Peru: A Small Service Excursion Abroad

Hello faithful readers! My name is Megan, and I am Amy’s publishing assistant until May. Since she is on a trip this week, I’m here to share my experiences with you from my spring break trip over the last 10 days: Peru!IMG_9515.JPG

Before we get into specifics, I’ll give you a little bit of background information about me. This year I am a senior at Mount St. Mary’s University and will be graduating with a degree in Communication and with a minor in Spanish. I grew up as a military brat (Ooh-Rah!), and when my family was stationed overseas from 2006-2009, we traveled as much of Europe as we could manage. Though I don’t really have a place that I’m “from,” I currently live in Carroll County, Maryland, where I graduated high school. I love romance novels, which is what drew me to Amy’s open position, and my favorite novel of hers is Whispering Vines because, in my mind, it’s closely linked to my favorite movie, The Longest Ride, but features a fun Italian twist, and with recipes!

Over the first 10 days of March, my Spanish teacher finally achieved her four-year goal to get me on one of her Spanish study abroad experiences. Doctora, as she’s known by all her students, has been trying to get me to study abroad in Spain or Costa Rica, the month long excursions, since my first year in college, but I never wanted to spend an entire month away from my family. The Peru trip, though, was 1) only 10 days, 2) open to members of my family, which means I could take my mom, and 3) probably the only time I’d ever go to South America, so it was the PERFECT time and place to go.

Thus began our journey to South America.

Friday, 3/1/2019: Travel Day.

 

We woke up at 330 am to drive to Dulles airport, fly to Panama City International, and then fly again to Lima. Our passports were stamped with our visas, and we stayed overnight in a small hostel to rest before moving to lower altitudes.

Saturday, 3/2/2019: Travel Day Part 2

 

We woke up early again to fly from Lima to Cusco, and then took a van from Cusco to Urubamba, a town much lower in altitude. For reference, Cusco is about 11,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is about 8,000 feet, and Urubamba is closer to 6,000 feet. Staying in Urubamba allowed us to adjust to the altitude gradually and avoid some altitude sickness! At the hotel San Agustin, they had Coca Tea to help with the altitude. Coca Tea is made by steeping the literal Coca leaf in water and drinking the tea produced. I, personally, was NOT a fan, and chose to stick to my Altitude Rx natural pills instead.

Sunday, 3/3/2019: Ollantaytambo Visit

 

Our first real day of excursions! We visited the town of Ollantaytambo (Oh-yan-tie-tahm-bo) which had some ancient Incan ruins. Doctora scheduled a tour guide to lead us on different cultural tours, and this was the first day we met her. She led us through the ruins of Ollantaytambo and explained many of the different histories of the Inca, including the importance of the Incan cross, the terraces created in the mountainside to help with irrigation, protection, and to support the structure of the mountain, and even where the name Ollantaytambo came from. One of the possible explanations for it being named so could be a misconstruction of the Quechua (the Incan native language) word “tampu,” which referred to a small resting place for many of the Incan messengers to stop on their journeys. A “tampu” was supplied with food by the “allyu,” which was the Incan equivalent of a state. The state paid its dues in labor and supplies to Cusco, the capital of the region, and each “allyu” was responsible for maintaining their “tampu” for the messengers and other travelers. “Tambo,” then, could come from a mispronunciation of “tampu.”

Monday, 3/4/2019: Machu Picchu

 

Our day to Machu Picchu started with a van back to Ollantaytambo, where we rode a train car with MANY windows to the Machu Picchu station. Machu Picchu, or MaPi for short, is now considered to be the eighth wonder of the world, and many more people travel to it than before. Our hotel was the new Casa Andina, and we heard the roar of the Urubamba river outside our window while we slept. The town of MaPi has become very centralized for tourists, and includes many different restaurants, a shopping market that you can easily get lost in, and bus trips to and from MaPi itself. Once we rode to the top of the mountain, we saw the breathtaking ruins, climbed many stairs, and learned more than enough about its history from our tour guide. There were even llamas roaming free across the grasses, and they were incredibly unbothered by all the people.

Tuesday, 3/5/2019: Machu Picchu Town and Travel Day

 

Because there are only two major times when the train rides between Ollantaytambo and MaPi, we had the morning to ourselves in MaPi until our 1:30 p.m. train departed back to Ollantaytambo. My mom and I strolled through the market for a bit before sitting in a cute little French bistro for the rest of the afternoon. I sampled a Mochaccino, which was homemade with authentic and delicious Peruvian chocolate. After we returned from MaPi, we took a van back to Cusco city and allowed our bodies to adjust to the higher altitude by simply relaxing and enjoying dinner in the hotel.

Wednesday, 3/6/2019: Cusco City Day 1

 

Our stay in Cusco City began with a trip to the Coricancha, or the Temple of the Sun God. For the traditional Incan people, the Coricancha is the equivalent of the Vatican for Catholics today. This was their holiest of holy places, and it was once covered in gold. Gold represented the tears and essence of the Sun God, also known as “Inti.” When the Spaniards arrived to colonize and conquer, they built a church and monastery over the Coricancha and ordered all other temples to stop construction as part of the conversion of the Incan people. Every 300 years, however, Cusco suffers a giant earthquake, and when the last one occurred in the 1950s, the Cathedral atop the Coricancha fell, but all the Incan stones of the Coricancha below remained completely intact. Because of this, the Incan belief in Inti and their historical culture is somewhat affirmed to the Incan people, and the Coricancha remains a reverent place for the traditions.

After vising the Coricancha, we took a short walking tour of Cusco city and made our way over to the orphanage where we would be serving for the next three days. As part of the Peru excursion, Doctora always works with an orphanage in Cusco to have us complete some time of service. We helped play with children ages three to six in the courtyard for an hour and a half, often giving hugs and physical affection throughout the time we spent there. Though there wasn’t much else to do, it was a good way to begin our service.

Thursday, 3/7/2019: Cusco City Day 2

 

We began the morning by shopping at the local grocery store for food to bring to the orphanage. Then we took the gifts we had of food and soap to the orphanage and volunteered until after lunch. Our Peru group had seven students this year, and we split into two groups for volunteering: those who could teach English to the older girls, and those who would play with the younger children. I was able to help teach English to some of the older girls, and while they knew some already, they were very eager to learn new songs, different English words, and what school was like at the university level in the United States. At lunch time, I was given a small two-year-old named Sandi to feed, and though I’ve never fed a baby anything before, I learned very quickly. She was so quiet, so sweet, and so cooperative that it was very easy! Her favorite thing to do when I held her before lunch and as she sat on the tiny chairs during lunch was swing her legs everywhere, but she was always looking for food.

After our time at the orphanage, we had the afternoon to ourselves, so my mom and I used our cultural ticket to visit as many museums as we possibly could in the Cusco area. We visited the Incan history museum near the orphanage, the Coricancha museum, and two different art museums that featured both popular and contemporary art pieces. We also found the Coffee Museum of Peru, which was free to enter and had a small hallway of information about coffee, as well as some delicious cafe snacks. Our server, Maria, was wonderful and I was able to hold a fluent, easily-understood conversation with her entirely in Spanish! As someone who aspires to be bilingual, if not multi-lingual, I thought this was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip.

Friday, 3/8/2019: Cusco Day 3

 

We attempted to start our day with more service at the orphanage, but due to a miscommunication, there wasn’t much for us to do. Before we left for Peru, Doctora handed out different school supplies for us to donate to the older girls at the orphanage who were attending school so that we could divide everything appropriately, and we handed these supplies out this morning. Many of the older girls at the orphanage actually do have parents, but their parents want to give them a better life, and the nuns who run the orphanage allow the girls to go to school in Cusco so long as they live and help with the younger children at the orphanage. This particular orphanage is only allowed to house children until they turn six, unless they are the older girls helping, and once children turn six they must either be adopted or they will be sent to another orphanage somewhere else in Peru, where more of the older orphans are.

The nun in charge of the orphanage spoke about one child who was in the orphanage because her mother was raped at 11 and had her at 12. Unable to care for the child and choosing to seek work elsewhere, the mother gave her daughter to her grandmother, who wanted to give her to the mother’s aunt who just had a baby herself. The aunt was unable to take care of another child, however, so the child was sent to the orphanage. This child was the one who, when we visited the first day, would go around to each person for a quick hug, over and over again in the circle, until she became distracted by someone else. The nun described how each child has a cross of suffering to bear, just as Jesus did, because they are unwanted or unable to be cared for, but there is Jesus in every one of their hearts, just as there is Jesus in every one of ours. By coming to volunteer, she said, she could see Jesus in our hearts and urged us to go home and hug our parents and our families, and to thank them for loving us and giving us the opportunities that we’ve had.

Sometimes our problems seem incredibly painful, but when compared to the suffering of others, it can easily put into perspective how lucky and blessed we truly are.

Without anything else to help with at the orphanage, we had another free day, and my mom and I took the day to explore the chapels and churches around. We met up with the main group at 2 p.m. to visit the Cathedral, and while no pictures were allowed inside any of the churches, I can promise you they were magnificent. Many of them were heavily influenced by the Baroque style of architecture, and gold leaf was a focal point for many of the decorations and didactic paintings.

Saturday, 3/9/2019: Lima City

 

On Saturday we flew back from Cusco to Lima, where we checked into our hotel next to the airport and began a 4-hour bus tour of the city of Lima. Though four hours may seem like a long time, we only scratched the surface of the cultural and historical elements that surround the city. We visited two main Plazas, the main church of San Agustin, and the Lover’s Park toward the ocean. We had another tour guide for this trip, and she told us many different facts about the history of the city. For example, there are three main colors of buildings from the old Spanish reign: red, blue, and yellow. Red buildings were often used to denote where native people and slaves, blue buildings were for the rich Spanish colonizers, and the yellow buildings were for different industrial shops and stores.

Another fun fact she mentioned was about the Lover’s Park, where they hold a contest every Valentine’s Day to see who can break the record for the longest kiss without breaking away. If you ever want to try and beat the record for yourself, the current one is at 1.5 hours, so best of luck!

Sunday, 3/10/2019: Travel Day Home

Sunday was, in a word, exhausting. We woke up at 3 a.m. for our flight from Lima to Panama City, which took about 4 hours. Once in Panama City International, we then went through ANOTHER security checkpoint that complies with the United States’ TSA requirements, and then flew another 5 hours from PTY to Dulles. Once there, we were free after customs!

Unfortunately, this meant we still had 2 hours to drive from Dulles to Carroll County, where I quickly did my laundry at home and had to drive another hour back to the Mount, where a quiz awaited me on Monday morning.

Normally I am a very organized person and always put my things away, but on Sunday night, I threw everything on the ground of my dorm room and went straight to bed. Though there was no time difference, travel jet lag is real!

Tuesday, 3/12/2019: Reflection Day

Writing this recap of my break has made me realize three things:

  1. No matter how experienced you are at traveling, there will still be hiccups and you will ALWAYS be tired. No one should have to fly 10+ hours in one day, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
  2. Peru, while never my first travel choice (I prefer Europe 🙂 ) was a beautiful place full of natural wonders, amazing history, no bug bites for me (!!!), and great experiences.
  3. Everyone deserves love, and everyone needs love, no matter how big or small. Our problems may be our own, but when we step back to serve others, we realize how fortunate and blessed we are to have what we do, especially when it comes to family. I’ve always been a big supporter of my family, and especially grateful for everything that my parents have done for me, but this trip helped put in perspective some other things about family. Though I may want to kick my little sister sometimes, at least I know I have a little sister. I know where she is, I can call her when I need her, and I know she’s usually safe. Even though my dad may try to go to Walmart more often than any of us needs, I know that I have a dad who is always supporting me, financially, emotionally, and in morale. No matter what hardships I face, I still have a full family. I still have a family that’s together. I still have extended family that I know, and that I know love and support me.

Not everyone gets that full family. Not everyone gets even half a family, or a small family. Sometimes all we have are those with Jesus in their hearts who reach out to help.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my journey and seeing some of the pictures from the amazing trip that I was able to go on with my mom! Amy will be back shortly with more stories of her own trip this week. If I can leave you with one thing today it’s this:

Go hug someone you love and appreciate, and tell them so! In the end we’re all family, and sometimes family needs reminding just how important they are.

Thank you for reading and being a part of my journey 🙂

Sincerely,

Megan

Riding the Roller Coaster of Parenting

IMG_9543Today is Ash Wednesday, and our family certainly took advantage of Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday by indulging in food and fun over the past few days. We surprised Katie Ann and whisked her away to Orlando to celebrate her 20th birthday. This is not something we normally do, believe me, but she was on a wild ride on the roller coaster of life over the past few months, and we wanted to show her how happy we are with how she’s handled things and that we recognize how hard she’s worked academically and personally. So, we met Katie at a restaurant near the airport, supposedly for a surprise luncheon for someone else, and told her that we had packed a bag, so she should grab whatever else she needed because our plane was leaving in two hours time! Needless to say, there was a lot of screaming, and many happy tears were shed. While it was a wonderful, joy-filled weekend, there was a lot of introspection for me…

Princess Belle and girlsMany years ago, we took our own princesses to meet the princesses they idolized. Our girls were so little, unaware of the bad things in this world, and unable to grasp the concept that not every girl becomes a Disney princess. I’m sure that, like many young American girls, they never thought about ever having days of darkness, despair, loneliness, heartbreak, or even insecurity. Those big, bright eyes, looking at the beautiful fairy tale princess could not have imagined a world where people can lose hope, lose faith, and lose themselves. 

 

This past weekend, as I watched the dozens (and dozens) of girls in their princess dresses, with big eyes and wide smiles, I longed for a return to those days.

Those were the days when my girls rarely felt like a fish out of water,
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were unafraid of monsters in the closet, 
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and believed nothing could solve problems better than a big bear hug.
Pooh breakfast Pooh and girls

Those were the days when they knew, without a doubt, that with a smile on your face, a song in your heart, a heart full of inspiration, and perhaps a little bit of pixie dust, all your dreams could come true.castle Amy girls (1).jpg

Of course, my girls are still pursuing their dreams. When life knocks them down, they get back up. When there’s sorrow or heartbreak or despair, they put on those smiles, shake the real dust off their hands and start over. And as a mom, I’m so proud of them each time they do that, but my heart still pines for the days when we thought there really is a happiest place on earth where all cares can be forgotten, where the real world doesn’t exist, and where we don’t have to return to the rat race of daily life. I know that the trials and tribulations my girls have faced are just the beginning for them. As they enter adulthood, they will be faced with problems that will feel like it’s them against the universe. And I want them to know this…

My girls, no matter what, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how dark it seems, no matter how broken you feel or how intense your pain is, your dad and I will always be there for you. 

We will help you catch whatever is thrown your way.IMG_7687.JPG

We will ride the roller coaster with you.IMG_9675

We will always remind you that life can be magical if you let it.IMG_9473

And that, when you’re ready, we’ll smile and wave as you climb to new heights and make all of your own dreams come true.IMG_9468

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Ashes and Chocolate

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 MeWhispering 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.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and 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), Island of Promise (2018).

 

 

 

How Many Licks Must We Take?

my-wordly-girls.jpgAs a parent, I’m grateful that all three of my girls are intelligent, that they have traveled enough to be worldly, and that they understand the importance of doing well in school. However, I can’t help but wonder… as my girls were growing up, as they were experiencing all of those wonderful things, visiting foreign places, and learning how to navigate the world, did I remember to teach them the importance of being wise? What do I mean by that? Intelligence is a function of the brain. Worldliness is a function of experience. Doing well in school comes as a result of hard work and studying. Not a single one of those has anything to do with wisdom. Wisdom is a gift of the spirit and comes entirely from God.

So how do we achieve wisdom?

In today’s first reading, from the book of Sirach, we are told of the importance of wisdom. It is elusive, but can be found and should be sought by every man and woman. Those who know wisdom (personified as a woman in the text), love life, inherits glory (heavenly, not earthly), receives blessings, overcomes fear and dread, treasures knowledge, and understands justice. Wisdom does not come easily but through hard work, perseverance, and trust in God. It is not the kind of thing you can learn from experience or by reading a book. It can only come from spending time with God, reading scripture, and knowing and understanding that there is a higher being on who we should depend and in who we should trust.

Morgan at DU.JPGThis past weekend, my youngest daughter, Morgan, and I visited Pittsburgh so that she could attend Nursing Preview Day at the college of her choice. I watched all of those excited women (and a few men) and marveled at how young they looked. I cried a little when I thought about sending my baby off on her own. I thought about both of her sisters and their college experiences, the good and the bad; and I can’t help but wonder if I ever taught them anything about the importance of wisdom.

Like all young adults, my girls believe that they know what is best for them. Don’t we all? And as any good parent would, my husband and I have always supported them and allowed them to choose their own paths. Yes, there have been times when we raised a brow, questioned a decision, or sighed in disbelief over decisions made. We cried when the choices were bad, and we celebrated when they were good. But I’m still left with the question, are my girls truly wise?

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 10.30.13 AMThose of us above a certain age will remember the wise old owl who was sought for his knowledge. He was asked, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?” When he couldn’t figure out the answer, he cheated and noisily bit into the lollipop. I think that’s how most people approach wisdom. They think they have all of the answers, and when they’re unable to solve a problem, they take a shortcut, or they give up, or they give in. Their choices are often destructive, and their paths are covered with thorns and lead them nowhere. Sometimes, they find themselves on rocky ground with nowhere to go. They believe they are being wise and don’t understand when things don’t turn out the way they thought they would. True wisdom tells us that all of the answers lie with God. 

How many licks must we take, how many dead-end roads must we travel, how many mistakes must we make before we understand that we’re doing it all wrong? When faced with a problem, how many of us think, right off the bat, that we need to pray for an answer? How many stop and think far enough into the future to see beyond this moment, this situation, this world? How many understand that obtaining wisdom isn’t arbitrary or automatic or easy? It doesn’t mean you will never make mistakes, never question yourself, and never worry about the future. However, it does mean that you work to get past the trial, understand the limits, and look for the right path. Wisdom, herself, understands that finding her is difficult.

I will walk with them in disguise,
and at first I will test them with trials.
Fear and dread I will bring upon them
and I will discipline them with my constraints.
When their hearts are fully with me,
then I will set them again on the straight path
and reveal my secrets to them.
– Sirach 4:17-18

All good things comes to those who possess wisdom. That doesn’t mean they will never suffer, nor does it mean that their lives will always be perfect. What it means, according to 2 Chronicles 1: 11,  is that they will amass riches beyond measure and be honored for their knowledge. I’m pretty sure it’s not material riches that they will be given but love, happiness, contentment, and eternal rest. Solomon, known as the wisest person to ever live, when offered anything in the world, asked God for just one thing – wisdom. One of my all-time favorite hymns is Hail Mary, Gentle Woman. In the song, we implore Mary, more than once, to “teach us wisdom, teach us love.” Perhaps we would all do well to ask for and seek the same. 

Join me to celebrate the release of my newest novel, The Devil’s Fortune. Let me know if you can be there on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: In the Desert

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 MeWhispering 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.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and 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), Island of Promise (2018).

 

 

A World of Kindness

Have you ever met someone who exuded kindness like the smell of a cherry pie in an open window on a summer day? This is a person whose eyes catch you, twinkle, and without words, bid you a good day. The kind of person who holds out his hand to help you down from a bus, or pulls out a chair for you, or offers to carry your suitcase even though he has one of his own. The kind of person who talks little about himself or herself but offers to listen, without judgement, to whatever is on your mind, offering a smile and encouraging word. As I’ve said before, kindness is all that really matters, and meeting a truly kind person can alter your attitude, your day, even your life. How often do you meet such a person? Once a day? Once a month? Once in a lifetime? 

Wouldn’t it be nice to meet someone like that in every encounter you have?

Wouldn’t it be nice to be that someone to others?

What would that world look like?

Everything about my recent trip to the Holy Land was special, meaningful, and life-changing. It wasn’t my first visit, but I ended both trips feeling the same way–overwhelmed by all that I saw and learned; sad to have to say goodbye to such wonderful places, experiences, and people; and determined to use the trip as a stepping stone to become a better person. 

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The shoreline of the Sea of Galilee

There’s something about spending ten days with a group of absolute strangers, in a mystical land, that automatically causes one to act like a better person, to show the best side of himself or herself. I like to think that it really allows us to show our true selves. Why hide your real self from a group of people you may never seen again? Not to mention, in a place like the Holy Land, where emotions are always bubbling to the surface, and it’s easy to become vulnerable, to open up in a way you’ve never done before, to shed your mask and let others see the person you are or hope to be. When standing on the shores of Galilee, how can you not open your heart and mind like the Apostles did when Jesus said, “Follow me” and become the person He created you to be?

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at the head waters of the Jordan

Though my sister-in-law and I have been family for the past twenty years, we learned things about each other and our loved ones that we never knew. We opened up to each other like we have never done, and we bonded in a way that took me by surprise. Several times in the past week, I’ve smiled and swallowed the lump in my throat when reading a text from Lisa saying, “I miss you.” We allowed each other to see and be seen like never before, and I believe we love each other more because of that.

Every day, when we left the bus to explore another site, Gerard stood outside the door and offered his hand to each person. Most of us probably didn’t need his help, but he offered it just the same. And it wasn’t only his hand that led us down the large step and onto the sidewalk; it was his smile, his greeting, his genuine kindness. Even though we battled daily with Gerard and his wife, Jen, for our favorite seat (for the record, we shared pretty well, about 50-50), we talked and joked and laughed, and shared many meals together with them and their son, Ben. We learned so much about about each other, but the thing that will always stick out in my mind the most is that simple gesture of helping us all exit the bus.HL Day 8 Tel Aviv-003.JPG

Will, a twenty-four-year-old from Florida, accompanied his Aunt Maria to the Holy Land so that she didn’t have to travel alone. From the moment Will smiled and introduced himself, I felt his kindness. It was just something palpable, something that couldn’t go unnoticed, like the aroma of that cherry pie on the windowsill. The more we talked, the more I knew, beyond doubt, that Will was special, a man with a kind heart. Perhaps there are things he kept hidden, a dark past, a troubled youth, but I think it was obvious to everyone on the trip, that Will possessed a kind soul. I’m not sure there is anything more beautiful that can be said about a person.

Joan, oh Joan, your wit kept us all on our toes! After long days of walking, listening, praying, and marveling at the world around us, Joan entertained us with a never-ending parade of jokes. The sparkle in her eyes as she delivered each punchline had us cheering and begging for more. While there were some groans and shaking of heads, we all looked forward to the next one. But here’s what I figured out. It wasn’t about the jokes. It wasn’t about lightening our emotional loads at the end of the day. It was about Joan, her smile, her twinkling eyes, and her enthusiasm. Oh, if only we all had a Joan around every evening to make us laugh and smile at the end of a long, tiring, and emotional day!

And then there was Ben, a college freshman traveling with his parents, Gerard and Jen. This young man beamed when he talked about the organization he started to lead mission trips to Uganda. He lives every day of his life searching for ways to help others. He has a heart so full of love and exuberance, you can’t help but soak in the kindness he passes around to everyone he meets. Every day, Ben would approach the group to share evening plans to go out and explore the city. His enthusiasm was contagious!

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A night on the town in Jerusalem

I could go on and on. There was sweet Toni, always so appreciative of the pictures that I shared. There were sisters, Lauren and Alicia, with their bright smiles and invitations to stay in touch and visit them. There was Michelle, Jami, and May Ann, and Joe, Betty, Father Jhon, and our leader, Jan, just a few among a number of other wonderful people I now call friends. There were so many who made our trip memorable and special, just as I experienced when Ken and I traveled to the Holy Land three years ago. Perhaps there’s something about treading on holy ground, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, Peter, and Paul, and standing on the same ground as Mary, Joseph, Elijah, and Abraham. Maybe the power of the Holy Spirit is so strong there that it overwhelms one’s soul and prevents one from being anything but kind. Or maybe hearing the stories of healing and conversion along with reliving the passion, death, and resurrection just create the perfect environment, one in which everyone naturally becomes the best and kindest version of themselves.HL Day 3 - Primacy of Peter-009

I like to believe that each one of us has returned home with a renewed spirit, a humbled heart, and the desire to reach out to everyone we know with the kindness we experienced on the Sea of Galilee, the streets of Jerusalem, and the hill country of Judea. I pray that we remember the words we heard on the Mount of Beatitudes and go forth as the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers. Let us comfort and console, hunger and thirst for righteousness, and know that we are truly blessed.

And may we strive every day to just be kind. If everyone were to make that one little thing the cornerstone of all we do, imagine what a wonderful world it would be.

Beatitudes.jpg

Join me to celebrate the release of my newest novel, The Devil’s Fortune. Let me know if you can be there on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: In the Desert

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 MeWhispering 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.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and 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), Island of Promise (2018).

‘Til Death Do Us Part

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. While the world has turned the holiday into nothing more than a day to spend money on Hallmark cards and expensive chocolates, it’s actually a day to celebrate those you love. Last week, I had the pleasure of witnessing eight couples renew their wedding vows at the site of the wedding feast of Cana. I remembered when Ken and I had that same beautiful opportunity three years ago. I felt so blessed, each time, to stand with couples who realize that marriage is something to be obtained, maintained, and sustained, through good times and bad.

Cana
Renewing vows in Cana of Galilee

In the 3rd Century, Roman King Claudius II outlawed weddings as he believed that marriage led soldiers to distraction, and he wanted all men to become soldiers. Valentine was a Catholic priest who secretly married couples and was eventually thrown into jail and executed for refusing to renounce his faith. While in jail, Valentine befriended the jailer, whom he converted, and began teaching the jailer’s young daughter. Before his death, Valentine wrote a note to the young girl, encouraging her to stay close to Jesus. Thus began the tradition of sending notes on Valentine’s Day, a tradition that dates back to the 5th Century when it replaced the Roman festival of Lupercalia. It was thought that a day to celebrate true love was far better than the practice of celebrating spring and fertility by pairing off men and women through a lottery! Though I have to wonder, have things really changed all that much since the 5th Century?

I hear it all the time–the way to meet someone today is through an online dating site. I’m not knocking online dating. I know some couples who were paired by the magic matching algorithm and are quite happy. For some, it’s the best and easiest way to meet a companion or future spouse. For others, it leads to peril and abuse. An article in the Huffington Post points out the drawbacks of online dating. Among them: treating people as mere commodities, lack of willingness to commit, and the possibility of harassment and stalking. The potential for danger when meeting up with someone you only know online is terrifying for this mother of three young women.

I can’t help but wonder if part of the lure of meeting online is because we have become a society where showing any interest in a person of the opposite sex is automatically seen as harassment. After all, in today’s world, how can you let someone know you are interested in them without a) offending them or b) sending a signal that all you want is sex?

Here’s the other thing I think about when recalling the story of Saint Valentine. He was a man who was willing to die to protect the right to marry. Moreover, couples were willing to be imprisoned or killed for love. It would have been much easier for couples to engage in sex or live together without bothering with marriage, but that’s not what they wanted. They understood the importance of marriage, the sanctity of it, and the beauty of being husband and wife. It makes me sad that so many people today choose not to be married.

According to a recent analysis at the University of Maryland, more millennials are staying married after they’ve said, “I do.” Unfortunately, while the divorce rate among post-baby-boomers is decreasing, the amount of people tying the knot has dropped. More people are choosing to remain single, and more couples are choosing to co-habitate. A large part of these decisions is economic stability. College-educated adults are more likely to marry because they can afford to have a family and can afford to make the choice to stay home to raise their children. Marriage has become more of a status symbol and less of a natural progression of love and fidelity. Brides and grooms are getting older, and the amount of children they are bearing is lessening.

What would Saint Valentine think of our world and relationships today? Would he shake his head, perhaps even shed a tear, over modern views of marriage? If marriage was outlawed, or even just looked down upon, would he still risk his life or reputation to marry those who seek his help? Would people even bother? Would they risk their lives, their reputations, their self-reliance and pride, to take vows to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do them part?

As the sacred author tells us in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” And as is affirmed in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?”

Saint Valentine knew that men and women need each other and that marriage is not merely a way to bolster one’s status but a commitment made to each other and to God. May all of you, and your loved ones, have a very happy Valentine’s Day.

Primacy Hearts.jpg
Step stones at the Primacy of Peter, Galilee

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Ashes and Chocolates

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 MeWhispering 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.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and 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), Island of Promise (2018).

Emphatically, Yes

As I write this, I am concluding day two of my second visit to the Holy Land. We spent the day in Galilee, visiting the towns of Nazareth, Cana, and Tabgha. I feel enormously blessed to be back in this place where, as we heard this morning, “the Word became flesh.” Just thinking about that brings me chills and causes my eyes to tear up. Who are we that the Son of God should come to save us? It’s such a humbling thought, and yet, throughout the day today, I have been reminded that God does come to us over and over in our lives. He seeks us out, invites us to come to Him, and implores us to follow Him. We but need to answer with one word…

At the Basilica of the Annunciation, we heard how Mary’s “yes” changed the world. Her willingness to do what God asked of her should not be taken for granted. Mary was a teenaged girl, not much more than a child. As my friend reminded me today, Mary was a young child, one day playing with dolls, the next betrothed to Joseph, and shortly thereafter expecting the child of the Holy Spirit. And yet, she said, yes. Imagine, an angel appears out of nowhere, tells her she’s going to bear the Messiah, and she says, yes.

Imagine, too, a young man who has just finished his apprenticeship and is ready to marry. He becomes betrothed to a fourteen-year-old girl. His whole life is planned out and lying ahead of him. And then he learns that, not only is his betrothed pregnant, she claims that the Spirit of the Lord overcame her and left her with child. As he ponders breaking off their betrothal, an angel visits to tell him to trust, believe, and agree. And Joseph answered, yes. Yes to taking Mary and her child into his home. Yes to raising this baby to be the savior of the world. Yes to humbling himself before God and man.

One of my favorite sayings is, we plan, God laughs. In fact, I recently wrote about accepting change, and why change can be good and rewarding. I don’t believe in coincidence but in the perfection of God’s plans. Everything happens according to His plan, not ours. Like young Mary and the carpenter, Jospeh, we make plans. We lay out what we want our lives to be like. We make lists, keep calendars, set times. And then God steps in. After the ultimate altering of plans to follow God’s plan, Mary understood this. Years later, at Cana, she told the wine stewards,”Do whenever He tells you.” And to her son, she merely let it be known that God decides when one’s time has come. So, what did the stewards and the son of Mary do? They said, yes.

Yesterday, we heard quite a lot about Jonah, who said no to God, and we all know how his journey went. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather fly home from this encounter with God than find myself in the belly of a big fish!

This afternoon, as the sun shone above us and the temperatures reached about 76 degrees, we were to visit several places, but… We received a warning that tomorrow would bring storms and rough seas. Our plans were switched, and we headed to the Sea of Galilee for our boat ride. Why were our plans rearranged? What was God trying to tell us? We may never know, but as a result of the change, we got to drive along the beautiful Golan Heights and see the site where Jesus cast demons into the swine, a site not often seen by visitors. Our leader told us it was the most beautiful and colorful she had ever seen the Sea.

Here’s what I know: when God calls to me, when He invites me to join Him, when he asks me to alter my plans and trust Him, I will remind myself that, no matter what my own plans may be, God expects me to give a very loud, firm, and resounding, YES.

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 MeWhispering 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.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and 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), Island of Promise (2018).

Keeping Track

We laughed this morning, in my cardio class, when the instructor had to set her Fitbit before class to track her exercise, saying, “If it’s not tracked, it doesn’t count.” The reason we laughed is because we all understood exactly what she meant. I once forgot to wear my Apple watch to class and felt like the whole class was for nothing because if I couldn’t show that I was there, how could I prove I actually did the work? I know, it sounds crazy.

I’ve been thinking about it all morning, and I believe there’s something there to consider. We’ve all succumb, in one way or another, to the fitness-tracking craze. My father keeps track of the miles he racks up during the day as he walks in the neighborhood and around the house. I like to monitor my steps to make sure I’m not sitting for too long. I know some people who follow every calorie they burn, every “ring” they close on their exercise app, and even how many deep breathing pauses they take.

All good stuff, I’m sure, but let’s stop and think for a moment about what we’re tracking and why. Are they the minutes or steps that really matter? Are they the things that are going to make a difference in the end. And I mean that end. 

Are we tracking how much we give to the poor (and I don’t mean for tax purposes)?

Are we tracking the time we spend in Church? in prayer? in one-on-one time with God or the Bible?

Are we tracking the amount of time we spend with our families? our children? our spouses? our parents?

Are we tracking the amount of time we spend listening when others are talking–really, truly listening?

Are we tracking the times we say thank you? to our families, our friends, cashiers, parking attendants, ticket takers, God

Are we paying attention to those moments in life when we’re called to slow down, stop, take a breath, and just be? How often do we actually do that?

Are we recording every special moment in our minds, and reflecting on them later, or are we rushing through life unable or unwilling to actually enjoy and appreciate this gift we’ve been given?

Are we remembering to say happy birthday, happy anniversary, I’m sorry, I’m thinking of you, I’m praying for you, or even just hello or have a nice day?

I love that I can track my steps, that I can record my exercise, that I can boost my confidence by boosting my movement. But I have to stop and ask myself, am I really tracking the things that matter? If the answer is no, and it quite often is, then I have some work to do. How about you?
gather ye rosebuds

Join me in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, on March 24th and 25th to celebrate Maryland Day and the release of my latest book, The Devil’s Fortune. Watch my Facebook page this week for more information.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: You’re My Inspiration.

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 MeWhispering 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.

Amy’s next novel, The Devil’s Fortune, will be released in March of 2019. Pre-ordering is available from some vendors with more being added each day.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and 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), Island of Promise (2018).