Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When You Want to Go Back to the Barn...

Hi Friends,

I wanted to share some encouragement from our last event at Wonder Wood Ranch (before it was even Wonder Wood Ranch!). For those weary of the journey, for those wishing for a shortcut around the path God has you on, for those who want to go back to the barn … hang in there…


I put my hands on my hips and looked out at the sea of grinning-kid faces sitting on the stacks of hay before me. Nearly thirty big, wide smiles met my gaze. I grinned back. A few van-loads of kids had come from the local low-income apartments to spend the afternoon riding, grooming, and experiencing horse-life for the first time.
            “Who’s been on a horse before?” I asked.
            Three hands raised.
            My smile grew. It was going to be an interesting day.
            My daughters brought our horses from their pens as I reviewed basic safety tips. After the horses were saddled and ready, I pointed toward the narrow trail that winds through the trees around our property. “Okay, this is the important part. When it’s your turn, stay on the trail!”
            A boy raised his hand in the back of the group. “Why?”
            “If you don’t, guess what will get you?”
            I raised my eyebrows. “Worse! Poison oak!”
            “Oooooh.” Their eyes widened. 
            A tiny girl tugged on the edge of my shirt. “What’s poison oak?”
            I squatted beside her. “It’s a plant that looks like other plants, but it’s not like other plants at all. See all those nice red and green leaves growing on either side of the path?”
            She nodded.
            “That’s poison oak. It looks pretty, but if you rub against it you’ll get a nasty red, itchy rash. It’s awful.”
            She wrinkled up her nose. “I don’t want that.”
            “Nobody wants that. That’s why we stay on the path.”
            In the hours that followed, I led a string of horses around and around the trail. Two loops around, and kids would dismount to allow the next group to ride. Each time, we talked about poison oak. Each time, the kids kept their horses on the path. Until about two hours in.
            I heard a yelp behind me. “Help! Smokey’s going off the trail!” Sure enough, the gelding had spotted a patch of green and was heading right toward it. I ran back and grabbed his bridle, just as he reach a bush of shiny, poison leaves. I hauled him back to the safe path and walked beside him until he stayed the course.
            Two rounds later, I heard another yelp. This time, Valentine headed off the path, back toward the barn. After two and a half hours, she was tired. She wanted to be done. done. We brought her back to her spot and encouraged her to keep walking.
            Later that night as I thought back to the adventures of the day, I was reminded that we can stay out of the poisonous places in life if we just let God lead us on the proper path, let him dictate the boundaries and where we ought to walk. We must stay on the path God has for us. Otherwise, poison thoughts, poison actions, poison problems will rub up against us to make ugly, itchy rashes on our relationships, our work, and our witness.
            Sometimes there are green and red, shiny leaves tempting us off the path. They look pretty. We want to take a closer look. But they’re poison.
            Sometimes, like Smokey, we get hungry for things that are not for us and we veer off course. When that happens, it’s good to have God and wise friends to bring us back to the trail. And it’s good to allow them to walk beside us to help us stay the course.
            Sometimes, like Valentine, we just get tired and want to take a shortcut back to the barn. We want to be done. In those times, God says to us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
            As I sat, soaking my feet that night, I thought about the joy we find when we trust God to lead us where we need to go. The path may be long, we may get tired and hungry, discouraged and disappointed. But God knows there’s poison off the path. He says to us, “...ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16, NIV)

            Rest, not rashes. And maybe a good, epson salt soak for feet sore from the journey. That sounds good to me!

(REMEMBER: You can donate to Wonder Wood Ranch through check, cash, or PayPal. Use marlo@wonderwoodranch.com to donate through PayPal. All donations are tax-deductible. We would love your support!!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Life's Ups and Downs - Lessons from Wonder Wood Ranch

Hi Friends,

Here's another story I often share with kids who come out, to encourage them to not lose hope even when things go wrong:

I held my breath as my five-year-old trotted her horse, Valentine, toward the little goat tied in the middle of the arena.  Valentine hesitated.  Jayna straightened her shoulders and urged the horse on.  
A few seconds more, then, she stopped, jumped off, and raced toward the goat.  The goat skittered left.  Jayna grabbed for the ribbon on its tail.  The goat scampered right.  She plunged after it and raised her fist to show a bright red ribbon clutched in her fingers.  A moment later, she turned, ran to a barrel twenty feet away, and slapped the ribbon on top.  
The crowd erupted in cheers.  The judge grinned and gave her a thumbs-up.  I let out my breath.
She walked Valentine out of the arena and threw herself into my arms.  “Did you see, Mom?  We did great!”
I grabbed the reins and gave Jayna a huge hug.  “Of course I did.  And Dad got pictures too.”
“What’s next?”
“Cattle sorting.  You ready?”  That was an event she’d also never done before.
She gave me a nervous nod.  “Okay.” 
Twenty minutes later, I was holding my breath again as Jayna trotted her horse down the middle of the arena.  Only this time, six cows stood at the far end instead of one little goat.  
Jayna moved into the midst of them.  She reined Valentine around, then back, trying to separate one cow from the others.  At first, it seemed to be working.  A black cow ambled off to the left.  I let out my breath again.  Maybe she could do it.
But then, circumstances changed.  The black cow darted back into the herd.  Valentine spun toward the gate.  Then, the horse took off.  At three strides she started to hop.  At four, she bucked.   Once.  Twice.  And Jayna flew off into the dirt.  
I ran into the arena and scooped her up.  Sandy mud mixed with her tears as she spat out a mouthful of arena dirt.  
“Th-that didn’t go very well,” she wailed.
I sighed and brushed a clump of mud from her helmet.  “No, it didn’t.  Are you okay?”
She nodded.
“Come on, let’s go get Valentine and get you cleaned up.”
She sniffed and rubbed her hand over her nose as we made our way toward the gate where Valentine was standing.
In the days that followed, I thought about our time at the horse show and realized that life is lot like the show.  It’s a mixed experience.  Things go well.  Things go badly.  You succeed, you fail.  You win, then you lose.  One minute the crowds are clapping.  The next, they’re gasping as you take a mouthful of dirt.  
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Jesus knew all about life’s ups and downs.  One day he was riding into Jerusalem as the people cheered, waved palm branches, and cried out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9, NIV).  A few days later, he was standing bloody and bruised before the crowd again, and this time they shouted, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13, NIV).  One day he was eating a Passover feast with his friends (Mark 14), the next, he was hanging on a cross to die (Mark 15).  One day he was in the tomb.  Three days later, resurrection.
Up, down, up, down.  Life is like that.  So, how do I live through all life’s ups and downs?  How did Jesus live?
I think Jesus, and Jayna, had it right.  Jayna walked through the gate, faced the next event, and trotted down the center of the arena toward whatever goats or cows awaited her.  Jesus walked into this life, faced the will of God, and strode resolutely toward whatever His Father asked.  Both faced life’s ups and downs with trust and obedience rather than fear and what if’s.  Both rejoiced and wept and got a mouthful of dirt.  But they didn’t give up, they didn’t turn away.  And because of that, Jesus rose again.  And Jayna rode again.

That’s what God asks of me too, that I would continue forward in His will, that I would face every up and down by trusting him and walking forward in obedience.  And even if my face hits the dirt, I know God will be there to pick me up and help me wash the mud out of my mouth.  He will help me face the next event, so that I, too, can rise and ride again.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Conquering Life's Hurdles - Lessons from Wonder Wood Ranch

Hi Friends,

We've been working hard to prepare the barn, horses, critters, property, etc. for Wonder Wood Ranch's first official event. And I've also been thinking about some of the stories we've shared with the groups of kids who have already come out before we were official.

Here is a story we've shared that encouraging to both the kids and us. Hope you'll find it encouraging too:


I held my breath as my six-year-old, Joelle, rode her Paint mare into the arena.  The gate closed behind her.  She paused and glanced at the three short jumps of the Hurry Scurry race.  A small smile brushed her lips.
            Then, she urged the horse forward.
            I gripped the fence rail and watched Oreo approach the first jump at a gentle lope.  Closer, closer, up and over.  I let out my breath.
            Joelle and Oreo turned the far pole and headed back, over jump number two.  Clear.  Over jump three.  Clear again.  And through the timing poles, perfect.
            I whooped and cheered and pressed my hand to my thudding heart.  They’d done it, and done it beautifully.
            A wide grin lit Joelle’s face as she patted Oreo’s neck and guided the mare out the gate. 
            I rushed over to them, calling, “You did it, you did it, you did it!”
            Joelle turned.  “Oreo did it.”  She leaned over and hugged the horse’s neck.
            And she was right.  Oreo did it, but only because they’d practiced and practiced and practiced.  When we’d gotten Oreo just two months before, the mare was terrible at jumping.  She’d hesitate as she approached the jump, then she'd stumble over, her back feet banging the crossbar.  The jump was always jumbled up afterward.  It was ugly. It was awkward. 
But Joelle didn’t let Oreo quit.  She kept giving her chance after chance to figure out how to do it right. At home, they'd lope around the arena and jump and jump and jump, until Oreo hesitated less and less, until her legs cleared more frequently, until the awkwardness decreased with each try.  And Joelle didn't get angry at Oreo for not doing well.  She didn’t scowl or scold, punish or frown.  She just kept giving her chances to practice, and encouraging her with pets and praise for each improvement.
Later that day as Joelle went up to get her second place ribbon for the Hurry Scurry, I thought about how God’s interactions with me are a lot like Joelle’s with Oreo.  I too have things I’m not so good at.  Sometimes, it’s considering others first, or trusting him in difficult circumstances, or finding peace in chaos (that's a tough one for me!), or fighting fear in certain specific areas of life.  As I approach those hurdles, I often hesitate, I stumble over, I bang my feet, and it can be both awkward and ugly. 
Then, too often, my response to a not-so-perfect jump is to think badly of myself, to criticize and accuse and feel that surely God is scowling and scolding, punishing and frowning.  I condemn myself for not having enough faith, for not flying through a situation perfectly, or not being as good as someone else going through a similar thing.
But standing there, cheering for Joelle and Oreo reminded me of James 1:2-4 (NIV):  Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 
I used to read this verse as “be happy about your hardships,” which seemed crazy.  But now I believe James really means that we can be glad that we don’t go through trials for nothing.  God uses the hurdles of life to help us become the people he envisions us to be.  We just have to keep going, keep trying, because that’s what perseverance is. 

So, when I face the same tough hurdles of life over and over, it’s not because God is punishing me, it’s because he’s giving me an opportunity to practice, grow, and improve until I can jump smoothly. He's saying, "You'll get it.  Let's try it again. I'm giving you another chance, and another, and another." He doesn't expect me to be able to clear every jump the first time, or even the second or third.  Instead, he’s giving me a chance to get a little better, a little faster, a little smoother, until I’ve mastered the things I once wasn’t so good at.
            Perhaps, in time, I too will be like Oreo, flying over the jumps with my feet not even touching.  And maybe, someday when I reach heaven, there’ll be a prize for me too, and then even the angels will clap and cheer.