In the Desert

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The desert outside of Jerusalem

We are exactly two weeks into Lent, and I don’t know about you, but I find myself lost in a vast spiritual desert. I started this Lent without a clue as to what I was going to do. I have never been one who feels satisfied giving something up for Lent. It does nothing for my soul. I’d much rather add something of value–more prayer time, more scripture reading. etc. But when Lent began this year, I was having a very difficult time coming up with anything at all to focus on. And then I was hit hard by the Old Testament reading on the first Friday of Lent:

 

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. – From Isaiah 58

Wow. Was I doing any of that? Was I releasing those I held bound? Was I sharing bread with the hungry? Was I clothing the naked? Was I turning my back on people? And taking it deeper, was I being impatient, unyielding, obstinate, selfish, unloving, or uncaring? Yes, yes, and yes to all of them!

But that message was not enough. I have been bombarded, throughout the past two weeks, with signs pointing out my spiritual inadequacies. In the Faith Study group that I participate in two Mondays a month, we are doing a new study by Dr. Edward Sri, titled, Who Am I To Judge? The study is not at all what I thought it would be. It’s so much more. I thought I would be learning how to deal with people in our society with whom I have differing views. But at its core, it’s a series of lessons on how I can become the person I was meant to be. It’s really an extension of the reading from Isaiah!

And that’s not all. Every day, I receive in my inbox a Lenten reflection video. On the first day, the reflection was titled, An Opportunity. The crux was that Lent is an opportunity to be a new “Springtime,” a new season in my life to find joy by becoming the person I was meant to be. Every single day, that reflection hits directly where I need it that day. How amazing is that? I’ve been reminded that I need to be myself, encourage others, track my progress so far and celebrate it, accept my imperfections, accept that I cannot please everyone, become a better person, and live a more virtuous life.

In thinking about all of this, I see how, during this Lenten season, I have been called to step outside of myself and see the world through the eyes of others. I have to listen to my husband when he explains why I can’t have everything I want at this moment. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and time is precious and limited. I have to stop reading emails or working on other tasks while having a phone conversation with my daughter. She deserves my undivided attention. I have to make time for others, to share their joys and pains, to be the friend they deserve.

It’s not easy seeing past my own little world, my to-do lists, my seemingly never-ending first floor remodel. It’s not easy being patient when I want everything to move at my demanded pace. It’s not easy being humble in a world that is constantly screaming, “Look at me.” It’s not easy being generous or compassionate or loving when I’m so focused on my own wants and desires. Just two weeks into Lent, I’ve realized that I am in the desert and that this might be the worst Lent I’ve ever experienced. Or it just might be the best.

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morning on the Sea of Galilee

Are you looking for a new way to meditate on the Stations of the Cross this Lent? If so, check out the newly revised edition of Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms. You can download the ebook version today!

What I was writing about this time last year:  Giving More.

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 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 latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, 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/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)

 

All That Stuff & 5 Things It Taught Me

This week, my new home office is being completed, or nearly completed as there will still be things to do such as pictures to hang on the wall, a rug and curtains to pick out, etc. But for the most part, it will be ready to be used, complete with new furniture and a custom built closet, all courtesy of my wonderful father. It’s very strange to be sitting in the room that Rebecca occupied for most of her life, but she was all in favor of me converting the room, and I was way past due for a space of my own (you can only get so much accomplished when your “office” consists of a few shelves in a hall closet and a cabinet under the kitchen counter).

Over the course of the past couple weeks, Rebecca and I cleaned out her room, and I cleaned out two under-eave storage spaces to make room for the things she’s saving for her future office and/or apartment. I also cleaned out the downstairs hall closet, Ken’s office closet (where my Girl Scout stuff was), and that kitchen cabinet I mentioned. I am amazed at the amount of stuff that we pulled out, threw away, took to St Vincent DePaul, packed for Rebecca, and moved into the office. Where did it all come from?  

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This is just the “office” stuff that was in the hall closet!

I spent several hours just going through the seaman’s trunk that was found in the basement of my great-grandparent’s house. Inside were all the cards that Ken and I received from well-wishers when we got married (over twenty-three years ago) lots of old photographs of family and friends, the scrapbook my mother made when I was a baby, and a stack of old concert programs. I have no idea what to do with any of this stuff. Okay, I actually threw away the cards, but the wedding planner has to stay. Why? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll think of a reason.

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My eclectic mix of programs, and no George Micheal isn’t bringing lots of money on eBay these days.

I swore that I was not going to go along with the 40 Bags in 40 Days that so many have come to associate with Lent (I’m sorry, but that’s like associating snowmen with Christmas). I swore that I wasn’t going to get rid of things just because it’s Lent, and I’m still not, but there has been an awful lot of stuff leaving this house in the last two weeks. And an awful lot that has stayed.  But I try to learn something from everything, so I’ve been thinking about some of the lessons I’ve learned over this week of cleaning. Here are the ones that have made an impact.

1.  If your children don’t care about it, then you don’t need to either.  Conversation: 

Rebecca:  “Mom, you still have all of my trophies from elementary school?” 

Me:  “Of course. Why would I throw them away?”

Rebecca:  “Why would you keep them?”

I have no idea. I don’t know why I kept them except that I thought she would want them. Now the question is, what do I do with them?

2.  Buying what’s on sale isn’t always the best idea. I used to always buy packs of children’s Valentines the day after Valentine’s Day. They cost no more than a quarter on that day. A few years ago, I was cleaning out that same, catch-all closet, and I came across half a dozen boxes of Valentines. I couldn’t remember the last time my girls traded Valentines, but I was well prepared should they want to start up again. And don’t even get me started on school supplies. Morgan asked me last week to stop by the store to buy her new pens and pencils. The only store I went to was “the closet.” Rebecca watched me pull them out and asked if I had enough school supplies for her children to use someday. Sadly, the answer is yes. And while it’s great to not have to run by the store every time someone runs out of their designated supply of pens, the amount of supplies we sometimes end up with is monumental. The girls are collecting school supplies to send to our sister parish in Guatemala. I hope they need pens and pencils, lots of pens and pencils. And notebooks and paper and index cards….

3.  Calculate your needs first. I have piles of books that I will never sell. I wish I had been able to sign and sell every one of them, but I was arrogant and overzealous. I ordered my first three books in quantities that even Barnes and Noble couldn’t handle in their warehouse. Now I have lots of copies of books that came out two, three, and four years ago, and I’m busy trying to sell the most recent works. These days, I order books three dozen at a time, and only when I know that I am going to sell them. If I need more, I can always contact the publisher and have a box sent. And I don’t feel so defeated by piles of unsold books. Now, about that whole storage area of storage containers….

4.  If you don’t have a use for it, plan to wear it, or aren’t sure you’re going to like it, don’t buy it. I have six white sweaters. Why? Because I’m a sucker for a good, white sweater. How often do I wear white sweaters? Good question, but I always know I have several if I need them. Unfortunately, I don’t. I wear the same white sweater every time I reach for a sweater. Somehow, I always think that this one will go better with that outfit, or that one will look better with a skirt, that one with pants. The truth is, they all look exactly the same – like a good, comfy, white sweater.

5.  Make use with what you have. Over the course of planning my office, I’ve had a running list of things I intended to purchase. While the cost of the office was growing, the size of the room was not, and neither was my bank account. I had to do some re-evaluating of my needs and wants. The shelves that I took down from Rebecca’s wall will work perfectly in the closet dad is building me. The black curtain rod can be spray painted to match the new color scheme. The degrees and awards I found while cleaning make more sense to hang than expensive art (using the frames from the pictures Rebecca took down).

I still have a long way to go. Yes, I did buy a new wall clock today. There’s just something I love about a wall clock with real hands, and I refuse to move the one from the kitchen. But I did end up throwing away the wedding planner. I’ve got all the memories still tucked safely away in my mind and heart. And there’s always room for more there.

Come back next week to see the transformation!

For Lenten inspiration, check out Amy’s collaboration with authors, Anne Kennedy, Susan Anthony, Chandi Owen, and Wendy Clark:  Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her book, Whispering Vines,  is a 2017 Illumination Award winner.  Amy’s most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale as well as Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms, her collaboration with the authors of the blog, Y’all Need Jesus.

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

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

Giving More

firemans-parade-1Ash Wednesday is upon us, so for the next 40 days, Christians around the world will be fasting, praying (more), and giving alms. The last one, I believe, is the kicker for most people. It sometimes feels like I am always giving.  Every time I turn around, someone has their hand out – a new organ for the church, new uniforms for the tennis team, fundraising for our girls’ mission team, a read-a-thon for a younger relative, not to mention the man on the street for whom I emptied my pocket that, for some unknown reason, happened to be full of quarters on that particular day last week. Giving is something that we are all asked to do on a daily basis, and I can understand why many people feel overwhelmed by all of the solicitations, as wonderful as some of the groups and circumstances are. But give we (Ken and I) do, and I feel we must; and I’d like to share with you two personal stories that explain why.

Many years ago, when Ken and I were first married, we found ourselves in a very tight spot. We were more than stretched thin, two young kids in their twenties who spent every cent they had ever saved on a modest house in town. I was working as a school librarian while going to UMCP to get my Masters in library science. Ken was holding down three jobs and applying for loans to attend law school. On a particular Sunday, we quarreled on our way to Mass. Ken noticed that, as he drove, I was writing a check to the church to go in the weekly offering. He asked me to stop and void the check because we just didn’t have the money to spare. I kept writing and explained that I felt that, even though we didn’t have much, we had more than many and could give a small portion to the church. After a few minutes of back and forth, he grudgingly relented. I didn’t blame Ken. It wasn’t the money, or the church, or even whether or not we had a few dollars to spare. Ken is a worrier, and I’m not. He lies in bed at night thinking about everything bad that could happen to our family if this or if that. I say my prayers, give any worries I might have over to God, and go to sleep, knowing that I am in good hands.

Anyway, we put our check in the offering, and went on about our business. Two days later, Ken came into the kitchen with a frantic look on his face. I was cooking dinner, and he had been going through the mail. I stopped and looked at him, knowing that something horrible had happened or was about to. With a pained expression, Ken told me that he just realized he had forgotten to pay the mortgage. It was due the very next day, and we had nothing left in our bank account. He was a man without options, and his despair emanated from him, filling the room like the thick, October, Eastern Shore fog. I told him that we would somehow make it work, but he shook his head and left the room, knowing that there was nothing he or I could do to fix the situation. I did what I always do. I prayed. The following morning, Ken left the house at 3:30am to go crabbing. Payday wasn’t until Friday, and I knew he would spend the entire morning trying to figure out a way to rob Peter to pay Paul before the money came through. The school where I worked was out for the summer, so I was in the kitchen doing homework for my graduate classes when Ken returned. After coming in to say hello, Ken headed through the kitchen to go upstairs and get ready for job number two. As he was passing the hutch that his father made for us, he stopped. I watched as a strange expression came over his face. Reaching up onto the top shelf, he picked up a souvenir tin with the Maryland flag on it and shook it. Opening the tin, he pulled out a wad of cash. With elation on his face, he turned to me.

“I forgot that I put this there weeks ago because I didn’t have time to go to the bank. I’m pretty sure it’s exactly the amount we need to pay our mortgage”

He was astonished, and I was relieved but not surprised. Jesus told us in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you.”

Another story has to do with our daughter. When Katie was very young, she started displaying some medical issues that were concerning. I took her to see her pediatrician, and the doctor ordered what I believed to be a series of standard tests. Unalarmed, I went home and told Ken that Katie needed to be taken to Johns Hopkins for a breathing test to see whether she had Cystic Fibrosis. Ken immediately broke into tears, not a normal reaction by any means, and certainly not one I expected. He proceeded to tell me that a very close childhood friend of his had CF and defied the odds by surviving until the age of 16. Shocked, and unwilling to consider the possibilities in front of us, I remember shaking my head and saying over and over, “This just can’t be happening.”

On the day of the testing, Ken insisted on taking Katie to Baltimore. I stayed home with Morgan, who was a baby, and made sure Rebecca got to and from school. I was a nervous wreck, totally out of character for me, and Ken was beside himself with grief even before knowing the results. I spent most of the day in prayer waiting for his call. When Ken finally called with the news that Katie did not have CF, he sobbed into the phone, and tears streamed down my face. From that moment on, we’ve been hard-pressed to say no to any charity that involves helping sick or dying children. We are lucky, and truly blessed by God, that Katie grew out of her ailments and now just carries an inhaler that she uses before and sometimes after exercise. It’s hard to look at another parent or child facing the unspeakable and not find myself back in those few days of the unknown. Katie turns eighteen this week, and I cherish every minute she has been alive as a precious gift.

Why do I share these things with you? Because I have a feeling that everyone has their own story. We all have a cause we support, be it breast cancer research, sheltering the homeless, visiting Veterans, or saving soda tabs for the Ronald McDonald House. Our reasons for supporting causes may be different, and some people might not even consciously realize why are they supporting something, but we’re all working, in our own ways, to make the world a little better for someone else. And if we’re not, we should be. If you are reading this on a computer, phone, or tablet, then you have, at a least a little bit, more than others. Even a handful of quarters might help someone more than you know.

So over the next 40 days, as you’re cleaning out your closets to collect 40 bags, or avoiding the candy aisle at the grocery store, I ask you to really think about what you can do to be more generous and to help others in need. So many of us have more than we could ever need or use, including a nice home, new clothes, and good health. I believe we all have something we can give. It doesn’t even have to be money. Can’t we all spend just over a month finding ways to give, whether it’s money, time, or even a prayer for someone in need? Your true and honest generosity, no matter how small, will be greatly rewarded.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”          Mark 12: 41-44

For more Lenten inspiration, check out Amy’s collaboration with authors, Anne Kennedy and Susan Anthony:  Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her book, Whispering Vines,  is a 2017 Illumination Award winner.  Amy’s most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale as well as Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms, her collaboration with the authors of the blog, Y’all Need Jesus.

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

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

Taming My Inner Raccoon

DSC08240Earlier today, I saw something that said “Keeping your mouth shut is the hardest thing in the world when you know something needs to be said.”  I could have this tattooed on my arm and still not pay any attention to it.  All of my life I have felt compelled to speak up when I shouldn’t.  Does it really matter if someone is wrong when they are never going to see the truth for themselves?  Will it truly help me or anyone in my family if I speak up when the best course of action is standing down?  Do I really think I can win an argument with someone who has no common sense or will never see the forest for the trees?  Somehow, in my mind, the answer always seems to be yes.

For Lent, one of the things I am working on is letting God dictate all of my words, or lack thereof; but that is so, so hard.  A few weeks ago, I watched helplessly as our four-year-old mutt, Rosie, tried to reason with a rabid raccoon.  No matter how hard I screamed or how many things I threw at them in an effort to distract them, neither animal would accept the fact that the other was not going to back down.  I’m pretty sure that I’ve witnessed that fight more times than I’d like to admit, and I’m the one who was ignoring that voice screaming at me to let it go and back away before I or someone I love gets hurt.  Side note here – it has been 4 weeks, and so far so good for Rosie.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve had to remove a Facebook post or apologize for something said when I should have just smiled and moved on.  I blame my father.  That’s not to say that he did anything wrong or taught me to be disrespectful.  On the contrary, he taught me to stand up for myself and for what I believe.  Sometimes, I just go a little too far in espousing my beliefs or convictions (he tried to teach me when to let go, too, but I didn’t learn that lesson).  For the most part, I’m pretty good at letting things slide, but when it comes to my family, oh my, I’m much more like that raccoon than I like to admit.  Isn’t there an old saying about coming between a mother bear and her cubs?  Mother bear could take lessons from me, and to be honest, that’s not something I’m proud of.

So I’m trying my best to sit back and let things go for the next 40 days or so.  If I’m lucky, my Lenten practice will become my norm.  On the other hand, I might end up with a lot of pent up arguments that will be bursting to be set free.  I think it’s going to be a long 40 days….

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)

Giving It Up

lent4There has been a lot of talk around our house the last couple of days about giving things up.  I’ve read Facebook posts by many friends extolling the giving up of bad habits, cravings, and addictions.  This morning, I read a blog post about an endeavor called “40 Bags in 40 Days” in which participants pledge to declutter every day for 40 days.  The decluttering can be of everything from closets to email inboxes.  The key is to get rid of unwanted and unneeded “stuff.”

I’m sure each one of us can name something in our lives worth giving up for 40 days, or perhaps forever.  My prayers go out to my brother-in-law who is giving up smoking.  Many know what a cross that is to bear, so I’m sure prayers would be greatly appreciated, which brings me to a question I have always asked myself.  Is it better to give something up or do something new spiritually?  I’ve struggled with this over the years.  The whole concept of giving things up is completely lost on me unless there is a real reason to do so.  Giving things up just to herald that you’ve done so just doesn’t seem to be the point of all of this.  I heard a priest, who has a radio show, say recently that when you give something up, you should use that extra time, money, space, etc. to do something good, help others, give to the poor, or otherwise allow someone else to benefit from your sacrifice.  And that’s really the key isn’t it?  Sacrifice.  We aren’t supposed to be trying to lose weight or have a cleaner closet.  The point is to sacrifice, to rid ourselves of the things that are making us unworthy in the eyes of God.

So, yes, I will be giving things up this year, and yes, they will be the regular things you’d expect – sweets and wine.  However, I’m going to take it a step further.  I’m giving up all restaurant food except for salad (a huge sacrifice since we tend to eat out more than the normal family).  What I’ve struggled with is how to make that into something spiritual that benefits others around me.  What have I come up with?  I will find the one thing on the menu that I want more than anything else, note the cost, and donate that amount to a good cause.  It may be an extra drop in the basket at church or a donation to Feed the Poor.  Whatever it is, I know that my sacrifice will be helping someone else and hopefully will help me in my journey home.

What are you giving up for Lent?

Amy Schisler is an author of mystery and suspense novels.  Her first book, A Place to Call Home may be purchased in stores, online, and through ibooks.  Her previously published children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad may be purchased in stores and on Amazon.

https://amyschislerauthor.com/amyschislerauthor.com/Books.html You may follow Amy at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com