Fiddling on the Roof

img_3312The Advent/Christmas season always makes me nostalgic, and that is especially true this year.  After this year, I have no idea what our Christmas festivities will resemble.  I like to think that nothing will change, that we will celebrate with our family as always, but I know that, if not this year, then in the very near future, things are bound to change.  As my children grow older and closer to beginning their own lives as adults, I can’t help but wonder which of our family traditions will hold the most meanings for them (oh, how I relate to Fiddler’s Tevye and his fight to keep his family traditions alive as his children become adults).  I grew up in a home and with a family where tradition was everything, and I’ve done my best to instill a love for tradition in my own children.  One such tradition involves our Christmas tree, our hideous, gaudy, wonderful, glorious Christmas tree.

I once had a family member tell me outright that our tree is ugly.  Sure, I know what it looks like to outsiders, but to me, there is no tree more beautiful.  Among the dozens and dozens of ornaments that adorn the tree are the wooden Raggedy Ann that was my very first ornament, a pinecone that Rebecca painted in pre-K as a gift for me, Katie’s buffalo representing the first time she saw her favorite animal live and in the wild, and the ballerina from when Morgan thought that dance class was all that mattered in the world.  Clustered amid the branches, drama masks, an altar server, three field hockey players, a tennis racket, a swimmer, a piano, an archery target, and a clarinet are joined by other such ornaments too numerous to count.  Alongside those are many handmade ornaments and an ornament from almost every place we’ve ever visited.

When Ken and I got married and moved into our first home, our Christmas tree was already decorated with twenty-two years of ornaments.  There were a bird in a nest from my Godparents, a circus train, Raggedy Ann, and many others.  Every year, my brothers and I received new ornaments that represented that year in our lives.  Those precious pieces of memorabilia now share our trees with our children’s little pieces of nostalgia.  Each Christmas season, I hunt for the perfect ornaments, the ones that the girls will pull out years from now and say, “I remember that year.” 

This year, after the girls had placed their newest ornaments on the tree (a Flamenco dancer in La Plaza de Madrid for Bec, a snorkel and goggles for Katie, and a football for Morgan), we stood back and looked at the tree. 

“I’m not doing this when I have my own house,” Morgan proclaimed.

“What do you mean?” came the question I had to push up from my throat.

“I’m going to have a beautiful tree decorated with Christmas balls and ribbons and only white lights,” she replied.

“What about our family tradition? Won’t your children get a special ornament every year?”

“If they want.  They can hang them on their own trees in their bedrooms.”

A little piece of me broke inside.  But that’s okay.  When Morgan’s children come to my house, they can help me decorate my tree.  I’ll have a special ornament waiting for each of them.

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Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me(2015), Whispering Vines (2016)

Putting the THANKS back in Thanksgiving

dsc_1929Sometimes I wish that Thanksgiving came after Christmas rather than before. That’s because I think that this time of year is often the time that we focus too much on what we don’t have and forget how much we actually have to be thankful for. We spend one day saying thank you for the people in our lives and supposedly for all that we’ve been given, but as soon as 6:00 rolls around, many people are out the door, cussing people out in parking lots, trampling over others to get through the door first, and pushing and shoving their way to the all-important, can’t live without, deals. After just a few short hours, we’ve forgotten all that we have and only care about what we think we need.

When did we become a people who value what we don’t have more than what it is in our midst? Is saving a few dollars really worth more than spending time with family? I understand the frenzy, the excitement of getting the bargains, standing in the long lines to find out how much the savings will be, arriving back at home to carry in bag after bag of goodies; but I don’t understand the mentality that has gotten us to where we are today. I used to be a big Black Friday shopper. Mom and I would get up at the crack of dawn and drive to wherever the best sales were. We were among those standing in line when the stores opened at 10:00 in the morning. And then we got up even earlier when the times changed to 8:00am. Mom bowed out when they started opening at 6am, but Rebecca and I were still game. And then Ken drove us the year that the stores opened at 4am. But before we knew it, stores were opening at midnight, and a few select ones decided to open at 6pm on Thanksgiving. Now, most stores open before the pumpkin pie has even been served. That’s when the thrill of the shopping adventure lost all its luster for me.

Give up spending that last hour with my parents and siblings? Skip spending the evening with Ken’s family? No way! The girls and I hit a few stores that first Black Friday that saw sales the evening before, and it was a waste of time. Nothing worth buying was left on the shelves, and better deals could be found online, so we went home and hauled out the Christmas decorations instead. It was sad, and my girls still lament not being able to take part in the tradition that my mother and I kept up for years and years. You see, it wasn’t really the deals. By Thanksgiving, I usually have all of my Christmas shopping wrapped up (quite literally). I was rarely doing the bulk of my Christmas shopping. I was finishing up a gift here or there and looking for great bargains, but what I was really doing was participating in a tradition that Mom and I looked forward to every year. It was about making our plan, devising our method, and sharing the experience – together. You see, that’s what really mattered. It was a day that we spent together. As the girls grew older, they joined us and came to understand that it wasn’t about getting the deals; it was about finding the fun and being together.

While I still sometimes regret not joining in the fun, I don’t regret the decision to stay with my family and relish our time together. My father is turning eighty, and I don’t want to miss a single minute of the time we have together. My girls are almost grown, and my nieces and nephews are looking more like young adults every year. When I look back and recall my favorite memories, those Fridays with Mom will be on the list, but not at the top. They will be part of the fun stories that I recollect and tell my grandchildren someday, but I won’t hold them sacred. The memories that I will always cherish, that I hope will never fade, are taking our silly family picture that Mom uses in her Christmas card, watching football together, playing board games, poker, and dominoes for hours on end, and going around the table before we eat to tell at least one thing for which we are truly grateful. And there’s no price that can be placed on that.

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Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me(2015), Whispering Vines (2016)

Finding Joy in the Most Unlikely Places

15123466_1119754048131554_8208288262123507430_oYesterday morning, I drove two and a half hours to the funeral of my friend’s mother.  While on the phone, taking care of some business while driving, I was told, “It’s nice that you have the time to do that.”  I assured the person on the other end that I did not have the time, but that I was raised in a family where attending funerals is just what you do.  You make the time.  People flock to showers and hospitals to welcome new babies into the world, but few people take the time to usher someone out of this world.  I went because it was the right thing to do.  And what did I gain from it?  Simple; the joy on Anne’s face when she glanced up and saw me there.  It’s all about spreading joy even in places where you expect to find none.

We’ve actually been talking about joy a lot lately in our family.  It has been a hard few months for us.  Rebecca is juggling the LSAT, law school applications, the hardest classes she has taken so far, and an impending change as she crosses the street from childhood into adulthood.  Katie, my homebody, is facing leaving home for a college between two and four hours away.  For many, that distance seems inconsequential; but for Katie, it’s monumental.  Morgan, my baby, is grappling with hormones, shifting friend groups, and all that comes with being fifteen.  Of course, Ken and I are staring into the future and contemplating what life will be like in just over two years when we are empty nesters.  Sometimes, when faced with the trials of every day life, joy can be hard to find.

Pope John Paul II, said that “God made us for joy.”  It seems so simple yet so hard at times.  Recently, a friend suggested that, when finding it difficult to get past the hard times in life, it can help to keep a gratitude journal.  This was the most beautiful advice and can really make a difference.  Best selling author, Brené Brown, tells us that “There is no joy without gratitude.”  The more we are thankful for, the more we see the good in the world, and the more joyful we are.  To take the small things throughout the course of the day, and see them for the joy they can bring is so easy, so why don’t we do it more often?  Just look around.  Witness the thrill of a child with a new puppy.  Savor the taste of a hearty meal or a good glass of wine.  Feel the warmth of a fire on a chilly night.  Experience the calming effects of a beautiful song, a good book, or a meaningful prayer.  Be thankful for time spent with friends, no matter the occasion.

On a recent mission trip to Guatemala, Ken was humbled by the poverty of the people he visited and amazed by their constant expressions of happiness.  He said that they had so little but radiated such joy.  It reminds me of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians that, as Christians, we should be “in pain yet always full of joy; poor and yet making many people rich; having nothing, and yet owning everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10).  We tend to put so much stock in material things, always looking for happiness in grand ways, but it’s in the every day, little things, that we can find true joy, even at a funeral.  We must look, always and everywhere, for the things that that make us happy.  For in finding true joy, we not only create better lives for ourselves but for all the world around us.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me(2015), Whispering Vines (2016)

Saying Goodbye to Worry and Regret

img_0144I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the whole nature versus nurture debate.  Are we really born with certain innate traits, or do we develop them based on environment and experience?  As our oldest daughter applies to law school, our middle daughter applies to college, and our youngest deals with the trials and tribulations of being in high school, I can’t help but wonder how they all three inherited, or perhaps learned, their father’s penchant for worrying, doubting, second guessing, and obsessing over the what ifs.  Contrast that with my own attitude of let go, let live, and let God, and I think, where did I fail to instill in them a belief that worrying is a total waste of time?

I recently read an article that claimed that there is a great “connection between anxiety and a stronger imagination.”  The article went on to say that “Worry is the mother of invention.”  That’s funny; I thought it was necessity.  Oh, and it also said that “Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person.”  Um no, when my girls have a problem, they come to me.  When Ken has a problem, he comes to me.  My totally neurotic family aren’t able to see the forest for the trees.  I, on the other hand, can see the light on the other side of the forest.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m certainly not trying to blow my own horn.  I just haven’t been able to reconcile, in my own mind, how and why worriers are the way they are and the rest of us aren’t.  If it were really as simple as “Overthinking Worriers Are Probably Creative Geniuses,” as the title of the article suggests, then why does Ken not have a creative side while I write fiction?

I was at an impasse trying to figure this out until this past Monday, and then the light through the trees became even brighter as understanding dawned on me.  I was in a meeting with a wonderful group of women whom I am so lucky to be able to call my friends.  Many of us have been meeting every other Monday for the past twelve years.  We pray, discuss, read, and learn, and some of my greatest revelations have come from those Monday morning meetings.  We were watching a short video in which we heard, over and over, people saying that they always worried, were never content, and were constantly searching for happiness and the meaning to their lives until they realized that they could only find true joy in God.  When they learned to let Him guide them, take away their cares, and be the light at the end of their tunnels, their entire lives changed.  And that’s when it hit me.  It’s not about being creative versus neurotic or being intelligent versus imaginative.  It’s about knowing that there are many things in this world that are simply beyond our control.  We can only do so much and have to have faith that the rest will turn out okay.

This past weekend, I helped chaperone a group of high school students on our school’s annual trip to New York City.  We arrived back home after midnight on Saturday, and on Sunday, I chaired our Post Prom’s Bingo.  I had several friends comment that they couldn’t believe I was able to go away for the two days before our biggest fundraiser.  I didn’t see the problem.  I had everything ready the night before we left, and I had confidence in the others who were assisting me with the event.  While there were things that I would like to tweak for next year (including not holding them the same weekend for my own body’s sake), the event was a success, we made money, and we’re ready to move forward.  I could dwell on the fact that turnout wasn’t as high as last year, so we didn’t bring in quite as much as we had hoped, but I can’t change it, and worrying about it won’t make a difference; but analyzing why we had fewer people and planning the next event will.  It’s all about keeping perspective.  Staying calm, making plans, evaluating results, and moving on are the keys to success.

Do I worry about things?  Sure I do.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I worry about about the future of our country, but I can only look out for my small part of the world.  I voted, and then I had to let it go.  I can’t change minds or hearts, but I pray that God can.  Do I worry about the safety of my children?  Absolutely.  The health of my parents, the state of world affairs, the future of our school?  I’d be living in a dream world if I didn’t.  But do I dwell on them?  Not for a minute (okay, last night, for maybe longer than a minute).  

What I always do is pray every day that my children will learn to let go, let live, and let God.  To worry about the future is futile.  To dwell on mistakes of the past is incapacitating.  To fear every possible outcome is debilitating.  But to have faith that you have done what you could, and let the rest happen, prepared to move forward no matter the outcome, will allow you to walk calmly ahead and deal with the consequences.  The next time you find yourself giving into worry, go forward, into the trees, and have confidence that there is light on the other side.  Your attitude, and a bit of faith, will make all of the difference.

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Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me(2015), Whispering Vines (2016)

“In the End, Only Kindness Matters”

heart.jpgI was recently introduced to several songs that have become go-to songs for me. The playlist they make up is the most played one on my phone and in my car. A few of the songs I knew, some from my own youth, and others were new to me but not to the world. All of these songs were featured on last spring’s television event, The Live Passion; and after watching it, I was compelled to buy the soundtrack the very next day. Now, whether I hear one of these songs on my playlist or on the radio, I hear it in a whole new light often picturing where it belongs in the retelling of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Even though we’re getting ready to enter Advent and not Lent, one of those songs has been on my mind a lot lately. The song, Hands, was sung by Tricia Yearwood in the live show, but it was written and originally sung by Jewel. I don’t know how I missed this when it was first released, but I guess I was simply in a different place in my life, and it didn’t speak to me then like it does now. Here are the lyrics:

If I could tell the world just one thing ~~ It would be that we’re all ok ~~ And not to worry because worry is wasteful ~~ And useless in times like these ~~ I will not be made useless ~~ I won’t be idled with despair ~~ I will gather myself around my faith ~~ For light does the darkness most fear ~~ My hands are small, I know, ~~ But they’re not yours they are my own ~~ But they’re not yours they are my own ~~ And I am never broken ~~ Poverty stole your golden shoes ~~ But it didn’t steal your laughter ~~ And heartache came to visit me ~~ But i knew it wasn’t ever after ~~ We will fight, not out of spite ~~ For someone must stand up for what’s right ~~ Cause where there’s a man who has no voice ~~ There ours shall go singing ~~ My hands are small, I know, ~~ But they’re not yours they are my own ~~ But they’re not yours they are my own ~~ And I am never broken ~~ In the end only kindness matters ~~ In the end only kindness matters ~~ I will get down on my knees and I will pray ~~ I will get down on my knees and I will pray ~~ I will get down on my knees and I will pray ~~ My hands are small, I know, ~~ But they’re not yours they are my own ~~ But they’re not yours they are my own ~~ And I am never broken ~~ My hands are small, i know, ~~ But they’re not yours they are my own ~~ But they’re not yours they are my own ~~ And I am never broken ~~ We are never broken ~~ We are God’s eyes God’s hands God’s mind ~~ We are God’s eyes God’s hands God’s heart ~~ We are God’s eyes God’s hands God’s eyes God’s hands ~~ We are God’s hands God’s hands We are God’s hands

Hands, Written by Jewel Kilcher, Patrick Leonard • Copyright © Downtown Music Publishing LLC, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

While there are many reasons why I could be thinking of this song, the main reason is that, lately, I have come to believe that the virtue of kindness is disappearing from our culture, and maybe the world. I see and hear children speaking to each other and to adults with such blatant disrespect, and having no idea that they’re doing it or why it’s wrong, and I think, no wonder we have so many problems in this world. What would the world be like if everyone made a concerted effort, every single day, to just be kind to one another? What if I held my tongue more often before speaking to my husband? What if my daughter thought about how someone else might feel before chastising them? What if a teacher thought about the repercussions on a student because of a cutting comment the teacher uttered in front of the class? What if politicians considered what they are teaching future generations when they do nothing but verbally knock each other down?

St. Paul the Apostle, in his letter to the Galatians, said “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” He outlined the most basic guidelines for how we should act, speak, live, and treat one another. Believe me, I know it’s hard. I struggle with this every day, but there is something that gives me hope. You see, St. Paul didn’t call these the “Rules of the Spirit,” or the “Commands of the Spirit.” He called them the “Fruit of the Spirit.” How beautiful when you think about it. These aren’t the things that we are ordered to do or even the things we will be given outright, but they are what we reap, what we harvest, what we can share with others. If we practice the fruit of the Spirit, then we can spread love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to others, and in return, we should receive all of those back.

I implore you to join me in starting today. Together, let’s think about what we do, what we say, how we act, especially in front of our children. So often, I find myself reminding my own children that they are not being respectful, speaking kindly, or acting with love. In those moments, I wonder if I have set the example for them, if I have failed as a parent. For if I have not taught my children to be kind, then what does it matter what else I have taught them?

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me(2015), Whispering Vines (2016)