The Only Gift That Matters

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I recently heard someone say that the greatest gift her parents gave her was her faith. It kind of stopped me in my tracks. Here we are, in the midst of the Christmas shopping season, and I hear that the greatest gift someone received from her parents was the gift of faith. Not an Apple Watch, not a laptop, not a designer bag or piece of jewelry, but the simplest of gifts–the ability to believe what is not seen and embrace it, the courage to trust in God, and the knowledge that there is a glorious new life awaiting us. 

I thought to myself, how true it is that the greatest gift we can pass down is easy and free to give, but then I realized, faith is not easy and it’s not free… Read more

What’s in Your Wallet?

debwparentsEarlier this week, my daughter told me that she had decided not to get her father a new wallet for Christmas. “It’s too personal, and I’m afraid I’d get him one he won’t like.” I started thinking about my own wallet. For many years, my wallet served a dual purpose. It held money and necessary ID cards, but it also held beloved photos of my family. As a child, this photo of my aunt and my grandparents was the first one I was given to put in my wallet, and it stayed there for the next thirty years. It was very special to me, a reminder of the special relationship I shared with all three of them (and still share with my Aunt Debbie today).

My relationship with my aunt hasn’t changed, but my relationship with my wallet has. Read more

Holiday Reminders

Is your Thanksgiving turkey thawing?

Have you started your Christmas to-do list?

Have you begun planning your holiday schedule?

I’ve been hard at work getting my to-do list together, planning my decorating, coordinating activities with my family, putting together our Christmas card, and trying to remember everything else I need to tend to.

As we begin the holiday hoopla, it occurs to me that we all need a few reminders to keep us on track this season. Here are the things that will be at the top of my Reminders List. Read more

The Twelve Days of Christmas: More than a Song

Merry Christmas! I know that for many, today is the day after Christmas, but for most Catholics around the world, today is not merely the day after Christmas, it is the Second Day of Christmas. A few weeks ago, I wrote about anticipating Christmas, but more importantly, enjoying and appreciating the days after Christmas – the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS! 

We all know the song and its seemingly endless list of Christmas gifts. The English Christmas carol was first published in 1780 and was a rhyme, not a song with music. It may even originally have been a French chant. English composer, Frederic Austin, first published the musical arrangement we are familiar with today including the recurring word “on” which did not appear in earlier versions.  The exact origins of the song are unknown, but it is believed to have been a children’s game played on the English festival, Twelfth Night, that, over time, evolved into a chant and then a song. Many have suggested that the twelve gifts have Biblical meaning though most modern scholars dismiss this claim. While that suggestion has been debunked, it it is interesting to note that there are exactly 364 gifts, one for each of the year except Christmas. Read more

Make your Own Hallmark Story This Christmas

I’m just going to say it. I’m really tired of hearing people put down the Hallmark Christmas movies. Yes, they’re predictable. Yes, most of them follow the same formula. Yes, they all star the same actors and actresses. But you know what? They are a welcome refuge from everything on the news and the crowds in the stores and the stress of the holiday season. I mean, really, there is a reason why they are so popular–who wants to spend more than two minutes thinking about everything that’s going wrong in the world today? Wouldn’t you rather be watching two people fall in love over the course of a holiday season with the most beautiful snowy backdrop in the most welcoming Christmas village kind of town? And who says that romances like that don’t really happen?

To prove my point, all I have to do is think about the conversation I overheard this past Saturday night. My girls and I hosted our annual Mother-Daughter Christmas party with dear friends from our community, parish, school, and family. After the party was over, Rebecca’s friends, most from other states, spent the night here at the house. As we were cleaning up, the talk turned to weddings, as it often does with post-college girls! Then several girls told the stories of how their parents met. Each one was more charming than the last, and my heart swelled every time I heard Rebecca’s roommate swoon, “I’m obsessed with this story, keep going!” Since I was there, Rebecca asked me to tell the story of how Ken and I met. It’s a lovely story that our family really enjoys sharing. And it was obvious that the girls all felt the same about their own parents’ first encounters.

The stories revolved around failed first marriages, high school sweethearts, second chance romances, and fate encounters. Each one was different, but they all shared one quality–in the eyes of their daughters, no matter what the circumstances were, the stories were enchanting tales of falling in love and living happily ever after. It didn’t matter if there was pain or strife involved, if there was swirling snow or the perfect cup of cocoa, or if the meeting took place at a bar, a frat party, or a gingerbread cottage (as so many HM movies do). The stories gave the girls hope that someday, they would all be featured in their own personal, Hallmark movie romance, just like their parents were.

You see, not every romance or happy story takes place in the perfect Christmas town where the non-believer comes around to joyfully celebrating the holiday with his or her new-found love while light snowflakes fall around them. But every family’s beginning has a story, and those who retell the story often see a fairy-tale unfold even in the most unlikely of circumstances. All of those girls made their parents’ romances sound like a Debbie Macomber novel (HM favorites) even if we all knew that the story was just an ordinary meeting between two ordinary people destined for an ordinary life in an ordinary town. There was no exaggerating or creating an epic bestseller from a comic book, but each story was special, and the girls all knew it. They all recognized that every story has the potential to be a Hallmark story, even the ones that go awry. Why?

Because, like many of the characters learn by the end of the two-hour movie, your life, your story, your family’s story, is what you make it. When we see our lives and the people in them as something special, unique, and to be cherished, we can all be just like the people on Hallmark. Sure, we won’t all have Balsam Hill Christmas trees or perfect sugar cookies in less than fifteen minutes, but we all have the ability to see the wonder of life and to appreciate our own stories and to pass this along to our children.

photo-6176892386934784So, this Christmas, when your family’s rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing doesn’t sound like a Blake Shelton-produced movie or your cookies aren’t picture-perfect, don’t worry. Your children will remember everything the way you make it out to be–The Nightmare Before Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life. You’re living your own Hallmark movie every day. Write it the way you want it to be told, cherishing the good and bad, and smiling along the way. Bring happiness into the world. Celebrate the holidays with all the joy and enthusiasm found in a winning gingerbread house contest or a sleigh ride on a snowy mountain. Someday, you may look back and see your lives, your romances, and your Christmases for what they really were–stories better than a Hallmark movie.

Listening to the Silence

Here we are, more than halfway through the season of Advent. Two weeks ago, I wrote about being grateful and giving the gift of love this Christmas. Last week, I wrote about the importance of patience and even more important, not taking for granted what you’ve been waiting for! This week, amid the hustle and bustle of the season, I’ve been trying to remember to be grateful, patient, and appreciative, but it’s a busy time of year, and it’s easy to get caught up in the preparations without remembering what it’s all about. For several days now, I’ve been thinking about a beautiful Scripture passage: 1 Kings 19, 11-13. I can’t help but marvel in how that story of Elijah is repeated every day in our own lives, especially during the Christmas season.

Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake;

after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.

When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

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To Those Who Wait

In this age of instant gratification, it seems that nobody has the patience to wait for anything anymore. No matter how old we are, we have all been swept up in the belief that we need everything to happen or be given to us right now, at this very moment. The notion of waiting for anything has completely gone out of fashion. Amazon is even looking at the possibility of same-day delivery drones because getting a package in one or two days is simply not fast enough any longer.

This week, our Jewish friends are celebrating Chanukah, meaning dedication, an eight-day period to celebrate religious freedom and the rededication of the temple after war with Greece. Though the great temple in Jerusalem is no longer standing, the Jewish people continue to pray there and continue to wait for the coming of their Messiah. In fact, they have been waiting for 6000 years. Talk about being patient! While Christians believe that the Messiah has already come, we are reminded, each year, of the 4000 years we waited when we celebrate Advent. To many, this four-week period of anticipation is more than they can bear. I know of one couple who already exchanged Christmas presents because they couldn’t bear to wait just twenty days more for Christmas.

I get it. It’s hard to wait, but… Read more

The Greatest Christmas Gift You Can Give

Thanksgiving is over. We survived Black Friday, and Cyber Monday seems to be stretching itself all the way to Friday. The Hallmark channel now plays constantly on at least one television in every home in America (come on, admit it). Santa is receiving letters and is making a list and checking it twice. The ads on television and on the Internet are telling us that those lists need to be longer, the letters fatter, the asking louder, the gifts bigger. It has always amazed me that we spend an entire day giving thanks for all we have and then turn around within ten hours (or substantially less for some) and begin focussing on what we don’t have, what we want, what we must have, or else. Perhaps others also see the irony in this, and that is the reason why this commercial, from Forest Hill Church, in Charlotte, North Carolina, has gone viral in the past couple days.

 

Believe me, I am just as guilty as everyone else when it comes to focussing on gift giving at Christmas (and gift getting). I sent a link to my family for an item I’d really like to have with the suggestion they buy it while it’s on sale. And I’ve sent links to my extended family with gift suggestions for my girls. It’s how we’ve always done things, and it’s hard for me to see anything wrong with it, but something I read the other day really made me stop in my tracks. It was a gospel reflection by Bishop Robert Barron.

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Seeing Jesus

Every time I have tried to write this post, I have been brought to a standstill. I intended to write on the meaning of Christmas, but I can’t seem to move past the events taking place in my family. Several days ago, radio host, Gus Lloyd, posed the question, if there was a survey in which people had to look at a picture of Santa and a picture of Jesus and choose which one has to do with Christmas, which picture would the majority of people pick? He contended that most would choose Santa, and he’s probably correct. I had a whole blog written in my head on that very topic, but somehow, I find myself unable to actually write it.

While it might be true that nowadays, many people associate Santa with Christmas, the Easter Bunny with Easter, and Jesus with ancient stories that have no relevance today, I have been blessed to witness Jesus over and over this Christmas season.

You may know that my father-in-law is very sick and will not be with us much longer. Those words are very difficult to write. For over twenty-four years, he has been a second father to me. Recently someone commented to me that it was asking a lot of me to take care of man who isn’t even my own dad. But, from day one, Dad has always treated me like his daughter. I can’t let him down. But I do.

I have learned that I am not a caregiver. I think I did all right as a mother. My girls all seemed to have turned out okay. But when I take my turns with Dad, I find myself at a loss for what to say, what to do, how to comfort him. I try, but words fail me. I want to be kind and loving when he’s hurting. I want to be stern and commanding when he’s doing something he’s been told not to do. I want to let him know that I am there for him and talk to him about my girls, the weather, or the news. Instead, I often find myself not sure how to talk to a man who used to love talking to everyone, telling stories, and hearing tales but can no longer speak or interact. I want to help feed him, attend his personal needs, and care for his failing body, but I stumble on my own insecurities.

And then I watch my sister-in-law, Chrissy, who so loving and uncomplainingly writes to Dad over and over on his white board and coaxes him to write back. I observe my husband, Ken, as he gently guides his father to the bathroom, helps him comb his hair, and changes his clothes, all with an unwavering devotion and patience. I wipe away a tear as my Rebecca gives up a weekend of studying for her last first-semester law school exam to visit her grandfather and to lay a wreath on his father’s grave. I marvel at my sixteen-year-old, Morgan, really just a child, who has become one of Dad’s most frequent and attentive caregivers. She skipped her school’s Christmas party this morning to wake up at the crack of dawn and feed her grandfather, help the hospice nurse change and shave him, and spend her first day of the break tending to his every need so that her grandmother could attend an important event and doctor’s appointments. I look at these people, and countless others – my daughter Katie who runs countless errands so she can help us out, the hospice nurses who gently wash Dad, Morgan’s teachers who allow her to leave school early to help feed her grandfather when I fear I will do something wrong.; I look at them, and I see Jesus.

I don’t know when society began turning away from God or when Christmas became more about Santa than about Jesus, but I do know that Jesus exists, here and now. He told us, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Sometimes the most difficult and painful times in life provide us with the opportunity to show the greatest amount of love. So, during this Christmas season, I’d like to remind everyone of the real reason for the season, but I’d also like to point out that Jesus doesn’t come to us at Christmas time only. He is here every day, in the loving hands of those who tend to the sick and dying, in the eyes of a child who finds peace in bringing happiness and comfort to others, in the arms of a loved one, providing care and comfort for the weary. He is there in a million things we do each day. We just need to open our eyes and see Him, and then point Him out to others so that they, too, can know He is here.

Merry Christmas to you all. May you encounter Jesus at the celebration of His birth and every day throughout the year.

1503911_10200877328958367_1431887920_nMy dear precious Jesus, I did not mean to take your place,
I only bring toys and things and you bring love and grace.
People give me lists of wishes and hope that they came true;
But you hear prayers of the heart and promise your will to do.
Children try to be good and not to cry when I am coming to town;
But you love them unconditionally and that love will abound.
I leave only a bag of toys and temporary joy for a season;
But you leave a heart of love, full of purpose and reasons.
I have a lot of believers and what one might call fame;
But I never healed the blind or tried to help the lame.
I have rosy cheeks and a voice full of laughter;
But no nail—scarred hands or a promise of the hereafter.
You may find several of me in town or at a mall;
But there is only one omnipotent you, to answer a sinner’s call.
And so, my dear precious Jesus, I kneel here to pray;
To worship and adore you on this, your holy birthday. – Author Unknown

What I was writing about this time last year:  Tis The Season

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and sweet 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 and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is now on sale 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)