Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When Life's a Puzzle

Hi Friends,

Joelle turns 12 this week (where does the time go???!!!), and in honor of her I wanted to share a story from 10 years ago, when she was 2. She's always loved puzzles.

So, for those times when life is puzzling, when the pieces aren't what you would have chosen, when the puzzle isn't so fun, here's a bit of wisdom I learned from my beautiful Joelle...

Life as Pieces of the Puzzle

“No, Sweetie, that doesn’t go there.”  I pointed my finger at the puzzle piece in my two-year-old daughter’s hand.
Joelle studied the bright piece and frowned.  Vivid reds and pinks splashed over the cardboard surface.  “Flower.  Go dere.”  She again pushed it into the open space along one side of the puzzle. 
“It won’t fit.  You’re not ready for that piece yet.”
“Fit.  Go dere.”  Her brows furrowed as she turned the piece sideways and tried again.  Push, turn, shove, turn, stare, frown.  And still the piece wouldn’t slide into place.
I tapped my fingers on the table and reached for the puzzle piece. 
Joelle hid it against her chest.
I had to admit, it was a beautiful piece.  Rose petals shone against the deep green background and created an enticing image of color.  But no matter how hard Joelle tried, it wouldn’t fit into spot she had chosen for it. 
I watched her struggle for a few more minutes, then searched through the pile for the right piece.  I finally found it – a piece covered in shades of ugly brown with dark knobs for the tree trunk.  “Here, love, try this one.”  I handed her the picture of the brown trunk.
She looked at the piece in my hand, then at the pretty flowers in hers.  She pushed my hand away.  “No.”
I wiggled my fingers.  “This is the one you need.” 
“No.”  She pointed at my hand.  “Yucky.” 
I looked down at the piece.  She was right.  It was yucky compared to the flowers.  But it was the piece she needed at this time.  The only one that would fit in order to make the picture complete.  
The difference was that I had the whole picture in mind, the whole puzzle.  She, only the piece in her hand.  It took Joelle five full minutes to finally put down the flowered piece and try the one I was holding out to her.
Not that I blamed her.  I prefer flowered pieces too.  In the picture of my life, I’ve often tried to shove in the pretty piece – something that looks good, seems appealing.  I want success in my career now.  I want my relationships to be easy and comfortable.  I want my children to always choose what’s right, and my health to be excellent. 
But sometimes God holds out a piece that isn’t nearly so attractive.  He calls me to a difficult task, to face failure or fear, to endure a painful situation, or to invest in a relationship that seems to bring only heartache.  At those times, the piece He’s giving me looks brown, gnarled, and ugly when I want bright and beautiful. 
And sometimes, I, too, want to hang on to my idea of how my life should be right now.  Sometimes I want to force a pretty piece, one I like better, when God’s giving me the less attractive piece because in the end that’s the one that will make the picture of my life right.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” God tells the people of Israel in Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  And the same holds true for me.  He knows the plans He has for me.  His plans, not mine.  Plans that take into account the whole picture of my life, the picture He is creating especially for me. 
So these days, as I watch Joelle put puzzle pieces together, I remind myself that God knows all the pieces of my life, where they fit, and in what order they must be placed. And when he hands me a piece that isn’t all flowers, I need to trust that He sees the whole picture, and one day that picture will be beautiful.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When Life is Manure and Mud

Hi Friends,

Well, this week isn't going exactly as planned. Case in point - yesterday Joelle and I planned on a nice little ride on our horses. Instead, our ride was cut short by a tumble into the mud and a face full of horse poop.  We were only 20 minutes into our ride when Joelle's horse got scared, scrambled sideways up a hill, and Joelle slipped off into the muddy puddle … a puddle which happened to form in the exact place where her horse poops in the pasture after a water pipe burst in the barn. Perfect timing, perfect placement, the perfect coming-together of accidents, mishaps, and brokenness to end up with a face full of manure and mud.

Sometimes life is like that.

Sometimes things go awry and we end up covered in mud (and poo).

So, for those times when you've landed in the mud and are covered in stink, here are a few thoughts from C.S. Lewis that have encouraged me:

1) From Screwtape Letters (remember this is the demon Screwtape talking to his nephew Wormword):  "We want him [Wormwood's 'patient' that they are trying to lure from his faith] to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear.  There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy [i.e., God].  He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.

2) From Mere Christianity: "We must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time.  When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected) he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly.  When troubles come along -- illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation - he is disappointed.  These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before.  It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us."

3) And my favorite, from Mere Christianity:  "If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a ... dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.  The process will be long and in parts very panful, but that is what we are in for.  Nothing less.  He meant what He said."

So, when you find yourself thrown into a muddy, poopy puddle in life, remember that mud (or even manure) is not permanent. God's got just the soap for that! You will be dazzling and radiant in His sight. 

May you be showered with the wonder of God's grace and love!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

When a Big Bear Eats Your Lunch...

Hi Friends,

This week, I've been thinking a lot about what you do when you can't do anything. What do you do when you're out of options, when you can't "fix it," when all your own resources are useless? And I was reminded of this story of when a bear ate all our food (and we were out in the middle of nowhere). We were without options.  God wasn't.

This story encouraged me this week. I hope it encourages you too!

The Biggest Bear I'd Ever Seen

It was nine o'clock and barely dark yet in the Yosemite National Forest.  A few birds chirped sleepy "good-nights" to their neighbors as the first stars began to peek from the majestic blue cloak of evening sky.  I yawned and rolled over in my sleeping bag.  My husband, Bryan, flung his arm over my bag.  He was already asleep.  I smiled and buried my head into the pillow.
Just as my eyelashes fluttered down on weary cheeks, I heard it.  A slow clawing and a soft grunt.  I held my breath and listened.  The night air rent with the sound of ripping nylon.  
"What was that?" I whispered.  
"I don't know," Bryan whispered back.
"Here, you see what it is."  I huddled in my sleeping bag and motioned for Bryan to go out and explore the campsite.
He unzipped the tent flap, stuck his head out the opening, and flashed the light over the right side of the camp.  Before I could utter a word, he was sitting beside me again, the tent flap securely zipped, with his eyes like two gigantic hazel orbs.
"Well?" I asked.
He gulped and stared at me a moment longer.  "It...it's the biggest bear I've ever seen," he finally stammered, his eyes still fixed unseeingly upon me.  "Right out there eating up all our food!"
Now my eyes were matching his in size.  
"What are we going to do?" he whispered.
I clutched the flashlight and poked my head out the tent door.  There, not twenty feet from our tent, was a huge black bear.  My light shone in two gigantic luminous eyes above a muzzle covered with trail mix.  It grunted and swept its head down for another mouthful.
My head was back in the tent before I could think twice.  "What are we going to do?" I repeated my husband's question.  
"The paper, that paper they gave us at the ranger station, what did it say?" Bryan finally whispered, rummaging through his backpack for the literature we had stuffed there earlier.
"Yosemite bears are very timid," it read.
"Timid. Ha!" I scoffed. "That bear looks anything but timid."
Bryan nodded.  We kept reading.  "If you encounter a bear," the pamphlet continued, "scare it away immediately by yelling, banging pots together, and throwing rocks at it from a safe distance."  
I looked at Bryan.  He looked at me.  
"May as well give it a try," I whispered.  
We each took a deep breath and clamored from the tent, pots and pans in hand.  The bear hadn't moved.  We nodded at each other, then began.  I banged pots and pans and yelled.  Bryan blew his whistle, until the sounds slashed through the air with enough fervor to frighten the dead.
The bear just looked at us and kept on eating.
I frowned and picked up some a few rocks to throw at the creature.  The rocks landed a couple feet from the animal's nose.  It kept eating.  We threw more rocks, yelled, and whistled again.  Still no response.  Very timid, these Yosemite bears, I thought to myself.
Finally, the bear gave us one annoyed look, as if it disapproved of our company, grabbed the food bag in its mouth, and lumbered away into the forest.
Bryan and I sat down on a boulder and looked at each other again.  “There goes all our food,” he muttered. We went back to bed.  At least the bear was gone and probably wouldn't bother to return since it had taken all the food we had.  We climbed back into our sleeping bags, flicked off the flashlight, and proceeded to embark upon a long, restless night filled with dreams of bears in the tent.  Every creak of a tree, every falling pine cone, every moan of the wind, became the step or breath of a bear in my dreams.
At last, dawn peeked into the morning sky.  Slowly, we got up and made our way outside the tent.  There were no bears this morning.  Probably curled up comfortably asleep, with a full belly, in a cave somewhere, I thought.
Then, we were confronted again by our problem.  We had no food.  The enormity of the situation struck us.  
I turned to Bryan.  "What are we going to do now?" I asked, last night's fright becoming but a minor incident in the face of hiking for two long days without any food.  We were fairly deep into Yosemite's back country.  There was no turning back now.
"Guess we won't have to worry about bears anymore," Bryan quipped, attempting to mask the concern we both felt.  It didn't work.  "Don't know," he sighed.  He shrugged his shoulders, and I shrugged mine.
"We may as well pack up, though," he continued.  "Nothing else to do."
We had come to a situation where we had no answers.  We didn't even have any alternatives. The problem was out of our hands.
Just as we were putting the last items into our packs, still at wit's end as to what we were going to do, a woman sauntered out of the woods near our camp.  
"Say, we heard your whistle last night.  Have a bear?" she asked.
We nodded.  
"Did it get your food?" she continued.
We nodded again.  
"We have some extra food if you need it."  
"Really?" we choked, hardly able to believe our ears.  
"Yeah, some trail mix and dried fruit, and other stuff."  She smiled.  "Would you like it?"  We nodded our heads yet again, this time much more eagerly.  
"I'll be back in a few minutes," she stated pleasantly.  
True to her word, she was back almost immediately with the promised food, more than enough to sustain us for our journey, and better food than we had originally brought.
I stood staring at the food in my hand and smiling as the woman made her way back through the trees.  I chuckled to myself and thought about how God takes care of His children so much better than we can take care of ourselves.  Just when we think tragedy has come and we're at our wit's end, He finds a way to give us what we need.  And His gifts are better and more abundant than anything we can get for ourselves.  Somehow, He always finds a way to turn problems into providence, hopeless trouble into triumph.  

Now, whenever I am faced with a problem that seems insurmountable, I remember the biggest bear I have ever seen.  That bear has become a symbol to me of how God can take impossibility and turn it into blessing.  My wit's end is only God's beginning, His opportunity to shower me with His blessings and provision.  Problems in my life are not the end, but the forerunner of God's grace, the doorway of His love.