Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Friday, September 26, 2014

It's Almost Here!! Wrestling with Wonder Excerpt!

Hi Friends,

Exciting news -- my new book, WRESTLING WITH WONDER, a Transformational Journey through the Life of Mary, is almost here!!  The official release date is October 7th.  My box of advanced author copies has arrived and the influencer copies from the publisher have been sent out.  AND, it's available for pre-order NOW on Amazon.  Whoo Hoo!

So, in celebration, I thought I'd share an excerpt from the beginning of chapter one.  This is the chapter intro and the fictional retelling section.  If you like what you read, I hope you'll buy the book (and tell your friends!!).

Here ya go:

Unexpected Interruptions

The Angel’s Arrival
                                                Luke 1:26-38
            I approach Mary’s life on tiptoe, trembling, because I know I am treading where angels have trod ... and where the church has stomped around for millennia. She has been revered, scorned, and sometimes even deified. And yet, was she really so different from you, from me? Didn’t she have similar hopes, similar dreams? A home of her own, a family, maybe even a dog. She was just a young girl from the backwoods of Galilee. A girl with a plan and a heart.
            It was a good plan.
            It was a good heart.
            And the two could not exist together.
            Because her God, our God, has dreams of his own, dreams that we can barely imagine. Like you, like me, Mary was called to more. Her God is our God. Her encounters with him more like our own than we might realize.
            On one simple, ordinary day, her life was interrupted. Perhaps it happened like this  

            I am Mary ... on an ordinary day, in an ordinary life, in an ordinary village tucked into the back corners of a region far from the hub of importance. I glance out the kitchen window. Swirls of dust rise and dance from the path outside. Just like every day. Blades of grass peek between cracks in stone. A bit of wild mustard blooms. And beyond that, an akanthos bush, its sharp thorns a symbol of our nation’s shame.
            The hem of my mother’s dress disappears around the corner. She has gone to gather gossip near Nazareth’s well. She’ll be back soon enough, when the sun tips over the neighbor’s rooftop. Meanwhile, I stand here, my fingers sunk deep in warm dough. I press and squeeze, massaging the flour and yeast, thinking about nothing, and everything. I think about the Romans and their oppression of my people. I think about promises made to Israel even before our nation was called from the loins of a single man. I think about the dough in my hands, the bitter herbs on the table behind me. My name means bitter. But I am not my name. I am happy.
            I see the neighbor’s dog, barking at a lone butterfly. He twirls and shakes his head. I laugh. Maybe I will have a dog when I have a home of my own. When the herbs are mine, the bread my own. My betrothed is out there somewhere even now, working on some table or doorway or cart. Working with strong hands and an honest heart. He is a descendant of the great King David himself. A tsaddik. It means righteous. I was blessed to find such a one. And before the year is up, I’ll move from my parents’ house to his. Then I will go to the well to gather gossip like beads on a string. I will sweep my own home, please my own husband, and bear children who will not be named for bitterness.
            I roll the bread and pat it, warm beneath my hands. A rustling sound flutters the air behind me. I turn.
            And see him.
            A man, but not a man. Like nothing I have ever seen before.
            Breath squeezes from me. I cannot speak. Cannot even gasp.
            He stands there, in blazing white. Tall and strong. Shining. Extraordinary.
            And I know he is not a dream, not a vision. Somehow, he is real. And he is here.
            The air stills, slows, shimmers around this one who is come from God.
            In the silvery silence, he approaches me. He raises a hand.
            Who are you? The question whispers through my mind, unspoken, chasing a hundred others that are swallowed in his glory. But I need no answer. I have heard of such things. Of such ones.
            He is a messenger from God. In Nazareth?
            He looks at me. Gently, fiercely, his eyes like fire in my soul. And he speaks.
            “Be glad.” A common word. Rejoice. An uncommon greeting. And from him, nothing is common at all. Then he says a word I don’t understand. A word that speaks of extraordinary grace. He calls me Favored One. Me? Doesn’t he know? I am an ordinary girl, in an ordinary town, on an ordinary day.
            But not anymore.
            “The Lord is with you.”
            And now I am trembling, troubled. What kind of greeting is this? What does he mean?
            He says it again.
            “Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.”
            Favor? Grace? Here in the kitchen, in Nazareth, a barely betrothed girl with her hands full of dough?
            He sees my confusion, my lingering fear. And he whispers a single word: “Behold ...” It is the word for see. But what he wants me to see is impossible. He tells me a story so wild, so crazy, that I don’t know what to say, what to think.
            He says, “Behold, you will conceive in the womb and will bear a son and you will call the name of him Jesus. This One will be great and the Son of the Most High he will be called and the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father. And he will rule over the house of Jacob into the ages and of his kingdom there will not be an end!”
            It is more than I can comprehend. More than I can see. So, I focus on the one thing, the first thing. The impossible. “How will this be? I’m a virgin.”
            And then comes the wildest part of all. He doesn’t speak of men. He speaks of miracles. He tells me the Holy Spirit himself will come upon me and God’s power will overshadow me. Me! A simple girl from a backwater town filled with dirt and thistles and the occasional butterfly. Doesn’t he see the dust outside the window, the limp blades of grass struggling just to survive, the simple sunlight, the ordinary mustard plants?
            “Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
            An incredible plan. An astounding promise. I cannot fathom that he speaks to me. Because it is more than a plan. More than a promise. It is a call. A question. Will I leave all my plans, all my hopes, behind me? Will I set my simple dreams aside? I will not have a dog. I may not ever sweep my own home, bake my own bread. Will I say yes to this shining messenger of God? Will I lay aside my ordinary life to embrace this vision of something new, something impossible, beyond anything I ever imagined?
            He is talking again. About Elizabeth now. About the barren one having a son in her old age. We’d prayed for years, made whispered pleas at the temple. Elizabeth ... becoming a counterpoint to my call. The virgin giving birth alongside the barren one with child. 
            “Nothing is impossible with God.”
            Do I dare believe it? Do I dare say yes? I know what it means. Nothing will be the same again. No one will understand. How will anyone else believe? Can I bear the shame? Can I bear the disbelief? And more, can I bear the beauty? And the wonder?
            And in this ordinary moment, on an ordinary day, in an ordinary life, I feel the heavens waiting, breathless.
            Will I say yes?
            “I am the Lord’s servant.” I exhale the words. I am his slave, his maidservant, his own creation. “May it be done to me according to what you’ve said.” And so, I accept. I surrender. Not knowing what it means, these words I say, but knowing that I mean them. And knowing that YHWH himself hears.
            My shining messenger smiles.
            I tremble.
            Then he is gone. And with him, everything I ever thought my life would be ...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When Life is a Mixed Bag...

Hi Friends,

Well, among all the crazy continuing kidney stone drama this week, something fun happened:  I received my first copy of Wrestling with Wonder, hot off the press!  It reminded me that there is joy and beauty even in the most difficult and painful times. 

So, I thought it would be fun this week to share a couple interview questions that I’ve been asked about the book and to remember that, like Mary, we are all on a journey … and on this journey, life usually doesn’t go as we expect, prayers are usually not answered in the way we anticipate, and there is no trial or circumstance that cannot be redeemed by the One who walks with us on this strange and amazing journey.

So, here are some questions and answers:

Q:  What is Wrestling with Wonder anyway?

A:  It’s the story of Mary.  It’s the story of you.  It’s the story of me.
It is the real story of a surrendered soul…
It’s a journey through a life that will look surprisingly like your own…
It’s an adventure of discovering God where you didn’t expect Him to be …
You’ve never seen Mary, or her God, like this!

Q: Since Wrestling with Wonder is called a “transformational journey” how were you changed or transformed through the writing of this book?

A: This book changed me, transformed me, at the deepest levels. And it wasn’t because I saw Mary more clearly, I was because I saw God – vivid, beautiful, perplexing … and so unlike the bland prayer-answerer-santa-in-the-sky that we often believe him to be.  Through wrestling with Mary’s story, and my own in the context of hers, I encountered a God who blew away my expectations.  I found him in my own heartaches, in the life’s-gone-awry moments of those close to me, in tears of a woman who lived thousands of years before me. 

When I sat with her in a dirty, stinky stable, when I raced back to Jerusalem, panting with fear over a lost son, when I stood at a crowded doorway and heard him say, “Who are my mother and my brothers?,” when I knelt with her at the foot of a cross and listened to his breath stop as the sky turned black as pitch … I found God in the dirty, stinky, fearful, hurting, black-as-pitch places in my life too.  And I hope, I pray, that readers will take this journey with Mary and I and discover God in those places too, those places in their own lives where they never expected him to be.

Q: Do you always write about wonder?

A: I’ve written about many themes, but the thread that runs through all my work is discovering the wonder of God in everyday life.  This is what I say on my website, which I think captures the theme and the dream for my writing:

Pause for a moment and remember back to when you were a kid. Do you remember running through the sprinklers, arms outstretched? Blowing bubbles that caught every shade of light? Catching your breath at the sight of a dragonfly? Do you remember the laughter, the joy … the WONDER? Now glance around you. Has your life turned out just as you expected it to be?

If you answered yes, you’re in the wrong place. But if, like so many of us, your life hasn’t turned out just as you dreamed it, well then, you’ve found a place to call home. For thirsty souls yearning for a VIVID God, for the hurting, the disillusioned, the struggling, the weak, and those longing for more of God, come, journey with me into WONDER . . . You’re welcome here.

So, there you go, friends!  I’m remembering that even when throws me a curve,
when things don’t go as hoped, to look for the wonder, to find the beauty of my Vivid God …
yes, even this week!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kidney Stones & Simeon's Sword

Hi Friends,

Well, it’s been quite an adventure since my last blog post! That CT scan I mentioned showed two 7mm stones stuck in both my ureters.  I had my scan last Tuesday, they called me in to the office on Wednesday, and I was in surgery last Thursday morning.  Just that quick.  Doc broke up 6 kidney stones altogether.  Then I spent a week with stents in – arrrrgggghhhhh (worse than the stones!!), followed by another X-ray which showed that I still had blockage in my right ureter tube.  Nooooo…  But, in good news, they took out the stents anyway.  That night I passed 16 (yes, 16 – crazy, huh?!!?) smaller stone fragments, which I’m hoping was the blockage they saw earlier that day on the X-ray.  I’m still having some pain on my right side, though, which is a bummer.  Next Friday I’ll have another X-ray and an appointment to evaluate what’s what and decide what to do next.  If I’m stone-free, I can go on my merry way.  But if there’s still blockage, I’ll probably have to have yet another surgery. 

So, since I’ve been dealing with loads of pain, I thought it would be appropriate to share a little excerpt from WRESTLING WITH WONDER, which is due to release in just a few weeks (and is available for preorder on Amazon right now!!). 

This is from Chapter 6, The Soul-Piercing Sword (you can see why I was drawn to this chapter this week!), which discusses Simeon’s Song in Luke 2:22-35:


            A haunting question. A frightening one. Are we supposed to suffer? Is pain a part of our blessing from God? We don’t think so. We approach it as if it’s something strange, something foreign that sneaks past God’s protection. We behave as if we think that if we just do what’s right, God will reward us with a life of ease. Then we act as if hurt and difficulty and struggle proves either our sin or that God has turned away. We cry out:

            What have I done to deserve this?
            Why is God punishing me?
            Why can’t I just learn whatever it is he’s trying to teach me, so I can move on?
Or we say:

            Has God forgotten me?
            If God is good, why is life so hard?
            Maybe God doesn’t love me after all ...

            But then, in the midst of the cries and queries, comes Simeon’s song to Mary. As we approach the temple with soaring hopes, crashing doubts, and questions that will not be answered, we see a woman who is declared favored, a girl called most-blessed. And we hear an old man’s song. A song that sings in harmony, yet in counterpoint, to Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55):

            Mary sings: “He has helped his servant Israel … just as He promised our ancestors" (1:54-55).
            And Simeon sings: Yes, there will be glory for Israel, but first the Messiah will be a light to the Gentiles. The first will be last, the last will be first (2:32).

            Mary sings: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (1:52).
            And Simeon sings: Yes, he will cause the rising and falling of many. Many in Israel. He will be opposed. Oh Mary, it won’t look anything like you expect (2:34).

            Mary sings: “He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts" (1:51).
            And Simeon sings: “So the thoughts of many will be revealed” (2:35b). Not only the proud will be scattered. Not only the mighty will fall. He has come to reveal the hearts of all of us.
            Mary sings: "From now on all generations will call me blessed” (1:48b).
            And Simeon sings: And that blessedness will be through the soul-piercing sword (2:35a).

            And as I listen to the song of Mary and Simeon, woven together in harmony, I find my world shaken, my suppositions exposed.
            Maybe I’m wrong when I think the blessed life is the easy life.
            Maybe I’m mistaken when I believe favor is when everything goes right.
            Maybe God intends for my very soul to be pierced.
            A startling concept. A scary peek into the intentions of the Spirit himself. Maybe pain is part of the plan.