The 9 Most Important Things I’ve Learned at 47

5-Granada53Today is my birthday, and though my children and I kid that I turn 29 again every year, I really don’t mind people knowing that I am 47. Every day, I remind myself how lucky I am to be alive, be part of my family, have the wonderful friends that I have, and live in the greatest country in the world. Age means nothing to me except that the older I get, the wiser I am, the more experiences I’ve had, the closer to God I grow, and the more I appreciate where I’ve been and what I have. Unfortunately, we live in a throwaway society. There are many stories on the news these days about elderly people being put to death simply because they are old or ill. We throw away things that aren’t broken as well as broken things that can be fixed. Everybody wants to stay young, look young, and only have things that are the newest of their kind. It’s actually quite sad when you think about it. Who says that just because something or someone is old, it or she is no longer any good? Below, are the things that I see as the best part of growing older.

1.  I no longer feel guilty about doing or buying what I want. I’ve had a job since I was 16 years old, and Ken and I have worked hard for everything we have. There’s no reason not to enjoy it.

2.  Although I still have two girls in high school, my children and I are at the point in our lives where we are able to talk to each other and do things together as friends. From going to concerts to vacationing to sharing a glass of wine (since Rebecca turned 21 last month), we are able to relish the friendship that we have spent the past 21, 18, and 16 years cultivating.

3.  I have never really been the kind of person who cares what others think about me, but I have always known the difference between character and reputation. Reaching middle age means that I have established my reputation and assume that people know my character. If they don’t, it’s no longer my problem.

4.  I know exactly who my friends are. The days of trying to fit in, avoid mean girl cliques, and live outside of the popular crowd, are long gone. I know who the people are that I can count on, who the people are with whom I can share secrets, and those with whom I can share a smile and even a cup of coffee but not the intimate details of my life. It’s quite freeing to know that I don’t have to play the games that some people play. I’ve had the same best friends for 40, 23, and 16 years, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

5.  My life is only half over. I’m an eternal optimist, so thinking of my life as half over is foreign to me. Instead, I think of it as only half over. I still have, hopefully, another 47 years to do all of the things I still haven’t done – visit the last four states that I have yet to go to, ride in a hot air balloon, return to the Holy Lands, see my children marry and have children of their own, and walk El Camino (2019 is my target year, right Anne, George, Marian, Anne, Susan, Chandi, Ronnie, and Tammi?).

6.  My parents aren’t getting any younger either. I try to see them as often as possible and spend as much time with them as I can. I cherish our moments together and hope they know that everything I am, have, and believe is due to their love, guidance, and example.

7.  My faith is stronger now than it ever was, and I am still learning more about it every day. Time in prayer has become more treasured and coveted. Reading scripture is a daily habit. I’ve walked with God intermittently over the past 47 years. I want to spend the next 47 walking beside Him every minute of every day.

8.  Even the bad days are good. As happens in everyone’s life now and then, there are days when nothing seems to go right. These are the days when I recall the things that really matter (all of the other things on this list), and remain grateful for what I have. My mother used to tell me time and again, there’s no use crying over spilt milk. Instead of worrying about spilled, spoiling milk, I prefer to seek out and smell the roses because…

9.  Life is a gift and a blessing. We have the ability to do so much, to experience so much, to give of ourselves to others, and be blessed by others in return. We should make every day count and enjoy life to its fullest.

For Lenten inspiration, check out Amy’s collaboration with authors, Anne Kennedy, Susan Anthony, Chandi Owen, and Wendy Clark:  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)

Rewriting the Story

Last night, I took my mother,  sister-in-law, and friends to see Wicked. It was the fourth time I’ve seen the production, and If you’ve never seen the it, I encourage you, no I implore you, to run, don’t walk, to the nearest theater at which it is playing.  For those who, like myself, read the book and were left shaking your head and wondering what on earth all of the hype is about, trust me.  The play is a beautiful celebration of friendship that you don’t want to miss and will never forget.  Rather than rehashing to story of Dorothy from Kansas, Wicked tells the tale of the deep and abiding friendship of Dorothy’s good and beautiful guardian, Glinda, and Dorothy’s archenemy, the Wicked Witch of the West, known in the book and play as Elphaba.  The most dramatic and pivotal scene is when Elphaba, after casting a spell on an ordinary broom, gains the ability to fly and takes off for the Westernmost reaches of Oz. However, the climax is when the best friends, Glinda and Elphaba, tell each other goodbye.

Elphaba laments that she is limited in her abilities to do good, to save the world, which was all she ever wanted to do.  She has been cast as the villain, and she tells Glinda that she must now figure out how to save Oz from an evil which is overtaking it in the form of the Wizard (not the good guy Frank L. Baum led you to believe he was).  The two friends sing about how their meeting and subsequent friendship is like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes the sun, a stream that shifts when it meets a boulder, a seed dropped by a bird in a distant wood – their friendship is a catalyst for change.

Elphaba says that she has heard that people come into our lives for a reason, that we are led to those who need us, who help us to grow.  She and Glinda agree that no matter what has happened in the past or what may happen in the future, their friendship has changed them, “For Good.”  The song tells us that they are who they are because of knowing each other and that their stories have been rewritten because they are friends (obviously the message of the play).

I can honestly say that I am who I am today because of the people who have crossed my path, because of those I call my friends.  My friends influenced who I was a child, as a teen, and as an adult.  I’ve had to choose wisely, sometimes letting go of people, even close, dear ones, because their influence wasn’t a catalyst for good in my life.  I look back and see where I need to seek forgiveness and where old resentments no longer matter.  I can look around me and see who has changed me for the better both as friends and colleagues. Many years ago, I met a gal from church who became my very best friend and has continues to be a major force in my life. A few years later, I met the mother of one of Rebecca’s classmates, and now I have two best friends who have changed my life and my understanding of friendship. Almost a year ago, a whole new group of people came into my life.  I never thought, when first meeting this group, that they would have such a profound impact on me.  A seed was definitely dropped in a distant wood, and its roots took hold and sprouted into a wonderful new life.

I can’t begin to express what it means to me to know that I have friends who have been there for my entire life.  I have friendships that have deepened over the past twenty years, and I have new friendships that have such strong bonds, I can scarcely believe that we just met.  What I can express is best summed up by the words of Glinda and Elphaba, “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Jesus told His disciples, “Follow me,” and they left the lives they knew and followed Him.  Never could they have imagined what awaited them or the world.  They felt an instant connection, and sometimes, if we are among the very luckiest, we find that same connection with others.  Just as the disciples did, we find our stories being rewritten because someone came into our lives.  My wish is that all of my girls are lucky enough to find those relationships, in marriage and in friendship, the ones that change their lives “for good.”

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 eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me(2015), Whispering Vines (2016)

Waves of Emotion

Almost ten years ago, Ken’s aunt and uncle made us a deal we couldn’t refuse.  Fifteen years earlier, they bought an above-ground swimming pool from a store that was going out of business.  They had every intention of putting it up in their yard for their two little girls.  Well, one thing led to another, life went on, and the pool sat unopened in their garage. Their girls had grown up, gone to college, and moved out, and the pool was of no use to them any longer.  The pool was ours if we were just willing to drive the two hours to pick it up and then figure out how to put it together.  It DSCN4727had no pump or filter and no ladder, but it was spring, so those things were readily available.  Ken went the very next day to pick up the pool, and I scoured Craig’s list for the missing pieces.  By the time Ken got home, I had secured a filter and pump, and a few weeks later, Ken’s sister had located a ladder.  

Ken spent every evening after work for the next month digging out and leveling our yard, piecing together the outer wall of the pool, and trying to stretch the liner that, after 15 years in a garage, had shrunk from its original size.  When the five of us finally pulled the liner into place and stood back and marveled at the giant (and I do mean giant) pool that we had constructed ourselves, it felt as it we were witnessing a miracle.  And oh what a blessing that pool was.DSCN4878

When I was growing up, there was just one thing I always wanted and begged for (except for my 4th grade horse phase).  That one thing was a pool.  Unfortunately, we never lived in a house that had the right yard for a pool.  You can imagine my elation when we had our own pool in our backyard for the girls, Ken, and myself to enjoy.  That first summer, we were in the water every single night.  

DSC02117We had one party after another, inviting friends and family to come over and enjoy our pool.  I can still close my eyes and hear the squeals of delight from the girls as we swam and splashed and played.  It was Heaven right in our own backyard.  Morgan, our swim team champion, was in the water literally from sunup until bedtime.  It’s a miracle she had any skin or hair DSC01878left by the end of the summer.  After a couple if years, we were able to build a deck, and I spent many hours that summer reading books on the deck while the girls swam.  

Alas, as happens in life, the girls grew older, and we all grew busier.  Morgan began spending so much time in the swim team pool, practicing and competing, that she no longer had the desire to swim at home.  If she had friends over, they swam, but otherwise, she seemed to forget that the pool was even there.  Katie and Rebecca had summer jobs that kept them away from the house for long hours, and they lost their love of being in the pool.  Ken started traveling a lot more, and to keep our family together as much as possible, we tried to travel with him whenever we could.  Even I, the girl who longed for a pool, found myself closed up in the house sitting in front of my computer.  Entire summers went by without me even putting on a bathing suit.

Last summer, I got very sick at the tail end of our family vacation.  When we got home, my doctor told me that the best thing for me to do was to spend 10-30 minutes a day in the pool.  That last week of summer was the most relaxing and rejuvenating week of my entire year.  I had forgotten how much I love to swim!  I love the feel of the water, the rhythmic pulse of a string of laps back and forth across the pool, the sun’s hot rays slicing through the cool water and creating a soothing bathtub sensation on my body.  I spent this past winter and the long, cold, wet spring looking out my kitchen window with a smile  This was the summer I was going to swim every day.

A few days ago, Ken pulled the cover off of the pool.  He climbed into the green, murky, stale water, and began cleaning it out.  He noticed a few cracks in the liner, some that looked rather bad, and realized it needed to be replaced.  He found this no easy task as the pool was now around twenty-five years old.  Settling on patching it up, he figured he could get another summer out of the liner while searching for a replacement.  He then retrieved the filter and pump from the shed, cleaned them, hooked them up, and then took them off and carried them into the garage.  The pool was filling, and as Ken worked on something with the pump, I anxiously watched and waited.  Would it be ready by Memorial Day?  It seemed to be taking so much longer this year for Ken to get it all put together.  How much longer would I have to wait?

At dinner last night, Ken announced that we had to make a decision as a family.  “I can’t fix the pump,” he told us.  The pool was too old, the parts no longer available.  A new system would cost upwards of $1000, and he didn’t want to even say how much the eventual liner would cost.  “I spend $2000 a year and countless hours on the pool, and nobody uses it any more.”  

No!  Wait!  What was this leading to?  Were my ears deceiving me?  I was going to use it!  I needed to use it!  We had to have a pool!

“We could build a huge gazebo in that area,” Rebecca excitedly said.

“Or a Michael Phelps practice lane,” Morgan enthusiastically chimed in.

“Or just use the money for our vacation,” Katie suggested.

I was silent.  Did they not see?  Did they not care?  This was my pool!  Our pool!  Where we spent so many good times years ago.  Years ago.  The thought echoed in my mind.  Where did the years go?  Why hadn’t I seized every opportunity to spend time in the pool with my family when we had the chance?  Why had we let other things get in the way?  Why had I spent my entire summer indoors instead of enjoying the one thing I had always wanted so much?DSC09617

I cried last night while Ken held me and apologized.  I know.  It’s a pool.  I get it.  There are far worse things in the world to cry about than the dismantling of a pool.  But it was more than just a pool.  It was my childhood wish, my family’s nirvana for a few short years, a project that we put so much work, joy, and love into.  

The next few days won’t be very much fun for me as I watch the pool come down little by little.  Our backyard will never be the same.  You see, even if we didn’t use the pool as much in the past few years as we could have, the possibility was always there.  But I guess my memories will always be there, too.  In my mind, the pool will always be used by three excited little girls, their laughing father, and their overjoyed mother.  It’s not possible to turn back the hands of time and redo all of those lost hours, but we can make sure we don’t repeat that mistake.  We may not have a pool this summer, but we have each other.  And really, that’s all we need.DSC09619

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

   Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

   Tomorrow will be dying.

Robert Herrick, 1591 – 1674

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 latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her next book, Whispering Vines, is now available for pre-order.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books:

Crabbing With Granddad (2013)

A Place to Call Home (2014)

Picture Me (2015)

Receive Amy’s Newsletter for News about Books and Events

A Season for Changes

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.     Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

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We’ve all read the verses or at least heard the song.  Every school choir seems to sing it at some point.  It has been featured in movies and in books.  Many reflections have been written about the words attributed to Solomon (although the author is not actually identified).  But I believe there is a line that is missing, something that each of us experiences over and over throughout our lives – a time for change.

One could argue that every line in the passage is about change, and that is very true.  Birth and death bring change as do tearing down and building up.  Scattering and gathering can be catalysts for change as can seeking, losing, keeping, casting, rending, sewing, speaking, loving, etc.  We are faced with changes, both large and small, time and time again, every day.  I am reminded of this more and more each spring as graduation time is thrust upon us, whether we are ready or not.

My oldest, Rebecca, returned home from school yesterday after an emotional farewell to her roommates and her boyfriend who are graduating.  They are moving on to the next stage of their lives, catapulting change not only on themselves but those around them.  What will the future bring for them and for their loved ones?  We can only guess.  Jobs, graduate school, families, mortgages, and all that comes with moving into adulthood will now become reality for the Class of 2016.  At every level – high school, college, and beyond, commencement brings change.  Leaving home for the first time, leaving the comfort and safety of your school and friends, entering “the real world,” and saying goodbye are experienced by some for the very first time.  For parents, whether it is your first child or your last, letting go is often accompanied by great heartache.

Though Rebecca has another year to go in college, the reality of change has really hit me this week.  She will be entering her senior year at Mount St. Mary’s the same time that her sister, Katie, enters her senior year of high school.  While one is looking at colleges, the other is looking at her future and trying to decide what it will hold.  Both are eagerly planning and thinking about the next step while I hold my breath and close my eyes and still hear them cooing in their cribs, see them taking their first steps, feel them curled in my arms, so small and delicate and new.  How has time passed so quickly?  When did they get so big?  

I think journalist Sydney Harris summed it up best when he said, “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”  We know that change is good and that with each change, we grow as a person and experience life more deeply, but we long for things to stay the same or to return to a time in the past.  At least, I know I do.  I have loved every minute of being a mom.  I have laughed and cried at every stage of my daughters’ lives, and I know I will continue to do so as they leave home, go to school, get jobs, marry, have children, and become the people God intended them to be.  But there will always be a part of me who wants to turn back the hands of time and just enjoy those moments that I see now were so fleeting.  

Change is inevitable, and the only thing we can really do is embrace it.  Let change help us to grow, at every age and at every stage.  There is always something to reach for.  Even changes that are bad, ones that rip us apart, can lead us to a new understanding, perhaps a new friend, a new way to look at life.  No matter how hard the next few years will be for me as a parent, I ask that I have the courage to both accept and embrace the changes that are coming and to see each change as a blessing, a chance to learn and grow, and a new season to be welcomed. 

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

–Alexander Pope

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 latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her next book, Whispering Vines, is now available for pre-order.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books:  Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015)

Receive Amy’s Newsletter for News about Books and Events

The 6 Things You Are Doing That Limit Your Happiness

DSC_1859I am blessed to live in the United States, a country that boasts “the pursuit of happiness” as an unalienable right.  If doesn’t, however, guarantee that you will be happy or that anyone has to be forced to make you happy.  It just decrees that you have the right to pursue being happy.  Nor are any of us given a path to happiness, a guarantee of some sort that we will be happy.  That is up to each of us as individuals.  And the only way to be happy is to pursue a life of happiness, not from others, but from the things that you, yourself, do every day.  Unfortunately, many people are searching for happiness in ways that leave them feeling empty, unfulfilled, and even sad and sometimes lonely. In my observations of the people and situations around me, here is what I see that they’re doing wrong.

1.  Allowing others to dictate your mood. Nobody can make you unhappy but you.  I tell my children this all the time.  Others can criticize you, put you down, attempt to take away your self-esteem or lessen your accomplishments; but at the end of the day, you are the one who lives with your choices, your beliefs, the person you are or are becoming.  Only you can determine how you should feel, and only you can take the reins and make your life be what you want it to be.

           After his first audition, Sidney Poitier was told by the casting director, “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?”*

2.  Letting failure get the best of you.  You’re never going to be perfect.  That role belongs to only one being, and He doesn’t expect you to be perfect; but He does expect you to try to be.  So what if you failed at something.  Are you going to let that be the end of life as you know it?  Stick that chin out, roll up your sleeves, and try again.

Thomas Edison failed 1,000 times while trying to invent the light bulb. When asked how it felt, Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”*

3.  Not appreciating what you have.  Do you have a roof over your head?  Do you have food on your table, clothes on your back, shoes on your feet?  Then what are you complaining about?  There are many people in the world who are far worse off than you are, but they are able to find happiness.  How?  By appreciating what they have and not what they lack.  We aren’t supposed to get everything we desire in life, or there would never be anything to strive for, hope for , look forward to.  Enjoy what you have without complaining about what you don’t have, and you will find that what you have will increase tenfold.

 

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Oprah Winfrey**

4.  Letting worries win.  I am willing to bet money that the happiest people you know are the ones who worry the least.  They know that life has a way of working things out.  Personally, I believe that God will do my worrying for me.  Remember the saying, “Live and let God.”  Whether you believe in a divine presence or not, you will be a happier person if you do not dwell on worry. Some things in life are out of our control.  Don’t try to control them.  They will only end up controlling you.

“There is no cross, big or small, in our life which the Lord does not share with us.”  Pope Francis***

5.  Not allowing yourself to catch the joy of others.  Embrace other peoples’ happiness.  So you’re not having a good day, or a good experience.  Is that any reason to bring others down or to not try to lift yourself up?  Share in the joy of others.  Allow their joy, their inner peace, to enter your life.  Someday you will regret the time you spent alone nursing your wounds, continuing to make yourself unhappy; but you will never regret the time you spent enjoying life with friends and family and seeking joy.

“To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”  Roger Ebert****

6.  Ignoring the golden rule.  To enjoy true happiness, you must create happiness and share it with others.  Smile, and others will smile back.  Hold the door for someone, and they will hold it for someone else.  Speak kindly to those around you, and they will speak kindly in return.  No further explanation is needed.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:31

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Matthew 22:39

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”  Mahatma Gandhi

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 latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her next book, Whispering Vines, is due out in the summer of 2016.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015)

Receive Amy’s Newsletter for News about Books and Events

*http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/OnFailingG.html
**http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/40-inspiring-motivational-quotes-about-gratitude.html
***http://www.aggiecatholicblog.org/2015/01/top-75-pope-francis-quotes/
****http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/joy_3.html

Strangers in a Strange Land

Smithsonian Mag - The Search for Jesus
Our Group of Pilgrims
It was early when we gathered, strangers in a strange land, having flown through the night and disembarked bleary-eyed, yet ready for adventure. A few people spoke; many smiled and nodded in acknowledgement. We shared a purpose, the same excitement and expectations, but were strangers nonetheless. With suitcases in hand, we boarded our assigned buses, most of us now having met three or four others. What would this week bring? How would we get along? How would this land of Moses change us?

It changed us in ways none of us could quite guess as of yet. We met our guides and watched eagerly as they pointed to landmarks on the landscape. Galilee is green. Did you know that? It is fertile and pleasant, even in the month of February. A cautious camaraderie formed during the first lunch, each person feeling out the others. Thank Heaven for Facebook, the genius of modern communication that allowed us to identify our fellow travelers and make small talk.

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Ken and I renewing our vows
Each day brought new things to see and places to go. Our first major site was the Church of the Annunciation, and we all left with high hopes and renewed zeal for the coming days.  “How can it get any better than this?” We thought when Father Darryl reminded us that “the Word was made flesh, here.”  But it did. That afternoon, we visited Cana where many of us renewed our wedding vows. While there was not a dry eye in the church, there were many laughs accompanied by food and dance at the “reception” that evening.

 

 

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The Sea of Galilee
In Mark 4: 35-41, the winds whipped across the Sea of Galilee. For us, they were calm when day two ushered in a boat ride for the one-hundred pilgrims who were talking, praying, and taking pictures with traveling companions. A moment of raw emotion took me by surprise when a fellow pilgrim stopped me to tell me that, in my smile, she had seen the face of her dear friend, who had recently passed. That is a moment I will never forget. A connection was made, and, I hope, perhaps a healing had begun. Later that day, we walked through the Valley of the Doves, literally following the footsteps of Jesus. It was unforgettable.

 

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The holy place of Peter’s Primacy
Ken was moved to tears at the Church of the Transfiguration, and we continued on our journey toward Jerusalem, stopping at Jericho for lunch. The sound of the call to prayer filled the Muslim dominated town as we ate and talked, each person learning more about our new friends. A visit to the seashore to recall the Lord’s command to Peter to shepherd His flock, left us all hearing the question, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

 

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The star marking the spot of Jesus’ birth
The next morning found us in Bethlehem where the true purpose of our trip began to
settle in. Though under construction, the Church of the Nativity loomed large and glorious before us. Kneeling before the place, where once laid a newborn King, was humbling for all of us. In Shepherd’s Field, we imagined what it must have been like when the light of a mystical star shone overhead, beckoning the shepherds from the cave to be greeted by a heavenly host of angels.

 

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Garden of Gethsemane
On Friday, we stood in the chapel at Pater Noster and held hands as we prayed the words the Lord prayed on the ground where the Apostles first learned the prayer. To describe my emotions would be inadequate as mere words cannot express what that felt like. It was as if the Lord stood in our midst. But the best was yet to come as that day gave way to one emotional moment after another. Walking the Palm Sunday path, we found ourselves descending the Mount of Olives and entering the Garden of Gethsemane. Our guide shared with us his personal belief that Jesus’ prayer that this cup be passed was not a moment of weakness and fear of the coming pain of crucifixion, but of the coming pain of the kiss, the betrayal by one He loved. Never again will I think of that Biblical scene without recalling that thought.

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Strangers no more
From there, we entered the Upper Room, the approximation of where the Lord and His disciples shared the Last Supper. It was during Mass on this hallowed ground that I watched, during the handshake of peace, as each person in the room hugged, kissed, and greeted each other by name, all pretenses gone. No more strangers. At that moment, we all felt it. We were among true friends.

 

 

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The tomb of Christ
The culmination of the trip took place at sunrise on Saturday morning. As the glow of the candles danced on the marble, and the Franciscan Monks sang the High Mass, Father Darryl celebrated the most unforgettable Mass of my life. To stand before the tomb of the risen Lord and partake in His meal of everlasting life, while doves sat in the church’s recesses above our heads, was too surreal to imagine. I tried to sing, tried to utter the prayers I had been hearing and saying all of my life, but the conflicting combination of sadness and joy were overwhelming. To lay my head on the Lord’s tomb, and then to kneel at Calvary, was almost too much to take in all at once. As Jesus did, we wept.

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Along the Via Delarosa
I will never forget the Via Delarosa, the walk through the streets of Jerusalem while praying the Stations of the Cross. As tourists and other pilgrims watched our group, and those used to such events went on with their daily lives, we traced the steps of our Lord from Pilate’s Praetorian to Calvary. The day was filed with more emotion than I’m sure any of us knew we were capable of.  Before heading to the airport on Sunday, Ken and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to walk back down to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher once again. This time, we were alone, no crowd of one-hundred, whispering and waiting their turn to spend just a few seconds at the empty tomb. With just ten people in front of us, we waited in line until it was time to say our final prayers at the site of the Resurrection. We savored the moment, knowing that this might be the one and only time in our lives that we would be able to visit this land of holiness and turmoil.

 

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A group of friends at our farewell dinner
When we finished our last dinner together, later that evening, the tears began to flow. Our lives had been changed forever. We were now fishers of men, charged with the task of returning to our homes and loved ones and sharing with them all that we had seen and heard. Unlike the first time we gathered at the airport, this time there was laughter, a final toast, sharing of memories, and plans to see each other again. No longer strangers in a strange land, I believe we all felt as if we had come home, and in doing so, met the family we never knew we had.

 

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 latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her next book, Whispering Vines, is due out in the summer of 2016.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books:

Crabbing With Granddad (2013)

A Place to Call Home (2014)

Picture Me (2015)

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

DSC09019It’s almost funny, the things we will do to spend just a small amount of special time with the ones we love, and how we truly come to appreciate those times over the years.  Christmas is one of those times.  Christmas in our house was always special, always a wonderful get-together with our large, extended family.  When I was very young, my parents and I would spend the entire Christmas holiday with my grandparents on the Wicomico River in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  We always attended the Christmas Eve vigil at the church where my parents were married (which was built by my grandfather).  While it was just the five of us there on Christmas morning, throughout the day, family would arrive until the tiny house was bursting at the seams with all of the people, presents, and holiday cheer.  Dinner was a festive event with family from all over Southern Maryland popping in and out to exchange gifts and greetings.

Once my brothers arrived, and there were more cousins on the scene than just my cousin, Terri, and myself, we all stayed home for Christmas.  All of us, that is, except for my grandparents.  They spent Christmas Eve with my Uncle Gene and Aunt Joan, had breakfast on Christmas morning with my Aunt Debbie and Uncle Karl, arrived at our house for lunch and an afternoon of egg nog and present opening, and then traveled to my Uncle Butch and Aunt Pinky’s house for dinner.  We all lived an hour or more apart, and I can only imagine how exhausting that was for them; but I don’t think they would have traded it for the world.  After my grandfather went to his eternal Christmas dinner at the Lord’s table, my grandmother would come to our house, arriving just before Thanksgiving and staying through New Year’s.  My aunts took turns hosting a family dinner on Christmas Day.

After I got married, things changed again.  Ken and I go to Mom and Dad’s and spend Christmas Eve with my parents and my brothers’ families, going to Mass and then enjoying dinner and exchanging gifts.  We return home late that night, and still today, the girls run up to bed while Ken and I visit with Santa.  On Christmas Day, Ken’s family comes here for Christmas dinner and presents.  We take lots of pictures (of course), and enjoy our time with family.

Christmas in our family is kind of like Max’s experience with the Wild Things.  We travel across the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, just as I did as a child and my grandparents did later.  And in my mind today, as we go, I travel through night and day and in and out of weeks and over a year through all of my memories of Christmases past.  Every year, when the gift exchange begins, it’s definitely like being surrounded by wild things!  Sometimes, amidst all of that togetherness, they even roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth, but then we remember who the King of all things is, and a hush falls over all of us as we contemplate the true meaning of Christmas.

It’s a lot of work, planning and traveling for Christmas, making sure we have all of the presents, and remembering, while at Mass, to be present for the Lord.  But I wouldn’t change any of it.  After all, at Christmas, we all want to be where someone loves us best of all and where we smell good things to eat, so we give up whatever seemingly important things we are doing to head home.  We sail back over a year, and in and out of weeks, and through a day and into the night of our very own Christmas where we find the comforts of home and family waiting for us, and it’s always worth the trip.

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Amy Schisler is the author of two mystery / suspense novels. Her first book, A Place to Call Home is in its second printing and may be purchased in stores and online.  Amy’s newest mystery, Picture Me, was released in August of 2015 and is available in stores, at Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble.  Both novels are also available for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.  Amy’s children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad, may be purchased in stores and on Amazon.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.