Much of the following blog was written in 2020, but it could have been written this week. The message resonates now with just as much meaning as back then.
It was an ordinary Monday in an extraordinary year when a tree beside our house was struck by lightning. It was scary. The entire house shook from the sound akin to a sonic boom, and a red-orange light filled every room, like a giant fireball hurled through the windows. We knew lightning had struck nearby, but we didn’t know where. It was raining too hard to go outside and look around, and everything in the house seemed okay, so we surmised, perhaps it wasn’t as close as we thought.
That evening, we all sat down together to watch a holiday special on TV, and we had no signal. The Tivo was working. It told us what channel was on and what program we should be seeing on the screen, but all we saw was a message that there was no channel available. We checked the other televisions in the house and found that we had no stations on any of them. Ken went outside with a flashlight and found that the antenna was still there, so he checked the booster in the garage where the signal comes into the house. The booster was dead. We were not at all prepared for lightning to strike.
A few years ago, I was toying with the idea of writing a book about a former female Navy SEAL. I didn’t know her name or her story, but bits and pieces were beginning to come to me. I couldn’t find any direction and didn’t feel like the character was talking to me as I sat at my desk in my office on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I needed a break to clear my head. Some time away with a good friend was just what I was hoping for.
When I arrived in the Arkansas Ozarks, my dear friend, Tammi, assured me that I would one day write a series that takes place in one of the picturesque towns in the area. I was dead set against writing a series, but I went with an open mind. After several days of driving around and visiting many of the picturesque towns, I was even more convinced that I was not meant to write a series, and my character was still hiding in my brain, refusing to show herself. Then we drove through a town that broke my heart.
The sidewalks were cracked, most of the windows were boarded up, and the fountain in the center of town was dry and crumbling. Suddenly, I saw Andi, arriving home from the Navy, standing in the middle of town with a hole in her heart. She was dying inside, and the one place she thought could revive her was dying as well.
Here we are, three years later, and Andi is happily married and living in Buffalo Springs, the town she helped restore. Her sister, Helena, is engaged to the town doctor and piloting every organization in town. Their brother, Jackson, well… he’s trying to find his way out of Buffalo Springs as fast as he can.
Sapphires in Snow
Award-winning author, Amy Schisler, takes us home for Christmas to Buffalo Springs where every season is a time for love… and danger.
Award-winning author, Amy Schisler, takes us home for Christmas to Buffalo Springs where every season is a time for love… and danger.
The little white house on Main Street in Buffalo Springs, Arkansas, is the only home Jackson Nelson has ever known. With college behind him and both his sisters back in town to look after their aging parents, Jackson knows now is the time to make his big move. All he’s ever wanted is to move to New York and lead the high-stakes life of a real estate investor. He’s determined to leave town right after Christmas and never look back.
Cindy Kline has never had a real home or a real Christmas. Abandoned by her father and raised by an unfit mother, Cindy thought she had finally found the family she always wanted when the man of her dreams asked her to marry him; but when his Navy SEAL helicopter went down in a fiery crash before their wedding, Cindy had nothing left to keep her in sunny California. Packing her meager belongings into her old, beat-up car, Cindy drives straight to Buffalo Springs and to the only real friend she’s ever had – Andi Nelson. With Christmas around the corner, Andi, Jackson, and the whole Nelson family convince Cindy to stay through the holidays.
Just when Cindy is beginning to get into the Christmas spirit, her life is once again up-ended – this time by a series of break-ins and the news that her dangerous father may be lurking nearby. Cindy has no idea that her father’s mysterious past will put her life in jeopardy, and Jackson has no idea that the bright lights of New York are but a flickering flame when it comes to the sparks of the heart.
A cold wind—the precursor of a coming storm—shook the trees and rattled the shingles, but the flames flickered in the fireplace, and the house smelled of freshly baked bread and roasting, Thanksgiving turkey. Jackson slipped out the front door and leaned against one of the columns that framed the steps of the only place he’d ever called home. He took a sip from the bottle in is hand and heard the door open behind him.
“Cold night to be stargazing,” Jackson’s father said as he slowly moved to stand beside his son, using the furniture and porch railing to guide his steps. He hated using his walker.
“Cold but clear. The best kind of night to see the stars.” He gestured at the sky with the bottle.
“I guess you don’t see many stars in the city,” his father said.
Jackson took another sip. “Not as many as here,” he agreed. “But there are a lot of things the city has that Buffalo Springs doesn’t.”
“I suppose I probably thought that way when I was your age.”
Jackson ignored the comment and leaned closer to the man whom he had always admired. He asked quietly, “How’re you holding up, Daddy? Are you feeling okay?”
Joshua beamed up at his son. “Never better.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Jackson said though he doubted there was much truth to his father’s statement. “We just don’t want you overdoing it.”
“Nonsense,” Joshua said, waving his hand in dismissal. “I’m as fit as a fiddle.”
Joshua wished that was true, but one look told him otherwise. His father had aged at least ten years since his stroke back in June, and though Jackson had seen his progress in the months leading through August, he was shocked to see how fragile his father had become while Jackson was at school.
Joshua Nelson’s blue eyes seemed dimmer, and he had lost more than seventy pounds. His arms were thin with none of the muscle Joshua had built up after years of heavy lifting in the town’s paper mill. When the mill shut down a few years back, Joshua had no problem getting a job lifting and carrying loads at the local hardware store. It was only after he was laid off, during the town’s bad years, that Joshua’s health had declined. Now, he stood stooped over, his face sagged with wrinkles and empty skin, and his legs didn’t always work the way they should.
“Daddy, you must be freezing out here. Let’s go back inside. I’m sure Mama could use some help, and your game shows will be on soon.”
Jackson remained alert, his arms ready to give aid, as his father shuffled back toward the door. His heart broke to see his strong, capable father reduced to half his size and a quarter of his strength.
“Your mother’s the one who always overdoes it,” Joshua said. “I told her to wait to cook that bird in the morning when the girls are here, but she insisted that she always cooks it the night before. Says it’s easier for me to carve it that way.”
That was something Jackson hadn’t thought of. Was his father capable of carving the turkey? Could he even hold the knife steady? Maybe Jackson should suggest that it’s high time for him to learn to do the job. After all, he’d be a college graduate in less than a month. Time to start taking on some more responsibility around here. For what little time he’d be around here anyway.
After helping his father get settled in his armchair, Jackson’s eyes fell on the carpet where the repair stood out, the threads bright and colorful. He recalled the day a fireball had been thrown through the window and onto the rug. He frowned, remembering the men who tried to burn down his parents’ house and attack his sister, Andi, when she and Jackson devised a plan to save the town from the drug lords who were running it. It was during that time that Andi convinced Mayor Wade Montgomery to join their efforts, and Wade went from being a figurehead who bowed to the crooked town council to a legitimate mayor who fought for the best interests of Buffalo Springs. Both Andi and Wade came close to being killed by the men who thought they ran the town, and Jackson’s already high admiration of his sister had grown even more.
“There you are.” Grace’s voice pulled Jackson back to the present. “I called from the kitchen, but y’all didn’t answer.”
“Sorry, Mama. We were on the porch. Do you need help with something?”
“Can you lift the bird from the oven for me? It gets heavier every year.”
Jackson smiled. “Sure, Mama.” He started toward the kitchen.
“Just put it on top of the stove for now,” Grace called.
The aroma of spice-laden skin and toasted stuffing filled the air, and Jackson’s stomach growled despite the hearty supper they’d eaten only an hour before.
He hefted the turkey onto the stove and turned off the oven. Before he returned to the living room, he gazed around the bright kitchen with its yellow walls and lacy curtains. Nothing about this room had changed in at least fifteen years, but instead of comforting Jackson, it made him uneasy. Not much in this town ever changed even with all the new businesses that his sister and her husband were bringing in. It was no place for a young man just starting out in life, and as much as he would hate to break the news to his family, Jackson knew that come New Year’s, he would be long gone from here. He didn’t plan on ever coming back.
October 29, 2022 – Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD
Amy will be signing and selling books at the festival. The event features live music on two stages, boat rides, retriever demonstrations, oysters and other local fare, an oyster stew competition and cooking demonstrations, along with children’s activities, oyster demonstrations, harvesting displays and Chesapeake-related documentary screenings. More details coming soon.
Write What You Know Writer’s Workshop
November 12, 2022 – Time TBA – Leonardtown Library, Leonardtown, MD
Amy will be giving a workshop for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). She will talk about how to write a more authentic and readable novel by writing about what you know – the people, places, and events that have shaped your own life. More details coming soon.
November 19, 10am-4pm & November 20 10am-3pm – Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD
Amy will be selling and signing her books at the annual event just in time for Christmas! The Festival will feature artisans from around the country selling coastal and sea-glass related jewelry, home décor, art, and more. The two-day festival ticket includes entrance to the festival, live music, and all the exhibitions and historic structures on the campus of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
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What I was writing about one year ago this week: I Surrender.
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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miraclesare all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vineswas awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. The Good Wine, the sequel to Whispering Vines was released in June of 2021. Island of Miracleshas outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s chapter book is The Greatest Gift, and her most recent suspense novel is Summer’s Squall.
Amy’s second book in the Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, was awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019. Amy’s book, Desert Fire, Mountain Rain begins her new Buffalo Springs series. Book two, Under the Summer Moon, was released in December of 2021.
For the past few months, I’ve been leading a study of the Wisdom Literature–the books of Wisdom, Sirach, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and the letter of James along with passages from other books sprinkled in. It’s funny how often the themes of these studies, while I’m in the midst of them, appear throughout all parts of my life. It’s a constant barrage of messages reminding me what I’m supposed to be taking from these lessons and discussions.
A couple weeks ago, I read to the women this beautiful passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.
The following week, I stepped in to lector at Mass when the lector was unable to be there. Guess what the reading was…
What exactly is that? How can we achieve it? How can we maintain it? Is is even possible to feel peace during this hectic season?
How can we have peace of mind when there are gifts to buy, groceries to pick up, houses to clean, decorations to be put up, parties to be thrown, presents to wrap, families to visit, and so many church services to attend?
Hallmark paints the picture of the perfect Christmas, complete with sugar cookies that are made, rolled, baked, and decorated in an hour’s time; the fullest and tallest Christmas tree in the lot which fits perfectly in the house and is decorated in minutes (with no fumbling with blown-out strands of lights); and people singing “Oh, Christmas Tree” on every corner (seriously, someone please tell them that this is nobody’s favorite song). In reality, sugar cookies take hours (sometimes days) to complete from beginning to end; trees often look more like one chosen by Charlie Brown (don’t get me started on the lights); and we often overlook the songs that truly tell of the meaning of Christmas.
“Sleep in Heavenly peace” may be sung, but is it taken to heart? While the Babe in the manger sleeps in peace, what about us? Are our days “calm and bright”or chaotic and dark?
When I was a little girl, I loved all of the Christmas specials. It was a big deal in our family when they came on TV. We all gathered in our basement recroom, the popcorn popper whirring the kernels around in the melted butter, the scent filling the air, as we waited in anticipation of shows that could only be watched when they aired that one time each year. My favorites were always The Little Drummer Boy and The Year Without a Santa Claus. I loved the latter because it proved that nothing could stop Christmas from coming–not a blizzard, not a heatwave, not a feud between two warring brothers, not Santa being sick, or lack of belief in the world. Mrs. Claus was determined that Christmas would happen no matter what.
Last night, we had the opportunity to have dinner with our now married daughter and her husband at their new home. This is Rebecca and Anthony’s first Christmas living together and the first time they decorated their own Christmas tree. I stood for several minutes and looked at the ornaments from their combined childhoods and thought about all the years we’ve collected ornaments for our girls. It felt odd to see Rebecca’s ornaments on a tree other than our family tree, but it was a beautiful, comforting feeling to know that a big part of her childhood hangs on the tree in her new home. We are still tethered together by tradition even when miles apart.
A tree beside our house was struck by lightning the other day. It was scary. The entire house shook from the sound akin to a sonic boom, and a red-orange light filled every room, like a giant fireball hurled through the windows. We knew lightning had struck nearby, but we didn’t know where. It was raining too hard to go outside and look around, and everything in the house seemed okay, so we surmised perhaps it wasn’t as close as we thought.
That evening, we all sat down together to watch a holiday special on TV, and we had no TV… The Tivo was working. It told us what channel was on and what program we should be seeing on the screen, but all we saw was a message that there was no signal. We checked the other televisions in the house and found that we had no stations on any of them. Ken went outside with a flashlight and found that the antenna was still there, so he checked the booster in the garage where the signal comes into the house. The booster was not working.
On the first weekend of Advent, Ken and I lovingly placed, on the kitchen table, the Advent wreath we bought last summer in Mexico City while on pilgrimage to Guadalupe. That night, before dinner, we lit the first candle and then proceeded to enjoy our meal. The next morning, I made a horrifying discovery. Read more →
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 →
Earlier 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 →