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)

Giving More

firemans-parade-1Ash Wednesday is upon us, so for the next 40 days, Christians around the world will be fasting, praying (more), and giving alms. The last one, I believe, is the kicker for most people. It sometimes feels like I am always giving.  Every time I turn around, someone has their hand out – a new organ for the church, new uniforms for the tennis team, fundraising for our girls’ mission team, a read-a-thon for a younger relative, not to mention the man on the street for whom I emptied my pocket that, for some unknown reason, happened to be full of quarters on that particular day last week. Giving is something that we are all asked to do on a daily basis, and I can understand why many people feel overwhelmed by all of the solicitations, as wonderful as some of the groups and circumstances are. But give we (Ken and I) do, and I feel we must; and I’d like to share with you two personal stories that explain why.

Many years ago, when Ken and I were first married, we found ourselves in a very tight spot. We were more than stretched thin, two young kids in their twenties who spent every cent they had ever saved on a modest house in town. I was working as a school librarian while going to UMCP to get my Masters in library science. Ken was holding down three jobs and applying for loans to attend law school. On a particular Sunday, we quarreled on our way to Mass. Ken noticed that, as he drove, I was writing a check to the church to go in the weekly offering. He asked me to stop and void the check because we just didn’t have the money to spare. I kept writing and explained that I felt that, even though we didn’t have much, we had more than many and could give a small portion to the church. After a few minutes of back and forth, he grudgingly relented. I didn’t blame Ken. It wasn’t the money, or the church, or even whether or not we had a few dollars to spare. Ken is a worrier, and I’m not. He lies in bed at night thinking about everything bad that could happen to our family if this or if that. I say my prayers, give any worries I might have over to God, and go to sleep, knowing that I am in good hands.

Anyway, we put our check in the offering, and went on about our business. Two days later, Ken came into the kitchen with a frantic look on his face. I was cooking dinner, and he had been going through the mail. I stopped and looked at him, knowing that something horrible had happened or was about to. With a pained expression, Ken told me that he just realized he had forgotten to pay the mortgage. It was due the very next day, and we had nothing left in our bank account. He was a man without options, and his despair emanated from him, filling the room like the thick, October, Eastern Shore fog. I told him that we would somehow make it work, but he shook his head and left the room, knowing that there was nothing he or I could do to fix the situation. I did what I always do. I prayed. The following morning, Ken left the house at 3:30am to go crabbing. Payday wasn’t until Friday, and I knew he would spend the entire morning trying to figure out a way to rob Peter to pay Paul before the money came through. The school where I worked was out for the summer, so I was in the kitchen doing homework for my graduate classes when Ken returned. After coming in to say hello, Ken headed through the kitchen to go upstairs and get ready for job number two. As he was passing the hutch that his father made for us, he stopped. I watched as a strange expression came over his face. Reaching up onto the top shelf, he picked up a souvenir tin with the Maryland flag on it and shook it. Opening the tin, he pulled out a wad of cash. With elation on his face, he turned to me.

“I forgot that I put this there weeks ago because I didn’t have time to go to the bank. I’m pretty sure it’s exactly the amount we need to pay our mortgage”

He was astonished, and I was relieved but not surprised. Jesus told us in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you.”

Another story has to do with our daughter. When Katie was very young, she started displaying some medical issues that were concerning. I took her to see her pediatrician, and the doctor ordered what I believed to be a series of standard tests. Unalarmed, I went home and told Ken that Katie needed to be taken to Johns Hopkins for a breathing test to see whether she had Cystic Fibrosis. Ken immediately broke into tears, not a normal reaction by any means, and certainly not one I expected. He proceeded to tell me that a very close childhood friend of his had CF and defied the odds by surviving until the age of 16. Shocked, and unwilling to consider the possibilities in front of us, I remember shaking my head and saying over and over, “This just can’t be happening.”

On the day of the testing, Ken insisted on taking Katie to Baltimore. I stayed home with Morgan, who was a baby, and made sure Rebecca got to and from school. I was a nervous wreck, totally out of character for me, and Ken was beside himself with grief even before knowing the results. I spent most of the day in prayer waiting for his call. When Ken finally called with the news that Katie did not have CF, he sobbed into the phone, and tears streamed down my face. From that moment on, we’ve been hard-pressed to say no to any charity that involves helping sick or dying children. We are lucky, and truly blessed by God, that Katie grew out of her ailments and now just carries an inhaler that she uses before and sometimes after exercise. It’s hard to look at another parent or child facing the unspeakable and not find myself back in those few days of the unknown. Katie turns eighteen this week, and I cherish every minute she has been alive as a precious gift.

Why do I share these things with you? Because I have a feeling that everyone has their own story. We all have a cause we support, be it breast cancer research, sheltering the homeless, visiting Veterans, or saving soda tabs for the Ronald McDonald House. Our reasons for supporting causes may be different, and some people might not even consciously realize why are they supporting something, but we’re all working, in our own ways, to make the world a little better for someone else. And if we’re not, we should be. If you are reading this on a computer, phone, or tablet, then you have, at a least a little bit, more than others. Even a handful of quarters might help someone more than you know.

So over the next 40 days, as you’re cleaning out your closets to collect 40 bags, or avoiding the candy aisle at the grocery store, I ask you to really think about what you can do to be more generous and to help others in need. So many of us have more than we could ever need or use, including a nice home, new clothes, and good health. I believe we all have something we can give. It doesn’t even have to be money. Can’t we all spend just over a month finding ways to give, whether it’s money, time, or even a prayer for someone in need? Your true and honest generosity, no matter how small, will be greatly rewarded.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”          Mark 12: 41-44

For more Lenten inspiration, check out Amy’s collaboration with authors, Anne Kennedy and Susan Anthony:  Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her book, Whispering Vines,  is a 2017 Illumination Award winner.  Amy’s most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale as well as Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms, her collaboration with the authors of the blog, Y’all Need Jesus.

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)