Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

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 . . .