Finding Joy in the Most Unlikely Places

15123466_1119754048131554_8208288262123507430_oYesterday morning, I drove two and a half hours to the funeral of my friend’s mother.  While on the phone, taking care of some business while driving, I was told, “It’s nice that you have the time to do that.”  I assured the person on the other end that I did not have the time, but that I was raised in a family where attending funerals is just what you do.  You make the time.  People flock to showers and hospitals to welcome new babies into the world, but few people take the time to usher someone out of this world.  I went because it was the right thing to do.  And what did I gain from it?  Simple; the joy on Anne’s face when she glanced up and saw me there.  It’s all about spreading joy even in places where you expect to find none.

We’ve actually been talking about joy a lot lately in our family.  It has been a hard few months for us.  Rebecca is juggling the LSAT, law school applications, the hardest classes she has taken so far, and an impending change as she crosses the street from childhood into adulthood.  Katie, my homebody, is facing leaving home for a college between two and four hours away.  For many, that distance seems inconsequential; but for Katie, it’s monumental.  Morgan, my baby, is grappling with hormones, shifting friend groups, and all that comes with being fifteen.  Of course, Ken and I are staring into the future and contemplating what life will be like in just over two years when we are empty nesters.  Sometimes, when faced with the trials of every day life, joy can be hard to find.

Pope John Paul II, said that “God made us for joy.”  It seems so simple yet so hard at times.  Recently, a friend suggested that, when finding it difficult to get past the hard times in life, it can help to keep a gratitude journal.  This was the most beautiful advice and can really make a difference.  Best selling author, Brené Brown, tells us that “There is no joy without gratitude.”  The more we are thankful for, the more we see the good in the world, and the more joyful we are.  To take the small things throughout the course of the day, and see them for the joy they can bring is so easy, so why don’t we do it more often?  Just look around.  Witness the thrill of a child with a new puppy.  Savor the taste of a hearty meal or a good glass of wine.  Feel the warmth of a fire on a chilly night.  Experience the calming effects of a beautiful song, a good book, or a meaningful prayer.  Be thankful for time spent with friends, no matter the occasion.

On a recent mission trip to Guatemala, Ken was humbled by the poverty of the people he visited and amazed by their constant expressions of happiness.  He said that they had so little but radiated such joy.  It reminds me of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians that, as Christians, we should be “in pain yet always full of joy; poor and yet making many people rich; having nothing, and yet owning everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10).  We tend to put so much stock in material things, always looking for happiness in grand ways, but it’s in the every day, little things, that we can find true joy, even at a funeral.  We must look, always and everywhere, for the things that that make us happy.  For in finding true joy, we not only create better lives for ourselves but for all the world around us.

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 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)

6 Ways Friends are Like Wine

DSC04828I have had many friends over the course of my life, some loyal and true, others only after their own gain.  I’ve learned the hard way whom to trust and how to make friendships that last.  I’ve watched my three daughters go through ups and downs with friends as they progress through the various stages of life, each stage with its own set of criteria for relationships.  I’ve made mistakes in choosing friends and in properly being a friend, and I try to impart whatever wisdom I have gained on my children and their own circle of companions.

Over the past year, while doing research for my upcoming novel, Whispering Vines (Summer, 2016), I have had the great pleasure of learning about wine.  I have been a lover of wine since childhood when my grandfather, an amateur vintner, allowed me the first taste of each bottle he opened (ooops, sorry Mom!).  Even in my youth, I could tell a good wine from a bad one.  I’ve not always been that smart with friendships.  However, much like my taste in wine, my knowledge about friendship has matured.  Here is what I have learned.

1.  All good things are carefully cultivated.

A good wine is cultivated and harvested by hand.  There are many reasons for this.  It ensures that each grape is perfect, is at just the right stage of ripeness, and will not spoil the rest of the batch.  Have you noticed lately that wines are getting harder to drink?  Headaches come more frequently, and the alcohol goes to your head much faster.  No, it’s not age, it’s the wine content.  Wine has become such a huge industry that giant producers bottle more wine than they can sell.  In order to not lose money, they add sulfates and sulfites and even more alcohol.  This preserves the wine longer and causes you, the unsuspecting imbiber, to drink more wine.  After all, once the alcohol hits you, you crave more.  This is why I seek imported, lesser known vintages where the harvest and cultivation is done by hand and based on quality, not quantity.

Friends should be chosen the same way.  Quality is much more important than quantity.  Does the most popular person in the room truly have loyal and trustworthy confidants?  Have they been chosen wisely?  One bad friend can spoil the entire bunch.  Harvest your friendships and cultivate them.  Attend to them with care, striving for the best friends, not the most friends.

2. Time Matters

It has always been said that wine is better with age.  However, that is not really true.  The best wines are the freshest wines.  Leaving a bottle in your cellar to age doesn’t improve the wine.  It actually causes it to become heavy and bitter, soiled with deposits that lie at the bottom and then end up in your glass when you pour.  No, the aging of wine is part of the process.  Wines that are meant for aging are chosen by the vintner, not the consumer.  They are aged in barrels, not in bottles, and they are sold when the time is right for drinking.

Good friends are like good, aged wine.  They are kept in a special place, perhaps in your heart, held onto and cherished, and brought out when you need them most.  They are not neglected nor forgotten.  On the contrary, you always know they are there, and they know the same about you.  I am very blessed to have a friend who has been there for me since the 2nd grade.  We don’t see each other often, but when we do, we treat it as something special.  Our friendship has aged, and we know that when the time is right, we can pour out ourselves for each other.  Cheers to you, Cindy!

3. The perfect vintage doesn’t happen often

Everyone has heard someone remark about a certain wine, “That was a good year,” or “That was a good vintage.”  There are simply some years that are better than others.  This is due to a combination of reasons, mostly climate-related, that create the perfect harvest – grapes that have just the right amount of sugar, water, and plumpness.  Those are the years that truly matter when it comes to wine making.

There are times in our lives when we are blessed with better friendships.  College friends tend to be better than middle or high school friends.  Friends made during child-bearing years can last for the rest of your life.  I’ve found that friends made during spiritual highs can become the friends who will last a lifetime.  There are stages in our lives when we have the ability to meet just the right people.  When that happens, I call it divine intervention. The friendships I developed as a young wife and mother are the strongest ones I have.  I raise a glass to you, Anne and Debbie.  And the friendships I have made through my faith journey are the ones that ground me.  Those are the people I go to for prayer, guidance, support.  There are too many to name, my Bible study group and my fellow pilgrims among them.  God has brought you all into my life, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

4. Blends are Best

I am partial to Italian wines, particularly to Amarone, a blend of red grapes which make the wine dry and robust.  Three different varieties of grapes are used to make this award winning wine, and the prize is well deserved.  Those who produce this variety of wine know that it takes more than one kind of grape to make a good wine.

Thus it takes more than one kind of friend to make a good friendship.  Every person I count as a friend is different.  They are from various backgrounds, live in a myriad of cities around the country (even around the world).  They have their own interests and even contrasting lives.  Yet they all blend together to make me who I am.  Each has touched me in some way that has made me, I hope, a better person.

5. Taste changes with age.

In my younger years, I was partial to any wine that was sweet and fruity.  Strawberry and plum were favorites, perhaps a throwback to Granddad’s homemade varieties.  I loved any wine that was pink.  Over the years, my tastes leaned toward less fruity, dryer whites, a good German Riesling or an Italian Pino Grigio.  Today, I prefer Amarone or Chianti, rich and very dry reds.  As I have matured, so has my taste in wine.

The same can be said when it comes to making friends.  For most young people, the goal is to be friends with the “in” crowd.  As we age, we realize that we are much more discerning about whom we allow into our inner circle.  When young, we have many friends and almost no acquaintances.  They’re a friend, or they’re not.  I have found that middle school girls are pros when it comes to distinguishing between “friends” and “non-friends,” though their criteria for making these determinations is far from perfect.  As an adult, I have come to realize that I have many friends, but my reasons for seeking out certain individuals has changed greatly. Again, as I have matured, so has my ability to choose friends.

6. How it makes you feel is what counts.

So what’s the best way to choose a wine or decide what your preference is?  By taking a step back and seeing how that wine makes you feel.  Does the very bouquet make your head spin when you take that first sniff?  Do your toes curl as it slides down your throat?  Does it make your food taste better?  And how do you feel after a glass or two, or in the morning when you wake up?  Choose your wine based on what makes you feel good, what it adds to your life.

Do the same with your friends.  Choose wisely.  Do you happily anticipate seeing them, talking to them, spending time with them?  Do they make whatever you’re doing even better just by their presence?  Do you still feel the same about them the next day?  Do they add something good to your life, make you feel better about yourself, encourage you, support you, build you up?  Would you pair them with your family, your favorite movie, your husband?

And remember, a good friend should enhance your life just as a good glass of wine should enhance your meal.  Make good friends, but more importantly, be a good friend. Be the friend you want to have.  Your own kindness, compassion, loyalty, and attentiveness will come back to you.  And it’s never too late to start.  At Cana, the headwaiter remarked, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”  Be the good wine for others.  Your life will be sweeter in the long run.

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)

Amy Schisler, shares her secrets for writing a 5 star novel – April 30, 2016 01:00AM Wicomico Public Library, Wicomico, MD, US http://wicomicolibrary.evanced.info/signup/EventDetails.aspx?EventI… 

Carroll County Public Library Author Panel  – May 01, 2016 02:00AM  Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library, 50 East Main Street, Westminster, MD, US http://library.carr.org/about/westminster.asp# 

My Best Friend

1016935_10152444890701349_6188218071191815940_nI consider myself an extremely lucky person.  I have a wonderful husband, Ken, to whom I can talk about anything.  I have a remarkable group of women on whom I can count without question – Debbie, Anne, Ann, Julie, Linda, Angie, Alix, Kimberly, Trissy, Judy, and my sister-in-law, Lisa.  As my daughters grow and mature, we are developing that wonderful kind of friendship that I know will keep us close forever.  But above all of this, I am so lucky that my best friend truly is my mother.

From the time I was a little girl, my mother and I had a special kind of relationship.  Maybe it’s because I was the only girl, and we banded together amid the high level of testosterone in our home.  Maybe it’s because my mother, grandmother, aunt, and I were all just very close.  Mom’s friends always said I was very mature and treated me like one of the gals, so maybe that part of it.  Whatever the reason, I have always seen my mother as both my mother and my friend.

This was especially so after I got married.  Moving two hours from home and living in an area where I had no relatives and no friends was very hard on me.  It was the winter of 1993-1994 when the entire Eastern Shore was covered with ice and snow and all normal life came to a screeching halt.  Ken was stuck in Annapolis and unable to get home for almost a week.  I was in our new home with our new puppy, and I was miserable.  It was my mother who talked me off of the ledge, so to speak.  I don’t know how many long-distance fees we racked up that month, but Ken never complained.  Even he could see that Mom is my lifeline – the person who keeps me holding on and inspires me.  When Rebecca was born, my mother spent two weeks with me helping me get settled.  I don’t know what I would have done without her.  I firmly believe that is why Mom and Rebecca have such a strong bond today.  Actually the same can be said for all of my girls – Mom was there when they came into the world and was there for their first two weeks of life, and she’s still there for them today.

Over the years, Mom and I have always tried to spend some special time together.  We’ve taken trips with just the two of us to Williamsburg, Lancaster, Asheville, Niagara, and other places where we could just relax and have fun together.  Now that Mom works as my assistant, we have even more reason to travel together.  This past weekend, we drove from Maryland to Georgia for the Decatur Book Festival.  It was a great weekend where we met other authors, sold my books, and gained more knowledge about promoting my craft.  But the best parts of the trip were the times we spent just talking.  There’s a lot of road between St. Michaels and Atlanta, but we never found ourselves with a lack of conversation.  Whether we were talking politics, religion, family matters, or pop culture nonsense, we enjoyed every minute that we were together.

Someday I hope that I can have the same type of relationship with my own daughters.  They already know that they can come to me with anything, and they usually do.  Sometimes they preface what they have to say with something like “I need to talk to you as a Mom,” or “I need advice from a friend.”  I like to think that they have watched my mother and me over the years and understand how someone can be both a mother and friend.  I hope that I can be whatever they need me to be for them.  I don’t think I will have a problem.  I’ve had a great teacher.

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, online, and through ibooks. Amy’s newest mystery, Picture Me, was released in August of 2015 and is available in stores and online.  Her previously published children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad, may be purchased in stores and on Amazon.

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