Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are You on a Journey to Bethlehem?

Hi Friends,

In this week before Christmas, as I continue to recover from surgery (talk about a LONG journey!), I am pondering Mary's trip to Bethlehem.  Some of you, like me, are on a difficult journey right now.  You're stumbling along, heavy and weary. Take heart!  Mary traveled a long way too, and sometimes the trip to Bethlehem, for her and for us, is a long one.  Sometimes it's not easy ride to come to the place where Jesus is born anew in our lives.

So, for those on a journey, here are some words of encouragement from Wrestling with Wonder:

Excerpt from Chapter 3:

Too often, I think, when we approach the Christmas story, we are caught up in the star, the angels, the babe in the manger. We forget that it took a nearly-one-hundred-mile journey, while pregnant, to get there. That could not have been an easy trip.
            If Mary and Joseph traveled through Samaria, it would have been eighty miles. But Jews traveling through Samaria weren’t safe and were unlikely to get lodging, so Mary and Joseph may have taken the longer route in the Jordan Valley. They may have traveled with others, or alone. They may have walked or, as tradition asserts, Joseph could have led his donkey while Mary rode. It could have taken four days, if they went through Samaria and Joseph walked fast. It could have taken over a week if they went the long way and went slowly for Mary.
            The Bible doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t say how they traveled or how long it took. It doesn’t tell us if they had to stop every couple hours for Mary to rest. It doesn’t say how Mary felt or what Joseph did or that this was a hard, painful, difficult journey for a pregnant girl.
            It only tells us that they traveled to Bethlehem while Mary was pregnant. In stark, simple language, Luke 2:5 says, “He [Joseph] went there [to Bethlehem] to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” That’s it. Mary went. By foot, by donkey, alone with Joseph, or in caravan? We don’t know. But we do know that they didn’t travel by automobile on a paved road. We know it wasn’t a couple-hour jaunt on a pleasant day. It could not have been a simple journey.
            And yet, despite the difficulty, there’s also nothing mentioned about how God intervened to smooth their travels. There’s nothing about being carried on angel’s wings or being magically transported. Only that she went. The rest is up to us to discern, to consider, to ponder how God’s declaration of Mary’s blessedness starts with a difficult journey, perhaps on donkey-back, while very pregnant.
            Highly favored. Blessed. On the back of a donkey on a dusty journey away from home. I hold those two images in tension and realize that I must rethink the meaning of God’s blessing in my life. Clearly, “blessing” does not mean “easy.” It does not mean comfort and luxury and prosperity and ease. It means a difficult journey. It means challenge and pain and discomfort and sometimes danger.
            That’s the beginning of blessedness, of being highly favored by the Most High God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Finding Hope in Life's Stink

Hi Friends,

I'm still recovering from surgery (wow, this is a LONG, SLOW recovery!), and have been thinking about how we so often encounter God not in the "pretty" places of life, but in those very places we least expect Him to be - in the stink and mess and chaos and just-plain-yuckiness of life.  If we look, that's where we'll find Him.  It's that way in my life, it was that way in Mary's, and here's hope that it will be that way for you too!

An excerpt from Wrestling with Wonder, about finding hope, finding Him, in life's stinky places:

Who is this God whose Son is born in a stable? Who is he who is found by lowly shepherds lying in an animal’s feeding trough, dressed not in robes but in rags? Who is he who comes to the place we don’t expect and looks so little as we imagined?
He is the God of the Barn.
We encounter him in the places we don’t expect him to be. Consider the following biblical encounters:
—Job encountered God in a storm, while sitting on an ash heap (Job 2:8; 38:1).
—Abraham encountered God outside the wicked city of Sodom in the heat of the day (Gen. 18:1).
—Jacob encountered God alone in the darkness, in the middle of the night (Gen. 32:22-24).
—Moses encountered God in the wilderness, on the far side of the desert (Exod. 3:1).
—Elijah encountered God in the cave, while running for his life (1 Kings 19:9).
—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego encountered God in the fire (Dan. 3:25). 
—And Mary encountered him in a stable . . .…
God’s glory is revealed in unexpected places. It is seen in the storm, from the ash heap, at the edge of a wicked city, in the heat, in the darkness, in the wilderness, in the cave, in the fires of life. There we find him. In the barn. 
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 feeding 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 . . .

Monday, November 24, 2014

Are You Blessed This Thanksgiving?

Hi Friends,

As we think about Thanksgiving this week (at least for those in the US!), I'm thinking about what it really means to be blessed.  Here is something from WRESTLING WITH WONDER to ponder as we consider gratefulness and blessedness, especially when we're not feeling so thankful, not feeling so blessed:


So who is this God who takes what we think we know and redefines it? Who is he who calls the poor rich, the hungry filled, the mighty fallen, the humble lifted high? Who is he who calls us blessed not when life has finally reached perfection but rather when we are struggling along on the journey?
            This is the God of reversals.
            This is the God of upside-down blessings.
            This is the God who says:
                        —Blessed are you who are poor ...
                        —Blessed are you who hunger ...
                        —Blessed are you who weep ...
                        —Blessed are you when people hate you ...
                        —Blessed are you when they exclude and insult you ...
                        —Blessed are you when you’re rejected...
This is the new blessedness ... the reversal of all the world teaches, all our culture says is the way things are supposed to be.
            We think blessing is the arrival at the place where our troubles are gone and we are financially secure, well-fed, happy, liked, included, and spoken well of. Blessing is being accepted on the mountaintop.
            But Mary shows us that through Jesus God has changed everything. He has made the poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, rejected people blessed. And he’s done it by becoming poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, and rejected.
            Our world is turned upside down.
            And it is on the journey through the shadows that he calls us to sing.  It is there that he becomes more than the One who provides, but the Bread itself; more than the One who frees, but Freedom itself. More than a way out of darkness, but the Light.
            Because blessedness isn’t a feeling, nor a synonym for happiness. It isn’t having our lives conform to what we’d like them to be. Instead, blessedness is being chosen for a journey through deep valleys and scratchy underbrush. It’s traveling with the One who changes everything, and walks beside us in the dark. It’s singing, knowing the reversals are coming, knowing our world is being turned upside down. It’s supposed to be that way. We’re on a journey to the mountaintop.
            The only question is ...
            Will we sing along the way?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When the Journey is Long ...

Hi Friends,

As I look forward to a long surgery next Tuesday, followed by a longer and difficult recovery, I'm reminded that God is a God of the journey and in the journey.  So, for those who are facing their own difficult journey in life right now, here is a bit of hope from WRESTLING WITH WONDER:


If God loves us, if he’s called us, shouldn’t he smooth our path? Shouldn’t he make it easy to follow his will?
            Apparently not, because our God is the God of the journey. He is not the God of the easy way. He has no easy button.
            So why do we think things like “If only I learned faster,” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why is God punishing me?” or “I must be doing something wrong” when the journey is long and difficult, when we don’t arrive the moment we set out?
            We forget that he knows what he’s doing. He has planned our travels, foreseen our journey. And there is a purpose in it. He travels with us. Within us.

            Consider the journeys of the major players in biblical history:
            —Abraham travels to the promised land.
            —The Israelites travel across the desert, and wander in it, after the exodus from                     Egypt.
            —Ruth travels to Israel and becomes the great-grandmother of King David.
            —Daniel travels to Babylon.
            —Mary travels to Bethlehem.
            —Jesus travels from his throne in heaven to the dark, jostling womb of a woman.

            Because God is the God of the journey and in the journey.
So we walk, we stumble, we run ... and we remember: The journey matters. God is in it. He has planned it from long ago that we might come to the place we need to be.
            The journey isn’t easy, but we are not alone.
            God is whispering in our ear: If there was another way to get you to where you need to be, I would have taken it. This is the only path. This dusty, rocky road is my will for you. Walk in it. Trust me, and travel to your Bethlehem. I am the God of the journey. I am the God in the journey. Walk with me …

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Love That Broke Me - Love That Restored Me

Hi Friends,

I've been thinking about the love of God lately.  I've been pondering its fierceness, determination, passion.  I've been thinking about how it changed me.  So I thought, today, I would share my own story of the moment when God overwhelmed me with His love, when He captured my heart and called me deeper - called me to surrender to a Love like no other.  The moment when my life changed forever.  

This is from the first chapter of Wrestling with Wonder (which, by the way, has new DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR GROUPS (click for link) on my website -- please suggest the book for any group studies you're involved in!)

Here is my story . . .

I remember the day that God first broke into my life, interrupting my ordinary with a glimpse of wonder beyond my wildest dreams. For me, it happened in a dorm room at Stanford University. I lay on my rumpled bed with chemistry books scattered among great works of Western culture. A thin tome by Bernard of Clairvaux, a fat text with selected works from Martin Luther, a black paperback of the Confessions of Augustine. Chemistry and Confessions and Clairvaux ... and midterms the next day. I stared out the window and followed the dance of dead leaves over the brick walkway outside. I heard the rustle of them through the slightly opened pane. And then it came. An inaudible whisper. A flutter in my soul.
            I love you.
            And then came the tiniest glimpse in my heart of a love like I’d never seen, never experienced before. Sweet and piercing. Like the quiet whisper of a relentless wind. Like the powerful pull of the ocean’s tide. Like deep, rumbling laughter. Like thunder across the sky.
            God loved me.            
            With a love that broke me. Restored me.
            Called me to more.
            To surrender.
            So there, among books and papers and pencils chewed to a nub, I accepted the call of love. I gave my life to the One who loved me with that kind of love.
            I am yours, God. May it be to me as you want ...
            I didn’t speak those words exactly, but it was what I meant, an echo of a girl who had encountered God millennia before me.
            And like her, I knew some of what it meant to say those words. For me, it meant a new major (in chemistry, of all things!), digging deep into the Bible with friends, choosing worship over achievement. But, in truth, I had no idea what I was really getting myself into. I didn’t see years of infertility, miscarriage, disappointments, and doubts. I didn’t see failures in ministries, family and friends who didn’t understand, confusion and darkness.
            All I knew was that he loved me, and I was his. And that changed everything. I’d been called. Called out of my ordinary life, with my ordinary plans. Called to something more.
More wondrous? Yes. But also more painful, more confusing, more wild and unexpected than I could have ever imagined.

            Because that’s what it means to follow him. It means your plans are no longer your own. Your life itself belongs to him.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When Nightmares are Real

Hi Friends,

This week is Halloween, so I am thinking about those times we encounter when life seems like a nightmare-come-true.  Times of darkness and pain and doubt and fear and horror  when prayers don't make things all better and when what we were so afraid would happen, does.  I've been in that place.  You maybe have too.  You're maybe there now.

Mary was certainly there.  There, as her own son was condemned to die the most painful and horrific death imaginable.  There, as all her prayers were silenced, and God did not intervene to save her Son.  There, as everything she so feared became reality.  There, as her baby bled and died.  And she watched.

Here's a short excerpt from WRESTLING WITH WONDER about that time.  I hope it will be an encouragement to you in those times when the nightmares become real life ...

(Excerpt from Wrestling with Wonder)

Jesus had to die on a Roman cross for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God.
            There was no other way.
            Of course, Mary didn’t know that. But God did. And so do we.
            We know that the Messiah had to die a sinner’s death in our place that we might be free. From Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, we know that if there were an easier path, God would have chosen it.
            In Matthew 26, Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”
            And the soldiers, crowds, and Jewish leaders came and arrested him. They bound him. They beat him. They crucified him. And it was the will of God.
            There was no other way.
            The Messiah did not ascend to an earthly throne. The religious leaders did not recognize him. He was rejected, a crown not of gold but of thorns pressed upon his head, anointed not with kingly oil but with his own blood.
            There was no other way. 
            He was sinless, and condemned. He was lied about, and the truth didn’t prevail. He was accused, and said nothing. He was scourged, and not rescued. And then he died on a criminal’s cross.
            There was no other way.
            Because “it was the Lord’s will to crush him,” says Isaiah 53:10. There was no other way for Jesus to satisfy his Messiahship. No other way for the prophecies to be fulfilled. No other way for the promises to come true.
            No easier way for Mary to become who she was always meant to be—not just the mother of the Messiah, but the mother of the Savior.
            “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way,” says C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain.
            The God who called Mary to face her worst fears is the same God who calls us. He calls in those times when the worst happens, when what we feared might happen does happen. When it seems like life has gone from bad to worse and every time we pray something even more awful happens, that is when God is saying to us:
            There is no other way.
            No other way for him to accomplish his will in your life, to make you the person you were meant to be. If this cup could pass, it would.
            But it doesn’t.

            Because this is the way. And sometimes we must walk in it, with faith, with trust, with one foot in front of the other, even when all our fears come true.