Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Living in the Messy Parts of Life

Hi Friends,

Here's what I'm thinking about lately as the Ranch here turns into a muddy mess . . .

Winter Wonderland?

Marlo Schalesky

In winter, we don’t get snow. We get rain. A lot of it. It falls from the sky in tiny sprinkles, in waving sheets, in giant bucket-dumping sloshes until driveways glisten and puddles form enticing pools for kids to jump in with their new canvas tennis shoes. It rains until potholes become craters and horse pens become mud baths. 
Until there’s nothing but mud and muck and mess.
I’m a much bigger fan of spring. At least, I used to be.
After all, the winter slog is the same every year. I slip on oversized rubber boots, tramp through swamp-like terrain to clean horse stalls, scoop out puddle-filled pig pens, and scrap gunk off equines who have all become the same dark brown color of soggy dirt. Palominos, greys, whites, chestnuts, and duns … all the color of wet earth. Then I trudge back home. I wipe doggie feet. I wash shoes. I clean too many floors. I do it all over again the next day. 
And I thank God for the rain because I live in California where there have been too many years of drought.
But mud is no fun. Muck can be discouraging. And nobody likes a mess.
We like life to be tidy. We like it to go according to plan, our ducks in a row, our horses all their natural colors. Just as it should be.
We like the spring. Winter is too messy.
Yet, as I pull on the big rubber boots one more time, grab a shovel, and head to the barn, I notice something. The patches of clover that died in the fall have started to come to life again. A few bright yellow flowers dot a landscape that had turned to dust. And the little sprigs I planted months ago, the ones that refused to grow in the autumn heat, have perked up their heads and have just begun to look more like plants than dried weeds. 
Maybe the mess and muck and mud aren’t so bad after all. Maybe it’s precisely in the mess that new life can take root … on the path to the barn and in life.
 After all, it was through the mud of the parted Red Sea that God led his people out of slavery and to a new life of freedom (Exodus 14). It was in the muck of a stable that the Savior and Messiah was born and God became human is the mess of childbirth (Luke 2). And it was through the mire and horror of beatings and a bloody death on a Roman cross that redemption and reconciliation were won for us all. 
Perhaps God does his best work in the mud and messes of life.
And so, maybe, it is time to be a fan of winter. Because winter reminds us that it is often in the yuck of life that God works most powerfully to bring new life, new hope, and amazing redemption. It’s in the messy places that we find new ways to bloom through his grace. Those places in life where rain has come instead of snow and it’s made a mess of things, those times when we have to put on the big boots and muddle through as best we can, those areas of life that aren’t neat and tidy as we hoped and planned … those are the very places in which God is most deeply at work to bring new growth and new life.  It’s in the messiest parts of life that we most fully encounter God’s wonder.
So as I’m slogging through the mud of winter, wiping away grimy paw prints yet again, scrubbing shoes that were once clean, and dreaming of the picture-perfect scenes of spring, I remind myself that it’s here, in the mess, that I encounter the beauty of an active and loving God. It’s here that I find him with sleeves rolled up, working to bring me out of slavery, to come into my world and give me good news of great joy, and to redeem all the mud and muck for his glory. 
It is here that I encounter God’s winter wonderland. And today, I am glad that it’s winter.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Hitting the Mark in 2020

Hi Friends,

As I'm thinking about this new year, I'm reminded that archery is a lot like life, and the practices of hitting the mark with an arrow help with hitting the mark in life. Read on to see if you agree . . .

Loosen Your Grip

            Her grip tightened on the bow. She drew back the string. The arrow wobbled. Her knuckles whitened. 
            “Bethany, wait.”
            She didn’t wait. The arrow flew from the string, missed the target, and skittered off into the grass. 
            She strung another arrow.
            I strode over to her. “You’re never going to hit the target like that. First, you have to anchor the string.” I showed her how to place her thumb at the corner of her mouth so the string would be pulled back and anchored at the same place on her face every time. 
            “That feels weird. I don’t like it.”
            “It doesn’t matter if it’s weird. It’s the only way to aim properly. If you don’t, you’re not looking down the same line every time. You think you’re aiming straight, but you’re not. You can’t go by how you feel.” 
            Bethany anchored the string at the corner of her mouth.
            I nodded. “Good.” 
            “Can I let go?”
            “Not yet. Loosen your grip.” I touched her left hand that held the bow. “The arrow won’t fly straight if you’ve got a death grip on the bow. Relax, loosen your fingers, let the bow do what it’s made for.”
            She glanced at me askance, string still anchored, brows furrowed. Her fingers stayed tight around the bow.
            “You can do it.” I caught her glance, understanding that desire to grab on as tight as possible in a vain effort to force the arrow straight. Instinct screamed, “Hold tight!” but wisdom whispered to loosen her grip.
            Slowly, slowly, her knuckles turned from white to pink. Her fingers relaxed.
            I smiled. “Now you’re ready. Let go.”
            The arrow flew from the bow and thunked into the target. Not a bulls-eye, but a respectable hit all the same.
            “Whoo! This is great!” 
            I chuckled. “Try again.”
            She did.
            “Anchor the string. Loosen your grip.” As I repeated the instructions, I realized they were not only good tips for archery, but for life. 
            If we want our life-arrows to hit the target, we must anchor the string. In Ephesians 6:14 (NIV), Paul says, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist...” If we are to aim our lives well, to see the target properly, we must stand firm and be anchored in truth. Culture would have our arrows flying every which way as we believed whatever whim was popular at the moment. Culture tells us to look out for number one, that relationships are meant for our happiness, that we should be the gods of our own lives. When we live our lives that way, our arrows miss the God’s target and go skittering off into sin, discouragement, and emptiness. But anchored in God’s truth, we look down the arrow’s shaft and clearly see where we should aim.
            Next, we must relax our fingers. It’s so easy to hang on tight, white-knuckled, and think that by trying to control life we can master it, we can hit the target. Desperate prayers for a lost love one, desperate clinging to hopes and dreams, desperate desires to have life just the way we imagined it should be, desperate determination that God act the way we want. Tight fists miss the target. We must trust God enough to loosen our grip. Psalm 21:7 says, “For the king trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken.” And again, Psalm 28:7 says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.” When we trust God, our frantic fingers can relax. Only then can our arrows fly straight.
            Lately when I find my life missing the mark and shooting off into the grass, I remind myself to re-anchor my life in the truth. Then I ask God to relax my grip, calm my desperation, help me to trust him more than I trust myself, trust him enough to let go and do what I was made to do.
            When I see terrorist strikes on the news, or encounter children brought up to believe in Christ who no longer believe, or face crazy blood sugar numbers on the meter of my son who has Type 1 Diabetes ... When I lose a job, when sales aren’t what I’d hoped, when children’s grades aren’t what I’d expected, when relationships are strained... that is the time I must whisper to myself, “Relax your hand, take a deep breath, anchor the string.”  
            And then I let go.