Peru: A Small Service Excursion Abroad

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

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

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

Thus began our journey to South America.

Friday, 3/1/2019: Travel Day.

 

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

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

 

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

Sunday, 3/3/2019: Ollantaytambo Visit

 

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

Monday, 3/4/2019: Machu Picchu

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Friday, 3/8/2019: Cusco Day 3

 

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 3/9/2019: Lima City

 

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

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

Sunday, 3/10/2019: Travel Day Home

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

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

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

Tuesday, 3/12/2019: Reflection Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Megan

Riding the Roller Coaster of Parenting

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will ride the roller coaster with you.IMG_9675

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

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

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

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.

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

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

 

 

 

Keeping Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.

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

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

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

 

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.

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The Site of birthplace of Christ

While all of that is well and good, none of it explains exactly why we believe that Christmas should be celebrated for twelve days and not just one. One reason is that the Church implores us to recognize the importance of Christmas and to reflect on its meaning for more than a day (especially important today when you consider that most people never even gave Jesus a single thought on December 25th). Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. Never mind that history did not record the actual date of His birth. It’s the celebration and the meaning of Christ’s coming that are important, not the exact date in history. Christmas commemorates the single most important date in history, the day that “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1: 14).

What can we do to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas today? We can go to daily Mass, of course, but there are other things that were done throughout history when it was better understood that these are days of reflection and commemoration. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to return to these practices today. There are several important feast days during these Twelve Days that can still have meaning for us today in the celebration of the day and the actions that were once associated with them. 

December 26th is the feast day of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. It is traditionally a day where Christians commemorated St. Stephen by giving their Christmas leftovers to the poor. December 27th is the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. It was through John that the world learned that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh” (John 1:1). It is considered a day of reconciliation (taken to heart by Pope John Paul II who visited and forgave his would-be assassin on this day in 1983). December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the babies who were killed by Herod in his attempt to stop Christ from becoming king. For a number of centuries, it was a day when children were allowed to run the household, the country, or even the Church (with the appointment of a child Bishop for the Day). It is considered a day of fun and folly for children. 

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Celebrate your family on December 30th

December 29th is the feast of St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury in the 1100s. It is considered a day to examine our lives and resolve to work to overcome injustice in the world. December 30th and 31st are alternately celebrated as the feast day of the Holy Family, depending upon the liturgical calendar of the year. This should be a day to reflect on Mary, Jospeh, and Jesus as a role model family and what we can do to help our families become more holy. January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Traditionally, it was a day when families prayed the Rosary together. January 2nd is the feast day of both St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen who were teachers of the trinity and lifelong friends. It is a day to celebrate friendship. Parties were traditionally held on this day to celebrate the Christmas holiday with friends. 

On January 3rd, we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. It is a day on which we should celebrate a person’s name and its meaning. We should recall that, as the Catechism states, “Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.” Depending upon when the first Sunday after Christmas is, the feast of the Epiphany is celebrated between January 2nd and 8th. The arrival of the Magi is sometimes marked by a blessing of the house, especially the entranceway, to welcome the Lord and all visitors. Some Christian households inscribe “20 + C + M + B 19” over their doors, the traditional date of the new year and the initials of the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar). January 6th is the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. It is the twelfth and final day of Christmas, the culmination of the season, the third epiphany of Christ’s infancy (the first was to the shepherds, the second was to the Magi, and the third was to Simeon and Anna at the temple). 

However you celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, the importance thing is to CELEBRATE! Though you may go back to work and the kids back to school, keep with the Christmas spirit. Acknowledge that there is more to the season than just a day of giving presents and eating too much food. Presents are given to symbolize the greatest present of all – Christ to the world. They shouldn’t be the main focus of Christmas. Think of the Twelve Days of Christmas as your honeymoon period with Christ. Revel in it and in the joy of His coming and birth. Before you know it, we will be entering into Lent, and Christmas will be a faint memory. Enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

References:
The more days the merrier: Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas
When Is Christmas Over: January 1? Epiphany? Candlemas? (Whatever that Is)
You’ve Heard the Song — but What are the 12 Days of Christmas?

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Seeing Jesus.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.

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

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

 

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.

This is my week this week: Start each morning off with a visit to the gym, dentist appointment for my regular cleaning, grocery shopping for the next two weeks, baking and decorating nearly 250 traditional, frosted sugar cookies, wrap Christmas presents, prepare bedrooms for my two oldest daughters to come home from law school and college, decorate the Christmas tree with the family, package and mail Christmas gifts to friends out of state and in Canada, prepare the house for our annual Mother/Daughter Christmas party this weekend, make presents for party guests, set up for the 43 dinner guests, plan and prepare the dinner for the party, and continue doing laundry, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping and vacuuming, etc. The list seems to grow each day. I seem to add tasks as quickly as I cross them off.

After standing in my kitchen for ten solid hours on Monday, decorating cookies, I can honestly say that I don’t ever remember being so tired and sore! This entire week, so far, has been like the strong and violent wind howling in the eaves and shaking the shutters. One would think that I have had little time to listen for the Lord as He tries to speak to me amid the blustery winds of busyness. There will be little time to stop and hear Him in the disaster zone that will be created after our earthquake of a party this weekend. How will I hear Him amid the roaring flames of short tempers, lighted fuses, and the arguing that comes from the whole family being together 24/7?

Rosary.jpgLuckily, there is the beautiful gift that a friend gave to me at the beginning of Advent. Chandi, one of my co-authors and dear friend, suggested that our friend group, of thirteen women across the country, pray a daily Rosary for each other throughout the month of Advent. I used to pray the Rosary every day, but amid the winds, earthquakes, and fires of life, I let the daily offering of prayer slip away. But Chandi’s suggestion was so profoundly beautiful as she apologized for throwing one more task at us during this frantic time. It has become, for me, not only a way to make sure that we are all connecting with God but, on a much higher level, with each other. We were praying for two people’s surgeries, one person’s hospital stay, one’s daughter in need of prayers, one who just lost an in-law, several who will be traveling, one who is moving, and all who are in need of an extra intercession, or two, or twelve.

Every day, I get to carve out a little time to listen for the “light silent sound,” to be still and hear the message from God, to talk to Him, share with Him my troubles and my joys, thank Him for all that He has given me. And in those moments, I am rewarded with the knowledge that He is there in all that I do – in the wrapping and the baking and cleaning – in the smiles and the tears and the laughter. Whenever I am bent by the wind, shaken by the earthquake, or scorched by the fire, I only need to close my eyes and listen for His voice in the silence. And He comes, every single time, He comes. Whether I hear Him or not. Whether I feel Him or not. He comes in the gentleness of my husband’s touch and his offer to help bake cookies, in the sweetness of cake baked for a friend, in the joy of hearing my daughter say, “I’m on the way home.”

IMG_2183And He comes, not as a mighty warrior or a powerful king or a ferocious beast. He comes, at the end of this waiting time, as a child, a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. In all of the grandeur and glory, in the bright lights and festive music, in the myriad of decorations and parties and feasts, He comes in the simplest form. Like a little bit of prayer time in the midst of a hectic day, He is there, among the messiness of the stable and the crying of the animals, waiting for us to come to Him and to listen for Him in the silence.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: What If?.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.

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

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

Slipping Sand into Precious Pearls

There is a thief on the loose, one so elusive I am unable to catch him. He is quite versatile, able to take on any shape and size, whatever needs to be done in order to snatch, steel, and plunder.  Stealthily, he intrudes on my daily life, pilfering that which seems to be the most precious of commodities. 

Sometimes he comes in the form of a crisis. Large or small, it doesn’t matter, for any crisis results in same thing. The housework does not get done. The laundry sits in piles. The characters in my book stand by, unable to go forward, wondering if I will ever return to guide them. I am stranded on the shore at sunset, searching for an extra hour, knowing the ship has sailed.

Sometimes, the thief comes in the form of technology. That very thing which is meant to prevent the crime is often the catalyst that allows the thief to enter. He may come as a broken link, a spinning ball, or a scrolling page. Often, he is a frozen screen on which the only thing that moves is the clock in the top corner, mocking me as the minutes slip away before my very eyes. I reach to catch them and hold onto them, but they vanish, never to return.

Other times, the thief comes in the form of a call or a visit from a friend or loved one. It is at those times that I feel him taunting me, saying, “Isn’t this what you wanted? I’m giving you what you’ve asked for. Enjoy it.” But in my the recesses of my mind, I’m still complaining, still mounting charges, “Yes, this is what I wanted, but why now? Why can’t it happen when I can afford to enjoy it? Why do you send this person to interrupt my day instead of at a better time?” But that time never comes. One thing the thief knows for sure, we can never create perfect timing, and we must accept some interruptions as gifts and some interlopers as valued friends.

Why do I always feel like I am racing him, trying to lure him into a trap? Where is he hiding my precious moments? How do I get them back? I am so busy trying to hold onto the ticking clock that I blink, and the holidays are upon us. I close my eyes, and the school year is coming to a close. I turn around, and my girls are grown and gone.

Those stolen moments make me I realize that I am the one who has been caught in the trap. I am the one who has allowed the thief to enter, emboldened by my own willingness to let him to take those minutes, those hours, those days in return for the few seconds of happiness I am willing to accept and enjoy. I am the one who has turned my life into a race along the shore, where the water weighs down my feet as they try to make progress and the waves mock my futile steps.

I must find a way to work with the thief of time. I must make more room in my calendar for the minutes that matter. There must be a way to accept the crises and the glitches, as well as the unexpected pleasures, and make them work together to slow the sand in the hourglass. For one day, without my permission or knowledge, the thief will have taken the last granule of sand, and I will be left to wonder if I used those grains to build castles with open drawbridges or walls and moats. Perhaps the thief is there to remind me that time, like all gems, is rare, precious, and to be handled with care. I am the one who needs to find a way to turn lost moments from slipping sand into precious pearls.

Psamls 39-4-5 Sunset.jpg

What I was writing about a year ago this week: There are no Strangers Here.

The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available in stores and online.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores.

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

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

Me Enamoré

This past week, Morgan and I were blessed to be able to go on a business trip with my husband, Ken, to Colombia. We spent three days in Cartagena, where his conference was being held, and then the weekend in Bogota. The weekend was an add-on, and the reason is quite funny. My husband does a lot of work throughout Latin America. He is fluent in Spanish and nearly fluent in Portuguese. When he was striving to be more conversational in Spanish, his tutor suggested he begin listening to Spanish-language music. That is how my husband fell in love with Shakira.

IMG_9866Though Ken has never been a big concert-goer (unlike the girls and me), he was beside himself with excitement when he learned that Shakira was coming to DC. He bought two tickets, and he and our oldest daughter made their plans to attend. Alas, Shakira developed some throat problems and had to postpone her world tour. The rescheduled date? When we were on our pilgrimage to Guadalupe. Ken was so upset! But hope was not lost. Fast forward to this past weekend. We knew that Ken would be attending this conference in Cartagena and that Morgan and I were going to tag along. If you’ve never been there, Cartagena is a beautiful city, rich in Spanish, Latin American, and Catholic history. I’ve been with Ken several times now, and I enjoy it every time I go.

So, a couple months ago, Ken came to me with a huge, boyish grin on his face.
“Guess where Shakira’s final concert on the world tour is?” he asked with excitement
“Where?” I asked.
“Bogota.” The grin widened.
“Okaaaay…”
“The weekend we will be in Colombia!”
Ah, I could see where this was going.
“And?” I asked.
“And…we can get a cheap flight from Cartagena to Bogota the night before, tour Bogota that day, and attend the concert that night.” His enthusiasm grew with each word.

And that’s how we came to be at the Shakira concert, in Bogota, on Saturday night. We spent the day climbing to the top of Monserrate Hill, exploring the historic downtown, and even witnessing an ordination at La Iglesia de la virgin della Carmen. We enjoyed obleas, a yummy concoction of two large, round wafers (that Morgan says remind her of the Eucharist) sandwiched with various fillings–fruit spread, cream, caramel, or any combination of the three. Morgan and I have decided that we are going to figure out how to make them ourselves (Amazon must have the wafers, right?).

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The view from Monserrat Hill
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The plaza in the historic district of La Candelaria
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An ordination at La Iglesia de la virgin della Carmen
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Obleas!

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Saturday evening, we joined over 30,000 other fans, waiting in line to get into the park. Even with the VIP tickets that Ken ordered (at a lower price than the standard cost-inflated American tickets), we had to wait over two hours to get into the Simón Bolívar Parque. Once inside, we felt like the filling in the obleas. It was packed! There were no chairs, and even the VIP section was general admission. This did not bode well for someone who is under 5’5″! Luckily for Ken, he’s nearly a foot taller than I am and had a great view, and luckily for me, there were three giant screens above and next to the stage. The concert was great, and Shakira put on a fabulous show. Ken never stopped smiling the entire time.

IMG_9927I was exhausted. I didn’t know or understand the lyrics. I couldn’t see a dang thing other than the back of the heads in front of me. But the predicted rain held off. Morgan and Ken sang along with every song. And I got to see Ken do something he never, ever does. He spent an entire evening doing what he wanted to do. Honestly, that’s so rare. Ken spends most of his life trying to make the girls and me happy. He bends to our every wish and never asks for anything in return. So what if it wasn’t the evening I would have chosen (and my phone was stolen on the way out). For Ken, it was a dream come true. So, maybe no me enamoré (I did not fall in love) with Shakira, but I did fall in love a little more with my husband–a grown man loving life, enjoying a simple pleasure, and wanting to share it with his wife and daughter. 

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Saint Buck, Patron of Granddaughters.

The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available in stores and online.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores.

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

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).