It’s been almost six years now since I first walked on the holy ground of Israel where I met the people who would come to be major players in my game of life. I still can’t believe the many gifts and blessings I received on that pilgrimage and the countless ones I’ve received since then.
In 2018, one of my pilgrim family members, Jan, invited me to go on a second pilgrimage to the Holy Land planned for February of 2019.
I eagerly accepted her invitation and extended the offer to my sister-in-law, Lisa. That trip forever changed our relationship, making us true sisters in marriage, love, and faith. Since our return, rarely a day goes by that Lisa doesn’t check in on me to send her love and tell me she’s praying for me (she’s a much better sister than I am as I’m terrible at reaching out to people). Those texts mean more to me than she will ever know.
Lisa and I met many new pilgrim friends, welcoming them into our hearts. One in particular, Jami, spent an entire meal on our pilgrimage telling us about the parish women’s retreat that Jan heads up each year for their parish. Jami encouraged Lisa and me to sign up for the retreat that fall, and though Lisa was unable to attend, I did sign up and made the four-hour drive to New Jersey to be a part of the St. Vincent Martyr Cornerstone Retreat weekend. The retreat was all that Jami said it would be and more.
By the time the retreat was over, I found myself volunteering for the 2020 Cornerstone Retreat. Unfortunately, that retreat was not at all what was planned! We still got together but only for one evening and, of course, only on Zoom. All our efforts became focussed on this year, and I was thrilled when Lisa told me that she would be able to join us.
The retreat began on Friday evening and went through Saturday evening. On Saturday, I started the morning in prayer with Jami, my prayer partner for the witness talk I was set to give to begin the day. My talk was about God’s Amazing Grace. The talk began with a reading from the First Letter of Peter:
The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 4:1-11
We are all given gifts “to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Perhaps you have the gift of song or the gift of being able to draw or paint or the gift of healing. We are not meant to hide these gifts under a bushel basket, as Jesus taught, but to use them for the glory of God.
I’ve always been a writer, but it took me many years to understand what God wanted me to do with my gift. I went to college thinking I would someday be a political speech writer, working at the White House, writing passages that would be remembered for all time, worthy of being repeated in history books. By the time I graduated and began applying for graduate school, I had changed course and went on to become a librarian, a keeper of speeches and written passages and books, but not a creator of them. For years, I thought that was enough. I still wrote. I’ve always written poetry, and I wrote many newspaper articles for various organizations. I also wrote children’s stories that I shared with my girls and our Girl Scout Troop. Finally, after fifteen years as a librarian, I felt a calling to embrace my dream of writing, but not political writing. I went back to my childhood dream of writing books. I started with children’s books and then moved to romance novels and a weekly blog, but I felt unfulfilled. Something was missing.
After that first pilgrimage in 2016, and led by the Holy Spirit, I began writing more and more about my faith, sharing the many experiences I had with God throughout my life and encouraging others to trust in God and let Him lead them to where they were meant to be in life. My books became journeys of faith. My characters became seekers and teachers and models of faith. Often, I will go back and read a chapter I’ve written, and it will feel wrong, incomplete in some way. And then the Spirit steps in and says, “You need to talk about God here” or “This person needs to begin his journey here.” In every case, the book is better because the Spirit led me to write what He wanted me to say.
Why? I asked. Why was I heading in this direction? What was the purpose? How can I ever become a “real author” if my books are faith-based? What is God trying to tell me? What does He want me to do with this?
The more I wrote and the more I prayed and the more I heard back from readers about how certain passages or particular scenes had affected them, the more I understood that my writing is not my own. It is God speaking through me. Whether it’s through my books or this blog, I know that the words are God’s words. Like Mother Teresa, “I am a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil, and He has to sharpen it a little more.”
I was graced with the talent of writing. Then I was graced with a trip to the Holy Land and a renewed passion for my faith. Jan graced me with another trip to the Holy Land, and on that trip, Jami graced me with her experience with Cornerstone; and two years ago, so many women at that retreat graced me with their love, their joy, their acceptance, and their beautiful examples of faith.
“Grace is a participation in the life of God.”
It is accepting the free and undeserved grace given to us by God through the Spirit, through the Sacraments, through prayer, and through gracing others with the gifts our grace has allowed us to receive. Grace is not one gift given to one person, to be held onto, to be buried in the ground or hidden under a basket. Grace brings with it a list of gifts to be shared with those around us.
This view is fundamentally different in the way Catholics see grace as compared to other faiths. Some people see grace as something only God can give and possess. It’s not a gift that we can participate in on earth. We can only truly gain God’s grace, our redemption, once we reach Heaven. However, the Catholic teaching of grace is so much more. It’s more profound, more encompassing, deeper and multi-layered. We are not merely beneficiaries of God’s grace, cashing in our grace tickets when we reach our final destination. We are, in the words of St. Peter, “stewards of God’s varied grace.” Grace isn’t one thing. It isn’t just salvation. It is the culmination of all the gifts of God, His love, His example, His very being, given to us through His death but also throughout our lives, and it is meant to be shared with those around us so that we can participate in bringing God’s message, understanding, compassion, healing, teaching, preaching, and love to those on earth.
Grace leads us to where we are meant to be, to what we are meant to be doing, and to those we are meant to help. We’ve all heard the saying, “to grace us with one’s presence.” It’s a phrase often used and often misused. God graces us with His presence but also through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, through the people we meet, the places we go, and the experiences we have. We are to grace others, not with our mere presence, but through our participation in the life God created for us, a life in which we are to seek out, to teach, to help, and to serve. As St. Peter said, “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
I thank Gus, Lino, and the Catholic Channel for the chance to visit the Holy Land. I thank Jan for the invitation to return there. I thank Jami for telling us about Cornerstone. I thank the women who embraced me and called me sister. I thank Lisa for her love and her friendship and her sisterhood. Most of all, I thank God for these blessings and for His gift of Grace.
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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 follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019. Amy’s book, Desert Fire, Mountain Rain begins her new Buffalo Springs series. Book two will be out in early 2022. The Good Wine, the sequel to Whispering Vines, is now available in all formats.
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), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019), A Devotional Alphabet (2019), Desert Fire, Mountain Rain(2020), The Good Wine (2021).