Make your Own Hallmark Story This Christmas

I’m just going to say it. I’m really tired of hearing people put down the Hallmark Christmas movies. Yes, they’re predictable. Yes, most of them follow the same formula. Yes, they all star the same actors and actresses. But you know what? They are a welcome refuge from everything on the news and the crowds in the stores and the stress of the holiday season. I mean, really, there is a reason why they are so popular–who wants to spend more than two minutes thinking about everything that’s going wrong in the world today? Wouldn’t you rather be watching two people fall in love over the course of a holiday season with the most beautiful snowy backdrop in the most welcoming Christmas village kind of town? And who says that romances like that don’t really happen?

To prove my point, all I have to do is think about the conversation I overheard this past Saturday night. My girls and I hosted our annual Mother-Daughter Christmas party with dear friends from our community, parish, school, and family. After the party was over, Rebecca’s friends, most from other states, spent the night here at the house. As we were cleaning up, the talk turned to weddings, as it often does with post-college girls! Then several girls told the stories of how their parents met. Each one was more charming than the last, and my heart swelled every time I heard Rebecca’s roommate swoon, “I’m obsessed with this story, keep going!” Since I was there, Rebecca asked me to tell the story of how Ken and I met. It’s a lovely story that our family really enjoys sharing. And it was obvious that the girls all felt the same about their own parents’ first encounters.

The stories revolved around failed first marriages, high school sweethearts, second chance romances, and fate encounters. Each one was different, but they all shared one quality–in the eyes of their daughters, no matter what the circumstances were, the stories were enchanting tales of falling in love and living happily ever after. It didn’t matter if there was pain or strife involved, if there was swirling snow or the perfect cup of cocoa, or if the meeting took place at a bar, a frat party, or a gingerbread cottage (as so many HM movies do). The stories gave the girls hope that someday, they would all be featured in their own personal, Hallmark movie romance, just like their parents were.

You see, not every romance or happy story takes place in the perfect Christmas town where the non-believer comes around to joyfully celebrating the holiday with his or her new-found love while light snowflakes fall around them. But every family’s beginning has a story, and those who retell the story often see a fairy-tale unfold even in the most unlikely of circumstances. All of those girls made their parents’ romances sound like a Debbie Macomber novel (HM favorites) even if we all knew that the story was just an ordinary meeting between two ordinary people destined for an ordinary life in an ordinary town. There was no exaggerating or creating an epic bestseller from a comic book, but each story was special, and the girls all knew it. They all recognized that every story has the potential to be a Hallmark story, even the ones that go awry. Why?

Because, like many of the characters learn by the end of the two-hour movie, your life, your story, your family’s story, is what you make it. When we see our lives and the people in them as something special, unique, and to be cherished, we can all be just like the people on Hallmark. Sure, we won’t all have Balsam Hill Christmas trees or perfect sugar cookies in less than fifteen minutes, but we all have the ability to see the wonder of life and to appreciate our own stories and to pass this along to our children.

photo-6176892386934784So, this Christmas, when your family’s rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing doesn’t sound like a Blake Shelton-produced movie or your cookies aren’t picture-perfect, don’t worry. Your children will remember everything the way you make it out to be–The Nightmare Before Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life. You’re living your own Hallmark movie every day. Write it the way you want it to be told, cherishing the good and bad, and smiling along the way. Bring happiness into the world. Celebrate the holidays with all the joy and enthusiasm found in a winning gingerbread house contest or a sleigh ride on a snowy mountain. Someday, you may look back and see your lives, your romances, and your Christmases for what they really were–stories better than a Hallmark movie.

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

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

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

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

Spending a Fortune on the Marriage

35553327_2182882288395900_5241912812019646464_nA young friend of our family has just announced her engagement. We are so happy for her and praying that she will have a wonderful wedding and even more wonderful marriage. As today is my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I’d like to take the time to offer some advice to those young people out there planning their own nuptials and expand on what I told our friend:
1. As you plan the wedding, don’t spend money; spend time with those you love.
2. Spend more time and energy planning the marriage than the wedding.

When Ken and I got married, twenty-five years ago, we wanted a grand wedding with all of the accouterments – the fairy tale dress and tuxedos, the large wedding party, the enormous guest list, an unforgettable nuptial Mass, a full-course dinner, and a joy-filled evening of dancing and partying. We got it all. We hosted 300 guests, and we didn’t break the bank doing it.Wedding

Here’s how:

Ken and Amy Wedding DayThe Dress and Veil
My aunt, my mother, and I scoured the stores to find the perfect dress at the perfect price. We bought it, off the rack, at a discount bridal shop. It was on the “last year’s fashions” rack and was exactly what I wanted. The veil was made with my mother’s wedding tiara. I wore it for my First Communion as did my both of my cousins and, years later, all three of my daughters. We added new tule and some pearls, and it was the perfect accessory for my dress. I wanted lots of lace, a modest bodice, a beautiful back, and a detailed train. I got it all at a bargain basement price. I just had to be patient, wait and relax, and enjoy the hunt with my aunt and my mom.

Wedding3The Ceremony
The church that my parents attended (in the parish where I attended when in high school and before marriage) was under construction, so we headed up the road to the church I grew up in, and it was still as beautiful as I remembered it. We worked with our Pastor, Father Paul Dudziak, to plan a meaningful ceremony rich in faith and tradition. Afterward, a friend of Ken’s lamented that he had never attended a wedding that was an hour and a half long! It was worth every minute. I’ve never been a fan of the ten-minute wedding. I believe a wedding should be something that represents the eternal love of Jesus Christ as well as the eternal bond of marriage. I wanted everyone, especially Ken and me, to leave the church knowing that something special, something lasting, something sacred had just taken place.

Wedding1The Flowers, Photography, and Cake
Our flower arrangements and bouquets were designed by mother and me with the help of a family friend who owned a florist. She helped us choose exquisite selections that matched the color theme and my personal tastes while staying within a strict budget. Our biggest single expense was probably the photographer, but we could afford to spend a little more because we cut costs everywhere else, including the wedding cake. A friend of ours owned a bakery and made the most mouth-watering cakes you’ve ever tasted. When we asked her about making the cake, she insisted on making it as her gift to us. We have never forgotten her generosity.

The Venue
We held our reception at the church hall next to our parish’s yet-to-be-constructed church. It wasn’t fancy, but it was affordable, and the decorations that my mother and her friend planned and designed transformed the room from an ordinary church hall into an elegant banquet room. We hired someone with event experience to make sure the food was on the buffet table and to do all of the serving and cleanup of the dishes.

Ken and Amy's Wedding34-001

The Food
Believe it or not, we made all of the food ourselves. Yes, we made a traditional Southern Maryland Fall Dinner, for 300 people, all by ourselves. Every – single – bite – with the exception of frozen rolls that were baked fresh during the ceremony. For months, everyone in the family chipped in to pick crab meat. Throughout the summer, we saved enough meat for my grandmother and Ken’s grandmother to fill their freezers with homemade crab balls. My mother made hundreds of her unforgettable pumpkin muffins and froze those as well. My father and my grandmother spent days, leading up to the wedding, making the Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham, a delicacy only found in Southern Maryland. My uncle worked his magic to grill melt-in-your-mouth pit beef. And the day before the wedding, all of the women in our family, my Godmother, my bridal party, and several family friends, gathered in the church hall to cut fruit and veggies, steam shrimp, and assemble trays while the men followed my mother’s decorating instructions. We talked, we laughed, and we reminisced. It was a day that I remember and cherish as much as the wedding day itself, and in some ways, even more. 

Wedding2The Marriage
But the truth is that none of that would have mattered. None of it would have meant anything at all. All of it would have been for nothing if Ken and I had not spent as much effort planning and working on our marriage. Twenty-five years together, in today’s world, is a long time. Sometimes, it feels like twice that. There have been days when we didn’t like each other very much. There have been moments when we wondered if it was worth it. There have been fights and slammed doors and long drives to clear my head. But in the end, we meant it when we said, “until death do us part.” We’ve lived through the good times and bad, the richer and poorer, the sickness and health. We’ve laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed. But we’ve always been there for each other. We’ve never turned our backs on each other, never considered life without the other, never looked to anything beyond what we have together.

IMG_8196.JPGDon’t ever let anyone tell you that, if you’re right for each other, everything else will fall into place. Don’t let anyone tell you that marriage shouldn’t be hard sometimes. Don’t believe that you won’t have to work at it, even harder than you work at your job, your studies, your goals. But don’t ever think for a moment that it isn’t worth it to have someone to come home to who loves you more than anyone or anything in the world. To have someone to share your dreams and your failings. Someone to hold you when you cry and someone who knows how to make you laugh.

And don’t make the mistake that so many make these days and wait until it’s too late! There will NEVER be enough money. There will NEVER be the right time in your career. There will NEVER be plenty of time down the road for the timing to be right. We got married at 23 and 24. Unheard of today! We still had several years of graduate and law school ahead of us. We had nothing except college loans and a lot of hope and dreams. And we had each other, a plan, and faith.

As we read in Ecclesiastes, “Therefore, it is better for two to be together, than for one to be alone. For they have the advantage of their companionship. If one falls, he shall be supported by the other.” (Ecc. 4:9-10). And in Proverbs: “To find a wife is the find happiness, a favor granted by the Lord” (Prob 18:22). So, to those young couples getting ready to embark on the most wonderful time of your lives, don’t worry about spending a fortune on your wedding. A small budget can still give you the wedding of your dreams! But do spend a fortune on your marriage, paid for with all the treasures that will ensure a happy life together – love, joy, communication, tenderness, understanding, patience, resiliency, forgiveness, and an abundance of faith in God.

11-2

What I was writing about a year ago this week: A Little Time to Spare.

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

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

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

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

 

Lessons for Lasting Love

DSC_1911“No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.” Mark Twain

I recently realized that I am no longer of the age when my friends are getting married.  I am now of the age when friends of my daughter are getting married.  How did that happen?  Rebecca, who will be a senior in college next year, already has a friend who has graduated and gotten married and others who are now becoming engaged.  It’s strange to think that sometime in the next five years, Rebecca will probably be thinking about taking that next step.  What’s even scarier is that I’m not sure young people today have any idea what marriage really is.  Honestly, did any of us actually know what was involved when we took those vows?  Were we simply planning for that one day, or truly thinking about for our future?  Perhaps it has been the same through all generations, but today it seems that marriages are disposable, vows are no more than wishes, commitments are fleeting.  I pray every day that I have instilled in my daughters what marriage really means – both the good and the bad.  Here are some of the things that I learned over the past twenty-two years.

Love (and thereby, marriage) does mean having to say you’re sorry.  I’m sorry, Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw.  It’s a nice sentiment, but nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes.  Owning up to those mistakes is one of the most important things to learn and actually do.  Resentment is too easily built up, so while those simple words, “I’m sorry,” can’t take away the pain, they can open the door to healing for both of you.

It’s okay to go to bed angry.  I know, you’ve heard otherwise your entire life; but sometimes, in order to say “I’m sorry” to someone else, you need time to realize that the words are true.  Nothing beats a good night’s sleep, and perhaps a good cry on the way there, to be able to recognize that things are never as bad as they seem.  Moreover, trying to get to the place where you’re no longer angry is not easily done in the heat of the fight.  Sometimes, the sooner the conversation ends, the better.

Put away your phones, turn off your TV, curb your social life, and spend time in conversation.  Remember back when you were first getting to know each other?  All of those hours spent in conversation over dinner, on the phone late at night, or even using FaceTime were all meaningful.  That’s when you opened up to each other, let out your feelings, your doubts, your fears, your hopes, your wishes.  Don’t ever let that end.  I remember once, when Ken and I were first married, we were out to dinner and engaged in conversation when Ken just stopped and motioned to an elderly couple across the restaurant.  Ken observed, “They haven’t said one word to each other all night.”  He looked at me and said, “Let’s never let that happen to us.”  Yes, I admit that there are times when it’s nice to just be quiet and enjoy the moment, but those times when you can sit and talk without distraction are so rare.  Take advantage of them.

It’s all right to argue and disagree.  Sure, you stand before God and declare that you are now one, but let’s get real.  You are you, and he is he (or she is she).  You will not always agree, even on the big things.  It isn’t the argument that counts.  It’s making sure that you find a solution, a compromise, or a way around the situation that you can both live with.  You won’t win every argument, but neither should he.  Marriage is give and take.  Learn that quickly, and deal with it.

Hold hands.  Cuddle.  Sleep curled up together.  Kiss hello and goodbye.  Never lose the desire to touch the one you love.  Once you learn to live without the other person’s touch, you will lose the need for it.  Intimacy holds a marriage together.  Nurture it.  Every day.

Speak kindly to one another.  Full disclosure here.  This is the one I have the hardest time adhering to.  I am impatient and often intolerant.  I expect everything to be done on my timeline and in my way.  While I have the skill to be tactful (a former boss always sent me to deal with problem patrons because she knew I could be tactful yet get to the point), I don’t seem to have any idea how to use that skill with those I love.  I try to always be kind. I teach and preach kindness, but my tongue is often quicker than my brain, and it gets me into trouble.  I promise to work on that, and I encourage you to do the same.  It’s the hardest habit I’ve ever tried to break, but I work on it every day.  Actions may speak louder than words, but words can cut right into someone’s soul.

For those who are making their wedding plans as I write, always remember that the marriage is far more important than the wedding.  Enjoy the time spent planning it, and know that it will not be perfect.  Some small thing, or dare I say, maybe a big thing, will go wrong.  Move on.  It’s a day, not a reflection of the rest of your life.  Face it with love and humility.  Take your vows seriously.  Stand up before your friends and family in an actual church.  The reception can be wherever you want, but treat your marriage like the sacred event that it is.  Pray for your spouse and your marriage every day.  Ask God to be a part of it, on that special day and always, for He is the rock upon which you can build a strong foundation.

Amy Schisler is an author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages who lives with 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 as chosen by a group of independent Christian publishers.  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.

Just Thinking About Tomorrow

DSC00877

When I was a little girl, I attended my first major Broadway musical and spent the following few weeks memorizing every word to every song.  I’ve never stopped singing those songs and enjoyed watching Rebecca and then Katie play roles in school and community productions of the same play.  As a child, I’m not sure I realized how many lessons I was learning cast-001from the little orphan girl who took in a stray dog and softened the heart of a grouchy, old millionaire, but I have always remembered and adhered to her words “the sun will come out tomorrow.”

As I watched the morning news on Saturday, I saw updates on the terror attacks in Mali, new terror threats to Brussels, and sparring politicians across this great nation.  But here is the thing that struck me the most – the people of Paris gathered in the streets this past weekend for a public street party to show the world that they will not stay home, that life goes on.  Almost fifteen years after 9/11, we can all attest to that.  Things change, people are lost, the world is shaken, but the sun still rises, and human beings continue living, striving for the best, reaching for the stars, and living the good life as best they can.

For every eight people who leave this world, there are nineteen babies born.

3 Apr 9, 2013 2-14 PM

There are approximately 13,000 terror attacks somewhere in the world each year, but 2.3 million weddings per year take place in the US alone.

Ken and Amy's Wedding-002

Somewhere in the world today, a child is having a birthday party,

DSCN6925

a school is welcoming grandparents,

DSCN4473-001

multi-generational families are giving thanks,

11024663_343513105852702_8126447465870005532_o

a group of friends are worshiping together,

IMG_0967-001

a family is taking home a new pet,

DSCN7115

a farmer is tending to his field,DSC02490-001

and a concert is being attended.

DSC01579

People are still climbing to new heights,

IMG_7517

steering toward the goals,

DSC09421

breaking new strides,

DSC05443

and celebrating their achievements.

DSC05547

 

And every single night, we go to bed with the knowledge that no matter what happens in the world, the sun will come up tomorrow.

DSC03020

My Favorite Story

Ken and Amy's Wedding33-001Recently, a friend of Morgan’s asked me to tell her the story of how Ken and I met.  I laughed when she said “It’s my favorite story.”  Apparently the girls have told the story to their friends, and they all find it so romantic.  I guess it is romantic, but to me, it’s just “our story.”  In honor of Ken’s birthday this coming Friday, I thought I’d share the tale with you.

The summer after I graduated from college, I was an attendee at a national political convention.  The very first day, the Maryland Delegation boarded a bus to the convention center.  I was alone and did not know a soul other than my mother’s dear friend, Joyce, who helped me gain a spot within the group.  I boarded the bus and watched the delegates and guests climb onto the bus and take their seats.  When a nice-looking young man started down the aisle, someone from the back called his name, and I recognized the young man – he attended the same college I had and was well-known on the Shore as the youngest person to ever be elected to the Maryland Legislature.  He happened to sit in front me, and never one to be shy, I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself as a fellow student at SU.  Though he laughs at it now and likes to deny it, Ken told me later that he knew that very instant that he was going to marry me.

For the rest of the week, every time I turned around, Ken was there.  He boarded the bus after I did, went to the same tourist attractions I visited, and was always waiting at the entrance of the convention center to “guide” me through security and onto the floor of the convention (of course, this was long before 9-11, and security was not what it is today).  Ken’s campaign manager, his former high school government teacher, was his guest at the convention.  Mr. Kleen (yes, that was his name, and he was tall and bald) has passed on since that week many years ago, but he loved to tell the tale of how he finally caught on to Ken’s “hurry up and wait” behavior that had the two of them arriving early each morning, only to sit and wait until Ken said it was time to board the bus.  Eventually Mr. Kleen realized what was going on and became part of the game to seek me out.

On the very last day of our trip, the three of us shared a taxi to the airport.  We were on different flights, but Ken had already come up with a plan to stay in touch.  In those days, there were no digital cameras, of course, so Ken suggested that we exchange addresses in order to share our pictures from the convention.  That began a period of letter writing in which we got to know each other from opposite sides of the state.  The first time my mother met Ken, she was sure that he was going to be some old man who had the hots for her daughter.  I guess I forgot to tell her that he was just a year older than I was.

Within three months, I knew I was in love.  On the night before Valentine’s Day, just seven months later, Ken proposed.  We were married just eight months later with special permission from my Priest to skip the one year wait period usually required by the Church.  After all, the election season would be in full swing soon, and we had to take advantage of the time we had.

This October, we will have been married for twenty-two years.  My, how time flies!  Soon our oldest daughter will graduate from college, and we will watch as some young man sweeps her off of her feet the way her father swept me off of mine.  Our beginning was every girl’s fantasy, our wedding was a true fairy tale kind of event, and our marriage has been what dreams are made of.  I can only imagine what the next fifty years will bring, but I know that we will happily share them together.

Amy Schisler is an author of mystery and 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. Her previously published children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad may be purchased in stores and on Amazon.  Amy’s next mystery, Picture Me, will be released in August of 2015 and will be available in stores and online.

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

Letter to My Daughters’ Future Husbands

DSC04396When our youngest daughter was born, the first thing my husband said when he saw her was “she looks just like my sister.” The second thing he said was, “Oh God, we have to pay for three weddings.”  While I do agree that we will need to pay for their weddings, I’m not concerned. My mother and I have coordinated several beautiful and even lavish weddings for family and friends, both efficiently and economically. My concern is not at all the wedding but the marriage. With that in mind, here’s what I have to say.

Dear Future Husband,

I don’t know that we have met yet.  Perhaps we have, perhaps not.  You may be someone my daughter has known for years or someone she has yet to meet.  Regardless, you don’t know her like I do, nor have you walked in my shoes, so allow me to give you some advice.  She is not a princess, though she may think she is, and as far as you’re concerned, that’s how it should be.  Treat her as such, as someone who is to be honored, respected and revered.  In return, she will treat you the same way.

Tend to your marriage like it s a garden.  Weed out mistrust, judgement, defensiveness, and fear.  Prune back any hurt that grows there (because it will), and water the good seeds you plant – your hopes, your dreams, and eventually your children.  Let the sun shine on it every day through your love by complimenting, helping, and most important, talking; and don’t be afraid of the rain and storms.  Welcome them, too, as ways to strengthen your marriage.  Clean up the fallen branches after the storm clears, or they will clutter your lives.  Because there will be storms, and there will be things to clear away, but by working together, you can weather anything life hurls at you.

Most of all, trust that God has brought you together and that He will guide you.  Go to Church together, pray together – at meals, at bedtime, in good times and bad.  Make your faith the foundation upon which you build all things, and know that with God, all things are possible.

Whether you are in your twenties or just barely into your teens, remember that any girl you meet could be the one, my daughter, but that there will only be that one.  Don’t fall prey to the norms of society.  Every girl you date will be someone’s wife, but perhaps not your own.  Keep that in mind in everything you do.  Would you do “that” with someone else’s wife?  Would you want someone else doing that with yours?

In the end, all I want is your happiness, all of you, my three daughters and their husbands.  Shower each other with love, strive for your dreams, encourage each other to reach for the stars, and always be there for each other no matter what.  Know that their father and I are here for you.  Even now, I love you all.

Love, Mom

Amy Schisler is an author of mystery and 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. 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 and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com