Ashes and Chocolate

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How ironic is that today we celebrate two very different days in the Church calendar? Most of the world simply knows this as February 14, Valentine’s Day. But for Christians the world over, it’s also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Many mistake Ash Wednesday for a day when Catholics “show off” their Catholicism or publicly boast that they attended Mass that day by the ashes on their forehead. But this belief misses the point of the day. I don’t display ashes as an outward sign. I wear them as an inward reminder. Best explained by Catholic.org, 

Following the example of the Ninevites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and remind us that life passes away on Earth…Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.

stvalOne person, known to live with a spirit of humility and sacrifice, was Saint Valentine, a third-century Roman saint whose feast day is celebrated on February 14. While not much is conclusive about this saint, legends abound about his acts and character. According to legend, and backed by some historical findings, Father Valentine was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and for helping Christians who were oppressed under Roman rule. Refusing to renounce his Christianity, Valentine was executed on February 14, 269 (though there is some debate as to the exact year).  On the day of his execution, it is said that Valentine sent a note to a young girl he cured of blindness. The note was signed, “Your Valentine.” After the execution, Pope Julius I built a church near Ponte Mole, dedicated to Valentine. Ruins of that church, as well as a Roman catacomb believed to have been that of Valentine, have been unearthed by archaeologists.

27628797_10216383183558545_5791195675082047599_o.jpgWhile most people associate Valentine’s Day with love, happiness, cards, chocolates, and flowers, for me there’s something much more important that takes place on that day. My father never fails to give me a gift on Valentine’s Day. This year, it was a box of chocolates and a rocking chair that he handmade for me. When my first daughter was born, two days before Valentine’s Day, my dad told Ken of his tradition and said that it’s very important to always tell your daughters how much you love them. And he insisted that, at least once a year, it’s important to show them. My father never fails to show his love for me in all that he does and says, the sacrifices he has made for our family, and his outward displays of love for us all. Like Valentine, and like Jesus, my father is a man of humility and sacrifice.

So, while some may see Ash Wednesday as incongruent with Saint Valentine’s Day, I beg to differ. Ashes are a reminder, a sign of repentance, but also a symbol of love and a sign of the greatest gift ever given. As we begin Lent, we begin forty days of preparation for Good Friday, when Jesus shed his blood for our sins. He gave us the greatest gift of all, His life for ours. I’d say that makes Him the greatest example of what Saint Valentine’s Day is all about.

Ironic that we celebrate two seemingly at-odds holidays on the same day this year? Perhaps not.

Are you looking for a new way to meditate on the Stations of the Cross this Lent? If so, check out the newly revised edition of Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms. You can download the ebook version today!

What I was writing about this time last year:  A Treasury of Memories

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines,  and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017)

An Update on The 6 Top Reasons Every Girl Should Go To Outdoor Camp

Two years ago, I wrote one of my most read and shared blogs of all time. It told why I feel it’s so important for parents to send their daughters to an overnight summer camp. I’d like to update you all on some of the things I listed and on the girls mentioned.

Link to original article.

It’s that time of year, the time when parents are bombarded with emails and snail mails asking them to send their children to camp.  While there are many different kinds of camps that focus on everything from making your child the next Peyton Manning (or Nick Foles!) to teaching them how to audition for Broadway, every child should have the opportunity to experience a good, old-fashioned outdoor camp, especially girls.

Why, you ask, is it so important to send my daughter to camp?  Simply put, there are things that your daughter will learn at camp that she might never learn at home, and I don’t mean building a fire or pitching a tent, though she may learn those skills as well.  The truth is that there are things that are much more important that she will learn to do that you can’t teach her but that she can learn on her own through experience and observation.  How do I know this?  Because after twelve fourteen years of volunteering at an all-girls camp and ten twelve years of running the camp, I have seen it happen over and over again.

Simple Milestones 

Imagine your five-year-old pulling out her own clothes, dressing herself, and even tying her shoes.  Oh, she doesn’t?  You’ve tried over and over to teach her about the bunny crawling into the hole, but she just can’t do it by herself?  You might be surprised.  I can’t count the amount of girls who have come to me with brilliant smiles because they just tied their own shoes for the very first time.  All of the other girls can tie their own shoes, and suddenly that stubborn, strong-willed, “mommy, please do it for me” child wants to accomplish this task for herself.  Add to the mix a totally cool, upbeat, teenage girl who encourages her every morning to get dressed, fix her hair, tie her shoes, even brush her teeth, and every little girl wants to prove that she, too, can be the big girl that her teen counselor knows she can be.  I remember the first time my niece came to camp.  My brother was amazed when she came home and insisted on fixing her own hair “the way Giggles fixed it at camp.” This year will be my niece’s fifth year at camp and my brother’s fourth! Mike (known as Flash to the girls) teaches photography. Where else can girls go to learn photography from a professional photographer who really cares that each girl learns the best way to photograph everything from a sunset to a bowl of M&Ms? 

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Handling Things Out of Anyone’s Control

It’s raining today, and your daughter refuses to go to school because she has to walk from the front door to the car.  Imagine her running, giggling all the way, from her cabin to the unit house to play games with her friends until the rain passes.  Imagine her swimming in the rain (as long as there’s no thunder and lightning), not only without complaint, but without even noticing the falling drops.  When it rains at camp, the activities must go on.  The lesson leaned – life goes on.  Just because something comes along that we can’t control doesn’t mean we throw in the towel.  As long as it’s safe, everything continues.  And if it’s not safe to be outdoors, we improvise – games and activities inside the program center, extra snacks, maybe even a movie, whatever it takes to keep having fun.  Life throws you curves, and time at camp teaches girls that they can hit a home run no matter what the pitch is. The same year this was written, but months after it was published, we held camp during a brutally hot week. While we all hoped for a cool-down, we never asked for the entire last day to be one torrential downpour complete with insane lightning and thunder. Girls spent most of the afternoon inside the cramped program center, doing crafts and playing games. Some of the activities led to a whole new program the next summer after we learned how much the girls loved doing improvisational acting! When at camp, you truly do learn how to turn lemons into lemonade! 

Trying New Things

Whether it’s a meal she would never eat at home or an activity she would never dream of trying, camp is all about doing something new.  We once had a girl at camp who quickly gained the nickname, Carrots, because, as you may have guessed, she would eat nothing but carrots.  By the end of day two, she was trying new foods and asking for seconds.  Camp makes you hungry!  And if all of the other girls are eating it, there’s a good chance, she will, too.  The same goes for trying things that she might never do with or for Mom.  No offense moms, but there are far too many times that we don’t push our daughters to do challenging or even scary things because, well, because they’re our daughters.  Part of it is the fear that something will happen to them, and part of it is because we often don’t give them credit for being able to do it, or, let’s be honest, we don’t want to do it ourselves.  There are few things that get me smiling more than watching a little girl go from crying her eyes out and refusing to even climb the ladder to hearing her squeals of delight as she glides through the air on a zip line.  The satisfaction comes not from knowing that she was talked into going, but from knowing that she convinced herself that she could. Last year, a high-ropes course was added to the camp. If you thought that girls went away empowered just from riding a zip line, imagine how great they felt about themselves after climbing to the top of the high-ropes course, powered solely by their own brains and muscles and often by the helping hand of a new friend.

 

Coping With Fears

There was once a little girl at camp who cried herself to sleep every night.  She cried through programs, she cried through meals, she cried through swimming and archery and everything else that the other girls did with joy.  This year, that little girl is the floor manager at CNN and an adult camp counselor.  She has been coming since the age of five, through grade school, middle school, high school, and college. She comforts little girls and tells them her story.  After twenty years of coming to camp, she boasts that there isn’t any place she’d rather be.  Whether it’s zip lining over a deep ravine, being away from Mom and Dad, or surviving thunderstorms and spiders, girls leave camp knowing that they can overcome anything.  And nine out of ten of those girls will be back the next year. Last year, we had a little girl fly to Maryland all the way from Houston, Texas, to attend her first sleep-away camp. She was so nervous and cried the first night. This year, she’s attending a month-long camp! Someday, maybe she will conquer the moon!

Discovering the Unknown

There is so much that girls can learn and discover at camp, and some of them might surprise you.  Inner city girls come to camp and see giant, sunbathing turtles for the first time.  Girls with no siblings learn to share a room (actually, a cabin or a tent) and eat at a table of twelve talking, laughing girls.  First time campers feel the power that comes with spending the week away from home.  More importantly, girls learn tolerance, respect, and empathy.  This past year, we had a little girl with autism attend camp for the first time.  At first, the other girls weren’t sure what to think about Brie (pictured above on the zip line and below).  Some may have been scared, and several were apprehensive about being near her or working with her because they recognized that she was different.  It didn’t take long for them to see her as a beautiful, loving, intelligent girl who isn’t really any different than the rest of them but who just needed their assistance and their patience.  While Brie’s mother felt that her daughter left camp having learned so many new things, it was really the staff and the other campers who truly learned the most.  We are all better for spending the week with her. For the third year, Brie will grace us with her presence this summer. She has brought so much joy and sunshine to our camp, and she continues to teach us lesson after lesson about compassion, dignity, patience, and unconditional love.

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Becoming a Leader

The vast majority of girls who return to our camp have one goal in mind – to keep coming long enough to become a teen counselor.  Those ultra cool young ladies who brush hair, hold hands, dry tears, and read stories are the envy of every little girl at camp.  The girls want to grow up to be just like those teens with intriguing camp names like Giggles, Broadway, Twizzler, and Trouble.  That is quite an honor because those teenagers grow up to be remarkable young women.  Many of them, like Tinkerbell who works at CNN, continue coming to camp through high school, college, and beyond.  One of our counselors is a schoolteacher who comes to camp every year with her own daughters.  She has been coming since she was in grade school.  We have several college girls who plan to be doctors, nurses, and lawyers.  We have adults who are in those fields and others: a school administrator, a former crime scene technician, heck, even a published author.  Many of our all-volunteer staff went to camp themselves, either at our camp or a similar one.  They know the importance of instilling goals and confidence in our campers so that they can be the leaders of tomorrow. Tinkerbell is now the head camera operator at the CNN DC news center and has imparted her wisdom on girls in our Journalism Program. Giggles graduated and begun college and is one of our swim instructors, helping girls reach their potential on land and in the water. Twizzler is now in law school and has led programs on crime scene investigation and newspaper reporting, editing, and design. This year, for the first time, we have teenage camp counselors leading several programs! How empowering will that be for the younger girls to see these young ladies step up and take charge?  I can’t wait to see these girls at their best, sharing their knowledge with the campers.

So before you delete that email or throw away that brochure, picture your daughter.  Not the daughter you live with, the one you see every day, the one you dress and coddle.  Picture your daughter as an independent, self-confident, successful adult.  She can get that way through a number of routes, but the one she will always remember and want to return to again and again is an all-girls summer camp.  She will develop friendships that will last a lifetime and memories that will both entice and inspire her to become the person you always knew she could be.  What more could you ask for?

What I was writing about this time last year:  Longing for Laura’s Little House

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines,  and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, is on sale online and in stores.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017)