Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas, Mary, and the God of Mystery

Hi Friends,

This year I have so many who are close to me are facing serious health issues, some are dealing with the impending death of a loved one, some have lost jobs, some are lonely from lost or strained relationships. Even at Christmastime, sometimes especially at Christmastime, life is hard.

Why does it have to be hard at Christmas? That is the mystery I ponder, and as I do, I think about these words from Wrestling with Wonder:

Christmas, Mary, and the God of Mystery:

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.
But 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 live 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.

May you embrace the mystery of a Messiah in a manger this Christmas!
Merry Christmas,

Monday, December 7, 2015

On the Difficult Road to Bethlehem

Hi Friends,

This week I'm pondering the long road to Bethlehem and how much Mary had to go through before she could hold Jesus in her arms. Sometimes you and I have to travel long and go through much before we experience Christ in a new and more vibrant way as well.

Here are some thoughts about that from Wrestling With Wonder:


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...
But at the end of the journey, Mary would encounter Christ in a way she hadn’t before. The Messiah would be born, and she would be transformed. She would hold God incarnate in her arms ... but only after a long and arduous journey.
Sometimes, it’s no different for you or me. Sometimes we have to travel a path we don’t understand to arrive in the place where God wants us to be.
And as s I recall my journey, and Mary’s, they teach me that even through hurt and discomfort, maybe especially in hurt and pain, God is leading to a place where I will glimpse his glory anew. He is saying to me that I must travel the path he has placed before me in order to get to the place he has planned for me since the beginning. 
So, when you’ve surrendered to God’s call and are suddenly thrust onto a road you never imagined and never wanted, remember, he knows the path you take. He travels with you, within you, and you will see him as you never could have before if you just keep going, trust, and persevere.
There, you will see the face of the Messiah. You will meet him in a new way. So, place one foot in front of the other, walk through your life day by day, know that this road, as pointless as it seems, is the only way to his will. 
Jesus must be born in Bethlehem. You must travel the difficult road at the worst time in your life to get there. Keep going, have faith, walk ... and you will get to that new place where you will see him in a new way. The place where you will be changed. Don’t give up. Don’t despair. 

This road leads to Bethlehem ... 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mary & God's Interruptions

Hi Friends,

So the Christmas season begins! And as you might imagine, I begin my season pondering an angel's visit to a young girl in Galilee, a girl who would become the mother of Jesus.

Here are some thoughts from the first chapter of Wrestling with Wonder that I'm thinking about this week, and I thought you might find encouraging too.

May God remind you, as he's reminding me, to treasure his interruptions, especially in this season, and to find his promises, plans, and joy in those moments when he interrupts my plans with his own.


Who is this God? Who is he who interrupts our lives with a call to the impossible?
He is the Dream Taker and the Dream Maker.
The Dream Taker 
“Follow your dreams!” says the world. 
“Die to self,” says God. “Die to your plans, your dreams, your tight-fisted grip on what your life should be.”
  “You can do anything you set your mind to!” says the world.
“I am God, you are not,” says God. “Submit to me, and together we will do everything I set my mind to.”
“Be somebody!” says the world. “Accomplish, achieve, fight your way to the top!”
“Be mine,” says God. “Stop striving and instead rest in my plans for you. Will you be my handmaiden?”
The Dream Maker 
Meditate on these verses. Hear in them God’s call to you:

  • “Delight yourselfTake delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, NIV). Not “Delight yourselfTake delight in the Lord and he will do whatever you want.” Instead, he will give you the desires themselves—new desires, new dreams, his dreams for you. His dreams will becomes yours!
  • “For we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has already prepared for us to walk around in” (Eph. 2:10, translation mine). He has already favored us with a plan and a call. It’s all prepared. You just have to let go and step forward.
  • I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV, emphasis mine). And they aren’t our plans. They aren’t our dreams. They aren’t our carefully scripted ideas for what our lives should be. Instead, they are a call to the impossible—to loss, confusion, difficulty, misunderstandings, ridicule ... and ultimately to wonder. 
            So in the great calls, and in the small: Rejoice, fear not, and submit. Whisper to God, “Let it be to me as you have said.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

When It All Seems Pointless - Plant Pumpkins!

Hi Friends,

Yesterday, my pastor talked about loving our community, loving those around us, with abandon. Loving as Jesus loves. He talked about how some plant seeds, some water, some even harvest, but it is GOD who causes the growth. We can't make things grow - that's God's job (just ask any farmer!).

When I got home, the rotting husk of Beanie's old pumpkin (from Kinderprep this year), reminded me of a story from a few years ago when we threw our old pumpkins out in front of our house.

I was encouraged to keep loving, keep planting, keep doing the right thing, even when I don't see the results I was hoping for. I hope you'll be encouraged too.

Here's the story:

It was the strangest sight – a lush, green plant growing in the middle of an expanse of bare dirt.  I stood there on my front porch and stared at it.  Wide leaves, a bright yellow flower, thick, healthy stalks.  It was perfect, beautiful, and clearly not a weed, even though it seemed to have sprung up overnight. 
            The plant wouldn’t have seemed so strange if it weren’t for its surroundings.  Around it, for a dozen yards in every direction, there was nothing but bare, dry soil.  Not a sprig of grass, not a seedling, not even a stray weed.  Nothing but dusty earth and this one perfect plant growing in the center.
            Months ago, my husband had graded the area in front of our house in anticipation of doing some landscaping.  The landscaping hadn’t happened and the area had been dirt ever since.  Until now.
            “Look at that.”  I called to my eight-year-old daughter, Bethany, as she zoomed past on her bike. 
            She steered her bike around and stopped in front of me.  “What?”’
            I pointed to the splotch of green amongst the dusty brown. 
            Her gaze followed the motion.  “Wow.  What is that?”  She parked her bike and trotted to the edge of the pavement for a better look.
            “I don’t know.  Should we go see?”  I stepped from the porch and made my way across the driveway, through the dirt, and toward the middle of what will someday be my lawn. 
            Bethany came up behind me.
            I leaned over the plant.
            She did too.  “Well, what is it?”
            I studied the flower and leaves.  “It looks like a pumpkin plant.”
            “But how did it get here?”  We didn’t have any other pumpkin plants, and we certainly hadn’t intended to plant any seeds.  Then, I remembered.  Last Fall, six months ago, we had thrown our old pumpkins out into the yard.  Bryan must have ground them up with the tractor when he was grading, then somehow moved one of the seeds out to the middle of the area, many yards away from where the pumpkins had sat.  There, it had laid dormant until the Spring.  And that’s how we could have a strong, healthy pumpkin plant where we’d never expected anything to grow at all.
            As I studied the plant, I realized that sometimes God’s Kingdom works like that too.  My actions can plant seeds even when and where I don’t expect.  Sometimes, just by doing what’s right, by making smooth places out of rough ones, I can spread seeds of God’s love that will sprout later and turn into new life.
            I thought about some things I had done over the past year that didn’t seem to yield any spiritual results -  simple acts, like making a job easier for a coworker, smoothing her way in a new task, or helping a neighbor move, or sharing a meal with a friend.  Those were times when I didn’t think I was spreading seeds, and I didn’t see any specific growth coming from my actions.  But just like the pumpkin plant, seeds may sprout and grow when I don’t expect, where I don’t expect.  Maybe my coworker will never acknowledge my help, but someone else in the office will be touched by what was done.  Or my neighbor won’t be changed because of the help offered, but a relative of hers may be.  The truth is, I don’t know.  I can’t always predict where and how new life will spring up.  Maybe that’s why Galatians 6:9 (NIV) says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” 
            All God asks is that I continue to do what’s right, continue to make rough ground smoother for others.  And even if I don’t see results now, or the person I’m hoping to help seems unresponsive, I shouldn’t give up.  It could be that there are a few pumpkin seeds caught in my tractor’s wheels, and as I go about making smooth paths for God, a few seeds will fall out where I don’t expect them and a new plant will grow, flower, and flourish in what was once a bare yard.

            And maybe I’ll even get to enjoy an out-of-season pumpkin or two in the process!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Waiting for Wonder? Here's Hope!

Hi Friends,

I'm working hard on my new book, WAITING FOR WONDER, a Transformational Journey through the Life of Sarah, which is due just after Christmas and is currently scheduled to hit the shelves next November. (All prayers appreciated as I seek to delve deeply into the life and experience of a woman who knew what it meant to wait!)

So, I thought I'd share a short excerpt from the chapter I just finished (remember, this is just the rough draft!) in hopes that you will be encouraged by it.

For those seeking to be faithful in the waiting-times of life, here is hope from the chapter where God changes Sarai's name to Sarah … but first He reveals a new name for Himself. He tells them he is El Shaddai:


         God begins this newest exchange by revealing a new name, a new, deeper, identity for himself ... El Shaddai  The etymology and meaning of Shaddai is obscure. It is usually translated “God Almighty,” but in the Old Testament (Genesis 28:3, 35:11, 43:14, 48:3; Exodus 6:3 and Ezekiel 10:5) there is always a connection with the promise of descendants when using the name, a connotation of God being able to make fertile what is barren and overcome obstacles to fulfill his promises. There’s an idea of “God-Who-Is-Able” or “God-Who-Is-Sufficient” even in the face of seeming impossibility. He is God Who Is Enough. 
So when God reveals himself as El Shaddai, he’s not simply saying he’s a big, all-powerful God. He is wooing them with a picture of a God who is sufficient, who is enough, who can and will meet their needs. He is a God who makes the barren fertile, who desires and is able to bring life and beauty and wonder where there was once only death, dryness, and despair. 
In his very name, he is calling them to come. Come, to the One who will suffice, the One who can quench their thirst, the One who brings springs in the desert (see Isaiah 41). The One who must be enough for them before they can become who God has created them to be.
It is significant that before God calls Abram and Sarai to walk intimately with him, before they become Abraham and Sarah, he first reveals a new name for himself - he gives them a deeper more intimate glimpse of his character and being. We cannot draw closer to God until we see more of who he truly is. We must discover more and more of who God really is before we can become who we really are.
We must see him as El Shaddai -- as God Almighty, God-Who-Is-Able, God-Who-Is-Sufficient, God-Who-Is-Enough-For-Me -- before we can become who we are meant to be, and before he can truly fulfill his promises to us. 
After his wife died, C.S. Lewis wrote in his journal (which was later published in his book, A Grief Observed), “You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately... And so, perhaps, with God ... The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear. On the other hand, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?” (36-37)
         I’ve been there. So has Sarai. Maybe you have too. When we are desperate, when we are kicking down the door, when we’ll try anything, when we give our maidservant to our husband to have a child, then, our God is not enough. He is not enough for us. 
But after thirteen years of watching Ismael grow up, Sarai has discovered the God who is, who must be, Enough. He is enough to not only make her barren womb live again but her barren heart as well. It is God Almighty, the One who is sufficient for us, who calls us to become who he created us to be.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Grateful & Grace-Filled … Even on Bad Days??

Hi Friends,

Today as I was feeling overwhelmed, tired, and near my wit's end, God reminded me of this story of Jayden from last year. He reminded me that even on the hard days, I am called to be grateful and grace-filled … especially when I feel like it the least.

Here's the story of Jayden and his green shirt that helped me:

It was just a green shirt. A simple green, cotton shirt with the image of a football on the front and white stripes on the sleeves. The perfect shirt for a five-year-old boy to wear with khaki shorts and tennis shoes on a warm day in September.
At least I thought so.
But Jayden didn’t.
Not at all.
He pattered down the stairs in his pajamas and meandered into the kitchen. I popped a couple pieces of bread into the toaster and turned toward him. “Good morning, sweetie. Go get dressed. I put your clothes out for you.”
He grunted and ambled toward the clothes in the other room. Then, there was a moment of pure silence, followed by a caterwauling holler. “Nooooooo! No. No. No. No.”
I dropped the butter knife into the sink and ran to the other room.
Jayden lay on the ground with his school clothes scattered all around him. I didn’t see blood or broken bones or even a hundred spiders crawling over the floor. All I saw was a little boy with a red face, pounding his feet, squinting up his eyes. All I heard was another ferocious shout. “I won’t wear it. I WON’T!”
I skidded to a halt. “What are you talking about?”
“I. Won’t. Wear. That. Green. Shirt.”
I blew out a long breath. Oh great, it was going to be one of those mornings when he didn’t like anything and nothing was right. I squared my shoulders. Then, I tried reasoning. “I picked out that shirt for you because it goes perfectly with your shorts.”
“I don’t care.”
“It’s going to be warm today.”
“I won’t wear it.”
“You’ve worn it before without complaining.”
No answer. He flopped over on his belly and scrunched up his face. Then, he howled again. He kicked, he hollered, he refused to get dressed.
“Bryan!” I called for his dad.
And Jayden put on the shirt.
All the way to school, Jayden complained. And I fumed. I grumbled. I took deep breaths and tried to think calming thoughts. Silly, stubborn boy! What was wrong with that kid, throwing a big fit like that over nothing? He needed to learn a little bit about gratefulness, that’s what he needed. I sighed. He was only five, and he did get to bed a little later than usual. But still . . . 
And then came a quiet whisper in my soul. You know, he takes after you...
What?!!? I didn’t throw a fit over a green shirt! Did I?
I stopped fuming. I stopped grumbling. And suddenly I had a whole lot more compassion.
I maybe didn’t holler about a green shirt, but what about when God chose other “clothes” for me that I didn’t like very well? What about when He picked out a garment of praise when I felt like everything was going wrong? And what about when he wanted me to put on an attitude of thankfulness when I was tired and cranky? Or wear forgiveness on my sleeve when I was wronged and the other person didn’t seem repentant? 
Often, I didn’t like that any more than Jayden liked the green shirt. What if Jayden talked to me instead of pitching a fit? What if I talked calmly to God instead of complaining and whining? 
Jayden may be too little for that level of maturity, but I’m not. I’m old enough to know better. I’m old enough to know there’s a big difference between complaints and requests. When God chooses something for me that I don’t like, I shouldn’t kick and holler and sit on the floor with my clothes strewn all about me. I should simply share my heart and ask for what I’d like. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6 (NIV), “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Next time when God chooses something for me to wear, whether an attitude or a circumstance, whether sackcloth or fine linen, I want to take my own advice. I want to approach God, my heavenly parent, with thankfulness and a quiet request. “Lord, is there another shirt I can wear?” And if he says, “No, this is the only one that goes with what I want for you,” I hope I can accept his answer without yowling and complaining. 

I want to wear whatever shirt God picks out, with gratitude and grace, whether it’s the yucky green one or not.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Don't Cut Holes in Your Own Blanket!

Hi Friends,

This week I'm working on the chapter of Waiting for Wonder (the Sarah book) that talks about how Sarah treated the pregnant Hagar so badly that Hagar ran away. I'm thinking about how sometimes we do things that messes up our lives. We "cut holes in our own blanket" (see story below!).

I'm thinking about how Sarah didn't go after Hagar. She wasn't able to restore what she broke. But God did go after Hagar, and brought her back. He was able to restore what Sarah broke.

So, as I ponder and write, and ponder some more, I'm considering rewriting the following story from when Joelle was little. This story talks about how God gives us rules to keep up from cutting up our lives. But I'm also thinking about how he doesn't just leave the gaping holes after we've messed up.

The original story is below. I think I'll rewrite it to emphasize how God also repairs the holes we make, and he does it in ways we could never manage on our own.


I stood there with the blanket in my hands and tears in my eyes.  Light shone through a dozen great, gaping holes in the crocheted blanket.  I had made the blanket for my 3-year-old when I was pregnant with her.  It was to be a special gift, an heirloom, for her to keep into adulthood.  But here it was, filled with holes, with her standing beside me with scissors in her hand.
            “Oh, Joelle, how could you?”
            Her eyes slid away. 
            “You know this is your special blanket.”
            She sniffed and rubbed her nose with the back of her hand.  “I didn’t know.”
            I closed my eyes.  She was right.  She didn’t know.  She didn’t understand how special that blanket was, and that I couldn’t replace it, and it would be almost impossible to repair.  She didn’t understand what that blanket meant to me, and would one day mean to her.  There were a lot of things that didn’t know.
            But there were some things she did know.  One was that she wasn’t allowed to get the scissors out of the drawer.  The other was that she wasn’t to play with her blanket.  She didn’t like those rules, didn’t understand them.  But today showed the results of breaking them -- a blanket filled with holes.
            I took the scissors out of her hand and placed them high up on a shelf.  Then, I folded the blanket into a ball. 
            Joelle chewed her lower lip.  “Can you fix it, Mommy?”
            I shook my head.  “I don’t think so, sweetheart.  You did a bad thing when you cut it up with the scissors.”
            She took a big, gulping sob and then ran to her bed and threw herself into the pillow.        
            I stood there and didn’t follow.  Truth was, I didn’t know what to do or what to say.  Nothing could make it all better now.  She would just have to live with the consequences, now and into the future.  That’s just how it would be.
            I went downstairs, spread the blanket on a table, and tried to figure out how I make salvage the mess.  As I did, I thought about her words, “I didn’t know.” 
            How often do I say that same thing to God?  I didn’t know that little white lie would come back to bite me.  I didn’t know that if I just kept stubbornly pushing for my way, I’d end up regretting it.  I didn’t know that if I was rude to that person I would pay for it later.  I didn’t know a lot of things.
            But I did know that God calls me to the truth, all the time.  I knew that God wants me to submit to his will and leadership in my life.  I knew he asks me to be kind to everyone, whether I feel like it or not. 
            As it says in Deuteronomy 4:40 (NIV), “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.”
            Sometimes, God’s commands seem restrictive and no fun.  But he gives them to me all the same, and the reason he does is because I don’t know – I can’t see how everything will turn out.  So he gives me instructions in His Word so that it will go well with me. 
            And just like Joelle, I can ignore the rules too.  I can get a chair, get into the off-limits drawer, and pull out the forbidden scissors.  I can have great fun . . . for a moment.  But later, there’s going to be tears and things that cannot always be put back the way they were.

            So now when I read about God’s commands in the Bible, I remember that they’re there because I don’t know everything, and he’s just trying to keep me from cutting holes in my own blanket.