I’d walked that distance without running into the furniture or stubbing my toe or hitting a wall. Bryan was right. I’d been able to cross the distance not because I could see, but because I’d been that way before. Because I remembered in the dark what I had seen in the light.

As I lay there in bed, listening to the thunder, I thought about how walking through my home in a power outage is similar to walking through the dark times of life. There are times life when I just can’t see what’s ahead. When life gets dark and confusing. Jobs change. Kids move out. Tragedy strikes. Friendships crumble. Doubts rise. Fears whisper. Choices present themselves. And I know I must move forward, but I can’t see the way.

It’s at those times that I need to remember that even if I haven’t faced these exact circumstances, I have walked this way before. I’ve seen God’s love, mercy, guidance, truth in the light. I’ve known I can trust Him. I’ve believed He will lead me aright. There have been times when doubts didn’t rage, when I saw prayers answered, and gifts of His love to me in my everyday life.

I’ve walked through darkness before too. And I’ve seen that He is faithful, that He won’t leave me or forsake me, and that not even doubt, darkness, or confusion can separate me from the love of God. 

Perhaps that’s why Hebrews 10:32 (NIV) says, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.” The Hebrew writer calls readers to remember both the light and how they stood fast despite the darkness So, too, we are called to remember God’s truth in our own lives, and how He has been faithful to us when we faced times of trial. He has helped us find our way before, when the lights went out.

So now when I face times of confusion and darkness, I remind myself that if walked this way before, and I can navigate through if only I remember in the darkness what I saw in the light. If only I remember that God has brought me through “lights out” times before. And of course, it helps to recall that the power won’t stay out forever … before too long, the lights will come on again.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why God Values Your Life Even When It's a Mess

Hi Friends,

I was talking to a friend last night about what it means to surrender our lives to God -- and how that surrendered life doesn't always look like we might expect.  To give our lives to God may mean our life becomes this crazy, unpredictable thing that may seem a mess to ourselves or to others walking by.  We may be sent to the "valley of the shadow of death."  Our lives may not look like "victory" but like incredible defeat.  Life may be filled with loss or confusion or pain, or a whole lot of doubt.  

And as I was thinking about the surrendered life as a gift to God, I remembered a story I shared before, a story about pictures on the frig.  And it reminded me that no matter how ugly our lives (our "pictures") may seem to us, God values them so highly.  We are not expendable.  We are not "throw away" ... even when He doesn't come in and make our  pictures look pretty from the outside.  In the mess, He counts us as precious, and makes us His own.  We are His, and that changes everything.

Anyway, here's the story of pictures on the frig.  I hope it will encourage you as it encouraged me, to remember how God sees you, how he values you and your life surrendered to him ... even in the darkest, messiest, most painful times:

I’d heard it a dozen times before.  “Give your life to God!  Surrender!”  And that Sunday, the message our pastor proclaimed was no different.  I leaned back and thought about how glad I was that I had given myself to God and how I wanted to make my life a gift to him every day.  But then, something new struck me, something I hadn’t dwelt on before.  

I thought about the songs we’d sung earlier – songs about the grandness of the God of the universe, about His majesty, His holiness, the wonder of His presence.  And as I thought about the glory of God, the value of my one, puny, rather unimpressive life seemed like a poor gift indeed.  After all, I was no Billy Graham, no President of the United States, no great mover-and-shaker of the world around me.  I was just plain ol’ me, with no extraordinary accomplishments, no fancy resume, nothing to make my life seem a worthy gift to so great a God.  Did God really care if I gave my life to him?  Did it really matter after all?

My thoughts troubled me as the service ended and I slipped out to pick up my nearly-three-year-old daughter from Sunday School.  A dozen small bodies wiggled from the classroom and darted down the hall toward me.  Among them was Bethany.  As soon as she saw me, she let out a squeal and waved a piece of yellow construction paper over her head.  

“Mommy, mommy, look!” she cried as she hurled herself toward me.  

The other kids rushed past like a river at flood-stage.  Bethany crashed into my legs, then hugged me around the knees.  A moment later, she giggled and shoved the construction paper into my hands.  “For you, Mommy.  My make picture for you.”

She smiled up at me with wide eyes framed by curly, wheat-colored hair, and my heart melted.  I knelt beside her.  “For me?”

“It’s a present.”  

I held her close and looked down at the construction paper.  Red and blue crayon marks formed lopsided circles that listed off to the right bottom corner of the page.  A black smear marred the upper corner, and in the middle a rough outline of Bethany’s handprint started off well, then dropped off to a long squiggle at the pinkie finger.  

I pulled Bethany closer and kissed her on the forehead.  “I love it!” I proclaimed.  And I did.  I really did.  It was no Monet (Picasso maybe), but to me, it was every bit as precious.  

Later that day, I put the picture in the center of the refrigerator door where I could see it every day.  I stood back, smiled, then stepped forward to adjust it just right.  

I knew, of course, that if someone else were to find the picture lying on the ground, they would think it was just trash.  They wouldn’t see it like I did.  They would see a piece of cheap paper with crayon scribbles and pen marks.  But to me, it was a treasure.  I loved the squiggled outline of her little hand.  I adored the awkward circles.  And one day, when a new picture came to replace the yellow construction paper on the frig, I knew I would put this one away in my “special things” box, with a tiny date written on the back.  Then, in years to come, I’d pull it out, and look at it, and remember.  

It was then, as I stood there and admired the picture on the frig that I understood at last what it means to God when I make my life a gift to him.  He doesn’t care if I’m a bit off-center, with lopsided circles that droop to one side.  He doesn’t care if I’ve never done anything that seems very important.  What matters is that I give Him my life as an offering of love.  What matters is that God loves me so much that my life, even mine, is precious beyond measure.  

My life may never be a Monet, but God still loves to hang my picture on the frig.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What's a Truck Hitch Have to do with Love?

Hi Friends,

In honor of Bryan and I being married for 24 whole years as of this week, I thought it would be fun to share a story from earlier in our marriage (when our Ford Explorer was new!).

As I was thinking about this story, I realized that what I learned about my relationship with Bryan also applies to my relationship with God.  If I really love God, I'll be interested in the the things that interest Him.  Today, I'm thinking about what that means in my every day life . . .

Meanwhile, here's the story of Bryan and I:

Well, it finally happened. My husband, Bryan, got a brand new hitch for his Ford Explorer. Not just any old hitch, mind you - not one of those pesky little balls on the bumper. Oh no. This was a man-sized hitch.

I knew I was in trouble when Bryan came home with a smile as big as a slice of watermelon. “So, what do you think,” he grinned, motioning to the back of the truck.

I glanced at the metal bar and attempted to appear impressed. “Uh, it’s nice.” I squatted down to look closer, thinking I must be missing something. Nope, it still looked like nothing more than a steel bar with a hole in it. Somehow, I had expected more for the three hundred and some odd dollars he’d paid for it.

“Nice?! Is that all you can say?” Bryan raised his eyebrows. “That’s a Type 3 hitch. Why, we could pull a huge boat,” he motioned with one hand into the air, “or a camper, or a big trailer, or, or, well, just about anything!”


 Bryan glanced at me and sighed, obviously disheartened by my lack of enthusiasm.

Of course, I would have been more impressed if we actually had one of those things he mentioned. But we didn’t. No boat, no camper, no trailer, not even one of those little bike racks. Nothing. But, this fact didn’t seem to squelch Bryan’s joy. And I knew better than to point it out.

“Gee, it’s . . .” I searched for a word. “Lovely.”

The watermelon-look turned more like a prune.

I swallowed. Hard. Apparently, “lovely” is not a word you should use in conjunction with a man’s truck. I took a deep breath and tried again. “It looks very strong.”

Bryan’s face lit up again. “It can pull 5,000 pounds.”

Was that a lot? I didn’t know. I decided to take the leap. “Wow, isn’t that great. That’s a pretty powerful piece of equipment. I’m impressed.” I then proceeded to make the appropriate “oooo” and “ahhh” sounds.

Bryan’s grin returned, full force. Then, he knelt down to show me just how incredible that hitch really was, and how much we could now do with it. As he explained a variety of very important features that meant nothing at all to me, I realized something. He was happy. And I was happy. And that made our marriage just a little bit better.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. I discovered that being interested in the things that interest my husband shows him that I value him. I was reminded of Paul’s instruction in Philippians 2:4 (NIV): “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I had always thought that verse applied to the big, important things in life – like decisions about job opportunities, where the family would live, or where we would attend church. But as I stared at that hitch, I began to understand that God meant the verse for the less life-changing things too – even the small stuff that makes Bryan’s eyes light up and causes that little boy smile to dance over his face. Those things are important too. In other words, I’ve learned the value of being impressed with his toys. And using the right words - like strong, powerful, big, wow - doesn’t hurt either. Somehow, my being interested in steel bar with a whole in it, could communicate to Bryan I that care about him, that I really do love him.

Oh, and by the way, it wasn’t long before we found plenty of fun things to pull behind our Explorer.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Can You Throw a Sponge at God?

Hi Friends,

How much can God take from us? How honest can we be? How near should we come with all our stuff and junk?  As I was pondering these questions this week, this story (this happened to my friend, Sarah), came to mind.  

Can you throw a sponge at God?  Read on to find out:

I watched as the little girl stood with a sponge dripping from her hand.  Her brow furrowed.  She chewed her lip.  Around her, the sounds and smells of the church carnival swirled and beckoned.  Children laughing, the whir of the cotton candy machine, the buttery scent of popcorn, and the music chirping from the cake walk around the corner.  

And still the girl stood there.  In front of her, a boy’s face peered out from a circle cut in a painted plywood board.  “Come on,” he called to her, “throw it at me.”  He stuck out his chin.

She looked at the sponge, then looked at the boy’s face.  She squeezed the sponge, squeezed her jaw, squeezed closed her eyes.  Then, she threw the sponge at him.  

And missed.

She opened her eyes.  

“Try again,” the boy called.

She picked up another sponge and threw it.  It missed.  A third, and missed again.   Her shoulders slumped.  Her lip quivered.  She turned away.

The boy stuck his face further through the hole.  “Don’t quit now.  Come closer.  Come on.  Get closer to me.”

The girl turned back around and took one more sponge.  Her hand trembled.  She took a step forward.


Another step.

“Get a lot closer.  Come right up to me.  Come on, you can do it.”

Another step.  A small one.  And still, the girl didn’t look too sure.  She glanced down at the sponge again, and then at the boy.  And I could tell that the boy’s words were warring with her instincts.  How could it be right to throw a wet sponge in someone else’s face?  Didn’t her mom tell her never to throw things?  And wasn’t the throwing line way back there anyway?  And wouldn’t that boy, who was a lot bigger than her, be mad if she got close and threw that ol’ sponge right in his face?  

“Closer!  Get right up here by me.”

She edged up, an itty bit more.  


And then, she took three fast steps until she stood right in front of the boy.  She took a deep, frantic breath, and threw the sponge.  It smacked into the boy’s face with a loud thwack.  Water flew everywhere. Her eyes grew round.

And then, the boy laughed.  She laughed.  And I laughed too.

As I stood there, watching their happy faces, hearing their laughter, witnessing the water dripping harmlessly from the boy’s face, I discovered something about God.  God is a lot like that boy in the sponge throwing game.  And I’m a lot like that girl.  

God calls to me, “Come closer to me.  Come near.”

And I stand there with my wet sponge, with all my stuff and junk, worries and flaws.  I stand far back and wonder if he’ll be mad if I throw all this stuff at him.  And he’s a lot bigger than me.  He’s God, after all.

Yet, all the while, God is beckoning me, urging me, telling me that he can handle any wet sponges that I throw in his face.  He calls me, with my sponge in hand, to come as near as I can.  To go ahead and throw my stuff at him.  He’s not fazed by it.

“Come near to God and he will come near to you,” says James 4:8 (NIV).  And again in Matthew 11:28 (NIV), Jesus says,  “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened …,” all you who are carrying around worries, faults, sins, concerns, mistakes, fears, troubles, like heavy wet sponges.  Come close.  God’s not mad, or disgusted, or scared.  

Instead, he’s calling us to come as close as we can.  To bring our wet sponges because He can handle whatever we throw at him.  And in the end, when we are near him, we just might end up with our sponges gone and laughter lighting our face.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Telling the Truth is More Than You Think!

Hi Friends,

Next Monday I'll be talking at MOPS about friendship - being a good friend, having meaningful friendships.

It's funny, because as an introvert, being good at friendship isn't something that comes naturally.  It's something that God has had to be teaching me, showing me, tapping me on the shoulder and saying, "Hey, you can't just hole up in your office and ignore the world.  I've put too many incredible, wonderful people in your life for you to ignore!"  So, this week, I'm thinking about friendship.  And I'm thinking about what really makes a good friend.

Kindness, yes.  Loyalty, yes.  Someone that helps you to become more like Christ, believe more, trust more, grow deeper in him.  Someone you enjoy being with.  Someone who helps you laugh. Someone who is there for you when you need her.

Someone who is honest.

Ouch.  Am I that kind of friend?

Now don't get me wrong, I am 100% committed to truth.  Jesus says, "The truth will set you free," and I believe him.  I live by that ... mostly.

But this week, as I'm thinking and preparing and pondering and evaluating my own weaknesses, I see that friendship means vulnerability.  And vulnerability means means letting friends know how I'm really doing.  It means communicating the truth about me.

It means letting go of "I'm fine" and letting others in to my struggles.  Because I think that's really the key to good friendships.  In John 15:15 Jesus says, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."  To Jesus, being a friend means communicating.  It means opening up.  It means sharing your heart.

I'm reminded of this story that I posted last year.  God taught me this lesson then, and he's reminding me now.  I don't want to be found dead at the bottom of the cage.  Instead, I want to tell the truth ... and be a good friend.

It happened like this:

It was a big, fat lie.  I smiled as I said it.  And what’s worse, I told it in the church foyer.  

A friend touched my shoulder.  “How’re you doing?”

“Fine.  Thanks.”  

She nodded and made her way into the sanctuary.

Fine.  I’m doing fine.  I’ve told that lie a hundred times, maybe a thousand.  But it was never bigger than that morning.  Two days before I’d found out that the baby I was carrying had died.  And in two days more I was scheduled for surgery to remove the empty egg sac that was still in me.  So, I was not fine. Not at all.

I wouldn’t have thought twice about my lie except when I came home that day I found one of my lovebirds dead at the bottom of the cage.  I trembled as I backed away and called to my husband.  “Bryan, can you come in here?”

He walked over and stared at the bird.  “What happened?”

I shrugged my shoulders.  “I dunno.  It looked fine yesterday.”

“How did it go from fine to dead in a day?”  Bryan put on a gardening glove, reached in the cage, and removed the dead bird.  “Well, there’s no marks on it.  Feels a little skinny though.  You’d better look in that book we got on lovebirds.”

I shivered and turned away.  

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”  I said the lie again, softer this time, quieter.

“Fine, huh?”  Bryan put the dead bird in a box, then waited as I retrieved the book about lovebirds and flipped through the pages.  

I read about various diseases and sick birds.  Then, I stopped and looked up.  “Wow, look at this.”  I pointed to a paragraph in the book.  “It says here that a lovebird will hide its sickness until it’s about to die.  You can’t tell it’s even sick unless you weigh it twice a week.”

Bryan nodded.  “It’s too bad.  If we’d have known, we could have tried to do something.”  He tossed the book onto the table.  “Too late now, of course.”

I sank into a chair and stared at the one bird left in the cage.  “If only we’d known . . .”  It was then that my lie came back to me.  Fine.  Thanks.  I was no different than that foolish lovebird.  By instinct, I, too, hid my emotional and spiritual sickness.  Hid it so well that no one would know I needed help.

Perhaps that’s why the Bible says, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”  (Ephesians 4:25, NIV)  I’d always thought that verse meant I shouldn’t try to manipulate others with my words.  And it does mean that.  But maybe it also means that I must open myself to fellow believers.  I need to allow them into my life with truth and honesty.  I have to be vulnerable if I am to be healed.  

And if I’m not, I may find myself, one day soon, face down at the bottom of my cage.