Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Being Mary for a Moment

Hi Friends,

Well, I did my two Mary monologues at church last Sunday during the whole fantastic, incredibly moving Great Joy Christmas program.  The whole program was just beautiful.  You can see it here:  

Meanwhile, here's the text of the first Mary monologue -- adapted from the first chapter of my book, Wrestling with Wonder (coming out next Sept from Zondervan).  Mary asks some great questions for all of us this Christmas season!


Christmas changes everything.  JESUS changes everything.  He changed me. 
I’m Mary.  I was his mother.  He changed this ordinary girl, with her ordinary life, in an ordinary village in Galilee.
            It was early in the morning, and my mother had gone to gather gossip near Nazareth’s well.  I stood by the grinding stone (much like today), my fingers sunk deep in the warm dough of the day's bread.  A sound rustled behind me.  I turned. 
And saw him.
            A man, but not a man. Like nothing I have ever seen before.  Tall and strong. Shining. Splendid.
            And absolutely terrifying.
            He looked at me, his gaze like fire in my soul. And he said:
            “Rejoice! Rejoice, favored one, the Lord is with you.”
            He said it again. “Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.”
Me? Didn’t he know I was just an ordinary girl?
            Then, he whispered one single word: “Behold ...”
But what he wanted me to behold was impossible.
            He said, “Behold, you will conceive in the womb and will bear a son and you will call his  name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David.  And he will rule over the house of Jacob into the ages and of his kingdom there will be no end!”
            What?! I grasped at just the first impossibility.  “How will this be? I’m, um, a virgin.”
            But he didn’t speak of men or of marriage.  He spoke of miracles. He told me the Holy Spirit himself would come upon me and God’s power would overshadow me. And this tiny little baby boy would be called holy, the very Son of God.
            An astounding promise.  But more than a promise. It was a call. A question. Would I leave all my plans, all my hopes, behind me?  Would I lay aside my ordinary life to embrace something impossible?
            “Nothing is impossible with God,” he said.
            “No word from God will ever fail."
            Did I dare believe it? Do I dare say yes? … I knew what it meant. Nothing would be the same again. No one would understand. Could I bear that kind of shame? Could I bear their disbelief? …And more, could I bear that kind of beauty? Could I bear the wonder of it all?
            And in that ordinary moment, on an ordinary day, in my ordinary life, the heavens waited

 . . . Would I give my life for this great, impossible JOY?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What Kind of King is This??

Hi Friends,  

Merry Christmas season!!  We decorated our tree over the weekend and got out all our red and green … in hopes of preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of the coming of Jesus, God incarnate, Emmanuel, God-with-us, into the world and into our lives.  How wonderful is that?!!?

Then, this coming Sunday, our church is having our Great Joy! Christmas event, with orchestra (Bryan, Joelle, and Bethany are all in the orchestra), choir, and two drama monologues.  I'm doing the monologues (my first time doing something like this!!).  I'm going to be dressed as Mary and will deliver the two monologues as her older self reflecting back.  (If you're in the Salinas area, I'll hope you'll come by -- 9am and 10:45am at Salinas Valley Community Church, 368 San Juan Grade Road).

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share the second monologue here.  And while it's told from Mary's point of view, I think it holds questions for all of us.

As you prepare your heart for Christmas, perhaps this script (adapted from my upcoming Wrestling with Wonder book - yay!) will help you see Him in a deeper way.  I hope so!

So, here ya go:

Mary's Monologue: 
Christ was born.  Born in a barn, wrapped in rags, laid in a feeding trough.  We didn’t have a  palace, we didn’t even have a crib, let alone soft silk meant for a king.  The animals were our witnesses.  Lowly shepherds our first visitors. 
            And I thought . . . What kind of King is this?
            I held him in my arms. He nestled, and nuzzled. So normal. So real. He let out a cry, his mouth open, searching. I smiled and guided him to eat.  I gazed down at his pink cheeks, his stock of curly black hair. His eyes were closed, his lashes dark against his skin … this newborn son of mine.
Of Gods.
This … Messiah?
Rescuer. Deliverer. Redeemer. King … Baby.
What kind of King is this?
            He grew up, my Messiah-Son.  And was nothing like I expected.  He didnt conquer Rome, he didnt rule the nations, he didnt raise an army or free Israel . . . at least not in the way I had dreamed.
            Instead, he asked me to face my deepest fear. My darkest doubt. My nightmare.
            A young man came to my door in the night. He came all disheveled and out of breath. He said, “They’ve arrested your son.” Men came—soldiers, crowds, but not only them, the priests came too, the very leaders of my people. They came by night to a garden with their clubs and torches and swords. And they took him.
            They took him to Gabbatha. The place of judgment.
            So, I went there too.  And I stood there, shaking, in a courtyard with a crowd with the sun beating down on us.  And my son, my Jesus, wavering on the platform before me.  I barely recognized him. His eye was swollen, his clothes bloody. He looked like a lamb already slaughtered.
            Oh, God, what kind of King is this?
            He did wear a purple robe, but it was to mock him. And on his head ... Oh ...  On his head was a crown, but it wasn’t a crown of gold, it was a crown made from the thorns of the akanthos bush. And blood ran down his forehead, his cheeks.
            Pilate held up his hand. “Behold … your king!” he shouted.
            But what kind of King is this?
            A king isn’t beaten.
            A king isn’t bloody.
            A king doesn’t die a criminal’s death.
            Or … or does He?
            Pilate spoke again. “What shall I do with this Jesus?”
            The question drove into me like a soul-piercing sword. What shall I do with this Jesus? What shall I do with a Son destined to die?
            What shall I do with this kind of King? 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Giving Thanks

Hi Friends,

Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  So, here are five things little things of life that I'm thankful for today.  What are you thankful for?

1) A pretty pony named Pippin.

2) God's streams even in the wastelands of my life.

3) Ice cream and smiles.

4) The color purple (my favorite).

5) The sweet smell of roses.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cultivating a Grateful Heart

Hi Friends,

This week I've been thinking about how a grateful heart doesn't happen automatically. We aren't born with one. Instead, it has to be cultivated, grown through practice and effort.

I discovered this one day not long ago when the family had an ice cream treat at the mall.  It happened like this:

         We settled around a table, with our spoons out, our mouths open.  Bria scooped a bite onto her spoon and stuffed it into her mouth.  But she didn’t giggle and she didn’t smile.  Instead, she let out an ear-piercing howl.  

I jumped up.  “What’s wrong?!”

Her eyes filled with tears.

Bria’s lip quivered.  She took another tiny bite, and whimpered.  “The i-i-i-ice cream iiiiiss . . .”

“Is what?”

“It’s too COLD!”

“The ice cream is too cold?”  I laughed.  Bria’s sisters laughed.  Jayden just kept eating.  And Bria just kept crying.  

She wanted warm ice cream.

I took a deep breath.  My voice softened.  

“Honey, it’s ICE cream.  It’s supposed to be cold.  Otherwise it would just be, well, cream.”

She sniffed.

“Do you want to give it to your brother to eat?”  

He perked up and reached for her ice cream cup.

She snatched it back toward her chest and shoved another bite in her mouth.  She didn’t look like she enjoyed it.

I shook my head.  Sometimes Bria was just silly.

But then, sometimes I am too.  Maybe not about ice cream, but I can be just as silly about other gifts that God sends my way.  When God sends me a friendship and it doesn’t turn out just as I wanted, do I fuss and complain that the ice cream is too cold? When I’m involved in a ministry and things don’t go as planned, do I whimper and whine? When I go to church to worship, do I end up complaining the music is too loud, the sermon too long, the seats too hard? When I’m at the mall, chasing around six kids, do I complain about the chaos . . . or do I thank him that this once-infertile mom now has her hands full with the kids she prayed so long to have?

That day at the ice cream shop, Bria gave me a good laugh.  But she also showed me that I have a choice.  I can cultivate a heart of complaint or a heart of thanksgiving.  
Psalm 100:4 (NIV) says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

I want to receive the ice cream treats of God with a grateful heart, even they make my teeth ache a little and send a chill into my chest.  Ice cream is good.  God’s gifts are good.  They may make me a little uncomfortable, they may not be just what I expected, but they’re still a treat, still a gift!

From now on, I want to have a thankful heart . . . even when the ice cream seems too cold.

So, here's a tip:  Everyday on the way to wherever you're going, try this:

I am thankful for . . .

________________________________________ (a thing)

________________________________________ (a person)

________________________________________ (an opportunity you’ve had)

________________________________________ (an attribute of God)

And practice cultivating a heart of gratitude and thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Things Fall Away ...

Hi Friends,

Recently I was reminded that things we once thought secure in our lives can fall and crush things that we value.  Note the picture of the fallen tree that smashed through our new fence!

But of course, it's not just trees that once stood tall and seemingly unmovable that fall and crush what's below.  Many things in life can tumble.  Fallen relationships, fallen jobs, fallen opportunities, fallen ministries, fallen hopes and dreams and other things we come to rely on.

So, what do we do?  Joelle and Jayna have some advice:  Climb the trees, enjoy them, be grateful for them while they're standing.  Rejoice and thank God for every good and upright gift in your life.  But don't find your security, your identity, your life in those things.  Know that they are temporary gifts in a temporary world.  They are given for a time so that you may see God more clearly and rejoice in him more fully.

But all things fall, even sturdy pine trees.  Only God, only Jesus and His love for you, only His Kingdom, His promises, His heart is forever.  James 1:17 (NIV) says:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

So find your security, your identity, your life and hope and all your tomorrows in Him.  Don't count on the trees in your life for your happiness.  Enjoy them, thank God for them, but put your trust in Him alone.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Of Zombies and Facing Fears

Hi Friends,

This week, for Halloween (and in honor of the zombie movie we watched and discussed in our community group this week), I thought I'd share Jayna's spooky story from first grade.  Enjoy! And use this as a reminder that sometimes the things that chase us in life aren't as scary as we think they are. Maybe we just need to turn around and face them … with God at our side and in our center!

Jayna's story:

The Zombie Follows Me

A long time ago there was a zombie.  The zombie loved to sleep in my blankets.  It ate my food.  Then I ran down the stairs.  The zombie followed me.  I ran faster.  It ran faster too.  I stopped.  “What do you want?”  It held up my cereal bowl.  “Milk, please.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Raccoons are NOT Cute!

Hi Friends,

Well, the raccoons are back at our house.  They're washing their hands in the cats' water, trying to sneak in the rec room to eat the dog food, and making pests of themselves again.

The "messies" are back too.  A mess in the basement, a mess in the critter room, a mess in the girls' bathroom ... with company coming and a community group party here this coming weekend.

So, I guess the raccoons are here at just the right time to remind me how to handle life (or how NOT to handle it) when it gets messy at just the wrong time.

Here's what a learned from raccoons just a few years ago:

A Lesson from a Raccoon

The night dripped with a strange sort of silence.  The breeze barely brushed against the panes of my bedroom window.  No cars passed outside.  No sirens sounded.  No dogs barked.
Then it came.  A mysterious scraping on the outside deck.  A rattle.  A hiss.  And the groan of wood dragged over the planks.
I nudged my husband, Bryan.  “Did you hear that?”
The scraping came again, this time with an eerie creaking near our cat’s feeder. Something thumped. 
Bryan rolled over.  “It’s just the cat.”
“That is not the cat.”  I sat up.
The quiet was broken by a loud crash.
Bryan jumped up.  “Where’s the flashlight.” 
I handed it to him, swung out of bed, and threw on my robe. 
Together, we hurried to the door that led to the deck.  Bryan flipped on the flashlight and shined the light into the darkness.
An animal-shaped shadow scuttled away from the beam.
I turned on the porch light and tossed open the door.  The food dispenser lay sideways with cat food strew all over the wood planks beneath.  I took the flashlight from Bryan’s hand and aimed it toward the corner of the deck. 
The creature was still there.  A masked bandit.  The door slammed behind me.
The raccoon turned and sat up on its haunches.  Then, it hissed and bared its teeth. 
I grimaced.  Raccoons were supposed to be cute and loveable.  I even had a fluffy raccoon stuffed animal, complete with dark eyes, little mask, and tiny hands with opposable thumbs.  But this creature crouched before me was anything but cute and loveable.  It was ugly.  It was nasty.  And at that moment, I’d have been glad to never see another raccoon again.
I flashed the light at it one more time, stomped my feet, and waved my arms.
It gave one last hiss then scuttled off into the dark.
            “Well, that was awful.”  Bryan’s voice sounded behind me.
            I turned and wrinkled my nose.  “I think I hate raccoons.”
            “I think I do, too.”
The next day, I put the raccoon out of my mind, until I again heard a strange silence.  This time, the quietness came from the playroom where my four-year-old twins were supposed to be cleaning up toys.  No little voices whispered.  No little feet pattered.  No sound came from the room at all.  And that was never a good sign.
I hurried into the room, and sure enough, instead of cleaning up, every last game was opened and all the pieces were mixed together in the center of the carpet. 
My face turned hot.  My fists clenched.  And then I let them have it.  “What do you think you’re doing?  I told you to clean up.  Look at this mess!”  I rattled.  I hissed.  I bared my teeth. 
My girls’ eyes grew round.  They backed away.
And then it hit me.  Who’s the ugly raccoon now?
I shivered. 
God gave me a gift of words, just like he gave the raccoon the gift of opposable thumbs.  But just like the raccoon, I was using my gift to take from others.  I may not have been stealing cat food, but I was certainly stealing their joy.  And that was just as ugly as a raccoon’s hiss. 
I took a deep breath.  “Please clean that up before community group tonight.”  Then, I left the room.
I could hear the clink of game pieces being put away as I started toward the kitchen.  I shook my head.  All I had to do was ask, but instead I had chosen to use my gifts, my words, my voice, to tear down instead of build up. 
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  I don’t need to hiss and become ugly when others don’t do what I want.  I don’t need to use my abilities to attack.
Instead, God wants me to use the power of words, use the gifts He has given to me, to help others, to give, to serve, to be kind and caring.  I don’t want to be like a raccoon – loveable only in theory, but ugly in reality.  The real me needs to be kind, thoughtful, encouraging, and giving. 
From now on, I want to use my gifts to bless others and help them, or else someone may just chase me away into the dark.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When You Don't Make the Cut ...

Hi Friends,

Well, amid coming down with a crummy cold, Bryan being away at a men's retreat, and 6 kids to take care of, I finished my revisions for Wrestling with Wonder and sent them in to my editor.  Now as I wait for the next round of editing, I'm thinking about a couple things that didn't make the "cut."

Here's a poem that won't be included:
When hope lies in tattered ruins
And faith is on its knees
God's love embraces me
Until the darkness flees.

And a bit of prose:
When God's questions form Job 38 echoed through Mary's life, she discovered the answers would go far beyond anything she ever imagined, anything she could have ever dreamed.  The gates of death would be shown to her, the gates of deepest darkness . . .

And what I learned from them:
Nothing was wrong with either the poem or the prose.  They were deficient, less than, weaker, stupid, useless, not-good-enough.  Instead, they just didn't fit with what I was doing.  They weren't needed where I had them ... but they are used elsewhere.

And I think that's a good lesson for me, for all of us, when we face rejection, when we aren't included, when we feel "cut out."  Maybe the place we were trying to be isn't the place God wants us to be.  Maybe he has something else for us.

We aren't less or deficient or not-good-enough, we are just being pointed somewhere else.  We aren't needed in chapter 13, but we are needed in a blog post about finding God's perfect place meant just for us.

So, when you're feeling left out, remember that God has a plan, a purpose, a place especially for you.  Seek HIM and not that place that you thought would make you feel special.  Seek his vision, seek his truth, trust in him.  He will not leave you.  He will not forsake you.  He will not cut you out of the wonder of his special love for you.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I Don't Know . . . How Well Do You Live with Mystery?

Hi Friends,

The revisions for Wrestling with Wonder, a Transformational Journey through the Life of Mary, are due next Tuesday, and I'm diligently working on adding one last chapter (on the shepherds' visit to the manger) before time runs out.

I'm talking about how our God is a God of mystery, and not often a God of explanations ... even though I like explanations.  I like it when everything makes sense and I have it all figured out.  But sometimes God asks me to live in the tension of mystery.

Are you living with mystery now?  How does mystery settle in your soul?

Here's my rough-draft blurb from the intro of my new chapter.  See what you think . . .

Chapter 5:

I Don’t Know.
Scary words.  I don’t like to speak them.  I don’t like to write them.  I don’t like them at all.  Instead, I much prefer:
I know.
I understand.
It makes sense.
I have the answers.
Too bad God doesn’t agree.  Too bad the reality of life often is:
I don’t know.
I don’t understand.
It doesn’t make sense.
I don’t have the answers.
I cringe away from admissions like that.  I want my world to make sense.  I want explanations and reasons and a carefully constructed theology where all the i’s are diligently dotted and all the t’s carefully crossed.
I don’t want mystery.
            And yet God is a God of mystery.  He often refuses to explain himself and instead woos me to that uncomfortable in-between place where things don't make sense and I don’t have it all figured out.  
He beckons me there, and asks me not to understand, but instead to ponder.
To question.
To think.
To wonder.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, this is the God who calls me to live in the tension between faith and works, between a loving God and a broken world, between justice and mercy.  He calls me to wrestle with my questions, dance with my doubts, and be okay with not understanding all the whys and wherefores and what-does-it-all-means.
He calls me to ponder as he offers no easy answers, no pat theologies, no simple explanations to put on the bumper stickers of my life.
He beckons me to live with mystery -- the mystery of a Messiah in a manger.
Mary pondered the mystery of her God when scruffy shepherds showed up looking for an infant lying where the animals feed.  She pondered as they told a strange story of singing angels who visited not a newborn messiah, but a bunch of sheep-herders in the fields.  She pondered as they spoke.  And she treasured the truths she could not yet understand.