This past weekend, I attended the Abbey Faith and Music Fest in Malvern, Pennsylvania, with my daughter, Katie, as a vendor. I’m pretty sure Katie would like to have been somewhere else, but we’d been planning on going for a while, and I knew I’d need help with sales, so she went with me without complaint. It was long day, beginning with a two-and-a-half hour drive from home that put us at the event shortly before 9am. It was a fun ride with Katie playing music and talking non-stop about which songs on Taylor’s latest album are her favorites. It was much better than the unplanned ride home after a dreadful hotel experience, but that’s a different story!
After we arrived at the abbey and got set up, Katie recognized her former RA from her sophomore year of college sitting in a tent across from us. They hugged and reminisced and talked about how much they loved sharing the same floor that semester. It was a great surprise for Katie, and I’m so happy the two reconnected. Just as nice as that meeting was the chance to meet and talk to young author, Sara Francis, with whom Katie hit it off immediately and promptly bought all three of her dystopian novels!
Warning – many people won’t like what I have to say…
I hope everyone had a good weekend and that every person in America spent time thinking about and praying for the victims of 9/11. I’ll never forget that day. I was at work when the planes hit, and nobody was sure what was happening. When the Pentagon was hit, I knew things were bad, very bad. I went to my boss, whose husband worked at the Treasury Department, and as calmly as possible told her that she might want to call her husband and tell him to leave DC. She looked at me like I was crazy, but as I explained what was happening, her face paled, and her expression turned to horror. She told me to tell everyone to go home as she reached for the phone.
The patriotism that arose from those ashes was astonishing. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it since 1776. The radio was flooded with new songs like Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning by Alan Jackson and Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue by Toby Key. Churches were packed, and songs such as Let There Be Peace on Earth and Amazing Grace spilled out into the streets. American flags and banners with the Stars and Stripes flew in every yard or from every house. Memorials cropped up in businesses, schools, and stores. New York, New York, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania were in everyone’s prayers. Every person was touched, in some way, by what happened. We were all one nation, under God, indivisible, standing for liberty and justice for all.
I saw a new doctor today, and I really liked him. For years, I’ve had various issues, but over this past year, everything seems to be escalating with new problems showing up on a monthly basis. Over the past year, I’ve seen my GP, a cardiologist, an allergist, an ENT, an endocrinologist, and a gastroenterologist. Each one treated me for whatever specific issue I was experiencing within that field. This morning, the new doctor, who I went to see for arthritis, told me that he thinks everything is related. Seriously – everything. From my headaches to my gut issues to my arthritis. He feels confident that I have Chronic Inflammatory Disease and have for most, if not all, of my life; and the thing that trigged all of these major flareups is… you guessed it. My bout with that dreaded virus that just won’t leave us alone.
How I long for the days when I had energy and could eat without worry!
But hopefully those days aren’t far away. You see, here’s the best part about what he told me. He’s planning on treating me for everything. Every ailment, every ache and pain, every headache and stomach upset and endocrine problem because my problem isn’t one thing or one isolated thing. It’s everything as a whole. And you know what, it all makes so much sense to me.
There’s just something about this time of year that makes me think of sweet things as well as sour things. Summer is winding down, and fall is quickly approaching. Schools are heading into session, and our youngest daughter has been back in Pittsburgh for just over a week now for her junior year of college, the hardest year for nursing students.
This is the time of year when the lazy days of summer are waning, and the busy fall season begins, the time of year when we start thinking about the holidays. Before we know it, January 1 will be upon us! Hot, sunny days will give way to cooler, blustery ones, and then winter will arrive just before ushering us into spring. Hot and cold, sunny and bleak, sweet and sour.
“The family is the first essential cell of human society.” –Pope John XXIII
Have truer words ever been spoken? Where would I be without my family? Though I put God first and foremost in my life, I would be nothing, have nothing, achieve nothing, and live for nothing if not for my family. Not seeing most of my extended family for over a year was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in life. Thankfully, that long, dry period ended this past weekend.
On Saturday, we hosted a graduation party for our middle child, Katie Ann. She graduated in May from Mount St. Mary’s University, but we wanted to give our family a little more time to be comfortable in a large gathering, so we asked them all to save the date for August 21. It made my day to get responses like, “I told the rest of the family they could do whatever they wanted, but I will be there come hell or high water,” and “I’m done with not seeing everyone.” We were all determined to be together, and not even a potential tropical storm was going to keep us apart.
Opera great, Robert Breault, is attributed with saying, “What greater blessing to give thanks for at a family gathering than the family and the gathering.” And he was so right.
Every afternoon or evening, when it’s not ninety degrees outside, I take my dogs on a walk. The puppy is tethered to a leash, of course, and may be for some time as we’re just beginning more intensive training with her. However, our ten-year-old lab (who is expertly trained and comes to me in and instant, standing by my side until I tell her she can go) has the pleasure of running free, and she relishes in chasing rabbits and plunging head-first into water-filled ditches (no rabbits have been caught or harmed). In fact, Rosie is a head-first kind of dog. We used to worry that she would hurt herself each time she went barreling down the hall toward our bedroom only to find the door closed after she rammed it with her head. Luckily it didn’t take long for her to learn to test the door first to see if the air conditioning fan had slammed it shut again. I keep waiting, though, for her to ram a culvert or a tree as she plunges ahead at break-neck speed.
It’s not unlike watching people or even governments running at break-neck speed, heads jutting forward, throwing caution to wind. So often, we go through life without ever looking up or ahead. I’m not talking about those who never look up from their cell phones as they cross a busy intersection, but really, isn’t the result the same? To push ahead, forge recklessly into the unknown, and never stop to see what’s coming up.
It’s that time of year again. I’m beginning to see pictures of kids and young adults heading back to school. How does the summer go by so quickly? Morgan heads back to Pittsburgh in just over a week, and it feels like she just got home! Oh, how these girls are going to miss her (Mom and Dad, too)!
Isn’t it amazing how fast our kids grow, how quickly the seasons change, and how each year of our lives seems to be shorter and shorter?
Sometimes, I feel as though I must have slept through a week because I just can’t believe it’s gone already.
Our family loves to entertain. I’ve written about taking friends crabbing, hosting our annual Mother-Daughter Cookie Swap, and hosting huge gatherings for holidays, graduations, weddings, and any other occasions that come along. I get a real thrill out of seeing a new RSVP pop into my inbox, and I spend hours planning menus, setting tables, putting up tents, decorating, and trying to make our home feel as festive and inviting as I can. I love finding and sharing new recipes as much as I love making the same beloved recipes over and over.
Whether we’re hosting a large event or simply having friends over for lunch or dinner, inviting others to our home and finding a way to make it special is the way I show my love and appreciation for them. That’s how our annual cookie swap got started–as a way of inviting our closest friends into our home to celebrate the gift of their friendship and let them know how special they are to us.
The Gospel reading this past Sunday was about the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. I heard recently that for two-thousand years, theologians have gotten the story wrong. The modern interpretation is that the story is not about a miracle but about sharing. Supposedly, the Apostles asked the boy with the bread to share, and once he shared, everyone else decided to share, too. We’re now told that Jesus couldn’t really make five loaves and two fishes feed five-thousand people, and we should accept that this is just a nice story about the good side of humanity.
On Sunday, Father Michael gave us his own take on this story. He confirmed that it is about sharing, but not in the way that modernists believe. Jesus asked the Apostles where they could get food, and Andrew answered, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”(John 6:9). Jesus told the Apostles to share the boy’s food with the crowd, and miraculously, they had their fill and then “collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat” (John 6: 13). Father told us that God was able to perform this wonderful miracle because one little boy was willing to share all that he had.
When Ken and I got married back in 1993, we knew that we were going to be parents right away–his mother’s Golden Retriever was due to have a litter of puppies just a few weeks after our wedding. We were both very much dog people and were raised with dogs in the house. We brought our first baby home a few days before Christmas, and the timing could not have been more perfect. That was the winter of the great ice storm that crippled most of the Mid-Atlantic, particularly the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Ken was working in Annapolis and was stranded. I was home alone–two hours from my own hometown–with no friends, no family (I still hardly knew Ken’s family), and nowhere to go. I was housebound with nobody but Tucker to keep me company. I’ve often kidded that it was that puppy who got me through the first year of being married.
Ken and I had been married just over two years when we became pregnant with Rebecca, our oldest daughter. Everyone laughed at me because along with the typical expectant mother books, I read all of the books about introducing your dog to your new baby. They laughed, they teased, and they told me I was crazy, but I remember my sister-in-law worrying that our dog just would not accept a new love in my life. As recommended in the books, the evening after Rebecca was born, my mother-in-law took home the little cap she had worn all day in the hospital and let Tucker smell it. When we arrived at the house the next day, I carried Rebecca in one arm and a large dog bone in the other. I presented Tucker with the bone, but he wasn’t interested. He was instantly smitten, and for the next nine+ years, he and Rebecca were the best of friends.
By the time Rebecca was ten, and we’d been blessed with two more little girls in our family, and we lost Tucker to cancer. It was such a tragic time for us. We all cried for so long, but I was increasingly sad. Every day that went by, I felt so lonely. Ken was away so much due to work, and the girls were all in school. I missed the affection and companionship that my first baby had provided. One day, Ken arrived home and said, “Let’s go. I’m getting you a puppy.”
We had Sunny for only five years, but he was a beautiful part of our family. He was extremely smart and well-behaved. He loved being with us, but found his true home on the boat. Unfortunately, he vanished from our yard one day and was never seen again. This time, it was Ken who took it the hardest. He’d wanted a Brittany Spaniel ever he’d had one as a child. He and Sunny were inseparable. Ken was cutting the grass one day, and Sunny and our latest addition, Misty, were playing in the yard. A frantic Misty got Ken’s attention, howling, crying, running in circles, and begging him to follow her. Ken realized Sunny was missing, and took off toward the end of the driveway, hot on Misty’s heels, but Sunny was nowhere to be found. For three days, Ken walked every inch of our small peninsular town, wading through marshes and combing through fields. We’re pretty sure someone just took her, and all we could hope was that she had a good home.
This time the heart-broken one was Misty. Sunny had been her constant companion, and she cried and moped and stared out the window for hours. It was torturous to watch her decline, day after day. She was dying of loneliness. She had literally lost her best friend. The day we brought Rosie home to Misty was the happiest day of her life.
After a long illness at the age of four, Misty developed a heart murmur. The vet told us that she could love another ten years or die the next day. He encouraged us to give her the best life we could, allow her to run and play, and just treat her like we would treat any beloved member of the family, and that’s what we did. When Misty was ten, she returned home from her favorite past-time, swimming in the creek across the road, pranced into the yard with her tongue hanging out and tail wagging, and then jolted and fell to the ground. I held her and begged her not to leave me. Like Tucker, she had become my best friend, and I couldn’t imagine life without her. She had taught me so much in those short ten years. I held her in my arms as she took her last breath. Little Rosie watched from the doorway, and I know she felt the pain as deeply as I did.
The dog we bought as a companion for Misty became my constant shadow, and I may spoil her just a little. Rosie is so sweet and so good. She just wants to spend her days by my side, always under my desk as I work and staying close by while we take our daily walks. She loves her animals and cares for them like they’re her babies. She’s been the only dog in the house for two years, and we thought she was content that way, until…
That little baby we’d brought home from the hospital over twenty-five-years ago grew up and got married and adopted a puppy of her own. The first time Rebecca brought Casper to the house, Rosie was the happiest we’d seen her in a long time. It was like she was a puppy again, running around, nipping playfully at Casper, and just having a grand time. When Casper went home, Rosie sulked. It took two days for her to be herself again, and the more she and Casper had playdates, the more we knew…
Rosie needed a sister. She needed someone to cuddle with, to play with, and to care for. She needed a companion during the day and someone to snuggle with at night. She needed someone like…
We brought Luna home yesterday. The whole process, from being notified that there may be a puppy available for us to the ride home, puppy in tow, took about 30 minutes. We hadn’t planned on pulling up to someone’s house, having a puppy thrust into our arms, and then being told to have a nice day. That’s pretty much what happened. My youngest, Morgan, and I were stunned, but I didn’t question it for a minute. Luna needed us much more than we needed her. With ribs protruding and fleas feasting, she melted into Morgan’s arms like she was at peace for the first time in the four months she’s been on earth. After baths and a quick trip to the vet, Luna and Rosie are bonding (and Casper has FaceTimed with them). This new sweetie is still timid and still adjusting, but I think she already feels the love. She’s not quite sure where her place is while I’m working, but we’ll get there. For now, I’m just happy that she has found a home, and we have found a new family member.
In 2015, Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si’, “Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all.” This official writing finally put to rest the two-hundred-year debate in the Church about whether or not dogs go to Heaven. For me, it’s not really about whether or not I will see my dogs, made whole and beautiful and healthy again, in Heaven. I’ve always felt that I would. No, for me, these helpless creatures we take in and make a part of lives are a tiny glimpse of what Heaven is like. Unconditional love, companionship, and healing (really, is it just a coincidence that dog is an anagram of God?). We mere mortals have been given the most precious gift. We get to feel a love that shows no bounds and weathers any storm. From stories of dogs waiting outside the hospital for their humans to be released to the ones who lie by the bedside of someone leaving this world, we witness to the smallest degree what God’s love is like. All we have to do is open our arms and accept the love being handed to us.
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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 Miraclesare all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vineswas awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracleshas 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.