Category Archives: Interactions

Gleanings from a Book: “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the-trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed!

My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the book. “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

  1. Always parent with the end in mind.
  2. Respond, don’t react.
  3. Understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Separate feelings from behaviors.
  5. Teach the joy of obedience.
  6. Teach the joy of repentance.

Each principle has a chapter (or four!) of the book dedicated to it. Every chapter takes an in-depth look at the principle and cites personal experiences or related stories. The stories and examples make this book very accessible to its readers. The principles can be immediately applied, just as my husband and I experienced when we sat under the Mamalakis’ teachings at Family Camp. I would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator who wants to lovingly guide the children in their care in a godly manner. The book would be a great Adult Sunday Church School curriculum, parish book study, or parenting class text.

“Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is easy read. However, its principles will take a lifetime to apply. May God help (and forgive!) all of us as we parent, grandparent, godparent, and otherwise raise His children towards His Kingdom!

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of its contents. Purchase your own copy at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

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“Parenting cannot be reduced to a series of steps, techniques, or strategies. The goal of this book is to help parents understand how the daily challenges of parenting relate to our journey in Christ and  our child’s journey in Christ, intimately connected to the life of the Church, and how that connection can inform our responses. Understanding this, we can put all the techniques and strategies in this book in their proper context. Using this book requires that you take a genuine interest in your child and reflect on your own personal spiritual journey. Understanding this, we can put this book in its proper place.” (pp. 12-13)

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“Thinking long-term means thinking about how  you want your children to conduct themselves when they are on their own, away at college, or married with children of their own. What type of adults do you want them to become… As parents… we want our children to be successful in life. As Christian parents, we need to be clear about what we mean by successful. That’s where God’s perspective on success becomes important.” (p. 19)

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“Parenting is not about stopping misbehaviors or getting children to listen to us. It is the process of shaping and guiding our children’s souls in and toward God’s love through the tasks that need to be accomplished and the struggles of daily life. We are teaching them about the spiritual life and the path of holiness as we break up sibling fights or get them to clean their rooms. We are walking with them on that path, on the journey, of growing closer to God in daily life.” (p. 24)

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“We would never deface an icon, yet when we get angry, attack, criticize, or mock our children, we vandalize the icon of Christ. We don’t worship icons, either, yet when we are lenient or indulge our children’s desires, giving in to their demands, we are worshipping our kids, not Christ—which is equally destructive.” (p. 36-37)

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“Learning how to parent is not about learning how to get our children to behave; it’s about learning how to get ourselves to behave. Remember, modeling is the most effective way to teach our children. The goal of this parenting book is to invite parents how to learn to act like adults, no matter what childish behaviors our kids present to us.” (p. 51)

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“While some children act up because they want everyone to look at them, I’d like to suggest that most often our kids are looking for a connection with their parents, not for mere attention… Connection is central to our human nature, and children are wired to seek it.” (p. 66)

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“If we correct, command, direct, or react to our children before connecting with them, it communicates that we are more concerned about where cleats and balls go than about who they are.” (p.165)

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“Time-outs are most often misused as consequences by parents… A time-out is not a consequence, just a good idea. It is, in fact, exactly what a child might need at that moment… Sports teams don’t take time-outs as punishment but as an opportunity to slow down, regroup, and make a plan for going forward… Kids need time-outs when they cannot control themselves or their behaviors. In fact, taking a time-out is something we all need to learn to do when we feel out of control.” (p. 210)

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“Never make decisions for your children or tell them what to do when they can figure things out by themselves. Letting children experience the effects of their decisions respects their intelligence, their ability to learn, and their developing judgment and autonomy. Kids learn better from firsthand experience than from our telling them what to do, anyway.” (p. 227)

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“We teach the joy of obedience by helping our children see that obedience is not something just for children. Obedience to God’s commandments is the path for all, parents and children alike… When children feel connected to their parents and see their parents living in obedience to God, they internalize obedience to God as the path of life.” (p. 264)

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“If we are trying to love our children and grow in Christ, then our mistakes become just another opportunity to teach. Remember, our children will learn ore from how we live than from what we say. Children learn how to handle their mistakes by watching how we handle our own… When we repent we show our children both the right path and how to get back on the path when we fall off.” (p. 288)

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“To parent toward the Kingdom requires us to improve the way we interact with our children in every situation and to connect our hearts and homes to Christ and His Church. In this way our children experience the love of God in the home and encounter Christ and His Church in the center of it.” (p. 317)

Through the Eyes of a Young Reader: “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks

You may remember the blog post we published about the recently-published Orthodox children’s book, “Queen Abigail the Wise,” by Grace Brooks. Our blog post was published in May 2015. (If you did not get a chance to read the blog before, find it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/.

We are in the new calendar year, which means that Great Lent is not too far off. The entire story of “Queen Abigail the Wise” takes place during Great Lent. We are revisiting the book in this blog post for two reasons. First and foremost refers to my statement in the first blog post about the book, “I must share this book with my 10-year-old goddaughter.” I did exactly that, and gave my then-10-year-old goddaughter Hope her own copy to read. After she read the book, we got together and talked about it. I thought you may be interested to hear Hope’s perspective on the book, not just mine, so here it is! (Mind you, there are spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t say we didn’t warn you about them!)

When Hope and I got together to discuss this book, I came with a series of questions for her. I tried to think of questions that would help “grownups” have a sense of how relative and enjoyable the book is for a young Orthodox Christian. (As you may have read in the prior blog post, the book is geared to children, but I found it to be uplifting even though I am an adult. I thought it was a great book, and I was pretty sure that Hope would like it. The older I get, though, the more I realize that what I think is nice for a person of a certain age may not necessarily sit as well with them as I thought it would. So I wanted to test this in-my-opinion-wonderful book with Hope to get her opinion of it. Here it is.)

The first question I asked Hope was whether or not she liked “Queen Abigail the Wise.” I was rewarded with the anticipated resounding “Yes!” and a huge smile on her face. Curious, I asked why, and she said, “I liked how [Abigail] had to do something to get something.” and “I like that she figured out that the young priest was the the iconographer by the end of the story.” (Remember, I already warned you that there are spoilers!)

I went on to ask Hope if there were parts of the book that she could relate to, and she said “Yes…” So I asked her which parts of the story she could relate to. She said, “Well, sometimes I get bored in church, too…” and went on to explain that she can understand how that felt to Abigail. She also said that she could relate to Abigail’s feelings at Pascha, when Abigail felt hot and cramped. Hope said that, like Abigail, she’s also not a crowd person and also, she is not hungry when she’s tired — just like Abigail.

Hope named Abigail as her favorite character in the book when asked, because, “I liked how she didn’t want to give up; and she felt bummed about missing church. I do that too sometimes. I also liked how she was willing to work hard and help others because she wanted the icon so badly.”

I couldn’t just ask about a favorite character, so I wondered aloud if Hope had a least favorite character? She said, “Well, at the beginning probably Vanessa because she seems snobby but I changed my opinion at the end. I could also say baby Jacob but he did play an important role.” (Again, spoilers! Well, almost…)

Although “Queen Abigail the Wise” is a chapter book, it contain a few illustrations. I am a visual person and love pictures, so I was delighted with the sketches: I found them charming. But, as mentioned above, I wondered if my personal theory fit with the actual practice and thus, how the illustrations would sit with a young lady of her age. So, I asked Hope if the illustrations added to the story. She said, “Yes, I like to have visuals!” (Like godmother, like goddaughter, I suppose!) But she mentioned that she wished for color, not just blackline illustrations. (I suggested that since the book is her very own, she could go through and color any illustrations that she wanted to, if she wished. A few weeks later, she came to church with her book and showed me that she had colored part of it with colored pencils! It was beautiful.)

I then asked an all-encompassing question about the theme of the book. I wondered what Hope thinks that the author, Grace Brooks, was trying to say with this story. What does Hope think is the book’s message? She give me two excellent answers: “If you set your mind to something and if you work hard you can achieve it… And no matter how much you dislike something or someone, in the end you may find that you actually love them.” Both answers were insightful. Sage words, coming from a 10-year-old.

I asked Hope if she had a favorite part of “Queen Abigail the Wise.” She answered, “The end, when Abigail gets her icon… And the way she describes the icon was pretty, too.”  I asked her if she would recommend this story to others, and she answered,”Yes!” She went on to say, “I would recommend it especially to those new to the Orthodox faith.”

Hope could not think of any part of the story that she did not like. Rather, she liked the book so much that sometimes she stayed up reading it past her bedtime! She was reading it in summer, so she could lie in bed reading until it got too dark outside to read by the snatches of light shining through her window. She got in trouble for doing so (oops!), but she really liked the book, and that’s what she does when she likes a book. (Again, like godmother, like goddaughter!)

So, as I had expected, Hope liked the book. She could relate to the characters and enjoyed learning along with them. Her experience with the story was similar to mine, and I am glad. But you’ll recall that I mentioned two reasons for this blog post, and you may be wondering about the second.

Well, the second reason I am posting about this book right now is all about timing. In a matter of weeks we will be in Great Lent again! You may want to get this book to share with an Orthodox youngster of your own, so that he/she can read it during Great Lent this year! Or perhaps you personally want to follow the related blog posts as the weeks go by: they are very challenging and encouraging for Orthodox Christians of any age! Or maybe you just want to read the book yourself, for your own growth. We’re sharing this blog post now because both Hope and I want to give you plenty of time so that you can do any (or all!) of the above!

Taking one final glimpse at my interview with Hope, my final question for her was whether or not she would be willing to read a sequel when it comes out? She answered with a resounding, “YES!.” So now there are TWO of us eagerly anticipating the second book in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club!” Our guess is that if you and/or your young Orthodox friends get a chance to read “Queen Abigail the Wise,” you will feel the same way. We certainly hope so!

Here are some important links related to the book:

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Purchase “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks, either for yourself or for young friends, here: https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/  
There is also an ebook available. (But you can’t color in the illustrations of an ebook with colored pencil!)

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Meet all the girls in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club” at the Queen Abigail website: http://queenabigail.com/

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According to this blog post by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, http://queenabigail.com/2016/11/27/december-news-with-queen-abigail/, the second book in the series will be available soon! This one is called “Vanessa the Wonderworker!”

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Follow along on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/QueenAbigailtheWise/ for a variety of interesting posts including fresh creations by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, new blog posts that she writes, and other interesting things that she finds online and shares which are enjoyable to children and adults alike!

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Consider reading your way through “Queen Abigail the Wise” bit by bit, meditating on these wonderful blog posts by author Grace Brooks. http://queenabigail.com/2016/07/20/reading-through-queen-abigail-with-me/ Perhaps you can do this with a young friend, or even an entire Sunday Church School Class, throughout the course of Great Lent. Consider using these “Abigail” notebooks to document your learning along the way: http://www.cafepress.com/+queen_abigail_the_wise_journal,1908228623!

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading Books Together, Part 3: Books to Read With Older Children

Author’s note: a few of my personal favorite chapter books and/or authors are represented in the photo. Many of them showed up again in the survey we conducted. What are YOUR family’s favorite chapter books and authors to read aloud together? Please comment below, and help our community meet some new book friends!

Orthodox Christian parents want to instill the values of our faith into our children’s lives. We desire to protect them from the deception that is so prevalent in our culture while also teaching them to live as Orthodox Christians in that culture. How can we do this? One way to work at this is by reading books together and guiding natural discussions that can come about as a result of that reading.

There are many wonderful Orthodox books out there for kids, and more are constantly being produced. We are blessed to be raising children in this time period, for there are more Orthodox Christian resources available to English-speaking children now than ever before. We need to take advantage of these helpful resources and provide them for our children!

It is also important that we not limit our reading to Orthodox books. We are not living in an exclusively Orthodox world, and we must teach our children how to live in the world without compromising their faith. One way we can teach them to do so is by reading together books that are not Orthodox, viewing what we read through the lens of our Faith, and then talking about it as a family. While we read we will have opportunities to show our children how we should always live our life: constantly bearing in mind what Christ taught us about how to live; what the Ten Commandments teach; what the Church Fathers have taught; and so on. We can then talk together about how the characters in the book are following or ignoring those teachings. These discussions can help our whole family learn how to apply the Faith through someone else’s (in this case, a fictional character’s) experiences. Nurturing our children’s Orthodox faith through books and ensuing discussions can help them to learn to look at all of life through the lens of our Faith, to evaluate their own life in its light, and to make choices that lead them towards Christ and His Church.

These discussions can happen with younger children and picture books. However, their value and importance increase as our children grow older. “Older children’s” books tend to deal with issues and characters’ choices that are even more conducive to these discussions. Bigger kids have bigger issues and tougher choices. Discussing those choices and issues in the context of a book character allows us to help our children shape their understanding of the Faith. Then, when similar situations arise in their own personal life, they already know what is the right thing to do.

The opportunity to teach our children how to apply the Faith intensifies the importance of finding time to read to them, even if they have “outgrown” picture books. We already know that reading to them increases their vocabulary and intelligence and that it is fun! But this may well be the best benefit of all: reading to our older children offers us a natural way to shape their understanding of the Faith by providing examples of how to apply it to their daily life.

 

Not sure what to read? Don’t worry! The respondents to our summer survey have given us a list of fabulous chapter books that can be read aloud to children. Some of these books are Orthodox, but many are not. We will share them below in alphabetical order by title. (Note: please bear in mind that you know what is best for your family, so some of these books may not be what they need to hear or what you wish to discuss with them. As always, please use your own best judgement for your family.)

“Basil’s Search for Miracles” by Heather Zydek is the story of a middle-school boy’s reawakening to the Faith through unusual circumstances related to an article he’s writing for his school newspaper. (Available many places, including here: http://bookstore.jordanville.org/9781888212860)

“Children’s Bible Reader” published by the American Bible Society. This Bible story book illustrated with icon-style pictures tells stories from the scriptures using words that children can understand. https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270

classic fairy tales – You can find fairy tales appropriate for children in the 398.2 section of the children’s department of your local library.

“The Five Little Peppers” (and the ensuing sequels) by Margaret Sidney tells the story of a family consisting of a mother and her five children who have fallen on hard times. They work diligently, love each other fiercely, give generously, and learn much as they rebuild their life together. https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B00CJDDPOO/ref=dp_st_1450558518

“Heidi” by Johanna Spyri is the story of an orphaned girl who goes to live with a crochety mountain man and turns his world around with her love for life. (Note: Spyri wrote many other wonderful children’s books as well.) https://www.amazon.com/Heidi-Childrens-Classics-Johanna-Spyri/dp/0517189674

“The Hobbit” and its sequels, including “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien are all fantasy stories of an honest, “homebody” hobbit whose reluctant choice to join in on a quest begins a chain of events that lands him a very difficult, but very important, job. His adventures, (and the adventures of others after him that come about as a result of his adventures) enable him (and them) to help restore good and peace to their world. https://www.amazon.com/Hobbit-J-R-Tolkien/dp/054792822X

“Let the Little Children Come to Me” by Cornelia Horn and John W. Martens takes a look at childhood in the early church. http://cuapress.cua.edu/books/viewbook.cfm?Book=HOLL

“Miracles of the Orthodox Church” by Mary Efrosini Gregory is the story of Christ’s miracles and how they are continuing today. https://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Orthodox-Church-Original-Continue/dp/1933654244/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1476281097&sr=8-2&keywords=miracles+of+the+orthodox+church

“Mission in Christ’s Way” by Archbishop Anastasios of Albania is a collection of his essays on missions. https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/mission-in-christs-way?variant=697122139

“The Orthodox Study Bible” is the Bible, complete with footnotes written by Orthodox theologians. http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover

“The Prologue from Ochrid” offers daily readings for Orthodox Christians, including the lives of the saints, homilies, and more. It can be found online at http://www.rocor.org.au/?page_id=925)

“Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls is the heartrending story of a boy and his coon dogs and their adventures in the Ozarks. https://www.amazon.com/Where-Fern-Grows-Wilson-Rawls/dp/0440412676 

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle is the story of a family who works together across space and time to try to save their father. Sprinkled with science, this book allows its readers to learn while suspending disbelief. It is a true work of science fiction, and is the first in a series. https://www.amazon.com/Wrinkle-Time-Quintet/dp/0312367546


The following authors, publishers, and chapter book series were also recommended by those surveyed:

Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated a delightful series of books about animals, from the animals’ perspective. https://www.amazon.com/Beatrix-Potter-Complete-Tales-Rabbit/dp/072325804X

The Chronicles of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis are beautifully told tales of high adventure and quests with strongly Christian overtones. https://www.amazon.com/Chronicles-Narnia-Box-Set-Lewis/dp/0061992887

George MacDonald was a prolific writer who “wrote for the child-like.” He wrote for all ages, but his children’s books can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_fb_1_25?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=george+macdonald+children%27s+classics&sprefix=george+macDonald+children%2Cstripbooks%2C285

The Harry Potter series of books by J. K. Rowling follows an orphaned boy through his wizard-schooling years as he learns how to surrender his own safety/security and use the gifts he’s been given for the good of others. http://harrypotterbooks.scholastic.com/books/original-series

Patricia St. John wrote many children’s books that bring the adventures and learnings of children in other parts of the world to life, in the context of Christian (though not Orthodox) life. Find one of her books, “Rainbow Garden,” (and links to others) here:  https://www.amazon.com/Rainbow-Garden-Patricia-St-John-ebook/dp/0802400280/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476285820&sr=1-7

Spiritual Fragrance Inc.’s books: This Orthodox publishing company features children’s books about Our Lord, His mother, and the saints. Find them here: http://spiritualfragranceinc.com/home/

Lois Lenski wrote (and illustrated) period-appropriate regional books that give the readers a taste of life in different regions of the USA in different time periods. Favorites include “Strawberry Girl” and “Indian Captive.” https://www.amazon.com/s?field-keywords=lois+lenski+books

“The Little House” books, semi-autographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, offer the readers a taste of life in the American frontier. “Little House in the Big Woods” introduces the reader to the Ingalls family and their adventures as they decide to leave Wisconsin and head west. The other books follow as the Ingalls girls grow up. http://www.littlehousebooks.com/

Thornton Burgess’ books about animals: especially “Jimmy Skunk”, “Bob White”, and “Peter Cottontail.” These simple chapter books were written with the intent of helping children appreciate nature and wildlife through stories in which the animals can talk and share their adventures. (Find a thorough list of his books here: http://www.thorntonburgess.org/PDF’s/Thornton%20Burgess%20Books.pdf)  

 

Author’s additional recommendations:

This just in: this sweet chapter book tells the story of a boy named Sam who doesn’t want much to do with church or monasteries, and a corgi named Saucer who lives to herd, and how their stories entwine. The story is so believable (as long as the reader is willing to imagine that animals try to communicate their thoughts) that the reader feels as though she’s watching it unfold. The book has just the right touches of humor. The illustrations are few, but fit the book perfectly. This book is a great addition to any Orthodox Christian family’s bookshelf! http://store.ancientfaith.com/shepherding-sam/

“A Bear Called Paddington” and the ensuing sequels by Michael Bond. Paddington bear is found by the Brown family in London’s Paddington station after his Aunt Lucy cannot care for him any longer, so she ships him away from “deepest, darkest Peru” in hopes that he will have a better life. He gets into all sorts of mischief, usually completely by accident, throughout his life but is forgiven again and again, and remains much-loved by the Browns. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062312181/a-bear-called-paddington

“Betsy Tacy” and the rest of the series by Maud Hart Lovelace offer readers the opportunity to grow along with Betsy and Tacy in small-town America at the turn of the 20th century. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062095879/the-betsy-tacy-treasury

“The Bronze Bow” by Elizabeth George Speare offers its readers the opportunity to join a young man, Daniel bar Jamin, who is involved in the rebellion against the Romans in the time of Christ. What happens when he and his needy sister Leah come into contact with Christ Himself has the potential to be life-changing for them if they allow it to be. http://www.christianbook.com/the-bronze-bow-paperback/elizabeth-speare/9780395137192/pd/137195 (All of Speare’s historical ficion books are a wonderful way to learn about history in the context of a story.)

“Facing East” by Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green gives readers a glimpse into the life of an Orthodox mission across the time span of one year. https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060654988/?tag=holycrossanti-20

The Prydain Series by Lloyd Alexander take readers on an adventure with Taran, a boy who knows little of his personal history except that he is an assistant pig keeper who dreams of grand adventure. Thrown into the journey of a lifetime in the very first book, “The Book of Three,” Taran learns the value of friendship and how to do the right thing even when it is impossibly hard. https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B00CKCWI2O/ref=dp_st_0805080481

“Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks offers Orthodox girls a chapter book they can read and relate to! Abigail learns how to handle life as an Orthodox Christian, helped by her friends and her priest through all the adventures an Orthodox girl of today encounters in life. https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

Want even more ideas? Find a purely secular list (you will notice that some of them overlap with our lists) of the top 25 chapter books to read aloud here:

http://thestir.cafemom.com/big_kid/178053/25_top_chapter_books_to

 

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!

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

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“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 http://edsslipper.net/children/

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“How would YOU do it?” Sage advice for a high-strung mama on learning from her kids and her hubby… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-macy-stafford/the-manager-in-my-home-and-the-5-words-that-changed-everything_b_7807084.html

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“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: http://fractalenlightenment.com/34431/life/10-things-children-have-to-teach-us

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“Learning between grownups and kids should be reciprocal!” Child prodigy Adora Svitak’s TED talk on why adults should learn from children: https://www.ted.com/talks/adora_svitak?language=en

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“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: http://www.purposefairy.com/5305/15-things-a-child-can-teach-an-adult/

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This blog post’s author calls children “the best teachers, the perfect mentors.” Read the blog for yourself: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/what-can-we-learn-from-children.html

 

Gleanings from a Book: “A Gift for Matthew” By Nick Muzekari, Illustrated By Masha Lobastov

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting in the nave of my home parish while listening to Nick Muzekari read aloud his first picture book, “A Gift for Matthew.” I had already read the book, so I was familiar with the story. Nevertheless, I enjoyed hearing it read aloud with the author’s own inflections. Story lover that I am, I also savored hearing some of the stories behind the book. While listening I happened to glance upwards and I discovered that Mr. Muzekari was reading the book beneath the icon of St. Matthew! Although unplanned (at least as far as I know), it was the perfect spot for this reading to happen!

“A Gift for Matthew” is the story of a young boy named Matthew who is privileged to visit a monastery for a day to observe and assist a monk in the process of writing icons. Brother Justin welcomes Matthew and incorporates him into the writing process, teaching him about icons and how they are made. The wording of the book concisely explains the process in easy-to-understand terminology, and takes the reader through the writing of the icon step by step, through Matthew’s eyes. By the end of the day, Matthew is reluctant to leave the monastery because he is enjoying the experience so much. Brother Justin’s invitation for Matthew to return the next day cheers him, as does the gift he discovers in his backpack when he arrives home.

In case you also enjoy background stories, here are a few stories behind the story:

  1. The author told us that it was while he was reading a picture book about icons that he got the idea for this book. He thought to himself, “It’s great that there are books for children about icons. But why isn’t there a book for children that explains the icon writing process?” and the idea behind “A Gift for Matthew” was born. In my opinion, this book fills the gap perfectly.
  2. To any reader who delights in the beyond-the-story details included in the illustrations of any great picture book, Muzekari would point out the monastery cat, Paizousa. Her name is Greek (παιζουσα) and it was chosen because it means “she who plays” (in this context, it means “she who plays tricks”). The cat’s name is fitting, for the author wanted to add a touch of humor into the story, and this fuzzy trickster does just that in the illustrations without adding a single word to the text. Paizousa can be found snoozing, snooping, and, yes, even getting into trouble in many of the illustrations of Matthew’s time at the monastery. I have enjoyed finding her and observing what she is doing at each moment in the story!

This book is a great read for Orthodox Christians of all ages, but especially for children. The illustrations are simple yet beautifully lifelike. Both the storyline and illustrations work together well to portray the tale, drawing the reader in while effectively teaching them about iconography without them even realizing that they are learning.

Author Nick Muzekari lives in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, with his wife and their five children. He likes to convey truth, mystery, and beauty through stories. He has also founded and published a literary/art magazine for Christian teens. “A Gift for Matthew” is his first picture book.

Illustrator Masha Lobastov is a classically educated figurative artist. After graduating from the Russian State University for Humanities of Moscow in 1996, she moved to the U.S.A. to continue her artistic goals. She is known for painting portraits, especially those of children. Masha has also collaborated with Ancient Faith Publishing and authors E.C. Johnson and Jane Meyer, illustrating “And Then Nicholas Sang,” “What Do You Hear, Angel?” and “The Hidden Garden.”

Listen to an Ancient Faith Radio interview with author Nick Muzekari about “A Gift for Matthew” here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/exlibris/a_gift_for_matthew

Purchase the book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-gift-for-matthew/

Follow along on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/giftformatthew

Find age-leveled lesson plans for teaching children about icons (intended for use before/during/after a visit to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, but useful even if the field trip is not possible) here: http://museumofrussianicons.org/en/education/family-school-programs/for-teachers-k-12/. Lessons range in topic from the symbolism in iconography, to the science of writing the icons, to the art of iconography, even the math applied to the writing, and more!



Go on an icon hunt in your home or parish! Print this reproducible page so that your child(ren) can keep track of the icons that you find. http://www.scribd.com/doc/173729877/I-found-Icons

Find line-art patterns for writing icons here: http://www.betsyporter.com/patterns.html

Read more about icons!

  1. “What is an Icon?,” a picture book by St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, explains what they are. It can be found here: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/ccp7/index.php?app=ecom&ns=prodshow&ref=3WHAT_EP.
  2. “Pictures of God,” John Skinas’ multi-leveled picture book explaining icons in a way that children can love and understand (which also happens to be the book that Muzekari was reading when he got the idea for “A Gift for Matthew”) can be found here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/pictures-of-god-a-childs-guide-to-understanding-icons/.
  3. “From God to You,” also by John Skinas, can be found here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/from-god-to-you.

Watch an 8-minute video that shows the complete process of writing an icon (of St. Nicholas), from preparing the wood through the finished product here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZh6geY4hMc

Children interested in writing their own icon may want to consider attending an iconography camp program such as this one: https://avcamp.org/summer-camp/sacred-arts-camp/iconography-camp/.

On Taking the High Road

“Always take the high road!” was the mantra of the long-time marching band director at our local high school. The year both of my children were in the band together was the first I remember hearing him say it. Chaperoning the band during home games and seeing this mantra painted in huge letters on the top of his conducting stand further hammered it into my memory. And he meant it, too! When other schools’ bands would continue to play piece after piece from the stands during a football game, leaving no time for our band to play, he would remind the kids, “take the high road!” If the other football team was not playing fairly, or the referees made a poor call, he would stand up before the band, and gently remind them, “take the high road!”

He took this life lesson one step further during each home game by sending his student leadership to meet the student leaders of the other band and present them with a small welcoming gift. No matter how the other team was playing, no matter how the other band was acting, our student leaders always walked around the football field and presented a gift. And with that gift came the opportunity for the band leadership to put the saying into practice.

The band director’s words continue to resonate in our minds even though he has retired. His modeling of the words, as well as the way in which he helped his students to practice them have left a lifelong impact. Our family continues to quote him, reminding ourselves and each other to take the high road.

Sometimes I have heard people encourage their children to “shake it off.” This can be a useful statement (especially if there’s a spider on them!), and is a good place to start for negative attitudes, experiences, and words. But it seems to me that “shaking it off” is only part of the solution. Shaking off something is a mental release of the anxiety or anger that a negative situation can present. Of course, that is necessary for moving on in a positive way. “Shaking it off” is a good start as one leaves something negative and perhaps painful behind and moves away from it.

But as Christians, are we not called to much more? Christ Himself extended grace and forgiveness to those religious leaders who, in their great religiosity, were actually leading people away from Him, although He is God. He extended that same grace and forgiveness to the very people who were crucifying Him. He even extends it to me, a sinner, and to you as well. Our Lord does not just shake anyone off with a thought of “good riddance!” and leave them behind. Instead, He tries to help them see the Truth, and when they choose not to, He asks God to forgive them. He always takes the high road.

“Always taking the high road” takes “shake it off” to the next level. If one takes the high road, not only are they releasing the negative event, or “shaking it off,” they are taking it one step further by doing something positive in its wake. By doing so, they are not just helping themselves, but they are also blessing and benefitting the others around them. In doing so, they are most likely even including those who may have caused the issue in the first place. They are acting just as Our Lord Himself did.

Taking the high road will very often include extending forgiveness. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you”  (Eph. 4:32) is not easy to do, and sometimes we get tired of forgiving the same person for the same sins against us. But how often do we commit the same sins against God and yet He forgives us? In the scriptures, we’re instructed to forgive and forgive others. For example, Matthew 18: 21-22: “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” It seems like 490 times is a lot of times to forgive the same individual. But again, how often do we commit the exact same sins against God and yet expect Him to forgive us?!? Forgiveness plays a major role in taking the high road.

Our Lord was not the only one who took the high road. The saints have done so, as well. They have also encouraged others to follow suit. For example, St. Ignatius of Antioch spoke about taking the high road. He also suggested a way to successfully do so: through prayer! “And pray ye without ceasing in behalf of other men.  For there is in them the hope of repentance that they may attain to God.  See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way.  Be ye meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be ye steadfast in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness.  While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness; and let us seek to be followers of the Lord (who ever more unjustly treated, more destitute, more condemned?), that so no plant of the devil may be found in you, but ye may remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and spirit.”

It is imperative that we teach our children to love, to forgive, and to shake it off. Because we are Orthodox Christians, it is even more important that we teach them to take it a step further by always taking the high road. Forgiveness and prayer are great partners that will help us to do so. Imagine what a blessing the Church could be to our world if each of us would truly take the high road all of the time?

May the retired band director’s mantra resonate in all of our minds. And may we live it well! Let us always take the high road. And let us teach our children to do the same.

Here are additional thoughts and ideas of ways that we can teach our children to always take the high road:

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Read another mom’s blog about teaching her child to take the high road: http://lifeonmanitoulin.com/2013/01/taking-the-high-road-things-we-teach-our-children.html

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St. Paul wrote an encouragement to help the Ephesians take the high road, in chapter four of his letter to them. See a chalk artist’s rendering of it here: https://scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xfa1/v/t1.0-9/s720x720/223932_10150977305710909_151627035_n.jpg?oh=1415bf672acc4f66298da7825ea35dff&oe=567EEFFB

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Print and frame this verse from James to remind yourself and your family of how important it is to extend mercy while taking the high road: http://homewiththeboys.net/wp-content/uploads/Kind-Mercy-James-2-13.pdf

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Go for a walk in a place where you can choose a steep, high road or a flat/downhill one. Lead the family up the high road after walking on the low one, and talk about the difference. Is it easier or harder to take the high road? Apply this physical experience to the concept of “always taking the high road” so that the children know it is not the easy way out! But point out the difference in view: which way allows you to see better? The high road! Then discuss this quote: https://meetville.com/images/quotes/Quotation-Rachel-St-John-Gilbert-work-strength-effort-Meetville-Quotes-274567.jpg

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One way to take the high road is to THINK before we speak. http://www.courageouschristianfather.com/before-you-speak-think-acronym/

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Taking the high road makes us better citizens of our country, as well. Find ideas (sorted by age level) for helping your children become more responsible citizens here: https://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/citizen/citizen.pdf

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