Monthly Archives: June 2016

On Learning from Our Children

Summer school is in session for parents! What do I mean by that? Well, the change in schedule that most members of this community experience over summer, in the form of a break from the “school year” schedule, offers us more time with our children. More time with our children affords us additional opportunities to learn from them. Yes, you read that right. It says “learn FROM them.”

Perhaps (hopefully?) I am the lone parent in this community who has spent so much time trying to be sure that I teach my children everything that I can, expose them to a variety of opportunities, and help them find their way; that I have not taken the time to ponder what THEY are teaching ME. Recently I have begun to notice bits and snatches of what I am learning from and through my children. And no, I’m not talking about “How do I work this device?” “What’s a good app for (insert need) and please teach me to use it?” or “Does this outfit look okay or will I embarrass you if I wear it around your friends?” Of course our children help us with those types of things, and I am grateful that they do! But what I am aiming for in this blog post is for us to look at a deeper type of learning from our kids. The kind of learning sent from God Himself to us through our children.

At some point in our family’s journey to Orthodoxy, I remember reading or hearing that family members are here to help us on our journey to salvation. They are not given to us just as an encouragement, as prayer warriors, or as physical aids to help us “get by.” Rather, they are given to us as teachers, as prodders, and sometimes even as surgeons to shape, poke, and point out (and it can hurt like surgery!) the sins in our lives so that we can repent and be saved! How humbling it is, as a parent, to realize that our children have been placed specifically in our family, to do this job for us. It is imperative that we acknowledge that our A-game is insufficient and our kids are here to help us to improve and to draw closer to God. Sometimes they will teach us by directing their words to us, and other times they teach us by example.

Need examples? Here are a few ways that my children have recently taught me:

In words:
*“Is that really the best way for you to spend that money?” the question was asked once in a conversation about a large expenditure, but continues to lurk in my mind and has been a good challenge in lesser expenses, as well.

* “It’s Divine Liturgy! And a Feast Day! I don’t want to miss that!” ~ when one of them pushed to go to church on a feast day when it would have been more convenient for them to travel along with friends who were headed to the same destination, but who were leaving before church. It meant that we had to make the trip ourselves, that day, but what a blessing the whole day turned out to be!

By example:
* “God meant this for good, it will turn out right!” ~ when one of them did not get the summer job they really wanted, which would have meant months of spiritual input and full of friends… I continue to be tempted to mourn that loss for my child, but they keep reassuring me that this is God’s will for them, and therefore it will turn out for good!

* “…whatsoever tidings…” (referring to part of our daily prayer, “Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy holy will…”) ~ when one of them had to turn down a longed-for opportunity granted at the last minute, choosing rather to uphold a prior commitment.

I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea: I am learning to notice what God is teaching me through my kids. It is true: our children teach us. It is our job to humble ourselves and learn from them. That is one of the reasons God has put them in our family.  

So, fellow parents, let us make the most of this season of “summer school” with our children. Yes, we can (and must!) teach them some things in the extra time we have together. But let us also pay attention to what they are teaching us, how God is using them to shape us and make us more like Himself. And let us humbly accept – better yet, apply – these lessons!


To learn more about the idea of children teaching their parents:


“Theologians have given lots of different opinions about what Jesus meant when he said ‘whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ Most of them have talked about the importance of imitating certain childlike qualities; and interestingly, they usually talk about the importance of imitating the qualities that society of the day finds desirable in a child. Rather than debating over which child-like qualities Jesus might have been talking about, I suggest actually learning from the children themselves. Here are five ways I’d suggest we can do so:” Read on at


“How would YOU do it?” Sage advice for a high-strung mama on learning from her kids and her hubby…


“You don’t have to have children to be aware of the many wonderful ways they can light up your life, or generally teach you more than any yoda might be able to… despite the similarity in size. Spending more time with children and being receptive as well as guiding them is like a meditation in itself, teaching us many of the following things:” Read more at:


“Learning between grownups and kids should be reciprocal!” Child prodigy Adora Svitak’s TED talk on why adults should learn from children:


“Paulo Coelho once said that “A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.” But there’s more: the author of this blog post expands her list of things a child can teach an adult to 15! Read them here:


This blog post’s author calls children “the best teachers, the perfect mentors.” Read the blog for yourself:



Gleanings from a Book: “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker

“Where have you been all of my (Orthodox Christian) life?” This pickup line applies, at least for me, to the book Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker! As soon as I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and read it. Because I am a parent, I am always looking for ideas of how to better incorporate Orthodoxy into our family’s life. Because I am also an educator, I am in constant search for ideas of ways to make the Faith tangibly accessible to young people. When I heard the title, I was pretty sure this book would be a helpful read on both counts. When I recently received the book, I dove right in and began to read.

From the first page, I could tell that my suspicions were correct. Each page of this book, from the introduction to the “best appendix I’ve ever read in my life” (my exact words to my husband as I read it) is bursting with encouragement, ideas, and challenges for Orthodox parents and teachers. Among the many things that I love about this book is the variety of suggestions that it presents. At its core are the three disciplines in which we are to be continually growing as Orthodox Christians: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The book provides proposals from the authors and also includes contributions of “how our family is living this concept” via paragraphs written by other parents. The book does not suggest imply in any way that there is a hard line of “what everyone must do to be really Orthodox.” Rather, the authors send their reader again and again to check with their own priest. This recommendation begins early. The first page of the book is titled “Ask your priest,” and that attitude of “your spiritual Father knows you best and therefore can most wisely help you know how to apply this” permeates the book, as it should. Each chapter is as useful and practical as the one before, and the whole book ends with an appendix packed with hands-on ideas of ways to celebrate each feast of the Church Year (and more!) together as a family.

Orthodox Christian parents and educators who apply the concepts in this book will firmly establish the Faith in the hearts of the children in their care. In architecture, blueprints are drawn up by trained artists with building experience. In the same way, this book was written by Orthodox Christian parents with experience in both parenting and Orthodoxy. Just as blueprints are necessary to begin a successful building project, this book is a necessary tool for parents and teachers who want to firmly ground their children in the Faith. Any Orthodox Christian who is serious about living their Faith should read this book and begin the slow work of applying it to their family life.

Although I may not have had this book for all of my Orthodox Christian life, I am grateful to have it now. I will be sure to share it with others. Blueprints for the Little Church will be my go-to gift for new converts and/or new parents in our parish. And we will all be the better for it, for when we work to build the “little church” at home, the Church as a whole is strengthened.

Do you need to pick up a blueprint for your little church? Purchase your own copy here:

Find ideas for celebrating feast days, similar to the ones described in the Appendix, on the “Blueprints” Pinterest page:

Listen to Elissa and Caleb talk about their book (including how the book itself came to be), answer questions about the book, and share related stories in this podcast about the book:

Here are some excerpts from “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker:


“This book offers hope to those engaged in the struggle against the passions. It is imperfect advice penned for imperfect people, warring to make sense of a dark and mysterious world through the lens of the Orthodox Faith. Among the myriad voice is trying to tell you what to think and how to act, among the countless sources of monastic wisdom and patristic treasures, among the countless Pinterest boards and parenting blogs, this book makes a humble offering to mothers and fathers who wish to see their family embrace the Orthodox faith and to raise living saints.” (p. 9)


“The key ingredient in building your little church is to avoid comparing yourself to anyone else. Everyone’ piety is personal; it’s between them and God—and hopefully their Confessor. It’s not one-size-fits-all and just as you can’t expect to try on someone else’s custom made leather gloves and expect them to fit—well, like a glove—you shouldn’t expect someone else’s prayer rule to fit you perfectly, either. There are countless resources online and in print for developing a pious Orthodox life but nothing can compare to a personal conversation with your priest or father confessor, who can guide you through the process.” (pp. 11-12)


“We cannot provide a meaningful experience with God for our children. We can prepare the ground, present them with opportunities, share our own experiences, but we cannot encounter Christ for them–they must do that for themselves. We can lead them to water, and we can tell them what it means to thirst and talk about how satisfying the water has been in our own lives, but they must decide to drink.” (p. 18)


“Our modern family homes offer very little stillness; we move frenetically from one activity to the next, and our loud lives seem to have nothing in common with the monastic life. …In some ways it feels as if we cannot accomplish anything spiritual, because we are always called back to …redundant tasks. …Think about the traditional monastery; this community, this space, is set aside for worship and contemplation of God. The monastics engage in simple, repetitive work, with regular interruptions from the talanton or the bells, which call them away from their work to prayer. Parents engage in redundant tasks and find themselves called away from their own thoughts and plans by their children. Both environments are designed to call us away from our own egos and our own plans, drawing us to prayer. Perhaps the family home is not so different from the monastery.” (pp. 23-24)


“Becoming the little church means acquiring a new mindset. We are not simply raising children to live happy and healthy lives—we are raising saints who will find their rewards in heaven. This is radically different from the popular notion that we want “good kids” or “well behaved kids.” Moralism will only produce pharisees and passionless drones. The saints of God are filled with the Holy Spirit, radiate the Divine Light, and bring others to salvation.” (p. 30)


“As you set out to create sacred space in your home, know that you cannot do this wrong. Set aside a space in your home and let your icon corner develop as it suits your family best. The important thing is to gather together in prayer and to make room in your home to live out your faith. This is an important step in the creation of your little church, and you will continue to return to these sanctifying activities again and again with your children as you grow together in faith.” (p. 89)


“The church in her wisdom offers at the healthy rhythm that leads us to a wholesome and good routine. Instead of the frantic pace of a family spinning out of control, the Church provides an intentional, peaceful rhythm that is firmly grounded in prayer and love. In an Orthodox home, time is put to holy use so that the routine is not tearing us apart and wearing us out, but actually contributes to our spiritual lives. When we sanctify time with prayer rules, liturgical cycles, and spiritual seasons, we have time itself as it was intended: as a reminder of God and a tool for our spiritual growth.” (p. 93)


“…It is vital to the success of your family’s prayer rule that the parents are making the effort to pray daily no matter how briefly. …Parents are the workmen who are building the little church and the children will take their religious cues from them.” (p. 107)

“The best way to teach a child what a fast should be is to show them. If we are happily eating less and feeding the hungry more, if we are really studying the Word of God and increasing our prayers, our children will see our honorable fast—and its spiritual rewards—and every word we have said to them will be proven and made manifest.” (p. 132)

“The question to ask of yourself and your family is not how much you can afford, but in what ways you can give to God’s work of your time, treasure, and talents.” (p. 154)

“From the day our children are baptized, they are full members of the Orthodox Church. They are neither junior members nor extensions of their parents, but full Orthodox Christians with the same free will and potential as adult members. It is common to hear children referred to as ‘the future’ of the parish. This is a lovely thought, but the nomenclature is all wrong. If we really believe the words of the prayers said at baptism and chrismation, then we cannot simply categorize children into ‘the future.’ They are the parish now, fully invested in what happens around them.” (pp. 161- 162)

“If we can trust that our children are truly God’s and not ours, we need never be exasperated or humiliated by their behavior. We don’t have to fear they won’t turn out well enough—we need only call upon their Father and ask Him to give them what they need. They are His children, and we must commend them to Him.” (p. 169)

On Resting in Christ While Savoring the Simple Joys This Summer


Happy summer!

It is the time of the year in North America that children (and, many times, their teachers, too!) anticipate for months. School lets out for a length of time, routines change, and life is different. It is a good and much-needed respite. But do we parents anticipate the summer as our children do? If not, why not? Should we?

Many of us eagerly await the additional time with our children while simultaneously feeling overwhelmed. How will we keep them busy all summer? What will they do? How can we keep them learning? How can we make sure they don’t lose any of their freshly-acquired skills that they have just learned this year in their studies? What can we do to encourage their growth, both physically and mentally? How can we multiply their positive social skills? How can we best help them to rest from the intensity of school? Considering all of these questions simultaneously is daunting, and aiming for perfection with each is nearly impossible.

Contrast the stress of trying to meet society’s picture of “perfect parenting through a summer break” with Matthew 11:28-30. In this passage, we read about peace, gentleness of heart, souls at rest, and a burden which is light. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” It appears, from this scripture, that Christ (who spoke these words) is willing to shoulder the stresses that we have, if we are willing to learn from Him and take up His yoke. A yoke is a piece that allows two creatures to share a burden or a workload. So, in this passage, our Lord is asking us to share in His work while simultaneously trusting Him to help carry our load.

But how does an already overwhelmed parent take up the yoke of Christ? Perhaps a good place to begin is by focusing our attention on the areas of prayer and trust. Prayer allows us to communicate with Him what is overwhelming us and in what areas we are feeling inadequate. It offers us the opportunity to be still before God. It allows us to lift others up before Him, reminding us that the world is beyond us and our personal (or familial) stresses. Prayer will also help us to better see what work He has for us to do. But what about trust, you may ask? Trust is the true test of taking up the yoke. Do we really trust God to carry His end of  the load and to lead us to do the work that He has for us? Or do we try to micromanage Him in addition to our children and their summer schedules?

This summer, instead of focusing on the stress-inducing questions above, let each of us parents focus on Matthew 11:28-30. Let us challenge ourselves to come to God with all of our stress and our concerns. Let us take up His yoke, sharing the burden with Him. In doing so, may we indeed find rest for our souls. If we do so, we will be able to truly anticipate this time with our children. If that is the case, then it will indeed be a happy summer!

Come Sit a Spell

As you work on simplifying your own stress load through prayer and trust, consider making “simplify” the theme for your summer! Here are some ideas of ways to help your children to have a simpler summer, as well:


Model “resting in Christ” by allowing your children to see you spending time in daily prayer time, especially if they do not usually see you do so. Invite them to join you if they wish to. Consider beginning the day with a regular time of prayer together (adjusted according to age and ability of your children, of course) coupled with a few minutes of quietness. Being still before God is about as countercultural as you can get, and it will benefit the entire family to learn to do so even if only for a very short time each day. These moments of resting in Christ and being still will go a long way in setting a simpler tone for each day of your summer!


Consider making one evening a week “simple joys” night. Spend that night playing very basic childhood games together, chasing fireflies, watching the sunset, learning to whistle with a blade of grass, etc. If you have a rainy “simple joys” night, play hide and seek inside your whole house, read aloud together, or creating and playing with these fun shooters: The key is to do something together with minimal equipment and maximum creativity and/or stillness of heart!


“Childhood serves a very real purpose. It’s not something to “get through.” It’s there to protect and develop young minds so they can grow into healthy and happy adults. When society messes too much with childhood, young brains react. By providing a sense of balance and actively protecting childhood we’re giving our children the greatest gift they’ll ever receive.” Read this and more about why it is important for us to simplify our (and our children’s) lives in this article:


Encourage your children’s creativity with simple activities. Perhaps you could challenge your children to create their own games from time to time. One challenge could be this: gather recycled materials in lunch bags, give one bag to each child, and have them use everything in it to create a game that everyone will have a turn to play.


Spend time in nature. Take your family hiking at different places throughout the summer. Allow time and space for your children to get dirty and wet. Make mudpies. Float sticks in races. Plant things and watch them grow. God is there, and your heart will be still if you allow it the simple joy of time outside.


Keep basic art supplies readily available (paper, pencil/pen/marker/colored pencil/crayons/watercolors/clay/etc.) so that your children can create at will. You won’t regret the money spent or the creativity that comes alive when your children have the opportunity to try different mediums in their self-expression. You may regret the volume of items gifted to you for display, but the love and creativity behind them should be your focus!

Many simple summer memories begin with books! Generate your own (don’t worry, it really is simple) reading rewards program like this: Need an easy, stress-free place to start when it comes to reading? Find an alphabetical-themed list of essential Orthodox books here:


Encourage your children to create simple toys. If they have enough of their own already, encourage them to make them to give as gifts to others – either neighbors, hospitalized children, or other children in your parish who would enjoy them. Here are some simple toys that can be created at home: (Tuck away this website to check out sometime when you need to find fun ideas for science, art, design, and engineering activities for kids!



On Light and the Feast of Pentecost

A brief look at light (and, thus, at Pentecost):

The early story on light/the Light : The universe as we know it began with a simple command: “Let there be light!” Even before there was earth, there was light. God has provided light to our world through the sun ever since He created the earth. In His great mercy, God extended His kindness beyond our physical need for light and has provided The Light of the World! Even before there were humans, there was the Light of the World. God sent us His Son, Jesus Christ,  to illuminate our souls as well!

Significant appearances of light/the Light: Light continues to appear as the earth rotates around its axis, around the sun. The Light of Christ continues on, as well: every Pascha the Holy Fire comes to the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. At our Paschal Feast every year, we sing, “Come, receive the light,” lighting candles as we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death. It makes sense to celebrate Christ, the Light of the World, and His Resurrection (His moment of greatest triumph) with light. Actually, Christ appearing as light is nothing new: remember the Transfiguration, when “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Matt. 17:2)? What about when He appeared to Saul of Tarsus who was travelling to Damascus when “suddenly a light (bright enough to blind him) shone around him from heaven” (Acts 9:3) and the voice of Christ spoke to him? The Light of Christ truly illumines all, and has been doing so since He was on earth.

Pentecost and light/the Light: How fitting, then, that when Christ, the Light of the World, ascended to His Father and sent help (the Holy Spirit) to His followers, the event was marked with the appearance of flames of fire over their heads! As He illumined the heads of the disciples, the Holy Spirit also enabled them to speak in other languages, thus illuminating the souls of all around through the truths about Christ that were spoken (in a way that the visiting foreigners could understand)!

The presence of light/the Light in our lives: God continues to send His Holy Spirit to light the world. At our chrismation, we received “the seal of the Holy Spirit,” and He is at work to illumine our hearts, and through us, the hearts of those around us, as well. May we all be enlightened, both physically (by the sun) and spiritually (by the Son) as we continue to live the Faith! And may we live in such a way that all those around us (especially our children) are brightened by the light of Christ in our lives through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, “the Light of Christ illumines all,” and that illumination is greatly assisted when we cooperate with Christ and His Spirit’s work in our life!


Thanks to and Jesse Brandow for this illustration!

With these thoughts in mind, work together on a simple craft to help your family think about light/the Light and Pentecost as you celebrate the feast. Create individual “flames of fire” (with led candles and tissue paper) as suggested here: Place one “flaming votive” at each person’s place at the dinner table, to remind you that the Light of Christ illumines each of us! During the meal, talk about light, The Light, and Pentecost. Brainstorm ideas of ways to live illumined lives, showing those around you that the Holy Spirit is living within you!


Here are a few other ideas of ways to learn about and celebrate the Feast of Pentecost:


Here is a blog post we wrote a few years ago about the Feast of Pentecost. It offers ideas of fun ways to celebrate the feast with children. It features links to great ways to learn about Pentecost, as well as ideas for celebrating the feast with our children!


Print this pop-up centerpiece about Pentecost to add to your dining room table’s festal decor:


Watch this short animation of Pentecost:


Find coloring pages about Pentecost here:, and a memory verse coloring page here:

Here’s a printable word search about Pentecost:


This helpful blog offers ways to live our Faith in an illumined manner:


On the Feast of the Ascension

Here are two fun family idea for thinking about the Ascension:

1. Take your family out for a picnic. Find a high point (atop a hill if possible), and have your picnic there. While you’re eating, talk about the Ascension. Imagine that you are the disciples, reunited with your Lord after the difficult time of His death and the joy of His resurrection. How do you feel, having Him in your midst again? If He invited you to the top of the hill like this, would you go with Him? What if He stood in the middle of you and began to talk: would you listen? If He began to tell you He will be leaving, how would you feel? What would you think about? When He suddenly began to float up from the ground and keep rising into the sky, right in front of you, what would you think? (You could demonstrate this with a face “of Christ” drawn on a helium balloon attached a really long string – so you could eventually retrieve it – or with a small plastic toy “Christ” taped to a kite that flies as high as you can get it to go from your picnic spot.) And what if He got so high that He disappeared in the clouds? (If you’ve done the demonstration mentioned, you will need to retrieve the balloon or kite now, noting that we’re not Christ, so we can’t do what He did!) Even though we can’t actually lift into the sky like that, we can imagine what it must have been like for the disciples left behind! What if, as you were talking about Christ leaving and disappearing in that way, suddenly there were two other men there with you, asking what you’re looking for, and telling you that Jesus will come back again someday? How would you react? What would you think? What would you do next? Then talk about what the disciples did next: they went to Jerusalem and waited. Just like Christ told them to do. What do you suppose the disciples talked about as they went back to Jerusalem? Discuss this, especially the fact that we are still waiting for Christ to come again, as you pack up your picnic and head back down the hill.

2. Last moments/last words leave an impression to those left behind. Spend some time thinking about the last moments and last words that Christ had with His disciples before the Ascension:

Matthew 28:19-20 – Just before He ascended, Jesus told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Luke 24:50 says “He lifted up His hands and blessed them” before He ascended into heaven.

Acts 1: 4-5 – Christ tells His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come and be with them.

Acts 1: 8 – Christ tells His disciples that the Holy Spirit’s power will take them all over the earth, telling people about Him.
Set out art materials and invite each member of the family to choose one of the above to interact with, artistically. (It’s okay if everyone chooses the same one.) Someone may use chenille stems to create “Jesus” with hands outstretched in blessing, perhaps on a coiled “spring” of a pipe cleaner that allows him to begin “ascending.” Someone else may use a computer to print the words to the great commission (“Go therefore and make disciples…”) and incorporate them into a collage of magazine faces of different races or magazine pictures of different parts of the world. The ideas are endless.

Here are a few more ideas for celebrating the Feast of the Ascension:

After writing the blog post featuring fun family ideas for the Ascension, we went looking for additional links to share, and found this one that is similar to our blog ideas, but different enough to share:


In case you missed it, here is our blog about the Feast of the Ascension from a few years back. It offers a variety of fun activities to do with kids as you celebrate this feast:


Print this foldable centerpiece about the feast of the Ascension to decorate your table:


If your elementary aged children enjoy word searches, print this one about the Ascension: (This same group offers a variety of coloring pages about the ascension as well: and a memory verse coloring sheet here:


Watch this clip that uses Lego people to tell the story of the Ascension:


This (Roman Catholic) mom’s blog post is full of ideas for celebrating the Ascension with children:


Look together at the icon of the Ascension. How much can your family tell about the event, just by looking at the icon? Learn more about the festal icon here: