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

How Many Licks Must We Take?

my-wordly-girls.jpgAs a parent, I’m grateful that all three of my girls are intelligent, that they have traveled enough to be worldly, and that they understand the importance of doing well in school. However, I can’t help but wonder… as my girls were growing up, as they were experiencing all of those wonderful things, visiting foreign places, and learning how to navigate the world, did I remember to teach them the importance of being wise? What do I mean by that? Intelligence is a function of the brain. Worldliness is a function of experience. Doing well in school comes as a result of hard work and studying. Not a single one of those has anything to do with wisdom. Wisdom is a gift of the spirit and comes entirely from God.

So how do we achieve wisdom?

In today’s first reading, from the book of Sirach, we are told of the importance of wisdom. It is elusive, but can be found and should be sought by every man and woman. Those who know wisdom (personified as a woman in the text), love life, inherits glory (heavenly, not earthly), receives blessings, overcomes fear and dread, treasures knowledge, and understands justice. Wisdom does not come easily but through hard work, perseverance, and trust in God. It is not the kind of thing you can learn from experience or by reading a book. It can only come from spending time with God, reading scripture, and knowing and understanding that there is a higher being on who we should depend and in who we should trust.

Morgan at DU.JPGThis past weekend, my youngest daughter, Morgan, and I visited Pittsburgh so that she could attend Nursing Preview Day at the college of her choice. I watched all of those excited women (and a few men) and marveled at how young they looked. I cried a little when I thought about sending my baby off on her own. I thought about both of her sisters and their college experiences, the good and the bad; and I can’t help but wonder if I ever taught them anything about the importance of wisdom.

Like all young adults, my girls believe that they know what is best for them. Don’t we all? And as any good parent would, my husband and I have always supported them and allowed them to choose their own paths. Yes, there have been times when we raised a brow, questioned a decision, or sighed in disbelief over decisions made. We cried when the choices were bad, and we celebrated when they were good. But I’m still left with the question, are my girls truly wise?

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 10.30.13 AMThose of us above a certain age will remember the wise old owl who was sought for his knowledge. He was asked, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?” When he couldn’t figure out the answer, he cheated and noisily bit into the lollipop. I think that’s how most people approach wisdom. They think they have all of the answers, and when they’re unable to solve a problem, they take a shortcut, or they give up, or they give in. Their choices are often destructive, and their paths are covered with thorns and lead them nowhere. Sometimes, they find themselves on rocky ground with nowhere to go. They believe they are being wise and don’t understand when things don’t turn out the way they thought they would. True wisdom tells us that all of the answers lie with God. 

How many licks must we take, how many dead-end roads must we travel, how many mistakes must we make before we understand that we’re doing it all wrong? When faced with a problem, how many of us think, right off the bat, that we need to pray for an answer? How many stop and think far enough into the future to see beyond this moment, this situation, this world? How many understand that obtaining wisdom isn’t arbitrary or automatic or easy? It doesn’t mean you will never make mistakes, never question yourself, and never worry about the future. However, it does mean that you work to get past the trial, understand the limits, and look for the right path. Wisdom, herself, understands that finding her is difficult.

I will walk with them in disguise,
and at first I will test them with trials.
Fear and dread I will bring upon them
and I will discipline them with my constraints.
When their hearts are fully with me,
then I will set them again on the straight path
and reveal my secrets to them.
– Sirach 4:17-18

All good things comes to those who possess wisdom. That doesn’t mean they will never suffer, nor does it mean that their lives will always be perfect. What it means, according to 2 Chronicles 1: 11,  is that they will amass riches beyond measure and be honored for their knowledge. I’m pretty sure it’s not material riches that they will be given but love, happiness, contentment, and eternal rest. Solomon, known as the wisest person to ever live, when offered anything in the world, asked God for just one thing – wisdom. One of my all-time favorite hymns is Hail Mary, Gentle Woman. In the song, we implore Mary, more than once, to “teach us wisdom, teach us love.” Perhaps we would all do well to ask for and seek the same. 

Join me to celebrate the release of my newest novel, The Devil’s Fortune. Let me know if you can be there on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: In the Desert

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).

 

 

A World of Kindness

Have you ever met someone who exuded kindness like the smell of a cherry pie in an open window on a summer day? This is a person whose eyes catch you, twinkle, and without words, bid you a good day. The kind of person who holds out his hand to help you down from a bus, or pulls out a chair for you, or offers to carry your suitcase even though he has one of his own. The kind of person who talks little about himself or herself but offers to listen, without judgement, to whatever is on your mind, offering a smile and encouraging word. As I’ve said before, kindness is all that really matters, and meeting a truly kind person can alter your attitude, your day, even your life. How often do you meet such a person? Once a day? Once a month? Once in a lifetime? 

Wouldn’t it be nice to meet someone like that in every encounter you have?

Wouldn’t it be nice to be that someone to others?

What would that world look like?

Everything about my recent trip to the Holy Land was special, meaningful, and life-changing. It wasn’t my first visit, but I ended both trips feeling the same way–overwhelmed by all that I saw and learned; sad to have to say goodbye to such wonderful places, experiences, and people; and determined to use the trip as a stepping stone to become a better person. 

HL Day 3 - Capernaum-009
The shoreline of the Sea of Galilee

There’s something about spending ten days with a group of absolute strangers, in a mystical land, that automatically causes one to act like a better person, to show the best side of himself or herself. I like to think that it really allows us to show our true selves. Why hide your real self from a group of people you may never seen again? Not to mention, in a place like the Holy Land, where emotions are always bubbling to the surface, and it’s easy to become vulnerable, to open up in a way you’ve never done before, to shed your mask and let others see the person you are or hope to be. When standing on the shores of Galilee, how can you not open your heart and mind like the Apostles did when Jesus said, “Follow me” and become the person He created you to be?

HL Day 3 - Banias (Caesarea Philippi)-005
at the head waters of the Jordan

Though my sister-in-law and I have been family for the past twenty years, we learned things about each other and our loved ones that we never knew. We opened up to each other like we have never done, and we bonded in a way that took me by surprise. Several times in the past week, I’ve smiled and swallowed the lump in my throat when reading a text from Lisa saying, “I miss you.” We allowed each other to see and be seen like never before, and I believe we love each other more because of that.

Every day, when we left the bus to explore another site, Gerard stood outside the door and offered his hand to each person. Most of us probably didn’t need his help, but he offered it just the same. And it wasn’t only his hand that led us down the large step and onto the sidewalk; it was his smile, his greeting, his genuine kindness. Even though we battled daily with Gerard and his wife, Jen, for our favorite seat (for the record, we shared pretty well, about 50-50), we talked and joked and laughed, and shared many meals together with them and their son, Ben. We learned so much about about each other, but the thing that will always stick out in my mind the most is that simple gesture of helping us all exit the bus.HL Day 8 Tel Aviv-003.JPG

Will, a twenty-four-year-old from Florida, accompanied his Aunt Maria to the Holy Land so that she didn’t have to travel alone. From the moment Will smiled and introduced himself, I felt his kindness. It was just something palpable, something that couldn’t go unnoticed, like the aroma of that cherry pie on the windowsill. The more we talked, the more I knew, beyond doubt, that Will was special, a man with a kind heart. Perhaps there are things he kept hidden, a dark past, a troubled youth, but I think it was obvious to everyone on the trip, that Will possessed a kind soul. I’m not sure there is anything more beautiful that can be said about a person.

Joan, oh Joan, your wit kept us all on our toes! After long days of walking, listening, praying, and marveling at the world around us, Joan entertained us with a never-ending parade of jokes. The sparkle in her eyes as she delivered each punchline had us cheering and begging for more. While there were some groans and shaking of heads, we all looked forward to the next one. But here’s what I figured out. It wasn’t about the jokes. It wasn’t about lightening our emotional loads at the end of the day. It was about Joan, her smile, her twinkling eyes, and her enthusiasm. Oh, if only we all had a Joan around every evening to make us laugh and smile at the end of a long, tiring, and emotional day!

And then there was Ben, a college freshman traveling with his parents, Gerard and Jen. This young man beamed when he talked about the organization he started to lead mission trips to Uganda. He lives every day of his life searching for ways to help others. He has a heart so full of love and exuberance, you can’t help but soak in the kindness he passes around to everyone he meets. Every day, Ben would approach the group to share evening plans to go out and explore the city. His enthusiasm was contagious!

HL Day 4 Train Station 001
A night on the town in Jerusalem

I could go on and on. There was sweet Toni, always so appreciative of the pictures that I shared. There were sisters, Lauren and Alicia, with their bright smiles and invitations to stay in touch and visit them. There was Michelle, Jami, and May Ann, and Joe, Betty, Father Jhon, and our leader, Jan, just a few among a number of other wonderful people I now call friends. There were so many who made our trip memorable and special, just as I experienced when Ken and I traveled to the Holy Land three years ago. Perhaps there’s something about treading on holy ground, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, Peter, and Paul, and standing on the same ground as Mary, Joseph, Elijah, and Abraham. Maybe the power of the Holy Spirit is so strong there that it overwhelms one’s soul and prevents one from being anything but kind. Or maybe hearing the stories of healing and conversion along with reliving the passion, death, and resurrection just create the perfect environment, one in which everyone naturally becomes the best and kindest version of themselves.HL Day 3 - Primacy of Peter-009

I like to believe that each one of us has returned home with a renewed spirit, a humbled heart, and the desire to reach out to everyone we know with the kindness we experienced on the Sea of Galilee, the streets of Jerusalem, and the hill country of Judea. I pray that we remember the words we heard on the Mount of Beatitudes and go forth as the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers. Let us comfort and console, hunger and thirst for righteousness, and know that we are truly blessed.

And may we strive every day to just be kind. If everyone were to make that one little thing the cornerstone of all we do, imagine what a wonderful world it would be.

Beatitudes.jpg

Join me to celebrate the release of my newest novel, The Devil’s Fortune. Let me know if you can be there on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: In the Desert

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).

 

There’s Gotta Be A Little Snow Sometime

SnowyTrees2019.JPGOne day last week, while my husband and youngest daughter slept snugly in their beds, and Mother Nature covered the trees and fields with a soft blanket of white, I quietly walked outside in the dark to take some photos of the gently falling snow. The world around me was cold, barren, frozen and unwelcoming. And it was absolutely exquisite. It was my favorite kind of snow. It fell softly from the sky, landing on every branch, leaf, and needle, turning each and every tree into a glowing, white piece of art, a fine sculpture created by the loving hand of God. I couldn’t help but think about a conversation that I’ve had with more than one person lately.  

You see, I’m noticing a trend, and it makes me sad. I see it in the young and old, in the workplace and in school, among volunteer committees and organizations, even within my own family. Everyone is looking for the easy way out, the no-pain method of doing things. There is a belief that everyone is entitled to happiness, to the never-ending bliss that drowns all pain and discomfort and allows each person to live a life of total pleasure without worry or sacrifice. I’ve even heard people say that here, in the United States, everyone is entitled to be happy.  

But they’re wrong.

We are merely entitled to the pursuit of happiness, and even that is within the confines of the law. That clause in our Declaration of Independence (mind you, it is nowhere in the Constitution, the document that actually rules this land) is based on the principle that we are all seeking some higher form of happiness endowed by our Creator. But even our Creator never promised happiness on earth. On the contrary, we were told that there would be suffering and pain and sorrow.

I’m reminded of an old Lynn Anderson song. Yes, I’m showing my age now, but you may recall her lyrical protest: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta to be a little rain sometime.” Preach it, Lynn. 

Without sadness, we wouldn’t fully understand joy. Without mourning, why would we find the need to rejoice? Without snow, who would appreciate the spring?

It sounds simple, but it’s so much deeper than just letting a little rain, or snow, fall into our lives now and then. We need to learn to embrace the dark times, and allow them to shape us into better persons. There is a term that I think of more and more as I get older.  It is “redemptive suffering.” It is the Christian belief that all suffering we do here on earth is meant to lead us to a deeper relationship with Christ. In our suffering, we experience just a small taste of what He experienced in His passion and death. Furthermore, the suffering gives us the opportunity to share in Christ’s humanity and to understand one of the characteristics that makes us truly human. It binds us to each other and to Christ. The more we accept our suffering, the more we become like Christ, and the more we are redeemed. It breaks my heart to hear people say that if there were a God, He wouldn’t allow suffering because there is so much to be learned from sorrow and pain, and not just for the person suffering.

Being a witness to suffering can help us to feel less selfish, to become more caring, more giving. It can allow us to be more charitable and comforting. I think of my daughter, who decided to pursue a career as a nurse after helping my father-in-law during his last days on earth. What a gift her grandfather gave her.

Suffering can purify our souls and help us to understand and appreciate what true happiness is. We just have to embrace it, and know that the cold, barren, darkness won’t last forever. I think of my oldest daughter, who lost a dear friend to suicide, and how it transformed her thinking so that she fully appreciates how good life is even on days that seem too hard to face.

It is meant to lead us to a more beautiful place, a place where it never rains, never snows, never allows pain and sorrow.  For those who are very lucky, that place can actually be found here on earth, even in the midst of suffering.  And it can be a beautiful sight to behold. I think of someone I love very much who suffered through a traumatic event recently and has allowed herself to become stronger, more self-assured, and more willing to embrace new opportunities that have come her way.

snow2019So the next time you experience a time of cold, harsh, and unwelcoming sadness in your life, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual, remember that there is a reason for our suffering. There are things that can be learned, not by the mind but by the soul. Let others see that sorrow and pain does not always have to end in total despair; there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Be strong, courageous, and faithful, knowing that your spring will come, and eternal happiness will be your reward. Remember that there is always the breaking of dawn, even after the coldest, snowiest night.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: From Sorrow, Joy.

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).

New Year, New Strategies

New Year’s resolutions are tricky. So often, people choose ones that are so lofty, it’s impossible to reach them. Other times, resolutions are simply not easily added to our daily routines and are forgotten or just fall by the wayside. This year, like everyone else reading this, I am determined to keep my three 2019 promises to myself, but I’m not off to a good start! So, I’ve come up with some strategies that will, hopefully, help to keep myself on task.

I don’t usually share my resolutions, but I want to hold myself more accountable this year, so I’m going to share them with the 1000+ people reading this! I’ve set three goals for 2019:
1. I want to continue getting back into the routine of saying a daily Rosary.
2. I want to make it to a gym class at least three times each week.
3. I MUST stop saying, “I already told you…” to my husband!

Yesterday was January 1st, and I was determined to start the year off right. I was going to say my Rosary before Mass, but, of course, we had an issue with the altar ministries that I had to sort out, so that didn’t happen. All day, I intended to fit it into my schedule, but in all honesty, I never took the time to make it happen. So, FAIL, right off the bat!

Enter, strategy one:

🔷 I will find a time during my daily routine that will allow me to have 20 minutes to say my Rosary. Now, I know when that time will work for me, but when will it work for you? When can you find the time in your day to do that one thing you’re determined to do to make yourself a better person? Are you an early riser? Can you wake up 15-20 minutes earlier than normal every day for the next year in order to accomplish one of your resolutions? Or are you a late-night person? A danger I have found in trying to do something late at night is that I’m often so tired, I can’t stay up any longer than normal, so keeping my eyes open an additional 20 minutes just doesn’t happen. But the reality is, we all have 15-20 minutes in our day that we can squeeze in something that is important to us. Have you timed yourself on how long you scroll through Facebook? I bet it’s easily 15 minutes for many people. Ask yourself, what’s more important to you–seeing what everyone is bragging about online or making yourself a better person?

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This morning, I was headed to the gym for my Wednesday morning cardio class. Just before I was to walk out the door, my husband walked into the kitchen in a panic. He was so tired when he went up to bed last night, he removed his hearing aids and couldn’t remember where he put them! It was an all-out search for the next twenty minutes, and by the time we found them, it was too late for me to make it to class.

Strategy number two:

🔷 Compromise and improvise. I know that the internet has an endless supply of exercise videos, and many can be streamed right to my television using the ROKU. A quick search gave me dozens of options. The first couple were not what I wanted, but on the third try, I found the perfect video. Freedom Fit with  Jenny Ford had exactly the cardio routine I was looking for. It was the right length, style, and pace. Even better, it nearly matched the routine my regular fitness coach does in class. Sure, I would rather have been with my gals at the gym, but the other alternative was to blow off the workout for today. I told myself, when devising my resolutions, that blowing off my workouts was not an option, and I felt so good about myself when my workout was done. When life gets in the way, don’t let yourself down. Find a way to make your resolution happen. It might not be exactly what you intended, but a little compromising goes a long way. And maybe a different time or different place will inspire you even more than the original or usual plan.

Yoga

Two down, one to go. How am I going to tackle my third resolution? Admittedly, this will be the hardest one to keep. Raise your hand if you feel like you have to tell your husband over and over and over again the same things.

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See–I knew it wasn’t just me! Deep breath.. The real question is, does pointing that out each time it happens actually help the situation? Not in the least. In fact, it just leads to wasted time, hurt feelings, and extreme exasperation for both of us. Starting today, I will try really hard to think before I speak. Not an easy task, believe me. But it’s something I’ve always said I was going to be better at with everyone I encounter, and now seems to be the right time to start.

So, strategy three…

🔷 As in any difficult or knee-jerk type of situation, take a deep breath and count to ten. Hey, even counting to five is better than jumping in without considering the consequences. And then, take a second to digest what’s really going on and how to respond to it. Have a chest of other verbal options at your disposal. Instead of saying, “I already told you…” what else can I say that isn’t accusatory or inflammatory? Having several, well-intentioned responses will be more helpful and amicable than basically telling my husband, once again, that I am right, he is wrong, and if he would just listen to me, we wouldn’t be in this situation! That argument never seems to get me anywhere. And when I do speak, I need to watch my tone. That always seems to get me into so much trouble. Deeply inhaling and taking the time to think through my response should help me temper my tone. It certainly can’t hurt. Don’t you have something that you’re working on this year that would be more successful if you take just a moment to breathe deeply and ponder your reaction before you do or say something you will regret?

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No matter what your resolutions are, I’m confident that you and I can be successful in sticking with them for the next 363 days. If we just make a concerted effort to take time for what matters most, learn to compromise and improvise, and take a deep breath, a step back, or a moment to evaluate, we can accomplish anything.

So, what are your resolutions, and how can you put these three simple strategies into use to help make 2019 your best year yet?

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Learning From the Past, Preserving the Future.

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).

 

The Greatest Christmas Gift You Can Give

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

 

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

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So, now I have a confession to make. Even after reading this, I still went to Amazon on Monday. And I still clicked on the BUY button for that giant-screen TV I’ve been longing for. And I’m really excited that it arrives tomorrow. Yes, we have a decent-sized television. Yes, it works just fine. We’re going to move it to our bedroom and replace the one in there because the screen on that one seems to have gotten smaller as I’ve gotten older. Ken keeps kidding that we now have to tear down the living room and build a bigger one that will fit the new TV. “…tear them down and build bigger ones.”

Gulp–the sound of me swallowing that lump in my throat.

Wow. I wonder if the rich man had more than just his possessions. Did he have a family? Did he have friends? Was he in good health? If he were real and alive today, would he awaken like the man in the Forest Hills ad and be grateful for all that he has? Would he see the riches and blessings that he has before him and know in his heart that he doesn’t need more? Would he recognize that all he needs to make him happy is love? The love of God, the love of others, and love for himself as he is, without possessions, without riches, without STUFF.

We live in a world where the grass is always greener on the other side. We always want what someone else has, and sometimes we want what we can never have. We ask for more and more; we work longer and harder so that we can buy more. We do this even though our closets are bursting, our drawers won’t close, and our cups runneth over with things. And how happy are we? Even with a family, a home, electricity, hot food, cars, and coffee, are we still looking for more? When will we be satisfied? When will we realize that we already have enough? When will we realize that love is all we need? That it is love that makes us wealthy, not things?

There are 27 days until Christmas. That gives me 27 days to remind myself and my family, every single day, what Dr. Seuss tried to tell us many years ago:

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We have all already received many, many gifts. Even those who don’t have many “things” still have blessings for which to be thankful. Let’s take the Thanksgiving spirit with us right into Christmas and beyond. Let’s be grateful for all that we have, and let’s spend the Christmas season thinking about giving rather than getting. Begin thinking today about what you can do to help others see that we all have so much for which to be thankful, and let’s all remember as we go through Advent that “Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” 

Santa and Jesus

In one simple word, the meaning of Christmas is, love. Love that is never-ending, all-encompassing, and self-sacrificing. We don’t need Santa to bring us more stuff. We’ve already been given the greatest gift of all – love. All we need to do is open our hearts, not our closets, to giving and receiving more.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Food Memories.

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).